Scripture Famine

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” – Amos 8:11-12

One of the hallmarks of biblical prophecy is that it operates on two levels. On the one hand, predictive prophecies came to fulfillment in the not-too-distant future from the prophet’s own time. On the other hand, biblical prophecies find a parallel interpretation that will occur in the last days. This is why so many of the prophecies in Daniel (written in the 6th century B.C.) describe in great detail events that have already occurred during the four centuries before the birth of Christ, but also mirror many of the prophecies in Revelation which have not yet taken place. Biblical prophecy has a more immediate fulfillment, and an end-times fulfillment. The above prophecy delivered by the shepherd-prophet Amos is no exception.

Tracing the history of God’s people beginning with Abraham all the way back in Genesis, we find two 400-year stretches when Israel suffered a spiritual drought. God interacted personally and powerfully with Abraham, who lived around 2000 B.C., and with his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Much of the book of Genesis is devoted to telling of God’s dealings with Joseph, Abraham’s great-grandson. As we finish reading Genesis and move into Exodus, we find the first 400-year dry period. The people of Israel moved to Egypt because of a physical famine, but there they experienced a spiritual famine that lasted for four centuries. They multiplied greatly, were enslaved by the Egyptian pharaohs, and seemed to have no hope. This was the first 400-year drought.

The spiritual famine ended when God used Moses to act miraculously on Israel’s behalf. This was in the 15th century B.C. Moses and his successor, Joshua, walked closely with God and revealed Him and His Word to His people. The nation then fell into disarray during the time of the Judges, but even then God kept intervening and raising up heroes who rescued the nation with His divine power.

This period of turmoil came to an end with the establishment of the Israelite monarchy, which was established by King Saul about 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus. The kingdom reached its apex with the reign of David, Saul’s successor, and continued through the reign of David’s son Solomon. All throughout this time, God was active and continually gave His Word to the peoples of the world.

After Solomon, the kingdom experienced a civil war and split into two nations, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Every single king of the northern kingdom was wicked, and it only lasted two or three centuries until being overrun by the Assyrians. (Incidentally, when Carolyn and I visited the British Museum in 2006, they had a lot of fascinating ancient accounts of Assyria’s dealings with Israel during this era, told from an Assyrian perspective. The Old Testament is well-attested and documented history, not a collection of fairy tales.) The southern kingdom endured an up-and-down series of rulers, some good and some bad… and some terribly bad. Finally God had enough, and the kingdom fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. By the way, the destruction of Jerusalem marked the immediate fulfillment of much Old Testament prophecy.

Babylon’s world dominion was unlike anything the human race had ever seen, but it was also short lived. Before the century ended, they had been conquered by the Medes and Persians. Under the Persian-Median Empire, a remnant of Judah was allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem. This is the period of history in which the story of Esther is set. It’s when guys like Ezra and Nehemiah led the movement to reestablish the spiritual life of Israel, and prophets like Haggai and Malachi challenged the people to return to God.

This is when the second 400-year period of spiritual famine commences. The Old Testament ends with the prophet Malachi, about four centuries before the first Christmas. In our Bible, we simply turn one page to go from Malachi to Matthew, from the Old Testament to the New Testament. But in human history, the space between those pages is one of the most tumultuous ages the world has ever seen. Between Malachi and Matthew, Alexander the Great has conquered the world, then had his empire supplanted by the Roman Empire. Jewish rebellions have come and gone, birthing new commemorative celebrations like Hanukkah.

And all during that time, God was silent. There was no new revelation, no more prophecy, no more mouthpieces for the Lord. After a millennium of God speaking to His people, He fell silent for 400 years. That’s significantly longer than the history of our nation! (To put it in perspective, the Mayflower had not yet arrived 400 years ago.) As Amos had prophesied, people thirsted for new revelation. They ran to and fro, seeking a word from God, but none was to be had. It was a spiritual famine.

