Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 34

Through the Whole Bible hits another one of those unhappy chapters in Scripture today. Genesis 34 (link) presents us with the ugly tale of the rape of Dinah. That, in and of itself, is a bad thing. A quick note: there is a not a specific Hebrew word at the time for our concept of rape—however, you can see here the concept of "took her and lay with her by force" which does not suggest consensual behavior. The traditional understanding of the Hebrew words here captures the concept: Dinah, previously pure and undefiled, is forced into Shechem's bed. No lexical flips and flops here can create any shared responsibility.

When people are involved, though, one bad thing is rarely enough. The story carries on that her rapist, who is the son of prince of the city, decides he really loves her and wants her for a wife. In negotiating a bride-price, her brothers set up the entire city for slaughter and destroy Hamor. Her father, meanwhile, only raises a cry about the bad effect on public relations that destroying the city will bring.

There are several layers of lesson in this passage; some are obvious whilst others are less clear. Some are quite the stretch: I could tell you that this passage shows a Biblical reason for concealed carry permits and personal weapons training, but that's another story.

Neither should you need me to give you the obvious: rape is sinful. Later Scripture makes it a capital offense, demanding execution for the rapist in Deuteronomy 22:25-27. If you do not think that forcing or coercing someone into sexual activity is wrong, then you have problems that a blog won't solve.

You should also already see that Simeon and Levi's deception and slaughter of the city was wrong. They persuade the city leadership that if every male is circumcised, then Shechem can have Dinah and the family of Jacob will intermarry with the city and settle down. Instead, though, as the men are recovering from circumcision, Simeon and Levi show up and slaughter all the men of the city. And if you don't know how two guys could pull that off, look up 'circumcision.'

That was bad for two reasons: one, it exceeded appropriate justice for Dinah. Shechem deserved some form of justice, and perhaps his father if any cover-up had been occurring. Yet what of the other men? What of the women and children now taken as slaves? It's entirely likely that Simeon and Levi's version of "justice" led to a lifetime of coerced sexual activity for the women taken from the city.

The other reason the deception was wrong is the inappropriate use of religious practice. Circumcision was given to the Hebrews as a sign of religious devotion to the One True God. Taking the covenant action and using it as cover for an attack was wrong—just as wrong as forcing someone to be baptized or any other similar action.

What lesson should we gather here? The one I want to highlight is this: the lack of justice destroys cities, families, and lives.

At this point in the story, justice should have been handled directly by Jacob on behalf of his daughter. That was the way of the times: Hamor and Jacob should have sorted out what to do about the situation. Likely their solution would not have been perfect and it probably would not be what I expect I would want in a similar situation with my daughter.

But nothing happened. Jacob took no action at all.

The system of justice broke down. Dinah is left to deal with her assault with no hope. She will likely be considered unmarriageable by the culture (wrong, but normal then) and be subject to whispers and rumors for her whole life. Shechem looks like he'll be left free to do whatsoever he chooses again and again.

So, Simeon and Levi take the matter into their own hands and destroy an entire city for the actions of one man. They enslave the survivors and then end up forcing their whole family to flee the area for safety.

The failure of the justice system to provide justice destroyed everyone involved in this case. Simeon and Levi lose their birth order rights (that's later in Genesis) for this; the men of the city are killed; the women are enslaved; and Dinah remains the innocent one here.

You want a cautionary tale about a justice system that allows a rich person to get away with crime? That allows someone from "in the group" to do whatever he wishes?

You've got that tale here.

The first caution is this: when justice is denied, people will seek it for themselves.

The second caution is this: when people seek justice for themselves, the endgame is ugly.

If you miss the first caution, you cannot avoid the second caution. It never works to rebuke the vigilante or the caped crusader: the first caution must be heeded or the second caution is inescapable.

Where do we sit today?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 33

Back on task: Through the Whole Bible continues with Genesis 33 (link). Here, Jacob's story of going home finishes up. He returns to Canaan. It is time for him to face the music of his years away and the circumstances that drove his departure.

He looks up and sees, though, a bad moon a-risin' as Esau is coming his way with 400 men. It would not have been surprising to see Esau coming with a few men. Traveling alone is dangerous and treacherous, and was no less so in those days. 400 men is more than just a bodyguard group or a hunting party. That's a batch big enough to fight a pretty substantial fight.

What does Jacob do at this point? He gets a little nervous. Wouldn't you? Jacob decides to split up his group more than it was already split up. He puts the two maidservants with their children in one group, Leah and her children in a second group, and finishes the line with Rachel and Joseph. We don't know exactly why he does this: Perhaps his hope is that Rachel and Joseph will escape if the other groups are attacked. Perhaps he's just spreading his family out so that they encounter Esau piecemeal. That might keep Esau from coming back with an aggressive response, not unlike Gandalf and Beorn in The Hobbit.

What I do know is this: I've heard and read this passage as an indictment against Jacob. Here he is, prioritizing his children. How wicked, how cowardly, how unmanly are his actions here? Extremely.

Well, only if you do not read Genesis 33:3. That's the most important verse in the whole opening paragraph about the arrangement of everyone. Jacob goes in front of everyone else. The linguistic phrase of "he himself" indicates that he likely goes forward alone. There's Esau with 400 and Jacob, alone, standing between the 400 and his family.

He's right where he should be: intervening between the danger he has caused and the innocent (potential) victims of it. That's good. Now, to get there, I think starts in Genesis 32 with his encounter with God. Without that encounter, Jacob would think he is alone facing Esau. He's not.

When we face trouble, we are not alone.

That's part one of the message. Part two, though, goes back to my fourth paragraph, the one where I mention how I had personally misunderstood this passage and had heard it presented differently, where Jacob's actions are the work of a man hiding behind his children. A man who is hiding behind his "least favorite" children first, and then the rest of his children at that.

Bible reading is a funny thing: there is nothing more important that a Christian can do and there are few things that we do so badly as read the Bible. We come with a lot of previously held opinions and want to find the Bible backs them up. We come with previously heard stories and want to find them presented just the same way in Scripture.

That's a danger we must be careful of falling into. Here's the truth: we cannot study the Bible with a completely open mind. We come with certain assumptions and find them validated: an example is that I come to the Bible believing there's a God and that God wants to be known. As such, I see in the text validation that there is a God, He wants to be known, and the Bible is the primary vehicle of that knowledge.

Now, some of these assumptions are good; some are not. We need to constantly allow the text to reshape those assumptions. At some points in history people came with the assumption the world was flat and found Scripture to agree; later years we found the world to be round and feel Scripture validates that view. My assumptions about how the world began and how it ends are somewhat in flux, with the hard stance being this: God did it, God sustains it, God ends it in His good time. The text has shaped and reshaped my understanding.

So, be cautious when a text is one that "you've always read this way." Make sure you're not missing anything there or adding in something that's not there. You may not be: the Resurrection is a pretty clear fact, though you may have missed a detail. But you may be taking the wrong lesson from some things—consider, and reconsider. The same God who inspired the text will illuminate it as your read it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sermon wrap up February 26

Sunday Morning Audio Link here (alternate)

Sunday Evening Audio Link here (alternate)

Sunday Morning Outline:

Nehemiah 7:1-2

How to be qualified for work in the Kingdom

I. Be Faithful

     A. In doctrine

          1. Believe the right things

          2. Disbelieve the wrong things

     B. In speech

          1. Teach the truth

          2. Refuse to speak falsehoods

          3. Commit to actively speak the truth

     C. In action

          1. Do not act contrary to God's Word

          2. Act to spread the Gospel

II. Fear God

     A. Recognize His holiness

          1. Otherness of God

          2. Unapproachableness

     B. Recognize His righteousness

          1. Purity

          2. Perfection

     C. Recognize His justice

          1. Wrath

          2. Grace through Christ

Evening Sermon: Psalm 26

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 32

Just when you think things cannot get much worse for Jacob, they do. Not unlike normal life when you think about it. Here's Jacob, having just escaped from Laban in Genesis 31, heading back to Canaan. Esau, the brother he wronged all those years ago, is there. Waiting for him.

Now, in Genesis 32 (link) we see the build up to that meeting. Jacob separates out first a gift for his brother, then sends his wives and children across the creek they have been camped beside.

