“Let us go to him outside the camp . . . “

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

– Hebrews 13:11-14

This is a “hard passage” that I heard in church recently.

It wasn’t quoted as a hard passage, but I took it as one. I can write posts all day long, but, I wonder, can I live what this passage is asking me to live?

Here the writer of Hebrews connects the Old Testament practice of animal sacrifice — something that to our sanitized and safety-netted minds would appear monstrous if we could see it occurring — with Jesus’ death on Calvary. Jesus suffered “outside the gate” in order to save us.

Jesus deserves my utmost devotion and worship and love. How can I not love a God who was willing to suffer outside the gate for me? Most of us, at one time or another, have felt outcast. Some of us have been outcasts all our lives. And we are all surrounded by outcasts. In fact, some of us are in the business of doing the out-casting.

Outcasts: they wait outside the gate, while the rest of the world laughs and experiences love and wealth and fun and joy. They press their faces against the windows as we eat and drink and are merry. They suffer outside the gate in their loneliness and pain. The beautiful people and well-integrated never notice them or even think about them.

And into their midst steps Jesus, the One who always had time for them, who touched them with healing in spite of their infections and loved them in their ugliness and ministered to them and forgave them in their sin. He was the only one who honored them in spite of their lowly status in the culture.

And he, finally, went “outside the gate” for them and died for them, died for all of us. For whether you’ve ever been an outcast or not, we are all outcasts from the Kingdom of God without Christ. The scripture isn’t kidding when it says that without Christ we are dead men in our sin.

But thanks be to God that he was willing to become flesh and dwell among us, and to suffer and die for dead men, outside the gate where the outcasts live.

“Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.”

What to do while waiting

In my previous post I talked about waiting on God. However, I realize that I may be presenting an incomplete picture. We do often wait on God, but we are not to be idle while we wait.

A common source of angst for Christians is the question “what is God’s will for my life?” This query, prayed fervently and often desperately, spins continuously in the minds of many. This is not necessarily a bad thing; we are to seek God and His ways and His will, so we should certainly care what that might be! But I’ve seen (and lived) the paralysis of that question. The lie that creeps in: “I’m waiting on God’s will for my life. I don’t want to screw anything up, so I’ll do nothing until I’m absolutely sure it’s God’s will.”

Aside from some obvious problems with the unnecessary clause “for my life”, it took me awhile to realize that this attitude is a thousand miles from anything resembling faith. Trust me, I’ve been there. I have often laughed inwardly at the fact that pretty much everything big God has done in my life is something I backed into. I simply wasn’t looking for it to happen the way it did – how could I have foreseen what God would do? I’m just not that smart. So why spend all my useful days in useless puzzle-work? God has called me to live, to run the race, and to focus on Him.

Someone wise once made this point: too many of us, as we walk along life’s path, expect to find GOD’S WILL wrapped up like a present, complete with our name on the tag. But, really, the path is God’s will.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus . . .

– Hebrews 12:1-2a (ESV)

Notice that Paul is not encouraging us to carefully sit idly by as we wait for detailed instructions from our Coach (the instructions that we have, in fact, demanded as a condition of our running). No, the command is far more straightforward: lay aside our sin and distractions and run like crazy toward Jesus.

So beware the wait if it’s really just a vacation from motion. For God will not, generally, lay out the plan for you all at once. At least He’s never done so for me. But that’s no excuse for standing still. There’s a reason the Christian life is compared to a race. We are to be running, and running to win.

So what do you do while you are waiting on God? Learn His ways, seek His face, learn to listen to His voice. And do whatever it is that He has put before you. You never know; the next seemingly uninspiring or uninteresting task or ministry that presents itself may be a gateway into a life you never dreamed of. One of my favorite quotes is by a secular author, but it carries with it a profound spiritual truth:

“Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.”

– P. J. O’Rourke

We all want to lead epic lives, but sometimes in that quest we miss that one life that just brushed past us that desperately needs some love and an encouraging word. As we pray for God’s mighty rain of revival to sweep us away we miss the fact that someone near us needs a cup of cold water. We want to love the whole earth and give ourselves to some mighty work, but we don’t love our neighbor (or even know his name). For it’s through the small things that come to us step by step on this path that God leads us toward the epic.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.

– Luke 16:10 (ESV)

As you run, in obedience to the commands of God that you know well through reading HIs word, your motion and training will help prevent the other great sin we fall into: being so careful “waiting for God’s will” that even when He lays it out straight for us we’re too afraid to move.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him . . .

– Genesis 12:1-4a (ESV)

Because often times the next step God has for us may not be explained in as much detail as we would like. But as we grow more in love with Him and learn to hear His voice we’ll learn to obey even the steps that don’t make sense. So that when the command comes we, like Abraham, will simply go as the Lord has told us . . . because the Lord is really ahead of us, blazing the trail.

