Monday, April 14, 2008

What Is A Lamb?

Spring is in full swing and we see signs of growth and renewal everywhere. Some of the most common pictures associated with spring are flowers and lambs. In God's word, there are many references and illustrations using sheep & lambs, but what do they mean? Our industrialized, division-of-labor-centric society has removed the meaning and, therefore, the power from many of the descriptive images found in the Bible. My family and I have been blessed with some insight due to the abandonment by its mother of a lamb that we were able to adopt. His name is Sammy. Because Sammy came into our lives, we have a better understanding of what a lamb is.

A lamb is LOVABLE

If Sammy was in his pen, he was always bleating for you. If he was out, he just wanted to be by you. Stacey told me when I went out to feed him late (instead of her) “Make sure you pet and cuddle him and let him nuzzle your neck.” This might sound slightly silly if you've never been in the situation. Consider Isaiah 40:10,11 the descriptive illustration is of the Lord with mighty arms tending the flock, gathering the lambs in His arms, holding them in His bosom. This is the picture God gave Israel to show how he cared for them. In II Samuel 12:3 A story was told to David to elicit a reaction – A man bought a lamb, she grew up with his children, she ate and drank from his food, she lay in his arms, and she was like a daughter to him. This rang true for David – as a shepherd, he may have acted the same or known others who did! It's just so easy to love a lamb!

A lamb is PLAYFUL

If you haven't seen a lamb run & jump, you're missing some pure fun. I was worried the first time I saw Sammy run - I thought he had been spooked. Later, I realized he was just trembling with excitement as he ran and kicked around the yard. This same picture is used in Psalm 114 to describe the earth trembling in God's presence as the psalmist compares the hills to a lamb! Even the hills - the very definition of stoic immobility - tremble for joy in the presence of the Lord!

A lamb is INNOCENT

Sammy would - if allowed - follow anyone anywhere. Lambs are easily led. Thinking of biblical images, the first passage that might come to mind is Luke 15:1-7 where the shepherd goes to seek the one sheep that has wandered off, because they so easily go astray. Jesus also portrays the innocence of lambs by contrasting them with wolves in Luke 10:3. He tells his disciples He is sending them out among the devious and crafty wolves of this world to innocently spread His message. God speaks through Hosea in Hosea 4:16 to show the difference between Israel's behavior with what God desired. He compared the effort of trying to instruct Israel to the task of feeding a stubborn heifer - surely a challenging task! Instead He would have them be a gentle lamb in pasture that happily and eagerly comes to be fed. Also, in Isaiah 53:7 the expression “like a lamb to the slaughter” is silent is used. This doesn't imply that a lamb's death march is in complete silence, rather - innocently - the lamb will go wherever it is led never suspecting anything. It doesn't resist because it doesn't realize what is happening.

A lamb is FRAGILE

A lamb is totally dependent for sustenance until it is weaned, and Sammy would call for food or company if we aren't with him. Again, the picture from Isaiah 40 is that of God carrying the lambs primarily because they need that care and attention. In I Samuel 17:34 David tells of the animals that came to steal the lambs that he would have to try and protect, because they are so helpless. Obviously a predator would choose a helpless lamb instead of a full grown sheep that might put up a fight. Jesus, in John 21:15, asks Peter if he Loves Him. We know Peter's response - Of course Lord, you know I Love you. Most remember “feed my sheep,” as Jesus' response, but the very first thing Jesus asks of Peter is “feed my lambs.” The weak are those that deserve the focus in providing care. A lamb needs a lot of care and attention.

A lamb is Pure

Above all else, lambs represent purity. Comparisons are often made using interchangable images of being as white as snow or like a lamb. Lambs really are white as snow! Stacey gave Sammy a bath and he was practically glowing! It would seem that it is because they are so innocent, so lovable, so DEAR and so visually clean that God set them as the sacrifice so often insisted upon in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. In 1 Peter 1:18,19, Peter reminds the readers that it is the lamb without spot that alone can be the sacrifice for sins. John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29 that Jesus is the lamb of God that came to take away the sins of the world. This is exactly as revealed in Leviticus 4:1-32 as it is only a pure, perfect lamb that was acceptable for the sin offering.

