[Mar 31]--Help, Someone Is Stealing My Gods!

Judges 18:11-26

I do believe that Scripture (and the God behind it) does display a sense of humor at times, but his humor always has a serious point. He’s not employing it to entertain us, but to show just how absurd something is. One good example is in the second Psalm. The image is that of all the nations gathering together in a grand conspiracy against the Lord and his Messiah. They have their plans, their schemes, their resources, and their zeal. And what’s God’s reaction? Is he wringing his hands while sitting on his throne, saying “Boy, what am I going to do now?!” Um, no. He’s laughing at them. The point of this image is to show the utter absurdity of plotting against the almighty, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent Lord over the universe. Trust me, he’s not worried, so neither should we.

I thoroughly believe that the scene set before us in today’s passage is also meant to be humorous with a serious point. It was a time of increasing and widespread spiritual decay, and the Danites decided to steal some things from a man named Micah (most definitely NOT the prophet who has a book named after him). Micah had set up his own little private religion, complete with a Levite (who should've had no part in this travesty) and some household idols. About six hundred men came and took both the Levite and the gods to use for their own purposes.

What happened next is both funny and sad. Micah ran after them with a few men, and his quote is classic: “You stole my gods!” Of course they threatened to kill him if he didn’t shut up and go back home, and he decided to let this go. Friend, any god who can be STOLEN is not a god worthy of your worship. Why would you bow down before a god who has physical limitations, which was even built by your own hands?

There’s actually a very simple solution to this mystery. An idol which you made can be controlled by you. It won’t make any demands which you don’t like, and whenever you don’t want to think about it, you can just put him away in a drawer until you’re ready to pull him out again. But any god small enough to be convenient is too small to really be your Provider or Defender. Micah’s gods couldn’t defend themselves from theft, so how could he trust them to protect or provide for him?

The true God, however, is nothing like that. He can’t be put aside, and he makes demands and expectations of us. But the good news is that he’s REAL, and we can trust him to be everything we could ever need or want. Like Aslan in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, he’s not safe, but he’s good.

We might laugh at poor Micah running after the Danites, but how about us? We might not have a stone idol in our living room, but what about money? Our reputation? Our spouse or children? Our job? Whatever is controlling us, whatever we’re trusting, it should be worthy of what we give it. If someone could run off with it, I’d say it doesn’t pass the “Micah” test.

Father God, you're the ONLY one worthy of my absolute trust and obedience. Please do any housecleaning, because the one thing you don’t deserve is any rivals.

[Mar 30]--Superhero?

Judges 14:1-9

As I mentioned before, I grew up reading comic books, and they formed a huge part of how I viewed the world. I loved reading the adventures of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Green Lantern, and lots of others. They willingly used their powers, abilities, and skills to protect the helpless and stand up to powerful forces (super villains) who wanted to harm or oppress innocent people. They did this in risk of their own lives, often bearing the scorn of those they've sworn to protect, and frequently they had to make dear sacrifices in order to be the hero that was needed.

Regrettably, I tended to carry this attitude over to my understanding of the Bible, so parts of it were a bit boring to me. Once I finished reading the Gospels and then Acts (with some miracles), the rest seemed pretty boring, especially the letters of Paul and the others. Revelation seemed pretty cool, of course.

One of my favorite books was Judges, especially because it contained the stories about one of my favorite characters, namely Samson. This guy WAS a superhero—in the real world! He really lived, and he had super-strength and maybe partial invulnerability (15:15-striking down a thousand men without any serious wounds recorded). I remember reading about his exploits in an illustrated Bible for kids, and it was pretty thrilling. Once I went to a Baptist university, however, my Old Testament professor pointed out some less than stellar qualities about this man.

First, he was completely rebellious and disobedient. He was supposed to be a Nazirite, which meant no alcohol, no touching of dead bodies, and no cutting of his hair. This “leader” attended parties and most likely drank quite a bit. When a lion attacked him and he ripped it apart with his bare hands, later on he saw bees making honey in its carcass. Without a second thought, he not only scooped some out for himself (thus breaking his vow), but gave some to his parents and drew them unwittingly into his disobedience.

Second, he showed absolutely no self-control. He saw a beautiful woman among the Philistines, and he wanted her. It didn’t matter at all what his parents thought or what God said, he wanted what he wanted right now. One of his greatest displays of strength is found in 16:1-3. He visited a city, his enemies were waiting by the gate to kill him, and in blatant defiance of them he just lifted the gate (weighing tons) and carried it off! But what was he doing in Gaza again? Oh, that's right--visiting a "lady of the evening."

Third, this was thoroughly stupid man. Leave aside the morality of taking on a girlfriend among the Philistines (because that had worked out so well before!), what was he thinking? Delilah asked him about how to take away his strength, he would go to sleep, and lo and behold, somehow whatever he told Delilah had mysteriously happened to him! How did that happen? And not only once or twice, but FOUR times!

I guess my main point is—let’s pick our heroes a little more carefully, shall we?

Lord Jesus, you are the only hero I can completely trust. I want to grow up to be just like you.

[Mar 29]--Which Way To Go?

Proverbs 2:1-8

Since we talked briefly about “putting out the fleece” yesterday, I thought this might be a good time to discuss some alternate (and I think better) ways to seek God’s direction when we aren’t sure which way to go. There’s a fourfold process which I use, and I think it’s biblical.

First and most important, we should seek God’s will in his word. I realize that there are parts of the Bible which are hard to understand, but not the most important parts. One of my favorite quotes from Alistair Begg: "The plain things are the main things, and the main things are the plain things." This is why it’s vital that we read the Bible for ourselves, and we undertake a systematic plan to read it from cover to cover, not just the parts which we like.

I also acknowledge that there are plenty of issues which aren't directly addressed by Scripture, from ethical issues like cloning to personal major decisions such as which college I should attend or whom to marry. However, there are principles which we can draw from God’s word which can help us. There are plenty of Bible study helps out there, including (hopefully) this devotional, to aid us in incorporating these principles.

The second step should obviously be humble prayer. I should emphasize the word humble here. We can certainly ask God to show us the way to go, but we should preface every such prayer with “Whatever you want me to do or wherever you want me to go, the answer's ‘yes.’”

The third step is commonly neglected: godly counsel. The book of Proverbs says that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed,” and there are several other verses which I could've picked. Notice, however, that I said godly counsel, preferably someone who's more spiritually mature than you. Even the strongest Christian has blind spots, and another pair of eyes can be invaluable. Also we have to avoid what I call the “Round Robin” approach. This means that you've already decided what you want to do, and go round to all your friends until you hear the advice you want to hear. Read 1 Kings 12:1-19 for a great example of this.

Finally, after you’ve taken all these steps, then do what you want! What do you desire to do? If you're sincerely submitting to God and trying to be obedient, then go forward and don’t worry about it.  If you have a desire (within the clear parameters of his word), then it's quite likely--even probable--that this is a sign of where he wants to lead you. Augustine, one the greatest theologians ever, advised us to “Love God then do as you please.” Today’s passage tells us that our Father “guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” If you concentrate on being “just” and “faithful” then let God worry about your path. Quite liberating, isn’t it?

Let me submit a word about the more unorthodox means of God communicating with us. Some people might try something like lots, noting the fact that people in biblical times commonly used them. I can’t say that they're sinning with that, but I have to point out that once the Holy Spirit came in Acts chapter two, you never read about believers using lots again. Also, I believe that the Lord can (and sometimes does) speak to people in dreams or visions. However, I also believe that since we have God’s infallible word, we shouldn’t wait for them or depend on them.

Father, most of the time I know exactly what I need to do, but I just don’t do it. Please change me into the likeness of your Son. I want to think, act, and talk more like him.

[Mar 28]--“Putting Out The Fleece”

Judges 6:33-40

I'd like to think of myself as an amateur theologian, so bad hermeneutics, even in the service of a good cause, really irks me. In this case, when Scripture is used out of context and the end result is confusion among Christians, I have even less patience.

The phrase “putting out the fleece” is used by a lot of well-meaning believers, including some who are close to me. What they usually mean is this: I need to make a decision, and God’s word doesn’t give me clear direction. I’ve thought about it, and I still don’t know what he wants me to do. Therefore, I’m going to put out a little “fleece” for him. I’ll pray something like “Lord, if you want me to do X, then please do Y. If you don’t do Y, then I’ll take that as a sign that you want me to do Z instead.” Then they go forward based on this prayer and God’s “guidance.”