That was the first fulfillment of Amos’s prophecy. I have to wonder if we’re starting to see the second fulfillment. There is a spiritual thirst in the West, and people are running to and fro seeking spiritual satisfaction, but so many ears seem completely deaf to the Word of God. In desperation we turn to so many other things, but often neglect what’s right in front of us and has been for many centuries. The Word is there for us to feast upon, yet so many choose to starve. It is a famine of God’s Word, and many are dying of hunger instead of feeding on Scripture.

“I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” – Job 23:12

Published in: on December 12, 2014 at 5:45 am  Comments (2)  
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God of the Roaring Waves

For I am the Lord your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord Almighty is his name.

– Isaiah 51:15

The beach has long been one of my favorite places to bask in the presence of God.  Perhaps that’s because it comes so naturally there.  The vastness of the horizon, where the unceasing waves kiss the unending sky, hints at the infinitude of the Creator.  The countless grains of sand, beyond our ability to even have a name for their number, remind me of the meticulous concern of the Creator for every little detail of His creation.  Isaiah 51:15 dresses the whole beach experience in even more glorious splendor.  To close my eyes and listen to the waves, I am literally hearing the handiwork of the LORD Almighty who makes them roar.  He “churns up the sea so that its waves roar.”  Yes, the Artist has signed His name in large letters on the shores of the ocean, one of His most magnificent masterpieces.

Published in: on August 21, 2012 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Old Testament Gospel

This morning I was reading Leviticus and discovered something pretty interesting.

When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment, He actually gave two: love God and love people (see Matthew 22:37-40).  He cited Leviticus 19:18, which says to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Looking at that phrase in its context provides some insight.  Leviticus 19:18 in its entirety says: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

Since we’re coming out of a three-week series on forgiveness at CrossWay, this really jumped out at me.

Sometimes we tend to categorize biblical truths as Old Testament or New Testament, as though they’re not consistent with each other.  The whole concept of forgiving others because God forgives us seems very New Testament.  But it’s right there in Leviticus in the Old Testament!  We’re not to carry grudges or seek revenge.  If we do, we’re not loving our neighbors.  And we’re to practice this kind of love because Jesus Christ is the Lord.

It’s stuff like this that reminds me why I love the Bible… and even more than that, why I love the God of the Bible.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

And So He Finished the Work

“And so Moses finished the work.”  This statement from Exodus 40:33 jumped out at me this morning.  In the second half of the Book of Exodus, God gives Moses a lot of detailed instructions on building the Tabernacle (a tent that was like a portable church sanctuary) and all the tools and instruments that went along with it.

We’re told that Moses carefully and diligently obeyed God and did everything just as he was supposed to.  And then near the end of the book it says: “And so Moses finished the work.”

I love that statement!  Something I pray for is that God would help me to finish the work, to complete the plans and fulfill the purposes for which He created me.  Although I sometimes fear failing to finish the work, a couple passages in the Bible tell us about tools God gives us to help:

Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  I’m not left alone to finish the work.  God prepared these “good works” long before I was even born, and He has “created (me) in Christ Jesus to do” them.  He is shaping my character and He gives me His Spirit so I can finish the work like Moses did.

More specifically, the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  God gave us the Bible so we would be not just ready, but “thoroughly equipped” to complete the work He’s called us to.

Maybe this is one of those things that can’t be explained in a way to convey the “a-ha!” moment.  But when I read this morning about how “Moses finished the work,” it hit me what an enormous statement that is.

I think that’s what I want my tombstone to say: “And so Nathan finished the work.”

Lord help me!

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 10:46 am  Comments (2)  

You Are God’s Idea

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast featuring Matt Chandler, preacher at The Village Church in the Dallas area.  He said four simple words that are so profound I’ve not been able to stop mulling it over.  He said, “You are God’s idea.”

Of course, I already knew that God made me and that He made me unique.  But I never really thought about the fact that I’m His idea.  I mean, this morning I made a cup of coffee, but I didn’t come up with the idea of coffee.  God not only made me, but my very existence is His idea.  There were already billions of people on the planet, but none of them were me, and in His mind God conceived the idea of me and then made me.  My height, my complexion, the color of my eyes and the shape of my nose… my strengths, weaknesses, the things that make me laugh and the things that make me nervous… all of this was God’s idea!  I originated in His mind.