And he's alone in the camp for the night. At present, Esau lives some distance away in Seir. The Biblical notation that it's the country of Edom is a little bit of an anachronism: it becomes the country of Edom in the years that Esau and his family fill, populate, and rule the area. Keep in mind that the closest this was written to the events is about 500 years afterwards. Using "country of Edom" here is no different from describing the original settlement of Manhattan as being part of New York: yes, it was New Amsterdam then, but now? New York makes sense to the current audience.

The prayer of Jacob in the middle of the chapter, starting at Genesis 32:9, is what really strikes me here. Jacob confesses his unworthiness, his dependence on God, and acknowledges God's provision, promise, and protection in his life.

That's worth holding onto in our lives.

First: Our unworthiness. If God is God, He is bigger and grander than what we understand and are. He's beyond us, better than us, and bigger than us. He does not need us, so why does He bother? Because He wants to—not because we are worthy of Him.

Second: Our dependence on God. It does not go both ways. In my home, I'm dependent on Ann for some things and she's dependent on me for others. It's a mutual dependency. (Not a co-dependency!) This is not the case for God. He is independent of us but we need Him. Very much—whatever you'd like to argue for processes, the theistic view point is that God made it all and holds it all together somehow. We need Him.

Third: God's provision. This is a subset of dependence. Can you make a garden grow? Nope. You can plant it, water it, and fertilize it but seeds germinate or don't. Photosynthesis happens…or it doesn't. God provides that. God provides, though one can debate and ponder how it all works.

Fourth: God's protection. Likewise, a subset of dependence is protection. I lock my doors, but trust God to keep me safe. That's a set of teachings from Nehemiah, but suffice it to say this: trying to protect yourself apart from God's help leads to incessant paranoia. It will never, never work.

Fifth: God's promise. This is greater than all the others. We have a promise from God. A promise that He is working in us for His glory. What else do we need? May we learn to trust His promise for all of our stability and desire.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 31

Jacob's life turns back toward Canaan in Genesis 31 (link) as we proceed through the whole Bible today. We find Jacob waking up one day and finding that Laban and Laban's sons have turned against him. The statement is that "behold, it was not as before." One might wonder how long it took Jacob to notice this. He's been with Laban about 20 years at this point and has acquired wealth from Laban as well as two wives. Assuming others thought Rachel as beautiful as Jacob did, one could guess that a mere seven years of labor was the low-end of what her brothers hoped to gain from her.

Jacob then hears from God: it's time to go back. Jacob heeds that instruction and goes back. After double-checking with his wives, that is, Jacob heeds the command of God. Let's pause there for a moment.

I am all for unity in the home and mutual decision-making between husbands and wives. I do not think that there has been a major decision since Ann and I married that we did not make together. Well, there were some that were made for us by others, but when we have been free to make decisions, we have made decisions together.

Except that we have not faced a situation where one of us wanted to obey God and the other one did not. Not, at least, in terms of major decisions. There have been times when one of us wanted to sleep in and skip out on our responsibilities of the day and Ann wanted to be obedient to the things we were supposed to do, but our moves, our job changes, our child-planning have all come about through cooperation.

So, I've never been quite where Jacob is with Rachel and Leah here. I can tell you this, though, based on observation and general experience: a home with divided loyalties will bring trouble. Obedience to God is not an option,but obedience in a divided situation is neither easy nor effective.

What do you do?

First, if you haven't started, start right. I am constantly amazed at people who are starting relationships with an eye toward marriage and have not even considered whether or not they can obey God together as a couple. Seriously, folks, think about this. If your priority is obedience to God and someone's cute but their priority is cheese you will have relationship stress and likely fracture. Or you'll have to give up God a little so you can share in the cheese.

I like cheese, but it's not worth it. And yes, your grandpa was saved because grandma guilt-tripped him into going to church and finally it sank in. He is the 1-in-10000 exception. You're only hearing the happy ending, though, aren't you? How long did it take? What was their marriage like before that happened? How did he treat her? Was she growing rapidly in faith before marriage and then lost pace when she married him? See, even when lightning strikes it still leaves a burn.

Second, if you are started, then do your best to grow together in obedience to God. That may mean spending a lot of time praying for your spouse to be saved. A lot of effort to show Galatians 5:22-23 in hopes of seeing redemption in your home instead of condemnation.

It may mean choosing to go to church together instead of separately. You might have been Baptist for decades and need to go Presbyterian with your spouse. Do it, so that you can grow together. Study the Bible together. Share what you are learning with each other.

It also requires that you share what you are thinking and planning. Don't come home and say "Honey, I've decided to pack us up and move to Montana." Not that I'm against going to Montana—I have considered it before and consider it a possible long-term option—but to do that without discussing it with Ann first? Not a good plan. By talking through how you are growing, thinking, and planning, you do not spring on your spouse a "We have to do this now to obey God, so cope with it!" situation. Those are bad.

There's more here in Genesis 31, about sneaking out, running away, stealing household gods, and drawing a "don't cross this line" line between you and your in-laws. That will have to wait until later, though.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 30

Genesis 30 (link) continues Jacob’s story while he is in Paddan-Aram. He continues to work for and live with his father-in-law, Laban. The conditions are not the best—Jacob is still a sojourner with not much to his name.

His family, though, continues to grow. He has children through both wives and both wives’ servants. Jacob has 11 sons at this point. That’s a good number.

He talks to Laban about departing, returning to Canaan. That’s where his wealth is, where all of his property is. Laban, though, persuades him to stay and work a few more years. They agree to a set of wages, where Jacob can have the animals with spots and stripes and odd colors. Makes it easier to sort them out…

Which is what Laban does as soon as the deal is struck. I think the ESV rendering is to be favored, where they fill out the pronoun structure to show that Laban goes, has his sons separate out the animals and drive the ones that would be Jacob’s three days away from the flocks Jacob can see.

Laban expect to deprive Jacob of making too much profit. Jacob attempts to use a sort of trick to induce the animals to produce striped and speckled animals. The end result? God provides for Jacob’s enrichment. Does Jacob recognize it as God work? We see in the next chapter that he does.

Jacob and Laban are both trying to enhance their position in this chapter. Laban is showing a better understanding of genetics than Jacob, but both are ignoring the biggest relevant factor: what does God have to say and do about the situation?

In all honesty, Jacob would have been better to just go back to Canaan. Take enough to make the journey and return to his own inheritance—and let it go.

I think that’s an overlooked aspect of the message of this chapter, and neatly summarized by Kenny Rogers: know when to walk away, know when to run.

At this point, Jacob should recognize it’s time to walk away. Later, he finds it’s time to run. It’s worth noting when you just cannot see a point in continuing a job, a residence, a relationship any longer and go forward. That would have been the better move for Jacob here.

Sometimes it’s the better move for us, too.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 29

Genesis 29 (link) demonstrates what happens when someone who has lived with treachery and deceit meets someone cut from the same cloth. It’s the story of what happens when Jacob meets Laban and the people caught in the middle.

Most of you that are regular Bible readers are familiar with the overall sweep of the story: Jacob is working for his relative, Laban, and the question of compensation comes up. Jacob agrees that he’ll work seven years with his labor providing the bride-price to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel.

Then, Laban tricks Jacob into marrying his older daughter, Leah, first. Then, Jacob marries Rachel and commits to seven more years of labor. This is not the best side of anyone to be seen: Jacob dashes into polygamy so that he can have the wife he wants, Laban treats both of his daughters poorly.

This is bad. The story finishes up with Jacob treating his wives poorly: his preference for Rachel is felt by Leah while Rachel suffers from seeing Leah constantly provide offspring for Jacob. Why do I say suffers? Not just from the barrenness, but think about this: how is Leah bearing all of these children? A certain amount of Jacob’s energy and devotion is going to Leah, though he professes to prefer Rachel.

What do we take from this?

1. There will always be someone more clever, more deceptive than you are. No matter how much you try to be sneaky, you can find someone to out-sneaky you. It’s no way to live, being dishonest and treacherous all the way through.

