Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Day 31: Leviticus 4, 5 and 6

If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally... (Leviticus 4:2)

When Leviticus uses the phrase sins unintentionally, it might be better rendered as wanders away into sin, or does wrong. Ignorance of the law was no excuse. If someone (or a group) engaged in actions or behaviors and only later found out those things were infractions of the law, he was (they were) still guilty. The real difference between the sin offering and the guilt offering was that the sin offering was for more general sins, while the guilt offering included restitution for harming or injuring another person.

Whether between persons, or between humanity and God, these laws are for maintaining relationship and restoring that relationship once it has been broken.

An interesting component of this passage is the concept of community sin. Too often we think of sin as only an individual’s offense rather than allowing for the idea of sin shared by the entire community. The church is not innocent of wrongdoing. Whether it’s the crusades, the Inquisition, genocide of native peoples in the name of manifest destiny, dehumanizing women, Blacks and now gays and lesbians, or our misguided attempt to enforce an Evangelical system of government on the rest of America, the church… the Christian community is not innocent.

There are sins for which our communities (countries, political parties, religions, denominations, congregations, ethnic groups, genders, etc.) need to repent.

How will you, as part of the church, encourage or facilitate repentance in the Christian community this week?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Day 30: Leviticus 1, 2 and 3

Season all your grain offerings with salt. (Leviticus 2:13)

The inclusion of salt in grain offerings was probably linked to salt’s preservative properties. In the absence of their Egyptian Frigidaires, the traveling Israelites preserved their food supplies with salt. Salt in the grain offering signified the lasting nature of the covenant between Israel and Yahweh.

One of the attributes of humans is that we have long memories when someone offends us and short memories when we make a promise. As the years pass our firm commitments lose their significance and seemingly don’t hold as much weight as they once did.

By adding salt to their offerings, the people of Israel were reminding themselves that they could trust God to keep his promises. These laws were traditionally enacted at Sinai where Israel camped the first year after leaving Egypt. Seventy years later, in his farewell address Joshua reminds the nation that God has been faithful from the time of the exodus right up to when each family received their promised inheritance in Canaan. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled (Joshua 23:14).

And maybe God was reminding them that their promises were meant to be kept as well. Salt does more than raise our blood pressure and season our food. In Israel’s case it was intended to reinforce their commitments.

What promise will you keep this week?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 29: Exodus 37, 38, 39 and 40

When Moses set up the tabernacle, he put the bases in place, erected the frames, inserted the crossbars and set up the posts. (Exodus 40:18)

During their nine months camped at Sinai, the people of Israel have gathered materials, woven fabrics, tailored priestly garments, and built the tabernacle and everything that goes with it. Their accomplishments are a testimony to the benefits of working cooperatively with others focused on the same goal.

All the Levites had a part in the creative process, either in construction or as craftspeople. And after the creative work was complete, there was still something significant for everyone to set their hands to.

I seriously doubt it was actually Moses who set up the tabernacle, putting the bases in place, erecting the frames, inserting the crossbars and setting up the posts. There were teams responsible for all those tasks. And yet who gets the credit? Moses.

Any good leader knows that when his team accomplishes something grand, even though he might get the credit, it's really the people working behind the scenes who deserve the accolades. We only know the names of a scattered few craftsmen who contributed to the work of the tabernacle, but there must have been hundreds. Just as 4/5 of an iceberg sits beneath the surface of the water and is not visible to the casual observer, there are many unseen, unsung people who are deserving of our thanks when things go right.

To whom do you owe a thank you?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Day 28: Exodus 34, 35 and 36

Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin. (Exodus 34:9)

Twice in the previous two chapters, God refers to Israel as stiff-necked. The first time (32:9) he was informing Moses on Mt. Sinai of the people’s sin in creating the golden calf. His intention was to destroy the nation and start over with a people from the line of Moses himself. Moses stood between God and the people, pleading for their lives.

The second time occurred after the dust from the first storm had settled. God told Moses he would send an angel ahead of them to drive out the present inhabitants of the Promised Land, but that because of them being stiff-necked, he would not go with them. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you (33:5). I guess that’s what happens when an irresistible force meets an stiff-necked object.

