Walking in Obedience

I often hike the H-Trail at Thunderbird Park and stop to look at the stretch of city that can be easily viewed from the trail (Have you ever looked at it? If you haven’t, you really should. It’s amazing). Last week on my hike, my eyes were drawn to Lubben Mountain, which lies just north of the trail. At the foot of the mountain are several neighborhoods, along with GCC’s north campus. I’ve seen this view a hundred times, but this particular time, I had to stop and take a picture. I wondered if the people who live and work close to the mountain ever stop to look up at the creation before them. Do they enjoy looking at the mountain? Do they think it’s beautiful or drab? Do they wonder who created this? Do they hike this mountain? Does it go unnoticed?

As I thought of these questions I couldn’t help but think about that time in Exodus 19 when God finally had Israel to himself at the foot of Mount Sinai (go ahead…read it again!) God enters into a covenant with his people, promising to be their God and they his people. On one hand, this relationship would be full of God’s blessing and sovereign rule over Israel. On the other hand, this relationship called Israel to loyalty and obedience to God.

Remember that this covenant was based solely on what God had done for Israel—he had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 19:4-6). God’s grace and redemptive action came first. Israel was to respond in faithful—and joyful!—obedience to the law and covenant. Their obedience would be motivated by grateful response to who God is and what he had done for them. Their obedience would also enable them to be the holy people God desired them to be as they lived among the nations of the world.

And now that God had his people close to the mountain he was going to show them his awesome power and holiness. God was going to come down on the mountain to show the majesty of his presence and to give Israel his Law and covenant. But first, Moses was to set limits around the mountain, and Israel would have to consecrate themselves for two days by washing their garments and abstaining from sexual relations. The point of this was for the people to present themselves before a holy God with "minds ready unto obedience" (John Calvin). The mountain was designated holy ground, and Israel needed to be made pure and set apart. They needed to be ready with obedient minds and hearts to hear God’s covenant and Law.

Do you remember what Israel said when Moses told them all that God had said? “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). The people were willing to obey God. They were willing to consecrate themselves in order to meet God. They were ready for faithful action!

As I stood on the H-Trail I wondered if the people who gather around Lubben Mountain—in their neighborhoods, in the classrooms, on the hiking trails—have ever said the same. Have they experienced the presence of the holy God in their lives? Have they experienced the redemption that comes through Jesus the Christ? Are they walking in faithful obedience to the God of the universe?

And then I wondered the same of our Missio family. Is the presence of God set before our eyes? Does his majesty move us toward faithful and joyful obedience? Are we seeking to be a family of missionary servants sent to make disciples?

Do we read Peter’s words to the church and believe the same of us?

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

The God who called Israel at Mount Sinai to faithful covenant is the same God who calls us today to walk in faithful obedience to him. Although Israel had the willingness to obey, they lacked the ability to do so faithfully and perfectly (just read the rest of the Old Testament story!).

But Jesus entered into the Story and obeyed God’s law faithfully and perfectly, becoming the “mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15), a covenant which God promised way back in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

And now, those of us who have believed in Jesus have been redeemed by Jesus and have the new covenant written on our hearts. Now, our willingness to obey is coupled with the ability to obey—for the power of the Holy Spirit equips us to live obediently before the One who has brought us "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Are you walking in faithful and joyful obedience to God? If not, what is keeping you from doing so?

Take some time today to reflect on who God is and what he has done in Jesus to redeem us from sin’s bondage. Remember and mediate on the truth of who God has called you to be in Jesus (Ephesians 1:1-14 is a good place to start).

And then take a hike on the H-Trail and take in the view…and praise God for all he’s done to make us his covenant people.

Participating in the Missio Dei | Part 2

In part one of our short series, we saw how God had called Israel to be his missional people, living in the sight of the nations as a priestly kingdom and holy nation. Israel was to be a community on display—a missional community who would live in God’s ways for God’s glory and for the blessing of the world. God gave Israel his law, which would form and shape them to be his missional people who would reject the destruction of idolatry and walk in the paths of righteousness. As Israel lived in this way, they would be an attractive community of God’s love and blessing, drawing others to God. In order to understand the missional calling of Israel—and the church—we need to recognize the connection between the law and creation. Since Genesis 3, God’s mission had been to restore humanity and all creation from the ravages of sin. God made this promise to Adam, and then began his rescue mission of redemption. Traveling through Exodus, we see God redeem Israel from slavery to Egypt, and begin to form his people to be the conduit of his missional promise. Israel is to embody God’s promise to renew the whole world. The life of Israel is to point backward to God’s original intent for creation and human life. Their life is also to point forward, looking to God’s promise to restore creation.

