Thursday, March 23, 2017

Making Eggs Fly

The resurrection of Jesus is the core of our faith, yet it could be argued that we don’t talk that much about it. Each Easter we roll out some familiar songs and perhaps buy a new shirt or dress. Just one Sunday a year to celebrate the resurrection doesn’t seem sufficient. Paul said, “If Christ is not raised, then our faith is in vain.” We know this is critically important. You’ve heard the definition of insanity: Continuing to do the same thing but expecting a different result. Perhaps the level of transformation we see in ourselves and in those around us is not what we long for because we are not living daily the implications of the resurrection. 

In another place Paul said,
Philippians 3:8, 10–11 (ESV) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . .  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Can you describe your daily experience as knowing the power of Jesus’ resurrection? I can’t;  not all the time. Our experience would look radically different if we knew Jesus in this way, in the midst of our real lives. We need more time, more than once a year, to think about the greater implications of the resurrection.

We need fresh thinking about the fundamentals. We need the Biblical equivalent of what Vince Lombardi is reported to have said at the beginning of camp each year for his professional players, “Men, this is a football.” For believers, that may be these words from the angels spoken to the terrified disciples at the tomb, “He is risen!” Or maybe Mary Magdalene’s announcement a little later, “I have seen the Lord!”

To help us grasp that what God seeks to do in us is a transformation requiring resurrection power, I’ve titled our Easter series from a quote by C.S. Lewis. He said,
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
What God is doing in us, and what we are seeking to encourage one another to do, will be impossible in our own strength, no more effective than teaching an egg to fly. Our Easter series is called, “Teaching Eggs to Fly: Why the Resurrection Must Change Us.” This Sunday’s message is a kind of preparation before we get into four views of the resurrection in the following Sundays. It’s called Foolishness vs. God’s Will from Ephesians 5:17-21. 
I’m starting the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus early this year. Will you join me?

This post first appeared at

Get a Grip

Get a Grip
John 20:11-18
from the series Making Eggs Fly

Get a grip on the right source for our future hope when trapped in grief, shame, or sin.

Paralyzed by pain John 20:11–13 (ESV) 
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Setting our sights too low John 20:14–15 (ESV)
Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Shockingly repurposed John 20:16–18 (ESV)

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Foolishness vs. God’s Will Message Outline

Foolishness vs. God’s Will
Ephesians 5:15–21 (ESV)

We must be filled with the Spirit to influence the world, especially those we care about the most.

Understand what God wants
Ephesians 5:15–17 (ESV) 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Be controlled by the Spirit
Ephesians 5:18 (ESV) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Look for these results

Ephesians 5:19–21 (ESV) 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bird Watching and Learning to Trust

John Stott is one of my heroes of the faith. He died just a few years ago. He was a pastor in London for many years and a brilliant author and preacher. One of the things he was known for was bird watching and he had this to say about this text in his commentary on the passage I preached from in Sunday’s sermon at Bethany Place from Matthew 6:19-34.

Next, Jesus turns to the subhuman world and argues the other way round. He uses birds as an illustration of God’s supply of food (26) and flowers to illustrate his supply of clothing (28–30). In both cases he tells us to ‘look at’ or ‘consider’ them, that is, to think about the facts of God’s providential care in their case. Some readers may know that I happen myself to have been since boyhood an enthusiastic bird-watcher. I know, of course, that bird-watching is regarded by some as a rather eccentric pastime; they view the likes of me with quizzical and patronizing amusement. But I claim biblical warrant for this activity. ‘Consider the fowls of the air,’ said Jesus according to the AV, and this in basic English could be translated ‘watch birds’! Indeed, I am quite serious, for the Greek verb in his command (emblepsate eis) means ‘fix your eyes on, so as to take a good look at’.17 If we do take an interest in birds and flowers (and we should surely, like our Master, be gratefully aware of the natural world around us), then we will know that although birds neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet our heavenly Father feeds them, and that although the lilies of the field (anemones, poppies, irises and gladioli have all been suggested as alternatives to lilies, although the reference may be general to all the beautiful spring flowers of Galilee) … neither toil nor spin, yet our heavenly Father clothes them, indeed more gorgeously than Solomon in all his glory. This being so, can we not trust him to feed and clothe us who are of much more value than birds and flowers? Why, he even clothes the common grass which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven!

‘You see,’ writes Martin Luther with great charm, ‘he is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men Whenever you listen to a nightingale, therefore, you are listening to an excellent preacher It is as if he were saying “I prefer to be in the Lord’s kitchen. He has made heaven and earth, and he himself is the cook and the host. Every day he feeds and nourishes innumerable little birds out of his hand.”

Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (p. 164). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Legalists, Rebels, and Worshippers

(As always, I got permission to use this story)

I remember well arguments with our daughter Hannah, now 27, when she was in her early teens. She often didn’t fight fairly. It was not unusual for her to take the literal words I used and throw them back at me or exaggerate them in a manner that hindered the conversation. For instance, if I said to her, “I don’t want you hanging out with so-and-so any longer. I don’t like the attitude I see in you after you have been with her for a while.” Then she might say, “You don’t want me to have any friends at all!” or, “You just want me to hang out with people who think like you!” It was a way of listening, but not listening, that blocked her from hearing what I actually meant and left us both frustrated. I’m fully aware that I also didn’t handle such conversations well on many occasions.

This behavior is serious enough in relationships, but is even more dangerous when we interpret the Bible in a way that causes us to miss its real purpose. For instance, when someone asks me, “Do you believe the Bible is literally true?” My answer to that is “yes”, depending on what you mean by ‘literal’.” What I don't mean is believing the sun revolves around the earth or that mountains literally skip like lambs. To read the Bible that way is to deliberately seek to avoid hearing the truth.

Obviously differences exist in the interpretation of many passages of scripture. Oddly, one of the most famous passages of all produces some of the most divergent opinions on how to interpret and apply it. The passage is the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Some streams of theology largely dismiss the text as not relevant for today, but rather for a future kingdom age. Others dismiss the specifics of the Sermon by thinking the instructions are not realistic. They think Instructions about lust, anger, retaliation, and praying for enemies in the Sermon, seem so outlandish that they are not realistic for most people. They think, perhaps, that maybe God has made some people who are just good at being good and able to obey such commands, but that He certainly didn’t make themselves that way.

Others can miss the point of the Sermon by treating it like a huge goal to achieve, like preparing to run a marathon. In a sense, they are saying to themselves that they need to get super disciplined and try to work these practices into their life. That’s closer to the truth, and maybe an even more dangerous distortion, because it can lead to a legalistic heart believing one has to achieve a level of goodness to be acceptable to God.

Both dismissing the Sermon. and seeking to achieve its standards, miss the point. Rather, this grand vision is meant to drive us to surrender to Jesus.  We need to recognize that His standards of holiness are beyond our ability so that we repent of rebelling by ignoring God’s instructions, or rebell by trying to manipulate God through obedience. Instead, we bow in worship before Him.

I don’t think the need for us to deeply immerse ourselves in Jesus’ words has ever been greater. Perhaps it will be just the tool the Holy Spirit will use to help us to see our need for a lifestyle of repentance. Our greatest spiritual danger is pride. Not the good kind of pride that leads us to do our best, but the arrogant flavor of pride that blocks us from allowing God’s word to challenge our values, attitudes, and lifestyles.

I can’t think of a greater need for us as individuals, as a church, a community and even a nation. So much of the political turmoil coming from all sides in this past year was fueled by arrogance. We can get caught up in that and dress it up in religious disguise that looks good, but is repulsive to people who are far from God and worse, repulsive to God himself. I need the medicine of Jesus’ Sermon. Don’t you?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Archive of Reflections on the Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Read an explanation of the idea behind these reflections

Sunday, January 1, 2017

You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive these reflections on the One Year Chronological Bible Reading Plan. You can read that initial invitation here.