In chapter 34 with things put to right, Moses celebrates God’s mercy and faithfulness. We included his words (34:6,7) in our Day 26 discussion. Then Moses makes his request: If I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance (34:9).

No arguments; we know how we can be. Been there – done that. It may take a lifetime for us to learn to submit. Thank you, Father, for not giving up on us.

Been stiff-necked lately?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Day 27: Exodus 31, 32 and 33

Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. (Exodus 32:14)

1 Samuel 15:29 reads: [God] does not lie or change his mind. One of the classic attributes of God is his immutability – the idea that God does not change. Some have taken this so far as to mean that God never changes his mind, because that would prove he is imperfect. (Picture me with a perplexed look on my face.)

That kind of thinking doesn’t bode well for the Israelites. After the golden calf fiasco, it sounds like God was ready to wipe his chosen people off the face of the earth. Then Moses interceded for them and God relented. Isn’t relented another way of saying changed his mind?

When the biblical writers state that God doesn’t change his mind, they are referring to his character. His character is constant. Who God was yesterday is who God will be tomorrow. We don’t have to worry about him forgiving us today, and then taking it back a week from now, because that would be inconsistent with his character.

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness . . . forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:6,7).

Would you rather have a God who cannot change his mind… ever, or a God who responds to the prayers of his children whom he loves with an everlasting love?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 26: Exodus 28, 29 and 30

Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord. (Exodus 28:29)

This is a good lesson for any pastor, elder, deacon, Sunday School teacher, ministry volunteer, parent, sibling, boss, employee, and anyone else I've left out. Part of Aaron’s official high-priestly garb, in addition to the ephod (similar to a vest), robe, tunic, turban and sash, was a breastpiece. Attached to the breastpiece were twelve stones, each engraved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel. On Aaron’s shoulders were two more stones, each one engraved with the names of six tribes. Here it is referred to as the breastpiece of decision.

On those days when he might not have felt like fulfilling his duties before God, he would be reminded by the stones on his chest and shoulders that in neglecting these things he was not only affecting himself, but neglecting his responsibilities to God's people. And when he entered the Holy Place, the stones would remind him that he was there not only for himself, but as a representative of thousands.

Maybe we don't represent thousands when we enter the Holy Place of God's presence, but someone needs our prayers. God has surely placed at least one name on our hearts.

So let me ask, whose names are written on your chest and shoulders when you go before the Lord in prayer?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day 25: Exodus 25, 26 and 27

Have them make this sanctuary and I will dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)

Tabernacle is a verb meaning to dwell. It can also be a noun and brings to mind different things, such as the traveling tent considered the house of God in the time of Moses.

It also refers to the small huts made by the Jewish people during the Festival of Tabernacles [Booths]. For seven days, the Jewish people lived in small makeshift shelters to connect with their ancestors who traveled through the wilderness.

The root word of tabernacle also gives us the word tavern. In this usage, it would refer to an inn, where travelers could dwell on a temporary basis.

Psalm 90:1 speaks of God being our dwelling place. Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

Ezekiel 37:27 reads: My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God and they will be my people. The bottom line is that God wants to be close to us, to live in us, and for us to live in him. If you need convincing, read this: Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:3). What a blessed promise! We will live with God and God will live with us for all eternity.

This week, how will God’s presence in your life be manifested to those around you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 24: Exodus 22, 23 and 24

If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it. (Exodus 23:5)

Whether these words were spoken by Moses, or (as most critical Bible scholars suggest) were expansions of a later time, they give us a picture of a nation's developing legal interpretation.

All these laws stem from the very first: You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3). Jesus spoke that first commandment like this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). Together with the second greatest commandment, it can be summed up like this: Love God, love people.

Only a life filled with the love of Christ could live up to Exodus 23:5. On the one hand these are not circumstances for which one can plan ahead; they come out of the blue. Not having time to weigh the pros and cons, uur knee-jerk reaction must be motivated by God’s love.

On the other hand, this is a decision that has to be settled ahead of time. Waiting until the opportunity presents itself will likely be too late. One’s heart must already be transformed with love for others.

