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Monday, 07 June 2021 00:00

Negotiating with God 

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Exodus 32:1-14 

How long has it been since you broke a promise? Did you say, "I will never do that again!"; sign a contract, or commit to do a job? When you made it, you sincerely meant to keep your word. But, for whatever reason and much too soon—deliberately or innocently—you broke that promise. Now you're in over your head and you need someone to intercede for you. 

Who do you call when you need a mediator? 

We forget, as Israel did, that God has a purpose in the testing of his people. “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). Unfortunately, the Israelites did forget over and over again throughout their history. And God recorded their broken promises for all to read. Back in their early experience at Mt. Sinai, as we read in today’s Scripture passage, they wait for Moses to return from his second meeting with Yahweh, and they forget their promise of just a few days earlier, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do" (19:8). And they actually create and worship an idol. 

How long are you willing to wait for God to answer before you break a promise or turn to a "god" of your own making?

We are likely to harshly judge Aaron and the people for this unholy blot on their history. But wait! How many times have you and I made a commitment similar to Israel’s? “We will do what you say, God.” Whether in a public confession or in your private prayer closet, haven’t you made such a commitment—perhaps several times? And what has been the result? Without question, God has allowed you to be tested on that commitment—usually, pretty quickly, too.

We are often so impatient with God or others that we decide to take things into our own hands. The other half of this tragic story reveals Moses at his very best. God was so angry at the idolatry of his chosen people, his “special possession,” that he threatened to wipe them out completely. He even offers to make Moses the leader of a brand-new nation to be God’s people. Wow! Think of that! Not many men could resist that offer. But in a face-to-face meeting, Moses negotiates with God.

The New Living Bible commentary on this passage notes: 

Moses exhibits astounding unselfishness and commitment to the Israelites. He could have agreed with God—let's scrap these people and start fresh. Instead, he presents a compelling argument to God (32:11-12) and asks God to spare his chosen people. . . . Moses reminds God that the Israelites are "his own people" and that if he decimated the Israelites it would look to others like God had reneged on his promises. . . and if God were to break this covenant, he would be acting against his own nature.

Would you be as bold before God as Moses was? 

You and I often feel inadequate to approach God on the behalf of another. And we are, apart from the help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). The amazing truth is that as believers we can approach God's throne boldly because we are covered with the blood of Christ. Not only that but the writer of Hebrews says, "This high priest [Jesus] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all the same testings we do.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God" (Hebrews 4:15-16 NLT). 

Has God put someone in your life who needs your intercession or for whom you can humbly and boldly "negotiate" with God? Or are you the one who needs Moses to go to God for you?                                                                                                  wjbd  &  gmd

Friday, 04 June 2021 00:00

Reward and Punishment

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Exodus 23:20–33

Parents may say something like this to their children: If you obey, I’ll buy you an ice cream sundae taller than the Empire State building! But if you disobey, I’ll put you on a plane to Timbuktu and it’s a one-way ticket!

God, the Perfect Parent, has similar things to say:

Walk before me faithfully and be blameless, and . . . 

I will lead you into a land flowing with milk and honey

By the blast of my nostrils, I will pile the waters up

I will carry you on eagles’ wings

I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the enemies out of your way

I will break the bars of your yoke

Every place where you set your foot will be yours

You will always be at the top, never at the bottom

I will prepare a feast of rich food for all people

Every valley will be raised up; every mountain and hill made low

The heavens will rain down righteousness

The trees of the field will clap their hands

The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.

But if you remain stiff-necked and do not circumcise your hearts, then . . .

            I will make the sky above like iron, the earth beneath like bronze

            I will pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols

            I will draw out my sword and pursue you

            I will make you so fearful that the sound of a wind-blown leaf will put you to flight

            I will turn the rain into dust and powder

            Your carcasses will be food for the birds of the air

            You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule

            You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both day and night

            I will send you back in ships to Egypt

            You will offer yourselves as slaves, but no one will buy you

Even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen

            I will lift your skirts over your face and show the nations your nakedness

            I will sweep everything away from the face of the earth

            I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices.

(For these words from God, see: Gen 17:1; Ex 3:17; 15:8; 19:4; 23:28; Lev 26:13; Duet 11:24; 28:13; Isa 25:6; 40:4; 45:8; 55:12; Mal 4:2 Lev 26:19, 30, 33, 36; Deut 28:24, 26, 37, 66, 68; Isa 1:15; Nah 3:5; Zeph 1:2; Mal 2:3.)

