Salvation Before Jesus Died: the OT in Short

“How can I be saved?” A man asked Paul. His answer? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). This is how we, in the age of the church, understand salvation. We follow Jesus.

So reading the Old Testament seems like jumping into a time machine. It’s like trying to imagine living without cell phones – how did our great-grandparents stay connected? We can’t fathom it. How did people know God before Jesus came? It feels just as foreign – or more so.

Old testament in short elizabeth cravillionThe answer actually begins with the names of the Old and New Testaments. The word “testament” means “covenant,” which is a historical term we’re not used to today. Covenants were legal agreements between allies. People would set up the stipulations of their agreement, and then each party would bring an animal from their herd and sacrifice them together as a visible sign of your agreement. Different variations of covenants existed but with similar patterns.

From the beginning of time, God chose to connect with mankind through various covenants. Most prominently, he made one with people before Christ, the “Old” Testament (covenant), defining how they would relate to him.

God gave Israel his law, recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. He gave them many specific instructions about life all summed up in two big ones: Love him and love others. In return he promised to be their God, provide for their needs and give them abundant life. Those were the stipulations of their salvation agreement.

To seal the agreement, Israel sacrificed animals yearly. Why death? Why animals? Because God’s law also states that when people break the law, they cannot be forgiven unless blood is shed. Sinning separates man from God. Only death can pay for a broken agreement between God and man. We could physically die immediately when we sin, but we’d be dead by the time we reached our toddler years. God never wanted people to be separated from him, so he set up a system of substitution to save us.

God planned for Jesus to be the ultimate substitute. But until the time was right for Jesus to step into history, God wanted his people to think of animals as the substitute for their sins. When people sacrificed animals in the Old Testament, it was like they were using a debit card. Jesus’ future sacrifice was the money in the bank, so to speak, and by sacrificing animals, people swiped their card in faith that God would send a Savior to once and for all save them from their sins.

Every story in the Old Testament in some way points to Jesus. Israel waited for centuries to see God’s promised Deliverer to arrive. In the meantime, they obeyed his laws as much as they could, but ultimately their faith in God’s promise saved them. Paul wrote in Romans that God gave us the law to show us how on our own we struggle to keep our end of the agreement and need a savior. Today our Savior has come and we look back to how he died and rose again and believe he saves us. Before he came, people waited eagerly for his coming to save them.

salvation before jesus died elizabeth cravillion old testament covenantJesus told his disciples at the last supper, before his death, that he was establishing a New Covenant with them. His blood was the sign of the new promise. Animals would no longer need to be sacrificed because Jesus was going to become the once and for all substitute for sin. Hebrews 8:13 says that the new covenant makes the old one obsolete.

Think about it: if the blood of bulls or of goats, or the sprinkling of ashes from a heifer, restores the defiled to bodily cleanliness and wholeness; then how much more powerful is the blood of the Anointed One, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself as a spotless sacrifice to God, purifying your conscience from the dead things of the world to the service of the living God?

This is why Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant: through His death, He delivered us from the sins that we had built up under the first covenant, and His death has made it possible for all who are called to receive God’s promised inheritance.
Hebrews 9:13-15 The Voice

From beginning to end, our salvation has always come by faith in God. God started it, God worked it out, and God finishes it. We simply believe and follow him.

Finding Hope in God’s Word {Book Review}

What does life in the trenches look like for you? What keeps you away from quality time with God in his word? As a mom, sleepless nights, screaming kids and dirty dishes are my excuse. I often feel worn down and defeated more days than I feel content and joyful.

For months God’s Spirit had been speaking to me: come spend time with me and be filled with my presence. And I’ve been doing that, one small step at a time.

When I first became a mom I discovered an early edition of the book Hope for the Weary Mom by Stacey Thacker and Brooke McGlothlin. I devoured it. I bought it for my closest mom friends. Recently the authors wrote a new edition that I highly recommend as well, full of wonderful, practical words about going to Jesus for hope in our motherhood messes. So when I saw that they had written a devotional for moms, I snatched it up. I needed daily soul food!

hope for the weary mom devotional  elizabeth cravillion This Hope for the Weary Mom Devotional takes you from just knowing, “There’s someone else who is just as tired as I am!” and “Yes, Jesus is the answer,” to drawing your heart in toward the heart of God. Instead of walking away and forgetting what I’d read, I left with a desire for God that didn’t disappear. It convinced me that I definitely needed Jesus more than coffee.

