Monday, February 23, 2015

The Price of Sin

Without the shedding of blood there is no remission (of sin)

Hebrews 9:22  And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

A little over 6000 years ago, a man had a back yard full of  animals. He loved them, gave each and every one of them a name, spent a lot of time with all of them. But, of all the beautiful animals he had... of all the cute, furry, little creatures; the graceful deer, adorable bunny rabbits, romping little puppy dogs, of all the wonderful animals of the Father's  creation, animals that were his to pet and love and care for, he had a favorite.

You should have seen the ponies out in the pasture of an evening, feeling their oats and frolicking among the purple-flowered alfalfa.  You should have witnessed him being visited every day by the big cats, by bears, by owls and eagles.

But First Man had a favorite, a ram he had nurtured since it was just a wee lamb with its spindly little legs barely able to hold up its body. Wool as white as snow and thicker than his wife's gorgeous red hair.

He had named the ram Pascal and personally fed him every morning and evening. He was also the Father's favorite. They both would play hide and seek with Pascal sometimes in the evening at just about dusk.

There came a day when First Man was combing some of the grass out of Pascal's rich coat when suddenly he heard his wife's voice, urging him to come as quick across the garden as he could. Never had he heard such urgency in her voice.

He patted Pascal on the crown of his head and stroked one his majestically curled horns. Amazing, at not even 2 years old, how quickly he had matured into such a beautiful and powerful ram. Yes, truly, he loved this sheep more than anything except his gracious Father and his precious wife.

Hurrying into the very center of the garden from where his wife called him, he thought he saw the movement, maybe the end of a tail of something slithering under a bush. Here, the trees stood tallest. Here the fruit was more luscious than anywhere else. Was it the nearness of the river, the richness of the earth's floor, or the proximity to the tree of life? This is where he was born from dust. Here is where his wife was fashioned from his rib. It was cool here, the air was fresh with the scents of flower blooms, a slight, comfortable humidity, and the gigantic ripe fruit clinging to the trees.

It was then he glimpsed his wife, standing over in the shade of the forbidden tree. It stood there, complimenting her beauty in every way. As shapely as she was, so the curvature of the tree magically drew the eye. The fruit hanging ripe from its limbs rivaled the lusciousness of her eyes.

Her eyes, however, seemed heavy, half shaded with a strange look. An elusive word with which he was not familiar made its way into his conscience, "embarrassment." What was this strange concept working at his mind? And this countenance she shyly expressed, it was, at the same time, alluring, demure and yet, he was put off by it. What's more, she couldn't return his gaze for more than a momentary glance.

"Is something troubling you, my love?"

"No, well, yes, I think. I don't know."

"Strange" he said, "I've never seen you like this. What has happened?"

She glanced momentarily at the tree behind her, then at the fruit hanging over her head from an extended branch. Then at him. A puzzled look came across his face. Its now or never, she thought, as she reached up to the nearest ripe piece of fruit and snatched it from the limb.

"But this is the tree I warned you about." He said with a twinge of frustration in his voice. "The Lord told us not to eat of it, and I told you not to even touch it."

"Just eat!" She responded, as she handed him the most lovely, colorful, plump, ripe fruit either of them had ever come encountered.

She had no ill intent in giving him the forbidden fruit. She just wanted him to taste what she had tasted, smell what she had smelled, experience this strange new feeling she was feeling. He had never had any reason to distrust her, or, for that matter, to distrust anyone or anything he had ever encountered.

And thus, he began to debate within himself, dare he disobey the Father? Part of him wanted to toss the food the the ground, turn his back on his bride and march away. Another part of him wanted to find a place to sit and consider what was happening, to process this war beginning to rage within his being. It was as if something new was about to be born within his soul, or, perhaps maybe something he had always known was about to die.

Die? What was that? Another new concept to his brain, yet, there it was, as real as if it were a truth, and yet, it was not a part of his experience.

Oh, so many strange emotions! But there he stood, his wife extending to him once again the fruit he had returned to her moments before. Suddenly, it was as if his whole life passed before his eyes; the creation of his wife, the naming of the animals, the care of this wonderful garden and most vividly, the daily fellowship of the Father as they wound through the serene paths of the garden at day's end.

