Archive for February, 2012

Faithful God, Forever pt. II

Posted: February 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

Spiritual Discipline: Faithfulness (Covenant)

What’s the point of a covenant? Why commit to anything, especially when the likelihood of breaking the commitment is so high? If you were the God of the universe, Creator of all things, why would you establish a covenant with what you created? Why not just wing it daily and change things on a whim when the moment suits you? All these questions culminate at the finish line of faithfulness. Because God is faithful, He delights in establishing a covenant to prove and even accentuate his faithfulness. Furthermore, God desires His people to be faithful—faithful to Him and each other, and to honor faithfulness and commitment in other people’s lives. To understand this characteristic more fully, it’s important to understand covenant and why and how God established it.

Covenant is a formal agreement between two or more persons to do or not do something specified. As it relates to God, it is the conditional promises made to humanity by God. In Scripture, God demonstrates one of His greatest attributes, and one of His greatest requirements: faithfulness lived out in a covenantal relationship.

In Genesis 1-2 God did more than merely create the universe, Earth, and humans—He created inheritors of His nature, heirs of His essence, a world of life to which He could demonstrate His love and faithfulness to, and in the midst of. He didn’t create, nor intend for us to be puppets or robots—this is not the idea of covenant or faithfulness. Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, with faithfulness as a part of their nature, and yet a freewill to choose to exercise that faithfulness. When they sinned, they proved themselves unfaithful to God. Unfaithfulness results in and from sin.

When we talk of covenants and why God established them, it’s important to understand the structure of His covenant. These foundational characteristics can be traced back to Genesis 1-2: creation/nature (the Earth and all that is in it); man/woman (Adam/Eve); symbol (the garden); send out or commissioning (be fruitful and multiply). Keep these elements in mind in the coming weeks as I address the establishment of four Old Testament covenants, tying them to the marriage covenant, and culminating in the new covenant that Christ fulfilled.

Genesis 6 shows God’s intense dissatisfaction with man. Adam and Eve proved unfaithful in the garden, yet God remained faithful to them by extending them another chance to make things right, to do as God commanded—be fruitful and fill the land and obey his commands. And yet, the more grace he extended mankind, the more wicked they became.

Genesis 6:5-8 says, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”

To understand how God must have felt, ponder this question: has anyone ever been unfaithful to you? Unfaithful in such a damaging way that you even regret beginning a relationship or friendship with them? And yet, you still search for one ounce of faithfulness that would justify extending them grace and mercy so that things may be as they should be. God was and is grieved by our unfaithfulness to Him, by our unfaithfulness to others—even more so than when we are wounded by another’s unfaithfulness to us. However, God’s grace is so much a part of who He is that He extends it to us, repeatedly. He finds the one aspect of His nature that clings inside our souls and He grows it so that His nature might overcome the evil that rages within us all. In Noah’s day, all God found was evil and wicked people on the Earth—everyone, except for Noah. Noah found favor with God. He “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Noah was the one created being who freely chose to exercise his faithfulness to God, he was the one closest to exhibiting God’s nature on Earth.

Nonetheless, besides Noah, God decided to start over, to break creation down to its bare minimum of existence–to eliminate just about everything He created. Before God erased the board of creation, he commanded Noah to build an ark, which probably seemed unreasonable and ridiculous to Noah, but Noah still obeyed God. Then, God wiped out all of creation for their unfaithfulness and wickedness. He completely destroyed all that he had created. All, except for Noah and his band of creation nestled safely in the ark that God had commanded Noah to build. (Ever have God command you to do something that you didn’t understand, and perhaps you did not want to do? Remember Noah’s story and obey God—it’s for your good and the good of those entrusted to you.)

After God unleashed the full fury of His wrath, He relented. God vowed, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done” (Genesis 8:21). God started over with Noah, and established a covenant with him and his descendants. But more than that, God vowed to never again curse the ground because of man’s evil intent. Nor would He destroy all living creatures ever again. Which brings me to the establishment of this first covenant.

Challenge: Read Noah’s story found in Genesis 6-9:1-17. In the next post I will detail God’s covenant with Noah. Also, something to ponder: Genesis 2:5 says “The Lord God had not sent rain on the earth.” The next time we read about rain is in Genesis 7:4 when God sent rain from heaven to destroy all he created. What’s the significance?