The 40-day devotional combines relatable stories of motherhood with truths about God. Truths like “He fights for you” and “He can take your truth” and “He’s holding you together.” It focuses on simple principles from God’s word that connect with you in your motherhood.

For instance, in the chapter “He never changes,” I saw for the first time what a blessing sameness is. Stacey writes, “The monotony I dread means security, consistency, and a foundation for loving my family well.” On this truth she builds, “The sameness of Jesus is an anchor for our restless souls. I want my girls to see me clinging to that anchor. I don’t want them to have a mom who is disillusioned by a monotonous life, but grateful to have a front-row seat to the littler everyday parts of life that can either be blessings or burdens. I’m praying I will allow Jesus to be the same in me and they will see that with eyes blazing over breakfast on Monday mornings.”

I know as moms it’s easy to think “I just don’t have time to read.” But that’s not true. We can make time to feed our souls. The short chapters in this devotional take 10 minutes to read. 10 minutes while feeding the baby. 10 minutes before drifting to sleep. 10 minutes while the biscuits finish baking instead of scrubbing the dishes. 10 minutes while sitting in the pickup line at school.

Make that first step toward spending more time with Jesus by hopping over to your favorite online book retailer and snatching this book for about the cost of two Starbucks drinks.

Where could you use hope today? Share in the comments! 

Bible Study Testers Needed!

Hey all!

Last year I wrote a study on the book of James and posted most of it here on my blog. I’m looking now to make it into an ebook and need some testers. If you’d like to help me by reading through the study and offering specific feedback over the next few weeks I’d appreciate it so much. Please shoot me an email or comment on this post if you are interested and I’ll get you the text of the study asap.

Here is a sampling of the study itself.

Thanks friends!

deeper life study james bible

Love your Enemies?

Old testament in short elizabeth cravillion love your enemies

Often when people read the Old Testament they are confused about the stories about enemies, wars Israel fought with God’s blessing, and phrases in books like Psalms such as “dash my enemies in pieces like a jar of clay.” How can the same God “destroy enemies” in one part of the Bible and tell us to love them in another part?

In Old Testament times, spiritual blessings were very closely tied to the physical world. This began when God called Abram’s family as his chosen people (Genesis 12). Their family would found a nation that would be a channel of blessing to all the other families on earth. Through them, God showed off who he is and how he works. In turn Israel demonstrated how to follow God.

God clearly stated, “I alone am God” (Deuteronomy 6:4). He called Israel to build their whole lives around worshiping him. Other people and nations who followed their example, worshiping God, and living in peace with the nation of Israel would be blessed, but those who didn’t would be judged. This was one of God’s covenants, or agreements, with Israel.

Because of this, Israel is unlike any other nation in the world. God has never promised to protect Americans just because we are part of this country. But God himself chose this people group to show the world what it looked like to be in relationship with him.

This covenant explains why Israel could call out for vengeance from God on their enemies. When they were attacked, the people would say to God, “I’m trying to follow you and my enemies are hindering me. God, judge them like you promised.”

David, who wrote many of the psalms, was king of Israel. During his reign, he had many personal enemies, as did the nation of Israel. He literally had people trying to kill him on a daily basis at times.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a rare occurrence in my life! So how can we relate to things David wrote like in Psalm 3:7?

Arise, O Lord!
 Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.

Since Christ’s death and resurrection, the spiritual world meets the physical world in a new way. Peter writes that those who believe in Christ are the spiritual nation of God (1 Peter 2:9). We are now the ones who demonstrate living in relationship with him. Unlike Israel, the church has not been promised the same blessing for blessing and cursing for cursing treatment on our flesh and blood enemies. Instead, Jesus actually calls us to love our enemies.

Here is our reality: our battle has never been against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Even when people attacked Israel, Satan was behind it. He is our enemy, and he attacks us with spiritual lies as well as physical danger.

So while reading passages in the Bible about war and enemies, we can recognize what the Old Testament writers were facing – literal enemies hindering their ability to serve God – and apply it to our own spiritual battles, where Satan tries to keep us from worshiping God. He may still use humans to persecute us, but that’s just one of his many tactics.

