In fact, we're not quite ready for a moving sale yet. But I'm going to move the venue for lectionary posts to my other blog at http://capnsaltyslongvoyage.blogspot.com rather than here. It makes more sense to maintain just one blog.
blogging at http://capnsaltyslongvoyage.blogspot.com and http://alex-kirk.blogspot.com
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Today's readings are Ecclesiastes 11.1-10 and john 10.22-42.
In Ecclesiastes 11.6 we have a vivid metaphor. At least for me it is a vivid metaphor. We sow our seed, we do our work. We do not know what the outcome will be. All we do is what the Lord has given us. In my work as a teacher I see the truth in this verse. Day after day, year after year, I teach my classes. I don't know what will come of them. I don't know what will sink in and what won't. I have a distinct impression that thirty years from now very few of my students will remember much of the specific data I feed them in class and test them over. But I know thirty years from now many of my students will be daily using lessons they learned about perseverance, attention to detail, follow-through, and looking at written messages carefully. Maybe a few of them will be able to construe all the grammar in a Latin sentence. Maybe not. But I'll keep sowing my seed. The Lord will give the increase, and He will bring forth what he wants to bring forth.
May the Lord bless us that we can go around today, doing what he has given us, delighting in the Giver.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Today's readings are Ecclesiastes 10.1-20 and John 10.1-21.
Ecclesiastes 10.1 (ESV) "Dead flies make the perfumer's ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor." How much folly do we need? Not much. Yet notice how often we try to do a balancing act - a little folly, a little wisdom, a little evil, a little good - let's see if we can make the equation work out. What we see today is that the world doesn't work that way. A little folly, a little evil, is plenty to ruin a lot. It makes great mischief. So what do we do? First off, we forget about trying to earn our own merit. I know that i have plenty of folly, plenty of evil, to cause harm to a great number of people. I probably have plenty for the whole world, especially if I trust my heart and act on my own inclinations. No, that won't work, will it. What does our Lord say? He says he has appointed an order and that we live within that order. And what is that order? The world is evil but Christ has overcome that evil on our behalf. We live, not by trust in ourselves, but by trust in him. That's the good order we need. And in accordance with that good grade, we can live in God's wisdom, God's righteousness, the only wisdom and righteousness that ultimately matter.
May the Lord give us his wisdom and honor.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Today's readings are Ecclesiastes 9.1-17 and John 9.24-41.
As we read in Ecclesiastes today we see a persuasive argument for the doctrine of vocation. What is our calling? It is the situation in which we find ourselves. Every believer is serving within a divine calling to bring glory to God by loving and serving his neighbor right where he is.
What of all this talk in Ecclesiastes 9 about life and death? I'll counter that with another question. In what way do we love and serve our neighbor if we are dead? Should we not pour ourselves out in service during this life? Should we not seek to be a benefit during this life rather than wishing it away to look to eternity? Should we not dress ourselves, eat, drink, and enjoy the work the Lord has given us right now? Otherwise we are busy denying that the Lord is the Lord of now. We relegate him to being only the Lord of the future.
Our Lord is the one who lovingly cares for us right now. Let us rejoice in him this very day.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Today's readings are Ecclesiastes 8.1-17 and John 9.1-23.
In today's reading we are confronted with our Lord's sovereign grace. We do not understand God's commands, the way he has brought his commands into this world through people and circumstances, or the way that good and evil happens in this world. We don't understand the way God saves people by grace through faith (Ecclesiastes 8.12-13). Deep down we prefer the idea of salvation by works. But that isn't what our Lord has given us.
In the final analysis we are left with nothing to do but to trust our Lord to use the means he chooses to use as he accomplishes his will. Does he give us the foolishness of preaching? Then that is what we have. Does he say to repent and be baptized in order to be saved? This is God's command. Does he tell his disciples to baptize and teach all nations? That's our duty. Does he say he is with us always even though we can't see him? Then he is with us always. It is vanity for us to decide we know better. It is vanity for us to say we fully understand. No, we don't understand, but we do believe. Let God be true and every man a liar!
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 35.9-30 and Luke 24.28-53.
This is the last of the readings in the lectionary based on position relative to Ash Wednesday. From here until Ash Wednesday 2011 the readings are based on calendar dates.
In our passage from Numbers today we see God appointing the cities of refuge for those who have committed crimes and need to escape punishment. Though the people who flee to the city of refuge are not free to leave without peril, as long as the high priest lives, they are safe from harm, having been accepted into the city of refuge.
I'm reminded today that Jesus, our risen and ascended Lord, is the high priest and that the Church is that city of refuge to which penitent sinners flee. How long are we protected? As long as we remain under the care of the Church in our penitence and as long as our High Priest lives. The good news? Jesus has built the Church upon Himself, He is the eternal high priest, and nothing can come against the Church He has established.
I think that's quite enough to reflect upon this day.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 32.1-6, 16-27 and Luke 24.1-27.
The people of Gad are easy to misunderstand. In today's reading we see that they request an alternative inheritance, not the promise the Lord has made within Canaan. Their request initially seems like foolishness, cowardice. But this is not the case at all. They see that the land where they are is suitable. It fits their purposes. Because of their livestock they are best off in an area with wide open spaces. They are not departing from their loyalty to Israel. On the contrary, they wish to set up their cities and homes, then go to fight for Israel's entrance into the land of promise, not returning to their homes and comfort until all which has been said is done.
Likewise in our New Testament reading today we see someone who has gone to settle in a far away place butis fighting for his people who are in battle as they enter their promise. Jesus who has triumphed over sin and death continues to work in this world which is full of sin. He knows the battle is not done for us. And even when he sits down to rest at the right hand of the Father in heaven he will continue working on our behalf.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 27.12-23 and Luke 23.26-56.
We read today about Moses' commissioning of Joshua. We recall that Moses is aware he is to die for his sin rather than enter the promised land. He has continued to lead God's people, yet he will ultimately not receive the promise toward which he is leading them. To avoid any confusion, God has Moses appoint his successor publicly, clearly, charging him in what he should do and to whom he should turn for help and counsel. Our Lord is not the God of confusion, as some would have him be. Likewise, see how clear it is that Joshua is not going to take on priestly authority. In fact, he is not going to take on all the authority of Moses. This is not a kingdom that our Lord is setting up. It is a theocracy. God intends to rule his people, using some of his people to provide guidance for others.
Likewise in this age of the Church, we see that our Lord has given us his Word to direct us, the Holy Spirit to convict us, point us to Christ, and exhort us in every way, and then has appointed Christian leaders to serve as his hands in our society. They are not self-appointed but are appointed or often recognized by other believers. They do not emerge from some secret mystical cocoon, but they are publicly recognized and held accountable publicly. Our God is a God of order, not chaos.
