Monday, November 17, 2008

jerub-baal the great man of God

Judges 6

One of the great people of the Old Testament is a guy named Gideon. He is introduced in Judges chapter 6. It seems like whenever the people of God begin to walk away from Him there arises on the scene a person who begins to bring attention to the sin of the people. Throughout the Old Testament this is true and we remember these people as great people of faith. It reminds me of Star Wars and the idea of bringing balance to the force. When the dark side would become too strong, or too aggressive a great Jedi would rise up and fight the dark side and eventually bring balance to the force. Gideon was the Luke Skywalker of his time.

Judges chapter 6 begins this way, "Again the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord." There seems to be a recurring theme in the Old Testament. God's chosen people regularly or time and time again would do evil. And the most common sort of evil was following other nations into idol worship. In this case the Israelites have followed the surrounding culture into worshiping an idol named BAAL. Because of this disobedience God allows the Midians to oppress the people of Israel and they finally called out to God for help. Gideon was the answer to that call to God. Gideon took some of his servants out and destroyed the altar to BAAL and sacrificed a bull to God on the rubble. And to me here is the interesting part of the story. When the people of the town saw what had happened they were angry and wanted to kill Gideon for this act. They took their anger to the leader of the town named Joash. Joash gave them this argument. "If BAAL is God then let him deal with Gideon." This seemed to appease the people and it led to them calling Gideon Jerub-Baal which means "Let BAAL contend with him."

Throughout the rest of the story of Gideon the Bible continues to call him Jerub-Baal. The nickname stuck. That's what he became known as around town and to the people of Israel. He stood up for God. His name was changed. He wore that name for the rest of his life. It wasn't exactly an endearing name, but he wore it anyway. It represented a life that was counter cultural and he lived it wherever he went. I don't think he had it printed on his license plate or had t-shirts made up, he simply lived out the name and wherever he went people knew by his name that he had stood up to BAAL, he stood for God, and he lived against the current culture of his day.

May we all wear a new name today. May that name be one that stands for our God. May we do so in spite of our culture. May we live it out in the way we go about life. I don't have to say what our new name is do I?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

controversy

Joshua 13 - 24

In these chapters of the book of Joshua the scripture is very specific about what clan inherits each portion of the promised land. The specifics go down to what group would inherit each portion of land and where the boundaries were for each group. Here is preserved a written verification of who gets what. This is important not only for that day, but even for today. There is nowhere in the world where land is fought over more than in this area. Even today there is controversy and war between Israel and the Arabs who live in the region. The Israeli people believe that they are entitled to this land as a part of their inheritance, but the Arab people believe that they were wrongly driven out of the land. The specifics of Joshua should be a help to the people of Israel, but because the disobeyed God and did not drive out everyone from the beginning there is still controversy about this land today.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

mid-life crisis?

Joshua 6-15

I've always had a little trouble with the way the people of God took over the Promised Land. Why did God want them to destroy everything and especially everyone? I've always understood the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, these cities were extremely wicked. So God brought fire down upon them. But was Jericho and Ai and Jerusalem filled with wickedness? Why were they not given a chance to repent? Why weren't they offered a treaty?

This directive given by God is very different than the God of the New Testament. God is Love. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Where is that God in the Old Testament?

I don't think I have it all figured out, but here is my take for now. God is God. He is in control. He did not have a mid-life crisis somewhere before the New Testament was written. He is still the same God. He is still the same today. He was and is still a holy God. He is incapable of sin. He must punish sin. One of the pillars of the Law is that you should have no other gods before God. I believe that God was compelled to destroy those cities because of their idolatry. In the Old Testament dispensation there was no other way. This sin must be punished. Now since Jesus has been in the world there is hope for everyone. God will allow us to live today so that we might choose to accept the gift of His grace. I don't see any other reason why He would be so harsh in the Old Testament time and why He would be so loving now in the New Testament era. Now there is an alternative. He is still the same God, but with more options.

May I ever be aware that God is a holy God. May I ever be aware that God is a loving God.

exposed

Joshua 6

Joshua chapter 6 describes how the Israelites took the city of Jericho. For six days the army of the Israelites marched around the city of Jericho in silence. I guess the people of Jericho were either scared to death or pretty smug while watching these unorthodox war tactics. If I had to choose I would say that they were smug. They were sitting behind a huge wall, just watching this army walk around their city. There were no acts of overt aggression. No taunts. Not even a pebble thrown toward their wall. Just once a day they would carry this golden box around the wall. Then on the seventh day they kept walking. Not just once around, but twice, then three times until they were on their seventh time around. Then it happened. The guys around the golden box blow their trumpets and the army shouts. And the precious wall that had been a protection began to crumble. I'll bet there were hundreds of men on the wall watching to get a good view of this odd war tactic. The army gave a shout and the wall began to fall. The people of Jericho were probably not feeling quite so smug as the wall came down. Now they are completely exposed.

There are lists and lists of things that we use to hide behind. For every person it is a little different. For some of us we think that we can stay behind our job, or family, or hobby, but those things don't define who we are to God. We can try to hide behind our intellect, our wit, or our personality, but God knows who we really are. There is no wall that can conceal us from the Living God. The bible speaks of another day when there will be a trumpet blast and a shout. On this day all of our walls will be stripped away. We will see God face to face. We will be fully exposed before him.

May we be honest with God now, not waiting until that day to be exposed. May we live in the open with our God so that we will not be ashamed or frightened to see God face to face on that day.

Monday, September 22, 2008

just passing through

Deuteronomy 29

As Moses winds down his address to the people of Israel chapter 29 talks a lot about the covenants. Several times in verses 9-14 Moses references "entering into a covenant" with God. For a Jewish person this imagery was literal. This was the method of those who made covenants: they would set up a demarcation on one side and a demarcation on the other side and those entering into the covenant would "pass through" between the partitions. Jeremiah 34:18 references this "passing through" in connection with a broken covenant in which the leaders of Judah, the priests, officials and people of the land passed between the parts of a slaughtered calf. Moses addresses the people of Israel standing before him and warned them about the covenant that they were about to enter into with God.

You see in just a few days God would part the Jordan river and the Israelites would pass through the Jordan in the same way that they had passed through the Red Sea as they had escaped Egypt. God had kept his promise that he established when they "passed through" the Red Sea and he would keep this covenant which he would establish when they "passed through" the Jordan River.

Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." (1 Corinthians 11)

The new covenant is established with Jesus sacrifice. Jesus sacrifice is validated at the resurrection. Romans 6 says that at baptism we are united with Christ's death, burial and resurrection. When you split the water and "pass through" you are entering into a covenant with God. One established by Jesus death, burial and resurrection. An agreement, a new covenant entered into by faith.

Back to Deuteronomy chapter 29. Verses 23 and following describe what happens to those who abandon the covenant; "The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur - nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Adman and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger."

Sounds like another place that is described as one of torture, one of burning sulfur, a lake of fire. And who will experience this place? Those who abandon the new covenant.

May we be faithful and not abandon the new covenant which was established by God through Jesus death, burial and resurrection and into which we enter into when we pass through the waters of baptism.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

don't go back

Deuteronomy 17

Continuing in the directions that Moses is giving the people of Israel before they take possession of the promised land, Moses gives this instruction in chapter 17.

14 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us," 15 be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, "You are not to go back that way again."


Moses instructions about having a king rule over Israel is interesting to me. First of all, it would be many generations before Samuel would anoint Saul as the first king to rule God's chosen people. But God knew what His people would want. He knew that they would want to be like the other nations around them. There is something about our nature that compels us to want to be like others. To fit in. To want to look like everyone else. That is still true today.

Our girls are headed out today for their first day of pre-school. So we stand on the cusp of a new chapter in their lives which includes education, socialization, personal growth, expanding their world, etc. It also includes the possibility of conformity. We don't know what kids will be in their class or what influence these kids will have on them, maybe not this year in pre-school, but soon. Sooner than we want to admit. Who will they choose as king? Will they want to be like other nations or will they choose Christ to be king in their lives?

I also like the admonition that the king should not return to Egypt, for the Lord says "You are not to go back that way again." How many of us, having been brought out of Egypt want to return. We don't remember the slavery. We don't remember the oppression. What we remember is the security and the things that the Egyptians have that we want. We have freedom but we want slavery. We have a new leader, we want to go back to that familiar Pharaoh.