I can pray the same prayer David did, but not in reference to men. I can call out for God to save me from my spiritual enemies who attack me. I can run to God for mercy and protection from Satan’s attacks of lies and pain and fear. I can pray, like Jesus did, “Your kingdom come, Lord.” Even for Israel, God has always been ultimately focused on protecting his people from evil and the temptation to fall into evil rather than on only keeping us physically safe.

the Old Testament in short: Zion

The Bible is a big collection of books put together. It spans thousands of years and major shifts in culture. There’s a lot to piece together. I’m doing a study in Psalms with a friend right now and as I go along I plan to blog through some topics in the Old Testament that may help bridge the gap between ancient Israel and life today. Join me for a miniseries, the Old Testament in short. 

Old testament in short elizabeth cravillion

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress. Psalm 48:2

If you’re like me, you connect with the first few words of this verse, but skim over the rest. Why all the location talk? What is all this about Zion? Maybe you’ve heard it before? When Jesus was on earth, he taught that God is a spirit, and that we could worship him from any location (John 4:21-24). That’s normal for us now as his church. So when we read the Old Testament, verses like Psalm 48:4 may not mean much to us. Yet the word “Zion” is used almost 170 times in the Bible – defining it could help us understand the Bible itself a little better.

The word “zion” in Hebrew means “stronghold,” a safe place where people could defend themselves against their enemies. Geographically, the name “Zion” referred to a hill outside Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, where its guard tower stood. Eventually, people began to call the whole city of Jerusalem Zion.

Differently from us today, the Israelites worshiped God through a system of animal sacrifices. They came yearly to the city of Jerusalem with an animal they would give to the priests at the temple, who would kill it and burn its body on an altar as a sacrifice to God. It was a very physical and visual reminder that unless something bled and died, sin couldn’t be paid for.

So to Israel Jerusalem was more than just a political capital city. It was their center for worship, the place where they connected with God. “The city with its towers, bulwarks, and palaces stood as proof of their eternal reconciliation with God” (Encyclopedia of the Bible). When the Jewish authors wrote about Zion in the Bible, they were linking it with their relationship with God.

God says in Isaiah 46, “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”

God always planned to save the world through Jesus, who was crucified in Jerusalem, in Zion. Christ’s act of sacrifice for our sins, opening the door for our own relationship with God, took place where so many animals were sacrificed for centuries.

When we read about “Zion” in the Bible, we can relate it to our own salvation. Look back at our original verse.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress. Psalm 48:2

God deserves praise “in the city of our God [Jerusalem]” because of how awesome our salvation is. Especially see the imagery in the last part: “within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.” God used Jerusalem and all it represents to show us that he himself is our safe place.

One more note about Zion – God isn’t done with Jerusalem. When Jesus returns to earth, he will rule from Mount Zion. Micah 4 describes this time and at the end says, “The Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and forevermore.”

When it Comes Back to You

Recently I was blessed to listen to a webinar with Stacey Thacker and Brooke McGlothlin, who wrote Hope for the Weary Mom and its companion devotional. They were sharing about strategies for busy moms to spend time with God in the Bible. I was really blessed by their practical suggestions and genuine reminders of how alive and powerful God’s word is.

Here’s one comment they made: even when we show up and read God’s word and feel like nothing sticks with us, God can and will bring back what we read when we need it most. It reminds me of a passage in the book of Isaiah:

As the rain and snow come down from heaven and stay upon the ground to water the earth, and cause the grain to grow and to produce seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry, so also is my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It shall accomplish all I want it to and prosper everywhere I send it. You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills, the trees of the field—all the world around you—will rejoice. Isaiah 55:10-12 TLB

God lives in his word. His Spirit takes the words we read and like water filling a creek bed, runs into all the cracks and crevices where we need it the most.

I realized just how true that was the very next day. I spent an evening studying Psalm 2, which is not the most devotional poem in the Bible. It’s a royal psalm, written by a king about God blessing on his people and defeating his enemies. It’s Messianic, which means it was ultimately written about Jesus, the Messiah. My study time was fairly educational but I didn’t leave with anything immediately encouraging or challenging me.

At the end of the psalm, David writes,
Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

A commentary I used made this comment: “It is better to bend than to be broken” (earlier David had written that God would break his enemies into pieces).

