Saturday, March 31, 2012

This Is What Victory Looks Like

Psalm 118 is a Psalm of victory. We did not read it today, but we should all read it and meditate on it this Holy Week, because it is a Psalm of victory. Jesus was treated as victorious as he entered Jerusalem (it is called the “triumphant entry”), and Jesus actually IS victorious when he dies on the cross on our behalf. This is what victory looks like.

Psalm 118 has one of the most important verses in all of scripture, and it is quoted by Paul and other New Testament writers, and the early church fathers and all the saints up to this very day: “the stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Jesus came, we rejected him, we killed him, and in doing so, we have made Jesus the foundation of the entire Christian faith. The most precious seed fell to earth and died, and then a forest of fruitful trees has sprung up in its place. As the song says, “like a rose trampled on the ground.” Jesus took the fall for us. This is what victory looks like.

A verse that is not quoted but is just as important as the previous one: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” Just as Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation of the church, Jesus is the gate of righteousness. We cannot give thanks to the Lord, we cannot be in relationship with him, unless we enter through these righteous gates—unless we come to the father through the son, through Jesus. This is what victory looks like. God has created a way for us to live in relationship with him. Once there was no way. Now there is a way.

Jesus Christ, having been at the creation of everything, when we were suffering under sin and death, emptied himself and took the form of a servant, and he died on our behalf. We rejected him, we crushed him under our heels, and in doing so, we enabled him to defeat death. He descended to the dead and defeated death. Then he rose from the dead and became the cornerstone of our faith. He rose from the dead and became the gate of righteousness, through which we can enter and be with him forever. This is what victory looks like.

Let us meditate on the victory this Holy Week.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Don't Forget the New Time/Location

Just reminding everyone that this is the big launch Sunday! We will be meeting at His Dream Center (205 E Baltic St, Nags Head) at 11am, out in front of the building for the Liturgy of the Palms, and then we will process into the building to "All Glory, Laud, and Honor". Don't forget the new time and the new place. We will see you there!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Precious Seed

There is a Hindu parable from the Upanishads, and it goes like this:

A father tells his son, “Bring me a fig.” The son gets one. The father then asks him to break it open and tell him what he sees inside. The son responds, “Some rather tiny seeds, father.” The father asks the son to break one of them open and tell him what he sees. The son responds, “Nothing at all, Father.” The conclusion: “From the inside of this tiny seed, which seems to be nothing at all, this whole fig tree grows. That is the Real.”

This is an example of Penentheism, or God inside everything. Many religions believe that God is in everything, that even cancer can be God if we look at it from a different point of view. What about the Bible? Does not Christ also say similar things? Indeed, many Hindus will take the following saying of Jesus and claim that Jesus was a Hindu. Luke 13: 18-19: “Jesus said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

Sounds similar doesn't it? Why am I bringing this up? Because I want to point out a fundamental difference between two religions, because we are in the season of Lent, and because in order to turn away from the world and toward Christ this season, we have to be able to do things like take two similar ideas and really delve into them, discovering the difference. These things really effect our lives, and I'll show you how.

Is Christ saying the same thing as the Upanishads? Here's another “wise” Hindu quote: “Inside this seed is a tree as big as this one. Vishnu can squeeze a whole banyan tree into such a tiny seed.” Let's put our thinking caps on. Does God squeeze an entire tree into a seed? No. Let's look at Jesus' mustard seed quote again. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden. It grew and became a tree. THAT IS THE REAL. The tree is not inside the seed. God is not IN everything. God is the author of creation, separate from it. And he authored a process in which we plant a seed in the ground and it grows and BECOMES a tree.

Well, so what? You say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to. The genes, the DNA, for the tree are in the seed, so aren't you just splitting hairs? No, this is important stuff for our spiritual development, because if we believe that God is IN everything, we are going to have a different view of reality, and we will act differently, than if we believe that God is the author of a PROCESS in which a seed becomes a tree. If we think that the Kingdom of God is like a whole, complete tree inside a seed, then what are we going to do? We are going to continually search for God inside ourselves. We are going to try to unlock the God potential in everyone. We will eventually think that we ARE God. Who else thought that? Oh, yeah! Adam and Eve. We know what happened there.