Let us rejoice in his care for us, ordering our affairs with his love, not leaving us abandoned but caring for us in every way.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 24.1-25 and Luke 23.1-25.
As we read the end of the narrative of Balaam, we are reminded once again of the majesty of our Lord. He has appointed his people for blessing, not for cursing. He has gathered them for his purposes. Who are we to stand against the purposes of the Lord? And likewise, as God's people, redeemed in Christ, we realize our Lord has appointed us to receive his blessing and comfort. Who will stand between God and us to thwart that plan of our Lord? Nobody is able to do so.
There's a very strong tie-in between this concept and our New Testament reading today. How does the Lord put his blessing on us? It is by taking the curse of our unbelief upon himself in the person of God the Son, Jesus. The one who bears no guilt becomes all our guilt and sin. He releases us who are insurrectionists and murderers.
May the Lord grant that we may look upon him and both see and proclaim his blessing faithfully.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 23.4-28 and Luke 22.47-71.
I remember a conversation with someone several years ago. He wanted to know what my opinion was concerning how a local church should order its affairs. Actually, he wanted me to agree with him that our church should have "contemporary" music, a praise band, a youth group, and other organizational elements typical in the church growth movement. This brother introduced his comments with a statement to the effect that "the church is dying." I think my response startled this man. I agreed with him wholeheartedly that the church was dying and that it had been dying since at least the mid nineteenth century (over a hundred years before our local church was founded) when Christians in this country started proclaiming a self-mediated Christianity, a religion which strikes me as being profoundly man-centered rather than God-centered. Thus, I told him, if we wanted to show ourselves to the community as a life-changing relevant fellowship we should self-consciously avoid all the bells and whistles he was looking for. We should rather be radically distinctive in our dedication to and proclamation of God's all-sufficient Word, Jesus Christ, who cut through all of our silly felt needs and died at the hands of sinful man to resolve our real problem, sin.
What does this have to do with our reading in Numbers today? See what Balaam, the pagan who is visited by God, says and does. When confronted by the Lord he has no recourse except to proclaim what is good and right, the blessing of God upon His people. Likewise, even we who are driven and tossed by our culture, hearing all sorts of messages about what is relevant, what is the best business model for our church to follow, what will really reach people for Christ and bring them into a vital relationship with their personal Lord, even we, in a moment of obedience, may just manage to proclaim the Word of God in all its power. May the Lord use us to bring the words of life, the words of healing and redemption, the words of forgiveness to those around us. May we say what our Lord has told us, not what we were enticed to do by those in our world.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 22.21-23.3 and Luke 22.24-46.
The tension in the story of Balaam continues to build. Today Balaam has been tempted by the riches brought to him. He capitulates, at least in part, and decides he can, in fact, go to the Moabites and see what he will say. He still says he will only say what the Lord tells him. Yet there seems to be some doubt. Notice that Balaam has blinded himself to the appearance of the Lord. His donkey sees the Lord's angel ready to kill him. Yet Balaam himself does not see this vision until after the Lord opens his eyes. The Lord then uses Balaam's donkey to rebuke him. Balaam, moved to repentance, says he will not go. But the Lord sends him to speak to the king of Moab, but only to say what the Lord will tell him.
As we think about our relationship to this passage we see that we also blind ourselves to the truth. We decide to do things our own way and to do it claiming the name and authority of our Lord. We do it in little ways every day. Sometimes people do it in bigger ways (may the Lord protect us from ourselves). Yet whether it is a little thing or a big thing, our sin is the same. We assume the Lord put us in the situation we are in so we use that situation to gratify our sinful desires. In every instance it is offensive to the Lord and it reflects badly on him and on us in our society.
Lord, protect us from ourselves. Keep us faithful to you and your callings.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 22.1-20 and Luke 22.1-23.
Balaam is a difficult character to deal with. We see him as a prophet of some sort. He has some sort of relationship with God, but he is not a prophet of Israel. The author of Numbers clearly presents Balaam as hearing from God, quite directly. He is also, at least at this point, presented as someone who has a genuine interest in obedience to the true God. He would refuse a whole palace full of gold rather than go against what the Lord says.
For the moment, though it is an incomplete picture, I'd like to compare Balaam to the rest of us. When asked a question he has a firm resolve to do what is right. I think this is like most Christians. We are confronted with a question and, at least as long as we are in the comfort and safety of our home environment, we will affirm what is right. When I sit in my office, at my desk, comfortable, well fed, well rested, and not in any apparent danger I am ready to endure all sorts of threats and privations for the sake of the Gospel. I expect almost all believers are. But what will we do when we are put to the test? I don't know. I can't speak definitively for myself or for anyone else.
We will see later that Balaam will ultimately sin against God in the way he deals with the Moabites. But that is not for today. For today, we leave him holding firm to the Lord's calling.
Lord, may we so hold firm to your calling that we become accustomed to a life of faithfulness to you.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 21.10-35 and Luke 21.20-38.
In Numbers today we read about the Lord gathering his people, consolidating their power, and beginning to defeat the enemies of both God and his people. On this day of Pentecost we do well to think about the way the Lord has taken his people where they have been scattered and mobilizes them to proclaim his kingdom on earth, wherever he brings us. Even we evil people, as evil as the faithless Israelites, are used by our Lord as his hands, reaching into our surroundings, bringing his justice, his righteousness, and the message of reconciliation. For in his death on the cross, in his victory over death and the grave, in his resurrection, in his pouring out of the Holy Spirit, he has surely broken down the wall of separation which our sins have erected between man and God. God's righteous wrath against sin has been poured out on Jesus and is remembered no more. Thus has our Lord broken down the wall of separation which our sins have erected between God and man. Now we work, carrying his word with us, loving our neighbors, even if that love for our neighbors involves condemning those who would bring destruction on this world.
Let us look to our Lord, who has brought us together to serve him in every nation.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 20.22-21.9 and Luke 20.45-21.19.
As we read in Numbers today we remember the sin that Aaron and Moses committed against God's command at Meribah. Though the Lord sent them on about the work he had appointed to them he did not forget their sin. Aaron, at the end of his life, was stripped of his priesthood, his office, and his opportunity to enter the promised land. We see in this incident, and in the incident from Numbers 21.4-9, that the Lord does in fact bring justice against sin. Those who doubt and despise his commands will perish.
In the plague of the serpents, see how the Lord both administers justice and mercy. He has one like the deadly one raised up for everyone to see. Yet looking upon this serpent brings life. Rather than biting and bringing death, this serpent who is lifted up brings life. How does it accomplish this? Not by any apparent activity, but by the belief of the person who trusts God's word. Our Lord has said that to look upon this deadly creature lifted up in public people will live. So they do. This is not by any power or righteousness of their own, but only by God's word and promise.
