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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 Timothy 3:16–17 (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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Today’s Reading:  DEUTERONOMY 3:21-5:33

It is good for a person who is in Christ to know that the 10 commandments are found in Exodus 20. Of course, anyone could ask Google “where are the 10 commandments?” and find your way there eventually. What is less well known are that the 10 commandments are recorded twice. The second and less well known is here in today’s reading. What I want to direct your attention to today however, is the couple of paragraphs immediately following the giving of the 10 commandments as recorded in Deuteronomy  5.

Deuteronomy 5:22 (ESV)
22 “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.

This would have been a terrifying sight. We need to slow down here long enough to consider what is happening. We are so conditioned by movies which use dramatic special effects. It’s easy for us to read quickly over this and not notice what is here. God's word is so sparse in its language. Here’s what I mean by that:

I was discussing with a friend a few days ago the impossibly intense detail of a couple of classic novels. He was telling me that in one of the novels of Proust, the author described the crumbling of a cookie for 43 pages! That's extreme. But it only goes to show in stark contrast the nature of the Bible, which I have tried to describe previously as something like having been written in concentrate. A hugely momentous event is described Deuteronomy 5:22 in only 48 words! Just to casually read through this text you might run by it and not notice the drama here. We need to slow down and pay attention and imagine what they experienced in hearing the voice of God out of the midst of the darkness and seeing the mountain burning with fire. We must slow down and experience the terror of what that would have been like for them. God doesn't have to recreate the experience for us in our current time. The Holy Spirit is in no way limited in revealing the glory of God to us, with all the force that they experienced. God will do that in you and me now if we will linger here long enough and seek to enter the event with our mind and heart.  

It’s no wonder that they came near to Moses when they experienced this and said, “Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and we survived it!” They were stunned that they were still alive. But they were also sure that they couldn't stand any more and so v. 25 they say, plead with Moses to go and meet God for them.

God said to Moses of their reaction in v 29. “Oh, that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!”

As I prayed through this this text morning, I pleaded with God to create just this sort of trembling in us.  It is through this huge vision of God that we can then see the grace of God as truly amazing. It is through such a big view of God that a spirit of repentance and humility is cultivated in us. Jesus invites those in him now to pray to this same God before whom these people trembled, “Our Father!” Today’s reading helps us to pray intimately without losing the sense of awe described here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Today’s Reading: DEUTERONOMY 10:1-12:32

This is three times the length of a normal post. I share it with you with some reluctance. I have taken a portion of today’s reading and used it to guide my praying. This is how God has led me over the years to pray. If you read it, or just sample it, you will see that I am weaving the Lord’s prayer into praying through these verses. Sometimes that doesn’t work and I don’t force it, but today it did. Some of you know, I actually do write my praying. I hope you don’t see this as some impossible burden I’m putting on you. God forbid. Some of you may hate writing. I only show it to you, to show you an example of how you can use the words of scripture to prompt your praying. You don’t have to write to pray this way. Some days it goes very well. Other days I am flat and able to pray hardly at all. Today, by the grace of God to me, was a good day. I went back through and cleaned up the writing a little for greater clarity, but otherwise, this is how I used part of today’s reading to guide my prayer this morning. This is from Deuteronomy 10:12–18. There is other more specific praying to do in intercession and more specific confession perhaps, but this is how I prayed this morning.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. O praise the Lord. Father, I want to know you. I want, we want to do what it is that you require of us. We want to think about all these things clearly. Our Father, please grant that we may learn to fear you. You are the Lord our God. Please grant that we may walk in your ways. O let this be true O Lord. Please grant O Lord, that we may love you. Father, you require these things of us. This is what you expect and demand, but we are incapable of doing this on our own. Please move us to these things not out of duty, but by your grace. Please enable us to serve you, the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul. Please grant that we may be all in. Because you are our Father. You are everywhere all at once and so Lord, we want to know you. Father, grant that we may think deeply about these realities. May your call on our lives be the reality that drives us forward.

And to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? O God, you are worthy to be praised. Hallowed be your name. You are worthy to be feared, you alone are worthy that we walk in your ways and for that to be possible, we must know what those ways are. O God, you are worthy to be loved. You are worthy to be served, to be served with all our heart and soul and you are worthy that we might keep your commandments and statutes which you have made clear to us through the feast of your word. These commandments by your great grace and mercy Lord are for our good. O God, your goodness to us is beyond our comprehension. Praise the name of the Lord.

Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples as you are this day. O God, may your kingdom come, and may your will be done in the way that we see your grace. Father, you are the owner of all things. To you belongs heaven and the heaven of heavens, whatever that means. To you belong the earth with all that is in it. Please open our eyes that we may see you and know your character and your greatness. May this be done in us Lord. May your kingdom come. These verses are here that we may know you. Please show us how to enter into them and experience you through them. And yet, praise the Lord, even though you own all things and that there is no lack in you, you set your heart in love, you Lord set your heart in love on their fathers, the Israelites standing before you at that moment as they were poised to enter the promised land. You Father, chose their fathers, speaking of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. You set your heart in love on them, and you chose their offspring after them, they above all peoples, as they were that day. This was through no merit of theirs as you make clear in many other places. O God, this same grace is true of us now. Through no merit of our own, you set your heart in love on us and you chose us and drew us to yourself by your grace. There is none like you. O God, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, that we would be overwhelmed by this great grace. That we would genuinely be amazed by it, that we would be deeply marked by it. O God, please cause this to be so. Show us how to live by grace. Show us how to articulate this mercy. Help us to see the gospel for the outrageous good news that it is. Praise the Lord.

O God, give us this day our daily bread. We are completely dependent on you for the things that we need. Please grant us these things this day O Lord. And Father, please grant that we may feed on your word. Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. O God, we need, we need to be wrecked by your grace. Grant that we may live by grace so that we will not be so driven ourselves, nor ruthlessly drive others within our sphere of influence. Please grant that we may trust you and rest in your love, grant that we may rejoice in you.

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. O God, because of your grace, because of your grace,  it is because of your relationship of love that you established with us, that you require of us that we fear you, that we walk in your ways, that we love you and that we serve with your passion, and that we keep your commandments. But O God, we are stubborn. We insist on our own way. We don't think about what you require of us, we think about what we want. We don't fear you well and reverence you. We are impressed with ourselves. We are impressed with our things. We are impressed with our ideas. We are impressed by people. O God we don't know your ways well. We are not hiding your word in our hearts that we might not sin against you. O God, we do not love you well. Our service toward you Lord is often not full hearted, we don't even know what that means. O God, I plead with you that you would make us people of passion. O God, we are grieved by our sin. We are grieved by our faithlessness and we ask that you forgive us by your grace, by your mercy because that is our only hope. I pray that we may be, through your character, so aware of our own sin and so stunningly aware of your grace, that we will be incapable of unforgiveness. O God, we have been hurt. We have been grieved. People wrong us and let us down, but Lord, may we so know our sin and know your forgiveness that we extend that same forgiveness to those who have sinned against us.

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. O praise the Lord. You are God of gods. There is no one else like you. You are Lord of lords. You are King. King! Please lead us into genuine worship. Please lead us into full submission to you O Lord. You are great, may we know your greatness. You are mighty, may we know your power. You are awesome. Please grant that we may know you and by being so full of you and knowing your character O God, please grant that we will then not be led into temptation. That our love for you and our fear of you will dim the allure of sin to our hearts, that we will walk in your light and that it will make us keenly aware of the attacks of the evil one. Lord, we pray that you will deliver us from the evil one. O God, may we so know you. May we so intimately experience you, that we will immediately detect when we are being led away from you, that we will immediately detect in our mind and in our spirit when we are being lied to by the enemy and may we learn to run to you O God.

He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. O God, you are the one who executes justice. In this world Lord, we don't always see your justice being done. But in this life or the the next, we know that you will see that justice is ultimately done. You executed justice for the fatherless and the widow, for the weak and the oppressed, and Lord you love the sojourner, you love the sojourner, you love the immigrant. And you give him food and clothing. O God, may we be like you. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever amen. Praise God.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Today’s Reading: DEUTERONOMY 16:18-21:9