Faithful God, Forever

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

Spiritual Discipline: Faithfulness

Ever get a song lyric stuck in your head? You wake in the middle of night, it’s there, bellowing its repetitious rhythms. While eating breakfast, you’re silently humming and singing the song in between bites. You turn on the radio—there resounds the same song with its ever persevering lyrics. By now you are convinced that the song is committed to never leaving your subconscious. For me, it’s been the song “I Lift My Hands” by Chris Tomlin; the verse that keeps repeating is, “You are faithful God, forever.” I wonder if God is trying to tell me something. … Of course he is. For several months now, if not years, God has been teaching me—through life experiences, through others’ life experiences, through study, and through biblical revelation—about faithfulness and commitment. (I’ve learned that commitment is a characteristic of faithfulness. If one does not honor commitment, one cannot be considered faithful.) I’m compelled to write a series over the next few posts on this very sensitive topic of faithfulness. It’s something I’m deeply passionate about, and one that I believe needs to be addressed in our culture today.

First, it’s important to examine what faithfulness is in relation to God, notably, to his nature. God will not ask us to do anything that he himself would not do. And, since we are created in his image, it’s crucial to understand how God views faithfulness and commitment before we can even fathom them for our own lives, and honor commitment in the lives of others.

Faithful means loyal; worthy of trust; devotion; steadfast in affection or allegiance; firm in adherence to promises: these are integral parts of God’s unchanging, permanent nature. Keep these characteristics in mind as you read the below Bible verses on the faithfulness of God:

  • “To the faithful you show yourself faithful” (2 Samuel 22:26).
  • “The Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
  • “You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you” (Psalm 89:8).
  • “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  • “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11).
  • “You are faithful, God, forever” ~Chris Tomlin.

So, then, who is God faithful to? And when we consider God’s faithfulness, how does that relate to us? Does God expect us to honor faithfulness and commitment as he does? What happens when we don’t?  To be considered faithful, one has to have someone or something that they are committed to, that they are devoted to, or have vowed to remain true to. When we think of God, we must recognize the Three in One presence in the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Each holds a unique role, and each is honored and cherished among the other members. The closest resemblance to God’s relationship within the Trinity, as well as his relationship to us, is in the marriage relationship between a husband and a wife—when the two become one flesh after they are married. The husband and wife each share distinct roles, yet in God’s eyes, they are one flesh that no man is allowed to separate, just as no one can separate us from the love of God (see Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:6-9; Romans 8:37-39). Remember, the enemy seeks to separate us from God, and he tried to separate the Son from the Father (see John 10:10; 1 Peter 5:8-9; Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15). And Satan is targeting marriage because he knows that the marriage unit is as sacred of a unit as is that of the Trinity, as is that of God’s relationship to us (see Ephesians 5:22-33). And, when a child is added to the married couple’s life—it creates an even more sacred Trinitarian unit. Malachi 2:15 says, “Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring.” This was God’s original intent since the dawn of creation (see Genesis 1:27-28). This is faithfulness. (I will flesh this idea out more in future posts, and I will also address how the ideas expressed above relate to the various life stages, such as for those of us who are single and/or have no children.)

When we ask the question, who is God faithful to, the answer is that God is faithful to himself, to the Trinity. Second, he is faithful to his creation—to the earth and all that is in it, and especially to man and woman—to those who hold to the covenant(s) he has established. In other words, to those who honor his commands, his nature, to those who honor him, he shows himself faithful.

Over the next few postings, I’m going to cover the progression of God’s covenantal relationship with us, as well as ours with each other, and with God. Twice in the past two days I’ve been asked the question, “What characteristic in a friend is most important to you?” My answer, without reservation has been: faithfulness. So, I will end this introductory article with one question to ponder during the upcoming week: What does faithfulness mean to you?

Challenge: Meditate and unpack the verses I listed on what it means to honor and serve a faithful God. Some of the Bible verses I’ll be covering next week as it relates to the establishment of God’s first recorded covenantal relationship are: Genesis 9:1-17; Genesis 17:1-22; Exodus 19:3-6; Exodus 24:3-18; Deuteronomy 4:1-40.