Sunday won’t normally be one of the days that I will write, but I thought it would be good if you heard from me today. I won’t be trying to write about all of any day’s reading. Below I only reflect on one verse.

A member at Bethany Place, has created live links to each days reading in the ESV. You can access that here  If you want to print a pdf to place in your Bible with the readings for the year, you can get that here. Other links are provided in my initial write up here.

One last thing, don’t get discouraged if you fall behind in the daily readings. That’s going to happen. I recommend if you do, that you simply jump to the reading for that day, instead of trying to keep up. The point is not so much to read the Bible in a year as great an idea as that is. The point is to meet God in his word.

Reflection on Genesis 3:8

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Even still our sin creates in us a desire to hide from God. This is part of what challenges us meeting with God daily in his word. It's something of what Peter experienced when he cried out in Luke 5 after hearing Jesus preach and then watching him perform a miracle. Luke 5:8 (ESV) But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” God in his grace was moving toward Adam and Eve in this moment recorded in Genesis 3..And Jesus in his grace kept moving toward Peter in that moment recorded in Luke 5. And now this moment today and at the beginning of this year, may we hear the voice of Jesus in Rev. 3:20 coming to us by his grace in spite of our sin, Revelation 3:20 (ESV) 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

My hope is not to provide carefully crafted sentences that will be profound. Perhaps sometimes they will not even be grammatically correct. But I pray with some written reaction a few days a week that God will use this to provide ongoing encouragement for us to meet with him. It provides encouragement for me to know that I've promised to write. And I hope the writing provides encouragement for you to keep responding to Jesus' invitation, not listening to either the voice of Satan or the natural tendency still resident within each of us to hide because of sin.

My challenge in Bible reading is no longer one of whether or not I'm going to read each morning. by God's grace, that practice is set. The question is, will I respond to the heart of Jesus' invitation in Rev. 3:20 and approach God's word as a feast in which I will meet Him and he by his presence will satisfy the cravings of my heart. I know in my mind that this is what I need.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Many mornings as soon as my feet hit the floor, I start listening to a book using the Audible app on my phone, while I’m making coffee and getting settled into my spot for meeting alone with the Lord.  I’m not certain of the wisdom of this, but it is what I do. (I use earbuds so I don’t disturb anyone else.) Right now I’m listening to Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. This morning I heard something I’ve heard Keller say before and that I’ve referenced in a few messages. He said something to the effect that if there is no judgment day, then we have one of two options, either we will despair or we will seek vengeance. If there is no day coming where God will mete out justice then it doesn’t matter how anyone lives and we will be far more likely to seek revenge when hurt.
I think that’s important to remember when reading about something as dire as Noah and the flood when we are tempted to think of God as harsh or even cruel in the flood. There are plenty of questions this incident raises that are not easy to answer, but that God has and will judge is an important doctrine. But what we also need to note in this passage is God’s grace. It was an act of God’s grace to Noah and his family and to all of us who came later, that he chose to preserve Noah and his family. Though Noah is listed as righteous, it is still an act of God’s grace that he sought him out and rescued him. It was not something that Noah earned.

Then beginning in Gen. 9:9 the text records that God established a covenant with Noah, and as I read it, with everyone who will live following Noah.This too is an act of God’s grace. All of the initiative is on God’s side. When God makes a covenant with us, we have nothing with which to bargain, it’s all an act of his grace toward us. The same is true in the new covenant. We are dependent on God’s grace to seek us out and draw us to himself and to give us a new heart. It’s important to learn to see God’s grace in the O.T., even in a story like the flood, because of the tendency for people to believe that the God of the O.T. is a God of judgment and the God of the N.T. is one of love. Actually reading the Bible will not allow either conclusion.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV)
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This is a pivotal incident that every believer needs firmly in their mind to be able to understand the rest of the Bible. So much in God’s word points back to this spot. An immature approach to the Bible sees the Bible as something like a cookbook. You know there are great recipes in there and you might mark them so that you can come back to them. It's easy to understand the Bible in this way. But that is not what the Bible is at all. The Bible is one grand story, God's story, and we will be helped immensely to know that story and to be able to think through it. Every believer needs to be able to know the major outlines of this grand story so that we can then understand how everything we hear in God's word fits into the whole. Paul said, “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in rightness.” Heb. 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword . . . “ This is all true. But that works more effectively not by us just dipping in here and there, but shapes our imaginations more effectively when we can get the full scope of the story. Imagine trying to understand a novel by just dipping in here and there. It wouldn't work, and it doesn't work well with the Bible either.

So Genesis 12 records the creator of the universe, calling a man named Abram to himself. It is the beginning, from a human perspective of the story of God calling a people to himself. This is the beginning of the story of God's' chosen people, the children of Israel as they will later come to be called. From the beginning of God's call on his children, of which you are now a part if you are a born again believer, is that he calls us not to live to ourselves, but in his grace in choosing us and drawing us to himself, we are to be aimed at being a blessing to the rest of the world. God promised to make Abram great, so that he would be a blessing. Now there will be more nuance to learn down the road and there are dangers to us simply focusing on this and saying, that God has promised to make me great. That would be focusing too much on the wrong thing. We need to recognize that God builds into our hearts and shapes us and forms us into people that he can use for his purposes. He sends us into the world to be a blessing to other people. Beginning at Abram and extending to all of God's people, into the future, all the families of the earth will be blessed. Primarily, and we will learn this as we go,  through Abram's family will come the Messiah, Jesus himself, who will give his life for the world and through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. So even here in Genesis 12, we see that God's people are to have the identity that they are to be a blessing, that we are to be on mission, that we have a message that will bless the rest of the world.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Genesis 16:1 (ESV) Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children . . .
Even today, not being able to physically bear children is often a deep source of grief to a married couple. But in this ancient culture, a woman's ability to bear children was her primary source of identity. It was, she might think, her sole purpose for existing. The inability to bear children would not have been just a source of grief, but a loss of identity, and intolerable shame. What else could explain such crazy behavior, that Sarai would take the initiative to place another woman in her husband's arms? God had already promised them more descendants than they could count, but Sarai became tired of waiting and took matters into her own hands.

It never ends well when we choose to go against what God has made clear in his word and come up with a different plan or approach because we think we see a quicker path to happiness and relief. Sarai, Hagar, and Abram are exhibit A. I find myself wanting to ask, what did Sarai expect? Notice that Sarai is blaming God, "the Lord has prevented me from bearing children." Because of this it makes her feel entitled to come up with her own plan.

I'm also struck by this phrase: "And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai." What in the world was he thinking? How about some push back? "Sarai, this is not a good idea. Let's be patient and wait on God." But given other incidents in Abram's life up to this point, his willingness to put Sarai in an awkward position to save his own skin, perhaps his behavior here is in line with his character. And given the reality that polygamy was culturally expected, perhaps it's not fair to be so hard on them. Regardless, the engineering of descendants by their own means goes poorly. The mini-series “The Bible,” does a brilliant job depicting the sort of jealousy Sarai might have been feeling during the intimate encounter between Abram and Hagar.

Human nature being what it is, pride immediately surfaces. Hagar begins to treat Sarai with contempt, being condescending and cruel. Sarai responds with malice toward Hagar, exercising her power and position, to hit back. True to character, Abram is passive, going along with her idea earlier and here again taking the path of least resistance. “Just handle it, I don't want to hear about it anymore,” he says.

These stories are part of what shape our imaginations as adults and children, seeing the consequences of believing we've found a shortcut or a better way to get what we want outside of God's revealed will. But if we don't read these stories, and don't read them to our children, we are no better off than someone who can't read, or someone who has no access to the word of God.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The end of Genesis 18 records one of the most remarkable instances of intercession in all of the Bible. Abraham, after hearing that God plans to destroy the land of Sodom where his nephew Lot lives, goes to a place where he can see Sodom off in the distance and begins to plead with the Lord in a unique way, “if you find 50 righteous people in the city, would you still  destroy it, will not the judge of all the earth do what is right?” This cycle is repeated downward a few times until he gets down to ten, each time then saying, “will not the judge of all the earth do what is right.” The incident is a picture of the sort of wrestling prayer God invites us to when we don’t understand what he is doing or what is allowing to happen, and by this inclusion appears to invite us to pray in this way, honestly expressing ourselves to God. But what really caught my eye is what happens near the end of chapter 19, after God does in fact destroy Sodom and Lot and his family are saved, which was it seems what Abraham’s primary concern would have been.