Likewise we see in the New Testament that Christ, lifted up for us, raised up on a pole, the one like us except in our sin, the one who has become sin for us, this Jesus brings life. He does not bring life because of our righteousness. It is due to no good work on our behalf, but due to his becoming sin, becoming death, for us. How do we receive this? We receive it just like the Israelites did. We receive life by believing that what God has said about the Son is true. We receive life by trusting that Jesus gives us life.
Thanks be to our Lord, who has taken the sin of the world on himself and has himself been raised up in death on our behalf, so we may look upon him and live.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 20.1-21 and Luke 20.19-44.
In our Numbers reading today we see the people of Israel complaining - again! God's people are full of doubts. They don't have a steadfast confidence that their Lord is going to supply all their needs. There's this nagging thought that they have been brought out into the wilderness so as to die. It doesn't matter to them that God has proven himself again and again. It doesn't matter to them that the Lord has given his promises in the past. It doesn't matter to them that the Lord has shown an ability to provide for their physical needs again and again. The people still doubt. I can imagine this seems familiar. God's people are doubting to this very day. We doubt our Lord's good will toward us. We doubt his ability to care for us into eternity. Even more so, we doubt his ability to provide our daily needs. We doubt his wisdom in calling us to the tasks he has given us. We doubt his word where he says he will be with us. We doubt his concern for our communities as we try to find a new and different message to bring to our culture. We're a huge bundle of doubts.
Let's cap that rehearsal of sin off with what Moses does. He has the audacity to as if he needed to supply water, then he beats on the rock to which the Lord had told him to speak. Here's a serious grab for authority.
It's time now to look at God's very serious lovingkindness. See how he not only keeps Moses working for him and serving him until the time he is ready to take the people into Canaan, but he also provides the water the nation needs. Despite all the sin which has been raised up before him, our Lord still cares for his people. He has pity on us. He provides what we need. How much greater a gift is that provision when it comes from the God whom we have just insulted and offended! What wonderful mercy we find in our Lord.
Lord, we pray you would grant us repentance of all the times we have sinned against you. Show us the forgiveness you have provided, like the water which was overabundant for your people, your forgiveness overflows, exceeding the weight of our sin. Let us rejoice in your forgiveness. Grant us a changed heart that we may be grieved by our sin and ever seek the forgiveness you grant.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 16.41-17.13 and Luke 20.1-18.
"Are we all to perish?" (Numbers 17.13b, ESV). When we see the power of the Lord as the people of Israel did in Numbers 16 and 17 we also should be moved to ask this question. The fire of God's wrath burns against unbelief. He rages against those who despise him, who do not believe his commands are true, who do not acknowledge his mighty power, even those who look down upon those he has appointed. Yet we realize we are doubters. Every last one of us enters into unbelief. We don't really accept the Lord's rulership of all. We reject him, like the wicked tenants in Luke 20. So are we all to perish? Fact is, the answer to that question is that we are. We do not have the wherewithal to live of our own accord. We all need atonement to be made for us.
Unlike the people of Israel who perished before Aaron was able to make atonement for their sin of unbelief, we find that our Lord has himself died in our place, that he has made atonement for us, once for all time, giving himself into death so we could live. So it is not that we are able to live, but that he has lived and died for us. We see this clearly in Jesus' statements in Luke 20.18. He himself, the rejected one, is the one who is ultimately invulnerable.
This is a profound mystery. Yes, we are all to perish. Yes, we become immortal through the death of the immortal one who perishes in our place. Rejoice! Full atonement has been made on your behalf!
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 16.23-40 and Luke 19.29-48.
In our reading from Numbers today we see that God's anger is a consuming fire. He does not accept substitutes. He does demand that his people take him at his word. All too often we decide to go our own way. We decide what would seem like a good idea, what might enable our church to reach out in a more meaningful way to the community, what would enable people within the church in their ministry, what seems to be a culturally conditioned mandate as opposed to something the Lord has said will not change. We need to approach these ideas with great caution. Our Lord distinguishes ever so clearly between what he has ordained and what he has not ordained. He can take sin and make it a sign to everyone. He can and does destroy both the sin and sinner in hell.
May the Lord grant that we who trust in Jesus should realize again and again that our Lord and Savior has borne he penalty for our sin. May his goodness ever move us to repentance for the times when we have thought we knew better than he does. May we seek his face with repentance, rejoicing in his forgiveness. May we be those who trust him, who accept his finished work of atonement on our behalf to be just that - complete, finished, and on our behalf. May we ever remember that our Lord is a consuming fire.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 16.1-22 and Luke 19.11-28.
There are two issues that I think are of primary importance in our reading from Numbers today. First, we see that the Lord has made a distinction between different people in their service before him. Not all of the tribe of Levi are among the priesthood. Not everyone has the same role. There are some who have been called to serve before the Lord in sacrifices. There are others who have different privileges. The role in which God has put us is a good role. It is one which we can and should use diligently for his service. It is not a wasted role. Do we then avoid seeking any change in our position? Not necessarily. But we need to learn contentment in the position the Lord has given us. That will never disappoint.
A second important issue we see in our Old Testament reading today is that God's anger would fall on the people of Israel for the sin of the Korahites except that Moses and Aaron, not of the people of Korah, begged God's mercy Are we ever in such positions? Thanks be to God that we have Jesus Christ, the risen and ascended Lord, at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. Thanks be to God that we have been recreated in his image and can pray for our enemies, and bless those who curse us. May the Lord make us so grateful for the protective care he has lavished upon us that we also lavish that care on others.
Let us go, rejoicing, using the state in which our Lord has put us to bring his blessing to those we encounter today..
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 11.1-23, 31-35 and Luke 17.1-19.
See two important features of today's reading. First, we notice that the Lord visits his people in his anger. The people of Israel are not able to withstand either. All to often today we try to sanitize God. We take away his teeth. We say that he never has really been angry with sin or that he is no longer angry with sin. This is an unbiblical view. Our Lord, God the Father, is indeed angry about sin and remains angry about sin to this day. The difference is solely that he has poured out his anger on Jesus, God the Son, who died in place of all sinful humans, all who deserve to die, all of us. God's righteous wrath against sin consumes the sin and the sinner alike. Second, we see that the Lord, though dreadfully angry against sin, visits his people with provision. How much do they need to eat? He knows exactly how much they need, and he provides that. But in their sin the people doubt his goodness or his ability to provide. the Lord provides for his people, more than they can imagine, more than they can endure. How much has the Lord provided salvation for his people? He has in fact, saved us more than we can imagine. He has saved us more than we could endure to think about. If we were to realize how terrible sin is and how great salvation in Christ is we would surely drop dead right there on the spot. Our Lord provides so greatly that we cannot even start to imagine it.