This insight gives much more meaning to Psalm 139:13-15: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.”

Think about it: You are God’s idea.

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

–.–.—-

Today I saw a bumper sticker that said: “1.20.13: End of an Error.”

Reminds me of all the bumper stickers that were around during President Bush’s last year or so, that simply had the date of the next inauguration.

It’s weird how so many people still place so much hope in a politician.

There’s a day coming when we will have a new leader who will make a difference and we will see positive and lasting change.  But as Jesus said: “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).

Maybe I should get a bumper sticker with a blank date.

Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm  Comments (2)  

Falling On Our Knees

At CrossWay on Sunday we talked about dying to our sin-riddled selves and being given new life in Christ.  We read the really strange story in Acts 20:7-12 and then walked through Romans 6:1-14.

The highlight of the day for me came at the end of the second service.  When we reached our prayer time after the sermon, I grabbed a chair and used it for an altar, and encouraged others to do the same if they felt led to.  As I got down and bowed my head with my eyes closed, I heard a lot of rustling.  A lot of rustling.  When I finished praying, I started to stand up and saw that everyone was on their knees in prayer!  It was awesome.  I was so moved that I couldn’t say anything, so I just walked up to the drums for the closing song. (Turns out that the prayer gave such a sense of closure to the service that people started to get up to leave, not realizing we had a closing song!)

It was especially cool because our Worship Planning Team met last week and talked about how we can lead people into worshiping through physically humbling ourselves before God.  God definitely responded.

Published in: on May 19, 2010 at 10:20 am  Comments (1)  

The God of This City

Yesterday at CrossWay we talked about the vision for our church.  We read Acts 18:5-11, in which God appears to Paul in a vision and tells him that He has many people in the city of Corinth, where Paul was preaching.

God is the God of that city, and He is the God of our city, too!  He is the God of our community.  He has many people here.  He is doing something in the West Ocean City/Berlin area, and He’s bringing His people together to make it happen.  Not only that, but Jesus Christ has people in our community that don’t know Him yet, and He wants to work through His churches here to bring those people to Himself.

In this passage in Acts, Paul preaches in the synagogue–the established church, if you will–and they not only oppose him but actually abuse him.  So he goes literally right next door, preaches the gospel, and revival breaks out in the city!  CrossWay is on a mission to make lifelong followers of Jesus Christ throughout our community and around the world, and that means we can’t hide in an insulated religious bubble.  We must go out into the community.  Sometimes there’s a dormant revival right next door, just waiting to explode as soon as the gospel is shared.

So we talked about our vision of being a place where anyone can understand and respond to the Bible.  That’s how we make lifelong followers of Jesus.  We know Jesus by reading and understanding the Bible, and we follow Jesus by responding to the Bible in faith and obedience.  We can fulfill our vision by living out our core values: Community, Reverence, Outreach, Service, Spiritual Growth.  As these five things come to define us, we’re in position for God to bring His kingdom to our community.  He is the God of this city!

Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 5:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Following God With Your Money

We wrapped up the series The Almighty’s Dollar on Sunday at CrossWay Church.  After a week about loving God with our money and another week on trusting God with our money, on Sunday we talked about following God with our money.

While we’re often surrounded by messages that tell us to indulge ourselves and live above our means, the wisdom of God tells us otherwise.  In fact, at church we looked at several verses that tell us to pay attention to ants and we can learn some biblical tips for good money management!  (See Proverbs 6:6-8; 30:25.)

We touched on three specific things we can do for financial success God’s way:

(1) Earn.  This may seem obvious, but it’s really not what we’re encouraged to do.  Rather than working and earning money, we’re constantly presented with amazing once-in-a-lifetime better-act-now get-rich-quick schemes.  If nothing else, at least buy our product for a chance to win $25,000 or a big-screen TV or a trip to paradise!  But the best plan for obtaining money (which we obviously have to do before we can manage it) is to go old school and earn it.  Instead of looking for shortcuts, let’s look down the road at the big picture.