2. There will be someone who tricks you in life. As much as you might try to be aware, be careful, be wary, there will be times that you are tricked or betrayed. Why? Because people are sinful and that comes out.

3. You have to find a way to respond to being betrayed and tricked. What will you do? As best you can, you should keep your integrity. Even in the face of deep deception, be honest and keep your integrity. Jacob could have kidnapped Rachel and hit the road, but instead he honors his own word. Though there is some criticism to be passed to Jacob, he comes off the better man here. Be the better person. Every time, no matter how tired of it we may get.

4. Be more honourable. This bears restating: every time. Be the more righteous person, be the one with more integrity. It does not always end up for your best temporal benefit, but do it anyway. Do not live life as if your earthly life is all that will be.

5. This needs fairly constant reminding: do not mistreat your wife. I would argue that not having “wives” is a good part of this. Part of Jacob’s issue at the end of the chapter is a divided household: one wife he loves, one wife he has to take care of. One of them is providing him with heirs, the other is not. End result: home is more than just a little bit of a mess.

Married folks: you can only have one spouse. Most of you are not inclined toward a formal polygamy, but many of us are inclined toward a divided heart. We love our spouse, but we also love football. We can’t keep both loves happy, so 14 Saturdays a year, we set one aside. You see the issue? Be married to only one love.

Unmarried folks: if you choose to marry, pick one love and be certain that your one love only loves you. Don’t get into a divided situation. Ever.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Genesis 28: Through the Whole Bible

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 28 (link) takes a look at Jacob’s journey from Canaan back to Paddan-Aram. Paddan-Aram, for those who are interested, is mostly in the upper stretches of the Euphrates River, between two branches of the river. It’s where the rest of Abraham’s extended family have continued to live since he went to Canaan.

In the aftermath of deceiving both his brother and his father, Jacob finds himself needing to live elsewhere. That’s what happens when you build your fame and fortune without integrity. Life ends up heavily disrupted.

So, Jacob flees. This is a mixture of good and bad for Jacob. He goes where he needs to be so that he can find a wife (next chapter) from among his own people. That’s been one of the sources of contention between Esau and Rebekah: Esau married from the local population and that bothered his mother.

Let’s take a quick look at Esau in this situation: Genesis 28:8-9 addresses some issues of Esau’s character. He finds out that his parents prefer Jacob to marry someone not from the region. So, he goes out and marries another wife, intentionally to aggravate his family. That’s not good. Neither for your parents or your wife.

Not to mention the whole polygamy issue which is not good.

Consider the chaos that you bring on your family with your decisions. There ought never be a decision we make with the intention of afflicting others.

Second in this chapter is the story of Jacob’s dream of a staircase or ladder between heaven and earth. Seems like a good story. The ending, though, is questionable:

Jacob in Genesis 28:20-22 makes one of those “bargain with God” promises: if God will do this, then I will do that. He misses an important point in this deal-making, and it’s a point that we tend to miss as well.

God had made a statement concerning Abraham and his offspring. That statement was that this family would hold the land and through them, and further their possession of the land, all the earth, all peoples would be blessed.

Jacob, for some reason, thinks it’s necessary to make a deal with God: if Jacob can return safely, then Jacob will worship God. Does Jacob think that God really needs a deal made?

When do we do the same? Make those “God, if you will…then, I will…”? Perhaps: “If I get this job, I will…” “If I get this girlfriend, I will…”

Try to keep something in mind: you have nothing God needs and are in no position to bargain. He does make some conditional promises in Scripture about obedience and blessing, but those are claimed and embraced by action not bargaining.

Instead, we need to view ourselves in this way: God does not need us. However, in His sovereignty, His grace, He desires and wills that we follow Him. Quite simply, we have nothing to offer except ourselves, completely and totally.

From there, we learn to trust His grace and His promises. Not because we want to play trade-off but because He will fulfill what He has said.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sermon Recap for February 19

Here are the sermons from yesterday:

Morning Sermon Audio (alternate link)

Evening Sermon Audio (alternate link)

Morning outline:

Nehemiah 5

I. Charging Usury (forbidden: Leviticus 25:36-37)

II. Sending people back into slavery

III. Willful self-denial


I. Personal profit cannot be the motive of God's people

     A. Survival/benefit is not prohibited

     B. The Spirit should guide us to a stopping point.

II. Giving up the freedom that has been bought

     A. Spiritual first and foremost

     B. Cultural secondly

III. Willingness to take on major issues

Consider John Adams:

“I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.”

Consider Thomas Paine:

"If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace."

Consider: The Pilgrims, The Baptists, The Reformers, countless others who have stood, argued, raised a voice that we may have the truth of God's Word available


1. How we vote

2. How we speak out

3. What we do

Application points: 

Bible project

Read your Bible

Awareness of current issues

Willingness to act


Evening Outline

Nehemiah 6

I. Distraction again--notice the recurring theme? 

     A. Constantly there is opposition

     B. Sometimes opposition wants you to start by taking a break

     C. It is a constant effort to stay focused

II. Call on God to deal with the evil people

     A. The obvious enemies: Tobiah, Sanballat

     B. The less obvious: prophets and prophetesses (Shemaiah and Noadiah)

III. Finish the task

     A. Every day may seem interminable

     B. Getting done, looking back will show how the work came

IV. You are being watched.

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 27

Moving through the whole Bible into Genesis 27 (link) gives us a peak into inheritance politics in the 20th Century BC. And that peak is not pretty, is it?

We have two sons, one loved more by mom than by dad and the other, well, the opposite. Neither son gets along, and the expectation is that dad's passing is near at hand. So, a little trickery, a little razzle-dazzle, and momma's boy gets the primary inheritance.

Then he has to hightail it out of town for fear that his brother will solve the divided inheritance problem once and for all. This would be bad.

Now, here are the things I think we can find here:

1. Don't cheat your brother out of his inheritance. That's a bad play. Seriously.

2. Don't show favoritism among your children. That's tough sometimes, but it's necessary. Your kids will most likely outlive you and need to live with each other.

3. Be equitable with your blessings. Really, there's no cause to bless one above the others.

4. Honesty is the best response to any situation.

5. Be careful you do not attempt to help God out. Genesis 25 contained the promise that Jacob would exceed Esau. I would expect that both Rebekah and Isaac remembered this, and that Esau and Jacob knew it too.

Esau likely wanted to overcome that problem. Jacob and Rebekah may have felt justified in their actions because of that promise. Yet was it necessary?

It really was not. Esau revealed by his character that he would not excel as the leader of the family: between despising his birthright and picking his wives to aggravate his mother and father, he shows the character of a junior high student (or an American politician). Jacob shows more intelligence, strategy, and cunning.

Of course, he uses the cunning in the wrong way, but that's part of the point. He did not need to put his effort into stealing the blessing or finding a way to survive: he could have put it into securing the family and growing in godliness.

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to be a lot like this family. We know certain things to be true, but we can't stand them. We will:

#1. Know that God has specifically said certain things will not work. Take a look at Scripture about marriage, parenting, church work, evangelism, government operations, finances, even business…yet we try anyway. We try to overcome what God has said and make it work. We turn to Esau: despise our birthright as bearers of God's image and do our own thing.

Come back to the book and do what the Lord God has said will work. At the very least, quit trying to do what He has said won't work. That's a start.

#2. Means matter. Ends, really and truly, are in the hands of the Sovereign God of the universe. We cannot guarantee, with 100% certainty, what will happen with any effort. Therefore, our goal ought to be to make our means match what the character God has shown we ought to be.

Rebekah and Jacob show us twisted means, even though they head towards the right end. We have to be cautious not to attempt to accelerate or adjust God's plan. He's working in us to create a certain kind of character, one that will endure throughout eternity, not just a few short decades.

#3. Everyone matters. It is not for us to pick and choose who we think is worthy of love and compassion. Everyone should receive that respect.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 26

For the three of you who have suggested I consider professional writing, keep in mind that real writers have to make deadlines. I’m not so good at that—I make my school ones (usually) and my weekly deadline of every Sunday. Right now, I set the deadline of posting every day which is the best I seem to be hitting.

