Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Not Top Ten: Exodus 21

In modern days, we spend lots and lots of energy on the Ten Commandments. I think this is good energy, as those ten summarize well the covenant between God and Israel at Sinai and well summarize the principles that apply through this day. No amount of "we live under grace in this time" will convince me that stealing, murder, or adultery are now acceptable. This means even you, Congress and the White House. Even for you.

One can take the principles of the Ten Commandments and then spend quite a bit of energy debating how those flesh out in real life. For example, certainly I should not go forth and murder someone, but what happens if my cattle get loose and kill someone? Does that make me a murderer? What about assaults? How do I know what "honoring my mother and father" means?

With questions like this, we come into Exodus 21 (link). It is easy to get bogged down into these laws, and they constitute much of the remainder of Exodus and Leviticus. Here is the main thing that we should take from these laws:

There are implications in day-to-day life if you are going to live in covenant with God.

Those implications range from the biggest of issues to the smallest; from willful murder to negligent injury. It takes time to grind through how all of it would apply: compare how, in 200 years, the United States still cannot fully settle on the implications of the Constitution of the United States of America. Even the settled aspects, like judicial review as stated in Marbury v. Madison, are questioned by both political parties when convenient.

The people of Israel, though, do not have time to have their judges haggle out what constitutes "keeping the Sabbath." That's actually one of the issues we see coming forward to the New Testament era: over time that commandment became the basis for a substantial body of expectations and requirements. Instead, as we come through this passage and into the others, we see God give them directly the case law from which to settle those disputes.

We see that ethics and daily life can and should be informed and driven by God's commands and see how those come forward. Now, I am not going to subject you, dear blog readers, to a full-length exposition on the applicability of the whole Old Testament Law on the New Testament believer, but it is important to consider two things: 1) God does not change; 2) Culture and society do change.

Throughout the Law, what we see is the God-given direction for how an agrarian society lives in light of the covenant. Everyone at the time of the Law farmed, so giving and taxation are expressed in terms of produce and agricultural products. (Really, everyone did—the closest to a non-farmer was a Levite, supported by the giving and taxation.) There were no major government structures, there were no big highways to maintain, so the Law looks different than it would today.

An additional aspect of this issue comes from the situation of the time: the Israelites have lived under Egyptian law and are going to be influenced by other laws in the region. They have to find from their location what God truly wants. The Babylonians may have a good idea, but is it godly? That is part of the question at hand.

That's important: we have to extract the eternal principles as reflected in the more specific wording present. Here's an example:

Take a look at Exodus 21:28-29. Oxen goring people to death is not a major issue in modern America, but personal responsibility is. Here is the principle: an animal may do unpredictable things, and no person should be considered responsible for those things. Unless they knew it would happen. In the same way, there are unpredictable issues in life today—and it is reckless to hold someone responsible for those. However, if it is painfully obvious that those issues were predictable then the responsible party is just that: responsible.

Further, one should look at Exodus 21:24. This verse is often maligned today, most notably by those who quote Gandhi that "An eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind." The world situation then, though, was different. Look back at Genesis 4:23-24. Lamech voices the world's perspective: I don't get even, I go one up.

This is prohibited by God's law. Justice is about bringing equity for harm, not about vengeance beyond that equity.

Today's Nerd Note: Much ado is made of the laws regarding slavery. The presence of these laws have wrongly been cause for the perpetuation of slavery and for the dismissal of all of the Bible. The situation at the time was a world full of slavery. In a non-monetary society, slavery is practically unavoidable. Eventually, someone will have nothing to offer for trade besides their own labor for a time. Anyone in that situation becomes a slave—even if just for a season. The other source of slaves was conquest in battle. Given the choice between slavery and extermination, some chose slavery and others chose death.

As such, the Law provided much regarding the treatment of slaves. It was a reality of the times. It was unpleasant then, but we ought not take the presence of legal rules as absolute permission for the behavior now. Likewise, we no longer expect to see brothers marry widows or any other form of polygamy.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Like a Rock: Exodus 20

Exodus 20 (link.) You hardly even need a post about this chapter, do you? After all, these are the Ten Commandments. These are not really there to be debated but there to be obeyed. Let's take a look at both the Decalogue (Ten Words, see Today's Nerd Note) and the rest of the chapter.

I like Durham's summary title for the Ten Commandments section in the Word Biblical Commentary on Exodus: Yahweh's Principles for Life in Covenant. This gives us a proper starting point for understanding the idea here: the Ten Commandments are not the whole of the covenant between God and Israel or between God and humanity in general. Rather, they are the "executive summary" or "Powerpoint bullets" of the covenant.

Later, of course, we see Jesus summarize the covenant down almost to Twitterform: "Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength" (Mark 12:30) and "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31). Rightly considered, those two statements sum up the Ten Commandments, which are themselves a proper summary of the covenant that we see in the whole of the Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses, Genesis-Deuteronomy).

What, then, are the contents of this summary of the covenant, these basic principles? The first is not one of the commandments, exactly, but is critical to the discussion. It addresses identity: God identifies Himself by both name and deed: Yahweh, who brought the Israelites out of slavery. Between being the God Who Is and Who Created All Things and being the Deliverer of Israel, He establishes here His right to set the rules.

That's a critical component going forward in life. Who gets to set the rules? In many cultures, it's the Golden Rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules. Certain people or interest groups are in charge, so they set the rules. You can find this reflected historically in many places. Kings or priests with armies, wealth, or food were able to say "This shall be the law!" with little regard for the opinions or needs of others.

God establishes here that He sets the rules. He made all there is and in the case of Israel, He delivered them from slavery and so made them as a nation. He has the right and the responsibility to set those rules. The lawgiver is more important than the laws: if the lawgiver lacks authority, the laws don't really matter, do they? God has that authority.

The Commandments themselves are straightforward: first, recognize God and count no equal with Him. That is whether among other suggested gods, your own words, or your own efforts: all of these are dismantled by the first four commandments. These four, though, are definitely worship-driven commandments:these are about worship of the One True God in appropriate ways. Three of them, as with five of the next block, are given as "negatives:" no specific action is commended but certain actions are prohibited. This is actually easier to do, as I can be fairly certain that I have made no graven images today.

Further sermons, of course, could develop about taking the Lord's name in vain, putting other gods before Him, and keeping a day focused on Him. Some will even happily argue over the day that should be observed, but that's another post. After we're done with through the whole Bible.

The next six commandments highlight how we ought to treat each other in light of God's covenant. These start with respect and honor to those who raised you and then proceed to your marriage and your neighbors. Really, there's no one else left after that, is there? No. You're either family or neighbors—so be good to each other.

This being the chapter with the Ten Commandments, we often look right past the last few verses. Let us make quick mention of the content of Exodus 20:22-26. Here we see three things commanded after God highlights that He has spoken to the people (something they feared in Exodus 20:19) and they have lived. They are not to make idols. That's a repeat. They are to make altars wherever they are, and God will come to them and bless them, but those altars are not to be made of hewn stones, worked with tools. They are also not supposed to have steps to the altar—because everyone wears robe/gown type clothing.

Catch the "no-tool-worked stone" rule. Think of it this way: there is no way that we can make the grace of God more amazing and beautiful than it is, just as there was no improving the beauty of God accepting the sacrifices and praises of His people then. We do not adorn the Gospel by chiseling more into the stones, only by using the Stone Himself: Christ Jesus.

Today's Nerd Note: The Ten Commandments are sometimes called the Decalogue, which is Greekish for "10 Words." This is based on the idea that the Ten Commandments are actually just written as 10 words in Hebrew. That's the art image, as well, with just 10 sets of letters etched in the rocks in the hands of Moses.

This is one of those traditional labels that is right in some ways and wrong in others. First, Hebrew is a compact language, but it's not that compact. Seriously—some of the commandments are just one word. You shall not murder is one of those. Hebrew uses inflected endings to show person and number of verbs, and prefixes to show negation, so it is the word for "murder" with "you" shown in the ending, "shall" shown by using the imperative inflection, and "not" stuck on the front of the word. So it's one word.

However, Hebrew is not quite compact enough to put all of Exodus 20:8 into one word. This is expanded. Even so, one could boil that commandment down to one word that says "You shall honor" but it doesn't work without defining the object of the honor.