Genesis 19:27–28 (ESV)
27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

Abraham in this moment has no idea how or if God has responded to or heard his prayer. God had rescued Lot from the destruction, but the point here is that Abraham had no way of knowing that. The whole incident is a reminder that could be easily missed. Normally when we read this text, it’s hard not to focus on the dramatic scenes of fire raining down, and Lots wife being turned to a pillar of salt, and the earlier instances addressing issues of homosexuality.

But we need to also see and be encouraged in our faithfulness to pray in this text, and see the very flawed character Abraham, who is at times faithful and other times faithless, just like us, earnestly praying and trusting God, not knowing how or if his prayers are being heard or answered. We don’t know how long he had to wait before he knew that Lot had in fact been saved by God through this. I take encouragement at seeing Abraham standing there that morning and for all the world it looks like his prayer did no good whatsoever, because he sees the smoking ruins of Sodom, but in fact God had heard and answered his prayer. May we be encouraged to pray faithfully about the things that grieve our hearts, trusting that God does hear and respond to his people even though we often can’t see how or why in the moment.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Thoughts on Genesis 25:29–34

This is one of the earliest stories I remember hearing in Sunday School as a child. I don't know how to calculate the benefit of having this story shape my imagination for nearly my entire life. I'm impressed again though, reading this morning of the way the narrative shapes me even still after all these years. This is because we never outgrow the need to be reminded of the dangers of cruelty. Both brothers demonstrate wrong thinking, wrong behavior. The text takes pains to tell us that the boys are different, see Genesis 25:27-28, and as the story unfolds this difference plays a pivotal role, see Genesis 27, Apparently they have some resentment toward one another for their stark difference. In this incidence of Esau selling his birthright, Jacob is cruel, taking advantage of Esau's weakness, "sure, I'll give you some stew. The price is your birthright." The rights of the firstborn in that society were substantial and not to be treated lightly. Esau acts without any self-control, when he largely despises this right by selling it away here for some dinner. There's no evidence that he was somehow literally starving to death. He lived in a well off family. He was just really tired and really hungry after a long day. It's hard to see that he somehow had no other option to eat that evening. Still as we keep reading the story, we see that without any forgiveness and restoration between these brothers, the story gets way worse and ends up hurting everyone in the family. Of course, God is at work in all this accomplishing his purposes, but the Holy Spirit does not mean for us to excuse their behavior because of that. Rather, our imaginations continue to be shaped to see the danger of solely acting in our own interest in family, work, school or other relationships. The Holy Spirit takes this story and shapes the heart of a six year old as well as a sixty year old and everything in between and beyond.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Today's reading in Genesis 30 and 31 reveal the private conversations of a family in dysfunction. Jacob and Laban throughout their interaction seek to outwit each other. Earlier in their story is the perhaps more well known incident of Laban tricking Jacob by first giving him his daughter Leah as his wife rather than Rachel. Then in the beginning of today's reading Jacob expresses a desire to return to his own family having been gone for at least 14 years. Laban strongly persuades him to stay, challenging him a couple of times to name his wages. Laban seems to alternatively love and not want to be away from his family but also ready to use them or even to destroy them. Once Jacob agrees to stay, he manipulates Laban's flock in a bizarre incident that's hard to understand but greatly increases his share of their flocks. Eventually, the relationship is at such a low level that Jacob conspires with his wives to sneak away while Laban is out of town. The daughters show that they feel contempt for their father and in leaving you Rachel steals her father's household gods. The whole thing a colossal mess. It's hard to know what we are to learn from all this. But I will mention a couple of things to remember.

Jacob and Laban's persistent refusal to treat each other with mutual respect and honesty filters down to others in the family. It is always sad to see this happen. Every person needs a place where they are at home, where they know they are unconditionally loved and accepted and where they know that people are not seeking to take advantage of them. When that is absent, to state the obvious it harms everyone with the radius of that dysfunction and makes a greater hurdle for any of the individuals in that family to love well. That doesn't mean it can't happen, but it does give more to overcome.

Also, an incident like this provides in story form a background for what the N.T. explicitly teaches in several places such as this:

Philippians 2:2–4 (ESV)  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Finally, in spite of the mess that Jacob's family relationships were, God was at work. Tomorrow's reading will record a profound encounter with God and Jacob that will mark him forever. This story provides all of us hope, that regardless of the mess we've made or the mess that others have made for us, that God can redeem and use even the worst circumstances.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

God’s word is so much more honest than we often are in churches or in books written for believers, small group studies, or Christian radio. You could get the impression from the upbeat, easy encouragement that flows from some of these things that a life of following God is a relatively calm stroll through a park on a nice spring day.

The realism that stretches across today’s reading is jolting. It begins with fear. Jacob rightly is afraid to meet his brother Esau and the way the story plays out gives him plenty to worry about (Gen. 32:6). The text says that Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. Don’t pass over that. Perhaps that phrase looks harmless sitting there on the page of your Bible, but such words are not used lightly. Sensibly, this leads Jacob to honest prayer. 32:9-12. This is a good example of a prayer in the Bible from which we can learn to pray.

Then a few verses later is what all serious students recognize as a profound encounter with God, where Jacob wrestles with a “man” all through the night. It’s a picture of prayer that that knows nothing of a polite folding of the hands before dinner or bed. Wrestling with God! Praying like that would better prepare us for real life. Praying like that deals with what we actually face, it has nothing to do with tacking on a passionless prayer at the end or beginning of a worship service or study or meeting.

Jacob leaves that encounter to experience tremendous relief at having a peaceful, if awkward meeting with his brother. But then in just a few short lines the family encounters rape, deceit, revenge killings, death of a loved one, and incest. I think part of what the Holy Spirit reveals to us here in placing this profound picture of prayer next to such heart rending events is to say to us, “I want you to learn how to wrestle things out with me in prayer so you will be equipped to face well the real difficulties you will or have already faced in this life.

Finally, we need to learn to read such material without just passing over it as old news. Those few chapters contained wild swings of soul crushing difficulties. Let’s not pass over them casually.

Monday, January 16, 2017

GENESIS 42:1-45:15
Outside of the accounts of the trial and the crucifixion of Jesus, I don't think there are any more poignant stories in all the Bible than the story in today’s reading. I have never made it through Joseph's story without tears. This morning was no exception. There is much that deserves comment, but that is far beyond the scope of these brief reflections. I will limit myself to three.

1. God's sovereign working in Joseph's life always gives me hope that God is at work in my life and in the lives of others in ways that we can't see. Everything from small irritations to heartbreaking tragedies can seem random. Joseph's story reminds me that even if I will never be able to trace out in this life all that God is doing, I can cling to him in faith. It's fascinating to watch the growing realization of this in Joseph. How must he have felt for instance, to see his brothers bowing before him, remembering that God had spoken to him about this very thing when he was just a young boy. Only huge confidence in God's work could bring Joseph to the place that he could say in the end, "don't be angry with yourselves, it was God who sent me here to preserve lives."

2. Casually telling someone who is in pain something like, "God will make a way," can often come out sounding shallow. Perhaps we have to try and extrapolate "lessons" into such short statements from such stories, but without the backdrop of the narrative of God at work in a story like Joseph, such reductions of God's wisdom and sovereignty can come across as shallow if not insensitive or even cruel. We need the richness of the story to know God and his goodness.