Remember what we said about narratives? They only tell us what happened, not what should've happened. Moses is one of the men I most respect in history, but just because he did something, that doesn't mean that God wants me to always follow his example. Even if Gideon was completely obeying the Lord when he did something, that still doesn't mean that God wants me to follow his example exactly. We must interpret narratives by didactic (teaching) portions of Scripture, such as Paul’s letters or general commands by Jesus in the Gospels.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a look at the context (there’s that word again!) of Gideon’s “fleece test.” An angel appeared to him, and this would be about as direct as the Lord could get. Not many people actually get direction from an angel of God himself, but this didn’t satisfy Gideon. He destroyed the local idols in his hometown, and this was good, but then the real test came. The Midianites actually noticed him, and the gathering armies of bloodthirsty killers (several times his numbers) caused him to panic. He asked for one more sign that the Lord was truly with him. Then that still wasn’t enough. He asked for just one more sign after that! “No really, God, if you just do this one more thing for me, then I’ll truly believe that you’ve sent me and that you’re going to do what the angel said.”

Please don’t misunderstand me. I'm not saying that the modern pattern of “laying out the fleece” (in the second paragraph above) is necessarily anti-biblical. It might be that the Lord is gracious and will show someone a sign like that. But what modern people are doing is not the equivalent of what Gideon did. The equivalent of Gideon's actions would be something like “Lord, do you really want me to avoid having sex outside of marriage? Maybe you could show me a sign to show me what your will is on committing adultery.” I remember my dad talking about seeing a preacher on TV. This guy claimed that Jesus appeared at the foot of his bed and told him to “Make disciples of all nations!” My dad scoffed, “So how many times does he need to tell you?” I submit that Gideon’s “fleece” strategy showed a lack of faith, not a humble seeking of God’s will. I'm not implying that I'd do any better, but that doesn't excuse asking for a "fleece" when the Lord has already made it clear in his word what you're supposed to do.

When it comes to things he’s made clear in his word, we don’t need to ask again. That's sin masquerading as humility. But when it comes to questions that aren’t so cut and dried, then we can talk about other means of getting guidance. In fact, we can talk about that tomorrow.

Father, when your word is clear, may my obedience be resolute. I need understanding from your Holy Spirit, but more than that I need your power to obey the parts I understand perfectly. Please help me.

[Mar 27]--What’s In A Name, Part 3

Judges 6:1-16

As I mentioned before when discussing Abraham, God has a beautiful pattern we see multiple times in Scripture. He starts to intervene in someone’s life, gives them a new name, and then changes their character to fit the new name. He did this with Abraham, Jacob, and Peter. He also showed that tendency in this passage, so let’s examine it for a moment.

Once again, God’s people turned away from him, and he returned the favor. He allowed the Midianites to oppress them, whose specialty seemed to be in crop theft and destruction. In an agricultural society which depended on this year’s crops to feed us this year, this would be a matter of life and death. The people called out to the Lord, and he finally graciously intervened.

His angel visited Gideon, and this was not the most promising start for a Deliverer of Israel. God’s messenger found him threshing wheat in a winepress in order to hide from the marauders. The angel called him by a new title-“Mighty warrior!” or “Hero!” I was a fan of comic-book superheroes as a kid, but this is not how I'd envision Superman or Spiderman or Batman. The frightened farmer reacted as you might expect him to (“Who, me?”), but from that point forward, God started to change him. He slowly turned him from a coward hiding in a winepress into a military leader who trusted the Lord so much that he was willing to send most of his army home when so directed. The God of Israel won a great victory through this man, but it all started with a name change.

How about you and me? Am I reflecting my name change? I was called a lot of names as a kid, but I learned later that God has some new names for me. He calls me “beloved child,” “holy one,” and “my heir.” If that’s what he calls me, what does it matter what someone else does?

Father, how precious is your claim on me. You have stamped your seal of ownership on me, and I belong to you and no one else.

[Mar 26]--The Failure of Joshua’s Generation

Judges 2:6-19

When I was growing up, the book of Judges was one of my favorites to read. Of course, I loved comic books as a kid and so the characters there were like God’s “superheroes.” At the very least it was a lot more exciting than the letters of Paul! As I got a little more mature, I started to read the Bible more thoroughly and saw just how DEPRESSING this book really was. Sure, the judges (actually, the term “leaders” might be better) performed great miracles and accomplished incredible feats, but they shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.

Read today’s passage, and you basically have a summary of the book of Judges. The book of Joshua is one of the most positive in the whole Old Testament. The Israelites completely overwhelmed the Canaanites, and none of their enemies could stand up against them. The only explicit disobedience in the book is Achan’s sin in chapter seven. Later on in the book, the tribes who decided to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan set up what looked like a forbidden altar in their midst. The other nine and a half tribes immediately prepared for war, and they were perfectly willing to invade and slaughter their own brothers if it was necessary to root out even a hint of idolatry. Fortunately, the eastern tribes quickly defused the situation by explaining that the pseudo-altar was just a memorial, not a real place to worship. This was how seriously Joshua’s generation took obedience. There are also a few hints here and there that they didn’t put 100% effort into rooting out the Canaanites like they should have, but all in all, this was a generation that tried (relatively) hard to serve and obey the Lord.

Their kids, however, turned out not so well. Right after Joshua’s generation passed from the scene, things went downhill fast. They quickly turned away from following the Lord, and efforts to root out the Canaanites fell by the wayside. As the Lord predicted, they turned away from him and started worshiping the gods of their neighbors. And just like God warned, he punished them. He handed them over to their enemies to persecute, rob, and murder them, and eventually they would “groan” about their oppression, and the Lord heard them. He sent a deliverer, and would often perform miracles through him/her. The people returned to the God of Israel (or at least pretended to), but once the leader died, they even dropped the pretense. This pattern went on for hundreds of years, throughout the book of Judges, and it actually was a downward spiral. The people kept on getting worse and worse, and the situation kept on deteriorating.

But where did all this start? Read verses 10-11 again, and ask yourself this: “Why didn’t the next generation know about the Lord? Didn’t God command parents to talk about him and his ways with their children?” For all the virtues of Joshua’s generation, and there were many, this was a horribly glaring failure, and it affected the nation for centuries to come.

Father, every child that I spend time with is an opportunity to share your goodness. Even if just for a moment, let them see your light reflected in me.

[Mar 25]--It Just Doesn’t Matter

Joshua 24:14-15

When studying the Bible, there are three words which are extremely important: context, context, and context. It's so easy to yank a verse or passage, kicking and screaming, out of its context and make it say what you want to say. This is why it’s always important to check the context in any sermon or Bible study lesson, and it’s also important to read your entire Bible over a long period of time. This is so you’ll be more inoculated against some of the nonsense which passes for biblical hermeneutics out there.

I’ve seen bumper stickers and wall plaques which are based on today’s passage. Basically they go like this: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” It certainly is a great thought and noble commitment, and I applaud the idea behind it. The problem is that it leaves out a lot of the intervening passage, and by excluding those words the reader will miss out on a very profound insight, and he’ll misunderstand the point that Joshua is trying to make.

The plaque on the wall makes it sound like Joshua was inviting his listeners to choose whom they will serve, whether to serve the Lord or serve idols, and I don’t think that’s what he’s trying to convey. Read the whole passage again, with all the words. Here’s Keith’s paraphrase: “I’m calling on you to follow the Lord, throw away your idols, and obey his Law. But IF following the Lord is something you don’t want to do, then pick your god. You can pick the gods that your forefathers served in Abraham’s time, or you can pick a god that’s worshiped by the Canaanites. But as for me and my house, we’re serving the Lord.”

This kind of changes the meaning from the wall plaque, doesn’t it? What this is teaching us is that IF the Lord isn’t our God, then it doesn’t really matter all that much what is. It might be an obvious vice like drugs or alcohol abuse or misuse of sex. It might also be a false god like Buddha or Nature or Allah (as the Muslims worship him), or it might just be being a nice person who tries not to hurt anybody. It might even be a false view of Jesus, like the one worshiped by the L.D.S. church. Let me reiterate and emphasize this: If the God you worship is not the God of the Bible, then it really doesn’t matter what or whom you worship. In the long run, no idol is any better than any other idol.