So, Decalogue is not an invalid term, but it does not quite give the complete picture. However, I'd love to see someone actually try and carve the whole passage into a piece of stone. The Lord Almighty had to have some compact writing going on.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sermon Roundup: April 22

Morning Audio link (alternate)

Evening Audio link (alternate)

Morning Outline:

April 22 AM Luke 4:1-13 // Parallel in Matthew 4 and Mark 1

The Temptation of Jesus

I. Narrative: what happens?

     A. Baptism This was just prior, in Luke 3:21-22.

B. Led by the Spirit into the wilderness

     C. Spends 40 days out in the wilderness

          1. Fasting

          2. Being tempted in various ways

     D. At the conclusion, three specific temptations are highlighted

          1. Take your power and use it for your own needs

          2. Worship someone other than God

          3. Test God's Word for truthfulness

II. The Temptations:

     A. Take your power and use it for your own needs:

          1. After fasting for 40 days, Jesus is likely quite hungry.

          2. Moreover, as can be seen at the Feeding of the 5000, providing bread for the masses would be a quick path to leading a revolution against the Romans

          3. Yet that was not what Jesus came to do: He was not here to be a bread winner. He was here to be the Bread of Life

          4. He does not argue the point with Satan: His response is simple: He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, that man does not live by bread alone...but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD

     B. Worship someone other than God

          1. Satan offers the kingdoms of the world---at a moment in time

          2. This shows us two things about Satan:

               a. He offers what is not his.

               b. He can only handle moments, not eternity

          3. The response is similar to the previous response: Deuteronomy 6:13: Worship the Lord your God and fear Him only

     C. Test God's Word for truthfulness

          1. Satan takes the Psalms and twists one of them here.

          2. He quotes Psalm 91:11-12 and tells Jesus to give it a shot--see if the Words of God are true

          3. The response? Deuteronomy 6:16: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

III. What about now?

     A. The temptation to focus on our immediate needs

          1. Focusing on what we do not have

          2. Taking whatever shortcuts appear

     B. The temptation to worship falsely

          1. Trading true worship for something less than what God intends.

          2. Trading true worship to worship something lesser than God

     C. The temptation to ignore the Word

          1. This is the oldest temptation: taking one portion of what God has said and ignoring the rest--

          2. The Psalm in question does not mean we should go out and take unnecessary risks

          3. There is no reason to deny what God has said

IV. What do we do?

     A. Know the Word of God---the basics of the Gospel

     B. Expect temptations to come

     C. Know the Word of God---the basics of godly living

     D. Do not flee from challenges just because of the risk

     E. Know the Word of God---what is not there


Evening Outline:

April 22 PM Luke 4:14-30 // Parallel Mark 6

Preaching back home

I. After temptation, Jesus gets to work--preaching

     A. It's generally best to not have a preacher that has never been tempted (or at least, has faced life: 1 Timothy 3:6)

     B. It's also important to get to the business at hand: No pity partying, no whining about what happened

II. Temptation (and overcoming it) is not the focus of the message:

     A. Notice that in His preaching, Jesus does not bring up overcoming temptation

     B. Instead, He starts from a point in the Word of God

III. The message? Isaiah 61:1-2

     A. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Him--this is not insanity, it's divinity

     B. Good news for the poor--that God does not favor the wealthy more than they

     C. Release of the captives--those captive in sin--freedom begins first in our hearts

     D. Sight for the blind---literal and figurative: seen in the healing and being able to see the truth of God's Word

     E. Freedom for the oppressed--likewise

     F. The favor of the Lord---God is working to welcome His people, to provide grace to them

     G. That this comes through Him--not political but spiritual

IV. The response--

     A. 4:24--not welcome (not 'favorable')--it is the same word

     B. The people go from pleased to displeased---partly because the favor of the Lord is not going to just be for them

     C. Jesus leaves--passes through their midst and departs

V. Us?

     A. Our message ought to mirror His: focused on the Word, the good news, and the spiritual needs of people/followed by the physical needs

     B. We ought to avoid the angry response

     C. Even if the preacher has arisen from those we know

     D. We ought not try to keep the message from other places

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Random thoughts for Saturday

Yes, I'm enjoying doing my "Through the Whole Bible" series here on the blog, but I wanted to take a break. I haven't done a random thoughts post in months, and my random thoughts are backing up.

Here you go:

1. The homeschool convention we attended last week was considerably more fun than the Southern Baptist Convention meetings. Some seminars were more sales and less help, but most were basically helpful with a closing line of "and we can sell you this to make it even easier." The great thing was that most of those folks were more interested in being helpful than they were in selling. They still sold plenty, I think.

2. I enjoy doing book reviews, but would really love to review firearms if someone would send me test subjects. Especially Springfield Armory or Just Right Carbines (.308 and .40S&W, respectively).

3. Am I the only one that thinks there should be a break in Presidential Campaign season at this point? The Republicans are going with Mitt Romney. The Democrats are going with President Obama. Can we now put off the arguing, the polling, and the pointless dog arguments until September?

4. We don't have cable or satellite and get our news either through broadcast, the internet, or the grapevine. Guess what? The world goes on, and we sleep at night. Behind locked doors and with a disaster plan, but we still sleep at night. We do miss out on various explosions of crazy in this world, but we keep up with most of what truly affects our lives.

5. Perhaps the campaign would go better if couched in sports terms. Here we go, ready for the "Big Vote Event." On the one side, the GOP sends forth a new starter, having competed at other levels, but his first shot at the big time, coming in 0-0, weighing heavily on our minds…..Mitt Romney!

And opposing him, defending his 1-0 record in national election, the Democrats will go with last time's winner, President Barrack Obama! He's tall, he doesn't hunt elephants, and he would save the country on moving expenses come January 20, 2013…

Security for the "Big Vote Event" will be high, as some other groups are expected to disrupt the situation. Whether it's skydivers or streakers, expect a few third-party folks to come crashing through….

(Note, though, that picking between these two really feels like deciding whether I'd like to run over my foot with the car or the van, so I'd be inclined toward a third option if that option stood a better chance of winning than I do of being elected to the Arkansas Legislature in 2014.)

6. The Braves are leading the Mets in the race for the NL East. That's cool, because we all know what happened last year when we were in the lead, right?

7. Also in Braves news, there is unfortunately no certainty that Braves Shortstop #1 will enter the ministry upon retirement. If he would, though, he'd be Pastor Pastornicky. And that would be fun.

8. Vanderbilt University has a policy that official student groups cannot use a religious test for leadership. That will be interesting to see how it plays out—it seems that some groups exist for the purpose of promoting their religious beliefs. How are they going to handle that? What will they do if a non-drinking student joins a fraternity? There will be much tension there, won't there?

9. We're checking out this stuff called Choffy. It's kind of like coffee, but more like hot chocolate, but without the calories. It's quite yummy. Check it out here.

10. If I didn't have my Kindle Fire for an organizer, I wouldn't know how far behind in everything I am!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Books: Evangelistic Sermons

This is a post about a pair of books I was given in exchange for posting this review. No money changed hands and no requirement, besides which week I post this, is given for the review. The books were graciously sent to me by Kregel Publishers.

This week, I have taken a look through a pair of books from Kregel Publishers. These two books are a matched set, though they are not totally dependent on each other. Both are from R. Larry Moyer and both focus on preaching evangelistic sermons.

The first is titled Show Me How to Preach Evangelistic Sermons. This volume is exactly what it claims to be: a practical manual on how to construct sermons to communicate the Gospel. Moyer presents 27 short chapters that start with an explanation of the why of preaching what he calls "expository evangelistic sermons" and then into the nuts and bolts of how to do so.

The "why" section was good, when placed into an appropriate context. I think that too many churches are trying to do too much with the average sermon, expecting that sermon to reach the lost, strengthen the weak, and challenge the strong. Moyer has a good point that reach the lost is the key point to make in many sermons, it just seems to me that too many of the weak and strong believers will quickly dismiss the more blatant evangelistic message that he advocates. Making the sole focus of the message to communicate the need for salvation will put the bulk of typical church listeners into a habit of 'checking-out' and not listening for the ways they may need to grow.

That is not to say that the evangelistic message should not be a portion of every planned or spontaneous sermon. It should. However, occasionally sermons need to reach past that particular doctrine and deal with additional matters. Certainly when speaking in a context that the preacher knows will hold an unsaved audience will Moyer's sermon structure work well.

Of greater benefit to me, though possibly because I'm kind of set in my preaching ways, were his chapters on explaining Christian lingo in sermons and on methods of structuring an invitation. The first of these sections, such as the one on explaining sin, are almost always of benefit to those of us who have been in church more than a year. It is too easy to get used to the language of church and forget how to communicate those concepts.

The area on invitations was also helpful. Currently in Baptist life, there is much discussion of the traditional "altar call" invitation. Some have abandoned that method but have not found an adequate replacement. Moyer provides several options and suggests being sensitive to the situation where you are preaching. It is nice to see a passionate evangelist endorse breaking the altar call tradition.

While I do not feel that this book tells everything you need to know about preaching, it is a good add-on to your "how-to" shelf for preaching.

The second book is Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons. Sermon illustration is something I struggle with, and it's all the harder to admit that because I know the best sermons I've preached are the ones that I found illustrations that really worked with the topic.

So, I found this text more helpful than the first one mentioned in this post. Moyer has broken down illustrations based on topic and purpose and put them into various chapters for easy reference. He has even noted which ones are intended to be humorous, which can be a helpful quick look!

I would actually recommend Show Me How to Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons above the other volume, though both are helpful.

As always, yes, I got the books for free. Yes, I was positive in my review—of course, I asked for these books because I expected to like them, so that's that. I occasionally review books from Kregel Publishers as well as other publishers. Check my outdated Disclosures! post for more info.

I'm going to make you an offer…Exodus 19

That, really, they might should have refused. After all, much of the remaining Old Testament narrative relates how the Israelites were frequently unwilling to fulfill their side of the covenant that they enter in Exodus 19 (link). However, that's not what happens here.