Genesis 26 (link) is a quick glimpse into the life of Isaac. We see a few vignettes, and they’re not all positive. From the end, working backwards, there’s the solution to a quarrel over wells, a quarrel over wells, and Isaac trying to pass Rebekah, his wife, as his sister. Nothing…oh, wait, that sounds both not right and familiar, does it not?

Abraham pulled that stunt: twice, actually, in Genesis 12 and Genesis 20. It was wrong when Abraham did it, and it didn’t get any righter by the time Isaac does it.

There is our first lesson: right and wrong really do not change from generation to generation. Neither does the fact that a previous generation did something wrong excuse us in borrowing their wrong behavior. It is here that we will concentrate our consideration.

Look at the opening verse, Genesis 26:1. There is a famine in the land. Again, really, when you look at the text, it’s another famine, like the one during Abraham’s day. Isaac’s reaction to the famine is similar to Abraham’s: pack and move elsewhere.

How do we handle trouble?

First: we need to understand that trouble, once dealt with, comes back. There is a cyclical nature to life. Bad times come, bad times go, and then good times come and good times go. How we handle those comings and goings is important. It’s more important than what things actually happen.

Second: our reactions need to be informed by a clear understanding of right and wrong. This is not that we need a better conscience, but rather that we need to seek a Bible-grounded conscience. It is not simply that we copy the morality of days gone by. That can not ever be our simplistic answer.

Third: this is not in condemnation of those who have gone before, but simple reality. Each generation makes its own mistakes, and it is between the individuals of that generation and God Almighty to sort out correction and forgiveness. We have to learn and grow, try to make new mistakes instead of rehashing the old ones.

It is not that right and wrong change. It is, instead, that humanity, with our fallen nature, mistake right and wrong quite often and we have to grow in our understanding of God through His Word or we’ll keep making the same mistakes.

Like Isaac does here. The famine comes, and all of the faith, all of the trust, all of the knowing right and wrong that should have happened in his life, they don’t happen. He’s captured the wrong lesson from his father, not the lesson of trust but the lesson of self-reliance. He’s copied this behavior: watch your own back.

We cannot live that way in the face of famine or other disaster. Certainly, we bear the responsibility of obedience and stewardship, but those are to be exercised in faith. Think about this: Isaac is wealthy before the famine. He’s wealthy after the famine. What was wealth in those days?


He does not move to survive. He moves to protect his excess fortune. He acts not in faith but self-promotion. And he lies to accomplish it. He puts sheep ahead of his wife to accomplish it.

What about us? How often do we choose that line?

Let it stop with you. Let it stop with me: no further to copy old misunderstandings and habits just because they were the previous generation’s behaviors. The believer in Christ is to be driven by the Word of God alone. The Word that commands us to honesty and to faithfulness, the Word that commands us to love and to faith.

That is the message we desperately need to grasp.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Genesis 25: Through the Whole Bible

Genesis is halfway down as we continue to work on the series Through the Whole Bible. Today, Genesis 25 (link) is in focus. Here’s a sermon link. We make a major turn here, as Abraham, our focal person for more than half of Scripture so far, passes on. That’s a major transition. Abraham has almost as many column inches in the text as Peter and Paul, and is behind only David and Moses in terms of human character development.

This chapter is the end of his life, though it’s not the end of his story. He continues to figure in the whole of the Biblical narrative. Yet the story of his life ends here.

We find some details in his passing that weren’t evident throughout his life. We see that he was not only the father of Isaac and Ishmael but of other children. We have a reference in Genesis 25:6 to the sons of Abraham’s concubines and 25:1 tells us that Abraham married Keturah after the death of Sarah.

This actually surprised me the first time I read it back in college. We often put Abraham on so high a pedestal that we skip the first part of this chapter. There’s a good story with easy application at the end, after all, with Jacob, Esau, and trading the birthright, but we need to note this at the beginning.

Abraham has obviously become the father of more than just Isaac by this point, so he becomes the father of more than just the Jewish people. He is the father of multiple nations.

He does recognize, though, that family strife is bound to jeopardize the future of all of his sons. After his passing, there will be strain about who receives the inheritance. This is certain between Isaac and Ishmael, as there will be questions over whether Ishmael’s firstborn status could be transferred to Isaac. Not knowing the identity of Abraham’s concubines or their children, the same confusion is possible there.

So, Abraham provides an inheritance for his other sons and sends them away. Then, he breathes his last and is buried at Machpelah with Sarah.

What do we take from this?

#1. In death, many of the items we’ve kept hidden during our lives will be known. Too much secrecy in life will tarnish our legacy and cause our efforts to be forgotten.

#2. When those around us pass, we may find out truths we don’t like about them. They may have made errors or held viewpoints that we cannot believe were their own. For example, some of Martin Luther’s writings on the Jews are beyond bad—what do we do with that knowledge?

We do not simply discard the good because we find out the bad. One cannot toss Abraham any more than we would toss out “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” because we’ve learned a few more things about Thomas Jefferson than was known by many at the time.

While we definitely need to weigh the whole of a person’s legacy before we build statues and such for them, we also do not ignore the good that has been done. It is certainly not possible for anyone to do enough good to outweigh his sins. That’s not the evaluation that we make.

We have to weigh the individual deeds and ideas. Is it right? Is this idea worth continuing? There will be surprises that come out, but do not let the revelation that people were, in fact, people, destroy your faith.

Don’t lose your birthright due to short-sightedness. That would make you too much like Esau at the end of the chapter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book: Straight to the Heart of Genesis

In the middle of doing the Through the Whole Bible series, I have a book to recommend. It’s titled Straight to the Heart of Genesis. It’s by Phil Moore and published by Monarch Books in the United Kingdom. Kregel Publications is the United States, and they provided the review copy I have been reading.

This book is part of the Straight to the Heart series that Moore is writing on most of the books or sections of the Bible. For example, he has written a Straight to the Heart of Moses to cover Exodus-Deuteronomy rather than individual volumes for each book. My wife will be reviewing his volume on Acts at her blog. I’m focused on the Genesis volume, seen here:

Straight to the Heart of Genesis: 60 Bite-Sized Insights

This book fits somewhere above being a simple devotional and somewhere below being an academic commentary. That’s neither slam nor praise: Moore’s intent is to hit that gap. It’s a good gap to hit. The goal is to provide a commentary that addresses some of the academic issues of the Bible text while also providing practical application for the passages.

Moore provides easy, single-sitting segments throughout the book of Genesis here. The sections run from three to five pages and are easy to grasp. Contemporary stories are used to illustrate the points presented.

Theologically, Moore makes many of the same assumptions that I do: he sees primary Mosaic authorship of the book of Genesis. I do as well. Moore sees the text as supporting a literal 6-day Creation, which I agree with as well. Further, Moore assumes that the text has more to say to us today than being a mere historical record. That, also, I agree with.

I found the book easily readable. It’s not overpopulated with big theology words or obscure references, which is a plus. The applications are clear enough without being overly specific. Over-specific applications are often the doom of a book like this: by being too specific, the audience is trimmed too small.

As with any other book, this is not perfect. Anytime you select excerpts from a Biblical text, there are parts that have to be left out, and this is no different. Some areas are summarized, such as Isaac and Rebekah’s story, where I would like to have seen more detail, but that’s to be expected.

In conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. My predisposition was to expect that a Cambridge education would have given Moore a liberal bent on the text, that he would have dismissed the literal meaning of the words to make a distant point.

Instead, what I see here is a valuable tool for believers wanting to understand Genesis a little better. I have no qualms with recommending this book.

I did receive a copy of this book for free in exchange for the review. It was provided by Kregel without any requirement of a positive review.

