Christianity 201

October 21, 2021

The Most Important Decision We Face

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Thinking Through Deuteronomy 30:15-20

by Clarke Dixon

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices. This means we are confronted with so many decisions, perhaps too many. There is such a thing as decision fatigue as we are bombarded with having to make a multitude of decisions daily. This might explain why I start each day with the exact same breakfast, porridge. That is one less decision on my plate!

The other, and greater, problem, is that with all the decisions we make in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime, the most important decision we face gets lost. What is that decision? Let us go to Deuteronomy 30:15-20 for a hint.

The Book of Deuteronomy captures what Moses said to God’s people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. This was an important new beginning for the people who had spent the last forty years in the wilderness following their rescue from slavery in Egypt. As they stood at the edge of the Promised Land, Moses called the people to make a decision:

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.

Deuteronomy 30:15 (NLT)

While it sounds like the people are to choose between life and good, or death and bad, that is not the real decision that is to be made. Those are the consequences of the decision that must be made:

For I command you this day to love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.
“But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, . . .

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.

Deuteronomy 30:16-17,19,20 (NLT emphasis added)

The decision is whether to be in a love relationship with God, or not.

God had already called this one people into a special relationship through the call of Abraham. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and provided for them in the wilderness. God gave them the law and made promises about the future. In other words, the people were called to decide whether or not to be in a love relationship with the God Who had already decided to be in a love relationship with them. God had already made his choice. He chose this people, Israel, to be a special people through whom He would work out His purposes for the world. Now it was their turn to commit to the relationship.

There were consequences to their decision. It was as if God was saying “I choose you, we can do this life together, or you can be on your own. Of course, being on your own will not go well, for there are big bad nations out there who will want your land for resources and security, and your people as slaves. But if you want to do life with me, I will be with you, and protect you.”

Today, God offers to be in a love relationship with each one of us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

We each face a decision on whether or not be in that love relationship God offers. God has already made His choice, and that choice was made clear at the cross. God chooses a love relationship with us. Do we choose to be in that love relationship? There are consequences to what we choose. God will either be in our future, or not. That is our decision to make. Has a lifetime of decision-making pushed this, the biggest decision of our lives, onto the back-burner?

This one big decision, to be in a love relationship with God, will be reflected in every little decision.

The call to love God was accompanied with a call to follow God’s ways: “love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways” (verse 16). This would affect all of life’s decisions. God’s people could not be in a love relationship with God and live like the Egyptians, or the Assyrians, or the Canaanites, or anyone else. Choosing to be in a love relationship with God meant being different, marching to the beat of a different drummer.

Some may think of God’s law negatively, like it was a straight jacket and all about control. It was, however, really about becoming a better people and a more just society. We might read the Old Testament law and think, “what, they didn’t get to eat bacon?!” The Canaanites might think “what, they don’t need to set their children on fire?!”

Through the law, God’s people had the opportunity to be freed from foolish and evil practices, from the injustices that plague unjust societies. Reading the Old Testament prophets, the concept of justice comes up often. They often mention how the Israelites failed to follow God’s ways, failing to take care of the most vulnerable of their society. Through following God’s ways the people would be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. In choosing to be in a love relationship with God, and in allowing that one decision to shape all their decisions, God’s people would be taking steps toward the Kingdom of God.

Today, a love relationship with God will be reflected in every choice we make.

Spirituality is not something we fit into a time slot each day. Spirituality is at the centre of our being, affecting every decision.

Let’s not assume that the way we allow our decision to be in a love relationship with God shape all our decisions is by listing every rule we find in the Bible. We are not old covenant people, so to blindly apply every rule we find in Deuteronomy would be to miss the moment that we live in, the love relationship with God that we are offered. We are new covenant people, with a focus on Jesus, his teaching and example. Through following Jesus we take steps toward the Kingdom of God.

The Christian walk is more about heart work than keeping a set of rules. Developing character is hard work and takes a lifetime. It also takes God’s Spirit.

To choose a love relationship with God is to choose God every time over everything else that would want our allegiance.

But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.

Deuteronomy 30:17-18 (NLT emphasis added)

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we discover that God’s people were often likened to a faithless spouse. Sometimes they did worship other gods, which meant that sometimes they did live according to the lifestyles and standards of other nations. Sometimes they did end up sacrificing their children. Seemingly the Canaanite god Molech liked that kind of thing. The God Who led the people out of Egypt did not. GOD offered them a love relationship, but GOD must be their only God.

Today, there are many gods looking for our allegiance.

Money can accomplish great things. However the love of money can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects so many other decisions. Sex is a wonderful gift of God. However the love of sex can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects other decisions. Similar things can be said of power, image, fame, family, celebrity, alcohol, influence, politics and so much more. These things and more can become like gods to us, negatively impacting our capacity to make godly and wise decisions. For a society that has largely rejected God and the supernatural, we sure do have many gods.

In conclusion.

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices, we are therefore confronted with so many decisions. There is one decision we face that is greater than any other. It is making a choice that is more important than choosing vocation, location, or even marriage partner: What are we going to do with God’s offer of a love relationship?

If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, all our decisions will be shaped by that one decision. If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, we will make the effort to identity and cease the worship of any gods that may be affecting our decisions.

GOD has already made His choice. Have you?

October 14, 2021

Are You Glass Half-Full or Glass Half-Empty?

Thinking Through Exodus 15

by Clarke Dixon

Are you a glass half-full kind of person or a glass half-empty kind of person? If you are not sure, your friends and family can probably tell you! In the Bible we come across a people who could be described as neither, but in a manner which might describe us even better.

Let us consider God’s people in the moments after they had just crossed the Sea and escaped the Egyptians:

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name! . . . .

Exodus 15:1-3 (NLT)

And on the song continues with praise to God for the incredible rescue. And of course this is entirely appropriate, for God has pulled through for a tiny people in the face of a large powerful oppressor. Let us remember that they had been slaves for hundreds of years, they were not trained for battle, they were not prepared for battle, and yet here they were, with their backs up against the wall, or rather a sea, with a big trained professional army eager to follow orders to destroy them. Any bystander would know how this is going to pan out. Except that they wouldn’t, for God’s people had a secret weapon; God.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them
and catch up with them.
I will plunder them
and consume them.
I will flash my sword;
my powerful hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
You raised your right hand,
and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Exodus 15:9-12 (NLT)

The Hebrew people walked safely through the Sea, young and old alike, while the big bad army on the other hand, were sunk. This song was a “WOW” moment for God’s people, a moment of praise and thanksgiving for what God had just done.

While they stood and reflected on the miracle they had just experienced, they also looked forward:

“With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.
The peoples hear and tremble;
anguish grips those who live in Philistia.
The leaders of Edom are terrified;
the nobles of Moab tremble.
All who live in Canaan melt away;
terror and dread fall upon them.
The power of your arm
makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O LORD,
until the people you purchased pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
the place, O LORD, reserved for your own dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

Exodus 15:13-17 (NLT)

The song began with what God had just done, but closes looking forward to what God promised to do. The miracle at the Sea was a “WOW” moment, and the promises are “WOW” promises.

So are God’s people glass half-empty kind of people, or glass half-full kind of people? God’s people as we find them in Exodus 15 are something else altogether, they are a glass quite-full kind of people!

For three days . . .

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded

Exodus 15:22-24 (NLT)

Then a little later, and a little further into the wilderness,

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

In no time at all, God’s people went from glass quite-full kind of people to glass knocked-over kind of people.

Perhaps that might be a good description for us. We may be neither glass half-full nor glass half-empty kind of people, but glass knocked-over kind of people. Our moods, thoughts, and attitudes may be all over the place and depend on situations and circumstances. We might be going along quite well with our glasses quite-full, life being good, then we get focused on the problems at hand, or the people in our face, and over the glass goes. We go from hopeful about the future to anxious, from confident in the present to nervous, from relaxed about life to stressed out, from ready to take on the world to unprepared to even get out of bed. From glass quite-full to glass quite-empty in the time it takes for a glass to fall over.

Is there a better way?