Several years ago I read a book that argued for a unique approach to stir up a lifeless devotional life based on Deuteronomy 17:18–20 which is a part of today’s reading. I think the author was guilty of over applying the passage as if the instruction to the eventual kings of Israel given in the passage were directly given to us in the 21st century. That can lead to some odd interpretations and applications of O.T. material. Just because an O.T. text gives a specific instruction to a character doesn’t mean that it is necessarily one given to us. Furthermore, just because a character takes a particular action, does not mean that that is obviously something that we should do. To give a couple of obvious examples from the life of Abraham, when God tells him in Genesis 12 to leave his home and travel “to the land that I will show you,” that obviously doesn’t mean that he is calling all of us to do exactly that. And then a little later when he, Abram, tells his wife Sarai out of fear for his life to tell the Egyptians that she is his sister, we clearly are not meant to copy that behavior. Nor is it also just a negative example for us. The Bible is not a collection of stories like Aesop’s Fables where we draw lessons from the various stories but that they have no connection to one another. Rather, God’s word is telling one grand story that tells of God creation, man’s fall, God’s rescue, and God’s ultimate restoration of all things. So it is critical to our well being to read from the O.T. as well as the N.T. and to do so on our own, but in all cases we will all need help. We should not read the Bible as if we were the first ones to read it, but rather to recognize that many have gone before us who can help us to understand and apply it to our lives. That’s why we need pastors and spiritual leaders in our lives to help us.

Which brings me to the advice that book I read all those years ago gave. The instruction in our passage instructs eventual kings of Israel (interestingly it would be some time before there would be kings) to “write for himself in a book a copy of this law . . . And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to the Lord the Lord his God by keeping all the word of this law and these statues, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left.”

This is a fascinating text that I think that shows very clearly the value of our reading God’s word consistently. But the book recommended from this text a whole practice based on this phrase, “he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law.” From this, the author strongly recommended that this meant that each of us, to faithfully get at God’s word, needed to handwrite it for ourselves just as the king was apparently commanded to do. It is a good practice by the way. It is a fantastic means of slowing down to really listen to God’s word and I commend it to you. I just think the author was going over the top to claim that this passage amounted to instruction for all of us. However, it is a spiritual discipline I do practice quite a bit, though I usually do it by computer. Also, the results of the kings reading from the book of the law every day such as humility and learning to reverence God are some of the very same reasons that we need to be reading God’s word for ourselves.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Today’s Reading: JOSHUA 7:1, 1 CHRONICLES 2:7, JOSHUA 7:2-9:27

Today’s reading contains the disturbing instance of the sin of Achan and the consequences for the whole nation of Israel on the one hand, as well as the terrible consequences for his own family. I preached on this passage back in 2013 if you want to listen to a more detailed exploration of the passage.  

Praying through the beginning of the story this morning reminded me of 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 which details the ways in which God’s people in the days of Moses disobeyed God and of the suffering that they brought on their own heads through their disobedience. 1 Cor. 10:6 says this, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” We need these passages of scripture that disturb us because they train our hearts and our minds to not desire evil.  

Back to Joshua 7, the people have just taken Jericho, see Joshua 6 for the famous passage about the walls of Jericho  miraculously coming down. There was no question that God by an act of his power and grace had caused that victory. There was no question that the only reason that they were now in the promised land was because God in his grace had rescued them from slavery. If not for God’s action, they would have still been in bondage in Egypt. But they apparently forget their radical dependence on God and presumed on God’s action and so sought to take the next city in the promised land, Ai, without consulting God. Joshua sends a few spies to check out Ai and they say in Joshua 7:3 my paraphrase, “Don’t send too many folks up. This isn’t going to be big deal. It’s a small city.” But they didn’t pray or consult God. How quickly they forgot their dependence on God. They didn’t realize the sin of Achan that had removed God’s hand of blessing. You’ll need to read chapters 7-8 to get that larger story. So the consequences both of Achan’s sin and of their failure to seek God about how to proceed cost 36 lives (Joshua 7:5)

Only then do Joshua and the elders get on their face before the Lord as recorded in Joshua 7:6. But this prayer meeting was too late to have spared those 36 lives, along with the fear and second guessing that all created (Joshua 7:7). So as I think about this passage this morning, I’m praying for God’s will to be accomplished in us for this to be a reminder to us to pray without ceasing and to keep listening to what God has to say to us through his word. These are not legalistic duties.  It is our very life to have our souls trained by our reading to trust God and not desire evil and it is our very life to keep praying and even asking God simply for our daily bread as Jesus taught us to do. This is not even to mention all the other things that we might need to pray for, remembering that every good thing we have, we are dependent on God and his grace for those things.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Today’s Reading:  JOSHUA 15:20-17:18