May we all live as free men. May we not go back that way again.

Friday, August 15, 2008

de-clutter

Deuteronomy 10

Why do we get so caught up in stuff? Most of our lives are consumed with gathering and acquiring stuff. You learn this acutely when you move. We thought we could just put our stuff in a truck and move it down to NC. Who knew we had so much stuff? We just kept bringing things out of that house. And then we got to the attic. I'm surprised our house didn't fall over with the amount of stuff we had in there.

When we were trying to get our house on the market HGTV told us we needed to de-clutter. So we took a bunch of our furniture and clothes and stuff and put it in storage. What we found is that we liked it better that way. There was more room. We didn't feel as closed in. And we never missed the stuff we had put into storage. At our new house in NC we are trying to stay clutter free. That is easier said than done. Since we moved in we have come up with a list of stuff we really "need." Why? We still have some of our junk in storage and our garage is full.

There is a passage in Deuteronomy that gives a new perspective to the stuff we accumulate. Moses is giving his final instructions before he dies and turns the leadership of Israel over to Joshua. In Chapter 10 Moses is recounting the giving of the tablets and the instructions for the ark of the covenant and the duties of the Levites. Verses 8 & 9 indicate that the Levites were to be in charge of the ark and the duties associated with ministering before the Lord and because of this they would not receive a portion of land as an inheritance when the Israelites went into the promised land. Verse 9 explains the reason, "the Lord is their inheritance." Here is the nation of Israel standing on the edge of the promised land and those who have been dedicated to the service of the Lord are given this encouragement, "You won't get an inheritance, the act of serving God will be your inheritance." Better than houses or lands or cattle or herds or servants or stuff is the fact that you have been chosen to minister before the Lord.

(Does everyone know where I am headed?)

1 Peter chapter 2 says that we are "a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." Verse nine says that we have been chosen by God to serve as priests. Old Testament priests' inheritance was the honor of serving the living God. New Testament priests' inheritance is the honor of serving the living God. What stuff gets in the way of us living out our inheritance? Whatever it is... de-clutter. Rest in the all-sufficient God who led the Israelites into the promised land. De-clutter. You will like your spiritual house better that way.

Friday, July 18, 2008

God is good and moving sucks

After three days of packing, cleaning, walk-throughs, home inspections, loading, unloading, driving, & dealing with buyers, sellers, realtors, storage people, uhaul folks, banks, etc. we now have four storage units in two different states and are living out of our suitcases for the next three weeks - two of which I will be in camp. Dave Willis and I used to use the word bumfuzzeled. I guess that's how we feel right now. I really thought I was going to punch a realtor in the neck yesterday while trying to close on our house in Newport News and I'm pretty sure my neighbors heard me cuss in the back yard, ("sorry" - an old Alan Woodward reference that only he, Dave Willis and I would understand)

And at the end of the day the one redeeming thing that helped us get though it all were our friends and family. Wayne played Tetris with our stuff and the back of a UHAUL, Aaron giggled everything onto the truck, Phil Murdock even showed up. (We will never get that futon back together that he took apart) My parents were great. Our neighbors were wonderful even though we were leaving. (we are really gonna miss them) And then Bonnie's folks kept the girls the whole time with a lot going on. Jason Kirkman never acted like I was losing my mind when I changed the plan 25 times on Wednesday and Thursday. Then showed up with Richard on Friday and helped us move into storage. Levi almost got divorced trying to figure a way to help us out and then Chuck Holton showed up.

One story and I might try to sleep. We have been really nervous about our girls leaving everything they know and moving. We have been breaking the news to them slowly and this week started talking about our "new" house. We took them this morning with us to the home inspection to let them see it and maybe get excited about where we are going so that when they realize that we are not going back to our "old" house things will seem better in some way. So I am outside with the inspector and the girls are running around the yard when Mary Catherine (our new neighbor) walks over and asks the girls if they would like to come over and swing with her 5 year old daughter. It was a really nice gesture and something for our girls to look forward to. I'm sure that we have a few tears ahead of us and the next few weeks will be hard living out of a suitcase, but I believe God worked out those details so that Ella and Jane would have a smoother transition.

God is good and moving sucks.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

pure nard

65. Matthew 26:1-16

I can remember when I was growing up a few instances when I was called out in front of everyone. I'm sure I deserved the rebuke, but I can remember the deep feeling of anger for the one who had called me out and embarrassed me in front of the class or group of friends. Have you ever had that happen? I think it happened to Judas in Matthew 26.

This is the passage where Martha (of Mary, Martha and Lazarus fame) anointed Jesus head with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. (Mark says it was pure nard, whatever that means) Matthew and Mark record that some of the disciples made a fuss about using the expensive perfume for this occasion even citing that they could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor. Mark says they rebuked Martha for this lavish expression of her love. Jesus then rebukes them and says what a wonderful thing she had done for him. What I find interesting is that the very next verse says that Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver.

The Gospel of John confirms that Judas was the instigator of the opposition to this act of love and worship. John also explains that Judas was skimming off the top of the monies that the Jesus and the disciples were living on.

I think that Judas saw the wasting of what he thought of as 'his' money and rebuked Martha. Jesus saw this and called him out. In front of everyone. 'Why are you bothering her? What she has done is beautiful.' Here is Judas, called out in front of everyone. I think this made him very angry. Maybe even hatred welled up inside him. This was the fire in his stomach that made him betray Jesus. The love of money, plus the embarrassment of being called out in front of the class equals betrayal.

May I always look into the word of God and into the character of Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to call me out when I am wrong. May the fire in my stomach be the refining fire of the Holy Spirit leading me to become a better servant of Jesus.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

rebuke x 5

65. Deuteronomy 1

There are a couple interesting things about the first verse of the book of Deuteronomy. First, Moses calls together all of Israel for a nationwide rebuke. He didn't call some or just the heads of the families, he speaks to all Israel. There should be no question as to who Moses is speaking to, it is everyone. Second, Moses alludes to the times when the Israelites had angered God. He names the five places where these things happened. So standing before the entire nation Moses simply mentions the places where these things had happened - no need to expound - they obviously knew the offenses they had committed and would be reminded of them by the mentioning of the places where they had happened. For our benefit here they are...

1.in the desert - he rebuked them for their having angered God in the desert by saying, “If only we had died [by the hand of God]” (Exod. 16:3).
2.opposite the red sea - He rebuked them regarding their rebellion at the Red Sea. When they arrived at the Red Sea, they said, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert?” (Exod. 14:11)
3.between Paran and Tofel and Lavan - he rebuked them because of the foolish things they had said about the manna, which was white, saying “And our soul loathes this light bread” (Num. 21:5), and because of what they had done in the desert of Paran through the spies.
4.at Hazeroth - Concerning the insurrection of Korach which took place in Hazeroth
5.and Di-Zahav - He rebuked them for the calf they had made as a result of their abundance of gold, as it is said: “and I gave her much silver and gold, but they made it for Baal” (Hosea 2:10).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

new chapter



It has been a month since I have written anything here and a lot has happened during that time for our family. Probably all six of you who read this blog know that Bonnie and I will be starting a new chapter in our lives starting in August. We have accepted the challenge to plant a church in New Bern, NC. We were not really looking to move to NC, but agreed to pray about the possibility and here we go. After a month of prayer and talking to folks about this idea God challenged us to go. Since we said, "Yes" we have met with many people and told them the news, spent a week in Orlando at the National New Church Conference, and have been trying to get our house on the market to sell. I'm sure it is still going to get worse before it gets better, but at least the ball is rolling.

With this in mind we have a couple prayer requests.

1. Pray for our house to sell in a bad market, and at a good price for us.
2. Pray for our girls as we break the news to them that we are moving.
3. Pray for the kids at Avalon that they would not check out just because we are moving.
4. Pray that God would prepare the people of New Bern to be open to this new church work.

And one request, if you know anyone in that area that might not know God or has fallen away, please send me their contact information.

Thanks!