How might things have turned out if God’s people kept singing that song from chapter 15 while in the wilderness? What if that song was not a top-of-the-pop-charts-for-just-one-day kind of song, but one they sang every day in the wilderness?

When they ran out of water, if they were singing about how God helped them in the past despite the odds being seemingly stacked against them, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. If God can deal with the army problem, God can do something about the water problem.

When they ran out of food, if they were singing about God’s promises for the future, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. Since God had rescued them in the past and made promises about their future, then just maybe they could trust him with today instead of assuming the worst?

What about us?

Are we singing songs of praise and thanksgiving enough? Are we remembering God in our lives, that when trouble hits, God is our first thought and not our last resort, that when life gets rough, trust in God is something we just do, and not something we must try to muster up? Are we continually getting our hearts and minds in tune, ready for what is next, whether good or bad?

If God’s people could sing of being rescued from Egypt in Exodus 15, we have an even greater rescue to sing about. The Lord has rescued us from all that separates us from Him. The Lord has rescued us from death, though Jesus.

If God’s people could sing about the promised land, we can sing about even bigger promises now. The Lord has promised to be present with us. The Lord has promised eternal life with Him through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised us His Kingdom coming, and leads us to move toward it in the here and now.

Thinking of our tag-line at Calvary Baptist Church of “helping people walk with Jesus,” it can feel like an uphill battle trying to get people excited about the possibility of walking with Jesus. It should be harder to convince Jesus to want to walk with us. But Jesus takes no convincing, on the contrary, Jesus “took the nails”. That’s God’s love, that’s God doing what God does because God is love.

That’s a song worth singing, a tune to get stuck in our heads! So when trouble strikes, and it will, we know God is going to get us through it, because God is not some idea we contemplate from time to time, but One with Whom we walk every day in a trust relationship.

Thanksgiving may be just one day in the year, but gratitude is a song we can sing daily, bringing focus on the reality of God walking with us in the past, future, and present, bringing focus to the reality of God and the reality of God’s love. Praise and thanksgiving remind us that we can trust God. When we live a life of gratitude to God, trust will be something we do daily and will not be something we must muster up when hard times hit.

Perhaps this is worth an experiment. What if for a week, or a month, each morning we think of something God has done for us in the past, plus something God has promised for our future? We might want a Bible and a notebook handy! What if we start each day with a “song” of praise and gratitude?

A life lived in praise and gratitude is a life anchored to the reality of God’s love for us. When we are anchored to the reality of God’s love for us we won’t be glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of people, we won’t be full glass-knocked-over kind of people, we will be cup-runneth-over kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This devotional is based on a sermon which can be seen here.

October 7, 2021

Our True Home, Our Refuge from Change

Thinking Through the Life of Moses

by Clarke Dixon

Home is the one place where we are sheltered from the onslaught of change, right?

Everything else changes, our world changes, our society changes, people change, we change. Recently upon standing and seeing my hair on the floor I wondered why my barber has started only cutting the grey hairs. We change and we may not like it. We may not like any change.

Home is a refuge from all that change, it is the most stable thing in our lives, the one thing we can depend upon to not change, right?

Unless you are Moses.

Actually, unless you are most of us!

Let’s think about Moses’ sense of home for a moment. If we could ask Moses what he considered “home” what would he say? He might say it was his family and people of origin, among whom he was born. Or he might say that home is where he had his first memories, among the Egyptians that he grew up with. He might say that home is in Midian where he settled down with a wife and family from yet another people, having fled Egypt. Yet God called him from that new home, and that new people, to be at home among his clan of birth, God’s people, who had made a home in Egypt, to lead them to a new home, the Promised Land, a new home that Moses would never step foot in. Instead Moses spent the last forty years of his life leading the people around the wilderness.

You could say that Moses spent most of his life pitching tents, and never really settled in one home. His life was a journey to his true home.

How would Moses have answered that question “where is your true home? Where does your sense of stability come from?”

There was one constant in Moses’ life, one thing that remained the same throughout, and remains the same for Moses even now; God.

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
When the LORD saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

Exodus 3:1-4 (NLT)

God first appeared to Moses in a bush which was burning, but not consumed by the fire. Is there anything in our lives that cannot be consumed by fire? Take a look around, in the event of a massive fire, would anything be left untouched and unchanged? There is a hint here, that everything in our lives can be taken from us or destroyed, but only with the presence of God can there be any hope of something that endures. Only with God can we find a home that cannot be destroyed or taken from us.

But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”

Exodus 3:13-14 (NLT)

As we read through the Old Testament we often see the word “LORD,” written with all capitals, but not many people know why. It stands in for God’s divine name, which in Jewish tradition, would not be pronounced out of respect. When coming across the divine name in the Hebrew Bible, Jewish people say the word for “Lord” instead. We more or less carry on that tradition as Christians. The point is, God’s name has the idea of existence built right into it.

Only God has existence as part of His essence. God just is. Everything else and everyone else has been created. Everything that is created can also be destroyed. God cannot be destroyed because existence is part of God’s essence.

What is the the one thing we can depend on, the one thing that is not subject to change or can be destroyed, or taken from us? Only God can be our true home, the one constant in our lives.

God was, and continues to be even now, the one constant along Moses’ journey, his true home. Everything else was pitching tents. We may think we are building a home, some might even think they are building, or buying, a “forever” home, but we are always just pitching tents. Whatever home we think we are building will only last for the a season of life, for however long that lasts.

Being at home with God means that this life is a journey home. Being on a journey means saying goodbye, a lot. 

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to places. Having lived in eighteen different dwellings I am amazed when I meet someone who still lives in the home they were born in. This is now the longest I have lived in any one dwelling, at nine years. Yet whether nine months, nine years, or ninety years, these are nothing compared to being at home with God forevermore. This raises the question, how much do we really want to invest our lives in something we will be saying goodbye to? How much more do we want to invest our lives in being at home with God?

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to possessions. I have seen pictures of a motorcyclist being buried on his motorcycle. He won’t be riding that where he is going! We have possessions that may be very meaningful to us now, but when we stand before the Lord in the hereafter, when we realize how meaningful Christ is to us, the significance of much we invest in and concern ourselves with now will fall away. How much do we want our lives wrapped up in things we will say goodbye to? How much do we want our lives to be wrapped up in Christ?

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to people. People come in and out of our lives. Saying goodbye can be very difficult when close relationships are involved. Saying goodbye can be particularly painful when those goodbyes are unexpected and happen far too early. Grief is something we can depend upon experiencing in our journey. Let us learn how to manage it and lean into God through it.

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to particular ways of thinking.  To give an example, some people are raised, or come to Christianity, with the understanding that every word of the Bible should be taken as historically and literally true. However this does not give space to the fact that there are different genres of writing found in the Bible. Different genres require different approaches in understanding. To give an example, there are those who see a big gap between science and faith based on a very literal and historical understanding of Genesis chapter 1. Some of us, however, have an interpretation of Genesis 1 which sees no war between faith and science (please see this post from the past for more on that). While we make space for those who think differently, a life of faith is a journey of understanding, which means sometimes saying goodbye to ways of understanding that we may have treasured in the past. That can be difficult.

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to this life as we know it, these poor old bodies as we know them. There are those who get to the point of “goodbye and good riddance.” I remember one dear elderly saint who often said “I’d give anything for a slice of toast.” She lost her home, her health, her independence, and even the ability to eat. She was ready to say goodbye and told me so.

The apostle Paul was also ready to say goodbye:

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)

When we think of our home being with God in the here and now, we have courage for the journey, even that final journey home in the hereafter.

In conclusion,

Knowing that our home is with God means being on a journey, and a journey entails much change and many goodbyes. So let us hold onto everything lightly. Let us grasp onto God tightly, knowing that in Christ and through His Holy Spirit, God has a firm grasp of us.

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16 (MSG)


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This sermon can be seen preached here.

 

September 12, 2021

What Was “The Law” Prior to “The Ten Commandments?”

The forum site Reddit has a number of Christianity-related interest areas or what are called “sub-Reddits.” One of these is Ask a Christian. That’s where this question appeared.

