Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!
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Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!
One of you may be asking yourself: “Where has Chris’s blog been?”
That, my friend, is a fair question.
At the beginning of this year, a short two months ago, I made the bold assertion that I would once again be blogging my way through the Bible every day. This proclamation was born out of a desire to reinstitute some much needed structure into my Bible reading routine and to encourage my readers to continue in the scriptures with joyful persistency.
As 2014 has progressed, however, “everyday” turned into “regular” which then devolved into “almost never.”
Well, here’s where the title of this blog comes in:
Over the past year, life in the Burke house hold has completely changed. As of June 2013, I reentered the world of academia to complete my degree in history. As of September of 2013, I became a free agent on the job market. As of February 2014, I became a father for the fourth time and began a new full-time job with State Farm. And finally, as of about 9:15pm on March 15, 2014, I completed the final test of my undergraduate degree from CSU East Bay.
If the past two months were a math problem, it would look something like this:
full-time job + 4 kid under 5 + finishing bachelor’s degree = no time for blogging
or something like that.
The reality is however, that I could have found time to blog each day. I mean I did spend time with my kids. I found time to enjoy my wife’s company. I exercised. I met up with people a few times. I watched some tv. I read a little.
I had time.
However, working from home all day, enjoying endless hours of training material while at the same time completing online classes means many, many hours in front of a computer screen while my kids are present. For the past month, if daddy was on the computer, he was working, and his ability to interact with the little Burkes was somewhat limited.
The short answer for why I haven’t been blogging is that I needed to be away from the screen. I don’t want my kids to see daddy with his eyes glued to the computer and assume he’s working when he’s not.
I get the feeling that too many kids experience their parents as connected to an electronic device and therefore disconnected from them. I want my kids to experience me as fully present in whatever we’re doing. This is not possible when in front of a screen.
There was a time in my recent past when blogging would have been considered part of my job. That time is not now, and therefore, it takes a back seat. I enjoy doing it. I think others enjoy when I blog. But it’s taken a spot very low on the priority list at the moment. I hope you’ll stay tuned for what I might post. I do intend to continue regularly posting.
But if you ever sit and wonder why Chris hasn’t posted for a while, just think to yourself, “he’s probably skateboarding with his kids, or snuggling with his wife.”
You’ll most likely be right.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Reading passages like this helps me keep things in perspective.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the practice of putting down those whom God has put in office. They are public figures, responsible for the stewardship of our government, and they have gigantic targets on their backs.
As Christians, we are called to something more than gossip about our politicians. What Paul says in this passage above is pretty striking. So many politicians don’t leads though they are following the commands of God. How are we supposed to submit to them?
But think about when and where Paul wrote this. Ancient Rome, almost certainly during the time of Nero, the most notoriously anti-Christian emperor that Rome had ever known! And Paul says that the rulers are servants of God and had been given their authority by God Himself! He tells the Roman Christians that their rulers are divinely appointed to work for the good of the people as an instrument of God’s justice.
Because of this, Paul calls his Roman brothers to submit willingly to the government, paying taxes, seeking to live peaceably among the people.
And He calls us to do the same. Why?
Because when we get caught up in complaining about the government, we lose the message of the gospel. Our leaders and our neighbors need Jesus. They need us to display the type of perfect submission that Jesus modeled in His life and death. When His followers refuse to live within the freedoms we’re afforded by the country we call home, we preach something other than Jesus, and we make Christianity about something less than the Gospel.
But before you punch me, let me ask this:
what does it mean to pay taxes?
Fundamentally, it means to contribute to the system in the way prescribed by the government. For the Romans, paying taxes simply meant that they would be allowed to continue living free in the Roman Empire. For us, it means we have a voice in the political sphere and some means of moving the minds of our leaders.
Therefore, what I’m saying is not that Christians should simply take whatever the government dishes out without question, but that we should exercise our rights as citizens of this country by paying taxes, voting, becoming involved in important issues, all BECAUSE we are citizens of heaven first.
At the core, it’s about remembering that all authority comes from God and His Kingdom. Any power the politicians can wield is given by God. Any freedom we have to influence government is given by God. When we recognize this fact, we will not confuse people about the Gospel, we will preach the gospel IN all our political involvement. We will be the citizens that Paul envisions, praying for our leaders, paying our taxes, participating in the system, and praising the God from Whom all authority comes and in Whom all true justice and grace is found.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
In ancient Israel, God required sacrifice. Exodus 30 tells us that God had a plan for Israel to regularly sacrifice for their own sins. They needed atonement, something to pay the penalty for their many sins against God. And they needed it regularly because they sinned regularly. Any sacrifice made for sin was insufficient because it couldn’t wash away sin, it could only cover it temporarily.
Old Testament sacrifice was like a band-aid.
But as we’ve seen, Jesus changed all that. His sacrifice was permanent, sufficient to pay for every single sin of every single one of God’s people for all of time. Jesus paid it all, as the song goes.
Jesus’ sacrifice was like a heart transplant.
If you’ve been in Romans with me, this is what Paul has been hammering home. Jesus paid it all! Jesus paid it all! Over and over again.
So there is no need to sacrifice anymore… Right?
Romans takes a turn in chapter 12. Paul moves from talking about all that God has done for us in salvation to a discussion about the responsibility of the individual Christian. And in the first verse, Paul says that Christians must sacrifice. But not that kind of sacrifice.
Our sacrifice is living. Jesus has died in our place. God does not require our physical death for payment. In fact, Jesus secured our life for eternity.
Our sacrifice is willing. The animals that were sacrificed to cover the sins of Israel did not go willingly. But Jesus did. He went to the cross willingly, because His greatest desire was that His Father’s will be done.