Instead, what happens is this: the Israelites come to Mount Sinai. Textually speaking, they come to the wilderness of Sinai and camp in front of the mountain, and that mountain we call Mount Sinai.

The Lord God speaks to Moses and states that if the people of Israel will obey His voice and keep His covenant, then they will be His possession among all the peoples. He will be their God, nearer to them than to all other people. It is, though, a conditional covenant.

There are two basic forms of covenants in life. Since those two forms reflect in Scripture, let's look at them both.

The first is the unilateral covenant. This is a one-sided commitment, whereby one party states that they will do something or perform a specific action with no regard for the behavior of the other party. This is typically a gift: party A will do X for party B. Does not matter what B does.

The second is the bilateral or conditional covenant. This is the more common two-sided commitment, whereby one party states that if the other does their actions, they will do other specific actions. This is a business covenant: party A will do X in response to party B action of Y.

Now, that's a highly simplified view, but it's adequate for what we see in Exodus 19. We see the bilateral covenant. God is promising that if Israel (party B) obeys the Word (action Y) then God (party A) will be His special possession (action X). The trick with a bilateral covenant is that it puts the responsibility on party B. They must do action Y to receive the benefits of the covenant, or else A is off the hook.

So, God offers this covenant to Israel. He does not offer it as merely a generic "god," though. This is offered by God using His specific, covenant name (see discussion here, especially at the end in the nerd note). That is an important point. This is not a covenant offered to serve whatever god you can come up with or feel like serving. This is a covenant with YHWH, the Most Holy, who Moses spoke with some years prior, who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and who created all things.

This covenant, though, is not about just Israel. Take a look at Exodus 19:5-6 and see what they say. God declares His sovereignty over all the earth in this passage. The Israelites are to function, as they have for Midian and Egypt to this point, as God's priests who will spread His message to all people. They will be His possession so that the world, when seeking God, will know where to turn.

In short, the whole country is intended to be the shining light of the world through the Word of God. This is the covenant God puts before the people. It is not a covenant for the sake only of the Israelite people. It is a covenant for the sake of all mankind.

The process, though, is challenging to see through to its completion. We see God revealed here as dwelling amidst inapproachable fire, that His Holiness prevents any from coming near Him without His approval. Not even sacrifices are enough without His gracious calling of the people near to Him. That's important: many of the cultures around the Israelites from Egypt through the Promised Land had gods that dwelt in temples that people could enter—their God, though, was not to be found in one place that could be opened or closed as people desired.

Not a nerd note: When you think of the two types of covenants, what do you think a marriage covenant is? If you think it's bilateral, you're wrong. A marriage covenant is a unilateral covenant made between you and God regarding how you will treat your spouse. It is not a bilateral covenant between you and her, that you can drop if she ignores part of it. It is a covenant to God of how you will treat her. Ladies, the reverse is also true. You covenanted with God how you would treat your husband. Scripture gives points at which God may release you from that covenant, but it's not a trade-off with your wife or husband. You are bound to the exclusive nature of that covenant until God releases you from it according to His Word.

Today's Nerd Note: Point A: Exodus 19:23 looks like Moses has to remind God of something. This is not the case, and never is. God does not forget. Rather, Moses is restating for clarity and committing to obey.

Point B: Exodus 19:15 is a little phrase that slips into your Bible to make for uncomfortable moments in either family devotions or Jr. High Sunday School. It is an accurate reflection, though, of the Law that God will reveal. It does, also, deal with sexual activity. The Law provided that sexual activity led to ceremonial uncleanness. This was not sinful, rather just ceremonial. One did not indulge in the marriage bed and then go straight off to offer a sacrifice. Part of this would have been hygienic and part is focus.

If you've been sexually active, your mind has been on that rather than on anything else. (This should be the case: husbands, wives, your focus in that time is each other.) As such, it would be hard to come from that intimacy and shift gears rapidly to worship and sacrifice, especially to considering the gravity of sin after the moments of ecstasy.

So, it was not uncommon (1 Samuel 21) for men to abstain from sexual activity when involved in certain activities. Neither does this disappear in the New Testament: Paul speaks to the need for limited times of marital abstinence in 1 Corinthians 7.

The idea here is not that sexual activity within marriage is sinful. It is rather that this activity can be a distraction. Especially since the people at the time were to be waiting and ready for the call of God and the sound of the trumpet—it was no time to have another commitment to fulfill.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Help me, anybody, you’re my only hope: Exodus 18

So far, life seems to have been all whiny Israelites and strong Moses since we’ve left Egypt, but Exodus 18 (link) presents a slightly different picture of the situation. Moses and the people are still in the area of Rephidim, and along comes Jethro.

That sounds good, doesn’t it? Puts the story squarely in the south of somewhere. Jethro, you may recall, was the priest of a group of Midianites outside of Egypt. A group that had flocks of sheep that occasionally were taken towards a mountain to graze, and on that mountain there was once a bush that burned but did not get burnt. It was on this mountain that a sojourner, married to the priest’s daughter, started on his path back to Egypt and through the Red Sea.

Jethro is Moses’ father-in-law and is coming to visit. He brings with him Zipporah and her two sons. Those sons are hers and Moses’, just for the record, and Moses had sent her and their sons away. Now, there is not really a Biblical explanation about why Moses had sent his family away. It’s possible that he was just concerned for their safety in the midst of all the chaos of the Exodus, but we just cannot say for certain.

Jethro brings them back. It’s time for the family to get back together. There’s our first lesson: at times, the family may need separation for survival or another reason. Then, though, the family has to get back together. That’s what families do: endure the hardships and challenges together.

Jethro then notices something. Moses is spending all of his time dealing with every issue the Israelites bring to him. The structure of Israelite society has two tiers: Moses and then everyone else. That’s not really a workable structure to guide a large group of people. Additionally, Moses has further responsibilities. In the coming months he will be responsible for meeting face-to-face with God, conveying the instructions for the Tabernacle, and making some of the bigger decisions of direction for the people.

At this rate, Jethro rightly recognizes the twofold problem: Moses will get worn out and be unable to deal with his responsibilities and the people will be exhausted with his leadership. Both of these will be bad. The real problem I see is the exhaustion of the people—leadership is a two-way operation and Moses cannot lead the people if the people are frustrated with him all the time. It just does not work.

The qualifications mentioned for these leaders in Exodus 18:18-21 are worth noticing and applying to our criteria for leadership today. Teachable about the Word of God; hate dishonest gain; fear God; and being men of truth. If someone does not meet those basic levels then there should be no placing of responsibility on their shoulders.

However, in the typical rush to look at the bigger story about leadership in this chapter, we ought not miss Exodus 18:1. Jethro has heard of all that God has done for the people of Israel. That’s a good point to recognize. What God has done will be known by the people in this world. Some will participate in the blessing, some will at least respect it, and others may face the negative consequences of standing in the way--

So who will you be? Pharaoh, Jethro, or an Israelite? The opposition, the bystander, or the follower of God?

Today’s Nerd Note: There is some debate regarding the relationship between the Midianites and the Israelites. One of the major questions comes back to the worship of the One True God. Do the Midianites really worship the same God as the Israelites? It seems to be the case that they did, or at least that the group around Jethro did.

In time the two groups of people have a complete falling out and they come to life in conflict. It’s tragic. These are people that could have gotten along, could have found commonality in the worship of the One True God and didn’t. Consider that—who do we fight with the most? So often, the ones we should have the most in common with.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Put your hands in the air! Exodus 17

Apologies for my silence Monday. For those of you who wait with baited breath for these posts, unbait your breath and here we go.

Moses and the children of Israel are moving from the crossing of the Red Sea into the wilderness, and they are on the way to Mount Sinai. Of course, we do not have an exact picture of the route they take, but that's another discussion entirely.

What do we have in Exodus 17 (link) is a pair of mismatched stories. The first is the fairly expected one. The Israelites, pessimists one and all apparently, are angry. They have come to a place where there is not enough water for them to drink. We have had the waters at Marah, that the Lord God made good to drink, but now we've got just no water at all.

Present here is a lesson worth repeating, because we forget it frequently. It is far too easy to mistake the works of God. The provision of drinkable water and manna in the desert was not about God showing off His ability to work those miracles. God's miracles are never about showing off. His miracles occur when the apparent physical rules that govern the universe submit to His supernatural work beyond them. Of course, one should keep in mind that those physical rules that govern the universe were put in place by Him. Gravity is as much the work of God as manna. Gravity is just His normal work.

Miracles, though, are not about God showing up just to say "Howdy!" Miracles are rather about His will. He did not provide manna just to show He could. He provided manna because food is necessary for human survival and human survival (Israelite humans, that is) was necessary to fulfill His word about delivering the Israelites. Consider that back at the burning bush, God had said that Moses would be back there. The miracles are not about the display of God's power. That is secondary to them. Miracles are about the accomplishment of the will of God.

The Israelites have forgotten at this point not that God can straighten up logistical problems, but that God has promised He would bring them to the Promised Land. If that is His promise, then no lack of water will stand in His way. That they are concerned about this shows not a lack of faith in His power, but a lack of trust in His Words.