Friday, April 4, 2008

caduceus


59. Numbers 21:4-9

It surprises me how often in our culture you can find references to biblical stories or people. Here in Numbers 21 there is another. After the Israelites have left Egypt they go through many difficult times and often grumble against Moses and God. They often wish they could go back to Egypt and become slaves again. During one of these times of grumbling, God sent venomous snakes among them. The passage says that the snakes bit them and many of them died. Nice right? So the people did what all of us do when we realize that we are wrong, they begged God to help them. Moses prayed on their behalf and here is what happened:
8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
This symbol of the bronze snake on a pole has been adopted by medical professionals to indicate that hospitals and medical clinics are places where you can get healing. The symbol is called a Caduceus. When you see it, remember that its origin is in the Old Testament and that true spiritual healing is found in another symbol we often see today, the cross.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

consider myself

Matthew 23

Seven woes. Seven rebukes. Seven not so friendly responses to the religious leaders of Jesus day. It is easy to read through Matthew 23 and think, "Yeah, Jesus you tell them! You no good religious teachers!" But then I start to think about who are the religious teachers today. Umm, me? I wonder how many of these warnings could be applied to me or others today? Is there a parallel?

Overall theme of the chapter:
5"Everything they do is done for men to see:

Application: All leaders must check motives for the things they do.

Warning #1
13"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Questions: Do I ever decide who should receive God's grace? Do I ever pass over someone because they don't appear to offer as much to the kingdom as someone else?

Warning #2
15"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Question: Jesus said that when a student is fully trained he will be like his teacher. Based on my faith and purity should anyone become like me?

Warning #3
16"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' 17You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?

Question: Do I place the correct emphasis on spiritual things over material things? Do I get confused in thinking my preaching or singing or teaching is what makes a difference to people or is it the power of God and His word?

Warning #4
23"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Question: Could I be feeling good about turbo tax red flagging what I gave to the church last year, but forget to love people and show mercy when I should?

Warning #5
25"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Question: Does my inside present well in God's eyes or am I just putting on a show for everyone else?

Warning #6
27"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Question: It is not a question of whether I am a hypocrite or not; the question is in what areas am I a hypocrite?

Warning #7
29"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.'

Question: Do I make myself out to be more than what I am?

My prayer is that God would help me to be humble and walk with Him everyday. May I be closer each day, more devoted each morning, more grateful each night.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

fly away

58. Psalm 55

I am working on getting caught up on my reading so I will try to post a few comments from wherever I am reading at the time.

Today I was reading Psalm 55 from the readings of the week of March 9th. This Psalm is a prayer of David. It is one of many laments that David writes as his soul searches for help from God. The first few verses describe the depths of David's fear and anguish at the presence of his enemies. These verses are followed by verses 6-8 which are great:
6 I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest-

7 I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
Selah

8 I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm."

I have felt this way before. I have never been chased by enemies or felt the fear of death lurking around every corner, but I have had stuff up on me to the point that I wished that I could just fly away and forget all that was below me. The great theologian Lenny Kravitz said it this way:
I wish that I could fly
Into the sky
So very high
Just like a dragonfly

I'd fly above the trees
Over the seas in all degrees
To anywhere I please

Oh I want to get away
I want to fly away
Yeah yeah yeah

I believe that it is a natural human reaction to adversity to want to escape from trouble. It is good to see that even David had times when he wished he could just fly away and be free from the trials of this life. Unfortunately we do not have the ability to take off and be free from life. We try to in various ways, but inevitably we must come back down and those problems are still there. I do think that we all need a little down time, a few hours a week or month where we can relax and put our problems out of our mind for awhile. But never with the intent to escape from them, but rather to clear our minds so that we can come back and face those problems with a better, clearer perspective. For me it is golf. For some it is a book or some other activity. And always with the desire to face life and with God's help overcome all of those things which make us want to escape.

Thanks King David. (and Lenny)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

update

I don't think anyone is reading this blog lately because I have been so long in posting, but I am working on getting caught up. I have had a lot of life stuff going on lately so that's my excuse. Look for an update tomorrow.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

what's the count?

51. Numbers 1-2

It is the custom of the American Church to count and keep track of the number of people who attend each church. Many churches are known for the number of people who attend, and in some cases they are known more for this number than for the witness for God that they are to the community. Because of this focus on numbers there are some who would argue that numbers are not what is important, rather the condition of the hearts of those who attend church. (These are undoubtedly the churches with fewer numbers) So what is the answer? To count or not to count, that is the question.

Bamidbar is a Hebrew word, which is the fifth word of the Book of Numbers, it means "In the wilderness". The Book of Numbers in the Hebrew Tanach is called Bamidbar. While the Hebrew Tanach begins by focusing on the place where the Hebrews are when the book is written, Jewish scholars who study the Torah take note of God counting his people in the book of Numbers.
Because they were dear to Him, He counted them often. When they left Egypt, He counted them (Exod. 12:37); when [many] fell because [of the sin] of the golden calf, He counted them to know the number of the survivors (Exod. 32:28); when He came to cause His Divine Presence to rest among them, He counted them. On the first of Nissan (the Hebrew month in which the Passover falls), the Mishkan (the Tabranacle) was erected, and on the first of Iyar, He counted them.
It is interesting that the Jewish writer points out that God counted them because "they were dear to him." It reminds me of when Jesus tells the story of the lost sheep. God cares about each one in his flock. He cares about numbers insofar as those numbers represent those who are dear to him.

So if we count to make ourselves look good, we are probably wrong. If we count so that we can keep track of those who are dear to God, then we are probably right. May we love people and keep track of them with the most sincere hearts and with pure motives for these people are dear to God.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

the world waking up

50. Matthew 21:12-22

For the last several days it has been pretty warm here in Virginia. I love Spring in Virginia. The cherry trees bloom first then the dogwoods and azaleas. People come outside more often. It is my favorite time of year. I like Fall, but I love the Spring.

One of the things I love about Spring is the celebration of Easter. Yesterday and today our reading in Matthew began the Passion week. Jesus enters Jerusalem in the same way that a conquering king would and the people fall all over themselves to show him honor. Jesus immediately goes to the Temple and stirs things up. He turns over the money changers tables and calls them thieves. This gets the attention of the religious teachers who were probably skimming from the profits of the money lenders. The final week of Jesus life before the crucifixion is filled with confrontation with these Jewish leaders.

Reading these passages is like waking up to the flowers of a dogwood tree outside our bedroom window. It is like getting out to cut the grass for the first time of the year. Easter is coming, Spring is on its way. Out with the old, cold winter and in with the new growth of Spring. Is there any question that God planned Jesus death, burial and resurrection to happen in the Spring? I guess it is not Spring everywhere in the world, but for us, thank-you God.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

the name

49. Leviticus 24 & 25

We use words flippantly in our culture. We say we believe in free speech and use this mantra to excuse certain language. You can read on bathroom walls profanity that would make a grown man blush. We turn on our televisions and invite into our homes language that is inappropriate and coarse. We go to the movies and pay someone to curse at us in surround sound. Even the video games that we play for amusement uses language that we would not endorse, except that we celebrate the birth of Jesus by wrapping these games up and giving them to our children. All in all our culture is overloaded with words. There is absolutely nothing that is off limits. Nothing.

In Hebrew culture things were different. In Leviticus 24 Moses relates a story about the son of an Israelite woman. The text says that this son "blasphemed the Name with a curse." Interesting. Even in retelling the story Moses could not even mention the name of God. Throughout the Old Testament the writers took out the vowels when writing God's name. YHWH. This is what we have translated God, or Jehovah, or Yawheh into English. Moses couldn't even write it. The son of this woman was accused of blasphemy because he said "the Name." God then commanded the whole assembly to take this son out and stone him. The entire community was responsible for his punishment. He was put to death because of his words. Because he mentioned the Name of God.

May we be careful about what we say, and may we as a community be responsible for changing our culture.

Monday, March 3, 2008

you are a priest

48. Leviticus 21-23

Throughout the book of Levitcus God describes to Moses how the priests should be cleansed, dressed, atoned, etc, etc. Many of the descriptions are for the duties of the priests and their interaction with the Hebrew people. Chapter 21 describes rules specifically for the priests themeselves. The priests could not shave their heads or the edges of their beards. They could not cut their bodies. They must not marry certain women who were defiled by prostitution, or had been divorced. And throughout this chapter the reason God gives to Moses for these regulations is because the priests are "to be considered holy, because I the Lord am holy -- I who make you holy."

