Friday, September 28, 2012

Manna on the Sabbath

I’m learning that so much of God’s work in my life has two sides. He blesses in the good times and He blesses in the bad times. He gives me what I need and withholds what I shouldn’t have. He tells me to love Him and He tells me to hate the World. That principle is at work in His commandment to keep the Sabbath. 

God provides through work and God provides through rest. The Sabbath is not a break; it’s part of God’s provision.

When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, God provided just enough manna for each day. But they had to go out and gather it. His provision involved daily work. If they kept any for the next day it was spoiled. But on the sixth day He told them to pick up twice as much. The next day there was no manna, but the leftover from the day before was still good. Those who went looking for manna on the seventh day were not only disappointed, they were disobedient.

Unfortunately, I haven’t always understood that the Sabbath is a gift to me from God. Work is what I do because it’s what God expects. And because God commands me to rest on the Sabbath, I’ve sort of classified it with the rest of the things I do because God wants me to do them. God says work for six days. God says rest one day. By thinking that way I miss the true importance of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is God’s gift to His people.

God provides enough for the Sabbath.

Whether I keep the Sabbath is not only a matter of obedience – it's a blessing.

I think that one of the purposes of the Sabbath is for me to stop striving and sit back and watch God provide. On the other six days, I receive His provision through my efforts - or at least I act on it. On the Sabbath, I have no part in it at all. I stay in my own place, open the cupboard doors and there is the manna. 

One day a week I rest from planning, working or worrying. One day a week I open my mouth and let God fill it. One day a week I don’t have to do anything but receive God’s blessings.

God’s provision, obedience and Sabbath rest are tied together in this story. God provides everything we need to sustain us, but part of that provision is work. He provides, but we work to gather it. Then He adds rest as a special gift. One day out of seven we don’t have to work, but He still provides. It all works together because we obey Him to work when we should and not work when we shouldn’t and trust Him to provide in both instances.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Good news! God is coming back to rescue His people and display His righteousness. Better news! God will rescue others besides His people, the outcasts of Israel.

When I read this passage I couldn’t help thinking of the current nation of Israel and its struggles to survive. I know there are different views among Christians about Israel, but I know God isn’t done with the Jews yet. I first became aware of the suffering of the Jews throughout history in high school when I read The Source by James Michener. I was horrified that a whole race of people had been persecuted because they set themselves apart, just as God commanded them to.

It’s ironic that they also suffered because they didn’t set themselves apart. The Old Testament is filled with stories of the rebellion of God’s people, His punishment, their repentance and His rescue. Over and over. The Israelites weren’t the only ones to rebel against Him, of course, and they are not the only ones He has rescued. That’s also the story of my salvation. 

Which makes this passage much more personal than just a promise to the Israelites. Just who does God say He will He rescue?

His people who honor His Sabbath days of rest and keep themselves from doing wrong. 

These are the ones who have always known Him, who set themselves apart for Him. They don’t live like the world does, filling up their days with work and other activities, ignoring His standards. These are His people who are just and fair to all, who do right and good. Whatever their circumstances, they know they will be blessed. They’re going to be rescued from the world they’ve already turned away from. 

Foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord.

These were not originally His people, but they’ve come to know Him. They have committed themselves to Him and serve Him and love His name. They worship Him and they also set themselves apart. They hold fast to His covenant, by which He has grafted them into the House of Israel. He brings them into His house of prayer and fills them with joy in His presence.

Eunuchs who choose to do what pleases Him and commit their lives to Him.

This is an interesting category of people. Eunuchs are men who are childless because of the physical injury that has been done to them. They have no family, but more importantly, they have no children to honor their memory when they are gone. Essentially, they are mortal and their lives are short. Yet God promises to give them a better memorial than children give their parents. He promises to give them an everlasting name. These people suffer in this life, but will receive eternal life filled with blessings.

The one thing all three of these categories of people have in common is that they honor God’s Sabbath days of rest. They set aside time for Him and only Him. They don’t do wrong, they do what pleases Him, they hold fast to His covenant. In other words they set themselves apart from the world and live God’s way.

Whichever of these categories each of us belongs to, we can live in the hope that He’s coming back to rescue us. Good news indeed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Purpose of the Law

Sometimes the scripture raises more questions than answers. When a question jumps out at me it turns me into a detective and I pull out my concordance and the cross references in my Bible get a workout. I love that because it helps me to look past the immediate verse to the whole scripture.
This verse started one of those searches and I’m not sure I’ve found a correct answer. But it’s a start.

Jesus said the law of Moses won’t disappear until its purpose is accomplished. So what is its purpose?

In Galatians 3:19, Paul writes that the law was given to show us our sin. Okay, I get that. I know I’m a sinner because I know the law, which gives me something to measure my actions against. The better I know the law, the more clear it is that I break it.

But Jesus also said the purpose of the law won’t be accomplished until heaven and earth disappear. So until Jesus returns, the law will go on showing people their sin. Here’s where it gets confusing. Paul said the law was designed to last only until the coming of Jesus. In Galatians 3:25, Paul says that we no longer need the law.