(2) Save & Spend.  After the tithe, the next place to direct our money is savings.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.  A little bit over a long time adds up.  Personally, I’d encourage people to save for specific things rather than just have a lump savings account.  With online banking, it’s easy to have separate savings accounts for retirement, vacation, college, car repairs, etc.  Rather than waiting for that million-dollar check to drop on us from somewhere, the way to achieve our financial goals is by working toward them a little at a time.  After tithing and saving, it’s time to spend!  We’re responsible to God for 100% of our income, so we should still spend responsibly.  Pay the bills, have fun.  But be careful to live below your means.  Not within your means, which provides no margin, but below your means.  That way there’s room for financial emergencies.  Even if something dramatic happens and you have to take a pay cut, your standard of living can remain the same if you’re living below your means.

(3) Give.  This can include tithing, sure.  But it goes way beyond that.  There is tremendous joy in using our God-given resources to be a blessing to others.  Worldly “wisdom” has no room for being selfless and generous.  The closest thing it has to offer is making a tax-deductible contribution.  In other words, give so that you can keep more!  Nothing wrong with tax-deductible donations, of course, but our focus should be on giving in order to be generous and reflect the nature of God.

Earn.  Save.  Spend.  Give.  By practicing these biblical guidelines for money management, we’re not so vulnerable to the fluctuations of the economy.  Not only that, but we get to put our faith into practice by following God with our money.

Published in: on April 27, 2010 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Give Cheerfully? Freal?

In response to the recent post Trusting God With Our Money, Katie left the comment below:

I’m hearing ya on #1 & #2 but to be transparent it is sometimes hard to be cheerful about it. I am happy to be giving back to God what is his. I’ve been sitting here looking at the word cheerful and trying to think if that’s how I am feeling. Maybe I need to be praying about that cheerful thing :)

This seemed like it was postworthy, rather than just responding in the Comments section.

Katie, thanks for your honesty!  I totally hear ya on that one.  It’s definitely not natural or easy to give cheerfully, so I don’t have any quick or easy answers for you. I’ve been there myself… and often return there.

But I can tell you how it works for me.  Whenever I give my tithe, I remind myself that it represents just a fraction of what God has provided for me.  I also remind myself that God is going to use the money to do the things that are important to Him.  Finally, I’m convinced that God can do a whole lot more good with the money than I ever could!  It’s also helpful to keep in mind that money we give to God’s church and ministries has eternal value.

When I give money that’s not my tithe, it helps me to be cheerful about it by thinking about what it will mean to whoever it is I’m giving it to.  If it’s someone who’s struggling financially, it will remind them that God provides for them.  If it’s just a gift for someone to enjoy, it’s helpful to keep in mind what a blessing it’s been when I’ve been on the receiving end, and knowing that the other person/people will get to have the same enjoyment.

One more thing: for me, part of the joy of giving, part of what helps me to be cheerful about it, is knowing that giving regularly brings freedom.  I don’t have to worry about money and I don’t have to be enslaved to it, because when I give regularly, the chains of materialism and greed can’t keep their hold on me.  I enjoy that freedom!  I also enjoy knowing that I’m entering into one of God’s promises, that when I trust Him, He’ll take care of the details and He’ll provide for me.

Hopefully that doesn’t sound like a bunch of Christianese, because it’s not.  It’s personal experience.  Like I said, it doesn’t come naturally or easily, but it’s a work of the heart that God is eager to do.

By the way, Katie, on a personal note: I’ve often seen you give cheerfully!  When you’ve made food for small group, had people over to eat and shoot skeet, or more recently, when you took pictures of Laura Marie for us, you’ve seemed pretty cheerful about it!  It’s not just forking over the green that counts as giving.  All these other things are ways of giving.  So don’t be too hard on yourself. 🙂

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 10:04 am  Comments (2)