Why today is “Good”

“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Mark 15:38

The temple/ tabernacle was designed and purposed back in Exodus, though it had been rebuilt by the days of Christ.  Solomon puts it all so well when he finishes building the more permanent temple in the Promised Land. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! “ (1 Kings 8:27) The temple was not so that God could have a place to live (1 Kings 8:28-30), but for our good, so that God can be near us. And when we turn toward the temple we would remember God is with us and listens to us and forgives.
The temple was about us having a good relationship with God.

The curtain was made to look just like the others that made up the temple, with blue and scarlet and purple fine yarns and “with cherubim skillfully worked into it.” (Exodus 26:31) But there was something special about this curtain; not how it looked but the purpose it served. “The veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.” (Exodus 26:33) Why was the separation needed?  Here are just a few examples of people who got a little too close to God and His holiness.

  • Moses asks to see God’s glory. God says He’ll show Moses His back, not His face. Otherwise he would die. (Exodus 33:17-23)
  • Moses comes down from the mountain after talking with God and his face is shining. Not like a light around his face, but the skin on his face shone, so bad that Moses had to veil his face so he could interact with the Israelites. (Exodus 34:29-35)
  • Little background- the ark of God was housed in the Most Holy place, unless it was in transit. Once while in transit, the oxen carrying the ark stumble and good little Uzzah tries to keep the holy ark from touching the ground. But God gets angry because he touched what was holy without being clean. Uzzah died on the spot. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

The curtain was to keep us from death, distancing us from God.

So what? God had promised that He would change the way things were done in regards to our relationship to Him. The old way was sacrifices and laws and a God who dwelled in a temple. The new way promised an internal law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), forgiveness for all our sins without constant sacrifices (Jeremiah 31:34, Isaiah 53:6,12), and a personal relationship with God (Jeremiah 31:34). Jesus Christ was the means to this new way of doing things. His death replaced the need for constant sacrifices. God accepted the blood of goats and other animals as a sacrifice worthy of making us clean. Then He provided the perfect sacrifice- the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:13-14). At the moment of his death, all our sins were forgiven and we were made clean. There was no need for the curtain anymore as separation from God and His glory. So God got rid of it, hence the tearing from top to bottom.
It’s all about having a close relationship with God!

Desiring God: the beginning

I stole this title from John Piper’s book by the same name because it is very fitting for my spiritual life right now. So many times in my life I have found myself moving along, not falling into temptation, but not seeking God. It’s a fairly neutral life which acknowledges God as present, in control, and available, but does not actively seek Him.

I know this neutral living is not how we are called to live as true believers, but the desire to seek Him isn’t there. I long for other things in my life; good job, close friends, involvement with youth. In all of these, I do my best to bring God into the picture and spent time praying, but it seems like something is missing. I am missing out on the simple relationship with God- getting to know Him and enjoy spending time with Him. Not involved in an activity or a pursuit, but just growing in my knowledge and the image of Him.

The problem is that this does not come naturally to me…to anyone. At times I want this more than others, but keeping the passion for Him is hard. I was reminded of this during church this past week as we looked at the story of the prodigal son. Both sons had the wrong sort of relationship with the Father and what they both had in common was a desire for the things the Father gave, but not the Father Himself. The younger son wanted freedom and the inheritance from his Father. The older son wanted his rightful due for his obedience. Neither of them simply wanted to be with the Father.

I am keenly aware of my lacking desire and am wanting to change that. Sitting on my shelf is a book that may help. John Piper’s “When I Don’t Desire God” seems like a perfect fit for someone like me who finds themselves, more often than not, lacking a desire for God Himself. I pray that God will use this book to change my thinking and desire Him always. As I take this journey, I will share my thoughts both on the book and what it means for my life. And I pray this journey may reach beyond me to help you grow in your relationship with God.

Real Treasure

Like most little girls, I remember making “beautiful” jewelry. By threading yarn or some such material with brightly colored plastic beads of various sizes and shapes, it was possible to make the best jewelry possible, worthy of wearing to any and all events. While I’m sure some of the delight in the necklaces was due to the effort put into making it by hand, these beads on yarn was seen as beauty to my little 6 year old eyes. What I had made in Sunday School would stay around my neck, or even possible passed on to my mommy to wear and show off. Wearing my masterpiece to school was fine, but not with my nice dress on Easter. Though my mommy put on the necklace at church, it was not good enough to wear our with daddy. She chose the pearl necklace he gave her. Despite my insisting that my necklace be worn in these situations, what I valued as beautiful was not considered as such by others.