Eve looked deeply into his eyes with a pleading, hungry, gaze. There were two people on earth, yet one unit, and one Father who met daily with them. She now sensed that they were about separate onto two divergent pathways, unless she could convince him to eat the fruit. As well, he knew they stood at crossroads. Either he would obey the Father, and his own better judgment, or he would take his first bite of that which was off limits and become complicit with his wife.

And then she spoke, "Adam, my husband, my love, have I ever given you cause to doubt me? Do you not trust me now? I know something you don't know...yet. I know that you have never tasted anything like this. And I am not just talking about the sensation of the food on your tongue, but the taste you will experience in your soul. Just one bite, Adam, and you will be changed. It's strange, but you will see things in a whole new light, everything will change for you, Adam. For us! Please eat!"

He looked around, then at Eve, up to the tree, at the bush in which he had seen something take cover. He looked toward hallowed path by which the Father entered daily. It would be a while before His arrival. Would He even know?

From the path, his eyes returned to the fruit and finally rested on his wife. Looking deeply into her eyes, he raised the rich, red fruit to his mouth. Then, as he bared his teeth, a voice within him screamed, "DON'T!!!"

And then he bit. As the juice exploded in his mouth, as Eve looked expectantly to him for approval, something else exploded in his inner being. This was a new feeling, but something more than a feeling, it was a knowing, and even more, a nagging. The fruit was good, no doubt about that. Sweet, tart, a mixture of some his favorites in the garden. As the first bite made its way down his throat and the first drop fell from his chin, he sensed that things would never be the same. "What's the big deal?" he scolded himself. "It's just food. How can a bite of fruit be such a fuss?" and he took another chomp, as did Eve, from the same fruit. She had cradled it, along with Adam's hand, firmly in her own hands and bit, while looking into his eyes.

Now, a new feeling came over him, over both of them. Not a feeling, but several emotions rolled into one. Each one new, strange and troubling. If they could have defined them, they would have expressed guilt, blame, shame, remorse, disgust and most of all, fear.

"Quickly, let's go," he urged her down the path and away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He wanted to be as far away from the garden's center as possible when the Father paid them His nightly visit.

"What have we done?" She asked.

"I don't know for sure, but it was not the will of the Father." Adam replied.

"Adam, I am not comfortable meeting the Father this evening as I am."

He stopped so suddenly in the path that she ran right up against him. He turned to her, looked her up and down, taking her in with his eyes as if he'd never seen her before, not as he was seeing her now, anyway.

"You are right," he said with a grimace, "we are not presentable. We are naked, but it's more than that. It's not just our forms I am embarrassed about, I feel my heart is naked and, and..." he could not find the words to finish his sentence.

Strange, thought Eve. Her Adam was always so confident, so in control, so able, and 
never at a loss for words. He always seemed to have a mastery of everything. But now he seemed lost, like what she imagined a very young human being might act who didn't know how to have dominion over land and sea and the animals. They both felt as if they had lost control, like they were moving and thinking in slow motion. It was if the sky was suddenly a few shades less brilliant, and the deep green of the garden had faded into a pale verdancy. All confidence was gone. But most of all, they both sensed fear and guilt, especially concerning their first meeting with the Father...after the fruit.

"What would that be like? How do we face such a dreadful task?" She asked herself quietly.

Adam reached for, and picked several large leaves of a bush nearby. He tore a thin vine from a small tree and fashioned a makeshift covering for his wife's body, then one for his own.

They donned the strange new outfits which felt completely inadequate and comfortless.

"It will have to do." He said with a terseness she had never witnessed from him. "Time is short, we must prepare for Father's visit."

Adam felt a nudge on the side of his hip, it was Pascal. He looked down at the ram who hesitatingly looked back at him. "Odd," he thought, "but I sense a shyness in my little friend, almost a dread. I wonder why he is acting so strangely." As he reached down to caress the sheep's head, Pascal shied a bit, then warmed to his strokes. Adam filed this strange exchange away in his mind. He would revisit this thought later.