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 24

One thing I’m learning—my attention span and a nearly 1200-post series are not super-compatible. It’s like running software in an emulator—it’s good practice, but it’s not always smooth.
Genesis 24 (link) is next. Here’s a link to a prior sermon on the passage if you’re interested. Meanwhile, let’s move forward. The story is moving forward and we don’t want to miss it.
Abraham is nearing the end of his life. He knows this—the text records that he was ‘very old’ at this point. Which, by the way, you should probably never call anyone. Not to their face, not behind their backs.
He is aging. His wife is deceased. It is time to put the focus forward: future generations. Abraham has seen God fulfill the promise to provide a son to him, but what about next?
This has to be considered. After all, Isaac is not going to possess the land forever himself, is he? Time will eventually catch each of the patriarchs and send them to the cave of Machpelah. Isaac must have offspring, he must have a heritage of his own.
Which means he needs a wife. That’s the opening phase of building a family, typically, a marriage: husband, wife, and then eventually children. Abraham knows how important this is. The only person to stick with him all the way from Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Canaan was Sarah, his wife.
Throughout all of his journeys, through good things or bad things, Abraham has had her with him. Their commitment to each other has been part of his life, and I can imagine she’s been part of pushing forward his commitment and obedience to God.
He’s also seen the times that the two of them have fallen away from what’s right. The whole sister/wife thing alongside the “here use my handmaiden” stunt were couple activities. Abraham knows the influence for good and bad of a man’s wife.
So he is concerned, perhaps even worried, about Isaac. Isaac is an adult but unmarried. Abraham does not want Isaac to marry from the people of Canaan. He has seen their sinfulness and does not want his son drawn into it. Gehazi, Eliezer, (thank you, Ann, for noticing that and helping correct it!) Abraham’s servant, is sent back to find a wife for Isaac. Actually, the servant is unnamed but assumed, based on Genesis 15:2 to be Eliezer. Gehazi is Elisha's servant in 2 Kings 5:20.
The story is a remarkable one and great for the reading.
Let’s consider what is here for us:
1. The relationships we have at home are crucial. One can follow God from a divided home, but it’s not a good thing to start with that plan. It’s much better, as far as possible, to start right with a home united to follow Christ.
2. There should be no going back to our old ways. If we are serving God now, we should not return to what we were beforehand.
3. We have to consider future generations. It is an unfortunate thing to find, but it’s fairly prevalent: people who are primarily concerned with themselves. We see it in churches all too often: some please the younger at the expense of the older, while others do the reverse.
We see it in families that build wealth and power to transmit to future generations but fail to transmit values and character. We see it parents who will provide for their children but not consider their grandchildren. We see it when we fix our national problems today by passing the bill on to further generations.
It is not enough to have peace in our time, nor to have security for ourselves. We must make the hard choices now to prepare the way for our successors. They will have enough trouble of their own and in their own time, but it is not for us put them in a position that failure is not an option but is guaranteed.
That’s a portion of the lesson here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Genesis 23: Through the Whole Bible

Note: I discovered, yesterday, that the shortened links to the Bible chapters were going to a Facebook page and not to the pages themselves. That's not right. So, no more shortened links for that, it will be the long links. Sorry about that glitch.

Genesis 23 (link) draws the life of Sarah to a close. I've offered a few thoughts on this passage before, and they are here. That should include a sermon link if you want to take a listen to that message from back in September.

I'll try not to repeat the same ideas that the prior post held. Let's take a look at a few other aspects of this chapter:

1. I used to think there was something to the idea that Genesis 22 ends with Abraham at Beersheba and then Sarah dies at Hebron. That's a bit of distance between them, as if the whole situation within Genesis 22 with the near-sacrifice of Isaac put a major break between Abraham and Sarah. I'm not so sure of that now. Abraham was, after all, a nomad.

2. The various sources I consult for Old Testament history/archaeology differ on whether or not Abraham gets ripped off in the purchase price of the cave/field. He definitely does not drive a hard bargain, but rather takes what he can get. Also, linguistically, give/sell are the same word, so he's not necessarily insisting on paying for something freely offered.

3. I find it interesting that the trees count as a separate item purchased. I don't know that it's significant in any way. But such it is.

What, then, do we do about this?

1. Don't over-interpret. There are parts of Scripture where we do need to make those leaps, but other times it's important to note: every event in the life of every character is not in the Bible. We know that John the Baptist's main diet was locusts and wild honey, but he may not have eaten that all of his life. Don't get carried away.

Likewise, every move of Abraham is not here. Scripture is adequate, but not exhaustive, in the treatment of history and biography. We don't know for certain what Abraham ever had for breakfast, and that's ok.

2. There are details in the text that give us nothing but details. If there was a real point behind how much Abraham paid for the land, then there would be a better frame of reference. More likely, that information is there because one of the purposes of Genesis is establishing land-claim to the whole region for the people of Israel. God had promised it, Abraham bought part of it, and then everyone else is gone. Conquered, but still, gone.

3. There is still something very important to consider about what Abraham is buying. Sometimes, all we can expect out of this world is a place to leave the bodies. That's it. What wealth we have goes into that. The end of our lives brings the end of the usefulness of our wealth and possessions, and pursuing them proves to have been less than helpful. It is of value to leave behind resources for those that follow: Genesis 24 commends the inheritance left to Abraham's children.

Yet none of us take it with us. All the world truly has to offer is this: a place to lay our dead. Let our treasure be greater and incorruptible.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 22

Apologies for skipping Saturday. Through the Whole Bible continues on today, and I'll try not to make you wait too long for the next installment.

A second note: due to not preaching from written outlines this past Sunday, I really have no material for my typical sermon-wrap up post. Here is a link to the morning audio: Morning Sermon. Here is a link to the evening audio: Evening Sermon. Thanks!

Genesis 22 (link) is not really one of my favorite chapters in Scripture. I know that, for some, this chapter is one of the high points of the Old Testament. Here we see Abraham act in faith by offering Isaac as a sacrifice, only to be stopped by God. Instead, God provides a ram as a substitute here, and this picture the giving of Jesus as the substitute at Calvary. It really is a great picture of the love God has for us.

Moreover, the mountains of Moriah are in the Jerusalem region and tradition puts either the Temple at this spot or, less likely, Golgotha at this same place. I'd favor the Temple guess, that the Temple was built in the same place. We see the faith of Abraham when he tells the servants that "we will come back" in Genesis 22:5, the calmness of Isaac when he does not protest.

The whole thing reads well, and is a testament of faith. Even Hebrews 11:17-19 bears witness to that idea. The author of Hebrews (be it Peter, Paul, or Mary) sees Abraham believing in the power of God raise the dead here.

That's all well and good.

I just struggle with the story. After all, the same God told us that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 18:3), forbad child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21), and commanded humanity not to murder (Genesis 9, Exodus 20:13). He then commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham apparently asks not one single question about the idea.

Not one. At least, none that are recorded. It seems out of character for God Almighty to ask for this sacrifice, and it seems odd that Abraham just floats along with the idea. To tell you the truth, I do not think I would take my son up that mountain.

Abraham, though, does. We have no idea how old Isaac is at this point: he's certainly no infant, as he is able to reason that the sacrifice is missing. He's not big enough to break out and run away from his century-old dad, either, so he's probably not in his 20s yet.

However, the text is not there to be liked, is it? It's there because God has inspired it and preserved it to us for a reason. So, what can we learn here?

#1: Sometimes God asks for the things nearest our hearts. Even when those things are what we have because of His promise. Even when those things are not things at all. That's a tough spot. We have to choose faith that obedience is better in the long-run of eternity than disobedience.

#2: We see the character of God. There were, historically, many regional deities and demigods and other such foci of belief. Nearly all of them were more pleased the better your sacrifice was. A big sheep was better than a little sheep, a cow better than a sheep, and so on.

That included religious beliefs that giving a child over to lifetime service was good, but a killed sacrifice was sometimes better. Moreover, a daughter was ok but a son was great. And an only son? Even better.

We see, though, that God does not want to be identified as like the other gods of the region. He is not the bloodthirsty, kill to gain my approval type of God.

He responds to faith and obedience. He responds to people living their life in step with His commands.

That's a good thing: bloodlust is not the answer, but rather lives living out Galatians 5:22-23 by the power of the Spirit of God. Lives surrendered to the One who died for them—not one who is like any other god any place else, but who is quite unique.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Genesis 21: Through the Whole Bible

Moving right along, we find Genesis 21 (link). What happens here?

Good and bad, again. First, we have the good of the birth of Isaac. Children are a blessing, and a long-awaited promise fulfilled is a great thing. This is the tangible beginning of the fulfillment of God's promise to Abram way back in Genesis 12.

That's wonderful. Really wonderful.

