Saturday, January 31, 2009

Conviction in the Psalms

Psalms 62:5-8
(5) For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
(6) He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
(7) On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
(8) Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.

Is it just me, or does reading this bring you conviction too? I read of the deep faith that the Psalmists had in God and I see just how badly mine pales in comparison. I know intellectually that these things are true. However, in my heart of hearts I know that I don't always live like I believe this. I get worried about money. I get caught up in the acquisition of stuff. I become more concerned with getting what I want from Amanda and the kids than from the always-providing God I worship.

It's a good reminder to me of just how pervasive faith should be in life. My prayer is for this Psalm to be my testimony too.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Parable Project One

My parables class has two assignments. One is supposed to be a devotional suitable for a Sunday School class and the other will be more scholarly. I did the first on the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8. You can read the fruit of this here. It's a pretty short read really. I'm not happy with what Google Docs does to the formatting, but you'll get the gist of it.

For what it's worth, I got a 98 on it. My professor rightly pointed out that I didn't do much with the idea of "justice" other than mentioning it. I don't post my grade to boast, but to give my work at least some measure of trustworthiness. The main thing I wanted to fight was the whole prosperity nonsense that so many seem to take from this parable.

I hope that this is somewhat edifying for you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Refuge

Psalms 59:16-17
(16) But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.
(17) O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.

It's incredible to read this the same day that Romans 8 comes up. Amanda and I watched Fireproof last night and it forced me to think about my past life in porn. While I was never as violent as Caleb in the movie, I was living for myself and was immersed in me. I had the conflict of trying to do the right things as a husband, which is a little different from him, but I was still so immersed in me that I was blind to how much I was hurting Amanda. I have to admit to getting pretty teary at the end.

This is good for me though. I need to be reminded of what happened at the cross for me. I need to remember how anything good in my life is a work of grace, whether it is God's general grace or the particular grace He has shown me. I have so much to thank Him for in this world. I can't imagine the joy when I meet Him in the next.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Let's Do This Thing

Numbers 20:24-29
(24) "Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah.
(25) Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor.
(26) And strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron shall be gathered to his people and shall die there."
(27) Moses did as the LORD commanded. And they went up Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.
(28) And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.
(29) And when all the congregation saw that Aaron had perished, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.

When I read this today I had a strange moment of putting myself in their place. Normally I read narrative kind of dispassionately. I am taking in information, but not really living the moment.

Think about this. First, you have the disobedience of Aaron that must have hung over his head. He wasn't always the best leader for the people, but God did make him the high priest. He had a lot of responsibility and was certainly very visible. He and Moses had been through a lot together. His death led to 30 days of mourning.

But on this day Aaron knew it was over. As he climbed the mountain he knew that he wasn't coming back down. Could you imagine having that kind of certainty about your death? I can't quite get my mind around it.

This begs the question -- are you ready for it?

Monday, January 26, 2009


Psalms 53:1-6
(1) To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David. The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.
(2) God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
(3) They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
(4) Have those who work evil no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?
(5) There they are, in great terror, where there is no terror! For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you; you put them to shame, for God has rejected them.
(6) Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, Let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

This Psalm speaks directly to the problem that Christ came to solve. We naturally do not seek God. None of us does good on our own. We naturally reject Him and do what we think is best. Sometimes we do things that aren't so bad, but ultimately that works-righteousness does not save us.

Verse 6 gives the promise of the future. If you are in Christ, I do hope that you rejoice in the truth that God delivers us from our ignorance and rebellion. Only God could have melted the heart of stone I had toward Him. While it isn't always as soft as I'd like, at least it isn't hostile to the Gospel anymore. I hope you can say the same.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Measure of the Heart

This was today's Tozer. It's too good not to share:

Your baptism and your confirmation and your name on the church roll and the big Bible you carry--these are not the things that are important to God. You can train a chimpanzee to carry a Bible. Every one of us is the sum of what we secretly admire, what we think about and what we would like to do most if we became free to do what we wanted to do.  

