Life Journal

Goats and God (Life Journal – 2/11/2015)

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Scripture

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:2o-22 NIV)

Observation

God gives instructions here for Aaron’s entering into the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle. He describes detailed preparation and sacrifice. Vs. 20 and the preceding verses speak of the need to atone for the place as well as the people – the sins of the people affect the Most Holy Place.

The sins confessed here are corporate ones (?), the sins of a people rather than the sins of a person.

Unlike other animals in this system – uniquely it appears – the goat is not sacrificed but sent away into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people. Much of the preceding commands about uncleanness involved sometimes accidental impurity – medical problems, etc. Here the goat carries not impurity but “wickedness and rebellion.” These are the things that they have done willfully, purposely against their God.

Is it significant that the goat is sent into the wilderness, where Israel would wonder for two generations before coming to the land of promise?

Application

Just as the uncleanness of various things transferred to people, so did their sins transfer to the so-called “scapegoat.” It fascinates me that the Israelites are given detailed instructions for purifying themselves from impurity / uncleanness but then rebellion and sin are dealt with in this relatively simple and entirely bloodless ceremony.

John Wesley spoke of these two kinds of sin and it came to mind as I reflected today:

‘To explain myself a little farther on this head(1) Not only sin, properly so called (that is, a voluntary transgression of a known law), but sin, improperly so called (that is, an involuntary transgression of a divine law, known or unknown), needs the atoning blood. (A Plain Account of Christian Perfection)

As a leader, I am reminded that we need public rituals of repentance and forgiveness. And that not only do persons sin but peoples – groups – sin, too. Part of what it means to lead is to confess these acts of wrong. To admit that we  as individuals and also we as a church have committed sin “properly so called.”

(Came across a great article in my reflecting today linking this to Christ – The Atonement and the Scapegoat: Leviticus 16 )

Prayer

Holy God, who forgave the sins of the people, bring to my mind today the sins of my people – the sins of my church and of the church. The wrongs done not just accidentally but also in rebellion, the deeds done that we knew were wrong. Or should have but wouldn’t know. Make us holy – make us righteous. Continue your great work in Christ of making us more holy, of transferring away what is wrong and in what is right. In the name of the Great Scapegoat, Jesus, who atones of all – Amen.

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Nature is Not Enough (Life Journal – 2/4/2015)

Scripture

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4 NIV)

Observation

David opens this Psalm with this praise of God’s speaking in creation

These words are ones of contrast? God’s glory and God’s work, day and night, creation without speech yet a voice that reaches the ends of the earth.

Also repetition – heavens and skies, day and day, night and night, sound and speech.

David will go on to speak of the Law – God’s revelation. This opening portion is distinct from that – nature / creation reveal some things about God but not all. These verses both complement and contrast the later portion of this Psalm that speaks of the law and God’s revealed wisdom.

Application

Today is one of those days that I do not know why these verses grabbed me. Usually my mind is overrun with ideas and thoughts, images and applications. Today not so much.

David’s words in this Psalm remind me, I think, that the world around me may seem to deny God’s existence but it does in truth testify to it.

BUT is it not enough – it is not enough to know what nature passively reveals. It is not enough to be awe-struck by the wonders of the world. It is like science – science has penetrated and revealed that natural world in a way that our eyes alone cannot comprehend. And that teaches us about medicines and other good things besides food that come from that nature. Things that simply observing and even celebrating will not reveal.

There is a moral order, a spiritual creation that requires God’s Word to know. The Law and the Prophets told us much and still do about that “other” order of things and what it says about the God behind it.

Prayer

Glorious God, you speak in the sky and in the earth. Your glory is revealed in what you have made. But speak to me even more forcefully in the Law, in the Word that you have left us. Speak more plainly through your Spirit than in the sky, more powerfully in the word than in the wonder of creation. May the glory and awe I see outside drive me inside to hear anew your perfect law and teachings. 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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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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Presence and Not Rescue (Life Journal – 1/16/2015)

Scripture

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. (Genesis 39:20-23 NIV)

Observation

The story of Joseph is a lengthy one with these verses coming at the end of chapter 39. Joseph, falsely accused of trying to rape his master’s wife, ends up in prison.

In Joseph’s narrative we do not see God preventing Joseph’s ill-fortune or suffering. From the sale of Joseph into slavery by his brothers to Joseph’s rise and fall in an Egyptian household God does not protect Joseph nor does God rescue Joseph in any dramatic fashion. Why not???

Application

We are assured in 39:23 that “… the Lord was with Joseph…” even while the Lord does not rescue or protect him. The key to Joseph’s life seems to be that God uses and works in the tragedies and trials of his life – works despite them in fact. God brings success to Joseph not once but three times – in his master’s house, in prison and then in Pharaoh’s court.

God is present in my trials and struggles. I want to be rescued, to be delivered – and sometimes these things happen. But God seems more to want me to acknowledge God’s presence, God’s blessing, God’s being with me as much or more than God’s make it all ok.

Perhaps – as with Joseph – because God cares more about the kind of man I am and am becoming by His grace than He cares about my context and circumstances. Joseph, if we are honest, does not come across as a youngster as very likable. Had I been his brother I am not sure I would have felt differently from them about him. But God transforms this spoiled boy into a man he can and does use. May I learn to see God working the same transformation in me in Christ.

Prayer

God of Joseph, may I know your presence as did he. May I grow from where I am, from fault and flaw and sin, by your presence more and more into the man and leader and disciple of Jesus you want me to be. As I face trials and struggles – sometimes of my own doing, sometimes not – may I live in and grow in and trust in your presence. Amen.