The next few days' posts may be very brief or nonexistent as I will be in and out of Internet and computer access. We'll see what happens!
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 10.11-36 and Luke 16.19-31.
Yesterday we looked briefly at the idea of God providing an "alternative" opportunity for the Passover. I hope to get more input on te thought-provoking question posted in the comments.
Today we see God moving his people from here to there. His purpose isn't too clear for them, they don't seem to be on a direct path, but to be moving here and there in the wilderness. God is clearly gathering his people and preparing them for the entry into the promised land. Yet it will be according to his timing and plan.
I'm more interested today in looking at the relationship between Moses' father-in-law and the people of Israel. See how Moses urges him to continue with them. He will be good for the people because he knows more about the area than they do. But more importantly, the people of Israel will be good for Hobab. After all, God is directing his people with the cloud of his presence. They aren't going to be lost. And these people are quite able to find whatever provisions are present wherever they encamp. Yet fellowship with the people of God is good for this foreigner, Hobab. He seems open, at least on some level, to what God has revealed through Moses. Yet he is not someone who is fiercely loyal to the people of Israel. Is he cast out? Not at all. He is welcomed.
How many times do we in the body of Christ engage in litmus tests to see if someone is worthy to have fellowship with us, to partake of the blessings of God? Do we invite only the people who are serious believers to participate in Bible study, to be prayed for, to hear God's Word? What barriers do we put up against people who might otherwise hear the Word of God, be brought to repentance, and believe like we do? Let's rather see if we can be more like Moses. "Here, Hobab. God's presence is good for you. Won't you stay and receive what God has for you?"
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 9.1-23 and Luke 16.1-18.
I've noticed a recurring theme in our Old Testament readings. In a nutshell, the theme is that God works things out according to his will. He tells his people how life is best. He gives them laws which are for their good. And he gives his people mercy when they see they are not able to keep God's law. Here, for example, when people are not able to celebrate the Passover due to being unclean through no fault of their own, they have an alternative date, by which time they can expect to be in a state to partake of Passover. The rule is the same for the Israelites and for their guests and sojourners. God has provided a way of cleansing. If people desire to participate in it they are welcome. If they don't conduct themselves in a way that says they do wish to participate then they are responsible for that failure.
Likewise in the New Testament time and again we see that the Lord does what is necessary to convert people, to redeem them to himself. When his people, those he has died for and who he promises to raise again in newness of life, disregard his actions, his mercy, his grace, they bring their own condemnation upon themselves.
Lord, may we be joyful partakers of what you have provided for us, valuing your desires.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Today's readings are Numbers 3.1-16, 39-48 and Luke 14.25-15.10.
One of the hot-button issues in the modern Western Church in recent decades has been the involvement of women in pastoral ministry. I'd like to make a few brief observations today based on our reading in Numbers 3. Maybe his is timely as well because it happens to be Mother's Day.
Look at the account of the Levites which we read today. Notice that the tribe of Levi, those who are not included in the Aaronic priesthood, have a special function before the Lord. They are not offering sacrifices or serving in the temple in the manner of priests, but they have their own unique calling. They are of great use in God's kingdom. They are, in fact, indispensable. These descendants of Levi, a great host of people, are specially appointed to a particular type of service. They are given gifts in accordance with the use to which the Lord will put them. They are absolutely serving the Lord in what they do, despite not being priests.
Do we overvalue or perhaps undervalue the pastoral office? We seem to wish to make it an office that doesn't have any distinctives. And when this office, which is biblically given to those identified as elders or bishops, is considered an office which should include those people who don't meet that qualification, the office is simultaneously devalued and elevated. It is elevated in that it is considered the most worthy and important work of the Christian. It is devalued in that it is considered the service that everyone should be able to do, regardless of any biblical qualifications. This should not be. As in the case of Numbers chapter 3, let us realize that all sorts of service before the Lord is noble. Let us remember that some have one type of service and others have another service, and that the Lord has appointed the qualifications for those roles. Let us rejoice in seeing some people in roles that we ourselves never hold. Let us never think too highly or too poorly of ourselves due to the role our Lord has given us. It is all of his grace.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 26.21-33, 39-44 and Luke 14.1-24.
Today's Old Testament reading focuses on the importance of heeding our Lord's commands, which are for our good. Look at the way he lovingly and incrementally brings circumstances against his people to act as a corrective for their unbelief. First he brings natural events against us, then disease and enemies. If we don't fear those things, which, observe, we are powerless to combat effectively, God will come against us himself. In other words, if delivering us into the hands of nature and our enemies does not remind us of our frailty and need for repentance, God himself will visit us with his wrath and will turn his back upon us.
What's the good news in all this? What is our response? Is it perfect obedience to God's Law? That's exactly what we would expect, especially after reading all the things our Lord says we are to do. But we find quite the opposite. Not that we are to ignore God's decrees, but in verse 40 our Lord calls us to confession. That's what God desires of his people. He wants us to see and acknowledge that we aren't able to take care of ourselves. He wants us to see that in fact we are not him. We are his creation, he is the creator. We are to fear, love and trust in him above all things. That's what the Lord calls his people to do. That is what preserves God's covenant, not our obedience, but our confession of our disobedience.
Let us turn to our Lord in repentance, realizing and confessing the many times we have tried to run the show ourselves, trusting in our own power. Let us trust rather in the mercy and lovingkindness of our Lord.
Friday, May 7, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 26.1-20 and Luke 13.18-35.
I've seen a little talk around the Web about suggestions for people who are feeling bogged down by Leviticus. Frankly, my suggestion for people feeling bogged down with Leviticus is to take a really close look at reading like that for today. Today's reading divides quite neatly into two segments: 1-13 and 14-20. Counter to a typical Reformational pattern, this gives us God's blessings first, then God's judgment. You might question whether there is any Gospel at all in the passage. Yet I want to observe that in the first thirteen verses God is describing the blessings of his people among whom he dwells. In Christ we see the fullness of the Godhead dwelling with us. He is, in fact, God with us, Emmanuel. With Jesus our savior we see that he has recreated us into the kind of people who walk confidently in the land. No matter what the enemies, we know the Lord has faced sin, death, and hell. Even more than that, we know our Lord has risen victorious over them. We find there is no reason to fear. God is daily confirming his covenant with us. He is the one who delivered us from sin and death. He is the one who has proclaimed us free. Here are words of great encouragement. So far from being bogged down in our Leviticus readings, let's look at the Scripture with joyful hearts as we see it proclaiming the wonderful provision of our Lord and Savior.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 24.1-23 and Luke 12.54-13.17
In today's Old Testament reading we see the passage which is frequently cited against Christians. In Leviticus 24.20 we see the idea that punishment will be inflicted "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This is often used by the unbelieving community as an evidence of God's being mean and vengeful. On the contrary, if we look at the context, these penalties are imposed on those who carelessly or intentionally cause harm. They are intended to protect people. They are to discourage people from causing harm to their neighbors.