Yes, fruit is very important in our lives. If we don't have fruit then we can be sure that we are not saved. However, we can bear a kind of plastic fruit that looks good to others, but we know the difference. God certainly does too. Let's not kid ourselves or Him about the fruit that we bear.

What are the longings of your heart? This is a convicting question. I am glad that my mind doesn't drift instantly to porn anymore. I'm also glad that I don't have the hunger for video games I once did. Frankly, when I have idle time I spend it thinking about how I have homework to do. I'm not sure this is so much better.

This Tozer quote seems akin to Piper's message about how we are to desire God. Frankly, I don't desire Him as much as I probably ought. None of us does really. However, He gives the grace to desire Him more. Let's keep asking for it.

Edit: I read this in my daily reading after I posted it. It fits in so well I thought I'd better add it.

Psalms 50:12-23
(12) "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.
(13) Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?
(14) Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,
(15) and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
(16) But to the wicked God says: "What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?
(17) For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.
(18) If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers.
(19) "You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit.
(20) You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother's son.
(21) These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
(22) "Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
(23) The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Do You Believe This?

Psalms 49:16-20
(16) Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases.
(17) For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him.
(18) For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed, --and though you get praise when you do well for yourself--
(19) his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light.
(20) Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

Here in America we put a lot of weight on riches. We look to the men who seem to have it all. We have magazines dedicated to our celebrities. And yet, in the end, death will consume all of them.

We need to ask ourselves if we really believe this passage. Are we content with the praise we will receive upon death? Or are we hungry for what the world can give us? It sure is nice to get the praise and adoration of those around us at the time. It may even be warranted and not necessarily sinful. However, in the end, do we believe that the true reward comes later?

As I think more on this, I am reminded of something I saw on a Hollywood awards show. I don't remember which show, but I remember seeing Joan Collins on it. Here is a photo of Joan Collins back in the day. Here is a more recent one. It's hard to capture just how plastic her face is with a still photo, but basically she is doing all she can with cosmetic surgery to cheat aging and death. The problem is that no matter how great she looks, her body will still decay and she will die.

Death claims all of us no matter how rich, powerful, influential, or beautiful. I want to be ready for it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Trusting in the Sabbath

Leviticus 25:20-22
(20) And if you say, 'What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?'
(21) I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years.
(22) When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives.

I'm not sure if I would have had enough faith to obey this. God commanded the people to give the land a rest once every seven years. This means that the crop harvested from the sixth year had to be enough to last them for three years. Then they could cultivate the land again.

Leviticus makes it clear that God takes Sabbath quite seriously. However, Jesus tells us that God gave us the Sabbath for our sake. I see it as a chance to exercise our faith. What better way to show our trust in God than to take a real Sabbath rest?

I know that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. I know that we are no longer bound by the fourth Commandment. I also know that a Sabbath rest is not an excuse for sloth. But I also know that I get so stressed and caught up in my schoolwork that I have trouble really trusting God that I can take a Sabbath rest. I feel like the book of Leviticus is ministering to me in this area. Whoda thunkit?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Inaugural Prayer

Much has been written and said about the various prayers given around the inauguration. Some thing the Bishop of Sodom's prayer was great because it was so inclusive. After all, it was addressed to "the God of our many understandings." Meanwhile, some have been glad for Warren's prayer with his reference to accountability to the Creator someday and his recitation of the Apostles' Prayer. Others hate how small-minded and overly-Christian his prayer was. I didn't read or listen to the last prayer, but I understand that it was not something I would have agreed with.

This may surprise you, but I say that we throw the whole thing out. After all, what is the point now? If we can have three such diverse prayers around the same event then it is clear that the organizers of the event really don't have a dog in the fight other than inclusiveness. If Obama's theology matched the Bishop of Sodom's, then he should have had three like that. If he really was a Bible-believing evangelical then he could have had three like Rick Warren's. However, he chose to take a centrist route, which is supposed to be what he is all about. The problem is that you cannot simultaneously pray to "the God of our many understandings" as well as the actual Creator of the universe. The Creator of the Bible is funny about that kind of thing.

