Entries tagged with “Israelites”.


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David went a little off-topic for Friday’s message at Seward Church. Instead of the usual story of grace this week focused more on faithfulness and community, which does connect with grace!

In John 13:34 Jesus commands the disciples to love one another in the same way that He has loved us.  This is the basis for a community that serves Christ and functions well together both internally and externally.  David shared an image of a lighthouse (similar to this) which I had never thought of before. Jesus is the light that is shining out across the sea, serving as a beacon for all to see.  But it takes people (in community) to go out and be the light touching lives and rescuing or searching out people to help draw them into the lighthouse.  Does that make sense to you?

In  Ezra (3:1,8-9) we see that the Isrealites have placed their faith in God again.  Building the temple was their expression of faith.  Building the temple or a church also represents the people coming together in a community.  All believers should come together and be made more holy (sanctified) as seen in John 17:17-22.    Ephesians4:3 says that we should do everything to keep the bonds of peace.  David really emphasised that community is a gift not a right.  As a gift we also have to work to stay unified – but also let the Spirit do its powerful work in us.

A little more controversial statement is that the community is strengthened not by looking at each other but by looking towards Jesus for His strength.  We are all imperfect beings and will annoy the heck out of each other – which could cause problems.  When we place Jesus at the center we tend to focus more on His love and grace for each one of us.  We also need to make sure that the focus doesn’t get turned towards the community we are trying to serve, because then we become all about service – not Jesus.

We all need or want to be in a community and having friends isn’t a problem but a sign of maturity.  In Genesis 2:18 God realized that man couldn’t do everything by himself – so He created the woman.  David extrapolated that to be that we shouldn’t be trying to do good works alone (individually or as a married couple) but together within the community of our church.  Community is by no means easy (as I mentioned above), I’m sure we all annoy each other!  But being in a community and having to deal with the idiosyncrasies of others helps draw us closer into the heart of God.  I’m sure we annoy Him alot!  Ultimately, community makes us better people.

While building the temple, the Israelites ran into some conflict.  Basically the king withdrew their building permits and made it illegal for them to keep working.   Ezra 4:17-21 makes it clear that soldiers were sent to stop the building process. Even though they were given clear direction by God to build the temple, the Israelites caved in to the pressure.  If construction was a sign of faithfulness, then halting construction was a sign of faithlessness.  They were concerned about their relative safety and not focused on God’s Safety.

Similarly if the church today focuses on self-preservation above following God’s calling they are acting without faith.  You can read many stories of Christians around the world standing up admist persecution and losing everything, even their life.  Almost as bad is when the church focuses only on building itself up.  Building new gyms, adding expensive stained glass, creating church schools or home-school co-ops, and forgetting to focus on the external community.  Building a fitness center within a church campus says two things – 1) community we don’t want to smell your sweat or touch your machines and 2) God you are unable to protect us from those “evil” people who live out there.  Both of these are false.  David shared an interesting analogy with manure.  Manure is an excellent fertilizer, but only when spread out across an entire field.  When kept in a manure pit it will actually kill all the grass around it, not too mention that it reeks!  Christians are like manure – we are best when we are spread out around town.

The anaolgy breaks down a little bit because we are actually at our best when we are spread out in community with other Christians who can love and support our endeavors. But the point of the analogy is pretty clear.  Again, Jesus must be at the center of our field – maybe He is the manure spreader!

Even when we forsake or forget about Him, God continues to be faithful to us.  God really wanted a place for His people to come together in worship to Him, He wanted the temple built.  In Ezra 5:1-2 we see that Haggai and Zechariah were sent to kick the Israelites back into gear. They began rebuilding the temple.  The Book of Zechariah captures some of the prophesy, specifically 4:6-7 which includes the phrase – “Grace, Grace to It.” The NIV says, “God Bless It.”  Even after turning their back on Him, God gave them a second chance.  He has given us a second chance and the ultimate act of grace by letting His Son die for our sins.

We finished the evening with communion – the ultimate symbol of Christ’s life and death and a symbol of community. David said, “Communion is an act of kneeling together and looking at Christ.”  As 1 Corinthians 11:17-26 says, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Let us each proclaim the love of God to all we meet and rely on God and the community He has given us to love those who are hard to love.

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"The Jews' Passover"—facsimile of a ...
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This is actually a week late.  It is from March 6th.  Stay tuned for the 13th’s recap.

Second Kings is full of stories about kings, obviously.  Sadly it is a story of human kings who continue to screw up on a regular basis.  These kings ultimately face justice for their actions.  But during Friday night’s service in which Tim shared the story of grace from 2 Kings we focused on a king who was doing a lot of the right things.