3. Judah's willingness to become the slave in Benjamin's place is the final incident that moves Joseph to reveal himself. Judah had played a leading role in selling Joseph into slavery, and now seeing Judah's willing sacrifice of himself to save Benjamin breaks Joseph’s heart. This is one of at least two beautiful strands of Joseph's story that point forward to a later and far greater willingness of one to suffer not to save just one, but to save all those who would come to him in faith. Both the willing suffering of Judah and the suffering thrust upon Joseph and how he responds to it, help us to see the suffering of Jesus in more vivid colors. It helps us to see that just as Judah's willingness to suffer in Benjamin's place melts Joseph's heart, so our seeing the suffering of Jesus on our behalf can melt our hearts to follow Jesus out of love.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Several things are on my mind as I finish up the book of Genesis in our reading this morning. First, Jacob's blessing of both Joseph's sons and then all of his own sons seem odd to us with their strong focus on who is he firstborn and who isn't, but that was a significant feature of their culture and of course, that issue played such a huge factor in Jacob's own story in his going along with his mother's idea to trick Isaac into blessing him as the firstborn rather than Esau Then it's odd to my ears any way that in the blessing of all of Jacob's sons, that he starts out with such a stern word for his oldest sons Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. It's impossible to know how they felt about this, but they receive such a stern word from their father and then he dies. Jacob's insight into all their lives though reveals both supernatural insight and tremendous thought and observation. We would do well to think far more carefully about the importance of speaking prayerfully thought out words to those within our influence as God leads. Not everyone gets the opportunity to have such a moment to express ourselves on our deathbeds after a long and fruitful life. I heard Rick Warren say a long time ago, that most of us have thoughts in our minds that would be greatly encouraging to other people that we don't share.

Then Genesis 50:15-21 contains perhaps the most well known verse from the story of Joseph. I want to be sure that you don't rush over that and miss it. Joseph's brothers still after 17 years of living in Egypt with their father and with Joseph after Jacob dies, they worry that maybe Joseph has been waiting for this moment to pay them back. So they appeal to him again in great humility for forgiveness. There is more in Joseph's response that we might at first notice. First he says, "do not fear, for am I in the place of God?" I hear in this a clue as to how Joseph was able to forgive and how we can forgive. We must have confidence in God that in the end, we will all stand before him and he will see that justice is done. Without a conviction about the final judgment of God, we will feel that we have to try to secure justice in this life. A real confidence in the final judgment then is by far the only lasting solution to addressing issues of violence. Without this belief we are more likely to retaliate. And then v. 20 is the part that is more will known and deservedly so. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Tim Keller says this is the OT version of Romans 8:28 (ESV) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Paul nor Joseph were saying that everything that happens is good. Joseph is not denying that what happened to him was horrendous. Only God knows all the tears and grief he experienced in wrestling with God through to this place of faith in God where he could make this statement.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Today’s reading: Job 1-4
I've heard of so many suicides recently. Three have been local and though not directly related to our church, just one step removed. People who are a part of our church were personally affected. I’ve heard of others in the news. All were young people. Suicides are always heartbreaking, but even more so when it is those who are young. This came to mind as I began reading Job this morning. I want to probe what is different about Job and his unspeakable suffering and to suggest how that differs from what happens to a person who comes to the place that they see no other option than to take their own life.

Job thoroughly works out his grief and pain with God in prayer and in writing. It goes beyond what we know about exactly how the book of Job was written, but at some point, it was written. The most likely way that happened is that Job himself wrote this. There is a huge difference in writing through our grief and simply trying to process it in our own heads. It seems to me that there is no way he could have had such beautifully rich expression of his grief by only speaking it out loud and certainly not just by thinking it. Those who understand how to judge the relative beauty of writing speak about the great beauty of this writing. Here is a brief sample of the very beginning of Job's expression of his grief in Job 3.

Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said, a man is conceived,
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it . . .

This expression of grief along with the arguments of his three friends goes on for many, many pages and sometimes it's easy to get bogged down reading through these arguments. In other words, Job doesn't just do a little praying, a little journaling, and a little talking with his counselors and then he automatically feels better. This goes on for quite some while. How long we don't know. That's not as important as the acknowledgment that it was not fast.

Finally, Job's friends are rightly criticized for their shallow thinking about why people suffer. God himself will take them to task before the book is over. But let's give them a bit of love here. They did show up. They were there. And so along with Job's praying and journaling, they provided sparring partners for Job to wrestle out his pain. In spite of their poor advice, their physical presence was important.

So I pray to also not give simplistic answers to complex circumstances. But Job's experience provides a model for for us to process our pain.

1. He wrestled out his grief with God through prayer and in writing.
2. He also did this with his three friends.
3. He persisted in this for a long time.

I'm looking forward to this fresh read through of the book of Job in the days ahead.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I wrote this yesterday, to go with Job 5:1-7:21, but didn’t quite finish so I’m sending it on today. But it fits well with today’s reading (Job 8:1-11:20) also, as there are more of Job’s words in today’s reading that could give voice to our grief now.

More so than I have noticed before, the book of Job demonstrates that God knew that many of us, if not all of us would have days of such darkness that we would despair of life. The beginning of a ray of hope could flicker in the darkest of moments by discovering here in Job's words the exact sentiment that someone is feeling in their own grief. Though it is far more than this, Job qualifies as a classic work of art because it so authentically captures the raw pain of a person overwhelmed with grief.

The chapter begins with a continuation of a speech by Eliphaz, one of Job's friends. It's interesting that most of what he says is accurate, but condescending, as in Job 5:8 when he says, "as for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable . . . " And he goes on to speak of some of the mighty acts of God. The problem is that he seems to be saying, "Job, if I were in your shoes, I would be able to pray and seek God in a way that would make me feel better.  There must be something wrong with you or your faith since you seem unable to do that." The arrogance of these statements and the shallowness of applying loosely true statements in wrong ways is a deep frustration to Job.

In contrast for us now however, Job's expression of his agony seems to be the precise medicine we need. How often a soul in great grief might feel the need to pray but have no idea what to say? imagine how much help it would be to take these words and express them to God, I'm copying them from the New Living Translation

Job 6:2–3 (NLT)
2 “If my misery could be weighed
and my troubles be put on the scales,
3 they would outweigh all the sands of the sea.
That is why I spoke impulsively.

Job 6:8–9 (NLT)
8 “Oh, that I might have my request,
that God would grant my desire.
9 I wish he would crush me.
I wish he would reach out his hand and kill me.

Job 7:6–11 (NLT)
6 “My days fly faster than a weaver’s shuttle.
They end without hope.
7 O God, remember that my life is but a breath,
and I will never again feel happiness.
8 You see me now, but not for long.
You will look for me, but I will be gone.
9 Just as a cloud dissipates and vanishes,
those who die* will not come back.
10 They are gone forever from their home—
never to be seen again.
11 “I cannot keep from speaking.
I must express my anguish.
My bitter soul must complain.

Job never curses God. And Job never gets any where close to discussion of taking his own life. But these lines and many throughout the book of Job are meant to help us give voice to our pain when we are overwhelmed with grief or despair.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Today’s reading JOB 15:1-18:21

Imagine going to the doctor and saying, "I have a scratch on my finger," when in reality you have a broken leg? That would be ridiculous and fairly obvious to the doctor that something other than what was going on with your finger was wrong. However, there is a tendency for us to approach God in prayer this way, not expressing to God what are true thoughts and feelings are.

These passages in the book of Job, and today's reading is no exception, reveal instead disturbingly raw words of frustration from Job. Here's an example.

Job 16:7–11 (NLT)
7 “O God, you have ground me down
and devastated my family.
8 As if to prove I have sinned, you’ve reduced me to skin and bones.
My gaunt flesh testifies against me.
9 God hates me and angrily tears me apart.
He snaps his teeth at me
and pierces me with his eyes.
10 People jeer and laugh at me.
They slap my cheek in contempt.
A mob gathers against me.
11 God has handed me over to sinners.
He has tossed me into the hands of the wicked.