May the Lord likewise remind us that we are to love and care for our neighbors, striving to keep them from harm. Harming our neighbor is just like harming ourselves.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 23.23-44 and Luke 12.35-53.
As we read in Leviticus today we see that God appoints a routine of festivals for the people of Israel. Of course, they are centered around the Sabbath worship which he has instituted. Yet on certain Sabbaths there are special emphases which the Lord has commanded. Each one has a special focus - trumpets to show God's self-proclamation, a Day of Atonement for forgiveness, a time in booths to remember the pilgrim nature of God's people.
It's a good thing to remember what God has done in the past. It's a good thing to have special days when we focus on important events. In past years I spent time in several different church congregations which took little or no notice of the historic Church calendar. One of them went so far as to have a special evening service near Christmas but otherwise made no official mention of even Christmas or Easter. While I can understand the convictions that might lead toward this - a desire to emphasize the systematic preaching and teaching of the Scripture in its context through extended passages of the Bible (why let Easter interrupt your series on Isaiah?), I don't think this is well advised. God has worked in very distinctive ways at different times in history. There's a sort of rhythm in the Church year. It provides a framework on which to hang many aspects of our Christian belief, simply through noting the seasons believers throughout history have acknowledged.
Our Lord has made the times and the seasons. He has appointed them for reasons. And though the Christian calendar is not specifically commanded by the Lord, as were these feasts in Leviticus, we can use that calendar to the benefit of God's people, reaching out to our world, pointing them to what our Lord Jesus Christ has done.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 21.1-24 and Luke 12.1-12.
Today we read about the severe dedication required of the Aaronic riests. Even in the most touching instances, the death of a family member, they are not always to attend and bring comfort to their family members. This is to prevent them from defiling themselves and preventing themselves from ministering before the Lord. The job of a priest is to provide access to worship for the people. Without this work of the priest the people are unable to worship according to God's requirements. The Lord has prescribed particular ways in which worship is to be carried on. If his priests are not available, the people have no access to God. It is a holy obligation, one which is to be taken very seriously.
While we may think it is all a burden, notice also that those descendants of Aaron who are somehow not qualified as priests due to physical disabilities are provided for anyway. They are to engage in as normal a life as they can, but are not allowed to offer the sacrifices. The person who brings an offering to God is to be free from the defects God lists for us in Leviticus 21. Yet those priests who are disqualified receive the same living as the priests who are working with the sacrifices.
The callings of the Lord are not according to our desires. They are not according to our abilities. They are not according to our popularity. They follow his distinctive pattern. Let us rejoice as we see our Lord working out his plan in this world, a plan which we would not have devised, a plan which is different from our plan.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 20.1-16, 20-27 and Luke 11.37-54.
In Leviticus today we continue the theme we began yesterday. God's people are warned against child sacrifice, various types of sexual immorality, and various ways they could choose to look just like their neighbors in the land God is giving them. In every instance, God points out that He is the holy Lord who makes his people holy. He is the one who sanctifies the people of Israel. Without his work in their midst they are, in fact, just like their neighbors.
As believers in Christ, let us recall that we are not the ones doing this work. We are not the ones who make ourselves holy. It is the Lord working in us, the Lord our righteousness, the Lord Jesus who has broken the bonds of sin, the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us. May we look not to our own works for righteousness but only ever trust in the Lord.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 19.9-18, 26-37 and Luke 11.14-36.
We often take a purposeful glance at the Law/Gospel distinctions in a passage. At first glance, today's reading in Leviticus seems to be entirely Law. It tells us, again and again, what we are to do. We are given commands, and here they are commands that we might even think we can keep. In general it's relatively easy to deal with most of the commands we see in this passage, all but one. We see over and over again that we are to fear God, honor his name, trust in the Lord. This, we ultimately confess, we will not be able to do very well. It's one thing to leave grapes in the vineyard for scavengers. We can do that. It's another thing to honor God's name in all we say and do. We stand condemned by this passage of the Law.
Where then do we find the Gospel, God's statement of what he does on our behalf? It is all through today's reading. Look at the reason God gives for us to do what he commands. Leave food for scavengers. I am the Lord. Tell the truth. I am the Lord. Don't rob or cause harm to anyone. I am the Lord. Pursue justice. I am the Lord. Love your neighbor. I am the Lord. On and on we see God commands us something and then proclaims himself the Lord. All these things our Lord commands us are his own characteristics. Has our Lord given us food? Is God the god of all truth? Isn't God the one who heals rather than harms? Is God the God of all justice? Is God love embodied? What has the Lord done? We could keep enumerating his grace and mercy forever.
Lord, You are the Lord. Amen.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 17.1-16 and Luke 10.23-42.
As I look at today's reading from Leviticus I make three observations in particular. First we see that sacrifice is to have extremely high importance among the people of Israel. They are not to make sacrifices according to their desire, the location they happen to be in, the customs of their surrounding culture, or any such thing. Sacrificial offerings have a specific revealed pattern. Second, the people are not to eat or drink blood like the pagans do. There is to be a distinction, a reverence for life. The blood is to be disposed of by returning it to the earth or through use in sacramental ways, such as sprinkling it on the altar. Finally, the people of Israel are free to eat of food they catch. It is animals for sacrifice which require special treatment. As long as the Israelites abstain from blood they are welcome to eat what clean animals they have hunted.
Our Lord does want his people to have adequate food. At the same time, he has set aside life, blood, sacrifice. He guards these essentials while allowing considerable freedom in what and where we eat. May we eat and drink in loving dependence on the Lord, the Son of God, the true Lamb of God, who has poured out his life, his blood, for us.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 16.1-24 and Luke 10.1-22.
In our Leviticus reading today we see that the Lord loves his people and provides a means for their forgiveness. Through the very detailed sacrificial rites the high priest makes sacrifice for himself, for the people, even for the tabernacle itself. He ceremonially cleanses the entire place from the guilt of the people. Finally he confesses the sins of all the people over a goat and sends the goat out into the wilderness, from where it will never return alive. By the sacrifices, by the anointing with the blood of an offering, by the confession of sins, the sin of the people of Israel is taken away from them.