As I grew up, the world of beautiful jewelry grew exponentially beyond those beads. I can oh and ah over diamond necklaces and admire the beauty in the variety of precious stones in jewelry. The colors are more natural, the sparkle is real and the price tag…well, we all know that is high. All of these attributes of real jewels give them worth. While the little bead necklaces carried sentimental value because they were made with my hands, pearls, and diamonds have value because of what they are.

Besides learning about truly valuable jewelry as I have grown up, I have also seen how similar my dreams are to brightly colored beads on yarn. As a child, I dreamed of a prince who would sweep me off my feet, friends to laugh and spend time with, and a life of emotional bliss. My view of God was also one of those brightly colored beads. He was this “person” in the sky who was in control of everything and “wanted a personal relationship with me.”

Life has gotten much too complicated for bead necklaces on yarn. There are complexities I never imagined. My prince has come, but there are so many emotional issues as two people work towards being united in marriage; you don’t always feel like a prince and princess. Good, close friends are hard to find, and once you find them, hard to keep as life sends you in different directions. There are tensions internally as I wrestle to figure out who I am. There are tensions externally as I learn to live and work with those I don’t like and honor my parents yet be an adult.

And then there is my relationship with God. Only now can I truly say He is incomprehensible. Justice and mercy. Disciple and love. Standards and grace. A relationship with Him is not easy, especially when my humanness can’t know Him even half-way. Though desiring to follow His will for my life, it isn’t as simple as “do as your parents say” or “do unto others as you would have the do unto you.” Needless to say, life is not at all what I thought it would be.

What I thought was valuable as a child is now worthless. I need a redefinition of what has worth in this life. The value I once placed on my bead-necklace dreams will not work. God, give me a mind to understand the diamond dreams you have for me. There are more complex, but so much more real than all the things that I once held dear. Help me give up on my bead necklaces and in return recognize and accept your sparkling, real dreams for me. For these jewels are Your plan for me; true beauty which reflects Your worth.

There’s Only Grace

I got into a conversation today with a “friend” about relationships and how they work when the guy makes a mistake. She and he husband have a payback scale to know what needs to be done to repay her for the mistake he made. There are roses for a small thing, seafood dinner for something a bit larger, and it grows all the way into a nice piece of jewelry that will be hers if he messes up big time. But cheating shouldn’t be an issue for them: she told him that if he cheats, she will make sure he isn’t physically a man (my rephrasing of her words).

I laughed at first at her response to the potential of being hurt, because it is not how I am responding to a current male mistake. But the more I thought about it, I realized the stark differences, between her and I, and then between her and God.

I don’t want to pick on her, but her example is one common version of what many people (women) would say when “their” man has hurt them. Yet what is so ingrained in our human minds about being re-payed does not come from our Maker. And this goes beyond just male-female relationships; it includes any time a person has been hurt by another and feels the need for penance.

A well known example of God being hurt by someone is David. The King and leader of God’s people first lusts, then acts on that lust, committing adultery. Then to cover up the results of that adultery (pregnancy), he has the woman’s husband killed by sending him to the front lines of battle and retreating other soldiers. If Bathsheba had been your daughter, might you want to make sure David was no longer physically a man?

But what is God’s first response to this compounded sin? Nathan confronts David with his sin and David repents: “‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.'” (2 Samuel 12:13) God forgives!!! It doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for their sins, but they are forgiven. While the Law says that both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10), God lets them live. And He even uses their line to bring about His Son.

  • Man, knowing fair well his own imperfections, expects his fellow man to be perfect. When one fails that expectation, the offender must take some action to win back his “perfect” standing.
  • God, knowing fair well man’s imperfections, calls all men to be perfect, just as He is. When one fails that calling, God showers grace, remembering the true state of imperfection over the expectation. There will be consequences and hearts must turn back to Him in repentance (Psalm 51:17), but there is grace. The relationship is more important than the perfection.

Now to the one who hurt me, just in case you read this:
I follow my Maker saying “I forgive you.” There will be consequences for your actions, but there is nothing you need to do to win back a standard of perfection in my eyes. I desire a repentant heart, one that has turned to God for help and one that wants to do things correctly. I desire a relationship with you.
But I am imperfect and can never be as grace-full as my Maker. But I strive for it in my actions and words. With His help, may you see His grace in me.

this blog is titled after Matthew West’s song “Only Grace” from the “History” release.

