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One with Love

Mar 15, 2016   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

One with Love

“Nobody’s perfect.”

“She’s a perfectionist.”
“Christ is waiting for a perfect church.”
I am not a fan of how we usually understand this word, “perfect.” It’s problematic. It is excused. It is overused and used as a club. It is full of pressure, or it becomes a word of despair for some. But really, what does it mean?
In college, I was a fan of Friends (the show… I also appreciated actual friends, in case you were wondering). The personalities were a bit extreme at times, but that made it interesting. Ross was the nerdy, somewhat awkward one who couldn’t get a relationship right until the very end of the series. Chandler was the one who was also awkward with women, but had a joke for every occasion. Joey was great with the women but couldn’t hold a job down very long and was an average actor at best. Phoebe was the flighty, happy-go-lucky one with what seemed to be a checkered past. Rachel was the one with the fashion sense and sometimes seemed a bit emotionally overwrought. Then there was Monica. Once upon a time in her life, she was really big. Then she lost a lot of weight. In the show, she was the picky one. The hostess. The ultra-competitor. Theperfectionist. In one episode, Chandler (who was now dating her) tried to clean the whole apartment to do something nice. Everything was moved back into place as best he could remember, but she could still tell that the coffee table was too far from the couch.
I fear that some of these impressions of “perfect” have all but ruined how God might see it. 1 John 4 is a great chapter if you want to learn about the character of God and of love. But within it is a picture of perfection that I feel can be liberating.
 
“12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
So, if “perfect” really means “like God,” this is pretty significant! God, after all, “is love…” First, love is something that is not ours. It is His! Second, we aren’t the ones who perfect it. He does! In fact, the word “perfected” could have just as easily been translated “completed.” This tells me that there was a starting point and that His love, being completed in us, is a process.
We see and testify of Jesus. His act of saving us is the ultimate expression of God’s love. When we do this, we are given the Holy Spirit, as Jesus told His disciples in John 14:15-18. The Spirit, whom Christ refers to in a personal way, is at work in us as Christ was at work with His disciples, only He is even closer. And as He works, what is He perfecting (or completing)? Love! And the proof is in the pudding. We know that God is one with us and we are one with Him (another way of translating this passage from the word “meno” that John would have written in Greek is to remain in, be in, live in, or be one with) when we love one another. This is “agape” love that is more interested in the other than in self, that dearly regards the other and would do anything for the other. It is the closest word that can be used to describe God’s love. This kind of love proves that we are in God, that God is in us, and that the Holy Spirit has been sent by Jesus into us, to live as “Jesus in us.”
Perfection? Perfection of life and character is completion of love! It is completion!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t always feel there yet. Sometimes I don’t act in a way that reflects that kind of love. It is proof to me that I am still in process (we call that sanctification “churchese”). But I am getting there, and the grace of God and the character of Christ is something I can always call upon. When I am in Him (or even back in Him), I am complete again because “… where I am weak, He is strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
So what to do. A few thoughts on becoming ONE WITH LOVE (or complete, or perfect).
  1. Love one another. Do you regard others as dear ones? Do you think of them with loving regard? What would you sacrifice for that person, even that person who cut you off, flipped you off, insulted you, or ignored you at church? How much would you inconvenience yourself for another person? Not that you have to be a pushover… that doesn’t help the other person any more than it helps you. But how well you love those that are hard to love is a litmus test for how well Christ’s love is being completed in you. But as you love like Christ, and love others, you prove that God is in you and you are in God. It proves that the Father has sent the Spirit to live in you as Christ in you. It proves that, yes, He is completing (perfecting) you.
  2. Talk about God’s love. This is called “testimony.” It is telling others how you have experienced God’s love. For me, it was the first time I laid eyes on my newborn daughter. Or the first time it hit me that Jesus overcame the world for me (John 16:33 is my favorite text). Testimony also includes your confession and praise that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent to save everyone.
So, about that… How has love been easy for you? How has it been challenging for you? How have you experienced God’s love? how have you experienced Christ’s salvation? Share away!

Feeling Your OATs

Feb 18, 2016   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

The Bible couldn’t be clearer: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.James 2:15-17.


It’s likely that this video, and this text, hits us pretty hard. It sure hits me! My life is as full of good intentions as yours. Unfortunately, good intentions never got much done. Maybe you can relate to some good intentions like the following:

I meant to clean the kitchen… but the dirty dishes are still stacked up.


I meant to pay off the credit card bill each month… but years later, here I am up to my neck in debt.


I meant to play with my kids… but now they hardly seem interested.


I meant to help the guy next door move… but I missed my chance.


I meant to bring some spare change to help the guy at the corner who looks hungry… but I haven’t seen him in awhile. I hope he’s OK.