Life Application Questions

  • How does it make us feel when we read, “If you listen carefully . . . and do what I saythen. . .” (Ex 23:22), but if we don’t? Does God have high expectations for us? Do exciting rewards and scary punishments help us grasp the importance of obeying everything God says?
  • Does God teach his children using a similar approach to how parents teach theirs? 
  • Hosea records that the Chosen People became so sinful that God declared, “Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there . . . I will no longer love them”(Hos 9:15). Malachi speaks of God regrettably divorcing his bride. How do we respond to statements like, “The Lord will judge his people.It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:30-31)?!

~dbs

Thursday, 03 June 2021 00:00

Training Days

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Exodus 23:1–19

The wisdom is unmistakable. Being faithful as a truth-teller establishes and confirms identity. This is as authentic today as when God’s instructions were first provided. 

During training days, when the people of God were being called, formed, and enlightened as to their new identity, specific instructions were provided. Exodus 23 specifies a few of these, some of which remain among the elementary truths of our Faith: “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness” (Exodus 23:1).

There was an extensive pagan culture long ago. The training day instructions were vital in shaping the people while laying out particulars for the new nation; yes, they were to be a peculiar people, a royal priesthood called into holiness. 

In this way, God’s spoken instructions, apparently later to be written, functioned as the teacher, the trainer, the tutor; or, in the words of an earlier day in our language, the pedagogue was functioning as intended. It is an old word and has slipped into near archaic language. Yet the pedagogue remains a perfectly acceptable way of imaging how God interacted and continues to interact with disciples.

Our brother Paul once wrote: “Wherefore the law was our pedagogue in Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after the faith has come, we are no longer under a pedagogue.” (Galatians 3:24-25 Douay-Rheims translation of 1899, American Edition)

A contemporary translation is provided by the New International Version: “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”

Life Applications

Do parts of God’s elementary instructions, regardless of the era in which they were first delivered, encourage decisive behaviors for you?

An extensive resource hyperlink—if you choose to invest more time in understanding God’s identification of the pedagogue, the guardian, the trainer, the tutor: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1114&context=sor_fac_pubs

~ajs

Wednesday, 02 June 2021 00:00

Fences Make Good Neighbors

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Exodus 22

It has been said that “fences make good neighbors.”  

What does that mean?  

It means that knowing and abiding by a clear delineation of property, ownership, and rights helps people relate better.  Knowing the boundaries--whether physical, social, relational, or sexual--makes living together easier and more peaceful.  

Exodus 22 is an exercise in creating the kinds of fences that make for good neighbors.  God knows what those fences are and where they should go.  

There are consequences for sneaking through or breaking through the fences and stealing from a neighbor.  Those who steal a lamb, or damage another person’s property, or violate a woman’s virginity must pay restitution.  Restitution was often twice the amount of that which was stolen, destroyed, or damaged.  This works as a deterrent to theft but also acknowledges that theft does more damage than just the loss of what was stolen.  Making things right is costly.

The Law gives lots of examples, but one can’t cover every possible scenario.  Judges were needed to apply general principles to particular cases.  Justice requires wise judges.  

Notice that the Law was able to draw some fine distinctions.  For example, the homeowner who kills an intruder at night is not guilty of murder; however, if the same thing happens during the day, the homeowner can be held liable for manslaughter.  We can speculate as to the reason for this.  Thieves rarely steal in broad daylight, so such an event begs the question “What was really going on?”  In the daylight, one may not need to use lethal force to scare off an intruder. 

At times, the Law could seem harsh.  Idolaters and those who practice witchcraft were condemned to death.    

On the other hand, the Law emphasized mercy.  The foreigner, the widow, the orphan, and the poor were to be treated with dignity, kindness, and generosity.  James must have had Exodus 22 in mind when he wrote: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).  In one sentence, James brought together social justice and moral purity.  

The Law had authority because it was rooted in the Person and character of God.  It reflected his truth and grace. Those who obeyed it discovered that they were on the path of wisdom.

It is not hard to discern echoes of Exodus 22 in American law.  After all, OT Law and the Roman legal system were the foundation of western jurisprudence.  Unfortunately, western cultures have rejected God and the Bible.  In some courtrooms, witnesses still must swear to tell the truth with their hands on a Bible.  But that is an empty symbol when one has no understanding of the Author of the Book or of its contents.  