Now let's fast forward to the New Testament. 1 Peter 2 reads:
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Now look at the first verses of 1 Peter and see who Peter is writing to:
1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Here is what Peter is saying... Jesus is the high priest and you are set apart as priests also. You see when Jesus shed his blood he was not only the sacrifice, but also the priest who offered the sacrifice on our behalf. Now we can become a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.

Are you with me? Do you think that God still has rules for His priests? Shouldn't we be living like priests? Shouldn't we be holy? According to Leviticus priests should be considered holy, "because I the Lord am holy -- I who make you holy." Right? Here's how Peter says it:
13Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

vayikra

44. Leviticus 11-13

In the past I have struggled through the books of Leviticus and Numbers when I have been reading through the Old Testament. And even this time I have not made any comments about this book. I guess it is the attention to detail that sorta wears me out reading through the specifics of the Law that God gives to Moses and the children of Israel. I also have not commented because I have really never done much study on this book, so I don't have a lot to say, but I am going to try and bring a little insight when I can from a few things that I have learned lately.

The word Leviticus is a Greek word which means "relating to the Levites." Which makes sense because the entire book is devoted to the works of the Jewish Priests or Levites. If you were to read this book in Hebrew the title would not be Leviticus it would be "Vayikra." Vayikra is a Hebrew word, which is the first word of the book of Leviticus. It means "And He called."

Leviticus chapter one begins, "The Lord called to Moses." Vayikra, "And He called." Each time God calls Moses, He calls him by name. In Hebrew writing and culture to call someone by name was a sign of affection. It is the same expression employed by the ministering angels when addressing each other, as it says, “And one called to the other…” (Isa. 6:3). Moses is God's man. Even though he made excuses and he made mistakes (killing an Egyptian slave master for one) God still has affection for him. So this is how the book of Leviticus begins, with God affectionately calling His servant Moses. Vayikra.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

psalm 40



Anyone ever hear this at the end of a U2 concert?

Monday, February 25, 2008

gone fishing

42. Matthew 17:14-27

This morning before I left the house, Bonnie and I were talking about bills and money and this discussion turned into a conversation about doing our taxes. I'll have to admit that for the last few years, Bonnie has taken care of our taxes. Neither of us really want to do what it takes to sit down and figure out all this stuff so we usually keep putting it off, not until the last minute, but longer than we should. Which reminds me of years ago when David Willis and I would make an event out of going down to the Post Office on the night of April 15th, just so we could watch people try to get their taxes done and mailed on time. Every year some poor soul would show up just after midnight and would bang on the door, but to no avail. They were going to pay a late fee.

Jesus has an interesting way of paying his taxes in Matthew 17. First, Jesus makes the point that the kings of earth do not collect taxes from their sons, so the Son of God should not have to pay the Temple Tax. But not to offend, Jesus sends Peter out fishing with these instructions, "Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

So tomorrow, I'm taking the day off. Tell everyone I've 'gone fishing.' Hey, you never know!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

oh, by the way

39. Acts 22

One of my favorite chapters in the New Testament.  There are many reasons I like this chapter, but mostly because it highlights one of my favorite Biblical characters, the apostle Paul.  In the previous chapters is the account of Paul saying good-bye to many of the elders and leaders in some of the churches that he had started, many of these good-byes included tears.  Paul was a compassionate man who knew what his job was and ultimately he knew that he would one day die for the cause of the gospel.  So Paul against the wishes of many of these friends goes back to Jerusalem and sure enough the people there are ready to kill him.  There is such a riot over Paul that the Romans had to intervene so that Paul would not be killed on the spot.  As they are taking Paul to prison, he asks if he could address the crowd.  First of all, if it were me I would just be glad to have escaped the clutches of the crowd.  Second, I don't think I would even think to address the crowd which was already worked up, I would rather spend time building my case which I might be able to present to the roman authorities.  Not Paul.  He seizes the opportunity to tell the gospel once again.  And he tells his story so eloquently, with passion, without compromise.  And once again the crowd begins to boil.  There is nothing that the Romans hated more was for the Jews to squabble between themselves, so they take Paul away in chains intending to have him flogged when Paul nonchalantly mentions, "Did you know you are about to flog a Roman citizen?"  Oh, by the way, I wouldn't do that if I were you.  

Oh, that we could muster up enough courage just to live even one hour of each day the way the apostle Paul lived his entire christian life.  Amazing.   

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

honeybuns and sour milk

36. Exodus 30, 31

A dozen years ago I was working with a bunch of students in Newport News who had put together a student led Bible study group at their school. The group was comprised of students from many different churches and backgrounds. The kid who was asked to lead the group was one of the kids from our youth group and he asked me to help him with the lessons he was putting together. Marty did a nice job teaching, but did get into some controversy when the lessons had to do with the details of becoming a christian. The controversy led to a meeting between one of the other student's and his dad. I went along to help Marty defend the Biblical position on salvation and to make sure they didn't gang up on him too much.

So we get there and begin this discussion about how one becomes a christian. Marty used scriptures to explain that the Bible teaches us that we are saved by grace, through faith, at baptism, for good works. (Ephesians 2, Acts 2, Romans 6, etc.) The response from this other kid's dad was classic. He told this story about how he used to be strung out on drugs and alcohol and one day as he was coming down from a night of binge drinking and drug use he had an encounter with God. So far I'm listening and glad to hear that this guy is seeing the error of his ways and sounds like he is searching for the only real remedy to the predicament that he has gotten himself into with these addictions and whatever other sins he might be guilty of. The guy goes on to say that he then finds a stale honeybun and some sour milk which he uses for a makeshift communion service during which he receives Jesus as his Savior and assures us that he is saved. He concludes his "come to Jesus" story with a stern rebuke for me saying that we should not limit how people might become Christians by teaching there is a certain way (biblical or not) that one becomes a Christian. "Everyone has their own path," I believe is what he was saying.

Now I am not God, which is quite obvious to anyone who knows me. And I do not presume to be the final authority of who gets into heaven and who does not. That job is one I do not want. Here is my point. For more than ten chapters in Exodus God gives Moses extreme details about how to set up the tabernacle and the other items associated with the priestly duties. And what do all these things have in common? They are all connected with the process for redemption for the people of Israel. They all have to do with atonement. From the ark of the covenant to the way that the priests were to wash before they could be annointed, God gives very specific details about how these things should happen and very specific details of what happens to those who do not follow these regulations. So according to my honeybun and milk friend, this God has changed his character. Now it doesn't matter. Redemption is based on each one's own path. God's annointed ones can make the decisions about how they become annointed. I'm not buying it. God is still God, he does not change. There are still specifics about redemption that we need to be very careful to follow or we could be in danger of death, spiritual death.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

naked and bleeding

34. Acts 19:1-22

There is a story in Acts 19 that I have read before, but didn't remember until I read it again today. It is sort of a funny story, but has a serious application. Paul is travelling through Asia and is teaching and healing people, he has become so powerful in the Spirit that people would take hankerchiefs and clothing that had touched Paul and touch the sick with them and the sick would be healed. Around this time some Jews were going around driving out demons by invoking the name of Jesus and the name of Paul. These guys came across a demon posesses man and tried this when the demon inside the man said, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" Then it says that the demon posessed man jumped on them, all seven of them and overpowered them. The text says that he gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

The funny part is them running out of the house naked and bleeding. The serious part is the fact that our enemy is real and powerful. We serve a God who is greater, but do not be confused, the enemy is ready for a fight. May we continue to follow and serve our God, and may we ever be aware that the enemey is not to be underestimated.

the tabernacle

From our reading last week, here are a few pictures of a scale model of the tabernacle and some of the items described in Exodus 21 - 29.

the tabernacle

tabernacle outer court

tabernacle tent fabric

the ark of the covenant

the altar








the tabernacle from a distance

Friday, February 15, 2008

take a dip

32. Acts 18:18-28

Paul leaves Corinth and is headed for Ephusus and then Antioch. Verse 24 tells of a Jewish believer named Apollos who was teaching about Jesus accurately except he was hung up on one point, baptism. The text says that he knew only of the baptism of John. So a christian couple, Pricilla and Aquila, took him aside and "explained to him the way of God more adequately." Apollos was still teaching and baptizing in the same way that John, the forerunner, had taught. So what does it matter? Baptism is not that important is it? Isn't it just a good thing to do? Not according to Acts 18 and 19. It was important enough that Pricilla and Aquila needed to correct Apollos and in chapter 19 Paul actually baptizes some disciples "into the name of Jesus Christ," when they had already had the baptism of John.