Then the bad comes along: because of conflict within the family that is extended beyond what it ought to be, Abraham drives out Hagar and Ishmael. Hagar was Sarah's slave, Ishmael the child born when Abraham and Sarah decided to use Hagar's womb for their own plans. That incident was, on its own, bad enough.

Here, though, it goes worse. The rift seems final at this point: Hagar and Ishmael do not return but go on to live in the wilderness. Later, we see Abraham give of an inheritance to Ishmael, but that is yet to come.

What do we do with this? I've addressed this just recently in the vein of faulty heroes. Therefore, I'll pass on rehashing that right now.

Let's consider this, then: the failing of Abraham to honor his parentage of Ishmael is surrounded by his entry into two other commitments: the fatherhood of Isaac and the covenant with Abimelech. Both are positive steps in the life of Abraham, both are good things.

So, then, consider this: likely, you've failed in something in recent years. I can assure you that I've failed in something in recent weeks, and likely, depending on the day, in recent hours.

Do these failures disqualify me from taking on any useful endeavor? Does the probability that, in the midst of making commitments, I have also broken them mean that I can never be expected to honor a commitment?

Nonsense. Life cannot work that way. We are constantly surrounded by the need to commit ourselves, the need to make plans. It cannot be avoided.

Even if we have failed to honor our commitments before, we can be expected to honor others we have made. Just because we encounter someone who has been a failure does not mean we treat them as a continued failure.

Now, you may want to start off by giving them something small to prove themselves. You may need to start with something small to prove yourself with—to yourself or to others.

But there's a necessity to realize that failure in one area does not guarantee failure in other areas. Neither does it allow failure in others. Even if Abraham had gone back to the yurt, sat down, and wept for what he had done to Ishmael and Hagar, he couldn't then throw out Isaac and say "I'm not fit to be a parent!"

The truth is, none of us are really fit to be anything, but God has made us fit and responsible. So let's step up and take that responsibility. To the fullest that we can, no matter our prior shortfalls or failures.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 20

Yikes. This should have been up 12-hours ago. If I had the ability, I'd spend the rest of the day designing a time machine just so I could get this done quicker, but advanced computational fictional time physics isn't one of the books I've read yet. That, and I lack a blue police box to put it all in.

We're 20 chapters into the Through the Whole Bible blog effort, which puts us squarely in Genesis 20 (LINK). Last year, I preached through the first 25 chapters of Genesis, and you can find the relevant postings here and here.

Taken historically, at this point Abraham is traveling away from the wreck of Sodom and Gomorrah. His relationship with Lot is completely severed and he moves on. Assuming a straightforward chronology of Genesis here, the incident of this chapter comes between the visit of God that precedes the destruction and the birth of Isaac, which means it fits into a year's time span.

During that year, Abraham apparently moved back toward the Negev into the kingdom of Gerar. The king there, Abimelech (or Abimelek, new NIV—I like using the phonetic spellings, by the way, that's nice), was a typical city-state totalitarian despot and Abraham was afraid they would kill him and take Sarah.

Sound familiar? Look here. He's pulled this stunt before.

For most of us, that's it. Here's the repeat of the same willful, sinful mistake as before. When that happens, we're done with someone. The man that sins twice is no longer fit to be our role model. The woman who, having once betrayed us, stabs us in the back again, she's gone from our life.

Is that the right way to act?

Now some of you are about to over-react to this statement because you're jumping to certain, specific situations. So let's hit the exceptions to the rule and then the rule: physical safety and prevention of emotional destruction are important. If someone is physically abusive or emotionally abusive (sexual abuse is really both of those, so count it in the batch) then yes: get away and get safe. If someone is a thief then don't give them your house keys again.

However, while those circumstances surely do affect too many people, they do not affect each one of us. And typically, we're responding to lesser issues. Or we're responding to those abstract failures of people we don't even know: we're done with reading Billy Graham because he once embraced Catholics as Christians or done with Ed Stetzer since he preached to the Assembly of God people that one time.

We cut out our brother for his failed marriage, our cousin for his too frequent drinking binges, our niece for her early pregnancy. Especially since "they should know better by now!"

Take a look at this, though: Abraham makes the same willful decision twice. Sarah is comfortable enough with the ruse to go along, and back in Genesis 20:13 he tells Abimelech that this was their practice everywhere they went. It's a habit.

This coming after all of the restatements of the promise to preserve Abraham and Sarah and bring a child to them. This coming after the vision of the covenant in Genesis 15. After seeing God rain destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah. After he has bloomin' seen God deliver him and his wife from Pharaoh after he pulled the same stunt.

He should have known better. He did know better.

How quick are we to dispose of relationships when they violate the "You should know better" clause we've attached? Who are we to attach that clause in the first place?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Books: The Mysterious Epigenome

Note: I have moved away from the weekly BookTuesday feature because I was, quite honestly, neither getting other stuff done nor books well reviewed. So, I still have a few left to clear out but then the books will fall to a somewhat infrequent basis. For the most part, I will be reviewing books that look interesting to me. Some will still be freebies. Some will be my own.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the book The Mysterious Epigenome by Thomas E. Woodward and James P. Gills. It’s published by Kregel Publishing, who provided a free book in exchange for the review.

The book is a quite fascinating look into some of the more recent discoveries in DNA-related science. Most of what I know regarding DNA is a bit out of date, a fact that I did not realize until doing some research to grasp this book.

However, I’m going to focus on just one aspect of this book. Anytime we take a look at science, we’re peeling back the nuts and bolts of how things work. The hows and whats become a secondary question for most of us.

That question is “Why?” Examining the facts and figures, the research discussed in this book, leaves me with several questions on the hows and whats of DNA and genetics. The science is beyond my time to research and validate. The big question drawn for me is the “Why?” question.

Why does all of this science matter? Spiritually speaking, this book brings out some good considerations. The first is an observation that we, truly, fearfully and wonderfully made. The complexity of DNA and all that it contains shows how much is involved in our creation.

Further, consideration of the facts here should drive us to understand that we are made for a reason. We are not simply accidental nor are we part of a string of randomness that built up.

We are, rather, intentional. Think about that. Intentional. We are here on purpose. If we are here on purpose, than we have a purpose. The information on DNA is not something that is accessible to us all to understand that purpose, but it’s enough to drive us to seek that purpose.

In theology, that makes epigenetics and DNA part of understanding what we call general revelation. That’s the term for seeing what God has said through what He has done. It contrasts with special (or specific) revelation which is found in words. That would be the Bible.

This is helpful to study. By studying the general revelation in Creation, we can see what God has done. This ought to be a source of encouragement to us. Further, this understanding ought to undergird our trust in the text. Rather than losing our trust in Scripture because of modern science, this is an area that modern science can undergird our trust in the text.

The science here is valuable to study. Certainly it should not be your only source for science: no science book should be a sole source.

Genesis 19: Through the Whole Bible

Another step through Genesis today. Genesis 19 (LINK) moves forward with the sad conclusion to Abraham’s pleading for God’s mercy in Genesis 18. Simply enough, there are not enough righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah to stave off destruction. How many were needed?


There weren’t 10 there. A few of my prior thoughts are in the sermon linked here. Let’s look through the rest of the chapter and see what else there is here.

First of all: Closing judgment is God’s business. There are phases of human justice that fall to humanity to handle. You can see evidence of that in Genesis 14. Lot needs to be delivered from capture and violence, in the course of warfare, takes place.

This is very different from meting out final judgment at the hands of man. Sodom and Gomorrah were, at the moment, not doing anything to warrant human intervention. However, the punishment of sin is God’s business.

Essentially, those times are out of our hands: we can choose to worship God and trust His grace or we can hope that He’ll never notice. Yet He will notice.

So, what do we do?

We need to be aware of our responsibility to live a holy life before God, first and foremost. One crucial thing not to be the reason that judgment comes. Seriously, without lapsing into legalism, God being graceful does not exclude that judgment will come for sin.

Moreover, when we progress through the chapter we see something else that’s important. When the world falls apart, we cannot lose our heads.

This is what happens when the angels come and warn Lot of the impending destruction. Lot loses his head. He cannot process what he knows to be true. What he knows will happen.