For all the talk of tolerance and inclusivity, it appears that people are having an increasingly difficult time getting along.  The polarization and fragmentation just keep getting worse.  This is partly because we’re losing the “fences” that once made for good neighbors, namely fear of the Lord and respect for God’s good commands and laws.  That has happened in the broader culture.  Let’s not allow it to happen in the church.  

               

      

Tuesday, 01 June 2021 00:41

Marked

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Exodus 21:1-36

   The news has been relating stories of passenger’s bad behavior on planes. Fist fights, ugly words, and disrespect abound. Other violent behaviors seem to shock our nation. What violent acts have shocked or dismayed you. Lester Holt stated on the evening news: “Roots of behavioral change are not easily legislated.” God is not surprised by man’s sinful choices. God knew the Israelites would need a code of conduct to direct their behavior just as we need Holy Spirit behavior modification in our lives.

    Justice is the practical outworking of the righteousness of God in human history. “The Lord loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of his unfailing love.” (Psalm 33:5)  Our world may be filled with injustice, but the time will come when God will judge the world in righteousness. “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) How does God’s justice impact you?

   As far as the criminal courts are concerned, the goal is to free the innocent and condemn the guilty, but when it comes to our relationship to God, there are no innocent people. (Romans 3:23)  But in His grace, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God can declare righteous any guilty sinner who believes on Jesus.  The code of conduct laid out for the Israelites is no longer our judge. Men are by nature slaves of sin. Charles Spurgeon said, “If you are resolved to be the slave of your passions, then your passions will indeed enslave you.” Have you or others you know become enslaved?

   We should not be shocked to hear about the bad behaviors and ways that people are enslaved around us, it is to be expected in a world infected with sin. Jesus has set us free from sin’s bondage. In Exodus 21:5-6, we read of a freed servant, “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” A painful piercing marked this servant for life. Our Savior also loved us and demonstrated his commitment to us as he was willingly pierced. “But he was pierced for our transgressions…by his wounds we are healed.” (Psalm 53:5) We are God’s servants for life. Is our heart pierced with the permanency of our relationship with Jesus?  The freed servant who chose to have his ear pierced was marked for life as belonging to his master. How are you marked as a Christ follower? What defines those who are a part of WLGBC family? How is God calling you to be marked as his follower?

lkb

Monday, 31 May 2021 10:58

A Positive Perspective

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Exodus 20:12-26​​

Last week we considered the Ten Commandments as God's "rules for relationships, notingthat rules are like fences; they are for our protection.

As Anne Graham Lotz wrote, “God is the one who designed life in the first place. He knows how it functions best and has given practical directions for us to achieve the fullest possible extent of joy and happiness. His directions are like the road markings on a highway.

You and I can push the boundaries that God has established, but we do so at our own peril. If we go outside His ‘road markings,’ the likelihood is that we will get hurt, as well as hurt other people. At the very least, we will experience life on a lower level than He intended. The alternative is to take God at His word, stay within His boundaries, and trust Him to know what’s best for us.”

Have they been the rules you live by? Why or Why not?

In the New Testament, Jesus summarized the ten with just two positive commands: Love God and love your neighbors. So, let’s look at them again from a positive perspective, and note, also some further explanation adapted from A.G. Lotz.

A Positive Perspective

Further Explanation

Worship Yahweh alone.

Other gods—such as money, fame, sex, pleasure, power—will enslave you.

Worship Yahweh in the way that he requires.

Behind other gods are d e monic forces who will weaken you, deceive you, and suck you into attitudes, words, actions, and thoughts you had no idea you were capable of.

Honor the name of Yahweh in your words and conduct.

Unless you reverence God, you will not have even the beginning of wisdom to live by.

Set apart a special day for rest. 

A lifestyle of setting aside one day a week to focus on God will keep your faith anchored.

Honor your parents.

Doing so will lead to a richer, fuller, life.

Respect and protect human life.

Human life has a high value. Yours and others.

Respect and protect marriage and sexuality.

Sexual betrayal destroys a marriage bond and cracks a nation’s foundation.

Respect and protect other people’s property.

Without mutual trust we cannot have safe, healthy relationships.

Respect and protect the truth and the way you treat others.

Integrity is foundational to a successful life and a strong society.