To me this means that I need to make sure that the Jesus I worship is the Jesus of the Bible, not one whom I made up. It also means that I need to share the Good News about Christ with “bad” sinners as well as “nice” sinners who pay their taxes and who love their family. In fact, the drug-addicted prostitute or murderous felon might be even more open to the Good News than religious people. It certainly was the case while Jesus was walking around.

Lord Jesus, there is no room both for you and for any idols in my heart. Please do some house-cleaning. Please.

[Mar 24]--Corporate vs. Individual Responsibility

Joshua 7:1-5, 16-26

I love being an American, and I’m proud of being one. I love our culture and our history, and I’m eternally grateful for the influence Christianity and the Bible have had on us. That said, there are some things that drive me crazy about it. We're just now starting to live up to our ideals when it comes to race, and we certainly haven’t always lived up to God’s standards when it comes to politics or our popular culture.

Another thing about our American culture and background that is a definite hindrance is individualism. Our whole nation started off by saying to the Mother Country “You can’t tell US what to do!!!” Our Constitution is very careful about the rights of the individual, and our private marketplace is geared towards catering to individual wants and needs. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this, and I’m VERY grateful for the freedom I have to worship, speak, vote and buy products for me and my family.

The Bible certainly addresses the individual. Each one of us will have to give an individual account of ourselves to the Lord. When I stand before the judgment seat of the Lord Jesus, I won’t be able to hide behind the “everyone was doing it” excuse, and the Lord'll be looking at my individual hard work for reward for reward as well. The Bible certainly takes a dim view of the “victim” mentality which is so common in our society: “I had bad parents, so I’m not responsible for my sin.”

On the other hand, the Bible also deals with corporate responsibility, and this is a very foreign concept to a lot of American Christians. Every believer is a part of the Body of Christ. If you have access to a Bible software program which can look up words or phrases, go ahead and count how many “one another” passages there are in the N.T.: We're called to love one another, encourage one another, hold each other accountable, forgive one another, etc. Any concept of a personal relationship with Christ which excludes being part of the Body is completely alien to the Bible. As someone pointed out to me a long time ago, you can't say that you love the Savior and hate his Bride.

What does this mean? We’ll look at some more applications about being in the Body later on, but for now, we need to remember that ultimately there's really no such thing as “private sin.” My sin affects you, and vice-versa. My spiritual victories help you, and vice-versa. My close walk with Christ (or lack thereof) will help or hinder you. In today’s passage, one man’s sin brought defeat right after the incredible victory in Jericho. When they got rid of the sin in their midst, the victories returned. This isn't meant to encourage a judgmental attitude towards people in our congregations, but it should drive us to the Lord, asking him to examine our hearts and to help us take sin a lot more seriously than we do. The author of Hebrews commands us to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.”

Father God, help me be on the lookout. There are brothers and sisters all around me who need encouragement. Please use me as a tool in your hand.

[Mar 23]--Lessons from a prostitute's story

Joshua 2:1-21

In reading the Old Testament, you might get the impression that the Lord didn’t care much for Gentiles. He specifically ordered the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child within the Promised Land, and he forbade them from making any type of treaty or negotiation with the Canaanites. Unfortunately, God’s people didn’t obey him in this regard, and just as he predicted, the Canaanites who lived among them swayed them away from worshiping the Lord into idolatry, which eventually led to their utter destruction.

However, if a Canaanite (or other Gentile) was willing to completely forsake their gods and wholeheartedly follow the one true Lord, then he'd welcome them with open arms. Every time a Gentile in the Old Testament really turned to the Lord, then the Lord would accept him, forgive him, and honor him with a place among his people. The problem was always religion, not race. Our Lord Jesus had at least two Gentiles in his lineage, and one of them has their story told in today’s passage.

Rahab had plenty of strikes against her. She was a prostitute, as James makes clear. She was a Gentile, and even worse a Canaanite, so she was under God’s death sentence. She didn’t have the benefit of the Torah or Moses’ leadership. The only things she knew about the Lord was what she'd heard second-hand from rumors and stories about what he'd done for Israel in Egypt and in the desert. But this was enough for her to switch sides, not just by declaring her allegiance to the Lord and his people, but in risking her life.

Why is it that in this entire city the spies only found one friend? Presumably the rest of the city had heard about what God had done for Israel. In fact, according to Rahab, the entire city’s “hearts melted in fear and everyone's courage failed.” There’s no indication that the city attempted to surrender to Israel. Instead, they trusted in their own gods and their own resources, and they tried to capture the spies who had entered Jericho.

What was the difference between Rahab and her neighbors? The difference was that when she heard about what the Lord had done and what he planned to do, she acted on it. She hid the spies, and she followed their instructions about marking her house with the scarlet cloth which would preserve her life and the lives of everyone in her home when God’s final judgment fell.

What was the Lord's response to her? He forgave her past, he adopted her into his family, he incorporated her into the lineage of Jesus, and he held her up as an example of faith in action for us to follow, not once, but twice in Scripture.

No matter what your background, God stands ready to forgive and restore and honor you. The other point to remember: How much you know is not nearly as important as acting on what you have. To those of us who were raised in the church and have benefited from a lifetime of Bible teaching, Jesus' words should give us cold sweats: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Lord Jesus, please change me. I want, I need to live up to what I already know.

[Mar 22]--God’s Servants vs. God’s Work

Joshua 1:1-9

I’ve grown up in church, so I’m pretty experienced in all the different things that can happen there. One of the least pleasant times I’ve gone through is the loss of a pastor, especially one who’s been there a long time and who was really popular. A good pastor, one who cares about his congregation, who sees himself as a servant, and who carries out his ministry with integrity, is worth his weight in gold. I’ve been through this multiple times in my life, and I owe all of them an eternal debt of gratitude. Many of the people in my last church have only had one pastor through all of their Christian experience, and he was called to a church-planting mission in Canada. He was the one who'd married them and kept their marriages from falling apart, and many of them had been led to Christ through him. He founded the church, and his vision had been their vision for over eight years. Then he left.

Unfortunately, a lot of people also left, because to them our church WAS that pastor. Once he left, they saw the ministry as basically dead, and they abandoned it. We got a new pastor, and the vision God gave him stirred new life into our church. Lots of us (including myself) saw our church as turning a brand-new corner and as ready for the next step upward (sorry for the mixed metaphor).

Regrettably, this is a story repeated again and again. Once the pastor leaves, people start looking for another church, or they abandon God’s family altogether. I think they need to read this passage until they get it into their heads: God’s servants leave, but God’s work carries on. The first two verses of Joshua set the stage for the rest of the book: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, it’s time to complete my plan for you.” They paid the proper respect for Moses (mourning for thirty days), and then God told them to get ready to cross the Jordan.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for Billy Graham, but there will come a day (probably sooner than later) when he will be taken home. Want to know one of the reasons I have so much respect for him? Imagine this scenario. An angel appears to him, and gives him this revelation straight from God himself: “When you die, the Lord is going to raise up a thousand like you. In fact, they will be so much better at leading people to Christ, that within ten years after you’re gone, no one on earth will even remember your name. You’ll be completely eclipsed by their success in bringing millions of people to salvation.” What do you think would be his reaction? Jealousy? Anger? Friend, you couldn’t give him any better news than this! If an angel actually told him this, he'd carry a smile into the grave and into Glory.

On a side note, I would like to issue a challenge to anyone in a church with a new pastor. If the old pastor was popular and long-term, then I promise you that the new one needs a boat-load of encouragement. He'll have to fight (in his mind and in many others) constant comparisons to the former leader. Why do you think Joshua needed five times (here and four times in today’s reading) for someone to tell him “Be strong and courageous”? Please make it as easy for him as possible.

Thank you Father, that your work doesn’t depend on any one man. You are eternal, and your purposes are sure. I trust you.

[Mar 21]--Moses and Joshua

Deut. 34

This chapter ends the story of one of the greatest men of God who ever lived. For over forty years, he had led Israel and consistently looked out for their best interests despite themselves. They showed very little gratitude for the way the Lord had blessed them through his ministry. He'd been the great intercessor between them and God, and they were only alive because he'd pleaded their case. He was the instrument through which God had given them the Torah, an infallible revelation of what God had done for them and what he had expected of them. Now because of one bad decision to give into his emotions, he had to stand at the border of the Promised Land and see it from a distance before he died. Thankfully, he was humble and wise enough to appoint and train a successor, namely Joshua.