Most of you know I read, study, and teach from the ESV but I think especially in reading Job, the NLT is helpful to clearly capture the force of Job's pain.

What's also interesting is that Job's friends strike me as very uncomfortable with Job's honestly and charge him with a lack of faith.

Job 18:2–5 (NLT)
2 “How long before you stop talking?
Speak sense if you want us to answer!
3 Do you think we are mere animals?
Do you think we are stupid?
4 You may tear out your hair in anger,
but will that destroy the earth?
Will it make the rocks tremble?
5 “Surely the light of the wicked will be snuffed out.
The sparks of their fire will not glow.

The presence of this book in God's word reveals that the "doctor's" prescription for our spiritual progress is to process reality in our praying without any pretending. My prayer is that we will better hear the the leadership of the Holy Spirit guiding us into laying before God what we are actually thinking and feeling regardless of how messed up it may seem.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Todays reading: JOB 22:1-25:6

I tried first to dictate my thoughts about the text into my phone, but it didn’t work very well, so this is a little later than normal but there’s something here so important I don’t want you to miss.

Job 22:4–5 (NLT)
4 Is it because you’re so pious that he accuses you
and brings judgment against you?
5 No, it’s because of your wickedness!
There’s no limit to your sins.

Job’s friends assume that Job suffers because of his sin. They assume there is a direct correlation to his sin and his suffering. This is a recurring theme in the book, but the NLT really brings this out as clearly as I’ve seen it. Verses 6-9 are dripping with accusations that Job must have been one of those people who was both rich and cruel.

Job 22:6–9 (NLT)
6 “For example, you must have lent money to your friend
and demanded clothing as security.
Yes, you stripped him to the bone.
7 You must have refused water for the thirsty
and food for the hungry.
8 You probably think the land belongs to the powerful
and only the privileged have a right to it!
9 You must have sent widows away empty-handed
and crushed the hopes of orphans.

So they say, in verse 10, this is why all this is happening to you.

We are tempted to think this way as well. We betray this kind of thinking and we may protest when we suffer, "God why is this happening to me. What sin did I commit? I must be suffering from some wrong that I have done and that is why this is happening to me." But our thinking is off badly when we think like this. Ironically, we are assuming like Job’s friends were, that the reason we aren’t suffering when we are not suffering is because we are good. That is precisely what is wrong with their thinking. There is an undercurrent through all their thinking that says, "if you were living righteously like us, this wouldn’t be happening to you."

The end of the book of Job will blow up this thinking in fascinating ways, but from a N.T. perspective, we have an even clearer example of why this is wrong. The greatest suffering and the greatest injustice ever was when the sinless Son of God suffered the punishment for all the sin of the world. He lived a perfect life in every aspect and yet he suffered the penalty for our sin. He also suffered the stark absence of God on the cross when he cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”

Speaking of the absence of God, don’t miss the beautiful and poignant expression of Job’s sense of not being able to find God in Job 23:1-9. This experience of feeling far from God is common. I can’t get into how it seems that God uses such times for our good, but I didn’t want you to miss this. You might also compare this with David’s confident statement of God’s presence in Psalm 139 that bears an interesting similarity to Job’s words here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Today’s reading: 
JOB 30:1-31:40

In this last part of Job’s final speech, Job accuses God of cruelty. (Job 30:19–23 ) The presence of such honest protests to God are interesting. I wrote about this once before, but I want to say a further word about them. Their presence in this text serves as a kind of invitation to pursue this kind of honesty with God. If we are thinking or feeling the kinds of raw emotion and pain Job was feeling, what else could we do with such sentiments? Either we wrestle them out with God as if we were beating our fists on His chest to please answer us, or else it seems we would walk away from God entirely. But the very act of praying and protesting to God is an act of faith. The alternative of not praying is a faithless act. It is to respond to horrendous grief by saying in effect, “there can’t be a God, or if there is a God, I want nothing to do with him.” There are people who do just that and sadly abandon God to their great harm. But even as dangerous as some of what Job says sounds, his act of prayer is still an act of faith. Job will be profoundly challenged by God about his speaking about things that he could not understand. As we there, the presence of Job’s thoughts here in this book does not mean that Job was accurate in everything he said. But his impulse to pray and protest to God was exactly right.

And because I’m preaching this Sunday on what Jesus had to say about lust in Matthew 5, it’s intriguing to read what Job has to say about that subject in chapter 31. He says that he made a covenant with his eyes, not to gaze at a virgin, 31:1 and then a few verses later he says:

Job 31:9–12 (ESV)
9 “If my heart has been enticed toward a woman,
and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door,
10 then let my wife grind for another,
and let others bow down on her.
11 For that would be a heinous crime;
that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges;
12 For that would be a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon,
and it would burn to the root all my increase.

Finally, as I read I found myself wondering if Job ever acknowledged his own sin because he keeps protesting his innocence so strongly, but then I saw Job 31:33 that he is not claiming to be sinless.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Today’s reading
JOB 38:1-40:5

I often need and likely you do as well, a Job moment like this for lack of a better term. When we are frustrated and complain or grieve that life is hard for us, what we need is to encounter God. For in the many times that I have done that, that we do that, we too are darkening God’s counsel by words without knowledge. (See Job 38:2) We too need to be confronted by God’s perspective to be reminded of what we know but forget. That is that God sees the end from the beginning. His wisdom is beyond understanding. We can’t fathom all that God is doing in any given situation. And so, worship and humility are in order. This would be a good place to come when we are bent out of shape as we say and then read slowly, putting ourselves in Job’s shoes and imagining God challenging us with these thoughts. We can’t just snap our fingers and bring ourselves to the point at which Job arrives. Once he has actually encountered God there is humility. Job 40:3-5 Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.

Already Job is silenced and he has a brand new perspective. But this confrontation is far from over.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 31st Readings

JOB 40:6-42:17

“Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” (Job 40:7) If this were a boxing match, we could call this round 2. But as someone said, “Job’s arms are too short to box with God.”

Job had made himself the judge, v. 8. These challenges from God to Job have to do with the stunning power of God as displayed throughout creation. God forces Job to compare his relative strength to His power. He challenges Job to humble the proud v. 12-13. If you can do that, then I’ll acknowledge that you can save yourself.

The next two sections speak of two beasts that can’t be precisely identified, Behemoth and Leviathan. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to identify these creatures and miss the point. God challenges Job to admire these creatures and to recognize that no man dare try to control one. I think we are even meant to see some humor here. “Will you play with (Leviathan” as with a bird, or will you put him on a leash for your girls?” 41:5. But the point of all this is this, no one dares to bother this creature which I created so “who then is he who can stand before me?” 41:10.

All of this display of the glory and might of God bring Job now to full confession and repentance recorded at the beginning of chapter 42. “I know you can do all things, no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Then he remembers the phrase with which God first challenges him, “who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Job’s response then is essentially, “I didn’t know what I was talking about.” And then this, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself in dust and ashes.” 42:5-6.

Philip Yancey says of the conclusion of the book of Job in the book, “The Bible Jesus Read,” and I’m paraphrasing here, that God never answers Job’s question as to why all this had happened to him. Rather, that once Job met God in this profound way, that God himself was now enough for him in and of himself so that his why question did not matter so much anymore. We often will not know why many things happen in this life. Our ultimate comfort will not come in us knowing why, but in knowing God.

Tuesday, February 1, 2017

Today’s Reading:  EXODUS 1:1-2:25, 
, EXODUS 3:1-4:17

There’s obviously much to consider about today’s reading, but I want to point you toward this reality. God raised up Moses through his natural tendencies and through his experiences growing up to be a rescuer, a deliverer. Moses showed his desire to rescue his fellow Israelites when he saw the Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and so he killed the Egyptian. When that became known and he fled, he rescued the daughters of Reul/Jethro from shepherds who were harassing them. This is not random, we are meant to see that God was making Moses to be the sort of man to do what he would later explicitly call him to do. It’s also then noteworthy that in the call of Moses at the burning bush, God says to Moses that “I have come down to deliver (italics mine) the Israelites out of the hand of the Egyptians. (Ex. 3:8) What was on God’s heart to do, to rescue, to deliver, he had built into Moses to do, even though likely Moses didn’t see this. Furthermore, Moses now both knew the intricacies of life in Pharaoh’s household and he knew the ways of living in the wilderness. Both competencies would be critical in the days ahead.