Be content with what God gives to you.

The danger of never being content is being dominated by greed that demands more and more.

When Jesus taught on some of the commandments in his Sermon on the Mount, he wasn’t adding more laws; he was offering the true and proper interpretation of the law as God originally intended it.

Today’s text tells us that “when the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. Moses said, “Do not be afraid,” but notice what follows: “God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Get that? What can be the greatest deterrent to our inclination to sin? The fear of God!

Since we live in the age of grace,we are secure in God’s love if we have trusted Jesus and acknowledged him as lord of our lives. But sin, does have its consequences—even for the Christian, so we need to be growing in grace and becoming more and more like Jesus.

How are you growing in grace?​​​​​​​

jbd & gmd

Thursday, 27 May 2021 00:00

With All Your Being

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Luke 10:25–37; Mark 12:28–34

Have you noticed that simple and familiar things can also be mysterious?

Take my spouse for example...  No, better not go down that track.  😊

How about this verse: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”

I’ll bet you’ve heard that one before...a lot of times.  After all, it is the “greatest command.”  It’s Christianity 101.  If you miss it, you kind of miss everything.    

But what does it mean to love God? 

Is it a feeling?  Is it a choice?  How do I know when I’m doing it?  

What is the difference between “heart,” “soul,” and “mind” anyway?

When do I exert energy loving God? 

The more questions I ask, the more perplexed I become.  

OK, take a deep breath.  Step back.  Look at the whole sentence.  What is the big idea?  What’s the main point?  

With our entire being—all of who we are—we should love God.  With our will, our emotions, our intellect, and our activity, we are to pursue and delight in God.  

Jesus put it this way: Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21).  In another place, John wrote: “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands” (1 John 5.3).  In other words, God’s “love language” is obedience.  

To love God by obeying His Spirit moment-by-moment through a single day demands my entire concentration.  It requires all kinds of choices.  It takes self-control and self-discipline.  It calls for remembering God’s goodness.  It depends on finding joy in Jesus.  In other words, it only happens when I’m “all in” with my heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Are you “all in” today?  Let’s love God with our whole being—heart, mind, soul, and strength.  

It will be worth it.

  

Wednesday, 26 May 2021 00:00

For Your Own Good

Written by

Deuteronomy 10:1–22

Moses asked the Israelites an interesting question: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”

The answer to the question, of course, is: “Nothing.”  

God doesn’t ask for anything else, because he’s already asked for EVERYTHING.  What more could you ask for than complete and unreserved fear, obedience, love, and service?  What’s left after that?  

That might seem like a big ask, if it weren’t for the last phrase: “for your own good.”

We’re tempted to think that God asks us to obey His commands for His own good...

...as if God needed our obedience.

...as if God were on a power trip, throwing his weight around.

...as if God were dependent on us.

...as if God got a kick out of giving orders and being obeyed.

No, God gives us his commands for our good.  Moses follows up this question by giving some reasons why fearing, obeying, loving, and serving God are for our own good (and just make sense).

1) God is the Creator, and we are part of His creation.  He made us, so it follows that He knows what is best for us. (v. 14).

2) God chose us to belong to Him, not because we deserved it but because He loved us.  Such a God can be trusted.  (v. 15)

3) God isn’t like the other so-called “gods,” whom you can bribe or manipulate to your will.  The one, true God is all powerful and will judge impartially.  It’s far better to submit to His ways. (vv. 16-17)

4) God is good.  He is just and kind.  Like Him, His commands are good, just, and kind.  His commands reveal who He is.  He doesn’t ask us to do anything He hasn’t already done.  (vv. 18 – 19)

5)  God saved us from bondage and gave us freedom.  His commands don’t make us a slave again.  They keep us free.  They lead to life.  (vv. 20-22)

We live in a culture that considers the greatest evil to be any restrictions or limitations on the right of the individual to express what he or she feels.  The fancy word for such thinking is antinomian (Greek anti, “against”; nomos, “law”).  The antinomian believes that resistance to all social, religious, and moral norms is for our own good.  

Except it never turns out that way.

Saying “Yes” to all our desires is easy, but it lands us in slavery.  It’s not for our own good. 

Saying “Yes” to God’s commands is often the harder choice, but it leads to freedom.  It’s for our own good.

May God give us grace by His Spirit to choose His ways for our own good. 