“I meant to…” is a pretty sad way to begin a phrase, isn’t it? The outflow of “I meant to” Christianity is a world that hears “blah blah blah” coming from our lips instead of knowing us as people who make a difference, people worth knowing, people that seem like, dare I say, this Jesus fellow that we read about in the Bible?


How can we turn away from “I meant to” / “blah blah blah” Christians to being the people who make a difference?


It starts with each of us individually choosing to be different. Might I suggest “eating” a morning dose of OATs each day?


O – Observe


What is the need? What do I see happening around me? What is going on in my neighbor’s life? Are they moving in? Are they older? Are they having health problems? Is this person hungry?


We need to be more observant! This means looking and (most importantly) listening.


Rather than judge (stereotype) a person by their looks, how about looking at them and saying, with our eyes, “I love you! How can I help?” Hey, if you actually think it, you might actually start acting like it!


Rather than completing someone’s sentences for them, or thinking about our responses, how about hearing them completely before interpreting them?


How can you be a more observant person?


A – Act


I was reading the story about the good Samaritan in Luke 10 today. I found myself thinking about all the barriers that did not keep the Samaritan from helping the injured and robbed man out. Prejudice wasn’t a barrier. Time wasn’t a barrier. Finances were not a barrier to serving him. Inconvenience, discomfort, safety… none of that came between this Samaritan traveler and helping this dying man. Amazing!


Now, the second thought I had was a bit disturbing. Why is that so amazing to me? And why could I read that text and see the “barriers overcome” so easily? Is this passage piercing me a little? Is it piercing you? Could it be that the reason the barriers fell so easily to the Samaritan’s pity is because he didn’t even think about the barriers? He just acted? Why do I so easily think about barriers instead of action?


It seems to me that we need to have God install some real, genuine, Grade-A compassion in us. Compassion that sees a need and acts. Is it risky? Will we get burned? Is it wreckless? Maybe… but the fact that we think of service as these things seems like a problem to me!


How can we become people of service, who act first before seeing barriers?


T – TALK


Observation and action are great. But with those things alone, we aren’t much different than a charity that runs a telethon, or a handout agency. Somehow we are called to be different.


We’re called to have conversations. We’re called to make friends. We’re called to tell our stories of how good God has been to us. “How will they hear (about Jesus) if no one tells them?” Paul basically asks in Romans 10:14.


I love this quote, from Ministry of Healing, by Ellen G. White: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good.” [My observation: because he did desire their good!]. “He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me!'” (page 143).


Here’s the thing: only six words refer to actually, directly speaking to someone. The rest of it? Observation and action. You could say that any conversation He had with people before the invitation to “Follow Me!” was given was as much about observation and action, in terms of building the relationship. But that last part, “Follow Me!” is SOOO huge! Someone might say no, but for the one who says yes, that invitation seals the deal in totally transforming a person!


Who have you told your story to? Who out there knows how good God has been to you? How can you become a person who Observes, Acts, and Talks about Jesus, even inviting others to be part of the journey with you?


Let’s enjoy the blessings of being such people!


What are your thoughts?

Rescue and Renewal

Dec 14, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

I have heard too many stories about someone being bailed out of trouble, often multiple times, without learning from a mistake. We live in a bit of a nanny state, where people can make mistakes but still get away with it and not have to suffer consequences. Perhaps you have also experienced the phenomenon of a person told at some point in his life that he was special, and he never forgot it. Every time he does something that would render most people dealing with a fallout and picking up the pieces, he gets rescued by parents or friends, often even the society he lives in. And the cycle repeats.

I think about the Old Testament story of Numbers 12-17. In that stretch of six chapters, God’s people do some really bad things. They send 12 spies into the Promised Land. 10 of them bring back a bad report and even exaggerate the negative, while only 2 of them try to hold the people to God’s power and promise. They even want to execute God’s leaders, including the one who led them out of Egypt and through a body of water that split in two before them and drowned the most feared army of the time behind them. When consequences were doled out (that generation was to die in the wilderness), they tried to go in anyway, and wound up getting whipped. Then community leaders Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, rebelled. They were of the tribe of Reuben, the first-born of Jacob. They may have felt that they had more right to leadership because of the birth order of their ancestors. They even equated the Promised Land with Egypt, and would have executed Moses and Aaron and headed back to Egypt. Those men and everyone who followed them (even their families) were wiped out in a single day.

What if they had been bailed out of trouble? Would this nation of blessing ever have blessed anyone? Would they have become a stench, much like the spoiled child turns into an adult that no one can stand to be around?