I believe that the relationship between Moses and Joshua is very instructive for us today. As believers in God’s word, we should respect the Torah and look to it for instruction. Paul, the apostle of grace, said that the Law is “holy, righteous and good." The problem is not with God’s law; the problem is with us. We're all sinners both by birth and by choice. The problem is not that God has not given us enough light; the problem is that whatever light God has given us, we run away from it into the darkness. Moses, through his writings, can only bring us to the edge of the Promised Land and show it to us, but he can’t lead us over the border into it.

Ah, but then along came our Joshua! That is what Joshua means: “Yahweh saves,” or as I prefer to translate it, “God to the rescue.” Our Savior’s name is Jesus (or at least that’s what we call him), but that’s his English equivalent. In the first century, he would have been known as “Yeshua,” the same name as Joshua. As Paul put it, "[What] the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering."

Again, we should study and learn from the Torah, but we should be eternally grateful to our Lord Jesus, because as John said, “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” What Moses couldn’t do for us, Yeshua did.

Lord Jesus, thank you so much for your grace and truth. I could never live up to your law’s demands, but you have done it for me.

[Mar 20]--Secret Things, Revealed Things

Deut. 29:29; Psalm 131:1-3

This verse in Deuteronomy is one of the most profound, meaningful and underrated verses in all the Bible, and most people either skim over it or miss it altogether. If we understand this verse and take it to heart, we'll avoid a lot of heartache, headaches, and wasted time. I need to give R.C. Sproul credit for pointing it out to me and for his interpretation of it.

As someone who teaches the Bible, over the years I've gotten a lot of people who throw out the “stumper” questions. Sometimes they’re honest seekers, but most of the time they’re just trying to “stump the teacher” or (even worse) discredit God’s word by coming up with some smarty-pants question like “Who was Cain’s wife?” or “Did Adam have a belly button?” or “What about the dinosaurs?” This verse is the perfect answer to a lot of those types of questions.

This verse helps by focusing our attention on the difference between secret things versus revealed things. Under the first category I would include things like the question of life on other planets, or what happened to the dinosaurs, or how exactly God’s sovereignty works with man’s free will. The second category would be a lot more limited. They're what God has revealed to us through his word, and there is a specific purpose for these revelations, stated at the end of this verse. They're not there to satisfy our idle curiosity about whatever tickles our fancy. The revealed truth in the Bible was given to us to tell us everything we need to know about God and ourselves, and how to behave. It's not there to tell us everything we'd like to know about heaven, just how to get there. It doesn’t tell us whether or not there’s life on other planets—it was addressed to humans here on earth. It tells us how our first parents sinned and how that one bad decision put us in the predicament we’re in, but it doesn’t tell us how dinosaurs fit into the picture. I promise you, if you really needed to know those things in order to know God and act right, he would've put them in there. The passage from the Psalms presents the perfect perspective we need to take concerning a lot of questions which the Lord has chosen not to answer in this life.

What does this mean to us? Well, for a naturally curious person like me, it means that I need to sometimes fight that natural tendency, and I'd be better off focusing on what I do know instead of getting distracted by the “secret things.” My problem is not lack of knowledge; it’s acting on what I do know and understand fairly well. How about I let him handle the rest?

Father, your ways are so far above my ways, and your thoughts are so far above my thoughts. I trust you.

[Mar 19]--Grace In The Middle of Judgment

Deut. 29:1-6

I once had the privilege to spend some time with a “Bible virgin.” He'd gotten saved at a later time in life, and he'd had absolutely no background in the Bible. He started reading the Bible through from cover to cover, and I asked him about what he thought. One time, after he finished reading one of the prophets, I asked him about his impressions, and he summed it up like this: “Man, God was really ticked off at them!” (actually that’s the edited version, but you get the idea). I can certainly understand his reading on the Old Testament (especially in contrast with the N.T.), but we need to dig a little deeper.

First off, whenever we read about God’s punishment of someone, we need to immediately ask ourselves, “What did God really owe them?” The answer is always “Nothing except judgment.” Ever since Adam’s fall, all of us are under the death sentence because of sin. If the Lord either puts off our punishment or forgives us, then that’s his prerogative, not something he owes us.

Second, in this case, God displayed his grace and mercy even while they were being judged. All their complaints about Manna were really showing lack of gratitude, especially when you consider that feeding them Manna for forty years was not God’s expressed will at all. If they'd obeyed and trusted him at the border of Canaan in the first place, they would've eaten it for a few months at most. The reason their diet was so restricted for forty years was their fault, not God’s. On top of that, look again at how the Lord provided for and protected them. Over forty years, their clothes and shoes didn’t even wear out. Again and again he showed himself to be “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness."

Their story is ours. He's so good to us, and we disobey and mistrust him. He reaches out his hand to us, and we try to bite it. He sends his only Son to us, and we crucify him. He forgives, restores, and adopts us as his beloved children, and we forget how good he’s been to us. Thank the Lord, however, over time he changes us into the image of his perfect Son. I’m not what I need to be, but thanks to him I’m not what I used to be, and I’m not what I one day will be.

Father, please give me what you didn’t give Israel--a mind that understands, eyes that see, ears that hear, a changed heart.

[Mar 18]--Moses, Jesus, and divorce

Deut. 24:1-4

As I mentioned before, this society is becoming more and more plagued with “serial monogamy.” Polygamy is illegal, so instead we marry and divorce multiple times. Marriage too often is seen as just a legal contract, which can be broken whenever both parties (or even just one) decide that it’s no longer convenient to make it work.

God apparently takes marriage a whole more seriously than we do as a society. Why then would I pick today’s passage, which seems to set up rules on how to divorce your spouse and even outlaws remarriage in some circumstances? If you’ve read the gospels, you might be familiar with the story of when Jesus was confronted with the question of divorce. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all chronicle it, but we’ll look at just one, Matthew’s version. The Pharisees asked him about divorce, namely when is it right to seek it? He pointed them all the way back to the first and second chapter of Genesis (amazing how those first three chapters keep coming up) for God’s standard. They responded with a counter-example from the Torah, today’s passage.

Jesus’ answer is very instructive for us, and we should take it to heart. If we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, then the same God inspired the Law of Moses, and thus Jesus is uniquely qualified to interpret it (being its Author, duh). It seems that Jesus’ point is that this passage is a concession to the sinfulness of men, not an expression of the Lord's willingness to see more divorce. What we need to note is that this was a step against divorce, not towards it. Throughout most of history in most cultures, divorce was always the prerogative of the husband, and he could divorce his wife and throw her out on a whim. Even today, in cultures influenced by Islam, all a husband has to do is say “I divorce you” three times to his wife, and their marriage is ended. Of course, this freedom is reserved for only the husband.

God’s law changed this. He recognized that with sinful people, you would get some divorce, but in effect he said, “If you're dead set on getting a divorce, here's the procedure you have to go through.” This put up some roadblocks to a hasty decision, and would hopefully give the couple time to reflect and attempt to reconcile. If they did decide to proceed, then the Lord put up at least one more disincentive: He made it clear that this was not a step to be taken lightly, and he did so by forbidding them from having any on-again-off-again type of relationship (very common today). This was intended, again, to discourage divorce as much as possible.

One of the reasons (I believe) why the Lord is so against divorce and pro-marriage is because he cares about women. Study after study after study shows that women usually suffer more in divorces: financially, emotionally, and in most other aspects. Throughout most of history, being pro-marriage (and thus anti-divorce) was meant as a protection for women against men who might be tempted to get rid of "the wife of [their] youth" in favor of an "upgrade" to a younger model. This doesn’t even take into account how much better off children are when raised in a home in which God’s standard is honored and celebrated. He takes marriage very seriously, so we should too.

Father, behind all of your laws is your heart of love. Help me to be the man of God I need to be.

[Mar 17]--Lex Rex

Deut. 17:14-20

I remember sitting in one of my Church History classes as my professor talked about the double “pillars” of Western Civilization. The point he was making is that what we know as "Western Civilization" is a blending of two pivotal civilizations, namely Greece and Israel. From ancient Greek civilization we get at least the rudimentary beginnings of such ideas as democracy (“rule by the people”) and some notion of separation of church and state. From ancient Hebrew law we get ideas like the sanctity of human life. This doesn’t mean that either society always lived up to their ideas and ideals, but they at least introduced them into the bloodstream of human thought. I submit that the most underrated innovation that the Torah introduced--which modern people tend to take entirely for granted--is the idea of Lex Rex.