So it can be with us as well: we can see clearly in Scripture what things God has plainly promised us. Why do we doubt that He would fulfill His Word? Do we really think that the laws of physics are really a problem? He wrote them: He knows how they work and those laws submit to His will.

After the water story, where Moses strikes the rock with the same staff he struck the Nile with and water flows, we have the story of the Amalekites coming out to fight with Israel. This is Joshua first major appearance in the narrative, as he leads the army into battle while Moses stands on hilltop overlooking the battlefield.

Noteworthy in considering this battle is Deuteronomy 25:17 which indicates that this fight is an unprovoked attack by the Amalekites. The Israelites were not bothering them, yet the Amalekites came out and attacked first the stragglers of the Israelite caravan and then the whole group.

Moses sends Joshua into battle with chosen men at his side to fight. Moses holds the staff of God in his hands, and when he holds the staff up high, the Israelites are doing well. When his hands droop, the Amalekites begin to prevail. Finally, Aaron and Hur prop up Moses and his arms, Joshua and the people defeat the Amalekites, the Amalekites leave, and God promises that the Amalekites will be trouble and will someday be eliminated.

There is something to be gained here about strengthening weak hands—there's a time to be Aaron and Hur. Not because the person you strengthen is fighting the battle but because they may be the strength of someone else who is fighting a battle.

There is something to be gained here about fighting on, even when things turn against you. Your help comes from other places, your strength from differing sources. Fight on, you cannot tell when those hands will go back up.

There is something to be gained here about striving through exhaustion. Moses had to be tired of holding that stick up, yet he held. Hold on to the stick, you do not know that the battle may depend on it. And who knows, maybe soon you will have a little help. In the form of a rock to sit on, but a little help nonetheless.

So put your hands in the air, because that is one way to show that you really do care.

Today's Nerd Note: The Amalekites show up again in Numbers, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. One legend regarding Haman the Agagite of the Book of Esther would make him an Amalekite descendant. They are never at peace with Israel. It is the Amalekites that burn Ziklag when it is David's home in exile. It is the Amalekites that come with the Midianites in the book of Judges.

Even prophet for cash Balaam speaks of the destruction of the Amalekites. They seem to have come from a nomadic people that one of Esau's offspring married into and then came to lead. Genesis 36:12 puts Esau's son Eliphaz fathering the Amalekites through his concubine. Which is fascinating: how many of Israel's enemies are actually sourced from inappropriate relationships by people that should have known better? Lots: Amalek, Moab, Ammon, many of the desert tribes that came from Ishmael.

Sin has long-term consequences.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sermon Wrap up from April 15

Ever been late? Happens to me sometimes, too.

Just as an update, we enjoyed attending the Mid-South Homeschool Convention. It was good to learn about some options, and it was tempting to buy the 50 lb. bulk bag of oats from the booth that was a combo-health nut/prepper shop. Yes, I could have spent more there. Much, much more.

I enjoyed the most hearing and then meeting Jim Weiss of Great Hall Productions. He's a storyteller. Absolutely wonderful.


No sermon Sunday night, April 15. We had a short devotional time during a fellowship, but I didn't record it.

There's a comment in the sermon about John being the "first Baptist preacher." It was definitely tongue-in-cheek and the congregation recognized that. You cannot be a Baptist preacher without the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit. Just doesn't work.

Morning Audio (alternate link)

Luke 3:1-20

The ministry of John the Baptist

I. Narrative:

     A. Actual situation: out in the wilderness--we know nothing of John the Baptist's childhood

     B. Timeframe: Fifteenth Year of Tiberius is probably about 27-29 AD//Luke provides us a collection of names here that establishes the historical context of the situation

     C. Locked up for it

II. Preaching:

     A. Spiritual Matters: Luke 3:3

     B. Practical Matters: Luke 3:10-14

     C. Political Matters: Luke 3:18-20

III. Political Matters:

     A. Righteousness in leaders (3:19-20)

     B. Righteousness in conduct

IV. Practical Matters:

     A. Caring for one another

     B. Honesty in business

     C. Humility about ourselves

V. Spiritual Matters:

     A. Flee from the coming wrath: the need for salvation

     B. Produce fruit: live by the Word of God and show the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ d e have crucified the flesh together with its feelings and its desires.  (LEB)

     C. Live as children of God

     D. Do not leave it for God to turn stones to His children: spread the Word

     E. Embrace those who are the Lord God's, no matter what they have been: former rocks are welcome in the Church of the Living God

Friday, April 13, 2012

What is it? Exodus 16

The Israelites are through the Sea, have failed miserably at the waters of Meribah, and are now out into the wilderness. Now, one key of the wilderness is this: it's wilderness. There's not much there and there certainly are no grocery stores. 7-11 has not even put in a Qwik-Stop, and Starbucks will not even do a site survey.

Into the wilderness is where the Lord God has led, though, so into the wilderness the Israelites go. It's not even as if the Lord has led them badly. From the point at which they crossed the Red Sea, there really is no other place to go but into the desolation. It is there we find them in Exodus 16 (link) as we go through the whole Bible. It is there that we find fault with them, again, as we take this journey.

What happens? First, they complain of no food. So, the Lord God sends a miraculous food that they do not know what is. They eat it, like it, and call it "manna," which is just Hebrew for "What is it?" Or, perhaps, Hebrew for "What is this yummy stuff that shows up each day?" but we've just lost that in translation. Further, their complaint has included the claim that in Egypt they "sat by pots of meat." God, then brings meat. Quail. That's a story in another chapter or two, though, so we'll focus on the manna.

The main focus here is that the manna shows up six days a week, and continues throughout the Exodus. When we get to Joshua, we'll look at the end of the manna. For now, let's look at the situation. There was manna, but you had to go and gather it. On the day before the Sabbath, you had to gather twice as much because it would not be there on the Sabbath day.

You also could not stockpile some excess manna, because it would rot by morning. Except the stockpile that you had for the Sabbath. It was a consistent, daily provision for the people of Israel. It was also a persistent daily task for the people.

There is, I think, some value for us here. We need persistent daily tasks as much as the Israelites did then. We need them as much as we need consistent daily provision. It is the habits that we build that reveal our character, after all, and that's worth noting.

Additionally, we should consider this: how quickly do we trade our praises for complaints? How quickly do we forget what our problems were when they are no longer immediate? Consider the Israelites lamenting the lost "pots of meat" in the land of Egypt.

I see it in myself. For three extraordinarily long years (seriously, they were like 500 days), I worked for UPS at their Oakhaven Sort Facility in Memphis, Tennessee. I hated that place. From the heat stroke I suffered in training to the constant noise to never being able to have a day go well enough for the next level boss (which is part of UPS management style: it will never be good enough), I worked that job for one reason: I like to eat. Grocery stores, however, do not give out free food very often, so I had to work. My wife and kids like to eat, too, and we liked having health insurance (something we had done without for 3 years prior) so I worked there.

And prayed that God would bring me out of that dark place to a land flowing with milk and honey. I drove by that place just yesterday, and thought "I miss getting to raise my voice and sort packages and be angry and aggressive and crazy." I do, honestly, miss about seven people that I used to work with, but really, I miss UPS?

After praying that I could spend my days doing pastor work and now having that? How foolish is that? It's not foolish. It's Exodus-era Israelite. I think that I was sitting by pots of meat, but really I was being worked and worked hard. Now, I was not in slavery. I could have quit any time I wanted to—the analogy breaks down there. Yet still, I wanted out. Now I'm out. Do I want back in? Is that not crazy?

Do not forget the things which God has delivered you from. The going does get tough. His deliverance may put you in a place that the wilderness is necessary to get where you are going, but do not give up.

And do not go back.

Today's Nerd Note: I do not know what became of the Ark of the Covenant, so I do not know what became of the jar of manna within it. If it is all still around, I would expect the manna to be still good. However, I don't expect it to be found soon.

Remarkable, though, is the idea that this food has such a variety of expiration dates. On the ground, it's gone with the sun. In the house on 5 days, it's gone by morning. One day it lasts a second day. Put in a jar, it lasts a long time as a memorial of God's provision.

This undercuts the theory that explains manna as the natural sap of a tree or bush in the desert. There would be consistency there. One can accept the Biblical narrative of a miracle of provision here or one can decide it's all fake, but there's no middle ground on this. This spot does not really give an option to say it was a natural occurrence mistaken for a miracle.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sing it like you mean it! Exodus 15

We’re out. Out of Egypt. Out of bondage. Out of the middle of the Red Sea. Out of the path of some 600 chariots.

It’s a good place to be. So, what happens now? We sing. That’s most of Exodus 15 (link), which is where we are today as we go through the whole Bible. Moses and the people of Israel then break into a song.

The song praises the work of God in delivering the Israelites. It certainly reflects the truth that Israel truly had nothing to do with their salvation. The song itself is beautiful. Even translated into English, the imagery is strong.

The opening lines of the poem bring out the immediate inspiration. The “horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea” speaks of the events in the preceding chapter.This reference to “sea” is part of the evidence that we are not dealing with a minor lake in that event but in a bigger body of water.

