He Is Repeating Himself (Life Journal – 1/29/2015)

Scripture

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit. When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free. (Exodus 23:1-5 NIV)

Observation

Vs. 1 re-states one of the commandments and then expands on how this demand for truth applies. We are not to join with an evil person nor are we to yield to the pressure of a group that seeks to do wrong.

The requirement to act justly extends even to those we consider enemies – to those who hate us. The standard of justice and right has nothing to do with the character of the recipient – nor our feelings toward him or her.

The verses here also move from the negative (“You shall not..”) to the positive (“you shall”), from prohibition of wrong to a need to do right.

Application

These verses – and so many others – in the Old Testament bear witness to the Bible’s witness being a whole one, a consistent one. While some things in the Old Testament seem repugnant, even wrong to us (destroying entire villages and even groups of people to “cleanse” the land), much more of the Old Testament lays a foundation upon which the New Testament is easily laid. What Moses taught in no way contradicts what Jesus taught and did – quite the contrary.

I hear Jesus telling his disciples to love their enemies when I read vss. 4 -5, to resist the urge to do good to those who do good to me, to love as God loves rather than to act as human emotion and self-interest would urge.

I realize that this repetition is necessary for me… I struggle to act as these few verses require.  I need reminding that the way of life, the way of God, the way of Christ is one of truth. And that truth is true even when the crowd says otherwise… that justice often demands not the expedient but the difficult. The path is narrow and uphill much more than it is wide and sloping gently downward!

Prayer

God of the Law and Justice… God of Moses and Righteousness and Love… continue to work in me the transformation from restraining evil to doing good. Work in me that change of character, that difficult re-training and re-visiting of the way of love and the way of justice. May I more and more be like the Christ whom I see in these ancient words of Moses to your people, like the one who came to fulfill and make alive the Law and the Prophets. Amen.

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Wimpy Prayers (Life Journal – 1/28/2015)

Scripture

29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30 NIV)

Observation

These words are the end of a prayer (vss. 23-30) the church prays after Peter and John are released by the authorities.

They pray in response to the threats of the authorities and their admonition to Peter and John not to speak in Jesus’ name any more. Despite the threats, they pray for boldness to speak. And they ask for God not to protect them but to do miraculous deeds that will bring attention and glory and honor to the name of the one whom they had been told not to speak again, Jesus.

They also don’t pray for punishment or judgment – rather they pray that they know that God is in control even when others seem to be so.

Application

I am humbled to read this story – I had not remembered it at all until re-reading it as part of today’s Life Plan reading. So much of what I pray is about small things, my things. And to avoid things – to be redeemed from danger, to be relieved of trial.

Their prayer convicts me, too – I do not often, if ever, pray with such fervor for God’s mission to be done through me and my church and the many with whom I am blessed to do ministry.

Their prayer reflects a love that I need to cultivate. They didn’t pray for God to punish those who had wronged them or sought to stop them. They prayed that they would speak do in spite of who and what they faced.

Prayer

Sovereign Lord, Creator of All —

You spoke through the Law and the Prophets, through Christ and His Apostles. Persecuted, ignored, confronted they did not waver but spoke boldly for their Lord. Enable me to speak and act and live as boldly. As they prayed, “… stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And may he be glorified and his name praised and him trusted and loved and followed because of what you permit me, my church, my partners in ministry to do. Amen.

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Hold My Hand (Life Journal – 1/27/2015)

Scripture

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. (Exodus 17:10-13 NIV)

Observation

This story  – the first military engagement the Israelites face – follows hard on the heels of the miraculous provision of water from a stone. Moses uses the same staff with which he struck the Nile (17:6) and the same one he had used to strike the rock and bring forth water.

The fortunes of Israel wax and wane depending on whether Moses holds up the staff – not on Joshua’s military leadership or the skill or bravery of the men involved. There is a contrast – a disconnect? – between verse 13 and the rest. Joshua overcomes with the sword but does so because Moses keeps the staff aloft with the help of Aaron and Hur.

Application

Today is one of those days that as soon as I read this passage I knew it was the one to journal. Other days I read the whole section assigned to the day without getting a glimmer or a poke. Not today.