And yet, that thinking is prevalent throughout the world. You are the master of your own destiny remember? Not God—YOU are the master. You find the God in you and unleash it. Now, we do believe that Holy Spirit is in our hearts, but the Holy Spirit is not us. He is an independent person of the Trinity, who communicates directly with our souls and helps guide us down the right paths in life. But he is not US. He is not our conscience. He is not our potential. He is not our human spirit—you know that thing that has to triumph in every feel-good movie. God is separate from us. He has a relationship with us, and he communicates with our souls, but he is God and we are us. We are not the same.

In our gospel reading tonight, we get another piece of this puzzle about God's relationship with us. This Lenten season, these deeper details are important. The verse is verse 24 of chapter 12 in the Gospel of John, and it reads, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat FALLS into the earth and DIES, it remains just a single grain; but if it DIES it bears much fruit.”

Once again we have moved far away from the inaccurate concept that a tree is inside a seed. We once again return to the planting in the ground and growth details of the mustard seed parable. But now we have a very astonishing detail that the seed must DIE in order to bear fruit. In the context of the passage, Jesus is not only telling us that we must metaphorically DIE to this world in order to gain everlasting life—which is knowing God (here is our Lenten theme), but that he is actually going to die and in doing so, produce the greatest kind of fruit: drawing all people to himself. Everyone, Jew and Gentile, Slave and Free, Man and Woman. Everyone.

Jesus goes so far as to say that if this death does not happen, the seed remains alone—isolated. In other words, the other religions and the secular world that teach us to look inside ourselves for the answer end up isolating us, leaving us alone, without community, without the kingdom of God. Isolated.

Burial and death make a wondrous change in the seed. It is no longer alone. It grows and multiplies. More seeds fall to the earth—more death—and more life springs forth. More fruit. Our life in Christ comes from dying. Through God's grace, our worldly, old nature decays and dies, and the new nature comes out of that death. It is a life in Christ. It is a life that turns to scripture for answers. It is a life that prays before doing anything. It knows the truth. It abhors the false. It praises God in beauty and holiness.

Jesus Christ might have chosen to remain a seed. He was with the father already and had been with Him from the beginning. He would have been quite pleased to remain with the Father and the host of angels for the rest of time. But God would be alone. This was not true happiness. His very nature demanded that he abhor the solitary life, even as a trinity. He therefore fell to earth and died. This was fueled by joy. God will never be alone. He has drawn and is continuing to draw all people to him. The renewal and new life of all things in existence springs out of the fall of that one precious seed into the earth.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stations of the Cross Next Friday

A week from today, Friday, March 30th, Good Shepherd will join together at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church for their Stations of the Cross and Soup Supper. Here is what Holy Redeemer has to offer: "During Lent we are all invited to discover the true purpose of our beautiful Stations of the Cross as an inspiration for prayer and contemplation on the journey of Jesus to his cross, death and resurrection. Each Friday during Lent (February 24 to March 30), our faith community will gather in Church at 6:30 pm to prayerfully remember Christ's journey to Calvary. Immediately following the Stations, we will share a light supper of soup and bread prepared each week by a different Parish group. This supper of the poor will put us in mind of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. An offering will be taken up to help feed those whose plates are empty." We will meet up at Holy Redeemer on the 30th. Call 207-4050 if you need directions.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Snakes on a Plain

Charlotte does this cute thing with her hands. She cups them together, comes to a member of the family, and says, “go ahead! Open it!” We uncup her hands and we get a surprise. They stared out as hugs and kisses, but then they became tickles, and then they became strange things like monsters, spiders, and now—snakes!

Very cute when it comes to a 2-year-old's play, but in the book of Numbers, the snakes that come into the camp are very dangerous—poisonous and deadly. I've said this before, but it bears repeating. The Old Testament is the living word of God, just like the New Testament, but God spoke through human authors—divinely inspired human authors—but human authors nonetheless. Man's interpretation of things that God does is based on how we treat each other. In other words, what God SEEMS to do and what God actually does are two different things.