Spiritual Discipline: Intercession

I was talking to a friend the other day about prayer, namely intercession. We were both somewhat disheartened by how much the words, “I’ll pray for you” have become (at times) sort of a trite, churchy expression, lacking in the deep, spiritual authenticity that such words should convey. (Note: This is not always the case. I do believe churches are full of powerful prayer warriors, and I know I have some amazing people in my life who I do not doubt pray for me daily–and I’m encouraged by them when they tell me so. I would also, today, consider myself a strong prayer warrior for others. So, at the heart of this post is to emphasize “doing,” and “being” an intercessor in general.)  This has arguably become one of the most common used expression in the church today. How often, just this week, have you uttered that phrase? In all honesty, there was a time when I had said these words just because I didn’t know what else to say, or, because I had not known what else to do in the situation. So, rather than ask the person what they needed, I provided the safe, flippant phrase of “I’ll pray for you,” when perhaps what they needed most was a little bit of me, a little bit of my ever-so-valuable time (this is sarcasm as my time is not, nor should it ever be, too valuable to help a brother or sister in need). As I confessed this to my friend, she said, “We  have all done that.” Let me provide three “what-if” scenarios:

  1. Exodus 17:8-13 tells the story of Moses commanding Joshua to battle the Amekalites. As Joshua was warring with the enemy, Moses stood on a hill with the staff of God in hand. When Moses lifted his hands to God, Joshua and the Israelites prevailed. When Moses’ hands faltered and fell, defeat came upon the Israelites. Moses needed help. When Moses became too weak to keep his hands raised, Aaron and Hur, one on each side, would hold them up. Imagine if Aaron and Hur were really busy doing a variety of different things for the war effort, and they simply told Moses, “Hey Moses, we’ll be praying for you,” but did nothing to help him. Of course Moses needed their prayers, they were priests! But, he especially needed them, he needed their help.
  2. In Matthew 27:32 and Luke 23:26, the Bible says that Simon of Cyrene was “compelled” to help Jesus bear his cross. Some translations use the term “forced”—regardless, in his most desperate hour, someone stepped in to help Jesus Christ, the Son of God, carry out his mission when he was too weak to do so.
  3. In Luke 10:27-37, the famous “Good Samaritan” parable, there was a man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. A priest and Levite passed by the man and did nothing. Note that the role of the priest and Levite is to take care of the temple, perform services, and recite Psalms (or, pray). They held a sacred role in God’s order—yet Jesus spoke against them here due to their inaction, their refusal to help. Rituals and prayers are vital—but they must be accompanied by actions. The Samaritan walking by didn’t bid the beaten man a prayer of courtesy, he helped. He did something.

James 4:17 says “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” In Hebrews 3:13, the writer warns us against hardening our hearts to God, to help prevent this we are to “encourage one another daily … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Christians can get stuck in the pit of self-pity or anger or discouragement, and as brothers and sisters, it should be our goal, honor, and privilege to restore and encourage those beaten down by life, and especially those battered by the “wiles of the Devil” (Ephesians 6:11).  We must seek ways as intercessors of overcoming the sometimes spiritual triteness of “I’ll pray for you” and begin asking “What can I do for you?” Prayer should be a given, and doesn’t always need to be broadcast (see Matthew 6:5-13).

Praying for someone is important, but what about praying with them? Taking the time to pray with and over someone can be a tremendous source of care and encouragement to the one in need of intercession. And then, follow up. Find a way to connect with the people you are praying for, and in the situations for which you are interceding. “I’ll pray for you” can be restored to the powerful, life-changing sentiment of Spirit-filled intercession. As the body of Christ, we cannot allow it to be diminished to just another trite, churchy expression that people say out of obligation, or because we don’t know what else to say. I’ve learned that people don’t always want words from us, as much as they want to see our Christ-like actions.

Finally, since the Spirit intercedes, the Spirit must also be the one who lays upon our hearts what and who we should pray for—and we must take the time to listen to the Spirit’s prompting, and be in right relationship to God (see Romans 8:26-27). Trust the Holy Spirit in your prayer time. And most importantly remember that prayer is communication between you, with heartfelt intercession on behalf of others, and God. Listen to how he may be guiding you to help that person or assist in some way with that situation, and then be obedient, even if Satan is reminding you of the inconvenience. God may be compelling you to be Aaron-like, or Hur-like, or Simon-like, or Samaritan-like. And remember, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Ultimately, as Christians we are striving to be Christ-like.

Challenge: For one week, refrain from telling people “I’ll pray for you.” Instead, ask “What can I do for you?” if your life situation allows for it. Or, pray on the spot for someone and then follow up. Or, send them a card, email, or encouraging text or phone call. Or, simply pray for the person, people, or situation without telling them. Ask God to help you be a Spirit-led, Spirit-filled intercessor for others, and for you in your prayer life.