Moving on, the song highlights that God is the God of both the current and the previous generation. It seems at times that we have lost that in modern Christianity. We tend to forget that God is not new on the scene or that Christianity is not a recent discovery and happening.

We are far too quick to assume the previous generation knew nothing. People are people, though the world around us has changed in the intervening years. There are valuable lessons that those who have gone before have already learned. Why would we insist on fighting our way through the same aspect?

Moreover, there is an audacity in assuming that because of their “old-school” lives, the prior generations did not know God. It is as if we assume that someone without Facebook could not possibly know God. That is a dangerous position to take in life.

It is even easier to assume that the generation that went through struggles must not have known God, else He would have delivered them. After all, if God is delivering this generation of Israelites from bondage, it must be because He was not involved with that last bunch, right?

No, not right. That is also refuted here. That God was still a part of the life of Israel in the generation that suffered without deliverance is stated here. That is important to remember: it is not always about whether this generation or that generation called out to God. Rather, it is about His work on this earth.

After the glorious singing, though, things go in a bad direction. The people go from great signs into the wilderness. In the wilderness, life is harder. In the wilderness, challenges come without quick answers.

In this wilderness, there was water. It just was undrinkable, a terrible temptation for the thirsty people. Their anger comes out, and it comes out against the earthly figure that is at hand. They grumble at Moses.

God guides Moses to a tree that, when thrown into the waters, turned the water drinkable. The people drink.

How quickly, though, they went from rejoicing to complaining. Let us all try to avoid that quick shift, shall we?

An important note here is the reference mid-chapter to Miriam, the sister of Moses, as a prophetess. While Moses is the one at the head of the list, he is not there alone. Neither is he the only one who hears from God, and that’s a good thing. No one should be in that position.

Today’s Nerd Note: Hebrew poetry is different from English poetry. It does not rhyme. It did not rhyme in its original language, and does not in translation.

A few of the poetic notes in this passage include anthropomorphism. That’s the technical term for describing something non-human with a human characteristic. An example is the description of God’s mighty hand. Guess what? That does not mean that God used a literal hand. It is a reference to His power as being like the strong hand of a warrior.

This is used throughout the Bible to describe God. It’s normal manners of speaking: we describe the unknown with the known. That should surprise no one. Be careful to remember as you read the Bible: some lines are meant to be seen as figurative language or poetic language. Do not put the burden on them to be specific descriptions.

It is not ‘holding to every word of Scripture’ to take this passage to mean God literally reached down with a hand and smacked the Egyptians. That’s actually ‘going a little too nutsy’ and not seeing the passage as it would have been seen. That is actually one of the keys to Biblical understanding: how was this understood when it was written?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hot Pursuit! Exodus 14

The Lord God has freed the Israelites from oppression in Egypt, and now they are on their way to the Promised Land. At last look, they were headed by a bit of a detour to avoid the Philistines and are headed out of Egypt by going south-west. Which isn't really the quick way, but it was the way God led them.

He leads them, then, to a place hemmed-in on the edge of the Red Sea in Exodus 14 (link). At this point, Pharaoh declares, in his best Buford T. Justice voice, that he has changed his mind and is setting out in "Hot Pursuit!" of the Israelites. The source of his change of heart is not clear, but I think it's two-fold. The first being the loss of labor, certainly, but Egypt had other slaves, so that's not all. I think the other reason is the loss of prestige. Here Pharaoh has lost a chunk of his intimidation power. Whether by not exacting revenge for the damage or by the world seeing Israel leave, he's lost that. Angry leaders do not care for loss of prestige.

So, saddle up your chariots and let's go get those Israelites!

In fact, the Israelites are nearly willing to surrender in Exodus 14:12, where they cry to Moses that he should have left them in Egypt. Moses tells them to hush, and then God parts the Red Sea that they may cross on dry land. He works this through two aspects: the first is a wind blowing all night that causes the waters to pile up; the second that the angel of God, in the pillar of cloud, separates the Israelites from the Egyptians.

The sea parts, the Israelites cross, and the Egyptians begin to follow. That action boggles my mind. I'm thinking that if ever there was a time for insubordination, it's when the Pharaoh sends me into the midst of two walls of water that should come crashing down any second. Yet the Egyptians follow orders and go in. The waters do come back down, and the pessimists in the Egyptian Army get the opportunity to rub in their rightness—just before they drown with the rest of their comrades-in-arms.

There are several things to draw here, and some of them you know. You likely are aware that sometimes earthly solutions are worn out, but God has other plans. You are likely aware that people have a tendency to complain as soon as things go wrong, no matter what good was done to get them there. You are likely smart enough not to go into the midst of the sea if you're not sure who parted it in the first place.

Yet do we really know these? Because we have trouble acting on them. We know that God makes no mistakes in His directions, yet we hesitate to use the Bible as our sole standard and structure for Christian life. Yes, I know that we see certain things as cultural: that whole "greet each other with a holy kiss" thing is not happening in Almyra. We'll stick with handshakes, thank you very much. What of other cases? Why do we think that churches will thrive by spending effort on things not directed in the Word of God?

Or by preaching things not in the Word of God? Would Christians really be as clueless about the content of the Bible if we believed, really, that God has better directions than earthly plans? I don't think we would. I think there is a place to apply God-honoring, God-originating wisdom, but too often we come looking to proof-text our own plan. That doesn't work.

We complain, quickly, when we should gave thanks extensively. How quickly we complain about the President (oftentimes with pretty good reasons) without giving thanks that we get to vote on that office every four years. No violence—just votes. That part is good. President is always a temp job in the US, and we can keep it that way. How quickly we complain about a new church leader without considering our own opportunities to help that person grow or to strengthen the ministry ourselves. Or without giving thanks that we have freedom to walk out the door and not return…

Our gratitude is weak. God has saved us, yet we are bitter that we don't have what the other person has. God lets me preach, but I want a bigger church or a wider blog audience or a book deal or …you get the point.

Then there's chasing hard against God. No one would do that, right? Even if as we chase the chariot wheels come off, we wouldn't continue, right? We see it and do it so often. Whether it's trying to be someone else or trying to achieve something by inappropriate methods, it falls apart. At some point, the sea comes crashing down. Try not to go that way.

Today's nerd note: It's time to discuss it. That footnote in your Bible that says "Or Sea of Reeds" when you see "Red Sea" in your text. This weighs heavily on the debate of the route of the Exodus. The location is challenging to determine with certainty. Here's why: technically, the Hebrew terms here are for "Sea of Reeds" rather than "Red Sea." That's not a textual problem, it's actually a traditional interpretation problem.

However, it's still there to deal with. Is there a difference in the Yam Suph, or Sea of Reeds, and the Red Sea? Some have suggested other routes, such as through the Bitter Lakes region of Egypt, that would go through reedy, marshy lakes. These lakes offer the benefit of a shallowness and windiness that is known to allow strong winds to blow dry paths through them. The resulting surge would then be enough to drown Egyptian charioteers who are trying to get out of the mud.

I don't like that as an option. First of all, there's the internal evidence. The Hebrew language is more complex than I know, but I know this: there are differing words for lakes and seas. The idea that Moses authored this and used "seashore" when he was referring to a lake is a bit much. Second, the Bitter Lakes, as well as Lake Timsah or others, are still in Egyptian Territory. It appears that the Israelites are expressing that they are on the far edge, if not out, of  Egyptian territory.

Finally there is a Biblical reference in 1 Kings 9:26 that puts Solomon's trading fleet on the "Yam Suph" when they are based at a port in the Gulf of Aqaba. That's right. Aqaba. Part of the modern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba is the northeastern arm, while the Gulf of Suez is the western arm of the Red Sea. It was also the boundary of Egypt at the time.

So, I'm inclined, though the evidence is thin, to put the crossing of the Yam Suph there, on the Gulf of Aqaba. Now, there are some emails that circulate claiming 'definitive proof' of a crossing site in that region. Suffice it to say that I am not convinced of the legitimacy of those findings. Good archaeology requires verification, and none of that was collected in a manner that allowed independent verification. That does not make the idea wrong—I actually tend to agree in general. It's just not undisputed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Mummy Part II: Exodus 13

Apologies for being a day late with this. My brain power, when mixed with prescription painkillers, does odd, odd things. You would not have wanted to read what I had written!

The children of Israel are headed out of Egypt. The plagues are over, the Passover has occurred, and Pharaoh with his people have told the Israelites to hit the road, and don't let the border gates hit you in the backside on the way out! Well, mainly the Egyptians have given the Israelites gold, silver, and other luxury items to get them to leave. So, they leave.

Exodus 13 (link) begins the departure process. It does not start, though, as one might expect. We would expect the departure narrative to start with either an organizational list or a routing plan. Yet it does not start that way. It starts with this: a reminder to remember the Passover and deliverance and to sanctify to Yahweh the firstborn of all the households.

This is important for us. We so often get started on a journey and forget where we were or how we got started. It is not unwise to set our mental and spiritual GPS for "home" before we start wandering about—there may be things to venture forth and explore, but we need to be able to get home. That's vital.