A good example is God threatening to wipe out all of Israel and Moses pleading with him and getting God to change his mind. Arguing with God and convincing him to relent are things that we think are possible, because Moses did it! But knowing that God is good all the time—that he is patient and he is kind—theologians have worked on these seeming contradictions in scriptures for thousands of years and have concluded that God never intended to destroy Israel. The discourse between Moses in God was all about Moses being tested in his faith. This is what God does. Moses thinks he is arguing with God and changing God's mind when what is really happening is Moses is discovering how God thinks and arriving at God's mind through a well reasoned argument with himself.

Another great example is Pharaoh's heart being hardened. After the first plague, he is willing to let Moses' people go, but “God hardened his heart.” We think, “hey God! He was going to let everyone go, what, do you just want to torture Egypt some more, so you can show off?” What God was really doing was not hardening Pharaoh's heart, but releasing Pharaoh's heart to its natural tendency. He relaxed his grip on Pharaoh, and Pharaoh responded by being wicked. The only reason Pharaoh had enslaved Israel instead of just slaughtered Israel was that God wouldn't let him. From Moses' point of view, it seemed that God had hardened Pharaoh's heart, and so that is what he wrote.

The world is evil, not God, so when something Good happens, we can be assured that it was due to God's influence, and when something evil happens, it is because God allowed the world to do what it naturally does.

So Serpents! Israel complains and so God punishes them angrily but siccing serpents on them. That sounds mean and evil. BUT knowing God is good, we have to have faith that what happened was something different. Picture the devil and his minions poised outside the camp of Israel in the darkness with serpents, just itching to release them into the camp. God will not allow this. He is all powerful, and he physically keeps Satan from acting. Then Israel complains. They are impatient. They set themselves against God. They are essentially saying to God, “stop protecting us. We don't like you. You have not acted like a genie in a bottle, giving us all our wildest dreams, and therefore we reject you.” That is what impatience and complaining tells God: “we don't want you.” So, God obeys. He loves us to the point of obeying. He says, “you don't need me anymore, I see. On your command, I will relax my protection of you.” Suddenly, the devil realizes that God is no longer stopping him from releasing snakes into the camp, and so he does.

Once we get our minds around that, we can see how this passage in the bible relates to God and life and healing. Here's what we learn. First, we are impatient. We always want God to act immediately, and when he doesn't, we complain. Second, by complaining, we place ourselves against God. Third, when we place ourselves against God, he is unable to protect us from the poisons of this world, the cancers in life. When I say God is unable, of course, I mean that he allows our will to be sovereign. As C.S. Lewis writes, we either pray the Lord's prayer and say to God, “THY WILL BE DONE,” or we reject that notion, and God says to US, “THY WILL BE DONE,” and our wills are not pretty. Our will is that snakes be allowed in the camp. Our will is death and destruction. God's will is everlasting life.

So, sickness and death come through those three things. Remember the three things: we're impatient, we place ourselves against God, God allows our will to reign, and our will is poison. We lose health, as a society, as individuals, and we die.

But then what happens in the Numbers narrative? Israel confesses its sin, and as a result of the confession, God provides a way of salvation, in this case, a serpent symbol on a staff. This is true for us today, too. If we confess our sin, we find that God has provided us a way of salvation, something which we can all look upon, turn to, have faith IN, and live. What is that way of salvation for us?

Jesus tells us himself in our Gospel reading. It is himself. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus compares himself to things in the Old Testament and reveals each time that he is that way of salvation. In John 3, he tells Nicodemus that he is the serpent on the staff. Furthermore, Jesus is not just the symbol of life, he IS life. This is the passage where we get John 3:16, probably the most famous verse in all the bible. We all know it by heart:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We all know it by heart, but how many of us think about the serpent on the staff when we say it? Nobody. Yet, that is the context for this verse. We should have a picture in mind of what God did for Israel in Numbers when we think on this verse. How many of us even think of the book of Numbers? How many of us have forgotten that Numbers is even a book in the Bible?