And the veil was torn…

I wrote a sermon last fall on what Christianity is all about. I used 1 Corinthians 2:2 where Paul says he came preaching only Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In that sermon, I talked about both of these two components, but I didn’t say why Christianity boiled down to these two. The answer comes today through looking at my favorite verse in the Bible.

“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” Luke 23:45
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Mark 15:38
“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Matthew 27:51

It is this small act, recorded in three gospels, which sums up the whole Bible and is packing with meaning and understanding. However, this verse is not often referenced for this purpose because in order to grasp all it offers, you have to have an precursory knowledge of the old testament. That’s why I write this.

Let’s start with the temple. This was the temple/ tabernacle that God commanded the Israelites to build in the wilderness. Well, not the same exact one, but the blueprint and purpose are way back in Exodus. Solomon puts it all so well when he finishes building the more permanent temple in the Promised Land. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! “ (1 Kings 8:27) The temple was not so that God could have a place to live. “Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” (1 Kings 8:28-30) This temple is for our good, so that God can be near us. And when we turn toward the temple we would remember God is with us and listens to us and forgives.
The temple was about us having a good relationship with God.

Next we have the veil, or curtain. This curtain was made to look just like the others that made up the temple, with blue and scarlet and purple fine yarns and “with cherubim skillfully worked into it.” (Exodus 26:31) But there was something special about this curtain; not how it looked but the purpose it served. “The veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.” (Exodus 26:33) Why was the separation needed? Because in that place God came to meet with His people and accept their sacrifices. You remember the the whole purpose for the temple? The Most Holy place is where God would come to fill this purpose.
But why the curtain? Here are just a few examples of people who got a little too close to God and His holiness.

  • Moses asks to see God’s glory. God says He’ll show Moses His back, not His face. Otherwise he would die. (Exodus 33:17-23)
  • Moses comes down from the mountain after talking with God and his face is shining. Not like a light around his face, but the skin on his face shone, so bad that Moses had to veil his face so he could interact with the Israelites. (Exodus 34:29-35)
  • Little background- the ark of God was housed in the Most Holy place, unless it was in transit. Once while in transit, the oxen carrying the ark stumble and good little Uzzah tries to keep the holy ark from touching the ground. But God gets angry because he touched what was holy without being clean. Uzzah died on the spot. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

Here are just a few examples of what happens when we humans get near God. The curtain was for our protection and safety. If we get too close to God, we will die.
The curtain was to keep us from death.

The only time that anyone would enter into the Most Holy Place was once a year and only if he made a sacrifice for himself ad the people (Hebrews 9:7). God considered those sacrifices to count for the sins committed and allowed the priest to enter into His presence. But this wasn’t an everyday thing; it was a life and death act which had to be done correctly.

In the Old Testament, God was near to His people by way of the temple and we were kept from death due to His glory by the curtain. With this curtain torn, we are all going to die because there is nothing to separate us from the overwhelming presence and holiness of God. But that is not what happened; see there is more to the story. I told you it needed a lot of explaining. The best part of the story comes from the fact that even though the curtain is torn and we all now have access to God and His killer glory (sorry, couldn’t pass it up), we won’t die!! Why?

This is where Jesus and His death come in. God had promised that He would change the way things were done in regards to our relationship to Him. The old way was sacrifices and laws and a God who dwelled in a temple. The new way promised an internal law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), forgiveness for all our sins without constant sacrifices (Jeremiah 31:34, Isaiah 53:6,12), and a personal relationship with God (Jeremiah 31:34). Jesus Christ was the means to this new way of doing things. His death replaced the need for constant sacrifices. God accepted the blood of goats and other animals as a sacrifice worthy of making us clean. Then He provided the perfect sacrifice- the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:13-14). At the moment of his death, all our sins were forgiven and we were made clean. There was no need for the curtain anymore as separation from God and His glory. So God got rid of it, hence the tearing from top to bottom.

Jesus Christ and Him crucified- see why that is so important and all that need to be taught?! God wants to be near to His people to have a close relationship (temple). But we would all die if we had unrestricted access to His glory (curtain). Jesus’ death cleanses us all from all sin that requires the curtain (top to bottom). Now we can come to God freely (torn in two)!!

It’s the story of the Bible packed into one little phrase, one little act on God’s part to be close to us. That is why Jesus Christ and Him crucified are the keys to Christianity. And that is why today is truly “Good Friday”!