Numbers 17 is the story of re-establishing God’s order of leadership. The tribes were told to bring a staff with their leader’s name carved into it. The staffs were taken before God in the Tabernacle. God would prove the one He chose for leadership by making a dead piece of wood, not connected to a tree or any kind of bush, show buds the next morning. Not only did He do this, but that dead piece of wood created blossoms and ripe almonds. It showed new life, matured life, and the produce of life. And the staff belonged to Aaron. From that time forward, his rod would stay in God’s Presence. Anyone who doubted leadership and was tempted to rebel just had to look at the rod and remember God’s choice and what had happened to those who rebelled just before this event occurred.

It is interesting how two rods were used in Torah. Moses’ rod became a snake, was stretched out to signal the beginnings of plagues, to signal the parting and re-closing of waters (rescue for Israel and judgment against Egypt), and to strike a rock to bring out water. Aaron’s rod, like his role, was different. It became a sign of new life, developed into mature beauty and fruitfulness. Moses was the delivering leader. Aaron was the agent of forgiveness and atonement.

What brings a person to Christian maturity? Obviously, there might be pain. The old has to be given up. A person has to “leave Egypt.” Christ came to rescue people from slavery to sin. That’s the “Moses Rod” part of what He did. He was stricken on the cross before any water flowed out that could bring life.

But He also came to atone for sin. He was sacrificed. His death and resurrection brought us atonement. He’s still in heaven before God’s throne representing us. He promised to come back. the “Aaron’s Rod” part of what Christ did brings with it new, maturing, and fruitful life from what was once dead.

Back to the original thought. What if the consequences of rebellion were not suffered? What would Israel have turned out to be? I would suggest an empty shell of what she would (for a time at least) become. Rescue without renewal–a new life!–is empty. Israel had to become a new “person,” rescued (represented by Moses) and renewed (represented by Aaron). The nation needed both.

So do we. I know it’s hard. I’ve had to deal with consequences of mistakes. No one likes it. But without trial, without learning from mistakes, we keep repeating them, and we become people no one wants to be around. We cannot be people of blessing without rescue and renewal. We need them both.

How have you experienced rescue and renewal? What lessons can you share to help others see why both are necessary? Praying that we each will know the blessing of both in our lives, and that we can see past the pain and into the blessing.

On Celebration, Forgiveness, Inclusion, and Simplicity

Dec 14, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Lately, social media has been buzzing over the words of a certain political candidate’s views on how we should allow or ban foreigners from entering this country–specific foreigners, in fact. I do not want to spend time on my opinion here. But I would simply ask the question, what would God tell us here? I feel that Numbers 15 gives some perspective.

Numbers 15 seems to be all over the place: Celebratory sacrifices and what should accompany them; absolution offerings and how they are done; what happens when a person, or a group, deliberately sins; a man breaking the Sabbath and his resulting execution; wearing tassels on garments… Sometimes the dots are harder to connect. But I have always felt that they are connectable, even if it takes more time to connect them.

What should accompany a freewill or peace or whole burnt offering? God gives very specific instructions about the grain and drink offerings that should do this. These are the kinds of offerings you might give at one of the appointed festivals that every Israelite was supposed to celebrate.

What should happen when a person sins unintentionally? Or when the entire community sins unintentionally? Specific instructions are given as to how absolution offerings were to be brought to the Sanctuary.

What should happen when it’s presumptuous (deliberate) sin? God tells the people they are to cut that person off from the community. This is demonstrated in a very memorable way when a man is found collecting wood on the Sabbath. The community was to take the man out of the camp and kill him by stoning him. Let the power of that lesson sink in. God didn’t just strike the man down. The sentence was carried out by the people! This man’s deliberate sin very deliberately dealt with, and the man was cut off from the people in a very definitive way. I finished this part wondering if all deliberate sins are really equal. I would think non-repentance is a factor. Obviously, if you steal something, you didn’t do that kind of think accidentally, you could be forgiven. I get the impression that this man may have been caught breaking a commandment, was likely warned, but refused to stop and refused to confess his wrongdoing.

Following this, Israelites were told to sow tassels onto their garments a blue thread to remind them to keep the commandments and be separate from the nations around them, avoiding their evil ways.

A few things speak to me from this. First, when I celebrate at all, I should celebrate God and remember that He celebrates with me (assuming the celebration is one He would condone). Never forget that God loves celebration, particular when it honors Him and His goodness.

Second, take advantage of the paths of forgiveness that God has provided. It is so much easier today than it was for the Israelites. I don’t have to kill anything on an altar. However, each day is a chance to put my self on the altar (in prayer) and be forgiven. Sin is never to be taken lightly, but neither is Jesus and His sacrifice.

Third, treat people well. Don’t qualify your treatment of others by who they are and how they are like you or different from you. God gave both celebration instructions and paths to forgiveness instructions to both Israelite and foreigner. Believers, live a life of blessing to unbelievers. Don’t be afraid to invite them to your parties where they can see you celebrating the goodness of God!