In context, John 3:16 is expounding on this passage in numbers. As the verses go on, we read that God did not send Jesus into the world to CONDEMN it but to SAVE it. In other words, Jesus is not a poisonous serpent bringing death, but God's bronze serpent on the staff, bringing salvation and life. Our wills bring the poisonous serpents into the camp but God's will brings the bronze serpent. God lifts up Jesus onto the cross, so that the world can see him and live, just as Moses lifted up that bronze serpent on the staff.

It's not just looking at the son or the bronze serpent. It believing in the son or the serpent. It's having faith that the serpent is going to work. It's having faith that the son is going to save. It's not magic. God is not a genie. It's not a computer program. If I look at the serpent then I will have life, and so I can go right back to complaining and being impatient with God. No, repenting of the sin and accepting wholeheartedly the lifted up son is essentially the turning away from the world and turning toward God that we have been practicing this Lent. It is the path to true healing and everlasting life.

Belief includes repentance. There can be no true belief without it. Without repentance we are not willing to look on the bronze serpent. Repentance allows us to humble ourselves enough to gaze upon the symbol. Without repentance we still have the poison in our veins, we are still on the wrong path, turned away from God's provision, moving toward darkness, away from the lifted up serpent, the lifted up son.

You may have heard that the Old Testament is Christ predicted and the Gospels are Christ revealed. Well, the New Testament letters are Christ explained, and no one was better at explaining Christ than the apostle Paul. Our reading from Ephesians explains it all. Think of the bronze serpent as I read this. Think of Jesus telling us that he IS the bronze serpent. Think of Jesus being lifted up on the cross as I read and embellish this:

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world,” being impatient and complaining, “following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient,” also known as the devil, who through our will is allowed to release snakes into our camp. “All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses,” and we had the serpents' poison coursing through our veins, killing us, “made us alive together in Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him,” like the bronze serpent, like the man on the cross, “and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us.” For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Paul just said in seven verses what it has taken me twenty minutes to preach. As we come forward for blessing and healing today, let us think about the bronze serpent, the cross, and the object of salvation and healing for the whole world: Jesus Christ.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Good Shepherd to Occupy His Dream Center

God is Good! Last Fall, Good Shepherd attempted in earnest to secure a location for a Sunday morning service, and after several dead ends that consisted of either prohibitive rents, someone getting to the place first, or just plain old miscommunication, we let the conquest go and gave it over to God. This past month, we got a call from His Dream Center, someone we talked to last year, and they offered us a Sunday morning service at an affordable cost. So, Sundays we will be adding an 11am service in the sanctuary, a 10am Adult Teaching/Children's Sunday School, and monthly potluck fellowship lunches. Several groups will be using His Dream Center, too, and so it should turn out to be a thriving community center. Everyone on the Outer Banks has heard of the place and knows where it is located. Our launch service is planned for Palm Sunday. Expect a phone call from me before then to discuss this new development in Good Shepherd's community life and worship. Stay tuned for updates.

Evening Bible Study Day/Location Change

The Tuesday Night Bible Study that has been meeting for the last month is going to resume this week, but it will be held on Thursday nights from now on. The time is the same--7pm--but the day of the week is now different. Also, the location is no longer going to be at Grace Lutheran By-The-Sea. Now it will be held at the Johnson residence. The Johnsons are happy to have anyone attend the Bible study who wants to come. If you would like to attend and need directions to their home, please call me at 207-4050, and I will give you directions. We are about to begin the second chapter of Romans, so please bring your Bibles and prepare to enjoy a deep discussion that may cover any aspect of Christianity--and even the Anglican tradition.

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

So many people who had been ill these past few weeks showed up to the Sunday Evening Service to testify that they were feeling so much better and healthier. It reminded me that we had been praying continuously for those same people. So, I was inspired to remind everyone of our Wednesday Night Prayer meeting at Brenda Pitonyak's house. The hour-and-a-half session involves both contemplative and intercessory prayer, hymn singing, and scripture study. We also discuss ways we are interacting with the Outer Banks community and give each other ideas on how to best bring the Kingdom of God into our relationships and daily encounters. I think that our Weekly Prayer Meeting is directly tied to the good health that we have been seeing lately. Please join in on Wednesday nights at 7pm, and if you need directions to Brenda's house, just call me at 207-4050.