This phrase literally means “The law is king.” Being raised in a westernized nation, this is something that is so momentous and affects almost every aspect of our relationship with government, and we rarely (if ever) think about it. The most common form of government in history has been some form of monarchy, usually absolute monarchy. This meant that the law was whatever the king says it was. If he woke up one morning and decided that all red-headed people should be executed, then that was the law of the land (until he or a later king changed his mind). A fair trial was whatever he said it was. He didn’t need anyone’s permission to go to war, levy taxes, or or otherwise change the laws on a whim.

And of course the king and noble people were held to a different standard than common folk.  If he wanted someone’s property or woman, he'd simply take them. There might be laws against something on the books, but no one would be crazy enough to arrest the king for a crime that would end the freedom and life of a commoner.

This was not to be the case for Israel under God’s law. As today’s passage makes clear, the king was under God’s law just as much as the lowliest slave in the land. In fact, the standards were higher for him in at least one way: He alone was commanded to write out the entire Torah by hand for himself, and read it every single day. The whole purpose of this was so that he would “not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left."

As I mentioned, this concept of Lex Rex affects us in almost every dealing we have with our government. The police can’t simply enter your home without a warrant, nor stop you on the street without probable cause, and if they did, the outcry and bad publicity would be a nightmare for the offending officers. The Constitution has a “Bill of Rights” which is really a list of restrictions on the federal government, telling it what it can't do. We’ve had three presidents impeached in our history, and a fourth was forcibly resigned from his office by the threat of impeachment. All of this would've been unthinkable throughout most of human history. I mean that word literally: It would've never entered the imagination of most people how government could be so restricted.

Now, do we still see abuses, even in our society which is so (relatively) free and open? Do people with little power still get oppressed by governmental abuse? Of course. We still live in a fallen world, and even the best, most god-fearing and honest government official is still a sinner. But the whole idea of Lex Rex and all that entails is something for which we need to be more grateful than we usually are. Without it, we wouldn't even be having conversations and debates about the occasional abuses, since they'd be the exception, not the rule.

This concept flows over (or should flow over) into our church governments. Often the world's version of the "Golden Rule" is "He who has the gold makes the rules." People with money, good looks, or power are frequently held to a different standard. But as our Savior so forcefully put it, "Not so with you." Church leaders aren't above God’s standards; in fact, they're held to a stricter standard than the rest of the congregation. In God’s system, we're all sinners who desperately need his grace, and no one is higher than his sibling in Christ.

Lord Jesus, please forgive me for thinking I’m higher or more important than anyone else, especially my brothers. I’m their servant, and I need to remember that.

[Mar 16]--The Dangers of Prosperity

Deut. 8:6-18

You might get the impression from some of these devotionals that material wealth is nothing but a good thing and we should pursue it (like in our discussion about the 8th Commandment), but that’s not the whole picture. It’s absolutely true that there's nothing wrong in seeking to improve your standard of living, nor is it wrong to save for “a rainy day.” However, there's a distinct danger in prosperity, and today’s passage should serve as a good balance.

To understand this concept, I’d like to introduce another theological term: providence. By this I mean the noun form of how our Father provides for us as his children. It’s also used in the sense of God controlling the world, but that’s not how I’m using it here. The Lord's promised to take care of his faithful children and to provide for their needs, and he does it in multiple ways. Most of us, if we’ve experienced hard financial times, can testify to God taking care of our needs in ways that border on the miraculous. Our lights and water were about to be turned off, and money came out of the blue from an unexpected source.

The Israelites’ situation was like this for over forty years. As I once heard a preacher comment, there were few atheists but plenty of rebels. Each morning, they would walk outside to collect their food for the day which had literally fallen out of the sky. When they were thirsty, God miraculously poured water for them out of a rock. His cloud had shaded them during the day, and his fire by night reminded them of his constant presence.

Now their situation would become like most of ours today in America. Instead of miraculous feedings, they'd have to plow, sow, weed, and reap the food they would eat. If they wanted protection from the elements, they'd have to build houses. Water would have to come from more normal sources, like wells (that had to be dug). The danger, now that they were entering a prosperous land, is that they'd forget a vital theological point: The Lord was still providing for them, just as much as when they were in the desert. He was the one who'd give them the strength and other resources to grow food. It's so easy to forget this and come up with the foolish notion that we're the ones providing for ourselves. Every good thing in our lives comes ultimately from him. When we're depending on daily Manna to keep from starving to death, it's not so difficult to remember that. When he provides thru more indirect means (like a steady job), it's a lot harder to keep that in mind.

It’s the same way with healing. All healing ultimately comes from him, whether it’s miraculous (and I believe he still does that today) or if it comes from medicine and doctors. Who do you think designed your body to fight off disease? Who do you think designed the brain and the hands of the surgeon who operates on you? Who do you think gave the skills to the medical researchers who came up with new treatments?

Whether directly from his hand or through more indirect methods, he's still providing for his children, and we should always be grateful to him and trust him to take care of us.

Father, you are so good to me. Help me to trust you better. I’m so quick to complain and follow the example of the Israelites. Please change me.

[Mar 15]--Parental Responsibility

Deut. 6:1-9

Let me introduce a little bit of Hebrew here: the word shema. It’s the word for “hear,” and it’s a very important term for Jews who take their faith seriously. Everyday they recite Deuteronomy 6:4-“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” When Jesus was asked what was the most essential commandment for us to follow, he pointed to vss. 4-5. Do you get the idea that this is important to God?

We’ll talk more about the Mark passage cited above at another time, but for now, I want to focus on the immediate context. In verse seven of today’s passage he told parents to “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” And in the next verse he advised them to get Sunday School teachers and youth ministers to teach them on Sundays as well. Oh, wait, no he didn’t. Actually, I can’t seem to find any reference to Sunday School teachers, pastors, or children’s ministers when the Bible talks about teaching children about the Lord and his word.

Am I saying that these teachers are bad or unscriptural? Of course not! But as near as I can tell from Scripture, the final responsibility for teaching children about the Lord falls on the parents. People like children’s ministers are useful as a supplement, and they can be very helpful, but way too many parents see their responsibility being fulfilled by bringing their kids to church.

In this context God also told his people to “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Practicing Jewish homes still place a portion of God’s word on their doorframes, and they kiss it as they enter and leave a home. Does the Lord want us, as Christians in the 21st century, to literally do this? Not necessarily, but the principle is still very important: We frequently suffer from “selective amnesia,” and need continual reminders of God’s goodness and standards.

This raises a piercing question: If I’m a parent, then what do my children see? Do they see that God’s word is important to me? I might not have a literal sign on my door, but do I lead them in studying God’s word everyday? Do we talk about the Lord in our conversations? Do we pray together? Do I show them by my lifestyle how important obedience is? Do I show a true picture of our Father, showing love, mercy, and gentleness when it’s called for? Of course, none of us are perfect parents, and we’re never going to approach his standards except by his grace. Just like with other areas in which we fall short, he promises to forgive and strengthen when we ask. But we have to commit to doing this.

Father, for all the children who I come into contact with, please help me to reflect your grace, mercy, and faithfulness.

[Mar 14]--Cities of Refuge

Numbers 35:9-15

One of the more ugly aspects of human existence (which this country has tried to avoid) is that of tribalism. Webster’s defines it as “exaltation of the tribe above other groups,” and all societies and cultures have been afflicted with it to some degree. For example, two men might get into an argument, which escalates into a fight, and one of them accidentally kills the other during the struggle. Under most traditions, the killed man’s family has the obligation to hunt down the first man and kill him in retribution. Then the first man’s family is obligated to hunt down the killers of their relative and kill them. The Hebrews even had a name for the one who does the retribution: the “avenger of blood", usually the slain person’s closest relative. Do you see how this could quickly escalate into an ongoing bloody feud between families?

God’s law sought to prevent this by instituting “cities of refuge.” These were set aside for anyone who had accidentally killed someone to flee. If the avenger managed to catch the killer before he made it to the city of refuge, the avenger had the right to kill him. If the killer made it, then he would be kept safe by the city’s authorities until his trial could be held. Because making it to the city could be the difference between life and death, the Lord even commanded them to centrally locate the cities to make them easier to reach.