Think about the picture that God portrays of the owner caring for his only lamb. Why was David so outraged that this one lamb was taken from the owner? Because the owner loved her like a daughter! What a sense of loss is portrayed in that story! Try for just a moment to imagine the grief associated with this loss. I spent most of the day Saturday thinking about this, because he was growing up with my daughters, we fed him with our own hands, we held him in our arms, we loved him. I thought of all of these things with tears in my eyes as I dug a grave because our little Sammy died Saturday morning.

We fully expected to have other animals slaughtered, but we allowed him into our hearts as our farm pet. We made the deal with ourselves that we would let ourselves become attached to a few farm pets so that, when it was time to slaughter those appointed for that end, we could more easily deal with it. We had idea that he would be gone so soon!

Think again about the label John the baptist proclaimed for Jesus – the Lamb of God. We, as 21st century, enlightened Americans instantly think of the requirements in Leviticus and stoically claim “Jesus is the lamb because that is what God required for forgiveness.” That is certainly a true statement. Unlike in David's story or Leviticus, this wasn't just some person's lamb – this is God's Lamb and God did nothing worthy of the death of His Lamb. But God allowed His Lamb to die, so that you and I don't have to – He was given as a gift for others. Don't neglect this gift! Unlike Sammy, Jesus doesn't remain buried. He rose to a new life to lead the way for us to follow. Think of the renewal symbolized by lambs, think of the rebirth of spring and rejoice that God has blessed us with the opportunity to follow Jesus in this. In Isaiah 40 God has given us the picture of loving His Lamb and He wants us to be conformed to the image of His lamb – His Son – because God wants us all to know His love as faithful lambs in His flock.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Lord Upholds His Hand

It's sad, but my oldest daughter is a little unsure in her footing and has the scraped knees to prove it. Our youngest daughter is the little daredevil and is constantly falling down. Because I don't want them to be hurt, and, even less do I want to hear them cry, I hold their hands when we're walking over rough terrain. Flat paved or concrete roads are less likely to cause an unsure step, but a fall there would produce a more severe injury.

Not one of us fathers want to see our children hurt. There are lessons to be learned from a small, controlled situation resulting in injury that could produce caution in a different circumstance, but that isn't what we want for our children every day. I don't want them to fall and scuff their knees, so I make them hold my hands and I hold their hands tightly. Regardless of how strong my grip is, or how much I want them to not fall, inevitably, they will stumble. If I have a firm hold of their hand, I can quickly pull them back up so the scrape isn't as bad or doesn't happen at all. They experience the shock of falling, but can, hopefully, avoid the worst of the consequences as they return to their feet.

Just as we don't want our children to stumble and be hurt, God doesn't want for us to fall. David puts it in this way in Psalm 37:23-24

23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
      when He delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
      for the Lord upholds his hand. (ESV)
As tightly as I hold the hands of my girls and as much as I don't want them to fall, God's feeling for me is even stronger.

Just as my daughters won't fall if they keep their eyes on where they're going, we won't fall spiritually as long as we keep our eyes on the road ahead and the goal that lay before us. We will allow ourselves to be distracted and, at times, stumble. As long as we continue to hold our Father's hand, He'll guide and protect us.

Let us all look to keep our feet firmly planted on the path established by the Lord. Then we can rest in the assurance that, though we may stumble, we won't fall on our faces because the Lord is upholding our hands.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

An Acts 2 Message to an Acts 17 audience

The title is paraphrasing a thought by Ken Hamm as he addressed the audience at a local baptist college.

The basic idea is that in Acts 2, Peter preached to a bunch of Jews - people whom God had been preparing for this very day with his word delivered through many prophets. They needed very little description about God, His will, and His character. On the other hand, the crowd in Acts 17 was addressed for the very reason that they did not know YHWH - the Lord and Creator of all things. To reach that audience, a different approach had to be used.