Our sacrifice is spiritual. What we give to God echoes in eternity. What we do in the service of the Lord, caring for others, giving our monies, opening our homes, all have eternal significance. The smallest act of love that flows out of love for God ripples throughout eternity and compounds in glory.
Our sacrifice is physical. We offer our bodies to the Lord. The one thing we can argue is truly our own is our body. And Paul says that this is what we offer to the Lord. This is why sexual sin is so destructive, it’s an offering to a false god. True spiritual sacrifice is in the nitty gritty, wholly physical nature of our lives: all we have, given over to the glory of God.
Our sacrifice pleases God. When we offer our lives willingly to God, He is pleased with us. Think about that. When we, with our meager, failing bodies give what little we have to God through sacrificial love toward others, we move the heart of the Creator of the Universe to such a degree that we contribute to His infinite happiness.
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
If you read through the Old Testament Law, it’s not hard to see why things go bad for Israel. The Law was and is still completely impossible for us to follow. Jesus had to come and keep it perfectly because Israel never could and we never will.
This truth could make God seem like a poor planner or a cruel master. He’s a poor planner if He didn’t think through the possibility that Israel may not be able to measure up to His impossible standard. And He’s a cruel Master if he knew that Israel would never measure up, but laid down the Law anyway.
The Apostle Paul helps us see that God is not a poor planner or a cruel master. The passage above is from Romans 11, part of a larger conversation about the nature of God saving people for Himself. The big reveal here is that God had a purpose behind Israel failing to live up to His glorious standard that was good for us, and good for them.
If Israel had collectively kept the Law perfectly, there would have been no reason for God to save anyone. Therefore, we Gentiles, would have never received the gift of salvation through Jesus, because Jesus would never have come.
But Israel stumbled, as Paul says. That’s putting it lightly. They botched things up big time. So much so that there was no doubt about the fact that God would need to bail them out, but not before God went elsewhere looking for people to follow His Son. So God sent the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles and Gentiles started coming to know Jesus. They were “grafted” into the olive tree, becoming children of Abraham through faith in God’s great promise.
But look at what Paul says next. If it’s good news that the Gentiles are now included among God’s people, how much better will it be when Israel returns to their God.
Now I don’t know what you think about the end times and what happens to Israel. People think lots of things. Honestly, I doesn’t really matter.
What Paul is saying is that when the people of Israel return to the God who called them out of Egypt, it is a glorious thing. Both Gentiles coming to Jesus and Israel returning to Jesus only happens through God’s saving work in Jesus. The point is that people coming to meet Jesus is good news for everyone and if we’re not rejoicing in that simple and miraculous fact, then we’re doing it wrong.
Exodus 25 and 26 talk a lot about cubits and gold inlays and cherubim and acacia wood. So much so that I’m guessing many of us simply gloss over it. But something jumped out at me today. Exodus 25:21-22:
And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.
God designed for the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant to be the place where he met with His people through the High Priest. His instructions were highly specific because God was telling His people that they were to come to Him on His terms, not their own. God actually met His people at the Ark in the Temple and gave commands for how His people were to live.
What I was struck by though is that the designs were ornate. God was not content to meet with His people just anywhere. He wanted to meet with them in a place of beauty, grace, and splendor. Over the centuries, the church has taken this to mean that our buildings are to be impressive in structure and scope. And while there may be something to this, I think it misses the point.
God does not meet with His people in buildings and temples. He meets with us through Jesus in the community of His people and within our own hearts. So the parallel is not that since Israel built beautiful structures, we should too. The parallel is that since God called Israel to build glorious structures, we should build our lives, both individually, and in community with other believers (i.e. the Church) in such a way that God’s glory and grace can be clearly seen in the world.
We are the ones who carry the message of the Gospel of Jesus into the world. Our bodies, and the Body, are the places where God resides. We are where the world meets God through Jesus. Let us build each other up as God fashions us into the perfect image of His Son for all the world to see.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
A funny thing happens when you read the Old and New Testament concurrently. You begin to see connections that help you understand the bigger picture of the Gospel better than if you simply read the Bible straight through cover to cover. For example, I’m in Exodus and Romans right now (which you know if you’re reading along with me), reading about God’s great salvation of His people both from Egypt and from Sin and Death. What I’ve found time and again is that each testament enriches the message of the other.
In Romans 9, Paul argues that God’s sovereign choice in salvation is perfect and worthy of praise. It seems that people who struggle with this concept are not alone. For the history of the church, people have wrestled with the idea that God chooses some for salvation and others for destruction. We should struggle with this concept. Just look at the passage above, it says that God “hated” Esau.
God doesn’t hate anyone right? Christians who avoid this passage, and others like it, because it’s difficult to stomach do everyone a disservice. The message of the Gospel is an offense to the world. Our ideas of fairness and justice do not conform to God’s. So when we read the word “Hated” we cringe. And we should cringe.
But, Paul’s point is this: the true children of Abraham, the true chosen people of God, have never been so simply because of ethnicity. Reading Exodus and Romans together makes that clear. God does not spare the rebellious and idolatrous Israelites just because of where they were born. He holds everyone to his standard of justice regardless. But for those whom he has chosen, the children of the promise, God has sacrificed greatly to pay for their debts and purchase their redemption.
If not for His mercy in Jesus, God would be bound by His justice to “hate” everyone. We all deserve nothing less than the hatred of God. But through His promise to Abraham, God made a way of blessing, and ANYONE who receive this promise in the Gospel will become objects not of God’s wrath, but of His everlasting kindness and love.