"Sorry little guy, but we have some things to attend to." It was a lie, another first for either one of them, and a bit of a stab to the heart, and they left the lamb standing by the path.

As the sun crept toward the horizon, the pair sensed an imminent confrontation with their Creator. It was still a while before the appointed time, but they felt the need to find cover in the thick brush, rather than greet Him face to face as if all was well. They sensed all was anything but well.

"One piece of fruit," he mused "and now all this fuss?"

Eve felt a sharp pain on the side of her leg just below the knee. A branch from the bush bore a very sharp thorn, no more in length than her eyelash. As it pricked her skin, a slight scratch appeared on her leg, about as long as her little finger, and then, a small drop of blood oozed out. She had no idea what this sanguine fluid was that was leaking from her body like juice from the forbidden tree's fruit. All she knew, it was a most unpleasant sensation.

The Father's holy presence preceded His arrival, as always. However, it was not received with delight by the pair as in the past. Rather, with dread. Next to reach their senses was the light which brightly emanated from Him, and then the sweet savor of His smell and finally, God, in person, if such could aptly describe His being. He was more spirit, more soul, than anything else.

As welcome as He was on all other days, today was different. For the first time, they would rather not have met with their Friend. If only today He would stay away. If only today they would not have eaten that cursed fruit!

"Adam!" God called out to both of them. He always used Adam's name for the married couple. "Where are you?"

They looked at each other as if to ask, "Really? The One Who knows all asks where we are?"

"Well, here we are," Adam whispered to his wife, "hiding in a bush with prickly thorns making things very uncomfortable, and with fig leaves covering our nakedness. Yeah, this is where stealing fruit gets us."

She backhanded his tricep and flashed him a disapproving frown.

"Adam, Eve, where are you?" He asked again.

"Over here." He finally mustered. "We were naked and ashamed and  afraid you'd see us." They sheepishly exited their cover and humbly approached their Friend, wondering if He was still such.

"Naked, Really? Who told you that? Did you eat from the tree that I told you to leave well enough alone?"

Adam took a small step away from Eve, as if distancing himself. It was only the breadth of three or four hands, but seemed to Eve the width of the universe. The two that God had made one, were now two again, separate from one another and separate from God. This was subtle tragedy. Her countenance fell as if she had just lost a half of herself. But she was not prepared for the devastation that came with his next words.

"It was the woman! This woman you gave me," as if the blame for sucking the syrup of the fruit was the fault of both God and Eve, "she handed me the fruit and she compelled me to eat it."

For a moment, Eve's mouth hung agape in disbelief and betrayal. She felt all alone, as if on another planet, separated from God and her beloved. But then, she steeled herself. "If one can play the blame game, then two can play as well." She mused. 

"It was the snake!" She exclaimed. "He gave me a speech about how good it was for food and how smart it would make us. That's why I ate it, that's why I gave it to Adam." She turned sideways, crossed her arms in a huff, exhaled deeply and pressed her lips into a pout.

The Lord's anger flashed. His heart broke. As monumentally tragic as this was for the fallen pair, they had no clue as to the implications on the cosmos or even on His own relationship with His triuneness. He ordered the serpent out of hiding to give an account. Now that the truth about this cataclysmic disaster was discovered, God pronounced a curse upon the serpent, upon Lucifer, the fallen angel, upon the earth, upon the woman for her part and upon the man and all of his prodigy for their complicity in sin.

The dastardly deed had been done and consequences meted out. But what came next was the biggest shock of all to Adam. It was then that the Father called Pascal to His side where, before Adam's incredulous gaze, God gruesomely slew that which was most precious to the man, His beloved pet and companion. Yea, even God's own favorite. Blood gushed from the animal and splattered onto the couple.

"NO!" Adam exclaimed. "Anything but this!" 

With tears emanating in His compassionate eyes, God declared that "only the blood of a pure, spotless, innocent lamb could suffice to cover your disobedience and renew our relationship. Where there is no blood shed, there can be no payment for your sin and no fellowship with me."

