Monthly Archives: March 2015

Miracle-Wonders (Life Journal – 3/19/2015)

Scripture

Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:1- 5 NIV)

Observation

The Israelites are to consecrate themselves: sanctify themselves, purify themselves. This preparation precedes what God will do the next day.

The Israelites need guidance as they have not been in this place until now. The ark will be their compass.

Joshua tells them to prepare spiritually yet they are facing a military operation – the beginning of the conquest of the land.

Application

Do I expect God to do amazing things? How often do any of us expect such things? I am too rational, too much in control (so I think) of things for anything to amaze or astound. One translation says that God will do “wonders.”

One thing missing is this expectation – this waiting for the wonders, the amazing things. Eugene Peterson in The Message calls them “miracle-wonders.”

Connected but different is sanctification. What Joshua means is a little unclear but mostly writers seem to think some kind of purification ritual as they had performed earlier. They were, like the priests, to cleanse themselves in the presence of God’s might and glory and power.

Preparation and purification. Making ready. How can I do that today, this morning, in preparation for what God wants to do later – today, tomorrow, in the future?

Prayer

God of Wonders, create in me again that expectation of wonders and miracles to come; that certainty that something is coming from you but not quite yet. Cleanse my heart – lead me to purify myself, focus myself, open myself – in preparation for the miracle wonders you will do. In Christ’s name. Amen.

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Deception (Life Journal – 3/18/2015)

Scripture

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-20 NIV)

Observation

Another case of contrast – in this case between two kinds of wisdom. The wisdom of this world/ this age is contrasted with the wisdom of God.

The other contrast – and the more interesting one – is between self-deception and true, divine wisdom.

Application

Oh how smart I think that I am! Something I might be but not smarter than God. And wisdom and intelligence are likewise not at all the same thing.  As someone has observed (can’t remember source), human beings have an infinite capacity for self-deception. Guilty as charged.

Today I want to tear away my lenses of self-deception – no, not lenses but blindfolds. To discern where God’s wisdom – foolishness – is at work and where not. Probably more not…

We worry about the Deceiver and forget how fruitful a field he finds, how ripe a harvest awaits due to our self-capacity for being deceit.

Prayer

God of Wisdom – give me eyes to see where I have deceived myself… to know where I have acted as if I am wise but am really a fool. Help me not to deceive myself but to see me as I am to you – most of all loved even in the midst of my foolishness. Amen.

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St. Patrick the Missionary (Life Journal – 3/17/2015)

Scripture

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:2-5 NIV)

Observations

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the manner of his mission to them. His preaching did not use rhetorical tricks or wisdom. It was centered on the cross.

Parallel structures are here – first contrast between “eloquence or human wisdom” and Jesus Christ crucified. A second parallel contrast between “wise and persuasive words” and “demonstration of the Spirit’s power.”

Application

These words of Paul seem fitting on St. Patrick’s Day that celebrates the great evangelist (well among other things). Patrick, like Paul, later must defend himself and answer criticisms leveled against him and his work.

Patrick speaks in his “Confession” of “… my ignorance and my slower speech.” He also says earlier that he had not studied as others had.

Yet Patrick takes up the cross and follows his master  back to Ireland where he was still a slave in law. Like Paul and the people of Macedonia, Patrick has a vision of the Irish calling him to come and preach Christ to them. So he did.

Today I pray that I might have some of Patrick’s zeal for evangelism, his willingness to go where God led even into danger.

Prayer

Holy and Blessed Trinity, may I today be inspired by your servant Patrick. May I know such faith and zeal as he showed in his life. May I have such gratitude for your goodness to me that it leads me to share that goodness with others. May I live today, speak today, write today – not in crafted words but in the power of the cross of Christ. Amen.

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Exile or Return? (Life Journal – 3/16/2015)

Scripture

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deuteronomy 30:1-6 NIV)

Observation

Verse 1 begins “when” and not “if!” And God will have dispersed them – again they will find themselves far away from the land of promise.

A parallel – when they return (vs. 2), God will restore (vs. 3). When they obey, God will have compassion and re-gather them to the land of their ancestors.

When they obey with heart and soul (vs. 2), God promises to make that obedience into love (vs. 6) with heart and soul.

Application

Exile and return are another theme woven through Scripture – the Israelites in Egypt, the people of Judah in Babylon, the prodigal son who wanders from home, the church dispersed from Jerusalem.