Potluck Dinner After the Service this Sunday

We will be having a potluck dinner after the Healing Service this Sunday, March 18th, downstairs in the parish hall. If you would like a suggestion on what to bring, feel free to call Mary Jeannette Moseley, but it is a potluck, so bring whatever you like! Here's to getting the level fellowship up to what we had on Shrove Tuesday!

Healing Service This Sunday

This upcoming Sunday is the third Sunday of the month, and we will, therefore, have our Healing Service, using the "A Service for Healing" liturgy from the Our Modern Services Kenyan prayerbook. This service has developed into a very spiritual event over the last few months, including using the whole service, a sermon on an aspect of healing, a clear and understandable Eucharistic prayer, and the laying on of multiple hands. Please join in this Sunday to, God willing, experience spiritual, physical, emotional, generational, and cultural healing.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Commandment Covenant

This season of Lent we have been exploring the covenants of God with his people. We discussed the covenant with Noah and how that was a covenant of re-creation. We discussed the Abrahamic covenant and how that was a covenant of promise: a group of elect people, a place for community, a relationship with God, and a saving name. Essentially, this the promise of heaven.

Now we get to the ten commandments, which we have already gone through twice today. This is a covenant, too. It seems like a bunch of commands or rules, but it's actually a balanced treaty between the King of Kings and his people. As we read in the first verse, it begins: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery...” And then the 10 commandments begins.

Our side of the deal is the ten commandments, but God's side of the deal is pretty big, too. He delivered us out of the house of slavery in the land of Egypt—literally, figuratively, spiritually. The lopsided part of the covenant is this: God's part has ALREADY BEEN DONE, and out part is completely impossible for us to fulfill, due to our sinful nature.

The commandments themselves are a response to God's grace. He has already saved us. He has already inflated the liferaft and put it in the water. He has already lowered the ladder, so we can climb it. He has saved us. However, we don't keep the commandments. We choose not get in the liferaft. We chose not to climb the ladder. You've probably heard the joke about the old man in the house, and the floodwaters were rising. The sheriff came in a jeep and told the old man, “get in!” He turned him down, saying, “no thanks! The Lord'll save me!” When the floodwaters got to his front porch, the sheriff came in a boat. “Get in!” “No thanks! The Lord'll save me.” When the floodwaters got to his roof, the sheriff came in a helicopter, lowering a ladder. “Climb up!” “No thanks! The Lord'll save me!” Later, in heaven, the Old Man came face to face with the Lord. “Why didn't you save me?” he asked. “Are you kidding?” the Lord responded. “I sent you a jeep and a boat and a helicopter!” God has fulfilled his part of the covenant. He has provided us with a jeep and a boat and a helicopter. We have a choice” get in, grab hold and climb up, or refuse salvation. Obeying the ten commandments are our way of getting in, grabbing hold, and climbing up.

Another Good analogy is comparing God to the Mafia. Sounds weird, right? Well, what does the Mafia do? You have just opened a new store for business, and then some slick guy comes by and says, “what a beautiful place you've got here. Shame if anything happened to it.” That's a threat, and you have a choice: you pay a weekly fee or get a Molotov cocktail tossed through your front window. You're paying for protection from them!

Now, how does this compare to a covenant with God? You open up a store for business, and a guy comes in, but instead of threatening you, he says, “how do you like the store? I paid for it. I'm the one who got you the loan. I found the location to build. I gave you the passion to go into business in the first place. Your wife? I set you two up. Your kids? I chose them for you. Your life? I created it. All of this you have you owe to me. I gave it to you.” That's love. Like the Mafia, you have a choice, but it doesn't involve a Molotov cocktail. It is a choice between returning the love, and rejecting all the things that God has already done for you. When we reject God, we essentially throw a Molotov cocktail through our own plate glass window, because we'd rather destroy our own store—our own lives—than accept God's gift.

The ten commandments are our way of returning God's love to him. He has already done his part, but we fail to do our part. What happens is the King fulfills the part of the vassal, too. Jesus Christ perfectly kept the ten commandments, he shows us how to do it, and when we fail, he picks us up and carries us over the finish line. Footprints isn't just a beautiful poem. It's theologically sound.