Fourth, do what it takes to remember God at all times. For Israel it was to be tassels. What can it be for me? I feel that I need to be more distinguishable from the patterns of the society around me. It is not a call to be bizarre. But it does call me to do simple things, to be simple (not to be a simpleton of course), and to try and keep anything out of me and off of me that would keep them from seeing Christ in me. Perhaps even a simple alarm on my phone can remind me to look into God’s goodness through His Word or through prayer at set times during the day.

Back to that opening paragraph. Any nation God has ever blessed was blessed for the intention of being a blessing. We are no different. Clearly God expected “foreigners” to be grafted into His people over time. They were to enjoy the things God blessed His own people with. This may mean there were people that would join them over time that came from areas of concern in the surrounding world. Yet as long as they could tell that they were people who intended no harm, but desired what they had in their God, there was a path for them.

Celebration. Forgiveness. Inclusion. Obedience. These blessings were intended for all people. They still are. How should this be considered today?

How to be a Whore – Numbers 22

Nov 16, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Yes, I know that the title of this post is a bit provocative. Bear with me for a few minutes.

In the traditional thinking of the word, “whore” means to sell your body to someone. But it would appear that either God was using such a word provocatively in Scripture to make a point, or it means more than we thought it meant.

In Numbers 22, we read the continuation of a crisis story. Leaders from the tribes of Israel had gone to the Land of Canaan to scout it out. They came back and affirmed that the land was incredible. They even hauled back a cluster of grapes that took two men to carry. But they also asserted that the men of land were enormous, spreading rumors that they made them feel like grasshoppers by comparison. They even went a step further and claimed that the land swallowed men whole, something that, looking back on it several thousand years later, seems pretty outlandish. However, keep in mind there was a mass group panic going on at this point.

As the story goes, the people were in an uproar. Two men, Caleb and Joshua (whose name means “God saves”), tried to calm them down and encourage them to go forward and take the land, as God was fighting for them already. The same God that delivered them from the world’s superpower at that point would be able to deliver the land from these nations that were nothing like Egypt in strength.

But the people wouldn’t hear it. Their panic turned in to rage. They started off by accusing God of bringing them out to the new land just to kill them. They wanted to return to Egypt, against God’s desires, to a place where the gods expected horrific things of them. Then they turned on the leaders who defended God, getting ready to stone them. Had God not intervened, their history would have looked much different after this point.

God might have killed them if it wasn’t for Moses. Moses did something audacious. He called God out! He held God accountable to His own character claims. Some time earlier, God claimed, with Moses in His Presence in a way no one had experienced since Adam and Eve, and no one has experienced since, that He was the loving and compassionate God, full of love and mercy, forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin, even while holding people accountable for sin (see Exodus 34).

And God listened and responded. The people were not killed! They were forgiven. Yet they were held accountable. The generation that accused God of being unfair would not enter the land. They did not trust God in the wilderness, and could not be counted on to trust God in the land they were supposed to take away from the giants they so feared.

I see a few takeaways from this. First, the greatest sin of that moment was their “whoring unfaithfulness,” according to The Message. They trusted and preferred the gods of Egypt over the true God. They preferred their “love” to God’s true love. They trusted the one they loved more in that time. Only a people who loved God would trust Him to deliver on His promises.

Second, in crisis, God’s leaders truly step up. Caleb and Joshua stood up for God and His desires against the tide of a nation. Moses even went as far as to call God to accountability on His promises and character. Leadership looks to who God is, not what’s happening in the moment. It seeks out His promises and holds them up before people as the goal and the preferred future, even as everything seems to be crumbling to pieces all around them.

Third, God is unbelievable forgiving. He is zealous to defend His reputation, but wants us to do the same. He holds people accountable to prefer Him and His love to what the world offers (and the world’s “gods”). He wants His people to trust His character of love, even to accepting His discipline (the people would still try and go to Canaan, only to get absolutely routed).

So, how do you become a whore? Stop trusting the one who really loves you. Stop preferring the love of your true lover, even when things seem to be falling apart, and prefer the “love” that seems easier (even though you’ll soon discover it is anything but “easy”).

How do you become faithful? Prefer God’s love, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. Anything less is “whoring unfaithfulness.” Call upon God to be faithful to His own character when you doubt it. Call upon His claim to be a loving and forgiving God. Even embrace His discipline. If He didn’t love you, He wouldn’t discipline you!

Finances falling apart? Need a job? Remember to love God with your money and your time first. Yes, it’s tempting to get that job that asks us to work on the Sabbath, even though His Word tells us it’s not a day for our kind of work. Yes, it’s tempting to withhold that check you were going to write out for tithe, to help your church, to help a ministry, to feed the hungry… but is that the world’s love you’re preferring, or God’s?

Relationships going sour? What are you going to do? “God, why did you let this happen to me? I might as well do what I want!” Or, “God, I trust you with this. Help me to follow the path you laid out rather than the one I just instinctively want to run down.”