This week, will you shower with kindness those who can benefit you? …those who will appreciate it? … those who will pay you back? Or will you love your enemies too?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Day 23: Exodus 19, 20 and 21

Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on the earth; for all the earth belongs to me. (NLT, Exodus 19:5)

The NIV translates this verse: …you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine… Even though I love the NIV, including its most recent revision (2011), this is one place they made a bad choice out of touch with the entirety of biblical context. Of major translations, only the NIV and the HCSB choose the word although. The NCV uses even (which communicates the same idea as although), and three translations avoid the problem by either leaving out the word altogether (CEV, GNT) or substituting indeed (NRSV). The ESV, NASB and the NKJV agree with the NLT translators and use the word for.

Why the confusion? The original word can be translated both ways, and translators work from the context to determine which word fits best.

Is God saying, I've chosen you because I love you the best? Or is God saying, I've chosen you because I'm going to use my relationship with you to express my love to the nations? Using the word although communicates the former idea; the word for seems to support the latter, and fits better with the context of all Scripture.

The you in this verse is Israel. What if the you was… you?

How will you intentionally show God’s love to those around you this week?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day 22: Exodus 16, 17 and 18

The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. (Exodus 18:18)

Like most good pastors, Moses doesn't realize it, but he's riding a runaway train toward burnout in his attempt to care for the people who followed him out of Egypt. They depend on him. He knows it and he's feeling the weight of that responsibility.

Thank God for his father-in-law Jethro, who can look at the situation objectively and give the younger man (after all Moses is only 80) some good counsel. We all need a Jethro in our lives. From the very beginning, God never intended us to go it alone. The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

[Choosing capable people who can help you fulfill your mission] will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you . . . and [everyone] will go home satisfied” (18:22,23).

We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3,4).

From Adam and Eve to Moses and Jethro, to the Apostles and their newly appointed deacons, God has never intended us to shoulder the burden alone. That's why he places us in the church; that’s why he puts us in a family.

Are you taking on more that your share of the burden? Is your pastor? What are you going to do about it?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Day 21: Exodus 13, 14 and 15

The Israelites were dressed for fighting when they left the land of Egypt. (Exodus 13:18 – NCV)

This verse sounds like the Hebrews marched out of Egypt with their shoulders back and their chests puffed out - a conquering army, but the truth is in the context. The previous verse reads: When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Exodus 13:17)

The people were dressed for battle, but they were still thinking like slaves. They looked the part of conquerors, but inside their tails were tucked between their legs and they just weren't ready to fight.

It takes more than wearing a uniform to be a soldier. Maybe the Hebrews were feeling a little too cocky, pockets jingling with their neighbors’ gold, and leaving behind the dazed Egyptians reeling from God’s one-two plague punch. Maybe they were itching for a fight they weren't ready for. Were their egos writing checks their bodies couldn’t cash? Either way, God knew that if they tasted battle too soon, they would lose heart, turn tail and run back to Egypt.

Sometimes God sends us into the battle; and other times God knows the better part of valor is in living to fight another day. Either way, to be sure, the battles will come.

When is the last time you prayed through Ephesians 10:6-18?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Day 20: Exodus 10, 11 and 12

Many other people went up with them. (Exodus 12:38)

When I read the story of Moses, I think of an entire nation (I mean this is the original mass exodus) of Israelites crossing the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians. The people, the animals, the carts and the belongings: all kosher. But Jacob’s children are not alone. The truth is this group is not nearly as pure pedigreed as we sometimes take for granted. Others have taken advantage of the plague-induced chaos to hitch their wagons to those of the Hebrews. In fact, this is not the last time other people groups will be folded into Israel.

There's something about finding freedom that attracts other people. Maybe they’ve been stuck in their old ways for such a long time that it has started to seem natural – like it’s the way it’s supposed to be. But seeing someone else break free of their chains causes them dissatisfaction with theirs. If it had not been for Moses leading his people out of slavery, chances are many others would have settled for the status quo. They would have stayed where they were and got along as best they could. But deep down they wanted what Israel had. When the Hebrews gathered their belongings, their neighbors likewise packed up and headed out of Dodge.

When God's people walk in freedom, there's no telling how many others will be delivered as a result. Who brought you to Christ?

