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My Love Affair with the Old Testament

My love affair with the Old Testament began when I was a small boy.

I was fascinated by the characters and the larger than life shadow that they cast.

I imagined myself as Moses crossing the Red Sea on dry land, Red_Seaor Joshua making the sun stand still.

Joshua Commanding the sun to stand stillI spent endless hours trying to learn to sling a stone like David while slaying the giants in my own life.

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But as I got older my love of the Old Testament labeled me a Bible Nerd at Church. All the cool stuff was in the New Testament according to my friends. The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus were in the New Testament. The development and history of the early Church and the letters of the Apostle Paul.

What my friends did not understand was that I viewed the Bible as one book with one central message. I loved the whole book. I understood that God wrote it all for my benefit.

Not reading the Old Testament would be like skipping the first 300 pages of a top selling 450 page novel. Keeping up with the characters and their motivations would be impossible. The interest of the reader would fade and the book would probably be abandoned.

By reading the Old Testament I understand the characters and their motivations. I can see events foreshadowed before they occur.

I can see a portrait of the coming messiah being slowly revealed before my very eyes.

I love the Old Testament because it makes the New Testament come alive with depths of meaning that I would not have considered.

A Great Book

The Bible is a perennial best seller. There are more copies of it in print that any other book. Yet we have a tendency to take this great book for granted. I would like to share with you why I consider it the greatest book ever written.

Most book critics would suggest that there are 5 common elements found in a great book. They are: a great opening line, a complex and believable central character, a real and dramatic conflict, a complex and believable character who respond to the conflict, and a satisfying ending that resolves the conflict. Let’s talk about each of these elements in greater detail.

A great opening line. Opening lines are very important. They grab our attention and they set the stage for what is to come. In the comic strip Charlie Brown, Snoopy was always trying to write the great novel. His first line was where he always stopped. “It was a dark and stormy night….”

Here are a few opening lines from some great books.

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.”             Norman Maclean in A River Runs Through It.

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”A Tale of Two Cities” small

All children, except one, grow up.” J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan.

“Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville in Moby Dick.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice.

What is the opening line of the Bible? Most people can recite it from memory and even those who can not remember it immediately recognize the quote as soon as it begins.

In the Book of Genesis we find these words, “In the Beginning God created”. Authors have been trying to improve on that line since the beginning without success. Opening lines are very important. They grab our attention and they set the stage for what is to come. Most of us would think it was foolish to try and jump into the middle of a novel and expect to understand what was going on.  Yet, many people will read the Bible without an understanding of how it started and the context behind what they read. Is it any wonder that they have limited their own understanding and enjoyment of the text?

With that in mind, look at the opening words of the Bible again and listen with a critical ear to the very first thing that God wants us to know. “In the beginning God created…”

Moses, the author is setting up the premise for the book of Genesis and the Bible as a whole.  Moses wanted us to know that God has always existed. God created everything, including time. In the beginning God was, is, and always will be. That is a lot of information in 5 short words. We could talk about these 5 words for the next month and never run out of things to explore. What a great opening line.

A complex and believable central character. The central character will carry the story and remain the primary focus through out the book. Secular Literature is filled with many great leading characters. From Robin Hood, to King Arthur, to Sherlock Holmes, the list could go on and on.

But who is the central character of the Bible? The answer may surprise you. If you look in the 1st chapter of Genesis you will see that the central character of the Bible is mentioned about 30 times. Surprisingly, the answer is not man but God.

This is God’s story about his relationship with his creation man. It is not about us, but about the God who wants us to know Him.

If we read the Bible and fail to understand this is about a relationship with Him, then we have wasted our time. We will have missed the point. It is not simply a self-help book or a collection of cute moral based stories. It is an invitation to come and get to know the God of the universe.

The more I have read this book through the years the deeper my hunger has grown to know God the central character of the Bible.

A real and dramatic conflict – It must present real choices that involve opposing points of view to keep our interest.

Some of the greatest stories of all time have made us pull for the hero but yet sympathize with villain because their opposing views were both attractive to us in some way.

In the Bible we see a great conflict, the conflict of good and evil. We see on every page what man is like and the evil that he is capable of.

The truly frightening and sobering thought is when we realize the evil that even good men are capable of. From Adam and Eve’s original sin, to Cain killing his brother Abel, to King David committing adultery and killing a man to cover his sin, it is not a pretty sight. Our own lives and our struggles with doing the right thing are a ringing validation of this truth.

We all need someone to save us from ourselves. The Bible presents us with a great conflict, the war between good and evil.

We have a complex and believable character and we have a great conflict but what makes the book interesting is how this great character will respond to the conflict.

Secular literature is filled with examples of this. Our hero has to determine whether he will save his wife or the nation of England. He can only save one. Who will he choose? What will his choice tell us about him as an individual?

How is this presented in the Bible? We see God responding to the conflict, coming in the form of a man, Jesus Christ taking on flesh in response to our failures in the conflict of good and evil.

We see him willing suffer and die for our sins even though we are undeserving of this precious gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

In the Garden of Gethsemane we see this internal conflict as he prays, Father take this cup from me… We see the Son of God struggle with his choice and we know the conflict is real and will have an impact on him. It will cost him everything he holds dear to make a way for us. What will he choose?

This conflict in secular literature is usually followed by a satisfying ending that resolves the conflict.

In fairy tales they all live happily ever after. In suspense novels the mystery is solved. In horror stories the evil is vanquished or else every one dies.