Every day is a choice when it comes to my relationship with God. Will I become the whore, or will I be His faithful child?

Celebrating Deliverance

Sep 29, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Numbers 9 finds the Hebrews in the wilderness exactly one year removed from the final plague in Egypt that ultimately resulted in Pharaoh finally telling them, in essence, “Get out!” Of course, the story tells that he regretted this, went after them, and his army wound up drowning in the Red Sea. The only reason there wasn’t wailing amongst Hebrew homes in Egypt? Because they had celebrated Passover. The doorpost was painted with blood. The special meal was eaten in haste, featuring lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs and more.

A year later, this was to be a celebration of what God had done. God tells the people in Numbers 9 to “celebrate the Passover…” A year earlier, it’s possible that many of them, while observing this meal, felt a great sense of relief that the firstborn in their home was still alive.  Maybe they could even hear the cries of mothers and fathers and younger siblings in other homes of those who did not observe that first Passover as they discovered their pride and joy dead.

But today, Passover was to be celebrated. God had delivered them from the house of bondage with a mighty arm and outstretched hand! They had seen the miracle wonders of God time after time after time, and had even seen His Presence as He gave them His covenant of love and faithfulness. Even for those who were ritually unable to celebrate it (they had touched a corpse, or were traveling) were given opportunity to do so. Plan on doing it a month later. Absolutely everyone needs to remember what God had done for them!

We also observe the Hebrews in motion. They acted and moved upon the command of God. If the cloud of fire stopped, they set up the Tent of Meeting below it and the Hebrews set up camp around it as instructed. It would descend, and as long as it remained descended on the Tent, the Hebrews stayed put. One day, two days, two months, whatever. When it ascended above the tent, they packed up and followed it wherever it went. It was simple really. Do what God says… don’t do what He doesn’t say… don’t move unless He moves.

I think it is very important, in my own life, a couple of principles from this:

  1. Take time to celebrate God’s goodness. He has delivered me from the house of bondage: sin. And trust me, sin has held me a slave in my life. Satan has done it to every one of us. We need God’s constant, daily deliverance. Obviously, we can celebrate in a special way once a year, but really each day is a new day to celebrate what God has done, especially through Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain on the cross to deliver us from certain eternal death.
  2. If I find myself unable to celebrate, take this matter to God. Hey, there are days that are so lousy that it’s hard to celebrate anything. Right now, I am writing from Panera. It’s raining outside. My son had to miss out on a field trip and isn’t that happy about it. I have a lot to do and I’d just as soon be reading or back in bed. Celebration isn’t exactly what I feel like right now. But you know what? There’s a lot of people going through a lot worse than that. Really, that isn’t even the point either. No matter how awful I feel or how bad the situation is, somehow I have faith that God is still good, and that He is still being good to me. It’s time for me to take my feelings and my situation to God and ask for His provision of celebration. Can’t find a reason to celebrate God? Ask Him! He’ll give you one!
  3. I must give each day to God. I need to seek more and more to move and speak and act only in response to God. It’s easy to think to myself that a give situation isn’t a big enough deal to do this with, but that’s not the right thinking at all. Much better to, each day, ask for the Holy  Spirit’s fire to descend on my heart and fill me, to move me, to make it clear what I should do and what I should say. Then, respond with gratitude. He is acting for His Kingdom, and He is acting for me.
So, how will you celebrate God’s goodness today? What do you do when you don’t feel like celebrating, or when you just can’t even celebrate? How do you discern what God is telling you to do or telling you to say?
“This is what the LORD says, He who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it, the LORD is His name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:2-3)

Recognized to Serve

Sep 8, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Recognized to ServeThere’s an interesting juxtaposition between what we think of recognition as being, and what the Bible shows recognition as being.

What do you think of when you hear the word “recognition”? Awards? Being seen as the best at something? Someone knowing who you are? Being recognized as the biggest giver in a philanthropic project, perhaps?

Go to some churches and you’ll see people recognized in a variety of ways. The bricks outside may have the names of donors etched into them. A plaque may recognize someone for the contributions they have made in time and service and finances to the church. You might even name a room after someone. Anyone who has ever read Mike Yaconelli’s works, or have been a part of the Youth Specialties scene very long… you know what “Jones Memorial Carpet” means (and heaven forbid you spill anything on it)!

Yet when we look at recognition, from a biblical position, everything should change. Numbers 8 is a picture of recognition.

Not to skip over it, the first part speaks of the command to have the light from the Lampstand in the Tent of Meeting to be cast in front of it. This light illuminated the Table of Shewbread, representing God’s great provision. The light of God shows God’s provision, and always is cast forward, illuminating us in the present, even showing us what is to come. This light represents the Holy Spirit, a light that reveals what is really going on in our hearts.