Well, fast forward twelve hours and I had a toddler-free morning and a plan to sit in a coffee shop with my sleeping baby and write for 3 hours. Unfortunately, the baby didn’t sleep but fussed in his car seat. So I drove home, fed him, tucked him in his bed and reluctantly started cleaning my house. I was deep in the throes of sorting toys and putting boxes in the attic while crying my heart out because I was sick of motherhood when like a bell I remembered, “Better to bend than to be broken.” Submission. When things are hard, God asks for my willing heart. clean house elizabeth cravillion submission bend broken god's word“Serve the Lord. Take refuge in him.” A hard, rebellious heart must be broken before God. I can choose the better way – to bow before my King and say, “Yes, Lord.” The night before I may not have felt particularly challenged by those words but because I sat down and read them, soaked in them and tucked them away, God brought them back just when I needed them. His word does its job, like rain on the parched earth. As I submitted to God, he brought me peace and joy and I definitely later appreciated how gave me time to clean my house top to bottom.

Don’t grow weary in spending time with God. He is alive in his word and he will use it in your life.

clean house elizabeth cravillion submission bend broken god's word

Love is Sacrifice

Why I say “I love you”
Something about little children causes you to stop and think about your words. It’s probably the way they ask “why” about everything. Or how they wonder “what do you mean?”

“I love you.” The words roll easily off my tongue. This year as I explained Valentine’s day to my almost 4-year-old boy I found myself comparing my words with my actions.

What is love?
Love isn’t just the nice feeling we have as we tuck our kids into bed with cuddles and kisses and the relief of knowing in just 5 minutes there will be peace and quiet. Love isn’t just connecting with my spouse on date night over Asian buffet food. Love isn’t giving my kids chocolate kisses to make them happy and like me more.

Love chooses to speak kindly when my kids argue at breakfast on Valentine’s Day. It prays for grace instead of losing it as we get ready to go to church – when I leave the baby to go wipe someone’s bottom and come back to find him without his blanket, socks and hat. It lets my husband show me his affection by buying me new frying pans instead of overpriced chocolate. It releases my need to be more right than my friend when we don’t agree. It sacrifices my comfort to care for others.

But love also speaks the truth boldly when needed. It corrects my kids so they learn obedience and kindness. It lets my husband know when something bothers me rather than sweeping it under the rug. It gently confronts when sin is the real issue. Love also sometimes says, “I need a break to get refreshed and get my needs met so I can love you better.” Love sacrifices what seems nice to do what is necessary.

God shows me love by forgiving my sin but not letting me continue walking in it. He gives me grace but he also changes me. When I say, “Here’s my heart, Lord,” he says, “Okay, we’re going to dig through the hard stuff to make you like Jesus.” Love is sacrifice. God sacrificed so much to love us. And he calls us to do the same.

i love you sacrifice god everyday life elizabeth cravillionSo, Charlie, love is sacrifice. It’s what Jesus did on the cross for us. It’s what we get to do for each other every day even when it’s not easy. When I say, “I love you,” I mean, “I’m here for you to nurture you and point you to God, no matter how hard that is.”

In today’s everyday life I’m working on living out the greatest commandment in God’s word:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” ~ Jesus, Matthew 22:37-40

Courage to Show Up Today

god's word everyday life new baby courage to show up crystal paine elizabeth cravillionHello friends. It’s good to show up to write again. I’ve taken a 3-month leave of absence to welcome to our new little man, Eddie Jack, last November, into our family. I’ve been wondering when and what and how I would start writing again…but today I read this quote:

“You can push fear away and assert your way toward courage by just showing up and giving your all.” Crystal Paine, Money Saving Mom

I didn’t realize I was afraid until I unpacked that quote and realized that, yes, fear has kept me from showing up and writing. Fear of not getting enough rest, or of not being consistent in my blogging, or of producing less than excellent work. But I can’t let those fears conquer me. No. I’m showing up here, today, to write because it’s my calling. I’m called to be a mom and mother with all my might in this season but I’m also called to write and I can find ways to carry out that mission as well.

god's word everyday life new baby courage to show up crystal paine elizabeth cravillionIn the past three months I’ve truly been living out the title of my blog – God’s Word in everyday life. I’ve realized more than ever as a mom that I desperately need God’s truth guiding every moment of my day. His wisdom, his promises, his assurances of love – I can’t make it through this journey without him speaking into my heart. I’d like to share some of the truths I’ve been learning to live.

Also, I’ve begun a study on Psalms with a friend and as we work through it I’m planning to dig back and sort through what we know to be true of God and write it out. This will be posts I’m calling The Old Testament in a Nutshell. It can be easy to shy away from the Old Testament because there’s a lot we don’t understand unless we study it comprehensively. Doing that was one of my favorite parts of Bible college – getting a grasp of the overview of God’s word and how it fits together. So little by little we are tackling it and I plan to share that information here, too.