Before Moses acquired the 10 commandments and the other specific laws from God, how did people know what God’s “laws and statutes” were?

The above is also a link to read the discussion for yourself. I thought we’d highlight the scripture passages here. Since I have no idea what translations were being quoted, I’m offering everything here in NIV.

The first quoted was Exodus 15:26:

He said, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

That was the basis for the original question:

I noticed Moses hasn’t even received the stone tablets or anything like that yet for the people to know gods laws to begin with.

Were there some pre-existing commands and decrees that I might have missed that the Israelites would have already known about? Were the commandments already existent in some form before this and the Moses tablets were simply a ceremonial “commemorative” edition of what already existed?

The first respondent quoted Genesis 26:5

because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”

noting that,

It seems that even before the laws and commandments were written down by Moses, God had given them to others (Abraham and Isaac, and therefore their posterity) orally (up to 700 years earlier), and they were known and kept until Moses wrote them down.

The original questioner (whose Reddit user name I won’t repeat here) said,

Thanks that makes more sense. It’s still strange to me if he expected all mankind to obey and worship him that he didn’t give these instructions and commands to all mankind and not just Abraham.

That brought another response from (…okay another stranger user name):

It’s potentially implied in Genesis that God did exactly that. The extent is uncertain because it’s not specifically recorded, but it’s at least clear that there was some kind of awareness of the God of the Bible outside of what’s recorded in scripture. The most significant example is Melchizedek, who is evidently a priest of the most high God operating in Salem, completely separate from and prior to Abraham.

Less concretely, if the Biblical narrative is broadly correct and all humanity came from Eden, then humanity would all have started from a point of awareness of God. The extent to which he laid out his commands following Eden is not clear, but the text seems to imply that at some point they were known before people fell away. For instance, Cain and Abel go to make sacrifices to the Lord – but the sacrificial law hasn’t been recorded at this point. So evidently it was already known in some capacity even before the sacrificial laws were given to the nation of Israel…

The original question (which I only quoted in part) had also mentioned Melchizedek. Is he key to this question? Maybe.

Another person commented,

The first law God ever gave was “Thou shall not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” All through Genesis He establishes laws and practices.

The original poster seemed to be looking for a more complete set of instructions, replying

Where in Genesis? Did I miss it? So far I’ve not seen anything indicative of god giving commandments and laws to mankind as a whole until Exodus (which even then it’s clear its laws are exclusive to Hebrews, no Canaanites. Ammonites, Jebusites etc etc allowed). Prior to that God simply directs individual Hebrew people in specific activities, like Noah building an ark. Or announcements regarding the future as in God telling Abraham he will be the forefather of a large nation which will experience slavery and eventual conquest etc. God telling Jacob not to be afraid to move his family into Egypt. And so on. Again if I missed something in Genesis akin to a Moses like declaration of the law for all people, please kindly direct me to the passage.

He/she seems to be looking for a specific example of a codified set of laws.

But if not, I guess my confusion is, how did god expect mankind to obey him before he provided a clear set of commands to be followed as he did with Moses? And further, how could he therefore see it fit to destroy people for disobeying laws they know nothing about? Instances like Sodom/Gomorrah, the tower of Babel, the “wickedness” prior to the flood. How did any of those people know anything about this god or his expectations if prior to Moses god didn’t yet make himself and his expectations clear?

So someone else provides an example:

Here is one — Genesis 17:10 — This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;

At that point the discussion got a bit unruly. Social media tends to that, doesn’t it? At no point was anyone suggesting that the circumcision commandment was the only commandment.

But then it got back on track:

Moses is also not the first fella to write stuff down. There’s Enoch way before him, pre-Flood, that was considered a ‘scribe’ of sort, and walked with God. I’m sure he wrote down interesting stuff too..

In the end some Laws are just simply hardwired in our being with conscience, thus written ‘inside’ of us.

That last sentence would foreshadow the answer that would follow:

Paul tells us the law of God is written on our hearts in Romans 2. [Ed. note: See below for full citation] While the Israelites didn’t have a formalized legal system, there was still a knowledge of right and wrong. That knowledge was something they failed to live up to, just as we did, and their faith was counted as righteousness just like our faith is. The formalized legal system was not meant to be the means by which they obeyed God. It was only meant to be the means by which God more directly exposed their failures.

At that point the debate continued mostly over the above comment’s suggestion that, “The formalized legal system was not meant to be the means by which they obeyed God;” a statement which, while I would agree with it, only becomes clear after New Testament revelation; in other words, after we transition from acceptance from God through obedience to acceptance from God through grace.


The context of Romans 2 concerns those [Gentiles] who did not have the law, but I can also see why it was quoted in the above discussion. Here is the full text of vs. 12-16:

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.


The original question (2nd paragraph of this article) is also the link to the discussion.

If you’re interested in the “Ask a Christian” sub-Reddit more generally, go to this link. If you’re using a PC or laptop, you don’t need to sign up or get the app to read, but you do need to join in order to leave comments. I observed for about a year before joining, but then one day, there was a question I simply had to jump in and ask. There are also other Christianity-related sub-Reddits.

One last verse from the discussion; Genesis 4:7:

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

August 20, 2021

Time Apart

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back again at Devotions by Chris and a short devotional by Chris Hendrix. Clicking the header which follows will get you there directly.

Alone With God

I was talking with a friend recently about how technology has been both a blessing and a curse. On the blessing side, we have so much information, entertainment and communication in the palm of our hand. Never before in the history of the world have we had such access, but along with that comes the curse. We’ve lost the ability to be alone to think deeply and to pray. We’re constantly interrupted by it going off, lighting up or us using it out of habit. In times past, people had the ability to process, break down and understand the information they had because they had the ability to truly be alone with their thoughts. That ability also provided them with opportunities to be alone with God.

Exodus 3:1 says, “Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro (Reuel) his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God” (AMP). Notice how Moses was in the wilderness alone. It was then that he noticed the burning bush. Verse 3-4 says, “So Moses said, ‘I must turn away [from the flock] and see this great sight—why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he turned away [from the flock] to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” Moses turned away from his distraction, and when he did, God called out to him and met with him.

You will even find this pattern with Jesus. Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray [in seclusion].” How often do you slip away into seclusion, away from all distractions, and pray? It’s difficult in today’s world.

We must be intentional about it. Our minds will give us the fear of missing out or of being out of connection with others, but the truth is that those fears have made us miss out on encounters with God and out of connection with Him. Jesus made it a practice to break away from the crowd and noise of life to be alone with God. With all of our connectedness today, we must be even more intentional about it.

God is waiting to meet you, but you must turn away from the things that distract you first and get alone with Him.


On a similar theme:

This a short excerpt taken from a larger look at spiritual disciplines from the blog, Running to Him. The author’s name is not listed. Clicking the header which follows will take you there directly.

All In – Spiritual Disciplines

…[L]et’s bring Solitude into the picture. This one is often overlooked among the Spiritual Disciplines, even in my own life. There’s so much noise in the world around us that we don’t take time to be silent with no background noise. A book titled The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry has a whole chapter on Silence and Solitude.

The big question is how can we expect to hear from God if we don’t put in the time to listen to Him? How can we say He’s not speaking if we’re not actively listening to Him? A great way to start putting solitude in your life is to start with one minute of silence. Try not to think about anything. Try not to say anything. Most importantly, try not to have any background noise. Just silence and see how God speaks!

The next spiritual disciple that I want to highlight is another often overlooked discipline. In a world of burnout, stress, anxiety, and overworking, Rest has become increasingly countercultural. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls the weary souls to come to Him for rest. Jesus wants us to have rest! He doesn’t want us to be burnt out and stressed all of the time.

A great (and incredibly counter cultural) way to have rest and take Jesus’ light yoke upon us is to have a Sabbath, this was another chapter from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Sabbath is a day of rest and stopping. In the creation story, God worked for six days and stopped on the Sabbath. If God took a day of rest, how much more do we need rest?