King Josiah’s story is found in 2 Kings 22-24.  He was a pretty young king at 8 years old.  We are told that at age 16 he was seeking after God and by age 20 was waging military campaigns to expand the southern kingdom’s boundaries – into the northern kingdom.  Part of this campaign was dismantling idolatry,  especially temple prostitution.  When he was 26 some of his administration rediscovered the Law (vs 8-11).

This was a pretty big deal because God’s people had strayed pretty far from God’s desires and the law included judgement – the wrath of God.  Josiah was quite distraught and tore his clothes.  He then sought to restore God’s order throughout the kingdom.  It took between 6-8 years to destroy all the idols.

King Josiah even went so far as to restore the celebration of Passover (23:21), which for the Jewish people was the centerpiece of grace in their year and lives.  David, a man after God’s own heart, didn’t even really celebrate the Passover. It seems similar to many of the holidays we celebrate today – like Memorial Day or even Easter.  It is just another day on the calendar that we mark by getting some time off work.

Sadly, we see in verse 26 that this wasn’t enough.

Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger.

For the Jewish people of the time and even today, the Messiah is seen as a person who will come and be an earthly king.  You can see this in some of the Gospel stories where Jesus was treated as a conquerer coming to overthrow the Roman government.  Unknowingly, the Romans called Him King of the Jews at His death.  Truthfully, Jesus was the promised King that would offer hope and salvation to the Jews – but they rejected Him.  Jesus also represents the perfect and final Passover for the Jewish people.

Ultimately God’s wrath came down on the Israelites and they were forced into exile for their sins.  Sin is always causing problems – putting us into exile from God.  Adam and Eve were “exiled” from the Garden of Eden and we continue to put sin between ourselves and God.  We will never be perfect while we walk the earth, but when we knowingly sin we are intentionally turing our back and walking away from Him.  When you sin you are saying that the object of your sin is worth more than God and you elevate it to a position of power in your life.  You can only have one God.

He is always there to accept and love us when we turn to Him in repentance.  We can see this in 22:18-19

Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD.

Jesus is from the lineage of earthly Kings (Matthew 1) and the son of God, representing our eternal King who will lead us away from exile.

Jesus has freed us from the dictates of the law and fulfilled the promises made to the Isrealites.  He offers us freedom, grace, and love.   Will you accept it today?

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Joshua commands the sun to stand still in the sky
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Besides their similar sounding name Jesus and Joshua have a little in common.  Keep reading to see how Tim pulls the Gospel story out of the Book of Joshua for us.

Most of the message came from Joshua 9.   This chapter is a foreshadowing of the covenant we have with Christ.  The Gibeonites should have been destroyed… just like us.

1) Grace Joshua 9:1-15 tells the story about the Gibeonites deceptive attempt to secure a peace deal and covenant with the Israelite people.  The Gibeonites were smart folks with some inside information.  They new about God’s command to the Israelites to destroy everyone around them from Deuteronomy 20:10-18.  They were given a peace treaty by Joshua because, he didn’t seek God’s opinion on the matter.

2)Grace that points towards all the nations and all the people. Joshua 16-27 shows how God extended His grace and blessing to the Gibeonite people, despite their lies and deceptions.  The Gibeonites were cursed to become Israel’s servants due to their deception, but they were an integral part of the history of God’s people.

– The tabernacle was built in Gibeon so that they would have an integral part.

– The temple was also built in Gibeon, by the Gibeonites.

– The Gibeonite people are actually transformed by the covenant of God and the grace that comes with it.

The end of Joshua 9 points towards the fact that the Grace of God is available to all nations and all people.

Now is when it gets a little tricky!

3) Grace is what it is because God’s judgment and wrath are real. Look at that again: Grace is what it is because God’s judgment and wrath are real.  What do you think about that? Tim Keller is a good resource to help with this issue.  Tim passed out an article from Keller called The Importance of Hell. Another resource is Keller’s book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

Judgment and wrath was actually the first step towards grace for the Gibeonites.  They were afraid of getting killed so they (through deception) sought peace.  God’s plan of judgment is pretty clear in the following verses:

Genesis 15:13-15 Leviticus 18:24-25 Deuteronomy 9:4-5

It is interesting to note that in Joshua 9:18 the Israelites were upset that the Gibeonites were going to be allowed to live.  Why should they be shown Grace?  The Israelites liked to see people die! Interestingly, today we are the exact opposite, we expect to see God’s mercy and are upset by the fact that God destroyed all the other people mentioned in the earlier passages. We like the power to decide what is right or wrong and don’t like when it is passed down to us, especially from God. We long for personal expression which includes setting our own rules and boundaries. We then take these ideas and project them onto God, instead of listening and seeing what God’s has already told us about Himself.  If we read the Bible it confronts our idea of individuality and our concept of our self.