Consider, for example, people who begin an in-depth academic journey with theology and Biblical Studies. There are numerous varieties of opinions out in academia to study and consider, and many of them need studied. Whether it is newer scholarship on the Exodus or evidence related to textual issues for the New Testament, these issues need competent scholarly attention. Yet if our faith is in Christ and His Resurrection, which it ought to be, then that is a "home point:" whatever other things we find, that one is non-negotiable. If I find proof the Resurrection did not happen, then I must either reject that proof or reject "home" and find a new one.

God sets, for the Israelites, "home" here. They were delivered by the mighty, outstretched hand of the Almighty God, and not by their own efforts. This is not to be forgotten. Their sheer existence as a people is centered not in merit or heroism but in the unmerited favor of their God.

The next aspect is this: the statement of God that the firstborn are to be counted as His. They do not belong to the people, they belong to God. That's interesting, because in most cultures of the time, the firstborn were the ones that received the bigger portions of inheritance, the ruling authority, and basically all the respect. Yet here, God declares that those are His, not the people's. As such, the people should recognize that the traditional social structures of surrounding countries are not going to work for them.

The chapter ends with God leading the people not by the most direct path, but rather by a roundabout journey that takes them to the edge of the Red Sea. Now, if you've seen this movie before, you know what's coming there, but that's next chapter. First we have to have this moment: God knows that the people's spirits are not fully into the Exodus. Perhaps the slavery is not as bad as it has been reported. After all, many Egyptians worked a length of time for Pharaoh every year to satisfy their obligations. It was a form of taxation that involved labor instead of cash.

So, God leads them the long way around, because the short way will be too hard for them. The long way will not be much easier—the conflict, though, will come later rather than sooner and perhaps their hearts will be ready for it. At the very least, though, they have clear guidance from the Lord God in this as they follow the cloud by day and the fire by night.

Finally, though, tucked in the middle here is a little story that hearkens back to Genesis 50 (link). Joseph had ordered that his bones be taken up from Egypt to buried in Canaan, in the land of the Promise of God. Moses and the Israelites do just that: they take the coffin and move the body of Joseph. The text gives us a 430 year time frame for the time the Israelites are in Egypt, called the Sojourn in Egypt. Yet the command is remembered throughout.

Much to our discredit, we do not remember old promises very well. We just do not have the patience for them, and so we cast them aside when they become inconvenient. Perhaps we cover that up by finding the faults of the old promise-givers. That's easy, for example, in the Southern Baptist Convention, because most of our founders were wrongly convinced that slavery was a good thing. They made unfortunate promises about slavery, and it is good those have been broken and moved past.

Yet they made other promises of carrying the Gospel to all nations—those promises should be remembered and acted upon. Many of us attend churches that were founded on the promise of being God's light in the community. How are we doing with that promise? Our nation was founded on various promises? Do we keep those?

The world changes around us, yet we cannot simply take that to mean that all of last year's or last generation's ideas are useless or that their promises are to be discarded. Let's not forget our mummy—they had the foresight years ago to leave good things behind. Let's not forget that.

Today's nerd note: (short) There are some archaeological evidences for a possible residence of Joseph in Egypt, but the jury is still out, at least based on my sources. There is a villa found in what would have been Goshen that matches the style of houses the Israelites built in the Promised Land after the Exodus. Further, there's a high-quality sarcophagus that is missing its coffin and body. Tomb robbers usually took the things that had value, and bodies did not fit the bill.

It is surmised, then, by some that this household was the house of Joseph and the body was taken by Moses. It's hard to say. One big issue with archaeology related to the Biblical narrative is called 'confirmation bias.' This bias cuts both ways: someone such as me, who firmly believes the Biblical text to be accurate, will have a tendency to leap to a confirmation, or at least an explanation, that substantiates the Biblical text. A skeptic or non-believer in the text will tend to leap to the opposite. So, I look and see "Sure, Joseph's house" while another will see "Eccentric architecture, but the Iron Age houses it's compared to weren't Israelite anyway."

So be careful. If your faith is based on the text, then keep it on the God who provided the text. You do not need weak academics to hold you together.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Move the Stone! Easter 2012

.Blog note: Through the Whole Bible should return tomorrow, April 10.

Further blog note: I would have liked to post a podcast from the Community Sunrise Service, but a minor glitch happened and there's not one. My apologies, again, to Almyra United Methodist for the invitation.

Sermon Audio Link Here (Alternate Link Here)

John 20:1

The stone is gone

  1. Moved so that others may see
  2. Moved to not be an obstacle

What did we need to see?

  1. That He is Risen
  2. Therefore sin is forgiven
  3. Therefore death has no sting

How are you blocked by stone today?

  1. In yourself (sins, attitudes, habits)
  2. For others (public attitudes, debatable issues, kingdom confusion)
  3. As a church?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Long, Dark Night: Exodus 12

Few things evoke enough emotion to be remembered a hundred years after they occur, and rarer still is the event that draws the mind back a thousand years. Yet this night is one that is remembered even now some 3500 years after the fact. To this day, most participants in the Jewish faith and culture remember the Passover.

It starts with Exodus 12 (link). Moses passes on to the Israelites the commands he receives from God. They are to pack up everything, first of all, because it’s time to go. More importantly, they are to take a lamb from among the flocks and prepare to kill it, cook it, and eat it. They are to eat it with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs. They are to eat, not reclining around a table, but dressed, shod, and staff in hand, ready to depart.

This is to occur in households with the blood of the lamb placed on the doorposts and the lintel of the entrance to their home. A lintel is the opposite of a threshold: it’s the top part of the door frame. While they eat, the Angel of Yahweh will go throughout the land of Egypt and strike dead the firstborn of all Egypt. It is only those who have the blood of the lamb will be “passed over” and see life the next day.

Let us not miss a few moments of rich truth here. The first is the establishment of the Passover as a something “to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:42). The deliverance that God brings here was not to be forgotten, ever. Even should Israel rule the world, they were not to forget that once, they had been slaves and God had delivered them. Not just delivered them from slavery but from the death that came on Egypt.

The second is the clear statement that one purpose of the observance is to make the next generation ask questions. We miss this point sometimes and think that the next generation will learn by watering down what we do or making sure everything is just flat plain and obvious. Yet that was not the Passover and should not be our first response, either. It does not have to be hard, but do not eliminate the hard things. Deal with the hard things instead.

After this happens, the Israelites leave Egypt. They take the wealth of Egypt and depart. With them goes a mixed multitude and this multitude is who becomes the nation of Israel. Pharaoh and the Egyptians are done, yet some of the Egyptians go with the Hebrews. This multitude also likely included numbers of other ethnic groups that were in Egypt but felt that this was a good time to go.

Most of us as Christians, though, see the Passover as an echo of something greater that was to come. How is it an echo? Because the God who designed the Passover already knew exactly what would fall a millennium and a half later. The intervening years are no impediment to His knowledge or His plan and sovereign execution of that plan.

What started the echo? It was the decision of God that Jesus would come, be the Incarnation, God in the Flesh, and live a perfect life in obedience to God on earth. He would preach, teach, heal, and raise the dead. Yet these things were not all that Jesus came to do. He came to be what even the Passover lambs could not be.

He came to be the sacrifice that allows God to pass over us. He came to provide the blood that allows for the wrath of God to pass by our lives and instead see us delivered from slavery to sin. He came that we might have life, though that life cost Him His.

The joy, though, is this: unlike the lambs of the first Passover, which died and were done, Jesus the Lamb did not stay dead. Rather, He rose from the dead. Not because someone did CPR or found a misplaced defibrillator, but because He willed it. He chose that He would rise again, and nothing could stop Him.

As a Christian, this is my joy at the Passover. Not only that the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt but that I have been delivered from slavery to sin. Not only that a mixed multitude fled Pharaoh but that a mixed multitude can worship before the Throne of God. Not only that they had no time for bread to rise but that we have eternity to celebrate that He has risen.

Today’s nerd note: Much ado comes and goes regarding the date of the Exodus. Take the 1500 years before Christ as a round number. It’s either somewhere around 1440 BC or 1200 BC. I like a date nearer to 1440 BC, but there are good reasons to consider either option. It should never be a test of fellowship or salvation. You can be saved if you think the Exodus happened in 1776 BC. You would be wrong about Old Testament History, but you are not going to Hell for that.

I’d recommend a good Old Testament Survey book as you consider the Exodus timeline. Also, many modern study Bibles have good notes on the timeframe. Suffice it to say that this one is not worth arguing until you’re blue in the face. Akhenaton is my key player on this. He’s an Egyptian Pharaoh that tries to convert polytheistic Egypt to monotheism. Why would he do that? That’s crazy. Unless he has either seen or heard clear and compelling testimony of one God that devastated the rest of Egypt’s deities. One God that blotted out the sun, controlled frogs, tainted the Nile, and destroyed both the army and the firstborn of Pharaoh. That might drive him to break with centuries of tradition, mightn’t it? Old Akhenaton ruled from 1352-1334 BC. Oh, and his predecessors in the Eighteenth Dynasty? They have “mose” phonics in their names. Just like another man who grew up in the Egyptian palace.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Is that what it takes? Exodus 11

I have been dreading this passage since we turned to Exodus in our walk through the whole Bible. Once you get past Exodus 11 (link), you have the Passover and redemption and the lamb. That's such good stuff that I would almost redo the chapter divisions of the Bible and put Exodus 11 and 12 together and leave it be.