It seems to me that this tradition started because the Founding Fathers were either Christian or at least respectful of orthodox Christianity. George Washington recognized the need of divine assistance in getting our country going. Now we are so self-sufficient that we just need to find political ways to fill the traditional prayer times. I don't blame any of the men who gave their prayers. They have their beliefs and will be accountable to the Lord for them. I am more concerned with this mockery of the Creator. As the saying goes, if you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything. How many things will President Obama fall for?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Source of Uncleanness

Leviticus 14:34-36
(34) "When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a case of leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession,
(35) then he who owns the house shall come and tell the priest, 'There seems to me to be some case of disease in my house.'
(36) Then the priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease, lest all that is in the house be declared unclean. And afterward the priest shall go in to see the house.

This passage goes on to describe all that happens when a house appears to have a leprous disease, or mildew as the NLT translates it. It's very inconvenient for the homeowner. They have to scrape the walls and replaster. Then they have to leave the house for 7 days for a time of purification. Then they have to see if the mildew comes back. If it does then they have to tear the house down.

Look at who brings this to them. According to verse 34, the Lord is the one who puts the mildew in the house. Somehow I doubt that Joel Osteen ever preaches on this passage. Frankly, it's not something I would have thought of writing about if it were not for this blog. I have always maintained that Leviticus helps us to see the holiness of God in action. Passages like this give us a clearer idea of how God operates.

Can we read a passage like James 1:2-4 or 1 Peter 1:3-7 and truly rejoice? I know that I don't always rejoice in my suffering like I should. I think it's important to remember that God uses it to sanctify us. I need to prayerfully seek that mindset though.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

He Wasn't Kidding

Leviticus 10:1-3
(1) Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.
(2) And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
(3) Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And Aaron held his peace.

I think that I read this and the story of Uzziah and the Ark of the Covenant with a sense of condemnation toward God. Isn't this kind of petty? I mean, I have rules at my house, but nothing that gets anyone more than spanked. I would not kill any of my children no matter what they did. Yet God basically zapped Nadab and Abihu because they tried to offer fire in a way that the Lord did not prescribe.

How could a good God do this? If we make the mistake of thinking of God as nothing but love then we are at a complete loss. What we need to remember is that God is holy above all else. That is why He would do this. When He gives a rule He isn't kidding about it. There is no, "next time you'll really get it" with God. For these two guys it was one-and-done.

Verse 3 implies that Aaron was going to complain or maybe he did complain a little bit. Moses' words shut him up. Are we just as content with this explanation? I sure want to be.

This seeming pettiness also solves the problem of evil. It assures us that the Lord will enact justice on those who deserve it. We still have a problem though if we think that we do not deserve this kind of condemnation. All of us deserve it, which is why Jesus' death on the cross was so incredible.

Using the System

Acts 25:10-11
(10) But Paul said, "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourselves know very well.
(11) If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar."

It seems to me that Paul wanted the Roman government to take him to Rome so that he could preach the gospel there. He used the system to his advantage since he could have been acquitted. He knew what would happen to him there, but he went anyway. He did this all for the sake of the gospel.

Are you looking for little things that could help you to spread the gospel? I don't just mean leaving tracts around, but actually talking to people about it? Maybe Facebook would help. I don't know. All I do know is that Paul had quite an opportunistic approach to sharing the gospel.

I think of this sort of thing with my running. It was bitter cold this Saturday morning (below 20) and I didn't go out. I was not happy about it though. There are other times when I'm happy for the excuse to sleep in. I want to be in the mindset where I want to do the hard thing and am upset when I can't. The reverse is what my flesh desires. That goes just as much for sharing the gospel.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Brevity of Life

Psalms 39:4-7
(4) "O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!
(5) Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah.
(6) Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
(7) "And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.

