Christianity 201

July 20, 2011

Finding the Gospel in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Leviticus

This is about one third of an interview that B. J. Stockman did with Dane Ortland at Resurgence.  (You might find it helpful to read this section in context.)

Where is the gospel in Proverbs?

Proverbs and James are the two easiest books to screw up. They are both heavy on advice / imperatives / instruction / exhortation. Divorced from God’s electing love in the gospel, Proverbs (or James, or any of the imperatives of the Bible) breeds self-despairing failure or self-exalting arrogance. Left in neutral, our hearts tend to slide into law-oxygenated living (tense, stuffy, despairing, burdened, relationally alienating) and away from grace-oxygenated living (relaxed, happy, calm, self-forgetful, liberated, relationally healing).

So—what is Proverbs? Wise help from an outside voice. Not all that different from the gospel! Proverbs is God coming to us and saying, “I love you so much, dear ones—here, let me help you live as the truly human being I wish you to be…”

There is no magic formula to ‘find’ the gospel in Proverbs. Rather, if we read Proverbs as wise words from a father who loves his children too much to let them ruin their lives through ignorant folly, we will receive it as God means us to, and be strengthened in a way that is grace-flavored.

And remember, from a macro-perspective, Jesus is the ultimate wise man. Paul said that Jesus “became for us wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus is the wise man, and we fools, united to him by faith, share in that wisdom.

Where is the gospel in Leviticus?

All over the place. Leviticus is an elaborate accounting of the sacrificial system that God mercifully instituted for Israel, to atone for their sins. It is virtually impossible to plunk down into a random place in Leviticus and not see God’s gracious provision of a way out for filthy people.

And Jesus himself brought that entire sacrificial system to fulfillment. The New Testament tells us Jesus was not only the priest who offered the sacrifice, he was also the sacrifice itself, the lamb—and he was even the temple in which the priest offered the sacrifice. As we read Leviticus as Christians, then, we can be ever mindful of what all those bloody sacrifices were anticipating.

From another angle: in Leviticus we see time and again that when the unclean touches the clean, both become unclean (see also Hag. 2:13). Jesus showed up and reversed this. He frequently touched lepers and others who were ‘unclean’ and in doing so both became clean (e.g., Mark 1:40-42). With Jesus we no longer see ourselves as basically clean in danger of defilement, but basically defiled in need of cleansing. And we can have it freely, because the one person who ever lived who was truly ‘clean’ went to a cross and was condemned as an ‘unclean’ person so that we unclean sinners can be freely treated as clean.

Where is the gospel in Ecclesiastes?

Ecclesiastes insists that the good things of life—food, work, sex, wealth, honor—cannot serve as the ultimate things in life, and that if we make this mistake (as Solomon did) we will come to the end of life exhausted, frustrated, and disillusioned. Only God satisfies. And we human beings are so screwy that we will not believe God supremely satisfies unless God gets up in our face, through the voice of someone who actually had it all (Solomon), and tells us so.

When Ecclesiastes speaks time and again of ‘fearing’ God, it does not mean being frightened of him but making him supremely central in your life so that everything funnels into that great loyalty. In telling us to fear God, we are given the key to contentment, to joy, to a meaningful life ‘under the sun.’ This is God’s kindness to us, is it not?

From another perspective: Jesus really had it all, even more than Solomon. He had unbounded wealth, honor, etc., in heaven. He had everything Solomon chased after. To an infinite degree. And he emptied himself and gave it all up and came to earth and suffered and died. Why? So that you and I, wayward sinners, can have real wealth, real riches, real honor, in the new earth, forever.

October 8, 2010

Wanting To Hear From God

Over the past six months I’ve discovered that launching a blog of this nature is much more challenging than when I launched Thinking Out Loud earlier.   People will gravitate to topical articles, humor, cartoons, links to other blogs, and the latest gossip information about famous Christian individuals.   Even theological and doctrinal blogs will get a good following because people love a good debate.

But it’s the people who are serious about their faith that will seek out a devotional blog.   They want something that digs a little deeper, that cuts to the heart, or that processes things at a 201 or 301 level instead of just Christianity 101.   (And I confess that I some days, we don’t always get there.)   What is he speaking to fellow believers on the internet? What is God saying to me today?

I’m currently reading The Power of A Whisper by Bill Hybels (Zondervan) which is an entire book devoted to hearing God’s voice.    Here’s a checklist from page 108 of the book for your consideration if you feel that you’re not hearing God’s voice:

First, fervently and frequently ask God to improve your hearing.  Pray every day for God to give you ears like the prophet Samuel’s.  Ask Him for increased capacity to discern His voice and for heightened attentiveness to his promptings.

Second, reduce the ambient noise in your life.   For me, a sure way to get quiet before God is to head off solo on a boat.   For you, it might be listening for Him while you are driving, exercising or enjoying the quiet of your bedroom at night.  Wherever it is, be sure to carve out moments in your day when you can practice listening for the voice of God.

Third, you simply must fill your head with scripture…  Most of the promptings we receive at critical decision points in life come as the Holy Spirit reminds us of scriptures we already know.   We hear whispers that reinforce Biblical truths and we understand immediately what the Spirit is trying to say to us.  So saturate yourself with God’s word and see if His whispers don’t increase over time.

Finally, the Bible makes it clear that any ongoing pattern of wrongdoing compromises our communication with God — in both directions.   Our prayers don’t get through to God and God’s promptings don’t get through to us.  If you are stuck in a rut of sinfulness and deceit, confess your sin and turn away from it today.   Let the laser light of truth permeate every corner of your life.   Don’t truncate your communications with the Father because you’re unwilling to let go of a sin pattern in your life.

October 5, 2010

So… What are You Doing?

In the days before Thinking Out Loud, I enjoyed reading other bloggers including Jim Lehmer.     He called this post, “My Second Favorite Bible Verse.”   You’ll have to read it at its source to find out his first favorite!

Last night as I was reading through the genocide, backstabbing, lechery and mayhem in 1 Kings I discovered my now second-favorite verse(s), 1 Kings 19:11-13 (TNIV):

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

That really started me thinking. What is God whispering to me? To you? Are we listening for it, or are we waiting for some big, grand revelation? When the whisper comes, will we be ready to pull our cloaks over our faces and walk to the mouth of our self-made cave to hear what He has to say to us? Will we be ready to answer His quiet question, “What are you doing here?”

That last question is enough to keep you up nights, you know?