However, I started this as a chapter-by-chapter exercise. Even though the chapters are artificial, I'll stick with it.

The people of Israel are in bondage in Egypt. This has started because of a political change in Egypt and the situation has degraded. Now, there is a conflict between God Almighty and the Pharaoh of Egypt. Along the way, Pharaoh has tried to keep the Hebrews under control by establishing a policy of oppression, increased labor, infanticide at birth, and infanticide shortly after birth.

God's response has been measured increase. First, He sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh with the instruction to free the people. Yet Pharaoh did not listen. God displays a few non-destructive signs of His power, but Pharaoh refuses to listen. Then destruction starts in the nation, first minor, then major. Egypt has seen cattle die, crops destroyed, and the withholding of light from their land. That last one? Consider that while Egyptian Civilization is the gift of the Nile, the Egyptians were taught that Pharaoh was the descendant of the Sun God, Ra. That was a big deal.

Yet Pharaoh refuses to listen. He is suffering, his people are suffering, but two things remain: he stays in charge, and he stays stubborn. Now, it's very easy to look back and ask how Pharaoh stayed in power. After all, we would vote out someone that blind to the realities of life, right? Except that people in power are often loathe to relinquish it, even in democracies and republics. Consider the Roman Republic or the Weimar Republic—both fell to dictatorship, though one went more gradually than the other, through people's unwillingness to fight that dictatorship off.

The Egyptians could have considered rising against Pharaoh, but they did not. It was not too long before this that a revolt had ousted the ruling dynasty, and the same will occur later in Egyptian history. So, it was not unprecedented for the time and region. Instead, the Egyptians cast their lot with Pharaoh and keep it there.

The final warning then comes: the firstborn of all Egypt will die. From Pharaoh to slave, the firstborn will die at midnight. It's not even phrased as a warning, it's given as a statement of fact. Which is all the more tragic: the stubbornness of Pharaoh is so obvious that there's no reason to make it a question, will he let the people go and avoid it? It's just going to come.

Now, there is a great grace in the next chapter: instructions for avoiding the tragedy and those instructions are spoken openly to all, not just the Hebrews. Those who will heed the voice of God may avoid the death.

This brings us to a question: Is this what it takes? To get our attention? To get your attention? How many must die for you to know? Will it take the loss of the next generation to get our attention and break our stubbornness? Is this what it takes?

It should not take this in our lives. Heed the warnings, the dead cows, and the darkness and turn quickly.

Today's Nerd Note: With the exception of the Psalms, the modern Chapter-Verse divisions of Scripture are not original to the text. These came along in various forms across the years, sometimes to make reading easier, sometimes to make copying easier. Medieval times saw the birth of the modern system. As such, it is important not to hang too much on those chapter divisions: they are helps but not perfect ones. So, that something is at the end of a chapter does not mean it is of greater or lesser importance.

Psalms are the exception, as they are a collection of, well, Psalms, and so were originally separate. The Hebrew system does not align perfectly with the modern English numbers, though, so there are a few differences. Psalm 9 & 10 are one psalm in the Hebrew so this drops the numbering by 1. The same numbering occurs, as far as I can tell, in the Latin Vulgate. So, "The Lord is My Shepherd" is actually Psalmus 22 in Jerome's work.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Are you bugged? Exodus 10

Continuing through the whole Bible, we come now the eighth and ninth plagues: locusts and darkness. These are recorded in Exodus 10 (link) as the might of Egypt is crumbling around Pharaoh and his people.

The locusts come not too long after the hail of Exodus 9 and destroy everything crop left over after the hail. Again, there is a warning of their impending arrival. This time, Pharaoh’s servants, his own advisors, tell Pharaoh to let the people go. They implore him with this line “Do you not know that Egypt is destroyed?”

Can you imagine?

This is the reality of the situation: if the locusts come, there will not be much left for Egypt to eat. They will go to the brink of starvation, to the edge of desolation. The advisors to the king know this now, and they try to persuade him. He refuses.

The locusts come. The locusts eat. The land is stripped of food sources and survival will become the biggest goal of Egypt for years to come, rather than conquest or power. This happens simply for the pride of one man, one man striving to hold on to the power of his office. Even his own advisors have turned against him, yet he will not listen.

Such is the danger of great offices, that one can take that position and then destroy all that the role is meant to protect. Let’s take a look, though, backwards at Exodus 1:8. What has occurred? A Pharaoh arises who knows not Joseph.

Joseph, used by God to save Egypt from salvation, has been forgotten. Now, the benefits of Joseph will be lost. There have been many generations pass since Joseph’s 7-year plan saved the nation from starvation and built Egypt into a great economic power. Now, all of that is gone: the Israelites will leave Egypt in the condition it was in when they came: famine.

This is a heavily cautionary tale for us. Many times we are bugged by small things, things we count as trifles, but then they multiply across our lives and wreak havoc. The real problem is that so often, somebody warned us. It may even have been a person we see as an enemy, as Pharaoh saw Moses.

Then along came our friends, our advisors—who agreed with him! Did we listen? No, we just allowed the locusts to come on, allowed the destruction to happen. Yet was Moses really Pharaoh’s enemy? No, for all Moses wanted was the people to be let go. Had Pharaoh said “yes” then none of this would have happened.

And what follows the locusts? Darkness. Three days of darkness so thick that no one goes outside, and only the Israelites have light in their dwellings.

That darkness closes in on all who refuse to consider more than themselves. Anytime that power and control become more important than anything else, the locusts come and then the darkness follows.

Be cautious when you have the power.

Today’s nerd note: I will not even consider attempting to explain how there is light in the dwellings of the Israelites when there is no light anywhere else. That’s going to defy any explanation besides “God did it.”

Rather, let’s look at another major issue: the narrative goes back and forth between assigning the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to Pharaoh and to God. So, who made Pharaoh stubborn? And who is responsible for the outcome?

In truth, Pharaoh did and Pharaoh is responsible. One thing that’s not recorded in the text but I think is fair assumption is this: Pharaoh called out to his gods for strength to hold his ground. The One True God is answering Pharaoh’s prayer by giving him that stubbornness. Yet stubborn is not Pharaoh needed. Righteous is.

In the end, Pharaoh is responsible for his actions just as we are responsible for our own. Exactly how that works with a God who is sovereign over all things is hard to fathom, but it works. We do not blame God for the sinful choices of men: we are responsible for ourselves and need to behave as such.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I can't stand it! Exodus 9

Carrying on through the whole Bible, we come to Exodus 9 (link). This chapter continues the plagues that strike Egypt and details the plagues on the cattle, the plague of boils, and the hail (with fire!). The situation in Egypt is going from frogs, flies, and gnats to worse.

And that means it's going a lot worse.

The first plague strikes cattle. That's terrible, because cattle die without meeting the grill afterwards, and this is a shame. A pair of critical details here: Moses announces this plague before it hits and the plague does not affect Israelite cattle. God expresses that He will distinguish between the Egyptians and the Israelites, and then He does: the curse does not destroy His people.

Life does not always work this way. Note that the frogs and flies and gnats appear to have been everywhere, notwithstanding the fact that the Israelites are in oppressive bondage to Pharaoh. This is not to say that God will always keep the bad things on His enemies and the good things only on His people. There are times of common grace where the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45); there are times where the common affliction of sin, the common ancestry of sinners, brings pain on us all.

But this time, there is a distinction. Alongside it is an explanation of the point of the distinction, that God is making a point to the Egyptians about whose side they should be on. Will they get it?

You can see that some did when you skip ahead to the hail. The hail falls while there is fire in the sky like had never been seen in Egypt. I suspect the possibility of severe thunderstorms, something that the dry climate would make less likely. The crop damage is similar to what we see in farm country if the storms come at bad times: mature crops destroyed while immature ones have an opportunity to keep growing.

There's a rabbit to chase: there are sins and attitudes that will destroy those who claim to be mature that do not really hit those who admit immaturity. Consider that and how it applies to you—now, back on task.

When the hail comes, there's a warning again from Moses that it's coming. Exodus 9:20 tells us that some of Pharaoh's officials feared the message from God and sheltered their animals (that survived from earlier) and servants. Others did not bother with safety—and lost those animals and their servants.

So a few Egyptians are beginning to listen to the voice of the One True God. This is a good thing for them—if they will continue to listen.

In between these, there's the boils. It's possible that the cattle plague and the boils are related: cowpox, perhaps, or anthrax, or hoof-in-mouth. No, that's foam around the mouth, not boils. Anyway, it infects the people. Pharaoh's magicians reappear and prove that they, too, can produce boils. They're covered with them.

So much so that they cannot stand and face Moses or Pharaoh due to their illness. It's a terrible thing for them. They just can't stand the situation. Yet the hearts of the magicians and of Pharaoh remain stubborn.