I tend to rely so much on my skill, my gifts, my strengths (real and perceived!). I tend, in short, to rely on me. Joshua the victor faces personal risk and leads well I am sure. But the man behind the battle, Moses, is the human agent of their victory and God is the one who works through him. Not what Joshua knows or does. I am a Joshua and not a Moses!

Moses further illustrates this truth in his failing strength. He cannot support the army even with this supernatural gift without help.

I just don’t get it… I spend myself far too often and my arms drop to my sides and I wonder why I can’t just make it. When the real lesson is not just the power of God but the power of God in community, the power of God in partnership, the power of God that is greater than a single person can channel or sustain.

Prayer

God of Moses and Joshua, teach me to not rely on me as much as on you. Teach me anew to lean on the gifts and strengths of others today in serving you and in living as a follower of Jesus. My own strength is never enough. My own gifts are never adequate by themselves. I need you but I also need so very much those whom you have placed around me. Amen.

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Amaze Me! (Life Journal – 1/26/2015)

Scripture

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:5-8 NIV)

Observation

God-fearing Jews were providentially gathered in Jerusalem. Used to the cacophony of voices and languages – and perhaps also to not having their language heard or understood – they were amazed when the disciples spoke in their tongues.

Galileans – why does that matter? Were Galileans untrustworthy? Would they be assumed to be uneducated, unworldy?

Application

Why am I amazed as were these God-fearing Jews when God does something? Why am I surprised when circumstances come together at just the right moment for something awe-inspiring?

I am also often bewildered, bemused, confused.

God wants to overcome what hinders my mission in him, our mission as a church. God is bigger than divisions that are greater than language but extend to background and culture, worldviews, ways of seeing God that divide instead of unite.
And God is greater than my and our limitations of every variety: resource, opportunity, ignorance.

Prayer

Holy Spirit amaze me! Make be wonder how such a thing could be – when it could be only from you! May every barrier be  broken, may every limitation be proved irrelevant, may I grow today and every day in my wonder of what you have done to advance your mission  – to share the Good News! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Doesn’t God Know? (Life Journal – 1/25/2015)

Scripture

21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. (Exodus 12:21-23 NIV)

Observation

God tells Moses, who then tells the Hebrews, how they are to mark this moment when death visits Egypt but they are spared. On that first night the “ritual” is real – every year thereafter it is a re-enacting, a memorial of what happened long ago.

Why must the people mark themselves, mark their homes, in this way? Does God not know who are Hebews? Does the God who had the power to inflict such plagues – and to show mercy and restraint as observed yesterday -really not know who are God’s and who are not?

Vs. 23 seems to make a distinction between “the Lord” who has judged and who is about to deliver and “the destroyer” who visits death upon Egypt but passes over the Hebrews.

Application

I am far too economical – stingy – in my remembering of God’s deeds. Not only the great deeds of long ago but what God has done for me and in me and to me. I need to re-enact my own Passover, remembering and reappropriating that power, that grace, that love anew.

I also need to remember as a pastor that this public pronouncement of the Good News is vital to us. Not to God who knows whether we are grateful. Who knows what He has done. But I need reminding. And the retelling and the re-enacting also makes it new again. And  bears witness to those who may not know, who might have forgotten, that God comes and does still today.

Prayer

O Lord, you know all things – and you know when I am grateful. You know when I am full of faith and hope. You are all too aware when I love and sadly love not. But I need reminding. And  I need in the retelling and reliving to share with others what you have done and still do. And, Lord, would you deepen my own faith and rebuild my own hope as I enact passovers daily that honor you and reveal to others what you have done and who you are. Amen.

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No Plagues But Frustration (LIFE Journal – 1/24/2015)

Scripture

13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:13-16 NIV)

Observation

God has shown restraint in his treatment of pharaoh (although worse is to come). Pharaoh and his people have suffered a great deal – gnats, flies, a plague on livestock and boils. God contrasts what could have happened with what God has done and might do in the last part of these verses.

God has raised up (or spared) pharaoh for the purpose of showing his power and that God’s name might be proclaimed.

Although not mentioned here, it seems the contest is not just between pharaoh and Moses but also between the God of the Hebrews and the gods of the Egyptians. God’s power would seem to be greater – in fact, there are no other gods to mention here. The gods of pharaoh are not invoked or even mentioned.

This passage seems a turning point – pharaoh will not relent and things will go from bad to worse.