Friday, 28 May 2021 00:00

Our Love, God’s Love

Written by

1 John 4:7-21

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord 

And we pray that our unity will one day be restored

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Interestingly enough, this song was cause for an uprising in our Christian high school. Some parents thought the song was too contemporary and ungodly, so they pulled their students out and sent them to a more conservative school.

According to Wikipedia: 

"We Are One in the Spirit" is a Christian hymn written in the 1960s by a then-Catholic priest, the late Fr. Peter Scholtes. It is inspired by John 13:35. The title of the hymn, “They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” originates in a phrase that non-believers used to describe Christian believers of early Church: "Behold, how they love one another." 

Maybe the parents knew it was written by a Catholic. (This is not a commentary on ecumenicalism.) The 1960s were characterized by love statements: love child, love-in. You name it, it was all about love. The 60’s revolution was about making love, not war.

What’s love got to do with it, anyway? 1 John 4 sheds light on the subject of love. Verse 19 is one we learned as children: We love him because he first loved us (KJV). We now know the verse should read, We love because he first loved us. Verse 16 says God is love. The point is, our love is rooted in God’s love because he is the author of love. We love because God introduced us to love. 

But man’s love is twisted if it isn’t based on God’s love. His love brings unity. His love casts out fear. John says in verse 7, love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Man’s love is imperfect if we say we love God, but then we hate our brother.

Now comes God and the perfect model of love. God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life. God’s love gives. God’s love gives sacrificially to the point of giving us his best—his one and only—not so that he can benefit, but so that we can have life eternal in heaven when we deserve hell. Now that’s love – unselfish, beautiful, perfect love.

Life Application Questions

  • What do you think about the lyrics of that song?
  • Do they convey the truths John was teaching in this passage?

 

jlh

Tuesday, 25 May 2021 00:00

Live Long and Prosper

Written by

Deuteronomy 6:1-25

    Obedience to God’s Word and will design us to become “living epistles”, that others may read.  Why does obedience matter? The kids skirted the edge of the trail to Laurel Falls. Loose stones plunged over the precipice as parents reminded them, again, to not walk near the edge. The kids raced around the curve in the trail and disappeared and their parent’s commands, again, echoed off the mountain, “slow down, come back here with us.” The 3 and 5-year-old chaffed at the rules and didn’t desire obedience. Their Dad rounded the curve in the trail and we all heard his urgent whisper, “bear, bear, bear.” The fully grown black bear was just a few yards off of the trail. Obedience’s reasons became clear. “…Be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey.”

(Deuteronomy 1:3) The Israelites, as well as the kids on the trail, needed to address their obedience issues: the why of obeying, the who of obeying, and the product of obeying.

    Just like children need the protection of obeying their parents, the Israelites needed the protection of obeying Yahweh, and we need God’s protection in our lives too. Yahweh knew the dangers and blessings in their path and in the future generations’ paths. “The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God so that we might always prosper and be kept alive…” (Deuteronomy 6:24) God was concerned about the external conduct of His people, but He was also concerned that their hearts were devoted to Him. The children on the path to Laurel Falls, chaffed against the rules of their parents, but they reluctantly obeyed because they trusted their parents’ wisdom, and their parents had proved their trustworthiness in their relationship with them. God had proven Himself, faithful and trustworthy, repeatedly, through the wilderness, despite the Israelites reluctant obedience. When have you had to exercise your reluctant obedience in a trustworthy God?  “…The Lord, our God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5) Successful obedience occurs in the context of a relationship. Why do you find it hard to obey all that God has commanded? 

    What does obedience produce? We want to become “living epistles” so that others may read as God writes the Word on our hearts. “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.” (2 Corinthians 3:2) The product of obedience is how we live, and how we live backs up what we say. Read Deuteronomy 6:6-7. How can children in your life “read your life” and see obedience to God in action?  Those children careening down the trail had the opportunity to safely view a bear and avoid becoming a bear snack because they chose obedience. The Israelites were invited to enjoy a “land flowing with milk and honey”, and to live long and prosper, within their obedience to Yahweh. Your obedient life speaks volumes about the who and why of your “obey”. “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.” (1 Corinthians 3:3)

lkb

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"Your word is truth," said Jesus to his Father (John 17:17). We want to build our lives on this truth. The Bible is God's self-revelation, given to us so that we can know him and his Son Jesus.