In the Christian world today there is more division over baptism than just about any other teaching in the New Testament. One church says one thing another says something else. One says it is not important, another says it is essential. So what are we to believe? The simple answer is, believe the Bible. It was important enough to the early church that some believers needed to be straightened out concerning this teaching. Throughout the book of Acts people who were old enough to believe when told about Jesus and his sacrifice were immediately baptized (which in the Greek means to dip, plunge or immerse) for the forgiveness of sins. John's baptism was to signify repentance. Baptism after the church started (Acts 2) was a connection to Jesus and was always accompanied with the forgiveness of sins. Romans 6 explains that when you are baptized you die are buried and then raised to new life. There is a literal connection to Christ's death, burial and resurrection. I believe this is what we must take from the Bible, not any other baptism will satisfy the scriptural accout. As we continue to read through the book of Acts let's see if this pattern holds true.

By the way, the thief on the cross was saved because Jesus says he was saved. There also would be no way for the thief to have been united with Jesus death, burial and ressurection since Jesus had not died yet. The thief is pre-church era just like all those others in the Gospels that Jesus told, "your sins are forgiven." If the thief were going to be baptized at this time, before the church was established, he probably would have been baptized by John's baptism for repentance, but like Apollos he too would have needed to be taught about Christian baptism after the beginning of the church.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

where's my boy?

31. Matthew 12:38-50

This passage is another example of just how serious and on point Jesus was as he was out teaching and leading his disciples. Jesus, in verses 46-50, is teaching and the Bible records that his mother and brothers stood outside and wanted to talk to him. I have been in a few situations where I was speaking or leading worship and unannounced my parents showed up to support me. My reaction was always one of pleasant surprise. I was honored that my folks would make the effort to come and hear their boy. Not Jesus. He is all business. Not that he is unhappy to see his family, but he is so focused on his task that he cannot pull himself away to speak to his mother. Jesus is full of passion, devotion, commitment to task. He even says, "Here are my mother and my brothers. (speaking of his disciples) For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." We would be tempted to think, "OK, Jesus, lighten up." But there was no waver in Jesus, no room for idleness, he was completely on point all the time. The mission was too valuable, the time too short, the work to overwhelming to take a break. The same is true for us today, yet we are often flippant, arrogant, and wasteful of time and devtion.

Oh, that we would be willing to deny everything and follow Jesus.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

buyer's remorse

30. Exodus 13-15

The entire story of Moses and Pharoah is crazy to me. Here is an entire nation, living within another nation. They are described in the reading as 600,000 men plus women and children. So more than a million people, roughly the same number of people that live in all of Hampton Roads, are wanting to leave their company and move on to another job in another state. Not only that but they worked for nothing, literally. I see why it was so hard for Pharoah to let them go, I mean the temp agency just wouldn't have a million brick makers hanging around their office waiting for a job. Talk about losing your competitive edge. God knows this so He sets up this scenerio where Pharoah would get so sick of the sight of Moses, Aaron and the entire nation of Isreal that he finially tells them to go. I mean it takes blood, frogs, gnats, flies, dead animals, boils, hail, locust, darkness and the death of everyone's firstborn sons, but Pharoah is ready to flip his lid. "OK, OK, Please Just LEAVE!"

So they do, and then he gets cold feet. Ever get buyer's remorse? Just about everytime I buy something, even if it is something I really wanted, like a 42" plasma, I get it home and think, "Did I really need this?" Then I feel a little guilty and eventually I get over it but for awhile, remorse. Pharoah gets freedom remorse. He had to be thinking, "This was such a bad idea, why did I let them go?" So he gathers his army and chases them into the Red Sea. You would think that he might have thought about what God had just done in Egypt that led to the release of the Isrealites, but he follows them right into a trap. I wonder what kind of remorse he was experiencing when he and his army looked up and saw that the walls of water on each side of them were collapsing. I'll bet he would have settled for the boils, instead he just bought the entire Red Sea.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

fred 08

Sorry I have been absent the last few days.  Our family is still working its way through the cold/flu.  Ella has it now, I am just getting over it and I'm afraid Bonnie is next.  A few prayers would be appreciated.

I saw a funny bumper sticker today.  The sticker was red and blue around the edges and oval (like the obx stickers maybe you've seen) and the center was silver with the words "Fred '08."  It took me a minute to even remember who the "Fred" was in the '08 election, so I googled it to jog my memory.  Fred Thompson.  Ah, that's right, wasn't he an actor?  It was funny to me that someone put that sticker on their car.  It wasn't even on the bumper, it was on the paint.  And I'm pretty sure that it was a sticker, not one of those magnetic things you can take off.  This guy is committed to "Fred '08."  Unfortunately Fred was done, way before this election even started.  

As I read through the gospel of Matthew I am often surprised at how many people were following Jesus.  I mean without TV or newspapers or even the internet, there were frequently thousands of people showing up to see Jesus.  I don't know how many people can fit in Indian River High School, but I'll bet Bill Clinton packed that place today, and he didn't even serve lunch.  I believe that Jesus was surrounded by thousands of people much of the time.  And these people were looking for a new candidate, a candidate of change.  Right?  They were sick of the old government (Rome) and high taxes, and oppression, so they wanted something else.  Jesus at least gave them lunch.  But I'll bet when Jesus was executed many of them were wondering, "How do I get this bumper sticker off my donkey?"  

So here's the thing, 2,000 years later I still see Jesus bumper stickers.  <><  I see them all the time.  And guess what, this candidate never goes out.     

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

so relieved

26. Acts 15:22-41

I have always been nervous when someone says, "Let's get together, there's something we need to talk about." I think it goes back to my childhood when I would often get a letter sent home or a conference with my teachers because of my behavior. I was never really a bad kid, I just liked to cut up a lot. Sorta the class clown I guess. (I know that is hard to imagine) I can remember walking home with my report card or even worse a letter from my teacher. It was like bringing home your death sentance. See my parents are from the 'old school.' From the first day of kindergarten the rule at our house was, 'if you get in trouble at school, you are going to be in a lot more trouble when you get home.' Those were the longest walks home ever.

Acts chapter 15 describes a controversy that had arisen in the church in the city of Antioch. There were some Jewish descended christians who were teaching that everyone who became a christian must also be circumcised. Luckily for these non-Jewish believers Paul and Barnabas disagreed and set off to Jerusalem to discuss this with the apostles and elders. I don't know how long it would take to make this journey, but I'll bet for the non-Jewish believers it was like the long walk home with a bad report card. So the apostles and elders met, made a decision and wrote a letter to be taken back to the church in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas brought the letter back to Antioch. I can imagine the anticipation when they arrived and told them that there was a letter. I'll bet Paul and Barnabas didn't let on as to what the decision was either, so that they could hear it directly from the apostles' letter.

It probably took awhile to gather everyone together.

Then open the scroll.

Finially read the decision.

Here it is:

Abstain from foods sacrificed to idols. Abstain from blood. Abstain from the meat of strangled animals. Abstain from sexual immorality. Avoid these things. (These are all things associated with pagan rituals)

"That's it?" they are thinking. No circumcision?

I'll bet they were so relieved.

Monday, February 4, 2008

could this have become too familiar?

25. Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is recognized as one of the great pieces of literature in all the world. It really is a beautiful passage. It is one of those well known passages that can get overlooked because it is familiar.

My encouragement for us today is to spend a few minutes meditating upon this passage allowing God to make these wonderful words new to us today.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

polarized

24.  Matthew 9:27-38

Yesterday I was hanging out with a very good friend and he gave me this nice pair of sunglasses.  It was one of those like, "dude these are nice and I just lost the best pair of sunglasses I ever had."  (not that the ones I lost were that nice, I just had them for awhile and I had gotten used to them)  So, later he says, "hey just keep those sunglasses."  Then I feel bad cause I didn't mean for him to give them to me, but they are nice and I do like them.  And here's the thing, he told me they are good because they are polarized.  I don't even know what that means, but when you put them on there is no glare, just nice.  So thanks Jero!