The Psalmist here understood something very profound. Our lives are completely meaningless apart from a Creator. If the world is truly as old as the Naturalists claim then we are here for barely a speck of time. Relatively speaking, it will take you several lifetimes to read this short post.

If we are nothing more than a blob of chemicals I don't understand why we should ever do anything good for anyone else. Why shouldn't we be completely motivated by self? Why even get upset about the problem of evil? The world is a cruel place and only the strong survive it. That doesn't seem so bad to us until we fall out of the group of the strong. Then we want some help. But why help those who need it when it will be to our disadvantage?

I am glad to know a personal Creator who gives my life meaning. Of course, that meaning is bound up in His glory. By myself I really am just a blob of chemicals. My own desires need to be aligned with His desires. He is jealous for His glory, which is only fair because as the Creator He is the only one worthy of that kind of honor.

This is something on which I need to spend some time in reflection today. It is such a privilege to know God and it is only possible because of the love He displayed at Calvary.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Biding Time

Psalms 34:17-22
(17) When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
(18) The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
(19) Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
(20) He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
(21) Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
(22) The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Passages like these become nonsensical if we do not keep an eternal view. I have cried for help in trouble and did not receive the help I wanted at the time. Countless martyrs have died terrible deaths, so does that mean verse 19 is wrong?

The Lord does stay near to the brokenhearted. He does ultimately save them as well. However, this must be viewed through the long lens. It is always true from an eternal perspective. This is how we make sense of evil in the world too. God will take care of His own in eternity, but it may not seem like it in this world.

This is also why I have such a hard time with the prosperity message. What do those folks do in times like this when the economy is faltering? What do they do when someone gets sick? Are those churches being winnowed down because of the evidence of lack of faith in so many members who are laid-off? Or are those who still have their jobs just encouraging those without to develop a stronger faith so that God will provide the temporal riches that He supposedly promises?

God will take care of His own. It just will be on His timetable rather than ours.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fear the Creator

Psalms 33:6-8
(6) By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
(7) He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses.
(8) Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!

The one thing that got me from atheism to agnosticism is to ask why there is something instead of nothing. Any effect must have a cause. That cause must be somehow outside of the effect. It is just logically true. I suppose that if you wanted to take a pantheistic or panenetheistic view of things you could say that the universe is God and is self-existent. However, that doesn't seem to square with reason in my book. Plus, from what I understand, infinity past is a logical impossibility.

I know that men much smarter than me disagree, but it makes more sense to me to see the universe as created by something external to it than Carl Sagan's view that the universe always was and always will be. Sagan was describing some of the attributes of God when he made that statement each week. But, to him, the universe was God.

I think verse 8 is where we find the tipping point. Either we get off the throne of our own lives and acknowledge that there is a Creator who we can't quite understand, or we become the arbiters of what is true about the universe. Frankly, I don't feel equipped to make those kinds of decisions. I can't prove that God exists, but neither can anyone prove that He doesn't. I just happen to think that belief in God requires less faith than the alternative.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Right Reverence

Exodus 20:18-21
(18) Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off
(19) and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die."
(20) Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin."
(21) The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

God displayed a tiny fraction of His glory to the people so that they would revere Him and not sin. Of course, this worked for a time and they pretty quickly fell away while in the wilderness.

It's easy to skip over much of the Old Testament because we think that it doesn't apply to us. But how can we understand the book of Hebrews unless we also have the book of Leviticus? (more on that later in the month) How can we truly appreciate what Christ did for us unless we have a sense of the majesty and holiness of God?

We want a tame God that we can control. We don't want one that appears to us as a smoky hurricane. We want the sweet baby Jesus, not the Revelation 19 Jesus. However, as C.S. Lewis put so well, He's not exactly a tame lion, is he?