Who’s following your lead?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day 19: Exodus 7, 8 and 9

I have raised you up for this very purpose. (Exodus 9:16)

Did you notice how the magicians matched Moses miracle for miracle at the beginning? (Okay, I know Aaron's rod/snake ate their snakes.) Even though the magicians could unleash some pretty amazing stuff, once it’s out of the box, they can't put it back in. Pharaoh pleaded with Moses: Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me.

The gnats were gnext. (See what I did there?) The magicians try but cannot produce. Then with the flies is where things get really interesting. God makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites. From this point on, the plagues are specifically aimed at Pharaoh and his people.

Here's our highlighted verse in its entirety: But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

Do you remember the words of Mordecai to his niece Esther? Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)

The further my walk takes me, the more I realize the importance of submitting my will to God. Esther and Pharaoh were both raised up by God to save the Jewish people and to bring him glory in the process. Esther submitted; Pharaoh did not. How would his story be different if he had?

What difference would it make if you honestly said, “Thy will be done”?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day 18: Exodus 4, 5 and 6

You have not rescued your people at all. (Exodus 5:23)

We are continuing our discussion from yesterday. One benefit of reading the Bible through like we're doing is seeing connections that span several chapters. Let's recap what we've been talking about the past few days. On Day 14 Jacob was singing, Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me. On Day 15 he exclaimed, My son Joseph is still alive! On Day 16 Jacob looked back over his life and saw the beautiful work of art God had made from all its seemingly disjointed pieces. Leave Genesis behind and open Exodus on Day 17: The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out to God. And today, with things apparently taking a turn for the worse, Moses accuses God: You have not rescued your people at all.

In The Clowns of God, the middle book from Morris West's papal trilogy, deposed Pope Gregory XVII, birth name Jean Marie Barette, cries out to God in desperation: Why do you ask me to make so many bricks with so little straw?

Time after time, story after story, God's people give up before God does. Perhaps because they cannot see the endgame, they think God has forfeited, not realizing they just don't understand his strategy. We would do well to remember that allowing things to get worse before they get better might just be a very necessary component of God's plan for our deliverance.

Is God working in your pain?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 17: Exodus 1, 2 and 3

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. (Exodus 2:23)

In the opening chapters of Exodus we find the Pharaoh who knew and valued Joseph is long dead and current leadership sees Jacob’s descendants as at best a commodity to be exploited, and at worst a liability to be eliminated. Moses, though raised in the palace, bristles at the treatment of his people and determines to do something about it. His lack of impulse control leads to murder, which forces him to run and spend the next 40 years of his life in hiding.

In the mean time, the Israelites cry out for rescue; God hears their prayer and sets the wheels of deliverance in motion. Predictably, due to impatience or lack of faith (or both) the Israelites grumble against their God. They accuse Moses, God’s instrument, of making things worse for them rather than better.

It boils down to tunnel vision. They have expectations that God will come through for them, and probably have the how and when orchestrated in their own minds, but God refuses to dance to their choreography. God has a plan in the works and doesn’t need their advice. And because God works differently than they expect, they don't even see him coming. They have no idea he is working in their midst.

When you cry out for God’s help, do you tell him what to do and how to do it?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Day 16: Genesis 47, 48, 49 and 50

Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. (Genesis 47:31)

I can envision this old man (even though some might say he seemed young for 130), full of years and full of life, looking out over the land of Goshen, but not seeing the fields or the sheep. He was seeing the years of his life - conspiring with his mother to get his brother's blessing, the twenty years working for his Uncle Laban, wrestling with God (at this point he automatically and without thinking reaches down to massage his hip), his reunion with Esau, the death of his sweetheart Rachel, the loss of his son Joseph; Jacob - an accomplished deceiver - now deceived by his sons, the famine, his astonishment at hearing Joseph was alive, and then seeing him once again, second-in-command over all Egypt.

What a life! There was good and there was bad. There had been things that brought him shame and some that had brought him honor. There were times God's will was accomplished in his life, not in cooperation with Jacob, but in spite of Jacob. It was like a tapestry being woven from the day of his birth, some of the threads beautiful, and some ugly. Only now, in looking back, was he able to see the hand of his God - the God of Abraham, Isaac and yes, the God of Jacob.