There are at least three lessons we can draw from these cities. First, despite our history of mitigating the worst of it in comparison with other societies, there's a disturbing and growing trend in American society towards tribalism. It’s becoming more and more common for activists to defend a guilty offender simply because he's the same race or sex, regardless of his crimes. It’s also pretty obvious that one of God’s main purposes in establishing theses cities is to institute a system of central government and law and to discourage each family or tribe from taking the law into their own hands. It’s natural for someone to want revenge for the death of a family member, but God reserves the right of justice for himself and his designated government representatives.

Second, these cities provide a profound image of who Christ is. The Talmud--the main commentary on the Torah--says that they not only built roads to the Cities but even put up signposts so that a fugitive could get to the nearest one as easily as possible. As believers we’re like those sign-posts, pointing other people towards the only hope and safety which they can ever find. The Lord doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance, and we're following his heart when we point others towards our Refuge.

Third, it is possible that someone is reading this who doesn’t know Christ as their Savior. Friend, time is running out. Just like the accused person in ancient Israel, Justice is pursuing you. You have an appointment with the Judgment seat of Christ, and you need to flee to him NOW and place your trust in him to save you and forgive you. You're either going to meet him now as your Savior, or you can meet him one day as your Judge. Please read this, and don’t wait.

Lord Jesus, you are my Refuge, my Salvation, my Defender. Help me to trust you, and you alone, for everything I need. Help me to be a clear signpost to you for others to find as quickly as possible. 

[Mar 13]--Outside Versus Inside Dangers

Numbers 25:1-9

The story of Balaam and Balak is actually one of the more humorous in Scripture. Balak hired Balaam to curse Israel for him, and the Lord took over the prophet’s mouth five separate times and turned his intended cursing into blessings. The heart of his problem is stated in 23:8-“How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?” A frontal attack on them, through physical or magical means, would never work. The Lord had declared that these people were under his protection, and as long as that was so, nothing could touch them.

The humor ends in chapter 25, however. The Moabites (along with the Midianites) seduced the sons of Israel into sexual immorality and idolatry, and “the Lord’s anger burned against them.” In fact, he sent a plague against them which claimed 24,000 lives. It only ended when the zeal of a man named Phineas placated the Lord’s anger.

Was the seduction by the Moabites planned out, or was it a coincidence that this happened right after Balak (the king of Moab) failed with Balaam’s magical attempt? Nope. Read 31:1-16, and note carefully the last verse. Apparently what Balaam failed to accomplish in his crude attempt to curse Israel, he succeeded in doing by turning the people against the Lord and the Lord against his people. A frontal assault didn’t work, but a more subtle attack (from the inside-out) caused much more damage. He initiated the plan to seduce Israel into idolatry and sexual immorality, and thus he separated Israel from God's protection.

I think that this is a vital lesson for the church in America today. Let me start by saying that I believe that spiritual warfare is real. There is a real person named Satan, he has minions, and he can (in certain circumstances) attack believers and what God is doing through them. I believe he's behind most of the persecution of the church abroad. I also believe that sometimes he's capable of physical assaults on individual believers. Here in America, however, he has a much more subtle approach. He slips into our lives through laziness, or materialism, or sexual immorality. I think the main weapon in his “arsenal,” against the church in America, is spiritual apathy. He doesn’t attack us, so much as distract us. By turning us against our Savior in our personal lives, the church is rotted within like a hundred-year old large Oak that looks magnificent on the outside but inside is eaten up by termites.

Will it take a wave of persecution to wake up the church? I hope not. I know that the Holy Spirit is fully capable of bringing revival into our personal lives, which will spill out into church-wide renewal. I also know that whatever he has to do to get our attention, he will do. He loves us too much to do anything less.

Spirit of Holiness, change me. Please do your work of burning off of me anything that doesn’t look like Jesus. When the enemy is starting to make headway in my life, show it to me and give me the strength I need to make the tough choices.

[Mar 12]--Surprising Sources of Truth

Numbers 23:1-12

When I was in college (a Baptist University), I was introduced to this interesting proverb: “All truth is God’s truth.” Since this came from biblical teachers whom I respected and trusted, I wanted to test out this theory. It’s obviously not a direct quote from the Bible, but is it true? And if so, what does it mean?

What people usually mean when they say this is that while God’s word is completely trustworthy, it doesn’t contain all truth. Mathematical equations are not in the Bible, nor are chemical formulas. The truth that Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth President is not in the Bible, and that’s true as well. When it comes to what we need to know about God and people, however, the Bible is 100% accurate and it's all that's necessary for us to know as far as how to believe and behave.

What about other sources of truth, like philosophy? They can’t add to God’s truth found in Scripture, but they might add to our understanding of what God has already said. Naturally, everything they say is fallible and needs to be tested against God’s word, but does that mean we should just abandon it? Does this mean that reading great works of literature is a waste of time?

What about the phrase “Consider the source”? When people say this, they usually mean that if you can discredit the source of something, you automatically discredit what that source is saying. Shakespeare had very insightful things to say about humanity, but his personal life was far from perfect.

I think that this passage, among many others, can give us perspective on this issue. The book of Numbers introduces us to a strange character named Balaam. I won’t go into much detail about his background, but it is worth noting that every time he’s mentioned in Scripture, he’s condemned, usually as a false teacher who will say anything for money. So we definitely don’t want to follow his example, but what about what he said? Apparently when he was hired by Balak, the Holy Spirit took over Balaam's mouth and inspired Scripture from it! In fact, in vss. 15-17 of the next chapter he provided a prophecy about the Messiah!

One of the sermons I preached in class at Seminary was on Acts 17:22-34, Paul’s evangelistic speech to pagan philosophers in Athens, who neither knew nor cared about Moses’ writings. We’ll examine that passage in greater detail at another time, but for now it’s worth noticing that Paul quotes approvingly from pagan philosophers and poets in vs.28. Does this mean that Paul believed that the poets and philosophers were inspired? Absolutely not! But it does mean that Paul recognized that there was enough truth in some of what they said in order to make it worth his time to be familiar with them, especially in the pursuit of bringing lost people to a saving knowledge of Christ.

In summary, my suggested applications are this: 1) Know your Bible backwards and forwards, 2) Be very careful about the “truth” you consume and compare it with Scripture, and 3) Be on the lookout for God’s truth “hiding” in the most unlikely of places.

Lord Jesus, you are the Truth incarnate. Help me to see your Truth everywhere around me.

[Mar 11]--Leadership

Numbers 20:9-13

It amazes me to no end that there's actual competition among God’s people for positions of leadership. Pastors butt heads all the time with Deacons, Elders, or long-time members of churches who want things their own way. I think that the problem rests on the fact that God’s people take their idea of leadership from the world, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Jesus could not have been more stark in his contrast in leadership in the world versus leadership in his Kingdom. In Mark 10 he said that leaders in the world “lord it over” people and “exercise authority” over them. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” We won’t go into a detailed analysis of this passage, but you can immediately see the difference. The problem is that whenever we vie for positions of authority or try to have things our way, we betray the fact that we're falling into the world’s way of thinking on this issue. I mean, ruling over people, telling them what to do can be fun, right?

But today’s passage touches upon another motive not to seek positions of authority, and it’s a selfish one. Notice that this is the only time in Scripture that Moses screwed up royally. In all the times that the people pressured him to turn back to Egypt and even threatened him, he didn’t back down. The Hebrew nation had rebelled against God “ten times", and their punishment for the final outrage on the border of Canaan was to be forced back into the desert and not be able to enter the Promised Land. Moses did the same thing one time, and his punishment was just as harsh. In other words, the Lord held Moses to a higher standard than he did the rest of Israel.

This realization should give pause to all of us who are called to positions of leadership. God holds us to a higher standard. Leadership in his Kingdom does not mean ordering people around for your convenience (like in the world). It means that you put other’s needs before your own, and he'll expect things of you that he doesn’t expect of others. Does that sound like something you would want to compete with someone over?

Lord Jesus, please give me your attitude. There's no way I can even approach your standard without your grace and strength. Please change me.

[Mar 10]--Water From The Rock

Numbers 20:1-8

Remember our discussion on types back in January? Sometimes we have to be careful about discovering types when Scripture is not clear, but that’s not the case here. Paul specifically said that this “rock was Christ.” Some biblical interpreters take this to mean that Christ literally appeared in front of them in the form of a rock and provided them water, while others take it to mean that the rock that provided water represented Christ. I don’t think it matters all that much, but I tend to lean towards the latter view. I certainly believe that Moses’ rock at the very least is a type of Christ, and we can learn some important lessons from this image.