This has been a hard truth for me to realize and a hard discipline to put into place… A key way to fight back against this is to see the Sabbath as a gift and not a limitation. Instead of seeing it as “I have to rest today,” view the Sabbath as “I get to rest today.” In Mark 2:27, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath wasn’t made to limit us, it was made as a gift FOR us…

July 19, 2021

Taking the Land

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV.Johsua.14.6a&7-9 Now the people of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him… “…I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Leiah who writes at Yellow Diamond Blog. Why the name? Her hope is, “that you will discover that you are far more precious and valuable than even a rare yellow diamond.” Her recent writing has been a mix of testimony and Bible study. Click the title to read at source.

You Can’t Take Everyone with You

You can’t take everyone with you.

For nearly a year now I’ve know that the Lord was getting ready to make a shift in my life. I had absolutely no idea how or when it was going to play out. I just knew he was moving me into a long awaited promised land.

I’ve spent hours and hours just imagining what it would be like. I had so many ideas and things I was just really certain about. And finally one day I knew it was time to move forward and take the land. So naturally I summoned others to come too. But as I moved forward, they regressed. Bittersweet isn’t a strong enough word to describe the conflicted feelings I have about this journey so far. I never planned to do it alone. And yet here I am. But you can’t take everyone with you.

I look back on the children of Israel, and I see the difference in the people that crossed over into the promised land, and the ones who didn’t.

The ones who crossed over were willing to face their greatest fears, to face the unknown, and go after the promise of the Lord unapologetically no matter what or who they had to leave behind. They trusted that if the Lord brought them there, He would indeed take care of them there. They knew that even though it looked impossible for them to enjoy the fruits of the land they were entering into, that the Lord intended good for them. They knew that he would heal their hearts of the brokenness they had encountered in the wilderness. They knew that the joy of the promised land would be greater than the sorrow of the wilderness. They knew that there would be an adjustment period, in which they had to go from the “survival of the wilderness” to “thrive in the promised land” mentality. They also knew that maintaining the promised land would require following the Lords instructions meticulously.

I am still in the process of taking the land. I know there will be days I feel defeated, insecure, and want to run back into the wilderness I’ve known for so long. However, I will not turn back. I will set my eyes on Jesus and walk hand in hand with Him towards the life He has for me. I will deal with the trauma of the wilderness. I will not carry those survival mindsets into this new place. I will embrace the goodness of the Lord and all that He has planned for me. I will work hard to embrace this new life. I will open my heart to new adventures with the Lord, and trust that he has equipped me for whatever is ahead.

It makes me sad to think that some people will never experience the promised land in their life. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see fear hold them back. I get it.

It’s terrifying to face the giants in the land.

It’s intimidating to look at all the things in your life that are keeping you from Gods best and tackle them head on.

It’s hard work.

It’s exhausting.

It’s painful and emotional, and confrontational.

It’s all the things I hate.

The process can be long and grueling.

It can take days, months, or even years.

It can take setting boundaries with others,

separating your self from relationships,

saying no to things you’ve always said yes to,

changing your way of thinking,

breaking habits,

being disciplined.

Some days it requires crying until you can’t any more.

Some days you just have to go against everything you’ve ever known and do something different.

It requires taking responsibility for your actions, but at the same time allowing the Lord to reveal the broken places leading you to those actions, and allowing him to heal them.

It takes showing yourself love and compassion while accepting and correcting your biggest failures.

It takes learning who the Lord created you to be, believing what He says about you, and confidently living as that person.

It’s going to require a lot of me to enter into my promised land. It already has in the first few steps towards it. It will require a lot of you too. You won’t want to move towards it some days, in fear of what or who it will require of you next. But remember, it’s YOUR promised land!!! It is the good the Lord intended for YOU!!! He knows who can thrive there with you, and who can’t. TRUST HIM!!! Look at all the times His children took people with them when they weren’t supposed to, and those people cost them their promised land every single time.

Leaving people behind for your promised land is terrifying and heart wrenching. It seems harmless to try and take them with you when the Lord says you shouldn’t. But remember, people don’t value something that isn’t meant for them.

Step out. Move forward. Fight for your promised land with no regrets. The Lord is with you, and for you. He will not let you down. Follow His lead. Hear His voice. Do whatever it takes to defeat those giants keeping you from the fullness of the Lord in your life.

It’s time child. The Lord says you’re ready. Take heart, take courage, take your promised land. ❤️

“but my brothers who went with me frightened the people from entering the Promised Land. For my part, I wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God.”

Joshua 14:8 NLT

 

May 29, 2021

Before and After: The Veil and the Big Reveal

This week a friend put me on to a 50-minute YouTube podcast of Mike Winger teaching on the prophetic nature of four verses in Proverbs 30 that ended with the passage in 2 Corinthians 3 which follows. I’ve linked to the podcast at the end of today’s reading for those who want to go deeper.

NIV.2.Cor.3.13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

BibleRef.com sets the stage:

Paul has been comparing the glory of the old covenant between God and Israel and the new covenant of God’s grace for all who come to Him through faith in Christ. The glory of the revelation of God through the old covenant was always fading away and being brought to an end. The glory of God’s revelation of Himself through Christ is eternal. Through faith in Christ, God receives Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for sin and gives credit for Jesus’ sinless, righteous life in return.

The result for him, Paul has written, is boldness and confidence while representing God to others. He has nothing to fear, because his standing before God is not based on his own performance. It is all based on Christ’s righteousness.

Moses, on the other hand, could not be so bold in representing God to the Israelites. Paul is referencing Exodus 34. Moses returned to the people after being with God visibly changed in his appearance. His face reflected God’s glory so powerfully that the people were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:30). The glory of God was painful to them in their sinfulness. Moses covered his face to protect them from God’s glory. He could not boldly reveal it to them as Paul revealed God’s glory in the person of Jesus.

The Bridgeway Bible Commentary suggests that the veil itself is both literal and symbolic:

After Moses had been away from the presence of God for a while, the brightness of his face faded, but the veil over his face prevented Israelites from seeing this fading brightness. To Paul, this fading brightness symbolized the fading away and eventual end of the old covenant. The permanence of the new covenant, by contrast, gives Paul confidence in all that he says and does (12-13).

At Authentic Christianity, Ray Stedman comes closest to the type of approach I heard in the podcast, even going so far as to title his commentary, “Who is This Masked Man?” (He refers to the veil as a mask, which, you gotta admit, is somewhat timely!)

God loves to teach with symbols. His favorite teaching method is to use a visual aid, a kind of symbol of truth which he holds up before us to instruct us. The “mask,” or veil, which Moses wore is a symbol of the old covenant, that is, the Law, the Ten Commandments, with their demand upon us for a certain standard of behavior. Also, it is a symbol of our natural, typical response to the Law — to try to obey it, either to the point of convincing ourselves that we have achieved it, or to the point of giving up and rebelling against it.

Stedman also gets into the possible motivation for Moses’ motivation for wearing the veil. It may not have been because his face was shining with the glory of God, but that the glory was fading. Just stop and think about that for a minute:

Moses, perhaps, did not understand all this when he put the veil over his face. It is somewhat difficult for us to guess what his motive may have been. Some commentators suggest that he felt that if the people saw that the glory was fading away, they would not pay any attention to the Law, they would disregard it and go on living as they wanted. Others have suggested that, perhaps, he was trying to preserve his own status symbol as a special mediator with God. That is the position I have taken in my book, Authentic Christianity, which deals with this passage. I think that Moses, like many of us, was trying to preserve the reputation he had with the people and he did not want them to see that when he came out from God’s presence the glory began to fade — as many of us do not like people to see what is really going on inside of us. We want to preserve an image of being spiritual giants when actually we are not at all. Our family knows it, but we do not want our friends or anyone else to know. That may be what Moses’ motive was.

The Bridgeway Commentary looks at what happens when someone steeped in the old covenant (i.e. the Jews) places themselves under the new covenant:

In a sense there is still a veil that belongs to the old covenant. It is the veil that covers the minds of the Jews, for they read the Old Testament but refuse to see Christ as its fulfilment. Consequently, they cannot properly understand it (14-15). When Moses went in before the Lord he removed the veil. Similarly, when Jews turn to Jesus Christ, the veil is removed. Through the work of the Spirit, Christ sets them free from the bondage of sin and the law (16-17). Christians also must make sure that there is no veil between them and their Lord. The better they know Christ personally, the more they will be changed so that they become increasingly like him (18).