Instead, we need to think through how to handle a crisis. Trouble will come. Some of that trouble is God’s judgment. Some of that trouble is because of living in a fallen sinful world.

Even in that time, God provides a lifeline, an escape. Will we take it?

Will we let go of what we have valued to hold on tightly to God?

In all, this is a tough chapter. There’s very few heroes here, very little happiness. It’s a crash. Sin brings judgment, families are destroyed, future chaos is set in motion.

So, it’s difficulty after difficulty. There’s no happy ending.

This chapter is the fully revealed wrath of God.

The only glimmer of hope is the far end of the chapter. Abraham is at a distance. There’s going to be a future.

From this we can take hope: wherever we are, whatever is falling apart around us, there is a long-term hope. Hope in that in the days to come.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Through the Whole bible: Genesis 18

Genesis 17 was yesterday's focus of Through the Whole Bible. In an earlier post, I had addressed some of the other factors of that chapter. I've also preached on both Genesis 17 and 18 which you can find at that link.

Today, the focus is on Genesis 18 (Link). There are a couple of factors to consider in this chapter.

The first is this: God provides for the fulfillment of His promises, and oftentimes that provision is different from what we might expect. How that comes forward into your life is likely different from how it came forward for Abraham and Sarah.

For example, you're not going to be the father of the Hebrew people. That job is complete: Abraham got it. It is also likely that you're not going to father a child at age 100. In point of fact, given life expectancies these days that would be quite reckless and dangerously close to violating the biblical principle of parenting your children responsibly.

Yet, with all the appropriate nods to the wisdom found in Scripture regarding life and work and such, we still have to address the example of Abraham and living by faith. Here God tells Abraham specifically when the child will be coming. Sarah, meanwhile, laughs at the idea. Laughs. Abraham had finally accepted that God could do this in the last chapter, but here it really hits home for Sarah.

She's the one who will be doing much of the work, anyway. The idea sounds just like nonsense to her.

What idea sounds like nonsense to you? Being a missionary? Being okay with your kids being missionaries? Staying in that annoying job to share the love of Jesus with the people around you?

Generally we find the commands of God to be easy at one level, but filling out our whole life in obedience ends up being too "hard" because of some obstacle that we see. That obstacle, though, is invalid on its face: if God gave the command then He will provide the guidance and substance to obey it.

It may not be obvious: if the command is to go and tell and your heart is for going and telling in a foreign nation, you may have to adjust how you get there. After all, just because one missions agency won't send you doesn't mean you shouldn't go. Just because one door is locked does not mean that another door does not exist.

Read the whole of the Bible and follow the guidance God has given there. Pray for whatever wisdom you lack (see James 1) and then trust and act.

The second part is this: you will not offend God by pleading for mercy for others.

That's an important consideration for us as we strive with living in a non-Christian culture. Which we do and always will, until the Millennium comes, so we might as well get used to the idea. Living around people means living around those who likely deserve God's judgment.

Truly we all deserve God's judgment. It is simply that some have come to Christ for forgiveness and others need to do so.

Our time, then, ought to go into pleading with God to withhold that judgment so that more have time to seek His mercy. I fear that too often, our efforts are for God to bring that judgment sooner instead.

Which is wrong. Let us plead that, on account of a few that are near to the faith, God would withhold judgment that more would come to faith!


Monday, February 6, 2012

Through the whole Bible: Genesis 17

Going through the whole Bible, you find that the darker chapters are frequently followed by chapters that are much more positive. Genesis 17 (Link) is one of those positive moments. Whereas Genesis 16 was not a happy chapter, showing the darkness of human nature, Genesis 17 puts Abram and Sarai back toward the right direction.

Abram and Sarai actually do not live through the end of the chapter. The opening aspect of this chapter is God declaring that Abram will now be known as Abraham and Sarai as Sarah. There's some valuable ideas that fall under this concept.

The first is this: naming rights are important. Think about it: how do major buildings get named? Or university properties? The names given are usually requested by the primary benefactor behind the project. Children are named by their parents. All of these processes of naming highlight this truth: the person that gives the name is usually either in charge or indispensible to the project. These days, it's typically that the person is indispensible for the funding, but that's not always the case.

By God changing Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, He is asserting their dependence on Him. It is a reminder that they are His and not the other way around: God is not named by anyone in Scripture. Abram has not decided what God to worship.

The second thing is this: names are symbolic of people. While Abram is the same body as Abraham, he's supposed to be becoming a different person from this point. Same with Sarah. From this point forward, they are to live up to the new name and to the calling God has given.

They are to consider their old selves as dead. The break with the past should be complete. Likewise, our break with the past should be total.

I am not saying that you should change your driver's license when you begin to follow Jesus. We should, however, be different than we were. As we abandon our old way, we should take on new ways and it should be obvious that we are different people.

Abram and Sarai and all of their old mistakes could not be destroyed, but they could be redeemed. Yet it took a change in them and their lives. That change was to be enough that they needed a new name.

We need that break from the past as well. Our new name is one we share with others around us: Christian. Let us live up to it.

Sermon Roundup February 5

The sermons didn't exactly preach out like the outline, so I've excluded those from the post.

One major point from the morning sermon was to take the time to write out what God has been doing in your life and prepare to share it. Then, find a place to share it!

Morning Sermon:

Nehemiah 2:11-20

Audio Link Here


Evening Sermon

Nehemiah 3

Audio Link Here

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Genesis 16: Through the Whole Bible

Genesis 16 (Link) is one of the darker portions of the narrative. Part of working Through the Whole Bible, though, requires looking at all of it. It speaks of the tragic abuse of power and control by people who ought to have known better. How we deal with this is a significant reflection on ourselves and how we implement the ethics based on Scripture.

Coming to the text, we find Abram and Sarai waiting on the promise of God to be fulfilled. As they wait, they make a decision. That decision is one that the culture around them, by the available data, was fully approving of: Sarai hands her servant Hagar over to Abram to use her womb. That is what's happening here.

This violates several things that are right: the sanctity of humanity for starters. Hagar, whatever employment she may have, is a human being. The fundamental right of a human being to not be used as a breed animal is ignored here. Likewise, the right to self-determination is violated. it is one thing to have to work employment that is unpleasant or even demeaning, but no one should be forced to surrender their bodies to another.

The second thing lost is the sanctity of marriage. Whether or not your marriage is functioning on all cylinders is irrelevant to the decision to add another individual into the mix. Whatever needs you may have, there are certain needs that belong only between a man and woman in marriage. Those are either met in marriage or their lack is survived through the power of God.

What do we do with this ourselves?

#1. The obvious parts should be, well, obvious. We do not own slaves. We do not treat people as slaves. We honor our marriage vows.

#2. The first extension on principle is this: we do not attempt to assist the execution of the plan of God by violating what is right and wrong. This includes whether or not we think it's necessary or whether our assistance runs alongside of the prevailing morality of the day. It does not matter if an earthly entity gives permission: right is right. Wrong remains wrong.

#3. The second, longer question is this one: What do we do with Abram?

Really. He's the father of the faith. Christianity depends upon him as one of our earthly pillars. We look to him as an example and an inspiration.

Yet he does this. He violates a great deal of what we know to be right and true.

We have, then, some options about how to react. We can defend Abram vigorously and deny that he did anything wrong. That's often our response when our heroes are threatened. Duck and cover.

We have a tendency to do that. Sometimes it's by digging in deep to defend a great hero of our viewpoints. We quickly overlook the faults of Spurgeon or Augustine or Graham because of our immense respect for them without acknowledging that they have been wrong before.

We do this, also, with whole movements. It's very easy to try and pass off the faults and failings of prior years of the Christian faith. It was this group, not our group, or that group, but it wasn't us.

Or we could acknowledge, instead, that the truth of God is greater than any human example of those who tried to follow it. That Jesus Himself is the only one to have done so perfectly and properly, and that no man, nor assembled group of people, has ever lived up to Him.

Our history is a checkered one: the faith has left us George Mueller's care for orphans and a line of theologians that excused slavery. We have those who stood for truth and freedom that then did not hold to those principles in later years: a young Luther who breaks the tyranny of one religion lapses into an old Luther that spouts anti-Semitism and dislikes Baptist. Calvin reaches out to the King of France to defend the Protestants but then seeks state enforcement of religious matters in Switzerland.