Could the things you fret about today actually be revealed as threads of a beautiful tapestry tomorrow?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day 15: Genesis 43, 44, 45 and 46

My son Joseph is still alive! (Genesis 45:28)

Jacob’s favorite son had been sold into slavery by his brothers. The evidence they planted convinced him Joseph had been torn apart by wild animals. Meanwhile their brother was transported to Egypt where, without God’s involvement, there was no way the family would ever be reunited.

Time attenuates but does not erase a father’s loss. Then Canaan is hit with the worst famine Jacob can remember from his considerably long lifetime. Who would have thought this hunger sweeping his land would give Jacob reason to rejoice after everything he’d been through? Apparently the fat lady hadn’t yet begun to sing.

Jacob’s sons return from their latest trip with the incredible news that Joseph, the beloved son Jacob had long thought dead, is not only alive and preparing a place for them in Egypt, but he’s running the place! No screenwriter in Hollywood could have conceived this God-ordained turn of events. Though we may not know details of how our story will end, isn’t it good to know we can trust God to work everything out for the good?

The Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me of chapters 37 and 42 becomes the Hallelujah Chorus of chapter 46. Could it be the very events that are causing you pain today will be the catalyst for rejoicing in days to come? Whether we have a good day or a bad day often boils down not to circumstances, but to perspective.

How's yours?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Day 14: Genesis 40, 41 and 42

Everything is against me! (Genesis 42:36)

This is a familiar story about famine in the Middle East, and a father trying to save his family from starvation by finding food wherever it could be found. In this case food was available in Egypt. Ten of his eleven sons (a twelfth had died from an animal attack) had already made one trip. They brought back food and supplies but had to leave another son Simeon behind. Now they need food again, but have been warned not to come back unless they bring their youngest brother.

Jacob had already lost Rachel his wife and Joseph his favorite son. Simeon was imprisoned in Egypt and now he was being asked to risk losing Benjamin his youngest son, the only remaining child of his wife Rachel. It seemed to him one more loss and he would die. But without food they would all die. And yet not all was as it seemed.

What appeared to him as misfortune, (Gloom, despair and agony on me...) was actually the providential hand of God getting ready to grant his wildest dream. Jacob had no idea how God was working in the background or what he had in store for him and his family.

When was the last time you asked, Ever had one of those days? Kind of changes the meaning, doesn't it?

Have you ever had one of those days when God was working in your behalf, but you couldn't see it?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 13: Genesis 37, 38 and 39

While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord . . . showed him kindness. (Genesis 39:20,21)

Here we have another one of those Bible quotes that just doesn't sound right: While Joseph was in prison, God showed him kindness. I might have had the attitude: If you want to show me kindness, GET ME OUT OF HERE! Better yet, if you were really on my side why did you let me get thrown in here in the first place? And yet Joseph was in prison for a substantial length of time – estimates suggest as much as ten years.

This son of privilege held captive in an African prison seems somehow changed from the young man sporting his brightly colored coat. The younger Joseph had his father wrapped around his little finger and took pride in parading that fact among his brothers, flaunting his position as the favorite. Joseph among the Egyptians is still a confident man, sure of his relationship with God and willing to stand by his dreams, but this foreign national has been humbled through hardship – first being sold into slavery by his own brothers, then falsely accused of being a sex offender and tossed into prison.

Just goes to show our plans don’t always get us where God wants us to go. My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8)

Have you ever been humbled? Did it feel like God was being kind to you?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 12: Genesis 34, 35 and 36

Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me.” (Genesis 34:30)

This is one of the R-Rated stories of the Bible. Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem, son of the local chieftain. To make things worse, Shechem’s townspeople thought they would use this crime to their advantage and cheat Jacob out of his livestock and property (how’s that for depraved?). When Dinah’s brothers heard about the attack, they hatched a plan to avenge her. When the dust had settled, Shechem and his fellow citizens were dead.

Jacob panicked. What have you done? What if the other towns of this land join forces against us? We’ll be destroyed!

Three days ago we read about a dispute involving Jacob’s father Isaac. He chose the non-confrontational route when some Philistine hotheads plugged up his wells. There’s something to be said for diplomacy and allowing cooler heads to prevail. It sounds like Jacob would also have preferred avoiding confrontation. But now it was too late. His children’s impulsive reaction could not be taken back.