It is nice to see things better.  When I was reading today's passage I was thinking about those sunglasses.  Jesus had the ability to see things as they really are, without distortion, without glare.  Verse 36 says, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  When I see people I don't always see them undistored.  I see imperfections.  I see flaws.  I see them the way I want to see them.  I don't see them the way Jesus did.  Jesus had the ability to see people as souls.  Deeper.  Must have been those spiritually polarized lenses he was wearing.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

prince of peace

21. Matthew 8:23-34

In the history of the NFL there have been many quarterbacks who have been known to come through in the clutch. Dan Marino, John Elway, Tom Brady, Rodger Stabauch, Joe Theisman have all led their teams to victory with a game winning drive in the final minutes of games. But no one is more famous for being calm under pressure than Joe Montana.

For example here is an excerpt from a column on ESPN.com by Larry Schwartz describing the demeanor of Montana:

He possessed an almost mystical calmness in the midst of chaos, especially with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. While others saw turmoil and danger after the snap, Montana saw order and opportunity. He was Joe Cool, the unflappable king of the comeback.
Take the 1989 Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals. The San Francisco 49ers were down by three points with 3:20 left when Montana spotted -- no, not an open receiver -- but a personality. "There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp," Montana said to tackle Harris Barton. "Isn't that John Candy?" And then he led the 49ers 92 yards, throwing for the winning touchdown with 34 seconds left. This was one of Montana's 31 fourth-quarters comeback in the NFL.

I like to think that I am cool under pressure, but not like Montana. I do posses the ability to make decisions with 35 students asking questions and parents on the phone in the middle of a youth ministry event, with everyone waiting while my computer goes haywire, but there are no 300 lb linemen trying to break my legs.

While Montana was arguably the best NFL quarterback under pressure ever, even he might have cracked under the circumstances Jesus endures in Matthew chapter 8. After a full day of dealing with crowds, healing sick people, and even turning people away Jesus and His disciples finally get into a boat for a relaxing sail. Exhausted, Jesus falls asleep. He is awakened by His frantic friends. "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" Have you ever been awaken by something or someone frantic? I have and it makes me frantic. If my children wake up in the middle of the night sick, Bonnie jumps into action and my heart is racing and I'm confused and rattled. Not Jesus, awaken from sleep He rebukes His disciples, then rebukes the wind and waves. And then peace. Calm. I can almost see Jesus immediately laying back down with a 'Don't wake me again for something silly!' look on his face, then falling back to sleep.

In the midst of trouble, calm. When the storms arise, peace. When all looks bad, serenity. I am not so cool under pressure, but it sure is reassuring to look across the huddle and see my quarterback, Jesus, in complete control.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

first importance

20. Matthew 8:14-22

What do you have to do today? Most of us get up, get ready for work, say good-bye to our families. We get to work, look at our to-do list, prioritize our tasks. We say hello to our co-workers. Maybe there is a big presentation or project to do. Maybe there are a hundred things that must be done this week to keep you on pace with your job's requirements. Maybe for you there is a test, or paper to write. Maybe you have signed up for a club or sports team and there is practice today. Maybe there is a big game this week.

It could be that things are in a little more downward place for you. You found out that a relative is sick, or worse you could be preparing for a funeral. Maybe you are reeling from the end of a relationship. Maybe you drove to work today wondering if you should stay married, if it is really worth it. If you are like me then you are wondering why your wife just won't understand the importance of 42 inches of plasma high-definition.

With all these things going on have we done the one thing that must be accomplished today? The one thing that we must do everyday? Have you followed Jesus today? Let me make it more personal. Have I counted the cost of being a disciple of Christ? May I follow and walk with Jesus today as a matter of first importance. Today and every day.

Monday, January 28, 2008

zaphenath-paneah

19.  Genesis 41

Have you ever noticed that when God changes someone's circumstances or gives them a new direction He changes their name?  It happened to Abram who became Abraham after God promised him a son and a blessing.  It happened to Sarai when she too was blessed with this promised son and she became Sarah.  It happened to Jacob after he wrestled with God he was given a blessing and a new name, Israel.  And it happened to Joseph after he was rescued from the prisons of Egypt the Pharaoh gave him the Egyptian name Zaphenath-Paneah and put him in charge of preparations for the looming famine.

It also happened in the New Testament.  Saul, the Jewish zealot became Paul the apostle some time after his conversion to Christianity.  Time and time again when God changes someone's circumstances or gives them a new direction He changes their name.  

I was given the name David by my parents when I was born, but when I was baptized at the age of nine my name was changed.  My circumstance was changed, I was given a new direction and God changed my name.  God calls me by my new name, Christian, or like-Christ.  

Thursday, January 24, 2008

interesting

16. Acts 9:20-43

There are a couple interesting things in this passage to me.

First is Barnabas. Here is a guy who takes a chance on someone. Saul, who is the same guy that approved the stoning of Stephen a couple chapters back, has now become a Christian. As you can imagine the Christians in that area are skeptical of trusting Saul for fear that he could be trying to trick them and put them into prison or worse. At one point Saul had to be lowered in a basket over the wall around the city of Damascus so that the Jews would not kill him. Saul is caught in the middle. The Jews are after him to kill him because he is preaching about Jesus and the Christians are scared to help him for fear of his previous reputation. So, in steps Barnabas. Barnabas takes Saul and brought him to the apostles, tells them his story, and convinces them that he is legit. I wonder what would have happened to Saul if Barnabas had not stood up for him. Remember that Barnabas was mentioned in Acts 4 as one who sold some property and gave the money to the Church. And his name means 'Son of Encouragement.' Nice name. Matches his heart. My name would probably mean something like 'Son of Skepticism.' I would like to be more like Barnabas, more encouraging, more open to what God is doing. When is the last time I took a chance on someone?

The second thing that strikes me in this passage is a simple phrase about a woman named Dorcus. The text simply says, "In Joppa there was a woman named Dorcus who was always doing good and helping the poor." I think it is interesting that Luke connects 'doing good' with 'helping the poor.' There are tons of things that could have come next, but the one thing he mentions in association with doing good is helping the poor. Not helping her family. Not cooking for church dinners. Not being a youth sponsor. Not driving the carpool. Not being a cub scout leader. Not volunteering at the nursing home. Not adopting a highway. There is only one thing mentioned in association with doing good and that is helping the poor.

Interesting.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

even when it hurts

15. Psalm 15

Our society these days seems to have a difficult time keeping its word. Nowhere is it more evident than in the arena of politics. It seems like every candidate changes his or her mind on a regular basis not based on conviction, but on what is most likely to win more votes. Along with that is the insistence that they have not changed. I think it would be refreshing to have a candidate who could admit that they have changed their mind, that they see things differently, and can admit when they have made a mistake.

But before we go too far in condemning politicians we should do a little self-evaluation. Do we ever go back on our word? Am I guilty of telling my girls that I will be home to tuck them in and then allow something else to preempt that promise? Do I always fulfill my oath to Bonnie to love, cherish and keep her as long as we both shall live? Am I guilty of breaking my word to God when I choose to disobey Him? I guess before I ride into town on my high-horse I should consider where I need to get down from that horse and onto my knees and in humility ask God to forgive me where I have broken my promises to Him, to my family, and to others.

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He who keeps his oath even when it hurts. Psalm 15:1&4b

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

120 years

This week a couple people have asked me about a passage from Genesis 6, so I though it would be good to go back and post concerning this passage.

The end of Genesis 5 introduces us to Noah and chapter 6 begins the story of Noah, his family and the flood. The chapter begins with this passage:

1 When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years."

The question that was posed to me this week was about the 120 years mentioned in verse 3, but to understand that let's get a little insight into the first part of this passage. There are a lot of different ideas about who the sons of God and the daughters of men are. I believe that the more traditional Hebrew rabbinical view of this passage makes the most sense. The Hebrew Tanach text translates the phrase sons of God as sons of nobles. A Jewish person reading this text would recognize the daughters who were beautiful or from the Tenach text daughters who were beautifying themselves as ones who were adorned to enter the marriage canopy or chuppah. (HOO-pah)

A chuppah is a canopy traditionally used in Jewish weddings. It consists of a cloth or sheet stretched or supported over four poles, and is sometimes carried by attendants to the ceremony's location. A chuppah symbolizes the home the couple will build together.