Farther back, we see the shift from the persecuted minority to the state-centered religion of the next few centuries. Not everything that was done was right, though it was often done in the name of the faith.

So what do we do now? We have to know and strive to live the truth. That Abram failed is just further evidence of our need for grace. Evidence that even the great ones need the power of God to obey and the love of God to forgive.

Denying that only feeds the critics of our faith. Seeking perfect heroes only weakens the struggling: if there have been perfect examples, then how much worse is that others struggle?

Abram in Genesis 16 is not an example of who we ought to be. He's an example of who we are. Weak and frail but not abandoned by God.

Let's remember that.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 15

Through the Whole Bible is actually a blog series that will take me approximately 3 years if I do a chapter a day. Since I probably won't do Sundays, that's probably closer to 4 years. Eventually, I may double up and try to get done quicker, but who knows? I need a good long project. Keeps me moderately sane.

We've made it fifteen chapters into Genesis and approach Genesis 15 (LINK). This is the first place, that I can see, that Abram expresses doubt about God's promises. He has lived a bit of doubt, back in Genesis 13 (note here) when he doubted God's ability to provide in Canaan and protect Sarai from the Egyptians.

Yet he never gave full voice to those doubts. Now, though, he does. In fact, he tells God that the promise is impossible to fill.

Therefore, God creates a magnificent sign, Sarai is miraculously pregnant and delivers a baby the next day, right?


God restates His promise. He takes Abram out to look at the stars and reminds Abram of the promise.

Then, God demonstrates the depth of the promise by making a covenant with Abram. He speaks of the four hundred years that will intervene between the promise and the possession.

And Abram believes God and goes about life. It will be many more years before the promise of Isaac is fulfilled---and then another four centuries before the children of Abraham are numerous and dwell in the land.

What is our takeaway from this?

1. We don't get signs. As much as we want them, we don't get them. Not often, anyway. We get the reminder that God's Word is sufficient. He has said, He will do. Any sign is extraneous to that Word: if we trust His Word, we'll see the sign for what it is. If we don't, it won't really matter anyway, will it?

2. We don't always get to see the end. Abram did not see the actual fulfillment. Yet he could trust it was coming. What about you? Do you trust that God will bring it to bear?

3. We do get to trust God and see Him at work. Is that not enough? I know some days are harder than others. Really, I do. Yet we can see Him work.

Now, then, there's this: we believers live between Promise and Possession. The Promise is made: He is coming back for us.

Don't lose faith between now and the possession.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 14

Through the Whole Bible for today takes us to Genesis 14 (Link) for a war. There's a sermon in my podcast history that addresses some of what happened here (LINK). I'll give you a recap: the story zooms out for a moment and gives the political happenings in the region.

In that time, the rulers of the cities around Sodom and Gomorrah had been paying tribute/taxes to the king of Elam. After twelve years of that, the taxpayers decided they were tired of it and quit. One does not, however, just quit paying taxes and get away with it. The king of Elam comes back to remind the others of the pecking order.

Lot, meanwhile, gets caught up in the middle of this. The text does not record that he fought, but he still gets taken as a prisoner by Chedorlaomer, King of Elam. (Yep. King Cheesy.) Abram hears and goes out to deliver his nephew from the king. And does so, successfully.

Here's a few takeaways from this chapter:

1. Those who do not carry a sword can still die on one. Or, in this case, be captured by the people with them. I understand a portion of pacifism, I see the value in nonviolent activism, but there comes a point at which the sword must be drawn. Lot did not fight for himself, apparently. So, Abram has to fight for him.

One might say that "God will fight for me" but realize that God uses people to accomplish His purposes many times. What people will He be calling on for you? If you expect to walk through life and never have to take sides or never participate in conflict, I think you'll be in trouble.

2. Pay your taxes. Don't pay more than you have to, but really, taxes alone are a pretty slight thing. Until those taxes are starving you, but that's another matter.

3. Here's the big thing I'm seeing today: fight to deliver your family. Abram goes out of his way, exerts maximum effort , to rescue Lot.

Not only does he rescue Lot, though. He also delivers all the rest of the people. Reading this story, I see God's grace in the rescue of everyone without a loss. It does not always work out that way: imagine if Lot had decided he preferred being the prisoner of King Cheesy? Maybe he wanted to leave Sodom and go to Elam. That's possible. It happens to many people these days: they are rescued from problems but don't want to leave those problems.

Still, though, Abram's actions would have saved some of the other people. While his main goal was Lot, he also provided freedom to the other captives. Rather than the dreaded "collateral damage" the battle provided "collateral repair."

Therefore, strive for what you think matters the most. You might be amazed at what you accomplish on the side.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 13

Yesterday’s TTWB installment introduced to a man named Abram. I touched briefly on him, but didn’t take the time to deal with the rest of the chapter. So, let’s fold the second half of Genesis 12 in with today’s chapter, shall we?

As we work Through the Whole Bible, we’re now in Genesis 13 (LINK). It starts with the observation that Abram moved back to the Negev from Egypt. What was he doing in Egypt in the first place?

After traveling to Canaan in obedience to God, trouble came to Abram and family. Famine struck the land, and Abram, Sarai, and Lot moved down to Egypt. While they were there, Abram lied to Pharaoh about whether or not Sarai was his wife and they were escorted out of the country. He then finds himself back in the Negev.

Here’s where things get interesting. “Negev” is the Hebrew word for a specific region, but the origin is the word for “dry” or “parched.” In other words, it’s a barren, desolate place. The Negev isn’t really a happy place to be.

It’s not uncommon, either, for us to find ourselves in unhappy places. It often happens like this:

First, there’s a task we think God has given us. Maybe it’s a job to do, a relationship to be involved with, or place to go. We start off in obedience and things go well. Perhaps the challenges are big, like getting started away from old relationships or crossing major rivers.

Yet we tackle those and make the first target. We get so far without giving up.

Then the trouble sets in, difficulty rears its ugly head, and we make our own decision. We really don’t intend to make it a wrong decision. It’s a perfectly reasonable, logical choice. We go where there’s food. We go away from trouble. Or perhaps we’re nuts enough to go into the intensity of trouble.

Sometimes even both: we decide to swap troubles. From famine, we flee to immorality. Not our own immorality, mind you, but a world with a different morality than we know. One that’s not quite right. We go to an Egypt: a place that seems like a good idea and that’s not entirely forbidden.

It’s just not where we ought to be. Eventually, we have to choose while there: assimilate or be cast out. Change ourselves to fit the place we are or be ourselves and lose the place, because we just do not fit.

When we come out, where do we find ourselves?

Usually, dry and parched. Even if things are good around us, the place feels just desolate. The resources are not what we want, the scenery is odd, and relationships? Well, still somewhat strained from the prior events. Moreover, our confidence is a little shot. After all, we’ve just nearly destroyed everything with that little side jaunt to Egypt, haven’t we?

What do we do?

Obviously, the big sermon point is “Don’t go to Egypt in the first place.” Right. That’s the point where sermons and human nature get detached. Really, don’t go? Great. That’s like me listening to Dave Ramsey say “Don’t go into debt” right now. It’s a great plan: what about the debt I already have, Dave?

Most of us are not sitting in the Promised Land without any baggage. We’re either back home in Ur, we’re in Egypt, or we’re in the Negev. Perhaps we’re somewhere in the journey between and betwixt.

For those of us in Ur: get moving. It’s a long journey but it is a thing to get started. Get it going.

For those of us in Egypt: get moving. Do not assimilate, do not blend. Get out. Move back where you belong.

For those of us on the move to the Promised Land: keep going. That’s a good place to be.

For those of us on the move to Egypt: turn the car around. Quick as possible.

For those of us in the Negev: be patient. Take a look at Genesis 13:14-18. It’s dry, it’s desolate. It’s the South—there might not even be a winter! Yet God will remain faithful and will honor His promises.

What do we do?

Build that altar. Don’t hesitate. Set in to worshiping the One True God, who gave grace through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Let the indwelling of the Holy Spirit draw you nearer.


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