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Laughing at God (Life Journal – January 7, 2015)

Scripture

“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”  But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” (Genesis 18:14-15 NRSV)

Observation

Abraham recognizes that these three men are an appearance of the Lord – or at least messengers or something special (hence the special treatment in verses 1-8). How does he know? We know because we are told the Lord appeared to him (vs. 1) but not how Abraham did.

This was no quick interaction either – the bread was made fresh, the calf was slaughtered and prepared. And Abraham doesn’t eat with them but rather stands ready to serve them as they eat what he has prepared.

Sarah’s reaction is laughter – to ridicule what the “man” says. How can this be when both of them are old? Does she still believe the promises?

Application

Yesterday I saw this Tweeted – “What are you praying for in 2015 that is so big only God can get credit when it happens?” And truthfully I had to answer – nothing. Most of my prayers are responses to specific needs in the moment – things I need, family members or friends in distress, church family members who need me and have asked for my prayers.

But do I pray for laughable things – things at which Sarah would also laugh? No – I because I laugh at God too. I laugh at the greatness, the goodness, the largeness of our Lord. I laugh or mock. I am cynical towards even my Divine Father, toward my Gracious Savior, toward the Ever-present Spirit.

And like poor Sarah I am caught out by God for my ridicule. I deny my laughter even as it is still on my lips. I deny my gentle mockery of others and of God for such audacious hope.

Prayer

Lord of Abraham and Sarah,
whose power is greater than my imagination of it,
whose promises are more enduring than my mockery of them,
whose presence sees into my heart and my unbelief:

Give me bold dreams, dreams as great as the on you gave to Abraham and Sarah. Give me courage to pray for what you would do that only you can do in my life, in my relationships, in my church, in my community, in my world.

May my laughter be replaced with joy, my mockery with awe. And may I in due season see you revealed at the end of such a time of prayer.

In the name of the one who came from Abraham’s line and whose words also brought laughter and unbelief and yet proved true – Jesus, the Son. Amen.

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Transaction Denied (Life Journal – 1/6/2015)

Scripture 

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36 NRSV)

Observation

Much human relationship is transactional – Jesus speaks in this section of Luke 6 about loving those who love us, doing good to the persons who do us good, and lending to those whom we expect will repay. Something is returned from what we give – love for love, good for good, money for money. Quid pro quo.

Jesus negates transactional relationships in God’s economy – an economy based on God’s behavior not ours. Love those who will not love, be good to the ones who will not return it, lend but expect nothing back.

Application

The holidays often bring is into situations like this – where we weigh what has been done to us before we do. When past wrongs are rehearsed, when old debts of various kinds are remembered. This way that Jesus commands is hard in real human lives – the lives we live.

Do I measure my interaction by what I might gain by it? Do I evaluate someone’s worth in how much he or she is worth to me? Do I base my response on what response I think the other will give, has given, or – worse yet – what the someone deserves in my judgment? More often than I care to admit.

A reminder to me today that to love as God loves, to extend mercy as God extends mercy is my calling. God’s expectation of me.

Prayer

Merciful God, make me to love as you love – especially those whom I find it hardest to love. Make me offer good to those who most would offer me nothing or worse in response. Make me lend, give, share with those who take advantage. Make me like you in fact. More today than yesterday. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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God’s Embarrassing Posts (Life Journal – 1/1/2015)

Scripture

10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.” (Genesis 2:10-14)

Observation

It is is easy to skip past these verses in the creation account. They are filled with mention of specific places (rivers and regions) that do not mean to us what they meant to those who first read these words. And they are so specific! A quick Google of these rivers will show you where they probably were. Which means Eden is placed in a fairly specific locale.

Application

When I was a child, my parents would say things that embarrassed me. Things I wish they hadn’t said. Usually such pronouncements were made in front of friends or family (hence the embarrassment!). Even now I can remember a few such occasions and I still feel those feelings when I recall those moments.

Looking back, however, I realize that my parents did not mean to embarrass me. Often what they said so long ago makes sense to me now although at the time I turned crimson. Sometimes I hear myself when one of children say “Dad, why did you have to say that? Couldn’t you just have kept your mouth shut?”

Sometimes we wonder why God preserved what we have in the Scriptures. Some burning questions just aren’t addressed. Some details that we crave are missing. And then we have the four rivers that branch out of the river that watered Eden.

I am reminded on this first day of a new year that some things God will reveal in time to us. Some things not in this life. Some details that made perfect sense to men and women long ago need our work to understand. And some things in the Bible, some stories just don’t make any sense. And when we are honest we might even confess we are embarrassed they made the cut.

I hope to begin this year with a deeper sense of humility and of longing. A humility that admits that I cannot and will not understand every word or story in Scripture – nor every event that this year will bring. A longing to understand and to grow closer to the One who holds the answers. Who speaks still. Who steps into my specific life and speaks to my specific situation even when I am embarrassed or shamed or convicted and wish that God has just kept quiet.

Prayer

God of Creation, who made the heavens and the earth, who caused these words to be preserved for my instruction and my transformation: make me humble in this year as I admit what I do not know and live with what I cannot understand. Give me a longing to draw nearer to You, to dig deeper into the precious words left for us in the Bible. And even when I wish you would remain silent or would speak more… may I remember my earthly parents, too, and thank You for them as I thank You for knowing what to say to me and when to say it. Amen.

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