This is not the first time that the rock spouted water for the Hebrews. If you look at Exodus 17:1-7, you’ll see a familiar pattern: The people had a need and immediately attributed the worst possible motives to the Lord and Moses. There's nothing wrong with going to God with our needs (in fact, we're commanded to do so in Philippians 4:6), but their problem was how they were doing so. Instead of humbly asking him to provide for them and acknowledging his goodness towards them so far, they “grumbled” against Moses (and the Lord by extension) and trampled his mercy, kindness, and compassion underfoot. Ingratitude is an ugly thing, especially towards our Redeemer.

When confronted by the people’s need, Moses was commanded by God to go to a rock and strike it. When he did so, life-giving water flowed out. In today’s passage, however, he was commanded to merely speak to it. I thoroughly believe that this represents our relationship with Christ. He was struck for our sins, once and for all, and that's all it took. He doesn’t need to be crucified again-no matter what the Catholic Church or anyone else says. After we're redeemed by his grace and mercy, once we sin, the thing to do is talk to him about it. This is what confession is—literally you “agree” with God that you've sinned, and then you repent, meaning that you make a determination that (by utilizing his strength) you’re going to stop your disobedience. 1 John 1:9 has one of my favorite promises in Scripture: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Considering how often I need forgiveness, that’s really good news.

Father God, what did it cost you to restore and forgive me? What did it cost you to pull me out of the pit of my sin and claim me as your heir?

[Mar 09]--Tassels on Garments

Numbers 15:37-41

This passage provides an excellent example of how we can use the principle/application method to apply the Torah. The Lord commanded that the Israelites sew tassels on their garments, and he gave some specific reasons for this.

The Hebrews were constantly complaining about God and attributing the worst possible motives to him and Moses (“He brought us out here in the desert to kill us!”), while they were shoveling Manna into their mouths. For months, they hadn't had to plant, sow, or reap anything: Their breakfast, lunch, and dinner literally fell out of the sky and was waiting for them each morning. They had a cloud over their heads to provide shade, and they had a fire by night to comfort them in his presence. He had provided for their every need, not to mention all the signs and wonders he had displayed in order to bring them out of Egypt. In spite of all this, they needed daily reminders of God’s laws and commands so they wouldn’t “prostitute” themselves.

We can point the finger at them, but we all seem to suffer from “selective amnesia” when it comes to God’s goodness and expectations. He has done so much for us, and we (who have the Holy Spirit living inside us) have even less an excuse than they did.

Note also the pattern in vs. 41: His demands he made on his people were grounded in his redemption. He redeemed us before there was any goodness in us to attract him. He saves his people based not on any righteousness on our part, instead, the opposite was true: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Once we are redeemed, he has certain expectations on us. We don't seek to obey Christ in order to get saved, we seek to obey Christ because we are saved.

So how can we apply this today? Does the Lord want us to literally sew tassels on garments? I don’t think so—we need to get to the principle here. We all need moment-by-moment reminders of his goodness and expectations. Some Christians have taped Bible verses on their mirrors or in their cars, while others memorize Scripture so they can think about them during the day. I’m not going to legalistically impose a certain routine on another believer, but I think anything that brings God from the “back” to the “front” of my brain is nothing but a good thing.

Lord Jesus, I have a bad habit of remembering things I don’t need to, and forgetting what’s important. Please help me.

[Mar 08]--What’s Most Important to God?

Num 14:10-24

If we want to be like David and be a man or woman “after God’s own heart,” then shouldn’t we be asking what’s most important to him? Using marriage as an example, if I want to please my wife, then I need to know what’s important to her. If she doesn’t care about flowers (or even worse, is allergic), then my brightest move would not be to give her a bouquet everyday. If she loves sappy love notes (i.e., they’re important to her), then I need to know that.

In order to explore this, a little detour might be necessary. One of the most important aspects of philosophy (literally the “love of wisdom”) is distinguishing between ends and means. Means are what we use to get to our proposed end. If your ultimate aim (end) is more money, then your means would presumably be working harder, starting your own company, or possibly stealing it.

We can use this method to decide on what’s most important to God. Some people might say that our salvation is the most important thing to him; obviously, he paid a high price to be able to forgive and restore us. Some might propose that it’s a relationship with him: We were saved not merely to keep us out of hell, but to have a personal relationship with the Lord, both now and forever.

These aren't bad suggestions, but I still think that they are means to an end, not the end itself. Ephesians 1:3-14 is Paul’s great description of God’s incredible gift of salvation in all its aspects, past, present, and future. Three times in this passage he declared that this is all “for the praise of his glorious grace” (or some variation thereof). The Westminster Catechism declares that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” and although this isn’t a direct quote from Scripture, I believe it’s a nice summary of it.

Today’s passage confirms this. The people, after all that God had done for them, cowardly refused to enter the land that God had promised them, and showed utter disregard for his grace, mercy, power, and faithfulness that he'd shown up to that point. His response basically was “I have had it with these ingrates! I’m going to destroy them, and start over with you.” The man of God wisely didn't just appeal to the Lord’s mercy and grace, but to his honor and reputation-- in biblical terms, his “name” among the nations.

What does this mean to me? Simply put, it’s not all about me. I was not saved mainly for my sake, but for the glory of my Lord. In fact, everything I am and do is supposed to bring glory and praise to him. Also, when I pray for the salvation of a lost person, I shouldn't just appeal to God’s desire not to see anyone perish, but also to his desire to his Son glorified. God could choose to glorify himself simply through the destruction of sinners, but he has chosen to glorify himself through their salvation. Aren’t you glad?

Father God, I want to glorify and please you with everything I am and do. I fall so far short of that. Please change me.

[Mar 07]--Caleb, Unsung Hero

Numbers 14:1-9; Joshua 14:6-15

If I ever become a pastor, then the first sermon series I’d like to do would be “Unsung Heroes.” There are some men and women of faith in Scripture who provide lessons and good examples for us, but they aren’t as famous as Moses, David, Noah, etc. If they’re mentioned in God’s word, however, then there’s a reason.

The first one I’d like to examine would be Caleb. He was first mentioned last chapter when Moses chose him along with eleven others to spy out the land of Canaan and report back on what they found. On some issues, the report was unanimous: They all agreed that the land was extremely fertile and would be a great location to settle as far as geography was concerned. They also agreed that the current residents were very formidable. However, ten saw only the size of the natives, and said they’re too big for us. Caleb and Joshua, however, compared them to the size of the God of Israel, and found the Canaanites hopelessly outclassed. These two, along with Moses and Aaron, stood against the opinion of the entire nation, and risked being stoned to death for their stance. There is no record of any hesitation in their statement: "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land.. . and will give it to us. . .Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them." The Lord declared that out of this generation that left Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb would enter; not even Moses would have this privilege. Of course, they would also have to wait forty years for this, but again we see sin affecting not only the sinners but bystanders as well.

Along with his courage and faith in the face of fear and peer pressure, Caleb also displayed a virtue I’d like to emulate someday. He showed a complete lack of what I would call the “retirement attitude.” At age eighty-five, he showed a willingness, no, an eagerness to claim his inheritance. He had no desire for easy-to-conquer valleys; instead, he wanted the “hill country” of Hebron, where the Anakites and their large cities were located. His attitude reflects a friend of Paul Harvey’s: The radio news broadcaster once remarked that a friend of his said he would retire “on the day I find that word in my Bible.” Way too many Christians have apparently decided that since they’re in their senior years and have retired from the workplace, God doesn’t have much else for them here, and they’re basically waiting for death and Heaven. My wife’s grandmother spent every day in her later years praying for all her children and grandchildren, and she continued this until her Lord called her into glory. Caleb’s spirit lives on in some believers, and his example stands as an encouragement and a challenge to all of us, whether eighty-five or eight.

Father, all my days are numbered, and only you know how much longer I have to work before I have to hand everything back to you. Help me make the most of every moment you give me.

[Mar 06]--Majority Rules?

Numbers 13:1-3, 26-33

Winston Churchill once remarked that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others which have been tried. Literally democracy is “rule by the people,” and I would tend to agree with Churchill. Monarchies, dictatorships, oligarchies (rule by a few) and other variations tend to be a lot more oppressive and brutal.