Application

It is interesting to note with this entire narrative that the blame for the suffering lies squarely on pharaoh’s shoulders. We struggle to apply the lessons of this story today – do a leaders’ actions not only have consequences directly but also indirectly in terms of God’s response?

Even if I am unsure what to do and say about these violent plagues it is clear that what leaders do have consequences and that God holds them responsible. If God holds pharaoh accountable how much more me (and others) who are called to lead in the setting of God’s community?

How is God acting in my situation to demonstrate divine power? To see that his name is proclaimed? Am I as obtuse as pharaoh? Do I fail to recognize when God is speaking to me and/or to my community?

Prayer

Lord I cannot ever remember thinking that you have sent plagues to afflict me. But show me where I have, by my own desires and will, frustrated your purposes – for me, for my family, for my church, for others. May I proclaim your name voluntarily and gladly. May I acknowledge and live in your power, revealed most of all in your son, Jesus. Amen.

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Does God Forget? (Life Journal – 1/23/2015)

Scripture

God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. (Genesis 2-6 NIV)

Observation

In the  continuing story of Moses at the burning bush, God makes clears to Moses that the One speaking is the One who spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The One calling Moses called the Patriarchs. What God does now is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham.

God has heard the cries and groans, sees the needs of the Israelites. And God hears and sees in light of the covenant made with the Patriarchs.

There seems also to be a subtle contrast and comparison between the Patriarchs and Israel now – the Patriarchs lived in Canaan as foreigners as the Israelites are foreigners in Egypt. But the land where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived as aliens will instead be their home, their land.

God also says “I have remembered…” A quick search of the NIV reveals this phrase only appears here. Does God forget? Does God need reminding?

Application

I need reminding of God’s goodness, God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s love. Both Judaism and Christianity repeat a cycle of celebrations that remind us of who God is and what God has done. Every Sunday my church sings “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” as a testimony to the source of all good gifts.

I don’t thing God needs reminding but we do. From the human perspective (just like yesterday’s passage where God seems to lie or at least obscure the truth) it seems as if God forgets. Sometimes it takes a long time for God’s purposes to wind out and as purpose comes to fruition others are in process. God had promised Abraham the land  and generations later the Hebrews will move from being foreigners wherever they dwell to those who live and are part of that land. A long time, God.

I need to have a more divine perspective – I can’t remember where I parked my car most days (just ask my family). God does not forget and does not delay. But it does take time for the complex human relationships to work their way to the point where God’s purposes are made real.

Prayer

O God Who Does Not Forget – sometimes I think you have forgotten. What the Scriptures say is not on your mind. The prayers that I have prayed you have let slip from your mind. At times when it is dark – outside and also inside me – I think you have forgotten me. But as Israel came to a day of deliverance so your faithfulness to me is not a passing thing or thing to take lightly. Before I accuse you of forgetting, remind me anew of what I have forgotten… in the name of the One who came after generations of trial and of promise, Jesus. Amen.

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Does God Lie? (Life Journal – 1/22/2015)

Scripture

 18 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. (Exodus 3:18-20 NIV)

Observation

God tells Moses in the appearance at the burning bush that he (Moses) is to tell Pharaoh that the people of Israel are going three days into the wilderness to sacrifice to Him. But that isn’t quite true. They are leaving Egypt and God promises to take them to a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

Is God lying? Exaggerating? Deceiving?

Looking at commentaries on this passage, none accuse God of dishonesty or trickery. Some even make Pharaoh a greater villain by casting him as a religious oppressor who will add to his crimes the wrong of denying them the worship of their god.

One controlling relationship here is the contrast between the elders – who will listen to Moses – and pharaoh who will not.

Application

I bring up the subject of God’s apparent treachery or dishonesty as we tend to do the same. At times we do not believe God has dealt fairly with us. We accuse God of withholding blessings. We think that the Lord of Love has not loved us as much or how we ought. If we have not thought such thoughts we will. If we have not, in the darkness, pondered the possibility that God cannot be trusted it is quite possible such a day will come.

But the accusations stem from our limited knowledge of God’s greater purposes and deeper desires for us. God is working not just for my good but for my wife’s good, my children’s, my neighbors’ good, etc. It is nearly inconceivable that God could be working for the good of the billions of people in the world AND for the good of creation, of nations and groups as well. It is mind-boggling.