Then comes the ceremonial recognition of the Levites, who would work in the Tent of Meeting. I found it interesting that it was not just a few who placed hands on them, but the whole community, recognizing their role as mediators of God’s justice and grace, righteousness and reconciliation between the community and holy God. These men were substitutes for the firstborn males from all of Israel. In Egypt, God “took” them, either in death (to those who refused the blood of the lamb on the doorpost) or in life (the blood of the lamb being their substitutionary atonement). In the wilderness, the Levites were the “stand-ins” for the rest of Israel, and they were recognized for this. They especially belonged to God, set aside to serve Him. They were to have families, then spend arguably their best years as priests of service.

That’s the thing. What do you seek recognition for? What do any of us seek recognition for? Biblically, at least in this case, people are recognized for service. Just thinking about it, I can’t think of many positive associations made in the Bible with people who sought to be recognized. Nebuchadnezzar sought it… and wound up mooing and eating grass for awhile (see Daniel 4). Solomon sought it, and the kingdom split into two after his death, and he seemed to live out many of his years totally messing up (as he messed around), and if you read some of his writings, I think it’s safe to say he was depressed much of the time.

The Bible heroes I think of, for the most part, weren’t looking to be recognized. Theyserved God, and are recognized for their service.

So what about now?

  • In your home, do you seek recognition as the leader of your home, or do you look for ways to serve your spouse and/or your children?
  • In your neighborhood, would you rather be recognized as the owner of the most pristine house and lawn, or the one that goes out of the way to do something nice… dropping off a little bag of cookies or bread, or randomly mowing someone’s lawn, or taking the time to have a conversation with the little old lady across the street who is, frankly, lonely?
  • In your church, how do you feel about recognition as a leader? Is it your right to tell someone what to do, or to listen? To serve? Are you OK with taking hits for the gospel? For sticking with the mission even when others think it’s time to change course? Or to make changes when needed and avoiding unneeded stubbornness?
Sometimes we get burned for serving. At work, many of us are almost expected to step on others to get where we want to be (an unfortunate side-effect of capitalism and free-market enterprise, and a human nature that manifests itself in other forms of society too). Yet the way of Jesus, the way of God’s society dating back to the days of Numbers, is to serve. To be a “priest” that seeks the justice and grace of God to share with others.
What would you like to be recognized for?

Set Apart

Aug 31, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

SET APART Generic

 

I believe everyone is set apart for something, or made for something. I remember a scene from the movie Chariots of Fire, where the main character says he feels God’s pleasure when he runs. He was made to run. There was a guy last night who threw a no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I think his last name is Arriata. That guy is made to pitch a baseball.
I have been somewhat obsessed lately with a capella vocal bands. I especially like those groups that have a bass that can just go down through the basement with his notes. Avi Kaplan with Pentatonix, for example, hits a ridiculously low E1. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_G7HzIpqYyU if you want to hear what that’s like. That’s basically what I wish I could do, as I love a great bass voice. They say it all depends on how much testosterone was pumping through a boy’s body when he was going through puberty. I can get kind of low, but nothing like that, so I guess I had a kind of good dose of it back then! Needless to say, that man was made to sing bass!
Numbers 7 tells the story of The Dwelling being anointed and dedicated when it was finally finished. This means it was set apart. Every tribe brought gifts and offerings. Oxen-pulled carts and wagons to transport The Dwelling. Plates, bowls, vessels, flour, and incense to supply The Dwelling. They offered bulls, rams, goats, and rams for whole burnt offerings, absolution offerings, and peace offerings.
The story ends with Moses. He was set apart himself for a special task. He was the one God spoke to from the area above the Ark of the Testimony inside the Most Holy Place in The Dwelling. Through Moses, God communicated to His people. Through Aaron, the people approached God.
The Dwelling was a place especially set apart for ministry. God ministered His Word to people through Moses. He ministered redemption, illustrating the plan of salvation, through Aaron. That ministry of The Dwelling was to be highly valued, treasured, well-manned, and well supplied for. The character of God was to be well-illustrated.
I think about humanity today. According to the New Testament, we are now The Dwelling. We are the ones who are supposed to be God’s ministry to people. Through the Holy Spirit, we are set apart… we are made for God’s work! He wants to communicate salvation to all people through His followers. He wants to show the world what He is like through us! Imagine that! His plan of redemption, His character, He wants to show all of this through vessels like us!
 
I don’t know about you, but I don’t often feel that pure. The vessels used in Numbers 7 were made of gold and silver. Yet God values me far more than any precious metal.
The question is, do I value myself that much? Do I value what God wants to do in me like that?
How well do I prioritize and value God’s work in me? How well do I care for my body? How well am I taking care of my mind (what goes into it… does it rest enough… etc.)? How is my time prioritized? How are my finances prioritized?
Know this much: you are made for great things! In Christ, you are made to be a vessel and Dwelling for the character and ministry of God Himself.
You are valuable. You are treasured. You are greatly sought after by the King of the Universe!
You were made for this!
Do you believe this? Do you accept?