But if each of us individually had our own rules and laws we would end up with billions of different systems and rules.  As individuals what makes up our determination of right and wrong or when grace or wrath should be expressed?  In Joshua 10:1-13 we see that God actually goes to war to keep His covenant of Grace.  He commands Joshua to go help defend the Gibeonites from Adoni-Zedek.  This should be encouraging to us, if we are the Gibeonites and Satan is Adoni-Zedek – then it is safe to say that God will wage war to defend and protect us.  Joshua’s army also had to march all night, 20 miles uphill to go protect them (vs 9). Similarly Christ wrestled all-night and carried the cross up the hill to Calvary, where He died for our sins.

In verses 12-14 we see that God helped Joshua by holding the sun in the sky all day.  The opposite happened during the crucifixion – Christ was being cast into our darkness, taking our sins and offering us grace. Christ took God’s judgment and wrath on Himself so that we might have eternal life.

You can follow the sermon’s live on Twitter if you are so interested.

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Replica of the Tabernacle

Replica of the Tabernacle

The story of Numbers is any interesting look at two main aspects of sin, according to Tim at Seward Church.  As we continue our journey looking for the Gospel message in the 66 books of the Bible, Numbers is our 4th stop.

A few quick thoughts on the book – it is called Numbers because it opens and closes with a census being taken. There are about 2 million Israelites or the size of the Twin Cities Metro area living on a vast plain.  The book though, shares the story of the wandering Israelites and their quest to enter the promised land.  Yes, Number is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, Hebrews 3:15-17 and I Corinthians 10:1-13.

So what are the two aspects of sin?  1) A longing to be an insider and 2) a longing to be satisfied.

We all have a desire to be a part of the “in-crowd” or on the inside of a group, or what C.S Lewis calls the inner-ring.  We may not aspire for a place of power, but we usually want to be within the group of people where power comes from though.  God created this desire within us. Wait. Isn’t that a contradiction, are you saying God created a sinful desire within us?  Nope, only that God created within us the desire to be in His inner circle, what in the Old Testament is referred to as the “Holy of Holies” or the inner-circle in the temple, tabernacle, or the tent. This is the place that only the High Priest can enter and only once a year.

Many passages throughout Numbers make it clear that only those whom God allows are to take part in the priesthood, tabernacle, and other holy things.  Take for instance Numbers 1:51 “When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” Yikes! God is pretty strict about His holiness.

God has a high standard for who He lets in to the holiest parts, if you try to take part and shouldn’t be the consequence is… death. Our sin is that we try to lower God’s standards and create our own inside groups, cliques, and our own standards to get in.  Or maybe more importantly, we create standards to keep people out (ie racism).  Like in Numbers 12:1-2 or 16:1-11 we make-up some reason to block people out of our circles.  We will continue to be miserable, always seeking approval until we stop and seek approval only from God. The Gospel of Jesus slams all of the circles and bubbles of our life together not letting us keep people in or out.

Oh and in case you are wondering… all who come to Christ are accepted by God.

The second major aspect of sin is that we all have a longing to be satisfied.  You know the saying, the grass is always greener on the other side.  Well that was here in Numbers as well. The group of people actually started grumbling the minute God set out to free them… and continued even though He contiuned to provide for their every need.  Sound familiar?  I wonder how often we sit around and grumble, even though God has proven Himself faithful?

You might recall that God provided for the nutritional needs each day through manna.  One day God provided them with a supplement of quail to eat.  They literally had quail coming out the nostrils!  Then God returned to providing them regular old manna.  At that point according to Numbers 11:4-6 they decided that slavery under Egypt was better than freedom – because they ate better as slaves.  That seems stupid doesn’t it?

It is amazing that God continues to love and accept us, despite our foolishness and our desire to enslave ourselves to the ways of this world. Through our hero – Jesus – we are saved from our folly and receive an amazing and abundant grace.  Christ died so that we can be satisfied.  His death opens up the holiest of places for us to enter. He is the perfect high priest, the final blood sacrifice.

Through Jesus God is able to accept us completely and allows us to enter the holiest places.  Satan wants us to question this, which is why he creates unhealthy cravings and longings within us.  God won’t necessarily take away or fill our desires, but will direct us to a better place. He is willing to meet us where we are and offer us grace.  Ultimately, we have an offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ (John 3:14).

Let us be free today from the longings and desires that keep us from chasing after God.

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