Today’s passage is not easy to read because it provides obscure details of how God provided land for his people under Joshua’s leadership. We have interpretive work to do no matter where we read in the Bible, but it seems harder in a place like this. If we don’t just give up and skim, we will at least ask ourselves why such material is in the Bible. But paying close attention to these texts helps us to get important perspective. First, these texts, obscure as they may seem, reveal a part of the gospel story about how God rescued and preserved a people through whom the Messiah would come. So yes, this also is a part of the gospel. Furthermore, they help to protect us from forgetting that the Bible was written in another culture and in another time. We should not casually read it as 21st century Americans without doing some interpretive work. A major principle of Biblical interpretation is to ask ourselves what the text meant to its first hearers. If we don’t do that, we will arrive at misleading interpretations. This is not to say that it requires Bible scholars to interpret scripture. Children can read the Bible with much benefit. But as  Ephesians 4:11–12 says, God . . . “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Part of that equipping work to prepare God’s people for ministry that these spiritual leaders do for us is to help us interpret the Bible and apply it accurately to our lives.

Finally, If we are paying attention we will also likely question why God would instruct the Israelites to drive out the Canaanite nations who already lived there. I’m linking to a well documented article answering this objection below. But briefly stated, the Canaanites were a desperately wicked people with all sorts of detestable practices including an unspeakably brutal form of child sacrifice. Plus God did not just fly off the handle and impulsively destroy them. Rather, he waited 400 years while the Israelites were in Egypt. There’s more to this story. I recommend the article below to you to provide you with more insight.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

I primarily wrote this yesterday about yesterday’s reading. This reading records the end of Joshua’s ministry. Chapter 24 is somewhat well known and contains this challenge from Joshua:

Joshua 24:15 (ESV)
15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

But I want to direct your attention to chapter 22 in the beginning of the reading where it is recorded that the tribes that had settled on the eastern side of the Jordan were going home after most of the work of securing land for the other tribes was complete. So as the people of Reuben and the people of God and the half tribe of Manasseh returned home, they built an altar of “imposing size” near the Jordan River. The rest of the people of Israel heard about this, believed it was evidence of them directly disobeying God. They challenged those tribes as follows:

Joshua 22:16 (ESV)
16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord?

They were prepared to literally destroy these tribes from Israel to avoid this perceived sin from destroying the whole nation.

Then in verses 21-29 the two and a half tribes explain that that was not what they were doing at all.

Joshua 22:24 (ESV)
24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?

They took this action out of a lack of confidence in God to preserve them and their descendants and out of fear and mistrust of their fellow tribes of Israel. We too can operate out of wrong ideas in our heads that cause us to not put our confidence in God, which then causes us to think and grieve and act and respond in counterproductive ways. This is why we need to keep pursuing God in his word so that we may know Him and trust Him.

Let us not subtly think that we have arrived. We know we haven’t, but our approach to scripture may betray that we don’t really expect to experience God in our reading or to come to know him more fully. So let us recognize that we too hold ideas in our heads about who God is and how he wants to work with us that are in some ways inadequate and even misleading and cause us to think in ways that keep us imprisoned. It was Jesus who said you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

The circumstances recorded here are also an instance of worry on the part of those two and a half tribes. They imagined trouble that may never have come instead of placing their full confidence in God. We can either operate out of fear or we can operate out of faith. But we can’t do both.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Today’s reading from the end of Judges 11 through chapter 15 contains two of the most colorful but also tragic figures in the midst of a book filled with fascinating characters and stories. The entire book of Judges from start to finish shows a gradual decline as circumstances get worse and worse over time among the children of Israel as eventually every man “did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25.

The reading begins with the incredibly sad story of Jephthah and his tragic vow. (Judges 11:29–40) Then after mentioning lesser known judges we are introduced to the well known character of Sampson.

I hope to entice you to take a closer look at Sampson’s story by sharing with you the opening paragraphs of a message series I began on Mother’s day in 2015 about Samson’s life.