When the enemy is bigger and stronger, it’s usually wise to tactfully negotiate a settlement that doesn’t include getting your butt kicked. But sometimes the most important question is not, What are my odds? Sometimes the principles are important enough that someone has to stand up for what’s right. Is it possible there are times when it’s better to go down fighting than to compromise?

When is diplomacy the best path? When is confrontation necessary?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day 11: Genesis 31, 32 and 33

Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. (Genesis 33:4)

Let’s face it, Jacob was the nerd and Esau was the jock. While Esau was out hunting, Jacob leveraged a bowl of soup against his brother’s hunger for a double portion of the inheritance. Then Jacob – mama’s boy all the way – cooperated with his mother’s plan to cheat Esau out of his blessing too. No surprise, his wheeling and dealing led to a death sentence of sorts, and he hightailed it out of Dodge to save his life. He found a safe haven working for his uncle, which gave him not only room to breathe, but also time to start a family and amass considerable wealth of his own.

Now, twenty years after cheating Esau out of his birthright, Jacob returns home. How will he be received by the brother who swore to kill him?

In reading this chapter, one might be tempted to say, Happy ending! But this is not the end of the story. Esau settled his extended family in the hill country of Mt. Seir, near the southern tip of the Dead Sea, to the south and east of Israel. Esau got a bowl of soup; Jacob got an inheritance, and their descendants were enemies for a thousand years. Was it worth it?

Ever congratulate yourself for taking advantage of a sweet deal only to find out later the price was higher than you originally thought?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 10: Genesis 28, 29 and 30

The Lord will be my God. (Genesis 28:21)

Jacob, his father Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham were not monotheistic – that is they did not believe in the existence of only one God. They were henotheistic. Henotheism is the belief that one god is superior among a range of other lesser gods. It can also mean choosing to worship only one god, even though one still believes in the existence of other gods.

Listen to Jacob: If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God (Genesis 28:20,21).

Some might say the First Commandment betrays the same belief during the time of Moses. You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3). What about during the time of Joshua? As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15). Jacob traveled to Haran in approximately 1700-1650 B.C. The nation of Israel's repeated flirtations with its neighbors’ gods wouldn't stop until its Babylonian exile, between 587 and 536 B.C., over a thousand years later.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God makes it clear: I am the Lord and there is no other (45:5 – also vv. 6 and 18). And yet we worship all kinds of other gods, don’t we?

Who (or what) receives your worship?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Day 9: Genesis 25, 26 and 27

He moved from there and dug another well. (Genesis 26:22)

Ever notice there's a lot of biblical material about Abraham and Jacob, but not that much about Isaac? Most of the Isaac accounts have Isaac being passive while things happen to him like, for instance, when his father lays him out on the altar of sacrifice, or when his wife and child conspire to trick him into blessing the wrong son.

For a time Isaac lived among the Philistines. Because they were envious of his riches and nervous about his family's strength, they filled up all his wells. He dug a new well, and the Philistines filled it up and it sunk into the swamp. He dug another well and... that one burnt down, fell over and sunk into the swamp. So he dug another well, and finally the Philistines left that one alone and it was the finest well in all the land. (For those who didn't notice, there is perhaps a small amount of poetic license included in this account.)

Isaac is to be commended for his response. I would probably have come back with a few other knee-jerk reactions: 1) throw a tantrum; 2) quit and go home; or 3) beat the daylights out of the Philistines.

Isaac didn't do any of these things. He just moved down the road, dug another well, and waited to see what would happen. That time, the Philistines left him and his well enough alone.

What can Isaac teach you?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day 8: Genesis 22, 23 and 24

He reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. (Genesis 22:10)

The account of Abraham's near sacrifice of his son on Mount Moriah is dear to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike… with some significant differences in the Muslim telling. Although the Quran does not give the child’s name, most Muslim accounts state it was Ishmael that Abraham took to the mountain, not Isaac.

Do you notice the parallel between Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son borne to him by Sarah, and God's willingness to sacrifice his only begotten Son?