It doesn’t feel like much but even the pyramids were built one brick at a time, right? Together let’s make the decision to show up and do the one thing we need to do today to move forward.

God is Gracious {31 Days}

Thanks for stopping by! This is Day 31 of my 2015 “31 Days Reflecting on God” series. Find the rest over here.

thirty one days elizabeth cravillion devotional reflecting on god gracious

The Lord is merciful and gracious;
he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love.
He does not always accuse,
and does not stay angry.
He does not deal with us as our sins deserve;
he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve.
For as the skies are high above the earth,
so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers.
As far as the eastern horizon is from the west,
so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us. Psalm 103:8-12

Today I read in a parenting book, “If American boys lack anything of significance in their lives it is grace. Many are keenly aware of their inabilities and failures. They need reassurance that their errors can be put behind them. God can give them that.” (Meg Meekland, Boys Should be Boys)

I know deeply that this is true for women and girls, but hadn’t stopped much to consider it for my son and his friends, and by extension, other men. As I did, it’s like I visibly saw this heaviness on the shoulders of people who came to my mind. Too often Christians assume that people who don’t know God don’t care about their sin and guilt. But we all know keenly that we fail – we can’t even measure up to our own standards, let alone God’s.

Sin is a big problem, both in the world, and in our personal lives. But since when does God let problems win? He insists on taking care of them. He eradicates things that seem insurmountable to us. So no matter how bad our sin is, he steps right into the fray and deals with it himself.

His love led him to pay for our sin himself in a deeply personal way. So when we let guilt drive us to our corner where we huddle in shame and feel unforgiveable, we are refusing everything he has to offer us.

We think we can never measure up to what he wants. He says, “I never expected you to.” He calls us to come and receive his grace as a gift every day, to remember that at the cross he paid for everything we did or failed to do. He doesn’t condemn. He pours out blessing.

His loyal love reaches to the sky. So big we can never reach the end of it. He deliberately chooses to not deal with us like our sins deserve. He wants that to relieve the burden from our shoulders – man, woman, boy, girl. We aren’t supposed to carry the weight of our sins. Jesus did that for us already. This is grace.

Our God is gracious and he has taken our sins away from us. This is our deepest need and he has covered it. Our errors can be put behind us forever because of his grace and we can walk forward in freedom.

God is a Good Listener {31 Days}

Thanks for stopping by! This is Day 30 of my 2015 “31 Days Reflecting on God” series. Find the rest over here.

thirty one days elizabeth cravillion devotional reflecting on god bends his ear to listen

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me. Psalm 86:6-7

I love the Lord
because he heard my plea for mercy,
and listened to me.
As long as I live, I will call to him when I need help. Psalm 116:1-2

There’s something special about a friend who always listens to you. No matter what’s going on, if they can pick up the phone when you call, they will. They really get you.

But no matter how good of a friend any person is, they are still human. We can have the best intentions to be there for each other and still fail sometimes. We’re held back by limits of time, space and energy.

But not our limitless God. He sees everything. He knows every thought in every human heart. He understands every individual need because he created every person, inside and out. So when he bends down to listen to us, it’s something special. When he says, “I understand,” he means it more than we know.

We know God listens because he answers. Sometimes he provides a way out of our difficulty. In the early days of the church, Peter was thrown in jail for preaching in Jesus’ name and the believers spent the night pouring out their hearts to God. And God sent an angel who walked into the jail, freed Peter and brought him out into the dark street right under the guards’ watch.

Sometimes he provides inner peace and confidence in the middle of our prayers. In the Old Testament, a woman named Hannah struggled with infertility and would pray endlessly for a son. One day as she poured out her heart, God filled her with peace before he granted her request. Then, he answered her prayers and gave her the son she wanted.

It’s easy sometimes to feel as if our prayers don’t reach past the ceiling. It’s then that we can choose to remember when God has answered our other prayers. It’s then that we can choose to believe that he listens.

Regardless of our feelings, he has always listened to our prayers. We have never cried alone. Are we waiting in his presence? Listening for his words of comfort? Accepting the gift of peace and grace he gives when we beg for help? He’s listening – let’s keep sharing our hearts with him.