It is the fashion in some parts of evangelicalism today to say that the people of Israel are not forgiven their sins on the day of atonement. This is not so. God has appointed this means of approach to his holiness. He says that the sins of the people are atoned for. He says the transgressions of the people are imputed to the goat which dies in the wilderness. There is no reason to dispute this. What does not happen in the Old Testament is a permanent forgiveness of sin. We do not see the once for all sacrifice for sin which is accomplished in Jesus. We see a sacrifice which, though it atones for sin, must be repeated again and again.
Let us rejoice then that in these last days we are made participants in the atonement of Christ. Our sins have been confessed and placed on him. He, unlike the goat in Leviticus 16, is like us, a human. He is able to bear our sins and die as our substitute. This is a sacrifice for sin, once for all. This is a sacrifice by which our sin is taken care of in the person of Christ and by which Jesus' righteousness is given to us in place of our sin. This is the true atonement.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 10.1-20 and Luke 9.37-62.
Very quickly after the anointing of the Aaronic priesthood we see their downfall. Nadab and Abihu are killed by the fire of God when they make an offering according to their own plan and purpose. They chose to express their delight or earn their favor or some such object. Whatever they were trying to accomplish, whether something good or bad, they were doing it in a manner which the Lord had not appointed. Our God, who is a consuming fire, has created access to himself, on his own terms, through the means he has spelled out. Nobody should have known those terms better than the priests themselves. Yet they insisted on trying to do things their own way.
I had a conversation with someone not too many months ago, talking about the traditional liturgy. He said he loved that traditional type of service but would be uncomfortable having it in the church where he is a pastor. His reason? He'd like to have more of himself invested in the service. I know this man meant that he wants to create a Sunday service that ministers to the congregation in the ways he specifically knows they need to be served. He genuinely wants to pick what is most appropriate to the actual needs of his congregation. Yet in seeking to do this with his own pattern he finds he cannot do something which is historically tried and true, which works out the important themes of Scripture Sunday after Sunday. I'm not saying my brother here is like Nadab and Abihu. But I would consider this incident to be cautionary to us. Do we think we need to make sure things work according to our own preferences, according to our own plan? Why do we think that? Is not the God of all creation able to make access to him according to his own plan?
In these last days our Lord has revealed himself in the person and work of God the Son. We have access to the throne of God through Jesus' blood and righteousness, not our own. We can stand confidently. The presence of God is a consuming fire, destroying all sin. And this judgment of God has been poured out on Jesus Christ, who became sin on our behalf. Nadab and Abihu died for themselves. Jesus died for us. There's the plan. That's what we want to see invested in the service. That's access to God according to his plan and purpose.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 9.1-24 and Luke 9.18-36.
As we read an account of an offering from Leviticus we realize that on the surface the offering doesn't look much different from those offerings made in paganism. There is death of one or more animals. There's a particular place to engage in the offering. The person making the offering has a special garment. It's not unusual to do something special with blood or with other parts of the sacrifician animals. What sets this offering apart?
First, counter to paganism, the offerings in the Bible are made according to a specific revealed will of God. The people making the offerings, certainly by this time period, didn't have to guess what to do. There was a very clear revelation of God. One of the joys of the Christian faith is that we have a faith which is clearly revealed by God. It is not the kind of faith that we would make up on our own. It is not something based on our own impressions, but is something extra nos, outside us.
Second, we see that God very clearly and definitively accepts the offering. He gives his fire and burns the offering up himself. This is quite unexpected, resulting in the people shouting and falling down in worship. I wonder if we think seriously enough about the fact that God does things of his own accord, working supernaturally according to his plan? If we did, would we conduct ourselves differently when dealing with the mysteries of God? How about when he is creating faith in hearts through the proclamation of his Word? How about when he is forgiving sins we have confessed? How about when he is giving us spiritual food in communion? How about when he is cleansing from sin and taking someone "into" his name through baptism? Shouldn't we wake up and notice?
Lord, work according to your word. Open our eyes to see it is in fact you doing what you have promised.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Today's readings are Leviticus 8.1-13, 30-36 and Luke 9.1-17.
We see today how Aaron and his sons are consecrated to serve as priests. In brief, observe two things. First, they do not consecrate themselves, but are consecrated by Moses, God's servant. Likewise, we do not set ourselves apart for service, but God sets us apart for service. The calling is not merely our interest, but it is God's interest. He is the one who calls and appoints people to their tasks, whether serving in a pastoral ministry or serving in some other vocation. Second, we see that Aaron , his sons, and the very place of ministry, the tabernacle, are set apart for their service in a very particular and definitive manner. It is obvious to everyone that Aaron and his sons are to be doing something different. They look different, they wear special clothes, they are publicly anointed. They have special rules for their behavior. They are not to blend in with everyone else.
As a side note, observe the anointing happens with a ceremonial sprinkling. Many commentators will compare the New Testament baptism to this anointing for service as a direct offshoot, a ceremonial washing. This would tend to inform our understanding of baptism as something which does not necessarily involve an immersion in water, as well as a rite in which God is really present and actually sets the recipient apart for a life of consecrated service.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 40.17-38 and Luke 8.40-56.
In today's reading from Exodus we see that God's presence comes into the holy place. Despite the ark and mercy seat being placed behind a screen, when God's presence is upon the mercy seat, the tabernacle is so full of God that the people cannot approach his presence.
God shows his mercy and love for his people by filling the tabernacle with his presence. He also guards and directs his people in their journeys. The presence of the Lord is visible to the people. They are able to follow the cloud and the fire of God's presence.
In all this we see that our Lord enables his people to know his presence. He hides some of his glory from his people. We simply wouldn't be able to bear meeting God face to face. Yet through the means God has appointed we are able to receive forgiveness and grace. We are able to see his actions in the world and follow him. In these last days he has revealed himself in Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. We can approach his throne boldly as we are under the protection of God the Son. We see that even though the tabernacle is full of God's presence, yet the tabernacle, Jesus Christ himself, brings us to himself to be with him.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 39.32-40.16 and Luke 8.22-39.
In the briefest of terms today, we see that the tabernacle God gives his people is full of different signs of his presence. We notice especially his mercy, bread showing his presence, light, an altar at the entrance, then a place for cleansing with water. We see that all is accomplished according to God's plan, including those details which don't seem to be details a person would normally dream up. The plan of God is to be executed carefully and seriously. It is not child's play. Preparing the way for people to meet with God is a very serious business. Finally we see that the priests are clearly set apart. They are appointed and it is obvious who is a priest and who is not. This appointment does not have to do with the individual priest's holiness or natural abilities. He is not selected for that at all. Yet when the priest is selected he is dressed in a particular garment which indicates that he is the priest who may serve in this special role before God and for the people.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 38.21-39.8, 22-23, 27-31 and Luke 8.1-21.