Satisfied

Aug 27, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

One of the first things that surprised me about the Doctor of Ministry cohort that I belong to was one of our first “in-class” assignments. We were to find a secluded place, preferable in nature somewhere. We would start off by taking a walk. Then find a place to sit (I took a blanket) and just be silent. If we fell asleep, that was fine. After about half an hour, we were to just spend time reading Scripture, followed by journaling. We could then read from a devotional book of some sort, the kind of book that speaks to your experience as a child of God (as opposed to a book on leadership or mission, or any other “how-to” books in Christian circles). Then we’d finish with silence again, and walk out of wherever we went. It was a miniature spiritual retreat.

I was very refreshed and blessed by this. I spent my time back in the woods away near Ponce Deleon Springs, not far outside Orlando. The blessing of time with God was powerful, meaningful, and badly needed. Honestly, I should do that a lot more often. I guess the question I am having today is, Am I satisfied with that blessing?

Numbers 6 is about Nazarite vows and the Aaronic blessing. The vows were to be a time of especially intense consecration to God, when the one taking them was more intentionally set apart for Him than usual. If you took the vow, you took it for a set period of time. You shaved your head. You weren’t supposed to drink anything intoxicating or even eat anything from the vine–no grapes, raisins, seeds, etc. You weren’t to go near a corpse. If someone died suddenly in your presence, you took a sacrifice to The Dwelling (Sanctuary), shaved  your head again, and started over. When it was done, you went in, shaved your head, the hair was burned, you made a sacrifice offering, and were free to go back to your normal, set-apart life.

After this, the chapter speaks of the Aaronic blessing. Here’s how The Message puts it:
“God bless you and keep you,
God smile on you and gift you,
God look you full in the face and make you prosper.”
This would place God’s Name on His people. He would come near to them and bless them with His prosperity.

As their history unfolded, it’s clear that the people weren’t satisfied with that blessing. They wanted a king. They split up. They wanted to worship other gods. One guy named Samson had that same Nazarite vow for life, but he broke pretty much every one of the guidelines for it (and we don’t see any record of his going to the Sanctuary to make amends for that).

Are you satisfied? Satisfied with the blessings that God gives you? With the results of spending special, set-apart time with God (if you’ve done that before)?

Our national debt is ridiculous. Forget that, I got myself into enough personal debt that I should forgo pointing my finger at the country! Plenty of people cheat on their spouses. Plenty of workers will step all over one another for a raise or a promotion.

We are a nation of profoundly unsatisfied people.

To respond to this, personally (realizing we can’t cure that illness for anyone but ourselves), I suggest asking yourself a few questions.

  1. When is a time that I can be especially consecrated? To retreat to God? I’m not suggesting a Nazarite vow, per se, but a period of time you can get away from distractions and take a retreat with God. I might suggest just going with simple foods, spiritually uplifting music (although iStuff is pretty distracting, so be careful with this one), a Bible, a journal, and a book that can help you grow spiritually.Surrender to Love, by David G. Benner is pretty good, or Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, by Ellen White. I like Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli too.
  2. Am I satisfied with God’s blessings and God’s prosperity in my life? Maybe He’s gifted you. Maybe He’s smiling on you. Maybe you only have some time with Him. Maybe you have a family, a marriage. Maybe you have a calling. Are you satisfied with these gifts, or are you constantly craving more? Debt, lust, checking out instead of engaging the kids, laziness, pining for a different job… all may be symptomatic of dissatisfaction. Why not take a moment to take stock of the blessings God has given you and ask Him to help you be satisfied?
Again…

“God bless you and keep you,

God smile on you and gift you,
God look you full in the face and make you prosper.”

On Freedom, Fairness, and Faithfulness

Aug 26, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

I love freedom. I love being able to worship as my conscience leads. I love the freedom to pursue the kind of life I feel God calling me to. I love the freedom to be able to express myself the way I desire.

I also recognize that freedom to do such things may come with consequences. They are not all bad. I can be part of a faith community that reflects my personal values and beliefs. I can make a decent living and provide for my family. I can write and think. But sometimes when I do things like these, there are sacrifices. My belief about Sabbath, for instance, creates some constraints about what I will and will not do on that day. Now, I don’t mind that… these beliefs in themselves provide a freedom from another kind of tyranny. I am bound by conscience to pursue things that honor God on that day and reflect upon Him in a way I don’t do on other days, as the working week makes this an unlikely thing. I am also bound to sacrifice some things that prevent me from doing this. Freedom is great.