Romans 5:6 reads, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” The greatest gift of all, the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was given for us, while we were still sinners. The ten commandments, are showing that we accept that gift. That we understand it, that we accept it, and that we love God back.

Just yesterday there was news story out of Tampa, Florida. A woman and her daughter were driving down a windy road, and car came up erratically behind them, passed them, and the woman driving flicked them off! Well! A little ways down the road, and they found the car burning between two trees. The driver was on fire, trying to get herself and her own burning daughter out of the car. The offended woman pulled over and rescued both of them.

That is loving our neighbor, yes, even loving our enemy, but it is the ultimate expression of loving God, respecting life, even when we see someone abusing that life. This is what Jesus did for us. He rescued us from that burning car. He put out the flames with his own body, and he died in the process. And we had just been flicking him off.

Let us pray that we can love God back for all the gifts that he has given us—including the greatest gift of all, his son. Let us thank God for his saving us, while we were still sinners, for giving us ten ways to return the love, and for giving us his own son to show us how to love.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A People, A Place, A Relationship, and A Name

In this season of Lent, as we try to position ourselves out of the worldly streams and put ourselves in the direct path of God's holiness, we have been looking at God's covenants. What s the relationship that God has been seeking with his people? Last week, we looked at the covenant with Noah, and realized that it was NOT an “I'm sorry for being a jerk and killing everybody; here's a rainbow” covenant. It's an “I created everything, and now, for you, mankind, I will re-create everything” covenant. The re-creation of everything is being fulfilled through the same person the creation of everything was accomplished—Jesus Christ. He was there at the beginning—the word of God, and through him all things were made. His death on the cross and his resurrection signifies the restoration of all creation. This is a covenant not just with mankind but with animals and the earth itself: all of creation.

Now we are going to get more intimate with the Abrahamic Covenant. This is a covenant between God and his chosen people, of whom we all here are a part. Whereas the covenant with Noah was a covenant with all of creation, this covenant is one with a single man and his descendants, which number the stars, and indeed, not just Israel but all the people who have become Christians over the centuries number the stars.

There are four parts to this covenant: a people, a place, a relationship, and a name. I want to show how each part of this covenant is fulfilled in the Old Testament, but then has a new fulfillment in the New Testament that continues to this day, and then also looks forward to a future promise at the end of the age.

That is the first part of the covenant is people: God promised to make Abraham numerous. He was an old man without children, without the natural possibility of children, and here is God promising Abraham that he would not only have children, but they would so numerous that one would not be able to count them. Several places in the Old Testament reveal, through the eyes of an enemy army usually, that the nation of Israel numbered the grains of sand or the stars in the heavens. This is a visual metaphor, of course, in that even though the people do not exactly number the stars or the grains of sand, they both cannot be counted by one individual just looking at the whole group. Censuses need to be taken—a slow methodical process. The idea is that from one man, who was not able have children, a massive group of people came. As God told Abraham in our Old Testament reading, nations and kings would come from Abraham, and indeed, as we know from history, nations and kings DID come from him.

In the New Testament this group of descendants comes not from Abraham physically but spiritually, faithfully. We Christians are such because we have the faith of Abraham. We believe in the same God, we have faith in God's promises, just like Abraham. We can be called descendants of Abraham, because we have that faith of Abraham, and we are God's children. Indeed, one cannot count the number of people who follow the creator God to this day.

At the end of the age, this number of descendants will not just include the Israel of Abraham's faith, but every Christian who ever lived who had the faith of Abraham, throughout history, even before Abraham. Anyone who has ever GOTTEN IT and truly believed in a God who was present and faithful in his or her life will be counted among the numerous descendants in heaven.

The second part of the covenant is the place. A land flowing with milk and honey, like the Garden of Eden, where God and mankind can have that relationship again. In the Old Testament, the place was Canaan, which became the Kingdom of Israel, where Israel pretty much is today on the map, even though it was lost and restored. Today, many think the new place is the United States, due to its prosperity and freedom. God never does anything that mankind expects, though, so when the Holy Spirit was revealed to us as being God who actually lives in our hearts, that sounded like just the kind of place God would want to meet us on a personal level. The current place is the human heart.