We begin a new series this morning called Perfect People Not Allowed. Don’t worry if that doesn’t sound like a good mother’s day idea, because I know some of your moms are nearly perfect. Mine certainly is. Some have a very different story though. Kat and I have a new understanding of the mixed emotions of a day like today since it’s the first mother’s day since we lost her mom last summer.

Saying of church, “Perfect People not Allowed,” may sound odd. You may have the exact opposite idea. Some outside the church certainly do. There is a sense in which we think that church is for good people, for folks who’ve got their lives together. Worse, there is the suspicion that we wouldn’t want people in the church who are obviously a mess. This is all crazy ironic because the only way to become a part of God’s family is to admit that your life is a mess.

Over the next 3 weeks we are going to look at the life of a man named Samson. It’s a spectacular place both to to see the stubborn and even scandalous grace of God, while also seeing that the kind of people God uses are embarrassingly and deeply flawed. I believe if you will take a look, you will leave with a strong sense that God is not looking for people who think they’ve got their act together. That’s actually a terrific hinderance. Or as I sometimes say, the church is not a museum for displaying perfectly finished works of art. Rather, it’s meant to be more like a hospital for sick people for folks that know they need help. That means there is help for you and me.

Many of you will have heard of Samson. You may have heard a reference to Samson and Delilah. You may have heard something about the worst haircut in history. But this is no children’s story, not by a long shot. The kids will be able to stay in the room. I’m not going to get graphic, but there is amazing nuance in the story that reveals the grace of God in a stunning way. Grace is God’s undeserved mercy extended to us but it has many many aspects to it, it’s a bit like lying in the damp grass on a beautiful night out in the country and looking at the stars, the longer you look the more you are able to see. It’s a bit like eating a complex dish with lots of unique ingredients that you can’t quite identify and the longer you look or the longer you chew the more you recognize. Samson’s story demonstrates the love of God in surprising and even disturbing ways. But as it turns out, the beginning of the story is perfectly suited for mother’s day. If you know something about Samson’s story you might be breathing a sigh of relief right now, because some of it just doesn't’ seem like the sort of thing you ought to use on mother’s day. So it isn’t, but the beginning is.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

April 6th Readings
JUDGES 19:1-21:25

Today’s reading is one of the most disturbing and perhaps least known passages in all the Bible. The lack of respect and care for women in this text is appalling. It’s difficult to fathom. The honesty of the Bible here though is remarkable.  I can hardly tolerate writing some of these words down, but in this story a man subjects his wife/concubine to gang rape and murder. The worst of the story is reported in Judges 19:22–30. A certain man, a Levite, his servant and his concubine were traveling and had stopped to spend the night in Gibeah, a town in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the tribes of Israel. It’s ironic that he had earlier in the evening refused to stay in a town not among his people, but its hard to imagine how he could have done any worse than what happened in Gibeah. The text describes “worthless fellows” who surround the house and demand that the old man who lived there send out the traveler so that they might “know” him. This is eerily reminiscent of the story of Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. Because of the high value of hospitality in the culture, the resident protects the man who is under his care but incomprehensibly offers up his own daughter and the man’s concubine for their use. He said to the worthless fellows, do not do this “outrageous thing,” The outrageous thing he means was to violate his male guest in this way. But regardless of cultural differences, the far more outrageous thing it seems to us, is his offer to send out the two women of the house. Then the most outrageous thing of all to me seems to be the action of the guest recorded in v. 25 “So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them.” I won’t write here what happened next, but if you’ve never read it, I warn you that it is brutal and cruel.

It’s instructive that a few verses later, when he is protesting the outrageous treatment that “he” had received in this town in the territory of Benjamin, he conveniently leaves out his actions. Judges 20:4–5 (ESV) And the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night. 5 And the leaders of Gibeah rose against me and surrounded the house against me by night. They meant to kill me, and they violated my concubine, and she is dead.”  

The whole nation then devolves into a pathetically sad civil war and the book ends on a dark note. The people ask in 21:3 Why has this happened in Israel? The answer seems to come in the last line of the book.