Let us properly revere God. However, unlike the Israelites on the mountain, let us also approach Him thanks to the fact that Jesus tore down the veil of the temple, amen?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Time to Rest

Exodus 16:19-30
(19) And Moses said to them, "Let no one leave any of it over till the morning."
(20) But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.
(21) Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
(22) On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses,
(23) he said to them, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.'"
(24) So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it.
(25) Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field.
(26) Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none."
(27) On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none.
(28) And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?
(29) See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day."
(30) So the people rested on the seventh day.

I know that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. I don't believe that the commandment about the Sabbath applies to us in the New Covenant. However, I also know that God instituted the Sabbath for the people. Here we see the people's lack of faith in the desert, which of course is a recurring theme for them. First, they gathered more manna than they needed for the day despite Moses' instructions. They paid the price with some nasty containers.

Now look at verse 27. Some people still thought that they had to work on the Sabbath so they went out to gather the manna. God provided plenty on Friday, but they thought they had to violate the rules because somehow God wasn't going to provide that day. Or perhaps they were trying to get ahead.

Again, I don't think that the Sabbath regulations apply to us today. They especially don't in the form that the Pharisees made where it was illegal to walk on the grass on the Sabbath because you might break a blade of grass and therefore be guilty of "reaping" on the Sabbath. However, I also know that I need to have a little more faith that things will work out even if I am not completely driven. I very much have the mindset that I need to get ahead all the time. From day 1 of seminary I purposed to be Hermione Granger academically since I really want to know this stuff for the glory of God.

However, the more I think about this passage the more I think that I need to trust God enough to rest more often. The key will be finding the balance point. I don't want to be lazy either. I do want to make sure that I am really present when I'm with my family though. I make fun of people who always have their Blackberries out when they're supposed to be having "family time." Is going through flashcards any different?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Time to Go

I just finished reading about the plagues in Exodus. God promised Moses that eventually Pharaoh would force them to leave. After the plagues they certainly did become a stench in the nose of the Egyptian leadership.

However, I think we also tend to ignore the other side of this. As we see in the desert, the Israelites looked back at Egypt with some sense of fondness. I can't help but wonder if the plagues also helped to motivate them to leave? After all, few of us really like to make that big of a change unless we absolutely have to. They had food and water. Yes, life was tough, but it was easier than some of what they faced in the wilderness.

Sometimes I wonder if God uses circumstances to show us that it is time to move. However, I also think we need to be careful with that. I think James 1 shows us that trials are for our sanctification (as does 1 Peter 1). Therefore, we shouldn't be too quick to move at the first hint of discomfort.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Plea For Mercy

Psalms 25:6-7
(6) Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
(7) Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

If we are in Christ we can pray this. We can ask the Lord not to remember our transgressions. I know that I have plenty of baggage from my past that I would love never to bring to mind again. Yet the Lord will not remember it if we are washed by the blood of Jesus.

This is the sort of mercy that I know we are also to have toward others. What a challenging passage!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How God Uses Evil

Genesis 50:18-21
(18) His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants."
(19) But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?
(20) 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.
(21) So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

This is one of the most often-quoted passages of Genesis, at least in the circles I run in. This is at the very end of the book and right after Jacob died. Joseph's brothers are terrified that he will enslave them as retribution for what they did to him. Yet he shows them compassion.

First of all, I think that this is a great example of grace in action. Joseph models forgiveness for us in an incredible way. I don't think too many of us have been wronged to the degree Joseph was and yet we are often not so quick to forgive.

However, I think that this passage also speaks to the nature of God. Many wonder how a good God can allow evil in the universe. It's a fair question. Why doesn't He just clean it up? He will someday, but in the meantime He uses it according to His purposes to further His plan. In this case, He used the sin of Joseph's brothers to save a good bit of the world from a famine.

Why didn't He just stop the famine? That too is a good question. This to me speaks to the ultimate purpose in how God acts. He does things for His glory because that is ultimately the only thing that truly matters in the world. He derived greater glory from the record of this story than He would have from averting the famine. Also, the people would not have a story of the Exodus were it not for this famine bringing them to Egypt.