However, it doesn't end there. God may live in our hearts, but that place doesn't include our neighbor, a place where all those descendants can live in harmony with God, too. Today, we can build physical communities, but they are flawed. Look at all the denominations and even then non-denomination schisms. The perfect place hasn't come yet, and when we read the end of the book of Revelation, we realize when that new heaven comes down to meet that new earth and the everlasting city is established, THAT will be where we live. THAT is the promised land.

You've heard of the Pentateuch? The first five books of the Bible? Well, how do those five books end? At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Israel is poised to enter the promised land. They haven't gone into it yet. That is why some people call the first SIX books of the Bible the Hexateuch. Because the book of Joshua is the fulfillment of the land promise. However, there must be a reason that the Hexateuch is a rare idea, and the Pentateuch is upheld. Not just because Moses is claimed to have written the five books, but maybe BECAUSE they are open ended. We currently live in an open-ended time. If the new heaven and the new earth are the promised land, we have not seen them happen yet. We can read the Pentateuch as a complete work, as the promise of land yet unfulfilled. The anticipation of the final promised land, heaven and earth, is the final punctuation mark.

Next we have a relationship with God, and in the Old Testament that was a relationship of prophecy and epiphanies through dreams and visions. Sometimes God would speak to someone directly, or he would send a messenger to relay some details. In the New Testament, we have the greatest revelation of all time—Jesus Christ: God in the flesh. His final revelation. Now, God in the spirit is living in our hearts, guiding us toward the right paths in life, when we do not quench him and follow the wiles of the world.

As C.S. Lewis said, the whole trinity is at work when we pray. We pray to the Father, through the Son, and the Holy Spirit is what motivates us to pray—he forms the words on our lips. But once again, it is not until the end of the age, where we will be in the presence of God directly. The trinity will take us up in his lovingkindness and have a full and compete relationship with us.

Are you seeing a trend? Each of these promises of the Abrahamic covenant have been fulfilled to a point and they have yet to be fulfilled as well. This is called the already-not yet. We have all these things accessible right this second, and yet we still expect the complete fulfillment of all things, as sin is finally destroyed altogether, the enemy is destroyed altogether, there is no sorrow or sadness, and there is no death.

That's why the name part of the covenant is so important. Names are so important in the Bible. They have deep meanings, and Abraham went from being called Abram, which means “father of height” to Abraham, which means “father of multitude.” Sarah was once Sarai, which means “contentious”, and now she is Sarah, which means “princess.” The most important name in all the Bible, and most important to this day, more important than even the name of Yahweh, is Jesus, and that means “He Saves.”

Jesus is the name above all names, but there is another name: the one by which we are called: “Christians.” This is an important name, too, and one that we have to live up to. We have sullied this name so much over the centuries, that many upstanding people do not want to be called that anymore. Followers of Jesus or followers of Christ is what is preferred, but that is just another way of saying Christians, and the name itself isn't broken—we are—so why not try to live up to the name instead of changing it. It is important as a name, because it is not only what we are now, but what we will be forever. If we are a Christian on the day we die, we continue to be Christians forever. The name becomes locked in. If we stop being a Christian or stop behaving like one, we lose the name after death, and we lose the life after death, too. Being a Christian and making new Christians is the most important thing there is. It's not just a game. It's not just an annoying thing that Christians do. It's the most important thing there is: making sure that as many people as possible get the name locked on them at death—Christian—so that they can live forever.

Next week, I am going to talk about the next big covenant, which is the Ten Commandments. All of these covenants are important, but they all have one thing in common: Jesus Christ. Through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, re-creation of the world is possible, as in the covenant with Noah. Through Jesus we get a people, a place, a relationship, and a name. Through Jesus, we will see next time, we get the fulfillment of the law. Jesus is everything. He is the name above all names, and when his name is at our lips in an honest and personal way, we have everlasting life, a life that includes people, a place, a relationship, and a name.