In our Exodus reading today we see that as the people of God give generously God's work is done. The generous giving is not the result of Moses' pleading but of the Spirit of God working in and through the people. And what is this work? It is not the work planned by the early church growth people. It's a work which is according to a plan our Lord has given. It is a work of setting God's servants apart for service. It is a work of providing access to the Lord's gifts of forgiveness and life. It is a work which brings people safely to the God of glory in accordance with his command.
I have belonged to six different congregations in my life. Every one of them has, at one time or another, usually frequently, made urgent appeals for funding. We need to enlarge our parking lot. We need to build an additional wing onto the building. We need to decorate the building in this way or that way. I've also heard that we need to bring freewill offerings to meet the outreach obligations our budget specifies, so everyone needs to bring something extra. While I suppose we do need to be a little bit pragmatic - it was kind of bad when visitors to the church got stuck in the mud in the parking lot - we want to remember a few important issues from this passage.
1) God moves people by the Holy Spirit to provide for the genuine needs in His earthly kingdom. We may be instruments he uses to announce and publicize the need but there is no need to twist people's emotions and bind them to give.
2) God's priority as shown throughout Scripture is to provide people with access to Him, coming in repentance and receiving forgiveness.
3) Access to the Lord comes through the means He has appointed in Scripture, the living and present resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 34.29-35.21 and Luke 7.36-50.
As Moses stands in the presence of God receiving the commandments, God's radiance covers his messenger. We see that Moses returns to the people with his face glowing as a result of God's radiance. This radiance from God continued in Moses. Interestingly enough, Moses veils his God-glow due to the fear of the people of Israel. They were afraid to see the presence of God in his servant.
As we continue in our reading for this day we see that God continues to show his glory but it is in a veiled form. He gives the people gifts - the Sabbath, the ability to provide for God's work, the skills to serve in building the tabernacle - all gifts which present God to the people, but in a veiled form. We are not able to endure the glory of our Creator, so he shows himself to us through other means, humble means.
Lord, as we look to you, we see you have given yourself in the humility of God the Son. You have given your presence in common elements - water, bread, wine, a spoken word. Grant that we may rejoice in these humble means by which you have revealed yourself, the Lord of all glory.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 34.1-28 and Luke 7.18-35.
How great is the Lord's care for his people! When they have departed from the faith, when they have rejected God and made idols for themselves, when God has withdrawn from the community because of their sin, yet the Lord calls Moses to himself. Our Lord restates the covenant with Moses. He will show himself to be the God of all mercy. He will place his people safely in the land he promised to Abraham. he will remove the current inhabitants before them. He will caution his people Israel against alliances with these people who will tempt them into unfaithfulness. Through the holidays God has proclaimed the Lord will show his provision to his people.
Our Lord has visited his people. He has given them his covenant. And in these last days he has shown himself through Jesus, making a new covenant in the blood of the perfect sacrificial Lamb, God the Son himself. All this salvation has been accomplished by God in Christ. It is not of our own works. It is not of our own imagination. We can surely look to our Lord and Savior knowing that he has shown his steadfast love for all generations.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 33.1-23 and Luke 7.1-17.
The people of Israel are rightly timid after their encounters with God. They realize that he is the mighty one. This we also can see even through our observation of nature. The complexity of our world, the intricacy of all creation cries out to us and illustrates God's power. Yet through our own observations we are unable to see God's love.
God's chosen people, Israel, likewise hide themselves from God's presence. Some of this is at the suggestion of God himself. If he is among them he will surely kill them. They are stubborn and faithless. Contrary to popular wisdom, God doesn't love the sinner and hate the sin. No, it's sinner and sin together consigned to death and hell. So out of his infinite mercy God has masked his glory. He has revealed himself to Moses and Joshua, outside the camp, protecting the bulk of the nation from his consuming presence. Even at a distance we see that the people are moved to worship.
In these last days God has revealed his glory to the world through the person and work of Jesus. We no longer have to look at God from a distance, in a pillar of cloud at the tent where just a couple of people go to meet with God. We have seen, heard, and touched Jesus (1 John 1). God has shown his glory in these last days in his Son (Hebrews 1). He is the one who brings life to all who believe (John 1). Our God has visited us and we can stand before him by faith in Christ.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 32.15-35 and Luke 6.39-49.
Our Old Testament passage today truly tempts me to write about the New Testament reading. But my goal is to write about the Old Testament readings this year. It doesn't take a very close reading of the passage in Exodus 32 to see why I might want to avoid trying to find Law and Gospel in the passage. All in all it is pretty much doom and gloom. Yet we do see Gospel, and we see it in a very unexpected place.
Moses brings the tablets of God down from the mountain to find the people of Israel involved in idolatry. He gathers those who will pledge to be faithful to God, the tribe of Levi, and commands them to begin killing those who have departed from the faith. That day the Levites kill about three thousand men. Where's the gospel? Didn't the whole nation engage in idolatry? Don't all the people who have not followed God's commands wholeheartedly and constantly deserve to die? Has not God proclaimed clearly that he is the righteous God who requires perfect righteousness from his people?
We see that God does not leave everyone to die in sin. He provides salvation. He calls us to our senses. He lets us see that our sin deserves death. He then points us to the forgiving mercy which he has shown in Jesus Christ. Indeed our Lord will come in judgment, but he says he will do it in his own time. In these last days he has come in judgment and has poured out that judgment on Jesus. Christ has died for our sin. Here is the Gospel the Lord gives us. Though God's people depart from their faith, though we are quick to forget and to go our own way, our Lord has taken the matter of atonement and forgiveness into his own hands for us.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 32.1-14 and Luke 6.20-38.
Today we see that God's ways are not our ways and our ways are not God's ways. While God is giving Moses the commandments on the mountain the people of Israel fear for their well being and make other gods. This is all the more amazing because the Lord had appeared to the elders of Israel in glory shortly before. He had taken them personally out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, destroyed Egypt's army, and guided the people of Israel with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. This same God was providing the entire nation with food on a daily basis. But now they turn their back on what they have seen with their own eyes. They prefer their own solutions, their own guidance, to God's rule.
We are too often like this. We see what our Lord has provided and we choose to follow our own way. Not content with God's revelation in Scripture we seek our own philosophy. Not content with the way God has worked in history through his church we try to build a new and different church. Not content with the proclamation of Christ's atonement on our behalf and his satisfaction for our sins we try to invent a new Jesus, a Jesus according to our own character.