As Stedman continues, we see the challenge of what we’re doing here, going back and forth between two commentaries where the interpretation of what the veil represents, and its practical applications, differs.

Notice what that is saying. The apostle is very clear that the nature of the darkness, the blindness that lay over the minds of the Jews of his day, which he calls a “veil,” is the same veil that Moses put over his face. Now, obviously, the veil on Moses’ face was a material veil; it was made of cloth. Paul is not suggesting that the Jews walk around with cloth veils on their faces.

Stedman sees the fading taking place as “the terrible end of self-effort,”

… They do not see that the end of all their efforts to try to live a righteous life by their own human resources is going to end in death and condemnation and emptiness and a total sense of futility and waste. But yet, that is what happens.

Paul also calls it a “hardening,” by which he means it becomes a continual condition. It is a state of mind that they enter into. Now, the amazing thing is that, in our day, 2000 years after Paul, this is still true. You can see it in the Jews today. In Orthodox Judaism, and much of Reformed Judaism, and certainly in Liberal Judaism, they are still trying to make it before God on the basis of how they behave.

Again, it’s a longer selection, but if you’re going to read one of the links here to better understand the passage, I would choose either taking the 50 minutes to listen to the podcast link, or read Ray Stedman.

BibleRef returns us to the historical context:

Now Paul adds that the minds of the Israelites were hardened by sin. Even as Moses was receiving the commandments from God, Israel built an idol to worship instead of worshipping the Lord. This disobedience and betrayal of God resulted not just in punishment from Him but in a hardening of their minds to see His glory. The glory was revealed in God’s Word to them, but they could not, would not, see it.

Nobody can see God’s glory, Paul adds, because of this veil created by sin. It keeps us from understanding what is true until it is removed through Christ. In other words, only those who come to God through faith in Christ are freed from the veil and given the ability to begin to receive God’s glory. Why? Because in Christ, their sin is forgiven and replaced with Jesus’ righteousness.

On a later page, it adds,

We cannot remove this veil ourselves no matter how sincerely we want to or how diligently we study or how desperately we try to obey.

I held back verse 18 to the end so it might be our final thought:

NLT.2.Cor.3.18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.


Here is the link to the podcast by Mike Winger that got me interested in this text: Jesus is Prophesied in the Book of Proverbs. (The Corinthians passage comes up close to the end.)


Teaching the text — advice to pastors at WorkingPreacher.org from Karl Jacobson:

…[I]t may be necessary to say a quick word about the inter-testamental tension here. There may be a tendency, and perhaps even a temptation, to read this allegory of Paul’s as an outright rejection of the Old Testament. Phrases like “not like Moses,” and “their minds were hardened,” and even simply the “old covenant,” may seem to suggest that Paul is doing exactly this, rejecting “Moses” and his obscured, clouded, veiled word. But for Paul, there is no true disconnect between the Torah and the Testament to Christ. As the second reading from last week showed the gospel (or as 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 has it, the truth) is very much in keeping with the Old Testament, with the scriptures of the tradition.

At stake here are questions of antinomianism, of supersessionism, of simplistic ideas of “Old Testament = Law, bad and New Testament = Gospel, good.” Along with these often goes “Christian believer = good, Jewish believer = bad.” This is not, finally, what Paul is about. Paul does not dismiss the Old Testament.

At the same time the essential claim for Christ is an essential claim, it is particular, and quite uncompromising. While Paul does not reject the Old Testament, the old covenant, he does argue for a particular reading of it, one that is possible only in the Spirit, who brings freedom from blindness, and veiled minds (3:17)…

March 6, 2021

Looking at the Face of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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If we compiled a list of the five authors we’ve featured here most often, Elsie Montgomery would be in that list.  She has been faithfully writing daily at Practical Faith since 2006.

For 2021, she decided to do something different, and use the alphabet to provide word prompts for themes. “God directed my thoughts to the alphabet and 2×26 equals the weeks in a year, and that He can be described by many English words beginning with those 26 letters.” (Never say you can’t think of anything to write!)

As always, please support our contributing writers by clicking through (it send them traffic) and reading this on her site. Click the article title which follows.

Seeing God?

During their wilderness travel, the Israelites sinned and Moses interceded for them. In that conversation, he asked God to “Please show me your glory” but God said to him:

(Exodus 33:19–23) “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

I picked FACE as a word about God for today. In Hebrew, FACE is a plural noun. It means “the presence or proximity of someone understood in terms of the face; with the implication of being before or in front of them.” This supports the idea that much can be known about someone by the look on their face.

However, God says no one can see His face and live. Then other passages speak of seeing the face of God. This stumped me. I found an article in a theological word book about this Hebrew term. The section is long but the content is helpful. Here are a few main points:

The face identifies the person and reflects their attitude and sentiments, much the same as we talk about how another person feels according to their facial expression. In the Bible, “face” can also refer to behavioral patterns as well as revealing human emotions, moods, and dispositions.

For instance, a “hard” face indicates defiance, impudence, ruthlessness. A “shining” face is evidence of joy while a “shamed” face points to defeat, frustration, humiliation. A “fallen” face indicates very strong anger or displeasure. The phrase “to hide one’s face” means to show aversion or disgust and “to turn away the face” is to reject.

There are more examples, many of which are applied to God. God’s face “shines” as a sign of favor and good will, or “falls” in anger. He also may “hide” his face. The phrase “to see God’s face” probably indicates someone is visiting the sanctuary to worship. It includes “to see” or “to appear” suggesting the idea of “appearing before” God rather than seeing His face even though it is said that Jacob and Moses saw God “face to face.” Even so, Moses, Elijah covered their faces in God’s presence. These who saw Him were overwhelmed with astonishment and gratitude and awe.

In the New Testament God is manifested in Jesus. John 6:46 says “Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” He is not only the Word through whom God is heard but also the image through whom God is seen.

(Hebrews 1:3) He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . .”

GAZE INTO HIS GLORY. My eyes cannot ‘see’ the face of God nor do I get a full look at the face of Jesus Christ, yet when He walked on earth He was ‘seeable’ — His disciples could say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) and “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)

Their testimony helps me see the face of my God and Savior. It also makes sense of the reason why the Bible tells me to keep my focus on Jesus because by seeing Him, I am transformed to be like Him. This is the blessing in this pandemic isolation — for it has given me the time and motivation to draw near and see Him more clearly, not so much His face but the wonderful qualities of who He is.


What can be known about God? For starters we can know he exists. Here’s a bonus article from the same writer, The Fundamental Truth.

February 17, 2021

Hope That Can Never Perish, Spoil, or Fade

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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One year ago we introduced you to Chris Miller at the blog Get Encouraged. Reconnecting today, I read three of his devotionals. Click the header which follows to read this recent one at source. This is a theme so many are searching for in these days.

A Living Hope

Their lives were hard. Day after day, they endured harsh labor as they made bricks. Their bosses overlooking every step, and their quota seeming unrealistic and never ending. They cried out for relief and hoped that one day it would come. Their hope fueled by a forefather, who by faith, requested his remains be carried with them to the promised land. Generation after generation heard this request and cherished the idea it would come true someday. Hope continued through the generations.

Hope, in many ways, is fuel for our soul. It is what drives us forward. Hope of something better coming pushes us through the rough and challenging times. When our bank account is empty or we’re being slaughtered in the gossip circles, it is our hope which propels us forward.

For the nation of Israel, their hope was in Joseph’s request to carry his remains with them as they left Egypt for the promised land. Hebrews 11:22 says it was Joseph’s faith which gave him this hope.

  • 22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

Because of his faith, Joseph knew the Lord would bring Israel out of Egypt. He understood he would not see Israel’s deliverance, but he knew it would come when the time was right. So, Joseph gave instructions for his burial. It was Joseph’s instructions which gave the Israelites hope for generations. Basically, they were placing their hope in a dead man’s faithful instructions.