Considering the state of our nation, this should be such a compelling thought. When one thinks about those we assemble with and the lack of understanding of God, it should be absolutely panic inducing.

So, do we have to change the message to make it fit the audience? Paul didn't seem to have an issue with that. He addressed those in Athens in Acts 17 much differently than he did the Jews he found meeting in synagogues.

Does that mean we leave things out to make it more "palatable"? It shouldn't, we just need to realize that the way we've "always done things" doesn't seem to be working. Sitting in the pews barely paying attention to sermons that are hardly worthy of such, sleeping or daydreaming through bible study, waiting for lost souls to come to our gospel meetings for some "revival" when most of the members don't even show up - these things don't seem to be working.

We need to consider our audience and present things in a way that is both clear and reasonable. Many of the tracts that might be sitting in your rack at the building are quite old and are almost certainly an Acts 2 message directed to the Acts 17 crowd.

To be effective, people need to be convicted of their sin and understand the penalty and the price that was paid so they might enjoy salvation. Exactly how to convey that message varies depending on where the listener comes from.

In years past, those who were considered to be part of the church of Christ were regarded as "walking bibles" (or so I've repeatedly heard). Today, one is hard pressed to find a reasonable response to a request for "where is that in the bible?" Biblical illiteracy is at epidemic proportions.

The only solution is to start at home. If we don't know God's word, how can we effectively share it with others? If we don't know God's word, why would we even care about sharing it with others?

Are you prepared to share the appropriate message with the audience God presents you with? If not, what are you going to do about it today?

Friday, March 23, 2007

How Sweet the Sound

Not long ago, I told Stacey that I didn't want to sing "Amazing Grace" anymore. I have tired of the typical singing of the song - a dirge-like pace with little conviction nor care for the thoughts expressed by the words. Whenever I heard that number called, I'd roll my eyes as we prepared to spend about 10 minutes singing a few dozen words.

The next time I lead singing, I'm going to lead just that song with much thought and a more appropriate pace. I'll probably preface it with a few words of reflection about why we're singing these particular words.

Why the change? I just saw the movie of the same name with my wonderful wife and it has given me a new appreciation for those words.

If you read no further, do this - find what theater it is playing at and go give them your money. We need to support Enjoyable movies with an appreciation of moral character that are both entertaining and clean. Movies like this are worthy of both our attention and a piece of our entertainment budgets.

I wish I had my voice recorder as there were so many wonderful lines that bear further rumination. There were quite a few funny lines - especially at Parliament. But there were many convicting lines that the viewer with an honest heart will feel the sting as their own life is laid bare before such thoughts.

Some of the best thoughts carried the idea that settling for a procedural victory (i.e. "baby steps") is no victory at all - we must strive for a total, immediate triumph. Far too often, I think we fool ourselves in the church into believing the "small victories" are what is important in the grander scheme of things rather than putting aside our comfort and striving to win as many souls as possible for God.

Also, the gentle encouragement of Barbara who helped her husband regain the conviction to continue his mission and her steadfastness throughout the process is a great example of a supportive wife.

Really, there is too much good to be said for my feeble memory to cope with, so you'll just have to go see it for yourself.

Do it, and you won't regret it

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Resting in His Arms

Rosemary wasn't a happy camper last night. Usually, when she wakes after we put her to bed for the night, Stacey goes to help her back to sleep.

Rosemary didn't feel well at all, so Stacey stayed home from Bible study with her so I could teach my last class of the quarter. Willow and I came home and Stacey finally took her turn putting Willow to bed. Rosie woke up and I went to try and put her back to sleep.

Was I in for a struggle! We rocked in the dark and I sang the usual songs I do to calm her down – “Jesus, Let Us Come to Know You,” “Prince of Peace, Control My Will,” and “Be Still My Soul”. She would fall asleep, I'd try to return her to the bed and she'd wake up again.