So while you and I are waiting to fly, we must continuously learn to run.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

John 10:27


Waiting to fly

I read something today that reminded me that so many of us spend a lot of our time “between” things. We are waiting — we’re ready to move on in life but circumstances and developments and just plain time haven’t progressed far enough for us to get moving. So we wait.

I remember specific times in the past when I was in life’s waiting room. I spent most of that time fretting about the thousand and one things that might end up going wrong and thwarting the plans I had for that future I was waiting for or, more commonly, fretting at myself for not having plans! I felt impatience and urgency at a time when patience was called for and urgency was premature. It is tough to wait. The cloud of the looming future follows you around and can darken even the brightest day and insert a depressing solemnity into the wonder and fun that is life.

It is during times of waiting that I often begged God to show me what He was doing. Now, having lived a while longer, I can look back and realize that what He was doing was preparing me and others for the plans He had. I regret that I didn’t enjoy those times more. I didn’t like waiting, especially because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I wanted the musical score of my life to hit a climax right then, not realizing that I was on measure 8 and the master Conductor was even then preparing to swell the music, through various movements of beauty and awe, sadness and joy (and much that was to my ear mundane) toward His soaring and majestic triumph in measure 86! Everything has to be kept in time and working together, even if I want the tempo to snap it up a bit.

Thank God I’m not directing the orchestra.

Yes, He is perfectly capable.

To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

– Isaiah 40:25-26 (ESV)

With eyes downcast we wonder if God’s even there. He asks us simply to look up. The more we learn about our universe, the work of His hands, the more we bow in awe. The starry host of heaven is his creation, and every one of these trillions He has called by name. ”The heavens declare the glory of God” – yes they do, in all their mindblowing beauty and in the way our brains crumble at the attempted comprehension of the vast distances, forces, beauty and raw power of the controlled nuclear explosions we call stars and all the infinitesimal and (to me) bizarre quantum particles that make up this extraordinary place we call home.

He calls them all by name. But what of you? Does He know you?

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

– Isaiah 40:27-28 (ESV)

Yes, he does. And He knows you throughout eternity, from the foundation of the world. He’s not tired of you, and you don’t confuse Him. He “gets” you. If you are His, you are His beloved child and of far more value than the stars.

He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

– Isaiah 40:29-31 (ESV)

And when your patience is thin and your strength is gone you can call on Him. He will teach you the joy of waiting, of being renewed, of walking, of running. . .

. . . and of flying!

“The deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine”

Saw this on Shizuka Blog. It’s from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions:

LORD, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

thy life in my death,

thy joy in my sorrow,

thy grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty,

thy glory in my valley.

Me and you and a blog named Bloo

I know, I know, you’re waiting with baited (bated?) breath for Bloo version 0.17. You are in a tizzy for the new functionality, the exciting new features, the start of the revolution in Blog Software! [Bill adopts a Darth Vader pose here, at the moment when Vader tells Luke “No. I am your Fathah”.]

. . .

[Bill snaps out of it, doing his best imitation of Keneau Reeves in Parenthood right after he says that great line “You need a license to catch a fish, but they’ll let any blankety blank blank be a father”] Whoa.

Perhaps you are wondering when I will put this code in the public domain so you can join in the efforts!

Actually, my guess is that you don’t care. :-) But I did want to let you know that I have been working on 0.17 in tiny time slices here and there. I’m excited about many of the changes, although most will, once again, be “behind the scenes”.

About releasing the code in the public domain: I guess I’m just trying to get a bit more completeness before doing so. For instance, I’ve decided to re-write the security module, because the current security is not very flexy. I have a design and even some coding done. I want to wait until that and a few more fundamentals are done before releasing.

Plus I want to setup a cool wiki too :-)

Watch me for the changes . . .

The gospel in Matthew 1

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us).

– Matthew 1:18-23 (ESV)

Joseph doesn’t get much attention, but I think that if nothing else is said about me after I’m gone, the words “he was a just man” would be sufficient. Joseph could have done many things, up to and including having Mary shunned or even executed as an adultress. I’m sure Joseph was very troubled, hurt, and even shamed by Mary’s pregnancy, prior to learning the divine nature of it, but being a just man, and out of his affection and concern for her, Joseph wanted to do the right thing.

We need more Josephs in this world.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Beautiful. In Hebrew I’m told that Jesus’ name (Yeshua) means “Yahweh is salvation”. I love the straightforward, direct nature of the angel’s pronouncement. He’s our Savior! Call him “Jesus”.

Matthew then quotes from the majestic book of Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

– Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)

Immanuel means “God with us”.

God, becoming a man of flesh and blood to save his people from their sins; this is the gospel, pronounced to a bewildered and troubled man named Joseph. A man who at the time had no idea that what was, up until that moment, the cause for his deep personal concern and sorrow would soon become the greatest joy the world had ever known.