Judges 21:25 (ESV) 25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

The book shows the  continued slide in individual lives and families when God’s will and wisdom is increasingly ignored. But even more profound, it demonstrates a gradual slide over generations. The last few chapters demonstrate the sort of chaos that ensues when everyone is doing what is right in his own eyes, apparently, with little or no thought for God’s instruction. The text motivates us to keep seeking God through his word. It reveals the darkness that can overtake a person or a family or a group but that in the midst such darkness the grace of God still shines through, because up next is the story of Ruth.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Today’s reading: (that looks like a long list but it’s just 4 verses from 1 Chronicles and then 2 chapters from 1 Samuel)

1 CHRONICLES 9:35-39
1 SAMUEL 13:1-5
1 SAMUEL 13:19-23
1 SAMUEL 13:6-18
1 SAMUEL 14:1-52

The story of King Saul always strikes me as tragic. He started strong and acted bravely but increasingly made foolish decisions. His character seems weak. Saul’s life demonstrates that all human leadership will ultimately let us down. Our ultimate confidence cannot be in human leaders, but in God. Salvation belongs to the Lord.

1st and 2nd Samuel contain some of the most colorful incidents in scripture. We are traveling this week and had the chance to see mom and dad just for a day. I remember mom encouraging me to read from this part of the O.T. because of the beauty of these stories when I was so obsessively troubled as a 12 year old boy, and beyond, about whether or not I was saved. She was right and I don’t want you to miss them. 1st and 2nd Samuel, which covers the stories of Samuel, Saul, and David are simply incredible reading, Even if you aren’t trying to follow the the daily readings, or you are, but you are way behind, I encourage you to skip ahead and read these books along with me.

I will briefly address one incident in today’s reading. Near the end of Samuel’s life, the people pleaded for a king. This was a rejection not of Samuel but of God’s leadership over them. With a king, the people were more vulnerable to the strengths and weakness of these human leaders. They and we are to learn from these stories that we do work and cooperate with human leaders, but that we can’t put our ultimate trust in any person. Our confidence is in God, and our anchor must be in him. In that way we are more prepared and even not so disillusioned when people let us down, because even in this best circumstances that is at times going to happen.

1 Samuel 13:8-14 records the first inclination of Saul’s character weakness. In this story he reveals impatience in not waiting for Samuel and then by usurping Samuel’s role to offer sacrifices to the Lord. The situation was difficult. He felt that the circumstances were getting out of hand and so instead of waiting on the Lord and for Samuel, he decided he had to take matters into his own hands and sacrificed the offerings himself.

Samuel arrived immediately following this and confronted Saul. Saul pretended that he had only done what was reasonable to do under the circumstances and implied that if he had done something wrong, that it was Samuel’s fault for being late v. 11.  For this reason he said, he  “felt compelled” to off the burnt offering himself.

Thinking we know better than God is often a temptation when the pressure is on and we see a shortcut to a situation better instead of patiently waiting for God in obedience.

What grief Saul must have experienced as he realized in Samuel’s words what his sin cost him. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Saul. It seems at first glance that he did not receive much grace or much of a second chance. But sin is always dangerous. It cannot be defeated in our own strength. We rely on God’s mercy. Part of the problem with Saul, and this seems to be a pattern for him which will get worse, is that rather than repenting of his sin, he seems to seek to justify his behavior.

So three things for us to remember from this short text.
Be patient and trust what you know God has called you to do and is made clear in his word even when you see a shortcut that looks like I would be easier.
Place ultimate confidence in God and not in human leaders.
Repent of  sin and seek forgiveness rather than seeking to justify or make excuses for our own behavior. Justification can only come from the grace of God on the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Perhaps you are doing some reading relative to Good Friday today, but here is a short reflection on the readings scheduled from April 14th for our plan.

Today’s reading:
1 SAMUEL 17:32-19:17
1 SAMUEL 19:18-24

Of course, the story of David killing Goliath is one the most famous in the Bible. David’s confidence in God is remarkable, reflected in this statement of faith:

1 Samuel 17:47 (NLT)
47 And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!”

There immediately follows the rather understated action that was a fulfillment of David’s proclamation. Yes, David clearly had some skill with a sling and a stone. But this was God’s doing. This was a supernatural intervention by God to deliver his people.

48 As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him. 49 Reaching into his shepherd’s bag and taking out a stone, he hurled it with his sling and hit the Philistine in the forehead. The stone sank in, and Goliath stumbled and fell face down on the ground.