Obviously I need to do more research. What he actually says is that we no longer need the law to be our guardian. 

It’s not the purpose of the law to make us right with God. It can’t because we can’t keep it perfectly. But it is part of the Good News. The law and the promise of a savior go hand in hand. The law shows us our sin; the promise frees us from it. 

In Galatians 3:23 Paul says that the law put us in protective custody before Jesus came. It put a guard on our actions to restrain us. Now that Jesus has come we no longer need the restraint because He has freed us from sin. 

So why did Jesus say the law won’t pass away until He comes back? 

This is where I might be stretching my understanding, but I think that the law helps us to live the way God wants us to. In Galatians5:13-14 Paul tells us not to use our freedom to live however we want. Instead we are to serve each other with love. That’s the royal law we read about in James2:8. Jesus said that all of the law and prophets hang on this commandment and the about loving God with all our being. (Matthew 22:38-40

So . . .

Because I’ve been saved, I’m no longer slave to the law. But the law is still there to show me how God has intended me to live. It shows me how to love God and my neighbor. 

God wants me to use my freedom to live the intention of the law.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ordinary and Dedicated

I was quite young when I read The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I still remember how Laura and her family kept the Sabbath. The girls couldn’t play with anything and I think they were only allowed to read the Bible. It sounded so boring to me and I was so glad my parents didn’t make us do that.

In reality, I’ve always loved Sundays. I may have been a little bored in church when I was little, but I liked Sunday School and as an adult I’ve loved worship and learning and fellowship. The afternoons have always had a quiet peace that’s not quite like other days. Meals are different, there’s nothing that needs to be done and often we go back to church in the evening. But we also watch football or baseball or spend some time with friends. Is that how God wants us to keep the Sabbath?

What does it mean to keep a day holy?

Make it a day of rest dedicated to the Lord my God.

The obvious answer is to not do work, like Laura’s family. But if my rest is dedicated to the Lord, shouldn’t my recreation be different too?

The key words in this passage are ordinary and dedicated; ordinary work and dedicated rest

God has given me six days for ordinary work. That’s when I follow my regular schedule of things that need to be done and things I want to do. That’s when I clean house, cook, teach, shop and exercise. But that’s also when I garden, write, read, watch TV, play games and socialize. 

These are my ordinary work.

God asked me to dedicate one day to Him. On that day I should rest from my regular schedule so I can focus my attention, thoughts, emotions, time and energy on the Lord. This is when I go to church.

This is my dedicated rest.

Sunday is different. But I know the whole day is not dedicated to Him. I do rest from my regular work but is my rest dedicated to the Lord? Somehow I don’t think watching the Patriots for three hours is quite what He had in mind. On the other hand, I don’t want to be a legalist like Laura’s parents. But I do want to please the One who gave me the Sabbath. I don’t think I completely understand what God intends for this special day. Or else (which is more likely) I know what He intends but I’m not willing to give up some of the things I enjoy doing on Sundays. This is a matter of prayer for me.

One thing I know; He wants me to dedicate myself to Him whether I’m resting or doing ordinary work. I belong to Him in all circumstances.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sweet Grapes

I can hear the disappointment and grief in God’s words. He’s done everything He can for me. He’s given me everything I need to live a godly life. And yet, I produce sour fruit. What more can He do?

What more can God do than everything?

So why am I not producing sweet grapes?

I’m shortsighted and blind. I’ve forgotten that He’s cleansed me from my sins.

I know something about poor vision. I started wearing glasses when I was eleven because I was nearsighted. I could see things that were close but everything far away was blurry. That changed when I had cataract surgery. I chose to have the doctor install lenses that allow me to see distance. But that means I can’t see things that are close up anymore. For a while I used reading glasses, but now I have bifocals. Either way, I can’t see what’s right in front of my face. I’m shortsighted and nearly blind.

When I apply this image to spiritual matters, I realize I must keep the knowledge of salvation right in front of me. The only way I can see what God’s done for me is to hold the Cross close and look straight at it. When I do, I can see that He’s given me everything I need to live a godly life; His great and precious promises. That’s all I need to produce sweet fruit.

Just like grapes, I want to grow a little every day. They start with a little bud on the vine, then a little cluster of tiny balls; they grow bigger day by day until they are a large cluster of sweet globes, perfect for eating or making the best wine. 

Here are the little globes of fruit that will grow if I cling to His promises:

Faith – I believe God loves me because Jesus died for me.
Moral excellence – I live by God’s standards.
Knowledge – I study God’s Word to learn more about Him and who He is.
Self-control – I sacrifice what I want in order to do what He wants.
Patient endurance – I rest in God’s goodness in the midst of suffering.
Godliness – I imitate Jesus in every attitude and action of my life.
Brotherly affection – I enjoy God’s people, my family.
Love for everyone – I show my love in practical ways that let Jesus shine through me.

I have a choice. I can remember my salvation, rely on God’s promises and bear sweet fruit or think of myself, forget what God has done for me and bear bitter fruit.

I can’t imagine anything worse than disappointing God.