We touched upon this subject on January 15th when discussing the Tower of Babel, but I’d like to look at democracy from a biblical perspective. What would be the problem with just finding the right person and putting them in charge? One word—sin. All of us are sinners and are prone to selfishness and corruption. As C. S. Lewis once said, I believe in democracy not because men are all angels but because I don’t trust anyone with absolute power. The Founding Fathers of this nation distrusted human nature as well, and which is why they instituted checks and balances and heavy restrictions on government in their system. And on top of that, even if a person was theoretically sinless (which no one is), no one is wise enough and intuitive enough to know how to run everything correctly. Of course, there’s a huge exception in my book—the Lord Jesus. He is the only One I would trust with absolute power. Unfortunately, he’s usually not on the ballot. Of course, someday he’s going to return and fully establish his Kingdom (not democracy) whether I like it or not.

Since I give (qualified) support to democracy, then is everything to be decided by “majority rules”? Absolutely not! As today’s reading teaches, the majority can be dead wrong. The vote here was ten versus two: Ten wanted to turn back home, while two were willing and eager to take God at his word and claim what he'd promised them. Sometimes standing with the Lord can seem awfully lonely.

Regrettably, way too often the church in America has listened to this voice of “majority rules.” In churches which once faithfully preached God’s word, there are actually votes being taken on whether homosexuality is a sin. All too often Christians who claim to believe the Bible are squeamish about abortion or even support it. Pre-marital sex and divorce are becoming more and more common among people who ought to know better. The clear biblical teaching on hell is ignored or even repudiated. All this is because the church wanted to be popular more than it wanted to be faithful.

Unfortunately, it all starts with me. Am I swayed by what’s popular, or am I sticking to what my Lord has plainly told me? When it comes to government, I believe in some form of “rule by the people,” but as far as what’s true and right, we don’t need to start taking votes. God’s is the only vote that counts.

Lord Jesus, please forgive me when I just go along with the crowd. Help me to speak the truth in love.

[Mar 05]--Moses’ Dream Come True

Numbers 11:24-30

When we think of Moses, we tend to remember his bravery and faith when confronting Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, but he had other good qualities as well. One of them was a combination of humility and generosity of spirit, which was illustrated in this passage. Obviously Moses was only a man, and even a man with his gifts couldn’t handle the burden of millions of people alone. During the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit didn't rest on every believer; instead, he only came upon certain people at certain times, mostly upon people chosen as leaders. So they chose seventy elders, and these men assembled with Moses and the Lord around the Tent of Meeting. Two men, however, were listed as elders but for some reason they missed the meeting. The Lord graciously put his Spirit on them just like he did on the other seventy.

I admire Joshua’s loyalty to his master, but Moses gently rebuked his protégé. What was his specific desire? “I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" Moses thoroughly enjoyed his intimate communion with his Lord, and because of this he wanted all God’s people to experience that personal relationship.

Fast forward about a thousand years to the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts chapter two. As the believers were assembled, the Holy Spirit came down and inhabited every one of them. People from all over Jerusalem came to see what was making the commotion, and Peter’s inspired sermon led 3,000 of them to receive Jesus as Messiah. Moses’ dream had come true.

Now I recognize that some sincere Christians out there teach that it’s possible to be saved and not have the Holy Spirit. Let me make a profound understatement in saying that I wholeheartedly disagree. Romans 8:9 plainly states that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” Also Paul assured the Corinthian church (the most screwed-up and disobedient church in the N.T.) that “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." If you’re a believer in Christ, then the Spirit lives inside you. However, as someone quipped, “The Holy Spirit is resident, but is he President?” We’ll get into more details about our relationship with the Spirit in further readings.

What does this mean to me right now? This is what I meant before when I talked about the immanence of God. He is here, living inside you. As you continually “tune your radio,” he will make himself known to you. He wants to, I promise.

Holy Spirit, just as you breathed life back into Jesus’ dead body, I need you to breathe new life into me. Please.

[Mar 04]--Dishonest Scales


I know that there are some Christians out there who balk at the use of a study Bible: “You have God’s word and the Holy Spirit, so what else do you need?” I understand the reasoning behind this, but I can’t agree with it. Over the last 2,000 years, most Christians haven't had access to a study Bible, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore something that God has given to us to understand his word better. Keeping in mind that anything outside Scripture itself is not inspired, if we deny ourselves resources like these we're basically saying that interpreting the Bible started with us. We don’t need to listen to any of the thousands of years of accumulated wisdom by Christians who've gone before us and done most of the “heavy lifting.” I personally recommend the NIV Study Bible, available at any Christian bookstore.

Today’s passage is a good illustration of the need for a study Bible with good notes; without one, most modern readers would be either puzzled or bored. In the ancient Middle East (as well as in some parts of the world today), there were no absolute standards for weights and measures. If you approached a merchant and ordered, say, a half-pound of bread, the merchant would place some bread on a scale, and use some weights on the other side in order to measure off the quantity you ordered. If the merchant was buying some bread from a supplier, he would repeat the process. Unfortunately, the weights he used to buy and the weights he used to sell were commonly not the same. He would use a “light” weight when selling and a “heavy” weight when buying in order to cheat others. God apparently took this kind of theft very seriously: Proverbs 11:1 even claims that “The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him."

What does this have to do with us? I don’t own a grocery store, so how could I be guilty of this? I think the point behind commands such this is that God wants us to be honest and not have double standards when dealing with others. Naturally the most obvious application is in my business and work ethics. Lots of us tend to interpret the rules to suit us, and none of us can claim that we’re completely honest with everyone with whom we do business. Just to remind you, God hates that.

There are examples outside the business world which can apply as well. For example, I tend to get angry when someone in front of me doesn’t pay attention at a red light and doesn’t immediately go forward when the light turns green. Of course, there are times when I let my mind wander at a red light and do the exact same thing. Or how about taking forever at an ATM when I’m waiting behind them? Obviously my business with the ATM is so much more important than what they’re doing! See what I mean about double standards?

Just in case you're thinking that I'm reading into Scripture something that isn't there, I'd point you to our Lord Jesus, who told us straight out "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." 

I don’t know about you, but I am suddenly very glad that the blood of Jesus covers my sin. However, that doesn’t excuse the “dishonest scales” in my life.

Lord Jesus, you are Truth incarnate, and you expect your followers to reflect this. Please help me.

[Mar 03]--No-Second Class Citizenship

Leviticus 19:33-34; 17:8-16

Resident aliens have always had a rough time of it. Throughout most of history, they've been the victims of discrimination, and sometimes even violence, both by the new homeland’s government and by local nationals. Unfortunately, even this nation, which has a welcome sign on the Statue of Liberty, has not had a perfect record on this account.

Even with perfect laws, we're all imperfect people, and discrimination can never be completely rooted out. The question on my mind, therefore, is “What does God think about it?” You can find passages like today’s reading all over the Torah, so obviously he hates treating people unjustly, especially “underdogs” like resident aliens who'd have a hard time finding legal recourse for any abuse. To summarize, here’s how God instructed his people to treat resident aliens:

1) They were exempt from any dietary laws, so they could eat all the shrimp, lobster and pork chops they wanted.

2) However, there were a few things they were not allowed to eat, mainly blood. One good reason for this would be because blood was commonly drunk during pagan religious rituals.

3) They didn’t have to participate in any holidays except the Sabbath.

4) There were slightly different rules for holding a Gentile versus holding a fellow Hebrew in bondage. Hebrews were supposed to be released after seven years, but the Gentile supposedly could be held indefinitely. Please keep in mind, however, that this was not based on some alleged racial superiority--remember our discussion in Feb. about slavery.

Other than these few exceptions, the overarching principle was “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” If there were any double standards, quite often they were in favor of the Gentile. In fact, in Deut 10:17-18 they were singled out for God’s special attentive mercy: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome. . .He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”

Having said this, I know that in the current climate, condemning the mistreatment of foreigners can lead to misunderstanding, so let me clarify: None of what I'm talking about is meant to condone illegal immigration. The Bible commands us to obey the laws of the land and to submit to government authorities unless they tell us to disobey the Lord. If someone is in our country illegally, then that needs to be dealt with and laws need to be enforced, albeit in a humane and non-abusive manner (befitting their status as image-bearers).

What does this mean to me today? God does not, nor will he ever, sanction treating someone as a second-class citizen in his Kingdom. He has a special place in his heart for the nobodies, the underdogs, those whom the world tends to abuse or ignore. For both the underdog and those who might be tempted to belittle them, please remember, he’s watching.

Father, you are God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome. . .You defend the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and love the foreigner, giving them food and clothing. Please make me like you.