But If at one time Moses had been impressed with the ways of life in Pharaoh’s household, he appears to be long since past that. It’s not hard to imagine that Moses had long before written off his experience in Egypt and had no intention of ever going back there. He immediately reacts to God’s initial statement of call by saying in Ex. 3:11, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Moses had no interest in being what we now know him to be. It appears that Moses was blind to the reality that who he was, was precisely the person God had groomed to deliver the Israelites all along.

God’s intention to deliver the Israelites, points toward the same intention in sending Jesus to earth to live the life we should have lived and to die the death we deserved to die for the purpose of delivering us, rescuing us, because we certainly could not rescue ourselves.

Thursday, February 3, 2017

Today’s Reading:  EXODUS 7:14-9:35

The interaction between Moses and Pharaoh after the plague of hail caught my eye this morning. Pharaoh’s response on the face of it, seems genuine.

Exodus 9:27–30 (ESV)
27 Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.

it sounds like that Pharaoh is now on the right track and that he is responding correctly to God’s acts of judgment. Then he makes a request that also sounds good.

28 Plead with the Lord, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.”

But this will prove to not be real. His heart has not really changed. He just wanted the pain to stop, but he had no interest in actually doing what God through Moses had instructed him to do.

29 Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.

Moses lets Pharaoh know that he will pray and that the thunder and hail will stop. But the purpose of all this is “so that you Pharaoh may know that the earth is the Lord’s.” When Moses first confronted Pharaoh, Pharaoh said, “who is the Lord?” By the time these plagues are ended, Pharaoh will have a very clear answer to his question. At every stage God is revealing himself to Pharaoh and his people and confronting their idols. Pharaoh’s fiction was that he was god, he believed he possessed all the power and that he was in control. His stubbornness to give up on his belief and idolatrous desire will cost him dearly in the end.

Moses had the supernatural insight to see that Pharaoh only wanted to pain to stop. He had not experienced true repentance.

30 But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.”

Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” May God awaken in us a genuine fear of the Lord; a love based respect and reverence for God, with trembling because of his great power and glory. May God also grant us a tender heart of genuine repentance. Repentance is not just what happens when a person initially turns to God through Christ. We are called to a lifestyle of repentance.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Today’s Reading:  EXODUS 20:1-22:15

One of the values of reading systematically through the Bible is that we are able to view very well known passages of scripture like the 10 commandments in their original context. It’s not that viewing or thinking about the 10 commandments in isolation is likely to result in misinterpreting, though this is certainly possible in some cases of scriptures viewed in isolation, still it strengthens our understanding to see that the giving of the 10 commandments come in the flow of a great narrative. Also, it’s helpful when our vision of what happened here is informed more by the actual word of God rather than the Charlton Heston movie version or the animated Prince of Egypt. Here more than ever, the book is better than the movie.

But rather than comment further on the 10 commandments, I want to call your attention to material beyond that in today’s reading that is often troubling to us with modern sensibilities about slavery and the rights of women. It’s important to note that as Paul said in Galatians that the law is a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. So perhaps it is a helpful to remember that we don’t teach advanced math to 1st graders, they have to learn slowly. The giving of the greater law in the Torah can often seem tedious to us, but God’s people being known as a people were very young as a people and they required remedial instruction. From our perspective we can protest that this material doesn’t immediately condemn slavery and seems to relegate women as second class citizens. However, that’s because we are looking back after 2000 years of reflection on the life and the teaching of Jesus and the rest of the N.T. which contain the teaching that every person is created in the image of God and has equal worth. But if it would be possible for us to view the O.T. law from before it was given, we could see that it was a tremendous step forward in elevating the treatment of slaves and women. It also stopped in its tracks the law of retaliation where revenge for an action goes further than the initial offense. The law limited that by saying, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. You might want to see how Jesus speaks of these passages in Matthew 5.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

:  EXODUS 25:1-28:43

There is both grace and truth presented in Exodus 25:8–9 in the beginning of today’s reading. On the one hand there is grace. God is coming to his people. God is taking the initiative in reaching out to them. They had no hope of getting to him unless he made the move to be near to them. This is all grace on God’s part, through no merit of their own, he was coming to dwell in their midst, so that he would be their God and that they would be his people. However, the painstaking detail of the construction of the sanctuary and all of its many furnishings and worship elements was meant to show them and us the holiness of God.  They were to make these things “Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” Even this work they were to do was not a work that could earn them God’s favor. God had already come to them in grace. His act was first. These details the holiness and the greatness of God that he not to be taken lightly. He was  and is holy and he would insist that because of that that they be holy. It was a constant reminder of the reality that they could not earn God’s favor or love or mercy. It was an act of his love. These details can seem tedious to us. I have hurried through portions of scripture like this more than once. But here too Paul’s word’s apply, 2 Timothy3:16–17 (ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. When we dismiss any part of scripture as irrelevant, that means we miss seeing something of the character of God. Let’s not hurry through texts like these but see how God wants to equip us for every good work through these passages as well.

Full disclosure: I struggled here this morning myself. I normally do my Bible reading and writing first and then I move to prayer. But after a few minutes I could not get my mind and heart to focus. So I want to prayer and came back. God in his grace to me this morning met with me wonderfully in my prayer time today. I came back to the text encouraged and refreshed and then I did this simple thing that may help you. For just the first few verses, I lingered on each phrase reading it through a second time. I pray you don’t hear that as a legalistic charge to read even more when you are struggling to do the reading as it is. Rather, see it as lingering over a gorgeous sunset, or listening to a song you love a second time, or savoring a perfectly grilled steak. Seem over the top? The Psalmist talked like this all the time.

Psalm 119:16 (ESV)
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.


Psalm 119:97 (ESV)
97 Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

EXODUS 32:1-34:35

In case you wonder, I get behind on my Bible reading too. This morning I read yesterday’s reading and I’m about halfway through today’s. If you keep reading below you will get some insight as to why I’m behind. But as I said in perhaps the first writing of the year, when you get behind, I would encourage you to either jump to where we are on any given day, or to stay a day or two behind, but whatever you do, don’t heap a big load of “ought” on your head.  It is all God’s word and it is all useful, so whether you catch up, skip ahead, or stay behind, the important thing is that we keep heeding Jesus invitation each day in Revelation 3:20.

I am thinking about issues of health this morning. Kat has been quite ill since last Sunday and is now in the hospital for IV antibiotics. We appreciate your prayer. I’m praying she can come home today. One of the signs of disease is a lack of appetite. We simply are not able to be well if we don’t eat or if our bodies don’t effectively process what we are eating. The illustration can’t be pressed too far because in the physical realm, eating too much is a problem as well, though even there, the issue is more often what we eat rather than how much we eat.

Stick with me here. I was praying this morning and reflecting on this verse in today’s reading,  

Exodus 33:9 (ESV) When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses.

I thought this to be a wonderful verse to prompt my own praying this morning, that is to reflect on Moses entering the tent to hear from God. That immediately led me to thank God that he had created the hunger in me to come and seek him in the first place. Just like Moses would never have been in the position that he was in, in that moment, if God had not sought him out and nearly drug him into place for the role that he was in now, nor would I be where I am right now, seeking God in his word and in prayer, if he had not first awakened that desire within me. I can’t create a hunger for God. You can’t either. Only God can do that in us. So  in moments of clarity, when we see this truth, we would be wise to pray that God would create and maintain a fresh hunger for himself and his word in us.