In the Bible we see a great ending, a triumph over death and the grave, lives changed and transformed by his continued resurrection power and renewed hope in our lives because of this message.

Great books extend an invitation for us, the reader, to become a part of the story.

The Bible, documents God’s personal invitation to us to become a part of His story.

God and Belief

If I believe in myself I will certainly be disappointed.

I am a fallible being with a sin nature. I am a walking time bomb. My personal experience verifies the teachings of Paul in the book of Romans.

If I believe in God I will never be disappointed.

Why is it that we find it so much easier to believe in others than ourselves?

It is it because of the personal data that we have?

A lifetime of firsthand experience and empirical evidence?

If I don’t believe that change can happen for me why should anyone believe me when I tell them they can change?

Even more importantly, since God has promised to change me why do I doubt him?

Whether I believe or not – it is still true that he can and will change me into his likeness.

Praise God.

1 Corinthians 15:52b For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Clothes and Speaking the truth in love

Some of you may request my man card for admitting this, but I love clothes. ties

I blame my dad. He taught me to dress well and to try and look your best.

I wore a suit and tie to church from the 1960’s through the 1990’s.

I have been through the 3 piece suits, leisure suites, disco, the business suit with the power tie, to the business causal of today (sans tie).

Like my dad, I have a hard time throwing away clothes. My dad refused to throw away a tie because he said eventually it would come back in style. He was right. I kept his old ties and added my own to the collection.

Recently, I looked inside my closest and realized I had a problem. It was overcrowded with things that I had not worn in years and might not ever wear again.

I knew I needed someone I trusted to help me with this project and I asked my son, Andrew, for his assistance. He agreed to help but encouraged me to sort through my closet before he came over.

Andrew encouraged me to find clothes that were still functional and to give them away to someone who could actually use them and I did. I would encourage you to do the same!

I have to admit I felt pretty good when he showed up to examine my closet. Then I pulled out what I had kept. It was still a lot. I asked Andrew what he thought of what I had saved. He paused thoughtfully for a moment before he spoke.

Then Andrew pointed out that my hair and beard had gone gray and the browns, orange, and green tones I had worn for years made me look washed out. I was now better served by dark colors near my face.

Admittedly, it was kind of hard to hear. It took courage on his part to tell me a truth that I did not want to hear. But it was also liberating.

So I parted with a lot more clothes, including a neon green plaid shirt that was one of my favorites. A shirt that my wife hated with a passion.

This morning I looked at a closest full of clothes that fit me, look good and serve multiple functions. I see the space now empty and know that the clothes I gave away are a blessing to someone else.

And when I look at the closet I am reminded of the blessing it is to receive the truth in love.

Ephesians 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Thought for the day: What kind of a person does it take to speak the truth in love? Can I be that person today?

Fictional account of how we really expected the story of Christ’s birth to be told.

Imagine, if you will,  that Christ came and was recognized for the eternal king that he is. (My apologies to the apostle Luke.)
 
It all started with the census that Caesar proclaimed. Everyone was required to go to the place of their birth to be registered. This included poor men, rich men, even the prince and princesses of the land.

Prince Joseph and Princess Mary,  traveled to Bethlehem. They had come from their summer palace in Nazareth with their caravans and entourage.

First hand accounts indicate that Mary was young,  very pregnant and absolutely radiant.

Joseph of course was regal looking in his robes and his crimson, jewel encrusted shepherds rod.

They were followed by a large number of scribes who  recorded their every utterance.

Famous artists had been following them for the last 4 months working on master portraits ever since the appearance of the angel to Mary and then Joseph in his dream.

In the beginning public opinion had been against Mary. Everyone figured that she and Joseph had gotten ahead of their marriage vows.  They were engaged and she was pregnant.

Then the Angel appeared publicly to most of the nation and explained that this was from God and the that this child would be the Messiah. Everyone realized that God was the father of this child and were amazed. 

When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem the local inn was waiting for them. Joseph had the good sense to not only reserve the rooms but to buy the hotel.

Mary went on to give birth attended by 6 hand maidens and 2 midwives who were direct ancestors from the midwives of the exodus.

Once Jesus was born he was placed in a royal crib. It was patterned after the ark of the covenant with cherubim angels overlooking the baby messiah.

Everyone who was anyone was there. Local dignitaries came. People who ruled other lands came and pledged their loyalty and trust to him.

Even Cesar came and paid homage to him offering to allow Mary and Joseph to take his throne until the time Jesus was old enough to rule.

People from as lands as far away as Persia came because of the Star overhead.

Wars stopped as people flocked to Bethlehem to see this amazing birth.

* I prefer the real story that we find in the book of Luke.

Portable Churches

We went through our first setup and tear down with the wonderful people from Portable Church Industries this weekend.20141214_094244[1]http://www.portablechurch.com/

The Portable Church staff specialize in creating customized, all inclusive solutions for church plants and multi-site churches.

As I walked through the B&B Wylie 12 theater this morning I was reminded of the Tent of Meeting in the Old Testament.

The Tent of Meeting was a mobile worship center that traveled everywhere the Israelites went.

It was a place where location did not matter. In fact, it could change on a weekly basis.

What did matter was presence.

God’s presence was experienced in the Tent of Meeting by those who came.

And people’s lives were changed.

We are praying that the same thing will happen at Chase Oaks 544. The Chase Oaks 544 campus will launch on January 11th in the B&B Wylie 12 movie theater.