With his hand grasping the knife, do you think Abraham breathed a sigh of relief when he was restrained from killing Isaac and the ram was provided to take his place? Do you think a person of Jewish tradition (if that person could put aside his worldview long enough to imagine that Jesus might have been God's Son), in reading the crucifixion account, would have noticed the parallel? As the Son was readied for sacrifice, what would that reader's expectation be? Perhaps as the hammer arced (or arcked – awkward) through the air to connect with the nail and pierce Christ's hands and feet, would the Jewish reader expect God to make a substitution? A perfect lamb in place of his Son?

But no substitution was made. Christ was the substitution.

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain. (Revelation 5:12)

Have you paused lately to thank God for providing a Lamb in your place?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Day 7: Genesis 19, 20 and 21

Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains. (Genesis 19:30)

When Lot and his family were rushed out of Sodom, the angels told them to run for the mountains: Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away! (19:17)

Instantly Lot started back pedaling. Yeah,… about that. I’m not overly fond of the mountains, you know – vertigo, and all that – dry skin. Couldn’t Witness Protection set us up in a nice little villa somewhere in the valley?…like Zoar?

Why did Lot resist the angels’ counsel to head for the mountains? Did he have ulterior motives? It seems he left Sodom begrudgingly, and didn’t want to relocate any further away than absolutely necessary. Maybe he underestimated the coming destruction, or was he living in denial? As an objective observer, I think he was holding on to something.

Then the sun came up (vs 23) and Lot shuddered to look at the devastation happening all around him. A tenuous oasis centered in a desert of destruction, suddenly Zoar didn’t look like the vacation getaway it seemed before the sky started raining fire.

And sometime in there Lot’s wife looked back. Was she making sure she and her family were safe? Or was it a look filled with resentment for the life she’d left behind? It was her undoing.

Hey, those mountains don’t sound so bad after all.

Have you ever tried to talk God out of something only to find out later He really does know best?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Day 6: Genesis 16, 17 and 18

You are the God who sees me. (Genesis 16:13)

This is the story of Sarah’s Egyptian slave girl Hagar. Abraham and Sarah lived in Egypt for a time, and that is no doubt when Abraham procured Hagar for his wife. But Hagar is not an Egyptian name; it’s Hebrew, and means forsaken. What father would name her that? Her Hebrew name, likely given by her mistress, makes her story all the more fascinating.

After Hagar got pregnant with Abraham’s child, she despised Sarah and in return Sarah mistreated her, provoked by jealousy. When Hagar (Forsaken) could take it no more, she ran away to the most forsaken place she could find – the desert. There she had an encounter with God, who assured her that her cries had been heard.

As a woman, a foreigner and a slave, Hagar had no standing in society, and yet the God of the universe found her in the wilderness, met with her and comforted her there. And in the loneliest place on earth she gave God a new name: You are the God who sees me. Can't you almost hear her? Even though I am forsaken, you are the God who does not forsake me. Even though I am rejected, you are the God who does not reject me. Even though I am unseen, you are the God who sees me.

The next time you feel forsaken, rejected, forgotten and maybe even invisible, can you take comfort in knowing that God sees you?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Day 5: Genesis 13, 14 and 15

The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. (Genesis 15:16)

God warns Abram that his descendants will be enslaved in a foreign land for a time. Even though this sojourn in Egypt was one of metamorphosis – they went down as a family and returned as a nation – it has been portrayed as a tragic period in their lives.

But what was going on in Canaan during the 400 years Abraham's descendants were away? What was percolating under the surface? The writer states that a wickedness was taking hold of the Amorite people – a wickedness that had had not yet reached its full measure.

What would have become of the Hebrew people (though they weren’t yet called that) if they had remained in Canaan? Is it possible the wickedness that had taken root in the Amorites, and was now growing like a cancer, would have infected the twelve tribes of Jacob, too?

Providence often works in the dark. What seems bad at the time, just might turn out for good: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). God loved Israel and was definitely working out his purpose through them. As bad as the Egyptian enslavement might have been, something even worse could have befallen them if they had remained in Canaan.

Can you look back and see how some hard times have turned out for the best?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 4: Genesis 10, 11 and 12

When they came to Haran, they settled there. (Genesis 11:31)

Some authorities say Genesis 12:3 (And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – NASB) is the pivotal verse of the Old Testament. That may be, but right now it's a verse in Chapter 11 that catches my attention: Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. (Genesis 11:31).