All of this goes back to the garden. If Adam and Eve had made the right choice none of this would matter. Yet ultimately their sin will bring God glory.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

2 More Credits

I just got back from my final exam in my parables class. I guess it's a little premature to give myself 2 more credits since I still have a fair amount of work to do for the class. However, it is nice to have the classwork behind me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Offer to All

Acts 11:17-18
(17) If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?"
(18) When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."

I think it's nearly impossible for us 21st century Gentiles to understand this passage fully. It was tough for the initial disciples to get their minds around the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah. However, they were looking for Him. He wasn't quite what they expected, but at least they saw Him coming.

However, the idea of salvation coming to the Gentiles was completely foreign to them. How could God save the unclean Gentiles? Yet Peter's dream and this conversation with the brothers shows that was indeed God's plan.

God is calling everyone to Him. If you are in His family I hope that you are continually in awe of this fact. I know that I pray for a deeper sense of awe and gratitude about it. If you are not in His family, please know that there is always room at the table to adopt one more.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Hermeneutics and Parables

As we discuss parables in class we try to answer four questions:
  1. What background information would help to clarify this parable?
  2. What contextual information is important?
  3. What does the parable mean?
  4. What applications can we get from this parable?
Number 1 is a bit tricky because I believe in the perspicuity of Scripture. However, we agreed in class that some background information can give color and depth to the teaching of a parable. For example, in the parable of the unjust steward we know that he owed his master 10,000 talents, but he choked his servant over 100 denarii. It's pretty clear from the context that he owed his master more than his servant owed him, but it does help to understand that a talent was roughly 20 years' wages, while a denarius was roughly one day's wage. In other words, he owed his master more than the gross national product of many third-world countries, while he was owed a significant, but not unpayable sum. This does add a bit of depth to the teaching.

The question of context is also interesting. We tend to look behind a story for context, but I found it interesting that this parable appears just before Jesus' teaching on divorce (Matthew 18-19). Is it significant that there are all these teachings on forgiveness just before the discussion on divorce? I believe that the gospel writers were redactors in that they arranged their gospels for a theological purpose. If that is true, then it only makes sense that there would be teaching on forgiveness just before an admonishment about divorce. How can we prevent divorce without a solid foundation on forgiveness?

The meaning of the parable should be fairly clear. If a parable does not have a clear meaning then Jesus really was not a master teacher. This is where we need to be careful about going off the allegorical deep end like many of the church fathers did. The swine in the parable of the two sons (prodigal son) don't represent demons like Origen thought. Rather, they tell the reader that this Jewish boy sunk about as low as a Jew can sink. They add color to the story, but they are not necessarily representative of something else.

Finally, the applications can be quite extensive. The parable of the unjust steward shows us that we who have been forgiven much should be willing to forgive as well. We owe an unpayable debt to God because of our sin. Therefore, how much more willing must we be to forgive those who have wronged us? All of their debts to us pale in comparison. If we aren't willing to forgive them then we need to reassess the condition of our hearts because we really don't understand forgiveness at all.

So that's what I've learned in my class so far. We're going to spend the next two days just practicing this. It should be interesting, though potentially tedious at times as well.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Handling the Parables

We talked about the history of interpretation of the parables last night. It's incredible to hear what some of the early church fathers did with them. For example, men like Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine thought that everything in the parables was an allegorical reference to something else. While there is a certain beauty to that, it is also very arbitrary. It's hard to imagine that is what Jesus meant when He first told the stories. How could the typical first-century hearer really understand the depth of the allegory? It seems unlikely.

Of course, the parables do have allegorical elements to them. Jesus explains them as such as in the parable of the sower, for example. The point is that these stories are simpler than some of the church fathers would have us believe.

Last night I had a little bit of a revelation about what I've learned in seminary. Basically, I've learned that the Bible as a whole is much simpler than some would have you think. There are certainly some tensions and difficulties, but it is not completely inscrutable. It does require some scholarship to understand fully, but the main message is not hidden to the basic reader either.