After some time of struggling, singing, and slumber another song came to mind - “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” As Rosemary lay sleeping in my arms, I was so thankful for that quiet time to just hold my beautiful daughter so that she could sleep in comfort.

When I thought of the fight she gave resisting sleep, I thought of the parallel in our spiritual lives. If we would just stop trying to come up with any excuse to not obey God's will and quietly submit to His service, the peace and rest we experience is inexplicable (Philippians 4:7).

Are you resting, safe, in the arms of Jesus, or do you still twist, squirm, and fight the loving embrace He offers shunning that perfect peace?

The words of Safe in the Arms of Jesus by Frances J. Crosby

Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast;
There by His love o’ershaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
Hark! ’tis the voice of angels
Borne in a song to me,
Over the fields of glory,
Over the jasper sea.

Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast;
There by His love o’ershaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.

Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe from corroding care,
Safe from the world’s temptations;
Sin cannot harm me there.
Free from the blight of sorrow,
Free from my doubts and fears;
Only a few more trials,
Only a few more tears!

Jesus, my heart’s dear Refuge,
Jesus has died for me;
Firm on the Rock of Ages
Ever my trust shall be.
Here let me wait with patience,
Wait till the night is o’er;
Wait till I see the morning
Break on the golden shore.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Are You Worried?

Stacey reminded me of a passage in Ezekiel when she asked a question from her recent readings that prompted a sermon. Here is the basic idea:

In Ezekiel 8, God shows Ezekiel the Israelites wanton disregard for God's commands and their whole-hearted embrace of idolatry. Each image/situation God exposes Ezekiel to - as bad as it seems - God basically says, "Oh, you think this is bad? Just wait." Finally, God declares that - without mercy - He will destroy these people.

In Ezekiel 9, instead of utter destruction, only those who have given themselves to the idolatry will be punished. Those who "sigh and groan over all the abominations" committed were to be marked, and, therefore, spared.

The Hebrew words translated "sigh and groan" convey the idea of an exasperated sigh or a reaction to pain as well as the idea of crying out or lamentation.

How many of us have this reaction to the sin we see all around in the world? More importantly, do we have this reaction to the complacency we see amongst brethren who feel showing up and paying a preacher to evangelize the community is all that God requires?

We need to have a lot more sighing and groaning, but if that's where it stops, we're not doing what is expected of us. Worrying does nothing useful. If you know there is something you're concerned about - in your neighborhood, your congregation, your family, or with yourself - don't worry about it, do something to fix it!

So, which is it going to be - apathy, hopeless hand-wringing, or serious concern that prompts action?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Are You The Weakest Link?

Studying second Timothy for the class I'm teaching on Wednesday nights, I came across an interesting thought pertaining to the following passage from chapter 2:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
So, Paul is telling Timothy to tell others about God, Jesus, and what is expected of them, and then to enable them to pass those things along to others. I've glossed over this many times thinking it simply means that we must get down to spreading the word.

Jesus whole life was spent teaching others what God expected of them and then telling them to go home and tell others. His mission was to seek and save the lost.

By being obedient to the great commission and Paul's commands to Timothy, we're continuing the chain of faithful men who have served from the time of Jesus. Teaching is one of the few things that we can do that is the exact same thing Jesus did while He was here on this earth.

With such an exciting connection, it has a serious implication as well - if we're faithful, we're continuing the chain of delivering this message to those who need to hear it. If we don't do our job, we've broken the chain. We become the weakest link that renders any other thing we might do of little account.

This is terribly convicting as a preacher - it doesn't matter how many sermons I preach, or how eloquently I convey the words of God to an assembly of His people, if I don't take His message to the world as Jesus did I am the weakest link. If I don't offer convicting words to those that hear my lessons to prompt them to this service, too, then I'm encouraging others to abandon their service to God.

So, which will it be for you? Will you follow in Jesus footsteps and take the word to the lost, or will you be the weakest link in a nearly 2000 year chain of faithful service?