Addendum

As an addendum to my previous post . . .

I always try to think of something wise, or clever, or encouraging to say in this space. But I’ve learned that most of the time the Bible pretty much says it all.

Case in point, the last two verses of Psalm 40:

But may all who seek you

rejoice and be glad in you;

may those who love your salvation

say continually, “Great is the Lord!”

As for me, I am poor and needy,

but the Lord takes thought for me.

You are my help and my deliverer;

do not delay, O my God!

Encouraged

Work was hard today. There are just a lot of things going on, many of which are not good. I was a bit short of peace today, and I was also a bit “short” with some people that didn’t deserve that. I regret it (and I’ve apologized).

I dropped my daughter Molly off at ministry night at our church’s student ministry and started praying a bit as I drove away. Then I turned on the radio. It was a sports station, which generally works well for background noise on my trek home. But I decided to switch to our local Christian radio station. A girl on the radio read this verse as soon as I tuned in:

I waited patiently for the Lord;

he inclined to me and heard my cry.

– Psalm 40:1 (ESV)

All I could think at that moment was “thanks, God”. David wrote that psalm having been delivered from far more physical danger and trouble than I’ve ever known. But the spiritual danger that God has rescued me from was as soul-shattering as that of any member of fallen humanity. He is my Rescuer. Even in the midst of the tiny-tribs that I go through, I can cry out to Him.

After that verse was read and a few more encouraging words spoken, I heard these words sung:

“I need You Jesus to come to my rescue

Where else can I go?”

Thanks, God, again! Where else can I go? Where would I want to?

Facing life without Jesus would be . . . well, I don’t want to think about it.

I’m praying tomorrow’s a better day. Starting from inside of me and rippling outward. I’m not asking God to remove the small measure of turmoil I go through. I’m just praying I’ll handle it better. And that when the huge turmoil of life finally hits (and it will, someday) may I be found faithful.

I need You Jesus . . .

Romans 8:28

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

– Romans 8:26-28 (ESV) [Emphasis mine]

I’ve had a bit of a no-fun week, but my mini-trib has been a pin-prick compared to what some of my friends are going through. My problems generally reside in my mind, and my circumstances rarely fall below “uncomfortable”, but I’ve got friends going through real, live tribulation and trouble right now.

In thinking about this I am drawn to Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”.

I can see some of you rolling your eyes now. Romans 8:28 has, for some, come to be considered a verse that is not to be quoted (let alone blogged about) when people are in tribulation. It all seems too easy, to “pat”. I myself can recall times when someone tossed Romans 8:28 my way during a down time and I found it irritating.

I’m learning, however, that the problem then was me, not Romans 8:28 or its surrounding context.

Look at that verse. Too trite? Too simple? Look again. Think of the one who wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Was Paul sitting on a stage in a three piece suit with coiffed hair and manicured fingernails? I think not. Paul was one tough hombre, and my expectation is that he was uglier than a stump to boot. He carried the scars of his devotion to Christ in his tough, weather-beaten hide. And he wrote this: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Paul and those he ran with woke up most mornings knowing that there was a distinct chance of intense physical pain in their near future. They lived in a world that was, compared to what most of us know, barbaric and cruel. Stonings, beatings, cold, heat, hunger, thirst, prison. Welcome to the life of an evangelist for Christ in the first century AD. It was a world without safety nets. Sick and in pain? Hopefully you’ll recover, but don’t expect a warm bed, orange juice, or any pain meds. Broken leg? Hope it doesn’t get infected and kill you. No money? Lotsa luck. Don’t believe Caesar is god because you worship Jesus? Off with your head.

I’m beginning to understand. Romans 8:28 is a magnificent promise, one almost too good to believe, and that’s its problem. Actually, it’s our problem; our unbelief. Romans 8:28 towers over the desert of our tribulation, a solid rock to stand on, a spring of water unlooked for to one dying of thirst. It’s for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. There is a plan. What we’re going through is part of it. And the ending of all this will be the working together and miraculous harmony of a myriad of circumstances, and it will be good. If that seems impossible, it’s only because we can’t fathom or muster faith in the organizational and creative abilities of the Master of all circumstances, Almighty God.

In my life I’ve experienced little pinpricks of tribulation. Generally things work out. I’ve got it very, very easy. I haven’t had to have much faith in God’s great promise of Romans 8:28. Someday I know I will need that faith. I hope that I will not falter.

I hope I will remember the words of our Lord Jesus that He spoke to encourage eleven men who were about to embark on the most exhilarating, dangerous, revolutionary, and deadly adventure of their lives:

“I have said these things to you,

that in me you may have peace.

In the world you will have tribulation.

But take heart;

I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33 (ESV)