We, as Christ followers, have something better. Our hope is not in a forefather’s faith, but in a living Savior. 1 Peter 1:3-9 encourages:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Max Lucado writes:

Others offer life, but no one offers to do what Jesus does—to reconnect us to his power. But how can we know? How do we know that Jesus knows what he’s talking about? The ultimate answer, according to his flagship followers, is the vacated tomb. Did you note the words you just read? “A living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” In the final sum, it was the disrupted grave that convinced the maiden Christians to cast their lots with Christ. “He appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time” (1Co 15:5–6).

Can Jesus actually replace death with life? He did a convincing job with his own. We can trust him because he has been there.

He’s been to Bethlehem, wearing barn rags and hearing sheep crunch. Suckling milk and shivering against the cold. All of divinity content to cocoon itself in an eight-pound body and to sleep on a cow’s supper. Millions who face the chill of empty pockets or the fears of sudden change turn to Christ. Why?

Because he’s been there.

He’s been to Nazareth, where he made deadlines and paid bills. To Galilee, where he recruited direct reports and separated fighters. To Jerusalem, where he stared down critics and stood up against cynics.

We have our Nazareths as well—demands and due dates.

Jesus wasn’t the last to build a team; accusers didn’t disappear with Jerusalem’s temple. Why seek Jesus’ help with your challenges? Because he’s been there. To Nazareth, to Galilee, to Jerusalem.

But most of all, he’s been to the grave. Not as a visitor, but as a corpse. Buried amidst the cadavers. Numbered among the dead.

Heart silent and lungs vacant. Body wrapped and grave sealed.

The cemetery. He’s been buried there.

You haven’t yet. But you will be. And since you will, don’t you need someone who knows the way out?


■ From the same author: Guiding Through Adversity.

February 9, 2021

Miriam and Aaron Oppose Moses

Because many of you may not be familiar with this story, from Numbers 12, I’ve copied it here in full:

NIV.Numbers.12.1. Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words:

“When there is a prophet among you,
    I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,
    I speak to them in dreams.
But this is not true of my servant Moses;
    he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face,
    clearly and not in riddles;
    he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
    to speak against my servant Moses?”

The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.

10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”

14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.

16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.

One of the free resources available on BibleGateway.com is the Asbury Bible Commentary.* On this passage, it provides this insight:

Moses was to learn that a man’s foes may be of his own household. His sister Miriam and brother Aaron took him to task both because of Moses’ choice of wife … and because it appeared to them that Moses was suggesting that he was God’s vicar, that God would speak only to Moses and only through Moses…

…God’s response, for he cannot allow nit-picking and backbiting to go unchallenged, was to strike Miriam with leprosy. The reason Aaron was not similarly punished is because of either a minor role he may have played or, more likely, because leprosy would have disqualified him from the priesthood.

Happily, God defended Moses (vv.6-8) rather than Moses defending Moses. What Moses did do was to intercede for the healing of his sister (v.13). Noteworthy is the absence of any attempt on Moses’ part to defend either his marriage or his unique role. Moses is a humble person (v.3), one who feels no need always to get in the last word or engage in shouting matches with character assassins.**

This passage was also the theme for Devotions Daily subscribers on Monday.

A Prayer for Healing

by Stacy Edwards, from 100 Favorite Bible Prayers

So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “Please heal her, O God, I pray!” — Numbers 12:13

Miriam had dared to speak ill of Moses. But Moses was not only her brother, he was a prophet of the Lord. God took this offense so seriously that He caused Miriam to be covered in leprosy. It certainly wasn’t always the case, but in this instance her illness was a direct result of her sinful actions.

Moses’ immediate reaction was to cry out to God on her behalf. He prayed that Miriam would be healed of her affliction Moses expressed such humility in not only forgiving the original offense, but also pleading for the consequences of that offense to be removed from her.

How many of us have seen another individual dealing with the unpleasant ramifications of his or her behavior and failed to feel any compassion?

Perhaps we thought to ourselves, “Well, that’s what he gets,” or some such sentiment. Maybe we even fail to pray for our own healing because we feel that we deserve whatever it is that has happened to us.

There are two things that make all the difference when it comes to a seemingly undeserved healing.

First, God is a merciful God, and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).

Second, prayer is a powerful thing.

The prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much good (James 5:16). Let’s pray for the healing of those around us.

God of mercy, I pray for those around me, that they would know Your peace, healing, and love.

Excerpted with permission from 100 Favorite Bible Prayers by Stacy Edwards, © 2020 Thomas Nelson.


*Learn more about using Bible Gateway: Using this passage as an example, go to the page for Numbers 12, and check out all the various free resources and the large number of other reference works available with Bible Gateway Plus. (It’s in the right sidebar on a PC, not sure how it works with a mobile device.)

**Asbury Bible Commentary Copyright © 1992 by The Zondervan Corporation. Used as educational sample excerpt.

 

February 1, 2021

Moses Could Only Take the People So Far

Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you? Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that abundant water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me to demonstrate my holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them.”
– Numbers 20: 10-12 CSB

This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”
– Deuteronomy 32:51,52 NIV

After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.
– Joshua 1:1,2 NLT

Almost a year ago we introduced you to Alisa who has been writing at On the Housetops since November, 2014. As you consider the story referred to in the above scriptures, allow her thoughts to see ways in which there is application to your situation from the lives of Moses and Joshua. Click the header which follows.

Sometimes It’s Not About You

I was listening to music yesterday, and a song came on that made a reference to the fact that it was not Moses who brought Israel into the Promised Land, but Joshua.

I always felt sorry for Moses. I mean, here he put up with the Israelites for 40 years and faithfully obeyed the LORD – except for one mistake, which cost him entry into Canaan. It never did seem quite fair, and I’m pretty sure Moses felt the same way.

But all of a sudden the thought struck me out of nowhere: maybe Moses’ punishment wasn’t so much about him, as it was about a symbolic message to us!

Let me explain:

Moses is a symbol of the Old Testament Law. He was the one who received it from God on Mt. Sinai, and the one who taught it to the people.

He led Israel out of Egypt, but you could say that he couldn’t get Egypt out of the people. Even after receiving the law, they fell into idolatry and kept complaining that Egypt was better than the wilderness they were wandering in, and that its food was better than the manna God was providing.

Similarly, the Law could only bring people so far from the bondage of sin. It couldn’t change hearts.

And just as Moses’ one failure prevented him from entering the Promised Land, so one instance of breaking God’s Law is enough to prevent us from entering Heaven.

I think this is why God punished Moses in the way He did. I don’t think it was so much about Moses as it was about painting a picture for us, that the Law and works can’t lead us into Heaven.

But who did lead Israel into the Promised Land? It was Joshua who took the lead and parted the Jordan River to bring the people into Canaan. They never looked back, and I’ve heard that generation of Israelites referred to as the Greatest Generation.

And this is significant too, because it is another Joshua – or Yeshua – who opened the way for us to cross over to the other side of death to eternal life. Jesus did what the Law could not: He paved the way for us to have a new heart. And it is not our righteousness that saves us, but His.

Seeing this picture for the first time, I can understand better why God chose to be so harsh with Moses.

At the time that it was happening, I’m sure Moses had no idea what the significance of his actions and God’s response was. I know it felt unfair to him at the time.

But from our vantage point thousands of years later, we can look back and understand, and appreciate the picture.

There are things going on in my life right now that I may not understand, but Moses’ story gives me comfort. Maybe these tough times are about me, maybe not. Maybe there’s much more to the picture than what meets the eye. And maybe, like Moses, I won’t ever understand the full plan in my lifetime, but someday it will become clear. And I will know what I’m already choosing to trust: that God knows what He’s doing.


Is this part of the story of Moses unfamiliar to you? Read more at Got Questions.

January 10, 2021

Pharaoh’s Odd and Often Overlooked Request

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV Exodus: 12:31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”

Did you catch those last four words? We often skip over this in the Exodus story, but Pharaoh asks Moses for a blessing before they leave. Why?