Meeting alone with God, is both a high privilege and a stupendous act of the mercy and grace of God. O that we could imagine what an impression it put upon the people of Israel to   follow the pattern of worship shown them there on the mountain so that they might know the holiness of God. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we now have the privilege of meeting with God “face to face” as did Moses. So may God’s kingdom come in us, so that a real desire for God will grow ravenous within us, for we cannot be healthy without the hunger.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Reading:  EXODUS 37:1-39:31

Exodus 39 describes the particulars of how the priestly garments were to be made. And of course, there is much intricate detail that we get lost in, well I do. But today by God’s grace, I see a surprise of grace to encourage me, to encourage us this morning. The impression we are to get from all this detail is that ministering in the Holy Place was not something to be taken lightly. Being in God’s presence required pristine garments and accessories expertly woven and crafted.

I did all of today’s reading and it wasn’t until the last paragraph that my mind and my heart were able to hear and see. The last two verses caught my eye. Exodus 39:30–31 “They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ And they tied to it a cord of blue to fasten it on the turban above, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

Isn’t it possible, even likely, that now from a N.T. perspective we are to understand that all of this helps us to grasp the reality that we who have been born again, are now clothed not in these elaborate garments, but in something even better, we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. And because of the suffering of Jesus over us God has now written, “Holy to the Lord.” The careful reading of these passages help us to rejoice and to thrill at a deeper level at the marvel that at the instant that Jesus died, according to Matthew 27:51 the curtain of the temple around the holy of holies was torn from top to bottom. It’s so easy to pass over that, especially for those of us who grew up in church hearing that and reading that. This detail in Exodus helps us to not neglect so great a salvation (Heb. 2) and helps us to more fully appreciate that we are now called a “royal priesthood.” (! Peter 2:9) And it all help us to the miracle of grace revealed in these verses:

Hebrews 10:19–22 (ESV) 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Tuesday, February 15, 2017

I wrestle with understanding why the Holy Spirit inspired our text for today. But there is a clue in the last lines of today’s reading. After painstakingly walking us through the offerings brought from each tribe at the dedication of the tabernacle, the end of the passage summarizes all that has been brought. After totaling up the silver and the gold, Numbers 7:87–88 (ESV) says this: "all the cattle for the burnt offering twelve bulls, twelve rams, twelve male lambs a year old, with their grain offering; and twelve male goats for a sin offering; 88 and all the cattle for the sacrifice of peace offerings twenty-four bulls, the rams sixty, the male goats sixty, the male lambs a year old sixty. This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed."

Those lines caused me to think about the work of the priests. All of these offerings point to the laborious and gruesome work of the priests in killing all these animals and then offering them animals on the altar. And that was just at the dedication at the tabernacle. Now then recognize that work of sacrificing animals went on year after year after year. Then allow your perhaps tedious reading this morning to draw you into worship by looking at these lines from Hebrews 10:11–14 (ESV)

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Don’t miss the contrast deliberately drawn in this text. The priests “stood” because their work was never completed. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down . . . “ He sat down because his work was finished. Years and years of gruesome work by the priests was finished by the single sacrifice for sins offered by Jesus. The tedious reading in Numbers helps us to see the sacrifice of Jesus from a new vista that perhaps we have never seen. Praise God!

And so I also want to point out to you that this shows the value of our reading. It’s not so that we can congratulate ourselves at the end of the year for having done it. No, it  is cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit for him to make connections like this in our hearts and minds. I wasn’t able to make that connection because I went to seminary. Rather, by the grace of God it was through the hearing of many sermons over the years helping me make these connections and through, again by God’s grace, the consistent reading of scripture over the years. I can just imagine some reading this and thinking, “I will never be able to read some obscure text like this in Numbers and draw a connection to something from a book in the New Testament.” Well perhaps you couldn’t right now. But that’s why we need pastors and spiritual leaders to help us. But God intends for you to keep pursuing him in his word as well. Neither faithfully attending worship or faithfully reading scripture are to be legalistic duties. Rather, they are gifts of God’s grace to us that he may show us the riches of his mercy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Today’s Reading:  LEVITICUS 14:33-16:34

I suspect we would be greatly helped by meditating deeply on Leviticus 16. The rest of the world is pressing upon us a whole different set of values both through conversations with people, things that we read, and certainly much of what we watch. Unless you’ve lived in a monastery, you have been being discipled by the thoughts of a culture that for the most part wants to ignore that God exists. Proverbs 14:9 (ESV) “Fools mock at the guilt offering,
but the upright enjoy acceptance.” The only way for us to enjoy acceptance is to both see sin from God’s perspective and then to accept his remedy for that. Meditating on the instruction for the Day of Atonement helps us to “slow walk” through these realities, rather than just glibly saying, “I know that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins.”

I’m deeply grateful from having been raised in church from before I can remember. But my twisted brain took the persistent teaching that I heard about Jesus and the crucifixion and treated it as something common. I became overfamiliar. I was and still am guilty at times of neglecting such a great salvation, by not being amazed at the amazing grace of God. Again, I think reflection on this chapter provides a cure for that over familiarity. Because here in one chapter the care with which they were to take the the details of this day along with the glory of the grace of God as it was pictured even then, helps us see the glory of Jesus from a fresh vista.

it is my sense that if we read slowly up to v. 20 with the detailed process for choosing the goats, and the bulls and the ram and all that the high priest was to wear and how he was to offer the offerings, we will be better prepared to be amazed by this picture:

Leviticus 16:20–22 (ESV)
20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

Somehow it is my sense that only going through this process one time per year, and after following all this acted out ceremony, when Aaron lays his hand on the live goat and he “confessed “over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins,” that this was not a casual manner. It was taking seriously his own sin and their sin. I don’t know how long this confessing that the high priest did would take or how specific it would get but it doesn’t seem like it would be casual.  

Then after taking sin seriously, then they (and we) are able to receive and to glory in the reality of forgiveness and redemption. I love this picture of sins being placed on the live goat that bore their iniquities on itself to a remote area. You know what that points to. I think the writer of Hebrews had this image from Leviticus 16 in his mind when he said, Hebrews 13:12 (ESV) So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Today’s Reading:  LEVITICUS 23:1-25:23

Why were the people instructed to stone the blasphemer described in Leviticus 24:10–16? Of course, this seems impossibly harsh even cruel to our modern sensibilities. But that reveals only that we are more shaped by thinking of our time than by the revelation on God’s character in his word. What we need to see from this is to recognize that this is what every such sin deserves. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What our sin deserves is death. In this case recorded here in Leviticus the just punishment for this sin of blasphemy is carried out immediately. What needs to amaze us is God’s grace and patience with us to not immediately bring swift justice each time we sin. In this isolated case justice happens immediately. In every case justice will eventually be delivered. The miracle of the grace of God is that God’s justice was carried out on all sin on the cross. When we accept Jesus’ suffering there as the just punishment for our sin, then we are justified before God. We are then clothed in the righteousness of Christ. So stories like this, also help us to see the glory of God’s grace.

Often when I read a text like this, it reminds me of how much we need to teach from all of God’s word to our children, teenagers, and young adults. A story like this would be hard to forget and would help a young person to see in a text they don’t often think about how different modern standards are from the character of God. But I wonder, how many of the young people that I know have actually even seen this passage. I plan to teach from it soon to remedy that for a few that are within my influence.

One last note, we must always interpret the O.T. through the N.T. We have a clear example from Jesus that it is not our job to mete out the justice of God in such cases like this. That is seen in John 8, where Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” God’s standards of justice didn’t change. Rather, God’s justice would be satisfied on the cross and salvation purchased there was applied to this woman, and to us who trust Jesus work on the cross for us. Praise the Lord!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Today’s Reading: LEVITICUS 25:24-26:46

It’s not easy to find anything particularly encouraging in today’s reading. The point of our reading though is not just to come to God’s word looking for encouragement. The purpose is for us to meet God and come to know him, even when we don’t see how what we are reading will accomplish that. Today’s text begins with laws about how family property was to be handled among the Israelites. As far as I know, the people of Israel never celebrated the year of Jubilee where all land would revert to the families it belonged to. But if followed this practice would have been a buffer against generational poverty without sapping the dignity and drive of individuals by simply giving them everything they needed. Rather, a family would be given back their land with which to work and produce crops, but they were not just given the crops. They had to do the work themselves. There is a lesson here in how to help people without hurting them.