Perhaps it’s ok to take additional lessons from the story of David and Goliath about being willing to “face our Goliath’s” and that sort of thing. But that is not the primary point of this text. Rather, we need to focus on God’s goodness in protecting his people and in David’s willingness to trust God faithfully when he was a relative unknown. He will go on to become very well known and in his later role as king will make some horrendous decisions. But for now, his confidence in the goodness and the greatness of God, can help to provoke our faith in God, which is important because without faith, it is impossible to please him.
The brutal nature of that culture and time are shown in this verse:

1 Samuel 17:57–58 (NLT)
57 As soon as David returned from killing Goliath, Abner brought him to Saul with the Philistine’s head still in his hand. 58 “Tell me about your father, young man,” Saul said.
And David replied, “His name is Jesse, and we live in Bethlehem.”

It doesn’t help us to grasp all that we need to see by cleaning up the story so that we don’t notice these details. I don’t think we should not include such graphic details in children’s Bibles. But it doesn’t help us to connect the word of God to our real lives when we hold stripped down views of such a story in our minds. It was a brutal time and David was young. It’s hard for me not to imagine that there was some teenage swagger behind him carrying that head around and it seems impossible that anyone would ever forget the sight.

The reading goes on to detail the sad slide of Saul into fear and jealousy and even madness. It wasn’t long before the sight of David haunted king Saul, not because of the graphic image of brutality, he would have been used to that, but because of his jealousy and fear provoked by this detail:

1 Samuel 18:7–16 (NLT)
7 This was their song:
“Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his ten thousands!”
8 This made Saul very angry. “What’s this?” he said. “They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!” 9 So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

And it only goes downhill from there. Today’s reading gives more incentive for us to dig into God’s word that we might meet him there because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Either we will trust God and lean into him or we risk being overwhelmed by the events of life and spiraling into fear and jealousy or any other of a host of sins. This helps us see even more why our consistently pursuing God through the reading of his word is so important. It’s a big part of how we learn to trust God.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Today’s reading:
1 SAMUEL 30:1-31
1 CHRONICLES 12:20-22
1 SAMUEL 31:1-13
1 CHRONICLES 10:1-14
1 CHRONICLES 9:40-44
2 SAMUEL 4:4
2 SAMUEL 1:1-27

I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to write about such familiar stories in the O.T. There’s a temptation to draw life lessons from such characters as David, Saul, and Jonathon such as be like David or don’t be like Saul. I don’t think we should be completely opposed to drawing out such lessons but they get complicated because the Bible is also so honest about its heroes like David. Today’s reading covers the incident of David and his men losing their families in a raid. They return to Ziklag after being turned away from joining in the battle with the Philistines (yesterday’s reading) and find that their wives and children and all their possessions have been carried off. I don’t see how we are not supposed to learn something important about facing extreme grief and stress when David and his men discover their loss:

3 And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. 5 David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

I’ve heard this passage preached on as an example of self-leadership where it was described that David’s biggest leadership challenge in this moment was leading himself. David and his men wept until they had no more strength to weep. Perhaps you know what that feels like. But it’s even worse than that because then the situation becomes personally dangerous for David because his men were so distraught they were beginning to talk of stoning David. The men were understandably “bitter in soul because of their sons and daughters,” and David was “greatly distressed.” So David here faces his own grief, he too had no more strength to weep. But he also faces the challenge of not just the danger to himself, but needing to lead his men out of despair into taking action. Then the text simply says, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”

We might like to know exactly how that happened. If I could talk to David I would want to ask, “How exactly did you do that?” The text doesn’t say but we could reasonably speculate from the many Psalms that he wrote that he rather than just marinating in his despair, he expressed all that he was thinking and feeling before the Lord, because in the Psalms we find prayer and worship material to fit every emotion. Furthermore, even though we don’t know exactly how David “strengthen himself in the Lord his God.” We do know that he did and that that is possible. For we have far more resources than he did for finding strength in the Lord. If nothing else, we have the Psalms. We can safely seek to be like David in this regard and take up the material the Holy Spirit inspired him to write to enable us to find strength in the Lord, even in the midst of the most heart rending circumstances.

You’ll want to follow today’s reading to find out how the situation was resolved.
1 Samuel 30:3–6 (ESV)