In the book Slow Church, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison write,

A good chunk of the biblical story of Exodus is, in essence, the story of Pharaoh’s fearful brutality against the Israelites. It’s only after repeatedly failing to subdue the Israelites that Pharaoh gives up in exasperation. He summons Moses and Aaron and tells them to take their people and get out of Egypt. But before they leave, Pharaoh asks them to bless him. (p. 162)

They then quote Walter Brueggemann from an article called “The Liturgy of Abundance. The Myth of Scarcity”:

The great king of Egypt, who presides over a monopoly of the region’s resources, asks Moses and Aaron to bless him. The powers of scarcity admit to this little community of abundance “It is clear that you are the wave of the future. So before you leave, lay your powerful hands upon us and give us energy.” The text shows that the power of the future is not in the hands of those who believe in scarcity and monopolize the world’s resources; it is in the hand of those who trust God’s abundance.

In Exodus: A Biblical Commentary, Victor Hamilton writes:

Maybe what Pharaoh wants from Moses’ blessing is a cessation of this plague, but vv. 29-30 suggest the plague has already done its work and run its course. Does he, in making such a request, hope for some ‘payback’, some sort of quid pro quo, for releasing the Hebrew people? Is this the prayer of a man at his wits’ end? Can we hear Pharaoh say something like Jacob says to the ‘man’: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen 32:26b)? Predictably, Pharaoh desires a blessing but repenting for his disgraceful, arrogant behaviour never crosses his mind. p 193

Three things I noticed about Pharaoh’s request:

First of all, this is not a conversion story. It was a polytheistic culture and in conceding that Moses’ God had won the day, so to speak, he is not discarding the gods of his own people, but simply adding Moses’ God to his list of gods now that he feels the Hebrew God has proven Himself. Pharaoh is admitting that God had the ability to bless or curse, but there’s nothing that goes beyond that admission. That can be true of us as well. We say we trust in the atoning work of Jesus for our lives, but we rely on materialism for comfort or on technology to solve problems. We are all, to some degree polytheistic, but we would never think to put it on those terms.

Secondly, the feeling is momentary. He changes his mind again and sends his army after the people, the result being the familiar story of the parting of the Red Sea. To whatever end Pharaoh converts, it’s a short-term conversion. That can be true of people today. Many go forward at major evangelistic crusades, but, to refer to the parable, the seeds are choked out by weeds, wither in the sun, or are scattered by the wind. People are often very sincere in the moment, but return to the old mindset. We say we want to rid ourselves of a particular sin, but fall back into it.

Thirdly, Moses does not respond. Are there times when insight — either through natural means or supernaturally through discernment or a word of knowledgewould cause us to see through a “Pray for me” type of request? David Zucker writes:

At an earlier occasion Pharaoh had turned to Moses and said, “Plead for me” (other versions, “pray for me,” Exod. 8:28 [8:24 Hebrew]), and the Bible says that Moses did so (Exod. 8:29, 30). Now, Pharaoh asks again, but Moses is silent.

Pharaoh, representative of Egypt itself, may be pleading on behalf of his empire. Tell me that we will get past this terror!

Or, perhaps Pharaoh is pleading as a parent, a person in pain, a human being hurt by his own hubris. He is seeking a moment of compassion. It is clear that Moses has access to greater power than do the Egyptians. He asks for comfort in his loss, recognition for his pain, and some soothing word of consolation.

Or, perhaps, Pharaoh is seeking life itself? One Jewish teaching suggests that he himself is a firstborn. Bless me that my life will be spared is what he is asking…

Zucker then offers other possibilities for Moses’ silence, and rules for the conduct of pastors and Christian leaders in similar situations, and I encourage you to continue reading at Ministry Magazine. Here’s one other excerpt:

Pharaoh is not asking for comfort; he is not asking for a compassionate word. He is not seeking to have his life, as a firstborn, spared. And, even more important, Pharaoh isn’t asking for forgiveness; he is not repentant or remorseful. Pharaoh still sees himself as ruler, as god-incarnate.

In this setting Moses has to remain silent, and then he needs to leave. This is not an opportunity missed. Moses could not bless Pharaoh in this situation and remain honest to his own values.

 

 

October 21, 2020

Before and After Times in Bible Narrative History

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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The title of today’s devotional suggests something quite profound, so off the top I have to say that I might disappoint some of you. Like everyone else who writes devotionally, I try to ensure that what is posted here – both by myself and others – is Biblically and doctrinally sound, but today’s is more of a concept I was playing with and I invite you to do the same.

John 1: 16-17:

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
 (v.16 NIV)

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.
 (v 16 NLT)

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
 (v 17 NASB)

I was thinking about the idea that while the Israelites dramatically escaped Pharoah’s army in Exodus 14 and celebrated this victory in Exodus 15, they had not yet received the law until Exodus 19 with what we call The Ten Commandments — which can be read as up to 14 commandments (or this approach), 613 if you prefer — given in Exodus 20. They weren’t a “Ten Commandments” people because Moses had not been given the law.

Okay those first two links that weren’t to Exodus are too good to pass over (no pun intended).

David Lamb‘s article notes:

…Traditionally, the 14 commands are divided into 4 commandments that focus on “loving” God (Exo. 20:2-11) and 6 commandments that focus on “loving” humans (Exo. 20:12-17) for a total of 10.  In the first section focusing on God, the English phrase “You shall…” is repeated 6 times (all imperfects in Hebrew).  The command “Remember the Sabbath day” is unique (an infinitive absolute in Hebrew).  So there are 7 commands in Exo. 20:2-11 in a six and one pattern. (The two other verbs in 20:9, “you shall labor and do all your work” appear to be descriptive, not prescriptive, and therefore aren’t interpreted as commands.)…

while the website Knowledge Nuts has a different solution:

…Within these longer commandments lie other orders that could be sub-commandments or whole new laws. The section on not worshiping false idols, for example, contains four separate commands: not to worship other Gods, not to make images of them, not to bow down to them, and not to serve them. Same with the section on the Sabbath: We’re ordered to both keep the Sabbath holy and not to work on it.

To add to the confusion, Exodus 20:18 is traditionally seen as the end of the commandments. However, it’s really more of a break. After describing how the Israelites cowered with fear, the author starts commanding again in Exodus 20:22. Some of these new decrees are repetition, but some—such as a prohibition against having your genitals on display as you approach the altar—are a whole new ball game…

Okay, so now you’re wondering what’s in Exodus 20:22ff, right?

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

24 “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’

(Wait, what?)

But that answer is too simplistic because — remember, the chapter divisions are arbitrary — Exodus 21 continues in a sense in which the list of laws starts to grow, approaching the 613 number, as do chapters 22 and 23…

…My original point however is that Israel enjoys all the blessings of liberation from Egypt long before they kept the law.  Of course this because they were under covenant. There was the Adamic covenant and the Noahic covenant and the Abrahamic covenant, etc. (Some lists omit Adamic — though some have it — but most add the post-law Mosaic and Davidic.) …

…I tried to find a parallel with this in the New Testament. The time period between the ascension of Jesus and the Apostles and disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit is a matter of mere weeks, but there is a parallel with the completion of the Biblical canon, though it doesn’t always sit well with some people.

In theological terms biblioatry is an extreme devotion to the printed scriptures. It is extremely difficult for some who fit into this mindset to comprehend that there was a time when the Bible was not in the form we now find it. How would people be saved?

For me this like believing that the Jewish people didn’t have a history pre-law; pre-Moses. They would be the first to tell you that’s not true.


Related: From a 2011 devotional here:

…If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God.  The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God.  While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc.  That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation.  So it looks like:

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God…

 

August 16, 2020

The Ministry of The Forerunner | Leading with Strength and Courage

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 pm
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NIV.Deut.32.48 On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”

Today we return to Jim Grant at Preach Between the Lines who is currently looking at Deuteronomy. Jim is Executive Director of the Galveston Baptist Association, a conference speaker and contributing writer for the National Revitalization organization called Renovate. This is our fourth time highlighting his writing here, but we encourage you to click the header below to read this at his site.

From Moses to Joshua: Be Strong and Courageous

From Moses to Joshua
Deut. 31, 34 select verses; Joshua 1-2.