So it was becoming common for the sons of nobles to force their way into wedding preparations and have relations with a bride as she was getting ready for her wedding. It reminds me of the beginning of the movie Braveheart where the English soldiers would demand that every bride spend her wedding night with the captain of the guards. Mel Gibson's character refused to go along and his bride was killed, starting the Scottish revolution and eventually ending England's tyranny. (that's the movie version, I don't know if that is historically accurate) I can't think of a more offensive thing that could happen to a bride, a groom and their families during the celebration of their wedding. Verse 5 says:

The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

Our text goes on to say that God is fed up with such behavior and predicts that the time is coming when He will no longer contend with men. In other words He is saying, "Your days are numbered!"

So the question then is how many days until God keeps His promise? Answer: "his days will be a hundred and twenty years." What is going to happen in 120 years? Answer: 120 years until the flood. 120 years until God will no longer put up with such irreverent and godless people. 120 years until God will destroy everyone on earth except for Noah and his family. Why Noah? Because "Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God." (see earlier post "walk this way")

Monday, January 21, 2008

the real deal

13. Acts 8:1-25

A over a decade ago, when I was much younger, I would frequently go out to a local playground and play basketball in the warm months. Sometimes if the day was really nice there would be close to a hundred guys out playing at these courts and it could take an hour or more just waiting to play. It was like this one day when I went out and after watching for more than an hour I picked up on who were some of the better players. These guys were big and fast and could jump out of the gym, if we had actually been in one. There was a lot of talking and a few nose to nose confrontations maybe a couple shoves here and there, all in all a very typical day on the playground. There were a couple guys who were sorta controlling things either because they were very good players or could talk louder than anyone else. Their teams kept playing uncontested until this one guy showed up.

The first thing I noticed is that this guy didn't wait to play, when he walked up someone just walked off the court and let him take their spot. This guy was not very tall, maybe 6'0" or 6'1" at the most, but the first time he touched the ball he came right down the lane and over several much bigger guys dunked the ball with two hands. Now I was curious, "Who is this guy?" "Bubba-chuck." That's what they kept calling him. "Bubba-chuck." I still don't know what that means exactly, but I did finally realize that this guy was Allen Iverson. I even played on the same team with "Bubba-chuck." Later I realized that I could have been an NBA player because I was able to do the same things as his teammates in the NBA which is pass him the ball and watch him shoot. Anyway, ever since that day I have been an Iverson fan. I mean seeing him in person I realized that there are some people who pretend to be good and then there is the real deal. Believe me Iverson, whether you like him or not, is the real deal.

Acts chapter 8 has a similar cast. Simon the Sorcerer was well known in Samaria for his amazing magic tricks. He even had some people convinced that he had some divine power. Until the real deal showed up. Philip the evangelist came through town and did some real miracles. Philip displayed the power of God to the people of Samaria. For the first time these people witnessed the real deal and they were amazed. And they never looked at Simon the same again. It is hard to be impressed with a pretty good magician when you see the true power of God.

May we not be impressed with the two-bit hucksters that our culture elevates, but only with the true power of God.

Daily reading for the week of: January 20

13. Matthew 5:33–48
Acts 8:1–25
Psalm 13
Genesis 31

14. Matthew 6:1–15
Acts 8:26–40
Psalm 14
Genesis 32, 33

15. Matthew 6:16–24
Acts 9:1–19
Psalm 15
Genesis 34, 35

16. Matthew 6:25–34
Acts 9:20–43
Psalm 16
Genesis 36

17. Matthew 7:1–14
Acts 10:1–23
Psalm 17
Genesis 37, 38

18. Matthew 7:15–29
Acts 10:24–48
Psalm 18:1–24
Genesis 39, 40

Friday, January 18, 2008

new format

I changed the format of this space.  It seemed a little hard to read the other way.  Not that anyone was reading this except for Bonnie when I made her look at it.  
If you are looking at this, make a comment so I will know whether anyone is reading this.  Thanks.

blackout

11.  Matthew 5:13-20; Acts 7:1-38

During the early 40's my grandparents moved to Newport News, Virginia.  Like many people from rural North Carolina my grandfather took a job at the Newport News Shipyard where he studied in the Shipyard apprentice school and learned the trade of welding.  Having lived in Newport News for over a decade, I love to hear how different things were a half-century ago here on the Virginia Peninsula.  My grandparents tell how they rented a room from a nice couple down on Huntington Avenue near the Shipyard and it was during this time that my grandmother became pregnant with her first child, my mother.  My grandmother tells how she would spend her day at home keeping house while my grandfather went to work.  But on December 7, 1941 everything changed.  That Sunday morning Japanese war planes attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor.

All of a sudden the world changed for all Americans.  This one act by the Japanese pulled 'the sleeping giant' into WWII.  Very soon after that my grandparents went back home to Pike Road, NC.  In Newport News the city prepared for war.  There were practice air raid drills and blackouts.  Europe was used to the drills, but this was new for the U.S.  

In Britain for example, the British government imposed a total blackout during the war.  Every person had to make sure they did not provide any lights that would give any clues to German pilots that they were passing over cities.  All houses had to use thick black curtains or blackout paint to stop any light from showing through their windows.  Shop keepers not only had to blackout their windows, but also had to provide means for customers to enter and leave without showing any light.  

Jesus in Matthew 5 describes what it means to be a Christ-follower by using this imagery.  He says, "a city on a hill cannot be hidden."  Stephen in Acts 7 is an example of a shining light in this world as he is interrogated before the religious teachers.  I wonder how many of us are living like Stephen and how many of us are living in 'blackout' conditions in this world.  Afraid that we might be noticed.  Afraid the enemy might see our position.  Afraid of the consequences that might happen if we let our light shine.  We'll see tomorrow what consequences befall Stephen, so before we get too gung-ho we must also consider the outcome if we do choose to let our light shine.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

happy

10. Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew chapter five begins Jesus 'Sermon on the Mount.' Jesus seeing the crowds following him goes up on the side of a mountain, sits down and begins to teach. He starts with a series of sorta-encouraging proverbs that we call the 'Beatitudes.' I say sorta-encouraging because they include terms like 'poor' and 'mourn,' 'meek' and 'hunger.' The word translated 'blessed' in most english translations is the Greek word makarios which means 'fortunate' or 'lucky' or even 'happy.' Happy to be poor, meek, mourning and hungry? The end of this passage Jesus even says that we should be makarios, or happy when we are persecuted. Why? Because we are then in good company. Like those great prophets from the Old Testament.

We should be happy when we face trials, and persecution because through them we are connected to those great prophets who endured the same in the name of God. Happy because we can walk the same soil as these holy forefathers. Happy to be a part of and connected to this same kingdom. Happy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

mitzvah

9. Genesis 24

Verses 1-4 says:

Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, "Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac."

"Put your hand under my thigh." What? That sounds more like a 70's dance move than a biblical reference, but there it is in black and white. So, I did a little research.

We know from the rest of the passage that this was some sort of oath. Abraham was asking his servant to promise to go and find his only son Isaac a wife, not from the Canaanites, but from Abraham's own family and from Abraham's own country. When someone is asked to take an oath typically they put their hand on something sacred. The Jewish custom was similar to our custom of putting our hand on the Bible and swearing an oath to tell the truth. The Jewish oath would be taken while putting one's hand on a Torah scroll or small black leather cubes containing parchment scrolls inscribed with the Shema and other biblical passages called Tefflin. The placing of one's hand on a man's thigh was essentially the same in the Jewish community. What they were saying is, "I swear on mitzvah" that I am telling the truth. Mitzvah which literally means "commandment" was the name for the 613 Divine commandments given in the Torah, or first 5 books of the Old Testament. The word mitzvah stems from the root tzavta, which means attachment. These commandments were intended to form a bond or attachment between God who gave the commandments and the ones who obeyed them. The first of these commandments was given to Abraham in Genesis chapter 17, it is the Covenant of Circumcision. To the man who had fulfilled this commandment, one that was fulfilled with pain, it was sacred and meaningful. So Abraham asks his trusted servant, one who was in charge of all he had, to swear on mitzvah and to put his hand on Abraham's thigh close to the place where that first, painful, sacred, meaningful and spiritual command was fulfilled through circumcision. This was to bring to the attention of the servant just how serious Abraham was about what he was asking him to do. This was not a do you think you could try to, maybe, if it's not too much trouble type asking. Rather a deeply meaningful request which asked for the deepest commitment from this servant.