I also recognize that pursuing something in life prevents me from pursuing other things, especially when the values of that other thing clash with the values of what I am pursuing. I recognize that I cannot just write or say what I want without risking disagreement or even a lost friendship.

Reading Numbers 5 today, I observe several things.

  1. Anyone with infectious diseases were banned from the camp. The camp of God’s people were not to be defiled by sin or its results. That is tough for us to understand today. It seems unfair. It seems to lack compassion. But for their freedom to live in community and to worship God as the center of their existence to exist, I can see why this was necessary. If diseases infected the entire camp (skin or otherwise), and everyone started dying off or was miserable, community freedom would be drastically impacted. They could not deal with these things like we can today with modern medicine. If God just wiped out disease, it would be easy for people to forget a very important thing: this is what sin has done to people! Freedom existed. But freedom needed some boundaries.
  2. Anyone who wronged another person in the camp had to make compensation for it. They had to pay for the wrong, plus 15%. They had to make the appropriate sacrifices. If there wasn’t a relative to receive the compensation, they paid the priest. Freedom needed boundaries. An assault on freedom to live in community and worship had to be dealt with fairly.
  3. If a man suspected his wife was having an affair, they both had to appear in God’s presence, with the priest. The husband had to present a grain offering for his jealousy. The wife had to uncover her head. The priest tok water, added dust from the floor of The Dwelling (Sanctuary), and washed off the ink of the curse into the water. She would drink this water. If she was guilty, she experienced great pain, her womb shriveled up, and her belly swelled. She would be unable to bear children. If she was innocent, she was fine and could go on with her life. A bit more on how I feel about this one to come… but for now, suffice it to say that such things had to be dealt with. If affairs went on, as they must have in many other surrounding cultures with impunity, and if jealousy became a reigning emotion in the camp… freedom destroyed. Freedom needs boundaries, even consequences for assaulting freedom.
Now, I think we have freedom to question. If God cannot take my questions about His Word or actions, I don’t know who can. I also feel that anyone who claims to have never questioned or doubted have either abdicated the right to use their brains, or are lying. Sorry if that offends, but that’s how I feel. And, parenthetically, something about this text bothers me. I realize that theirs was a very patriarchal society. But for the life of me, I have a hard time seeing it fair to have a couple go into the sanctuary, and the man makes a sacrifice for jealousy that carries no apparent risk, while the woman is risking a lot. Even as I read, it wasn’t very clear to me. It’s possible she drank first, felt accute pain, then the man sacrificed his grain (that’s it?), and his jealosy (founded or otherwise) was atoned for… and then the woman drank again(!) and would feel the pain again if she was guilty (and have her child-creating parts immediately rendered useless), but would not if she was innocent. Or, she only had to drink the one time. Not clear on this… but it seems like the man gets off pretty easy if his accusation was unfounded. I am just not seeing how that’s entirely fair! I am glad I have freedom to feel this way! Not sure what the consequences are on this, but there you have it!
I do have some takeaways from this, however.
  1. In my life, my home, my community of faith… if it dishonors or tears down God’s reputation, it needs to be guarded against and gotten rid of. Now, does this mean a person is “banned from the camp” the same way they were in the wilderness? I don’t think so. Our situation is vastly different today. There are ways of dealing with these things that are much more compassionate and healing. I think it’s wise to keep contagious things away from the innocent. But there are those who think we need to keep out the unclean. I think it is too easily forgotten that we have a high priest who helps us deal with sin. If we refuse to deal with it and openly bring things “into the camp,” that’s one thing. But may we never ban the sick and unclean from associating with us who would bring all of this before our merciful Father, in Christ, for forgiveness and cleansing.
  2. Be fair. If I wrong someone, make it right. Go above and beyond in making things right with people. Our homes and our faith communities are built up through reconciliation with each other.
  3. Be faithful. Fidelity with your spouse is a must. Don’t even give your spouse a reason to think you are being unfaithful. Don’t give him or her a reason to be jealous. If unwarranted jealousy exists, deal with it together. We have a high priest in heaven now–Jesus Christ, according to Hebrews. Take it to Him together and work through it. Seek counseling–don’t let such things destroy your freedom to love in your relationship.
  4. If you are unfaithful… please stop. End it now. It may not “shrivel up your womb” (or have an equivalent result in men). But it will shrivel up who you are and cause you, your spouse, and even the one you commit adultery with (and his or her family) a lot of needless pain. The thrill is fleeting and not worth destroying who you are over. Just ask Josh Duggar right now. Ask his wife. Ask scores of people who have experienced the pain of such a thing. I could go deeper on this issue, but won’t for the sake of length and time.
God invites us to experience freedom: to worship, to live in community. Freedom needs boundaries. It needs us to be fair and faithful, to each other and to God.
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