In Deut. 31 we read a repeated statement to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.” This statement is also repeated in Joshua 1 in various ways five times. Obviously taking the reign and reins from Moses would be an overwhelming assignment from God. Moses had served God forty years. He was the Friend of God; He had a closer relationship than any human. Moses was not perfect we know, for even his own disobedience at Merabah with the “smiting the Rock” twice carried a severe consequence in that he would not lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Moses was the one who fought with Pharaoh to release the people for Egyptian slavery, he received the LAW on Mount Sinai, it was his leadership over the last forty years in the wilderness that keep the people safe and secure until a generation died. We can think what it must have been like for Moses, this great hero to hear – “You will not lead the people to crossover into the Land.” One act of disobedience? Really? This reinforces the doctrine that NONE are righteous, no not one. God does not bless disobedience. Moses even argues with Good to let him lead the people – finally God tells Moses, No and that it!

I have learned that in pastoral ministry I may want to lead the church to achieve memorable and monumental heights; but I was not the person, but I was preparing the people for the person who was coming behind me This is remarkably similar to John the Baptist and Jesus. While this can and does have a disappointing effect, I have to remember that this is not about my GLORY but God’s and HIS Kingdom. I like Moses and many pastors have been allowed to share some of God’s Glory in the work of the ministry.

Moses and we have to remember this is the WORK OF GOD not man. So, Moses is told he is not going across the Jordan, but God does tell him I will let you see the LAND that I and giving to the people. In Deut. 32:48-52 is the recounting of the “Last Mountain” Moses would climb. Moses was the last of his generation to die before Israel went into the LAND. But he had one more mountain to climb. Moses is a leader and a servant of God; great is his testimony – but even though he was an icon in Israel; Israel had to move forward without him.

Now, think about all this and you Joshua have been anointed with the laying on of hands to succeed Moses. Okay, can you see the admonishment to Joshua to “Be Strong and Courageous?” Big shoes to fill right? No Joshua had his own shoes to fill. Just as God had trained Moses for his task, Joshua was also trained for his task. We know that Joshua was a great warrior and how he fought many battles in the Wilderness. This prepared him for what was ahead in the Promised Land. I am sure there have been many a preacher that took over from a long tenured pastor, and probably did so with fear and trepidation.

The wonderful word “As I was with Moses so will I be with you.” What a message! Joshua would go forth in a commanding leadership that was distinguished by a Conquering and Courageous Faith. Just as Joshua prepared the people to cross over; He had already put fear in the people in Jericho. Imagine that for 40 years, the Canaanite people lived in fear of the conquering people led by the Strong arm of God; and Israel never came to conquer for 40 years. This also speaks of the patience and mercy of God for the tribes – they had a choice to get out or be annihilated. Rahab’s story tells us of the fear that gripped the people. “We knew that your God was God.” Josh 2:8-10. Makes me wonder how many lands has God prepared for the Gospel to conquer, yet He cannot get His people to get out of the Wilderness and into the Promised Land?

I like Joshua, he had the mentality of a military general “Lead, follow or get out of the way!” Joshua did not have a business meeting to find out what the people wanted to do – He was commissioned to OBEY God not the people. This brings a great question to the surface – should we have business meetings? I know it is important to listen, but shouldn’t the command of God negate the wishes of the people. The Church was meant to go forth with the Gospel, not debate whether it is right or not. Joshua gave the people 3 days – get ready for we are going across the river into the Promised Land and leave this Wilderness behind! Oh, Joshua was 80 years old. Point You are not done until God says you are done.

In our day of 2020, I had so many grand expectations; I have not abandoned that vision. I do not know what lies ahead, but then neither did Joshua. Let us press forward to the high calling in Jesus. Most of all “LET US GET OUT OF THE WILDERNESS! Be strong and Courageous!

July 23, 2020

Hallowed Be Thy Name, Rather Than…

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “Hallowed be thy name” in other words, to pray for God to be honoured greatly. There are, however, at least two things that happen instead of the “hallowing” of God’s name. They happen now, and they happened back in Bible times.

Let us go back to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, having just been rescued from Egypt:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Exodus 32:1-6 (NRSV)

The story of the golden calf is well known, but there is an interesting detail that is easily overlooked. Aaron speaks of a festival to “the LORD.” When English translations capitalize “Lord,” they are following a tradition of not using God’s name as a matter of respect. Therefore LORD is referring not to just some generic God who cannot be known, but to the God who has made himself known within history, the same God the Israelites knew rescued them from Egypt. The golden calf is not a representation of some other god in place of God, but rather is a gross representation of the God who rescued them. It was a misrepresentation.

None of us like to be misrepresented! Neither, of course, does God. The many warnings against fashioning idols in the Bible are not just about substituting other gods for God, but also about misrepresenting God, mixing the Creator with creation. God is to be considered holy, set apart from creation. His name is to be hallowed, not misrepresented.

We might also turn to the book of Job, where following a lengthy theological discussion on why the righteous suffer, God says to Eliphaz,

My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7 (NRSV)

We don’t like it when people speak falsely about us. Neither does God.

Therefore, let us be careful with God’s Word, and handle the Scriptures well. This means being aware of things like context, genres, and how a passage fits with the whole story. Many have dishonoured God rather than greatly honouring him by not being careful in interpreting God’s Word. If we are praying for God’s name to be hallowed, we will want to do our homework and dig deeper than we sometimes do.

One scholar has written about how for many years, centuries in fact, church leaders interpreted certain Bible passages in anti-Semitic ways. The holocaust was a wake-up call and now practically no one goes with those older interpretations. Let us not make the same mistake.

We may also misrepresent Jesus without even being aware it. For example, images of Jesus as a white man with blue eyes are likely not close to reality. Being a Jew from Judea in that time, Jesus would likely have had a darker skin than is often depicted, brown eyes, and short, dark hair. Worse than misrepresentation in physical appearance though, we nourish Jesus when we imagine him as a Republican or Democrat. We want to be careful we don’t re-create Jesus in our own image. For God’s name to be hallowed, let us go to the Bible, especially the Gospels to discover Jesus.

The second way people can fail to honour God can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy, where we find Moses speaking to the people about entering the promised land:

Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,

Deuteronomy 8:11-14 (NRSV)

Once the Israelites settle in the land, there is great danger that God will be forgotten rather than greatly honored. Why? Good times and affluence. It is little wonder that God is largely forgotten here in Canada in our day!

In good times especially, the temptation is to forget God and our need of him. Then in times of difficulty, we can think we have done good without God up until now, why not keep going? In good times and bad, God, far from being highly honored, is forgotten.

We forget God and take his goodness for granted. I am reminded about my first Air Cadet camp when I was put into a specialty flight that was focused on survival. We were to have a weekend in the woods, but it got rained out. Our motto became “we survive, weather permitting!” I did learn however, that the first thing you do if your plane goes down in the deep woods far from anything, is light a fire. This is to help the rescuers find you. The second thing is not to look for food. The average human can live quite some time without it. What you need to do is find a source of water. We cannot live for long without water. We forget that, because we take water and the need for hydration for granted. We are always hydrating without even being aware of the need. We take water for granted, until we crash the plane.

We can be like that with God. We live with the goodness of God in evidence all around us, with his provision of what we need for life. Yet we can forget him. At least until we crash the plane and stand before him facing eternity. Then we will realize how much we have depended on God. Then we will realize, if we have not before, our need of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of a mediator between ourselves and God, for we have created a chasm between ourselves and God that we cannot fix. God has spanned that gap, through coming to us in Jesus. God has done all we need for us to enjoy eternal life beyond this life.

Just as we can enjoy a glass of water, we can enjoy a relationship with God now. Let us not wait until it is too late to receive reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and love. We don’t want to find ourselves in a crashed plane without any water. We don’t want to find ourselves facing death without God in our lives.

We are to pray “hallowed be thy name.” We hallow God’s name when, instead of forgetting God, we trust God, and enter into a relationship with him through Jesus.

Instead of being misrepresented or forgotten, may May God’s name be greatly honoured among us.


(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular services at Clarke’s church during the pandemic. This one was filmed on a hike in the buggy woods so there are bloopers at the end! You can also watch the reflection alone here.)

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