Terah wanted to take his family to Canaan. It was a long journey (see map with Haran labeled Charan). ...when they reached the city of Haran, they settled there. When I read that, my brain takes me in two different directions.

First, I can't get past the word settled. How often do we have a God-given goal in mind, yet stop half-way, settling for something less than God intended? Is that what happened to Terah? Or...

Second, ...can the journey to where God is leading us take more than just one generation? Sometimes we are blessed to take our families all the way; and at other times our kids or even our grandkids will finish the journey we began. Maybe they’ll look back and say, Thanks, Grandma and Grandpa for taking us as far as you could. We wouldn’t have made it without you.

How far have you come on your journey?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day 3: Genesis 7, 8 and 9

Take with you . . . two of every kind of unclean animal. (Genesis 7:2)

When my boys were small, we had a beautiful Noah’s Ark print framed in their bedroom. Of the many artists’ renderings of Noah’s Ark I’ve seen, I think every single one had the animals assembled two-by-two. Even a casual reading of the story reveals that whereas chapter 6 calls for two of every kind of animal, chapter 7 calls for 7 (or maybe 7 pairs) of every kind of bird and every kind of clean animal.

Never mind this is pre-Moses and pre-law, and that animals have not yet been catalogued as clean and unclean; or for that matter never mind that it would seem humanity is still vegetarian (it is not until chapter 9 that God gives man permission to eat meat, so what would an unclean designation even mean?); it is nonetheless interesting that God specifies the rescue of unclean animals.

If God cares enough to orchestrate the preservation of the human race, of whom the writer of Genesis states: Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (6:5), and even went the extra mile to rescue not only clean but also unclean animals, should it come as any surprise when God hears our prayers when we find ourselves in deep waters?

Maybe this isn’t just a kids’ story. How often has God preserved you through difficult times?

What’s that say for approaching storms on your radar?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Day 2: Genesis 4, 5 and 6

Is it my job to take care of my brother? (NCV, Genesis 4:9) 

A while back, my family took a train trip to our nation's capital. We lived for a time in suburban D.C. on the Maryland side, but it had been awhile since we'd visited.

We were surprised to encounter so many homeless. On a cold and rainy Sunday morning there were large numbers of impoverished people bundled in dirty blankets sheltered against the elements. At least three people came up to us asking for money, and that's not counting the wonderful street musicians. I found myself very uncomfortable and avoiding eye contact, as if that made me less responsible to help.

Cain's question was my question. I was seeking plausible deniability, as if by not seeing, I was absolved of my responsibilities.

Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you? We avoided eye contact to limit our liability! Okay, I added that last part... but you get the point, right?

In the coming days, you will have to make a choice. Sooner or later you're going to come into contact with a brother or sister who needs help. You will choose to either 1) avoid eye contact, or 2) intentionally connect with one of God's precious children. Will you go for plausible deniability, or will you let God touch someone through you?

How have you touched someone's life this week?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day 1: Genesis 1, 2 and 3

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

One of the advantages of reading the Bible through in a year is seeing how diversity and unity can go hand in hand. Sixty-six books, dozens of writers, over a thousand years, and yet the finished product is a beautiful unity, made all the more enticing because of its multiple textures and genres.

In our last post, we focused on the word Omega (the end). Three times God refers to himself as the end, always coupled with Alpha (the beginning). We concluded that even when our struggles seem to be never ending, God is present and faithful and will be with us long after our troubles have been resolved.

Here at the beginning of a new year, and a new excursion through the Scriptures, we focus on the other half – the beginning. Again the unity of the biblical texts catches our eye. In the beginning God created... (Genesis 1:1) I am the Alpha... (Revelation 1:8) You are worthy . . . for you have created... (Revelation 4:11) How beautifully the Word comes full circle.

God still creates; God still re-creates; God is the ultimate artist of beginnings. God is the great Initiator, and is at work even now in initiating new life in us, and new and deeper relationship with us. Behold, I make all things new (Revelation 21:5, KJV).

What does God want to make new in you this year?