When God gives the law to Israel, his intent is that the law’s instruction would govern all of Israel’s life. Israel now serves and worships God in a covenant relationship. This relationship involves Israel submitting every area of their lives to God. God’s law would remind Israel that there is no area of human life outside of his rule; for Israel must consecrate their social, personal, financial, familial and cultural lives to him. Thus the law is intended to shape the lives of God’s people so that their lives will reflect his character. Only as God’s law shapes their whole lives will they fulfill his calling to be a missional people who mediate his blessing to the world.

God’s law is good news! The law tells Israel how to live in God’s ways for God’s glory…for their own good! The law also calls Israel to live in a way that challenges the idolatry of the culture surrounding them. As we’ve mentioned already, Israel is to look backward and forward as a contrast community; but they area also to look outward against the idolatry that hijacks and pollutes human life. Because of this, we see the law expanded in the book of Deuteronomy in order to address the dangers Israel will encounter as they make the journey to the promised land. God desires that Israel will conform to his law, so that they will live in a radically transformed way in the sight of the nations around them. As they walk in God’s law, the nations will see that God is the one, true King of all creation.

There is much more to be said regarding Israel’s conformity to God’s law and their carrying out of God’s missional purpose. In fact, the remainder of the Old Testament is a commentary on just how well Israel lives out their God-given role. Israel is to be a light to the nations; however, instead of living over and against the idolatry of the pagan nations, Israel succumbs to the darkness of idolatry. Yet, God acts in mercy and judgment to restore them to their missional calling. God gives Israel everything they need to carry out their vocation: the law, the sacrificial system, priests, a temple, kings and prophets. But Israel continues to walk in rebellion against God. Because of their sin, Israel is judged and banished from the land that God had promised them.

Is there any hope left for Israel? Can they ever hope to live out their missional calling to be a blessing to the nations? Next time we’ll look at how God begins to answer these questions.

Participating In the Missio Dei | Part 1

The Bible tells the true story of God’s mission to rescue and restore the whole world. The missio Dei (Latin for “mission of God” or “sending of God”) involves God setting out on a long journey to restore His good creation from the ravages of humanity’s sin. In love, God promised to make a new world and to gather a people who would embody His work of healing in the midst of human history. This story is nothing less than the true story of the whole world. It begins with the origin of all things and moves toward the goal of all history. It is a story of God’s active mission to heal and liberate His creation, bringing restoration to all of human life and all of the non-human creation. In Genesis 1-2, we see God’s original design for creation. Genesis 3-11 tells the devastating story of man’s rebellion against God and the tragic effect man’s sin has on all creation. In the midst of this darkness, God chooses Abraham to be a light to the nations around him. God promises Abraham that He will make him into a great nation and restore to them the blessing of God’s good creation. He also promises to bless that nation so that they would be a blessing to the world around them (Genesis 12:2-3).

From the beginning, God’s mission is carried out through His chosen community—a people called to show the world what God is like, giving the world a foretaste of what God had originally intended for His creation and what He will ultimately bring about at the end of history. As we have been studying the book of Exodus, we’ve seen that the people of Israel were called to be this community. God delivers and redeems Israel from slavery and idolatry in Egypt and brings them to Mount Sinai in the wilderness. At Mount Sinai, God calls them to be a holy nation and a priestly kingdom (Exodus 19:3-6). This call upon Israel to be a priestly kingdom will involve a life of mediating God’s blessing to the nations around them. They will be a a people on display, proclaiming and demonstrating what God is like and what it means to live in God’s ways.

Exodus 20-23 tells of God giving Israel His decrees and laws—the Torah—which is intended to lead Israel to the abundant life God intended for all humanity in creation. God’s law is to govern all of Israel’s life as they learn to live as a holy a nation. As we learned at the beginning of our Exodus series, Israel’s life was to face in three directions at once: backward, embodying God’s original design and intention for human life; forward, as a sign and preview of God’s final purpose for history; and outward, confronting the idolatry of the nations they were to encounter. God’s law would direct Israel in this orientation of life, forming them to be His missional people who would reject the destruction of idolatry and walk in the paths of righteousness. As Israel lived in this way, they would be an attractive community of God’s love and blessing, drawing others to God.

Over the next several weeks we’ll be looking at how well Israel carries out the missio Dei. We’ll dig into the story of God a bit more and see why it was necessary for Jesus to step onto the stage of history. We’ll also see how the church in the New Testament—as well as today!—is to be a preview and sign of the coming kingdom of God, participating in the missio Dei for the sake of the world.