Pascal, the beloved lamb, the innocent pet, had been sacrificed so that Adam and Eve could live.

Had Adam only known, as he fondled that forbidden fruit, as he debated within his conscience the matters of disobedience and longing...had he considered, as he bargained in his soul and justified in his mind what possibilities lie on the other side of his actions...had he only known that the price required would be more dear to him than he could have ever imagined...could he, would he, should he have tossed that fruit as far from him as he could and simply walked away?

But, lust had its way, temptation had its sway. Eve ate, Adam ate, and they both swallowed the serpent's lie that "it's no big deal." And from that time until now, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Encouragement for the Small Church and Those Who Labor in Obscurity.

It hurts to admit, but I often feel woefully inferior, extremely inadequate and completely inept.

I can fully relate with some of the Bible guys. Saul hid behind a hay bale when Samuel came to anoint him as king. Gideon shied away from God's calling upon his life, after all, he was a nobody from an obscure family from the smallest tribe. Moses tried to excuse himself from leadership  because of his speech impediment. Jepthah was ostracized because of his illegitimacy.

All of these guys hummed a similar tune, "I'm a real nowhere man, sitting in this nowhere land, making all my nowhere plans, for nobody." Okay, the lads from Liverpool hadn't come on the scene yet. But perhaps they were inspired by the likes of Saul, Moses, Gideon and Jepthah.

A church-planter friend of mine just reported to me that the initial services of their brand new church had about twice as many folks as we've ever had on our biggest days. I am greatly rejoicing for this new church, especially because 16 precious souls came to Christ. But then I hear the enemy's voice whispering to me, reminding me of my "nowhere man"ness.

Dr. Wiersbe often encourages me with these face-saving, faith-building words of wisdom, "In God's eyes, there are no small churches." What an encourager!

In Deuteronomy, we have God's encouragement to Israel as they camped on the edge of Canaan's  Land, feeling ill-equipped for the task that lay before them.

Deut. 7:7   The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: 8  But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9  Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;
Deut. 8:6   Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him. 7  For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;

Do not think, because your numbers are few,
That God does not have affection for you
It is not in crowds that He takes delight
Or in our strength or power or human might
It's where two or three are gathered in His name
He has promised His presence for them just the same
So just preach and pray and plug away
And great will be your reward on judgment day! 

In those times when you are feeling woefully inadequate, consider the encouragement God gave to His out-manned and out-gunned, wilderness-wandering children.

A. Think:
1. God has chosen you
2. He loves you
3. His mighty hand is upon you
4. You have been redeemed

B. Know:
1. He is God
2. He is faithful
3. He keeps His promises
4. His design for you is the Promised land.

C. Do:
1. Keep His commandments
2. Walk in His Ways
3. Fear Him

May this little missive be an encouragement to you as you labor in obscurity. You are a somewhere man, working in God's somewhere land, fulfilling God's somewhere plan...for somebody.

And on some, have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire;   Jude:22, 23

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Stiff-necked and Hard-hearted

The Israelites in the wilderness and the presence of God.

The Jews witnessed the 10 great plagues upon Egypt, they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, they had water from the rock, manna from the heavens and the quail from over the hill. They experienced the earth opening up to swallow the rebellious. They were accompanied with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Their clothes and shoes never wore out. They witnessed Moses' miraculous rod, Aaron's leprous hand, and God's Shekinah glory. For months they watched Mount Sinai with its lightnings, thunderings, and earthquakes.

They had all of these things to show them the provision, presence and power of God. And yet, what did they do? They whined, murmured, complained, made an idol, danced naked, broke God's laws and rebelled against Moses and against God.

Why did God put up with them? Why did Moses put up with them? Why would they be called anything but stiff-necked and hard-hearted.

Ah, such is human nature. "What have you done for me lately?" "Yeah, but..."

It just goes to show you:
*God is faithful when we are not.
*God is long suffering, knowing the stuff we are made of.
*God is full of grace and mercy.
*God keeps his promises.

Can I get an "Amen!"?