For me exile is a state more than place. And in the complexity of my soul I am at home in some ways and in exile in others at the same time! But where am I today in general – what is the arc of my life, the trajectory of my spirit right now today?

Is it toward the land of promise – returning to the place where God wants me to dwell? Am I obeying and learning how to obey more deeply out of love? Is my heart being circumcised anew?

Each day means asking God to show me truthfully the place of my heart – exile or promise, cursing or blessing, dispersal or obedience and love.

Prayer

Lord, face me toward the land of promise. Make my heart long each day – each moment – for the place of promise. Make me obedient and make me love with all of my heart and soul. Direct my footsteps back to you where I am not facing where you will. Move me closer where I am already returning. Amen.

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Hard Words… (Life Journal – 3/12/2015)

Scripture

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 20:16-18 NIV)

Observation

“However” is a contrast to the previous instructions about cities taken in war. The eradication is to be complete – nothing left alive (neither animals nor people).

The reason? Leaving them alive will leave the possibility of their teaching and encouraging Israel to worship their gods (whose practices are reflected in the many prohibitions in the law that seem strange). These included child and adult human sacrifice, temple prostitution, among other things.

Application

Whew. Hard to read and hard to understand. I know some people don’t struggle with these stories (or don’t know them so don’t deal with them). But it’s there and part of our biblical witness. What do we do with it? It is hard to read the Gospels and imagine Jesus saying this isn’t it?

One of the keys for me – and it has been lurking around the other things over the last few days – is a totality of commitment and consecration. Just as there could be no flaws in sacrifices or the least uncleanness in people, so there could not be in the land the influence of foreign gods and worship.

The question for me is not what to do with this command – but what do I do today? Am I willing to remove from my heart and life all that would draw me away from God? Every thing that would entangle me in sin, distraction?

Prayer

O God, may I be as committed to removing from me all that dishonors you. May I cleanse not the land but the landscape of my heart. May I kill not others but all that would kill my faith and quench your spirit. May I worship you – and you alone – with my life. my mind, myself. Amen.

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Ruthless Listening (Life Journal – 3/11/2015)

Scripture

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

 (Deuteronomy 18:17-22 NIV)

Observation

Another commentary on how to judge if a prophet speaks for the Lord. Here again is the reminder to judge the prophet based on what the Lord has commanded. But here the emphasis is also on whether what the person says comes to pass. The repetition suggests this was an issue? Several variations on this theme occur in this section.

There is also this reality of mediation – the Israelites did not want to hear from God directly but through someone like Moses.

The order of things here is reversed from earlier, however – the critical judgement seems to be on whether it comes to pass in contrast to earlier when Moses warned event that was not enough. Why the contrast / distinction?

Application

One thing that I take away from these repeated warnings is that there are always other voices – other authorities – that will compete with God. In Moses’ time it was the people of the land where they were going. Today with the internet and TV it is all around us, all the time.

The concern for other gods is about, for me, the temptation to chart an easier path by following a different authority. God in Deuteronomy – and Jesus in the Gospels – demands much. Demands all in fact. No half-truths or half-hearted devotion. No picking and choosing on my own authority.

I am always tempted to listen to the prophet who promises what I want, what I (think) I need rather than what I need to hear.

Prayer

Lord, you want to communicate with us so very much – so much so that you make sure that we hear what you say, and understand what you want. I confess that I sometimes want to hear what I want and not what you are saying – I listen in hope that other voices will tell me what I want. And they often do. May I be as ruthless as you commanded your people to be in seeking your voice alone and judging what I hear so that I may hear you and you alone. Amen.

 

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Not What We Can Prove… (Life Journal – 3/10/2015)

Scripture

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. (Deuteronomy 13:1-4 NIV)

Observation

One theme here is knowledge – knowing or not knowing another God, knowing God’s commands.

Contrast between the prophet / dreamer and God himself, between the gods they do not know and the one they do (the Lord). Also seems to be a contrast between God’s revelation in law (which trumps other means) and the revelation through prophecy and dreams.

Application

We live in a world of data – of falsifiable theories. The whole modern idea of knowledge rests, in some fashion, on the first example here. If the evidence at hand backs up the statement then that statement is true.

I realize that same is true of our “theories” and practices in the modern church. If it works, we seem to say, it is ok. But is it? Is what we are doing consistent with what we know from the Scriptures? Just because it works doesn’t mean it is right or good or moving us toward God.