We're talking hermeneutics tonight. I will write more about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Doing Hard Things

My team at work has decided that it is going to try running a 5k this April. I told them about the running plan that Amanda used and they are intrigued. Now we'll see what happens.

I am a bit skeptical about this, but I hope that peer pressure will end up winning the day in the end. It's in the 40s today and drizzling. How many of my colleagues are going to run in this weather?

In other words, we have Gatorade commercials with athletes working very hard to achieve their goals. We have Under Armour commercials with athletes running the steps on the stadium. And so on. They really glorify the hard work that goes into performance. Yet it is clear that so few are willing to put in that kind of work.

That goes for me too. I don't always push myself enough when I run. I don't always dig as deeply into the Bible as I'd like. I don't always work as hard at loving my family as I should. I certainly don't dig as much as I could at work. And so on.

This whole experience brings a few things to mind for me:
  • I need to watch out for pride as I run
  • I need to push harder in areas where I know I need work
  • I need to keep seeking insight into other areas where I need to push harder
I used to work with someone who had the motto "lean into it." I think that is a good motto for life. Am I willing to do it?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Reason for Freedom

Psalms 9:13-14
(13) Be gracious to me, O LORD! See my affliction from those who hate me, O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
(14) that I may recount all your praises, that in the gates of the daughter of Zion I may rejoice in your salvation.

Why does God set sinners like me free? Why does He care about me and take care of me? He does it so that I may recount His praises. He does it so that He might be glorified in my witness about Him. I have a story to tell of God's goodness and love in my life. If I don't tell others about it then there is really very little reason for it. Otherwise it is all about me, and that is not what God had in mind when He set me free.

Of course, I get to enjoy the benefits of freedom, but I can't let it be all about me. I've got to sing His praises.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

An Angry God

Psalms 7:11-13
(11) God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.
(12) If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow;
(13) he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.

Many today reject the teaching of Jonathan Edwards' classic "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But look at how this paragraph:

The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

Flows so naturally from the text I quoted. Edwards didn't pull his view of God out of thin air. Rather, he pulled it from the text of the Bible.

So where do we get the current vision of God as one of nothing but love and hold the wrath? What happened to God's justice and wrath? Without it we have no need for the gospel. We may as well go to Dr. Phil as well as the Bible if all the gospel is for is self-improvement.

Friday, January 02, 2009

How Can We Stop?

Acts 4:15-21
(15) But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another,
(16) saying, "What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
(17) But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name."
(18) So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
(19) But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,
(20) for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
(21) And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.

I feel like verse 20 is maybe a bit overquoted sometimes. However, it is a fantastic reminder of what genuine faith is supposed to look like. Peter and John were strictly forbidden from spreading the gospel any further. Yet because of what they knew to be true they just could not help but tell people about Jesus.

It's taken me a while, but I think I'm starting to get there. I can't believe how long I let myself be oppressed by some emergent thinking. I think that long period of my life helped me to perhaps soften my approach just a bit. I'm less of a jerk with family now, for example. However, in the end, I realize that I am mandated to spread the message of the gospel. After all, there is that speeding truck that is going to crush anyone who wanders out into the street. This is true even if they are ignorant.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Finding Grace

Genesis 6:5-9
(5) The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
(6) And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
(7) So the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them."
(8) But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
(9) These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.

The typical Sunday School curriculum inverts verses 8 and 9. The general idea is that Noah was an exception to all the wickedness in the world and, therefore, he found favor in the eyes of the Lord. However, I don't think that is what the text says. It looks to me like for some reason Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord and then he was a righteous man. We learn later that Noah liked to hit the bottle from time to time. That hardly sounds like he was perfect and that is why he found favor, does it?

In other words, everything starts with God's grace. The word translated "favor" could also mean "grace." It started with God choosing Noah and then Noah became righteous.

We need to be careful about inverting this order. Otherwise we might begin to think that God is really lucky to have us on His team when we forget that He is the one who chose us for the team in the first place.