Verse 9 reads:

So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

So he agrees. He swears on mitzvah. The most holy commitment to fulfill his master's wishes.

May we relish the attachment to our God and His commands, the mitzvah between creator and creation, the bond between us and our God.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

how majestic

8. Psalm 8

Last night as I was making my way home, I crossed the James River on the M&M bridge. As I looked to the west over the river there was a fantastic sunset just about to close out the day. I guess everyone feels this way about where they live, but I have a real affinity for this part of eastern Virginia.

I love the Atlantic ocean on a warm day in June. I love the azaleas and the blooming Japanese cherry trees in early spring. I love that the whole area shuts down when we get a couple inches of snow. I love the crisp air and colors of leaves in the fall. I love to leave the window open in the spring so I can see the Dogwood blooms as I wake up. I love when it is time to clean off the porch so we can have dinner there. I love when I have to bundle up just to go out and start my car. I love to smell the river when I go out on a summer night. I love to hear the birds sing and the squirrels playing. I love to smell the burning of a fireplace during the cold days of winter. I love to see a carrier coming home to Hampton Roads. I love to play golf until eight o'clock in July. But the thing I love the most is seeing the sun setting over the James River. Every time I see or hear or smell the things of this creation my heart sings this Psalm:

"O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!"

Monday, January 14, 2008

be aware - keep your eyes open

7. Matthew 4:1-11

Just after Jesus' baptism signifying the beginning of his public ministry and just before he begins to preach and call his disciples, he has this encounter with the devil. Finding Jesus in a weakened state after fasting for forty days the devil tempts Jesus to abuse the power he has to take care of his own needs. He is first tempted to relieve his hunger by turning stones into bread. Second, he is tempted to show his power by jumping off the highest point of the temple for all to see. And thirdly he is tempted to worship one other than God by bowing down to the devil. Each time Jesus is tempted he rebukes Satan by quoting the word of God. 1 John chapter 2 describes the ways that we are tempted in this world.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world --- the lust of the flesh, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does --- comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." 1 John 2:15-17

There is a parallel between 1 John 2 and the temptation of Jesus. 1. Turn these stones into bread. (lust of the flesh) 2. Show your power to these people. (the boastful pride of life) 3. Look at these kingdoms I can give you. (lust of the eyes) The same categories of temptation happened in the garden to Eve as well. 1. Satan says, "did God really say, 'you must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (boastful pride of life) 2. Satan says, "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil." (lust of the flesh to be like God) 3. Then she saw that the fruit was good for food and pleasing to the eye. (lust of the eyes)

Make no mistake that the devil knows how to tempt. He knows what makes us tick. He knows to attack us through the things we desire the most, the lust of the flesh, the lust of our eyes, and the boasting of what we have and do. I also think it is interesting that Satan chose to tempt Jesus just as he was beginning his ministry. So we too should expect to be tempted just as we are about to do great things for God.

May we guard our hearts and our eyes from lust and pride as we do the will of God in this world.

Daily reading for the week of: January 13

7. Matthew 4:1–11
Acts 4:23–37
Psalm 7
Genesis 18—20


8. Matthew 4:12–17
Acts 5:1–16
Psalm 8
Genesis 21—23


9. Matthew 4:18–25
Acts 5:17–42
Psalm 9
Genesis 24

10. Matthew 5:1–12
Acts 6
Psalm 10
Genesis 25, 26

11. Matthew 5:13–20
Acts 7:1–38
Psalm 11
Genesis 27, 28

12. Matthew 5:21–32
Acts 7:39–60
Psalm 12
Genesis 29, 30

Daily reading for the week of: January 6

1. Matthew 1:1–17
Acts 1:1–11
Psalm 1
Genesis 1, 2

2. Matthew 1:18–25
Acts 1:12–26
Psalm 2
Genesis 3, 4

3. Matthew 2:1–12
Acts 2:1–21
Psalm 3
Genesis 5—8

4. Matthew 2:13–23
Acts 2:22–47
Psalm 4
Genesis 9—11

5. Matthew 3:1–12
Acts 3
Psalm 5
Genesis 12—14

6. Matthew 3:13–17
Acts 4:1–22
Psalm 6
Genesis 15—17

Thursday, January 10, 2008

walk this way

4. Genesis 5-8

Chapter 5 verse 24 reads,

"Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away."

What a great verse. Its one of those verses that you sorta do a double-take when you read it. First of all, I love the idea of Enoch 'walking with God.' Have you ever walked with someone who was smaller than you? Sometimes Bonnie gives me a hard time because I have the tendency to pull the girls along when we are walking somewhere. I'm walking normal grown-up size steps and the girls are running and still being pulled along. I wonder if God ever feels like that with most of us. We rarely walk in step with God, He always has to change His cadence to match us. I think, and this is my inference, that with Enoch God finally found one who walked with Him naturally. I think that God enjoyed it so much that He decided to have Enoch with Him all the time and took him to be with Him. The verse says that 'he was no more.' What a way to go. He didn't stop breathing. He wasn't hit by a chariot. He wasn't eaten by a wildebeest. No sickness. No pain. He just 'was no more.' Because he walked with God. Because he was in step with God.

May we all walk with God and everyday may we cause God to change His steps less.



Wednesday, January 9, 2008

confirmation

2. Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph has always amazed me. He comes home one day and finds out that his fiance is pregnant. Most guys would go ballistic. Most of us would want to expose Mary to public disgrace. I mean he knew that he was not the father, but his girl was going to have a baby, someone's baby. Matthew 1:19 says that because Joseph was a righteous man he had in mind to divorce her quietly and did not want to expose her to public disgrace. We would take our case to Maury Povich or Jerry Springer. Not Joseph. He was righteous. He had in mind to divorce her quietly. The next verse says that God appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him Mary's side of the story; that the baby conceived in her was from God. Confirmation.

Do you think Joseph ever doubted? Do you think Joseph ever wondered if he just imagined that dream? How long did it take Joseph until he was really comfortable with the situation? Luke chapter 2 says that Caesar issued a decree that a census should be taken and everyone was to travel to the town where their family was from. Any Jewish person would know that prophecy had predicted the Messiah would be born in the town of David. Bethlehem. I wonder at what point Joseph made the connection that this baby would be born in the town where it was predicted that the Messiah would be born. Whenever the lightbulb went off. Confirmation.

Confirmation, one of the nuances of God's grace which brings peace.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

like a willow

1. Psalm 1

Our first day of readings includes a great encouragement from Psalms. The psalmist contrasts the person who walks with the wicked and stands in the way of sinners and sits in the seat of mockers with the one who delights in the law of the Lord and spends time in that Law everyday. The person who spends time in the Word of God is like a tree planted by streams of water. The wicked are blown around like the dead part of plants when the wind blows.

People who know a lot about plants and trees know that there are certain trees that cannot be planted in certain areas. I really like weeping willow trees, you know the ones that droop over to the ground? They are beautiful. The experts say that you shouldn't plant those near your home because their root system will dig down into the ground and into your septic system and plumbing. So the only place they should be planted is near the edge of a lake or stream where they can grow their roots down toward the body of water. Their root system naturally seeks out water with veracity so intense that it will mess up plumbing, break up sidewalks, or anything to get to water.

May God give us the same intensity for Him and His word this year as we dig down into this living water. Like a willow.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

2008 Bible Reading

For those of you who are looking for the Bible reading plan. I will be using the weekly Bible readings from the Lookout periodical. http://www.lookoutmag.com/ I will be using the 2007 plan until they update the dates, but it is essentially the same for this year just off by a day. http://www.lookoutmag.com/pdfs/BRP_2007.pdf



I will post comments everyday from one of the scriptures and if some of you will post back, then we will have a great year of reading and discussing the scriptures together. And there is some accountablility for me if there is someone going through this with me.



I will be trying to post something everyday so keep checking back.