What do we do? Catch the contrast between Pharaoh with his magicians and the officials who hide their cattle and shelter their servants. Some people are just going to be stubborn—you can destroy everything around them and they will not turn. Other people take a long time to come around, but they do come around.

These folks may take a while to get there, though: we don't see them walking across the room to join Moses. These officials are likely those who start telling Pharaoh to just get rid of the Israelites so that Egypt can have peace again. It's as if they are about halfway out of the dark: they might go back, they might go forward.

At times, we're all there. It's most obvious when we think of bigger moments, like salvation and surrender to Christ or repentance from major besetting sin. Yet we can see it in less obvious things: learning to love that one more person, learning to look past those old traditions, learning to grow a little more every day.

So be patient: that wall you keep banging your head against? It might be starting to crack. Keep banging.

Today's nerd note: You may have noticed that all the livestock die in the first plague of the chapter, then there's still livestock in the end for the hail plague. A couple of possibilities here:

1. Different types of livestock: we could be looking at feed cattle in the first and dairy cattle in the second, such that the plagues hold differing impacts. The additional groups could be cattle/livestock that are used for food purposes, both eating and dairy, compared to pack animal/plow animal livestock. Either way, there would be a distinction. Striking the feed cattle but leaving the dairy cattle would be a grace: struggle for years to recover that wealth and luxury (wait, no, eating cows is a need, right?) but not the starvation for children that losing dairy cattle would be.

Then the ones who lose the dairy cattle to the hailstorm are really the ones to blame: they failed to heed the Word of God about the danger. Grace delivers us from many of our own mistakes, but eventually we face the consequences of neglecting the Word.

2. Different locations: one consideration in all of this story is that Egypt is a pretty big country. Especially for the lines of communication that were available at that time. So, you may be seeing the nearby cattle killed in the plague and then reports from a distance of cattle killed in the storm. Or possibly that the plagued cows were being replaced by distant sources and those replacements got hailed.

Personally, I think the first possibility works best.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hop to it! Exodus 8

Frogs. Lots of frogs. All over the place, bouncing about and make a nuisance of themselves. It's enough to make the biggest Kermit fan go a little crazy. That's where the Egyptians find themselves in Exodus 8 (link). Covered up in toads, which is different for Pharaoh. Like many government leaders, he's probably more used to toadies. Yet I digress..

The plague of frogs is on the Egyptians. You might not think frogs are that bad, but think about this: in your house? In your cooking pots and kneading bowls? That's just crazy. It's filthy, too, because the frogs leave frog waste behind. As well as dead frogs.

Meanwhile, Exodus 8:7 gives the magicians of Egypt their due, that they were able to bring up frogs as well. Except for an important, to me, detail: there were already frogs everywhere. It can't have been that hard. Just clear off some space, say some mumbo-jumbo and then watch the frogs come.

The plague of gnats, followed by the plague of flies, round out the happenings of this chapter. It's enough to make Pharaoh pay a little lip-service to God and the idea of allowing the people of Israel to go out and sacrifice, but it's not a heart change. In fact, one of the sadder places of Scripture is found in Exodus 8:32: Pharaoh, again, hardens his heart.

This is where we come into the story. It is quite easy for us to be just like Pharaoh in this story. When our backs are against the wall, we start talking about the good things we need to do. We fess up to needing to confess sins, be open and honest about past issues, or make better plans going forward.

We do all of this in hope that, once we've gotten out of this mess, perhaps we can find some wiggle room in our commitment. Maybe there's a loophole we left ourselves, a gap in the wall around our given word.

Once the frogs are gone, though, we cannot turn our back on our promises. This is why it matters a great deal that we consider our means and methods for accomplishing our desires and consider our promises along the way. We cannot say whatever it takes to get our way and then back out.

This is true no matter what our goals are. Even good goals should not be accomplished with false promises. Neither should bad things that can be stopped honestly be defeated with lies and deceit. On this, I know that the ethics run differently if you're lying about the Jews in your attic in 1942. However, in a modern situation such as a church effort or political campaign there is no compelling reason for deception and untruth.

Be careful: a hardened heart on one issue becomes a hardened heart on many issues. That's not a road to go down.

Today's nerd note: The Ten Plagues of Egypt have been the subject of many studies. First of all, there are some serious questions about the plagues. There are no records in the Egyptian Hieroglyphs about the plagues. It's hard to pin down: it's entirely possible that the Egyptians just did not want to remember the situation.

Further, there are efforts to explain the causes of the Plagues. The most recent one to gain acclaim was the eruption of a volcano that led to most of these events. Other attempts to create a natural explanation have been made. The real question is about how God worked, though, because otherwise you're looking at a heap of coincidences that cannot be explained.

Finally, there are some attempts to identify each of the plagues as an assault on specific Egyptian deities. That's entirely possible, though not necessary for our understanding. The point here is not just that Yahweh exceeds Amenophis. It's that Yahweh is the only God, and the story is about Him.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Holy Week Day 2: The Cleansing

Now, technically, this happened on Day 1 right after the Triumphal Entry, but I feel like this deserves its own mention.

Luke 19:45-48

Mark 11:15-18

Matthew 21:12-17

After coming into Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus goes into the Temple. In the Temple, he finds people about all sorts of business and activity. Much of it is centered on personal profit derived from those who have come to worship the One True God.

This angers Jesus. Something to be aware of as we consider Jesus is this: He's not always huggy-man. Sometimes, when the honor of God is at stake, He is angry. His anger comes out here against those who are blocking people whose hearts are rightly seeking God.

These folks are more concerned for themselves than for righteousness. That's not a good place to be.

The point to be taken here is this: Jesus is headed to the Cross to remove the curse of sin by taking that punishment. He will take the force of the death we deserve—that price is not too high for Him to pay. Neither, though, will He stand by and let people interfere with those seeking God.

Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes? Exodus 7

Back at the burning bush, I skipped over one of the signs that God showed Moses to prepare him for the confrontation with Pharaoh. Moses was told to throw down his staff, and the staff became a snake. I do love the last line of Exodus 4:3 about the snake: "Moses fled from it." You got that right—my two feet will hopefully carry me beyond the reach of those slithering menaces.

Now, in our exploration of the narrative, we've reached Exodus 7 (link). Moses has confronted Pharaoh once, and that ended with increased labor for Israel and no letting of the people to go. God has promised several times that His hand will be stretched out and heavy on the Egyptians and eventually Egypt will drive out the Israelites.

Pharaoh and Moses meet again, and this time it's time to show at least the first of the cards to be played in this round. Aaron throws down his staff, and it becomes a serpent. Now, most of us think we'd be convinced by this and we'd call it a day. Not so with Pharaoh. He calls for his own wise men, and by their "secret arts" they copy the same trick.

The same one! They turn their staves into serpents. Doug has, at this point, left the building with instructions to call me when it gets better. Tradition puts two sorcerers at the side of Pharaoh, but the text does not demand that. It only demands more than one. And they all brought sticks, and they all ended up with snakes. That's at least 3 snakes too many.

When all is said and done, though, Aaron's staff-snake eats all of the other staff-snakes. I can imagine one Egyptian magician grumbling about having to limp out without his cane, but that's another discussion. The point here, as discussed for centuries, is that the power of Yahweh, God of Israel, exceeds all the magic of Egypt.

So this morning, you've woken up to discover that you did not profit a few million from the lottery last weekend, despite your earnest prayers and commitment to give much of it away. You're headed back to work, or possibly back to the job hunt, and wondering: just why is it that God does not seem to be coming through for you when people who you know don't like Him are doing great?

Why is it that their methods and magic are working and yours isn't? Is it that God is not powerful enough in these days?

I would point you back, at a safe distance, to the snakes. I do not know how the Egyptians were able to copy the results that God's man did by God's power. I only know this: they did. In no uncertain terms, the text admits the Egyptians had snakes.

The world can and does produce success that looks equal to the results of following God. For that matter, the world's production often looks better: Pharaoh still has his slaves, after all.

Yet when it's all said and done, the success snake gets eaten. The things of this world are swallowed up in the scheme of eternity, and even the wealth of this world becomes the gravel to be tread upon in the next.

Religion has often been called a crutch, but I would pose you this question: if all men limp, is not a crutch necessary? At the end of the encounter, Aaron has his crutch. The Egyptians? They limp away. What have you got?

Today's nerd note: we tend to class the opposition to Moses as "magicians" and "sorcerers" but keep in mind that the separation between "Physics" and "Metaphysics" is only a page until the Enlightenment Age of recent past. These were magicians and scientists both, much like a Medieval Alchemist (or a Persian Magi). So, count them as both mystical and logical. There's not nearly the separation there we claim today.

Really, though, science still makes philosophical and religious claims and religion and philosophy make scientific claims. And to do either one, you really cannot ignore the other.

Today's additional nerd note: 2 Timothy 3:8 uses the traditional names of Jannes and Jambres as the opposition to Moses. These names are possibly accurate, given that we hold Paul's writing to be inspired and accurate. However, these could have been the two leaders among a crowd or other opponents of Moses. Tradition gives us that these were the magician-scientists of Exodus 7.

Sermon Recap for July 14 2024

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