Our modern sensibilities are troubled by Leviticus 25:44–46 about the purchasing of slaves. When someone asks me about this, then my answer is that the teaching of the O.T. and N.T. contain the seeds of the teaching that eventually brought the demise of slavery in the United States and Great Britain. However, it still troubles me some that these verses are here and I think we should acknowledge that. But let me hurry to point out that there are important differences between slavery in the Biblical era and the practice of chattel slavery as it occurred on this continent in the 18th & 19th centuries. As I understand the practice of slavery in ancient times, it was more closely aligned with our concept of employment. There were opportunities for a person to prosper and work there way out of slavery. Clearly it was not a desired state and fellow Israelites were not to be treated as slaves. But the slavery practiced in modern times involved despicable cruelty and brutality, targeting a particular race and the unspeakable stealing of lives from the continent of Africa. And that was only the beginning. Tragically, slavery is still a reality across the world.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

I apologize for my silence this week and for not informing you in advance. I was away this week on a 1 week study break which I do around this time each year. I thought that I would keep writing to you through that, but it didn’t work out that way. I did write for Tuesday, but the reading that day was difficult and I took a second day to look at it. Then when I tried to open my email to send (without reading my email) the program kept crashing. So no posts for this week. I’m sending you that reflection on Tuesday’s reading now from NUMBERS 4:1-5:31 just to demonstrate that I’m still here and plan to resume writing normally on Monday.

Reading Numbers 5:11–31 always troubles me. No one has ever asked me about it. But here we are reading along together and I feel I must address it. So I did some research. My suspicions before I did the research were that as unfair as this reads to 21st century ears, the actual practice here described protected a wife from unfair allegations from a jealous husband. If women were simply treated like property in that time, in violation of the reality that God created male and female in his own image, with equal worth in his eyes, on mere suspicion a man could have his wife executed. This process described here placed the situation in God’s hands and provided a means for the wife to be protected from the unfair accusation.

Here is some of what I learned in my research. As the case is described, the wife is actually guilty of this sin. The hypothetical case is; adultery has happened, the couple was not caught, but later the husband suspects his wife. Now what? One thing to remember; death was the penalty described in the O.T. law for both the man and the woman in an adulterous encounter.

We talked about that issue a couple of weeks back. Capital punishment is not how the N.T. explains to handle such sin, but the O.T. teaching reflects the extremely serious nature of adultery, as those who’ve been harmed by it can attest. Ultimately, the wages of all sin is death, (Rom. 6;23) but this particular sin has greater consequences for everyone, those involved in the sin directly, those close to them, and even all of society. Our 21st century sensibilities need to be trained by hearing the warning of these texts, even though following Jesus, (John 8) we obviously don’t seek the death penalty for those guilty. Also, forgiveness and recovery from such sin are possible even in the O.T. (See Psalm 51 and 2 Samuel 11-12)

Back to the Numbers 5 text, this is the only case in all of the law that depended on God intervening supernaturally to see that the case was carried out fairly. The practice described in this passage, though strange to our ears, protects the falsely accused and clears her name while also revealing supernaturally sin that needed to be addressed. As such, the practice provided a process to address three common issues in community life: “physical purity, interpersonal relationships, and marital fidelity.” Here is my source: Cole, R. Dennis. Numbers. Vol. 3B. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000. Print. The New American Commentary.

Perhaps these few thoughts don’t answer all your questions about this text, but I hope it is helpful. If any of you want to see more help on this, I can send you the actual text of the commentary I read. I’m not monitoring my email this week because of the study break, but I would be able to respond to your request next week.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Today’s Reading:  NUMBERS 22:1-24:25

This morning I read an interview with an Old Testament professor whose blog has been helpful to me. He was interviewed as part of a series called “On My Shelf” where thought leaders among evangelicals Christians are asked about books they are currently reading and about books that have impacted them the most over time. I discover a lot of interesting book ideas through these articles. But today it discouraged me a little when I read of the many books that have had such an impact on this guys’ life, several of which I had never even heard of. I tell you that because I can just imagine some reading this incident and thinking “I’m never going to be able to keep up with all these people and places.” I was wrong to compare what I have read to what that writer had read and be discouraged about it, and I don’t want you to be discouraged about where you are in your Bible reading. Rather, you can begin again today to read and seek God faithfully and patiently in his word. Today is a fascinating place from which to do that.

Today’s reading contains one of the most unusual stories in the Bible, when God causes a donkey to speak. I’ve never seen that happen nor have you I’m guessing. For that reason, there would be many skeptics that would use this as an example of why they can’t believe the Bible. But if God is God and he created the world, then as God he can choose to enter that world at any point in time in any way that suits his purposes.

The question I do have about this text is “why did God strictly forbid Balaam to go with the servants of Balak (Numbers 22:12), later tells him to go (Numbers 22:20), but then is angry with him for going, which is what generates the incident with the donkey. (Numbers 22:22–35)? Wrestling with questions like this in our practice of seeking God through his word is part of what provokes spiritual progress. That progress does not depend on our being able to definitely answer every question. It’s the process of seeking God in the scripture that changes us, not that we are always able to get all of our questions answered. I can’t answer this particular question and Biblical scholars have for centuries wrestled with the question as well. So don’t despair if can’t answer all your questions or can’t trace out every name or place that you encounter. That doesn’t mean that the details in the text don’t matter, but it’s the process of seeking God in the text that causes us to grow in our knowledge of God.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Today’s Reading:  NUMBERS 30:1-31:54

At first glance, I have no idea what I would say about the passages in today’s reading if someone challenged me on them. Chapter 31 records the people destroying Midian at the Lord’s instruction. The Midianites had sought to draw the Israelites away from the Lord which resulted in serious consequences for the Israelites as well. That incident was recorded in Numbers 25.  By most standards today this instruction to “avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites” seems barbaric. This is the kind of passage a secularist would cite as evidence of why adherence to the Bible has no place in a modern society. But all scripture is useful for our training, (2 Tim. 3:16) so we need God’s help and we need the help of trusted guides (commentators) to understand what’s going on in this incident. What Moses does here is his final act of obedience and act of leadership before he dies. (Numbers 31:1)

God is just in all his ways even when we don't understand what he does nor understand why such things are in His word. Part of our problem is that we can approach the Bible as if it is for our own private good here in the present but fail to recognize that it was first written to a people in a specific set of circumstances. In this case, it would appear that what we must see from our perspective is that what happens to the Midianites is what any of us would deserve because of our sin. Instead, of being offended that God would instruct that a people be annihilated, that rather we would be stunned at his grace in not annihilating us all, for the wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6:23)

The people of Israel would be the vehicle through which God blessed the world and through whom the Messiah would come. They  had to be preserved as a people faithful to God. The threat of being absorbed into the pagan cultures around them was deathly serious.  That threat had to be addressed and removed. For a N.T. example of such fierceness right out of the mouth of Jesus see, Mark 9:42–48. It should also be pointed out that some from non-western cultures have no problem with the idea that God would punish or that he would send some people to hell. The teaching of the Bible that unsettles them, is the instruction to forgive or to love our enemies. Our aversion to passages like Numbers 32 turns out to be more culturally conditioned than we realize. We judge our moral sense to be superior to everyone else's, and to assume that all thinking and compassionate people would see things the way that we do. But it turns out that that isn't so.

The idea that I presented above about the viewpoint of people from non-western cultures is explained and illustrated well at some point in the fascinating talk at the link below. It is of Tim Keller speaking at Google about his new book Making Sense of God. I highly recommend the video. It is well worth watching, even if you have to break it up into a few sessions.