This passage is not honestly about this subject except to the degree that it catches my attention as seeming to suggest God wants Moses to fib to Pharaoh. But it is also clear here that God knows Pharaoh will not honor even this limited freedom let alone the release of an entire people. The invitation here is to be like the elders who listened and who, even in often limited ways, believed.

Prayer

O God of the Exodus who delivered your people… may I never accuse you where I cannot understand. May I not allow my lack of understanding to cause me to judge you, even in my heart. May I listen to your voice and to that of your servant. May I respond even with what little faith I sometimes have. Amen.

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Turning Evil on Its Head (Life Journal – 1/20/2015)

Scripture

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21 NIV)

Observation

When Jacob dies, his sons fear that Joseph will take his vengeance on them. With the restraining hand of their father now at rest, will Joseph do what he dared not do before?

It is unclear if the verses immediately prior to this are true but the narrative reads as if his brothers fabricated the story – that Jacob had asked that Joseph forgive his brothers for their past sins (50:15-17). Joseph’s brothers are still manipulators and schemers as they were when they were young men and they connived to kill their brother.

In the previous chapter (49), Jacob blesses his sons. But most of his blessings sounds like curses or at least they do not sound like blessings. They are rather words of truth, descriptions of the character and future of his sons. This short story here makes real much of what Jacob said not long before.

Joseph resists any impulse to get even but instead claims that God used their evil intentions to bring about good for all of them.

Application

I have spent many an hour reflecting on these verses. I have experienced evil at the hands of others – people who wished me ill and even some who worked actively to bring it to pass! Sadly I have experienced this as often inside the church as I have outside it.

Joseph had every right to be bitter, to be unforgiving, to set things right. But as he did earlier when his brothers came into his presence but did not know it, so here he gives grace and mercy and sees what has happened from God’s vantage point.

I need to have such perspective myself. How has God used the deeds of others – meant for my harm – to bring about good? When has God  redeemed evil with good? Many times – in fact, almost every season when I have felt others wronged me God has turned it to my God. Sometimes another blessing came that was greater than any curse someone tried to make real. At others God redirected my steps from a place I thought was best to God’s better future. And in all these moments that I remember I know God was working to shape and mold and redeem me most of all – my character, my spirit, my faith.

May I always repay evil with kindness and as Joseph did. And not put myself in the place of God as judge but to act as God does in mercy and love.

Prayer

God of Joseph, you repay evil with kindness, hate with love, scheming and cursing with blessing. May I always act as Joseph did when wronged – to repay as you would and not as my mind and heart often want. And may I see as he did the countless ways you have transformed seasons of trial and wrong into journeys of blessing and fruitfulness. In the name of the One who repaid evil with good and hate with love, Jesus our Savior. Amen.

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Mixed Blessings (Life Journal – 1/19/2015)

Scripture

17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” (Genesis 48:17-19 NIV)

Observation

This act of blessing is an important one in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here near the end of the narrative and the end of Jacob’s life it becomes so again. Throughout this history, the younger son gets the preferential treatment that tradition said was the older son’s – Isaac, Jacob over Esau, Joseph ahead of many of his brothers, and now Ephraim over Manasseh.

Blessings were important and had power. When Isaac blesses Jacob thinking he is Esau and Esau then comes to receive his blessing, Jacob tells him he cannot undo it, he cannot take it back and that he cannot pronounce the same blessing on Esau that was already given to Jacob.

Application

One reminder to me in this story is that God often overturns our expectations and cares little for our human traditions and rules. What we think is “right” bears little resemblance to divine justice or to God’s intentions.

God over and over chooses a younger brother over an older one, women rather than men, poor and lowly rather than rich and powerful. God’s choices are God’s and remind us how flawed our judgments and valuations often are.

How do I live a life that values people as God does? That sees people for their worth in God’s eyes and plans rather than by the measures I usually use? How can I bless as the patriarchs at their wisest emulated their Lord who chose the weak and the lowly and the powerless to shake the foundations?

Prayer

Lord may I not judge by human standards but by yours. May I not see as my prejudices would see but as you see. Remind me how like Joseph I can be – a younger brother who experienced a blessing he did not deserve but then tried to impose the same old, tired traditions and standards on his own sons. In the name of the Son who chose as you choose – who used and uses the lowly, the poor, and the powerless to bring the Kingdom. Amen.

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