And that’s the test – does what is claimed, does what seem real, lead me toward my Creator – or away? Is the seemingly verified reality in line with what I know of God? Do I test things this way – I am not sure how much I really do and how often, by contrast, I go by the evidence of what works / seems true.

Prayer

O Lord, it is easier to be pragmatic than obedient. It is easier to accept eviden

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Heart and Neck Surgery (Life Journal – 3/9/2015)

Playing catch-up after a busy weekend…

Scripture

16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16 NIV)

Observation

Circumcision of males was a sign of their (Israel’s) covenant with God. But what does it mean to “circumcise your hearts?”

Circumcision was a sign – one that could not be hidden or undone – of Abraham’s and then Israel’s covenant. Circumcision of the heart suggests a similar, permanent(?) change in the heart that cannot be undone or hidden. (Well it can be hidden and usually is).

John Wesley says of this verse “…cleanse your hearts from all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness…”

Stiff-necked is usually translated as “stubborn.” The image is of a draft animal that refuses to submit to the yoke and pull the load.

Application

Continuing from Sunday’s reflections, much of what we see as “new” in the New Testament is more accurately seen as the climax of what God has always been doing, asking, seeking. The law was not about doing stuff for God – it was about real holiness, real righteousness, real change.

For me on my journey today with Christ, these words of Moses remind me that my heart is in constant need of circumcision. Or perhaps that is never quite finished (ok, you can carry an image too far!). The change of heart and mind that God brings through the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ is, like circumcision, an event that happens but also a process, a journey toward holiness and perfection in love that begins at that moment.

May I not be stiff-necked, either, resisting the change of heart, the soul surgery, that God wants to work in me today.

Prayer

O Lord who sees my heart and discerns my thoughts… circumcise my heart today. Cut away what is unholy and unclean. Remove what blocks your love from taking root and your Spirit from taking control. Bend, too. my stiff neck that stubborn clings to my will rather than yours, to my way rather than the road upon which you would have me walk. In the name of Jesus who transforms my heart and will. Amen.

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Love Is the Answer (Life Journal – 3/8/2015)

Scripture

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:7-9 NIV)

Observation

Contrast – between God’s choosing for the assets and strengths of the people vs. God’s choice out of his love and faithfulness.

God’s actions toward us are based on who God is not on who we are.

Love is the governing principle here — God sets affection, God loves, God’s covenant is one of love.

Application

We somehow have convinced ourselves that love is a New Testament principle, something that Jesus introduced. But here in the depths of the Old Testament is love as the basis of the covenant God made with Israel, love as the root of all God does. God is love is not a new thought in 1 John 4 but rather a reminder of what has already been said and shown.

Love – God’s love – is not about who we are but about who God is. Not about our worth – our being numerous – our value but simply God.

Prayer

God of Love, you act toward me not as I deserve but as you love. You choose out of love rather than my deserving. And thanks be to you for it! You are faithful when I am not, you are loving when I am not. May I learn anew from you and live out of your love and faithfulness. Amen.

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Today, Not Yesterday – Me, Not Them (Life Journal – 3/7/2015)

Scripture

Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. (Deuteronomy 5:1-3 NIV)

Observation

Moses speaks these words as they are preparing to enter and conquer the promised land.

Moses says this covenant is not for their ancestors but for them… not for those who came before but for this generation.

Some of them were not alive when God gave the law at Sinai…?

Application

Moses tells the people of Israel as they are about the enter the land of promise that the covenant God made was made with them. But some of those listening were born on the journey – they were babies or not yet born when God made the covenant with Israel.

Every generation needs to hear for itself that God makes a covenant with them – even Christians who live under the new covenant of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection! We need to reclaim that we were there at Sinai, that we were exiles, that we stood at the cross, that we were there at Pentecost.

God’s covenant is being renewed and re-offered to those who will hear it. Today, as Christians, we appropriate it by our entering into the covenant but not once for all but once and then a lifetime of renewing and re-engaging and re-living. God makes a covenant with me today… will I obey, will I hear, will I follow?

Prayer

God of Covenant and Promise, I stand with Israel at that moment before they entered the land. I stand and hear that you make a covenant with me and not just with people long ago. You make promises to me and not just to my spiritual ancestors. To me. May I hear, may I follow, may I obey, may I respond with “yes” each day as I stand at that day’s dawning and that day’s struggles. In the name of the one in whom all the covenants are made new, and all promises are fulfilled – Jesus. Amen.

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