This ought not to be. While the Bible never gives us warrant to run our lives counter to society just for the sake of being different from society, the Bible does tell us that God's ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts. We see remarkable contrasts in what Christians value in Scripture when compared to their larger culture. We see people who give of themselves and their resources in order to bring Christ's healing love to fruition in this world. We see people who are at the forefront of science, medicine, invention, and education. These are people who know the Lord has given them gifts to serve their neighbors. We see Christian people who do even menial tasks cheerfully, knowing that those very tasks are means of God ministering to the world. The Bible paints a different picture than the picture of society we would create for ourselves.
Lord, let us be conformed to your image. Create in us a desire to live according to your values. Use us as you nurture and care for this world.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 31.1-18 and Luke 6.1-19.
In our theological categories we are often used to the idea of circumcision as the sign of the covenant. It is part of the covenant God makes with Abraham, no doubt. But here in Exodus 31 we see that the Sabbath is proclaimed as the sign of the covenant. Let's look briefly at the similarities and distinctions between circumcision and the Sabbath.
Both are outward and visible signs. Circumcision changes a man's appearance. Observance of the Sabbath changes visible behavior. Both are appropriated truly by faith. Neither would seem to accomplish anything productive. Both are commanded by God. But there is a significant difference. While circumcision is something that man does as a sign of his obedience, the Sabbath is something that God does. It is God who provides the additional food needed by people who are not going to work one day of the week, or one year of seven years. It is God who shows himself to be the living God who sustains his people. They are to keep his Sabbath and he promises they will live through it.
Jesus shows himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath. He himself becomes our Sabbath-day's rest, giving us rest from the toils with sin. He himself promises to sustain us and bring us into his rest. He takes this sign, a day of rest, and one of seven years spent in rest, and fulfills it, giving his people an eternity of rest. May we have the grace to rest in our Lord and Savior.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 25.1-22 and Luke 5.17-39.
Today we continue to see God meeting with his people according to his command and according to his revelation. I'll make just a few brief observations.
God has a special place appointed to meet with his people. Though he is the God who is present everywhere it is appropriate for us to seek out a special place of worship. The church building is a visible place for God's assembled people, the true Church, to gather. In that special place we can dedicate ourselves particularly to worship, minimizing the distractions which call our attention to more ephemeral things.
God has given special furnishings for this house of worship. These furnishings are symbolic of his presence. They are decorated according to designs he has given. They are appointed to be filled with his real presence. Likewise in the local church it is appropriate to have furnishings which point to the unity of God's people and the finished work of Christ on the cross.
We see in the tabernacle the centrality of the mercy seat, the place where God sits to show his mercy. It is on top of a box, raised up like an altar. He shows mercy between the cherubim, in the midst of his holy angels. Inside the box are the commandments, above which God sits to show mercy. Later the ark will also contain signs of God's provision, namely Aaron's rod that budded, signifying a special priesthood; and a jar of manna, signifying the food that God gives for his people.
Lord, may we see in our places of meeting the signs of your presence. May we rejoice that indeed, though invisible, you are present with us, providing the grace and mercy we need.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 24.1-18 and Luke 5.1-16.
As the people approach God with sacrifices according to his command, ehty see the Lord renewing his covenant. We look to this as an example of how God allows himself to be approached according to his plan, according to his revelation, in the times, places, and means which he has designed. We can recall here also the covenant God made with Abraham. Recall how God bound himself to a sacred covenant as he walked between the parts of the slain animals, yet he prevented Abraham from doing so. God has bound himself to a covenant never to abandon his promise or his people. Here with the blood on the altar our Lord renews his covenant with his people, but now with all Israel, not just with Abraham.
Our Lord promises to reveal himself in glory. In these last days he has revealed himself in the glory of Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father, in whom is grace and truth. In our Exodus passage today we see how the leaders of Israel gather in the presence of God. They are presented with his glory and respond in fear and trembling. Yet they eat and drink, and do not die. Likewise, when we are partakers of the Lord's supper we eat and drink in the very real presence of the Lord who has revealed himself in glory. As partakers of God's promise we eat and drink to our benefit, not to our condemnation. We do not die, for we have a real participation in the resurrection of our Lord.
Let us look to the promises of our risen Lord who has appeared to us in glory. Let us be joyful partakers of him as we eat and drink. Let us see this eternal life which he has prepared for us.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 23.14-33 and Luke 4.31-44.
Our Old Testament reading today points out the sharp distinction between the people of Israel and the nations that are to surround them in Canaan. While this passage is often criticized as giving license to believers to practice violence, even genocide, I would take issue with that idea. The pagan Canaanites and other surrounding people were engaged in practices such as human sacrifice, ritual prostitution, self-harm to try to appease gods, and the like. They were following the kind of religious practices which not only contradicted everything the Lord shows about his character, but which also would prove deadly to his chosen people. These surrounding people could (and did) flee for self-preservation. Those who saw Israel from a distance and came to them individually, expressing repentance for their sins and a desire to live as people of God's covenant community were able to do so.
What we see in this passage is that God sets his people apart from the practices and lifestyle of the culture at large. He gives them means of approach to his holiness by which they show themselves to be dedicated to him rather than to their own opinions. The true religion of the Bible is not characterized by our own wisdom. It is not a religion dedicated to our own shows of righteousness. It is characterized by God's people approaching him on his terms, not on their own terms. We do not work out our way of righteousness We accept the provision of righteousness that our Lord has made us. This ultimately looks radically different from anything we could devise.
How do we work out our salvation? By trust in Christ's finished work. How do we know our Lord is with us? We know because he has promised to be with us. We can't see it with our eyes. We believe, teach, and confess things which seem like foolishness. Yet they are what our Lord has given us. They are the means by which we approach his holiness. They are the means by which he has promised to come to us and visit us with his presence. They are the means by which he builds us up in the faith. They are our safe haven. Let us then receive the proclamation of God's forgiveness, the provision of new life in baptism, the nurturing or our faith in communion, and the knowledge that he has indeed promised to be with us forever.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 22.20-23.13 and Luke 4.16-30.
We see today a continued description of the character qualities God has prescribed for those who trust in him. Once again we have to realize that we are guilty. Though we may try we are always guilty when we compare our lives to God's righteous standard. Either we have to lower the standard of God by explaining it away in some way or we have to realize that we are in fact sinners. Even the most socially conscious of us, the most culturally sensitive, the most honest, the most generous, the most just one of us is going to fail in some respect. We don't pay attention to everything the Lord has said to us. We are not like the righteous people the Lord describes.
What do we see in Exodus 22.27? The person who cries to God is heard by God. Our Lord is the compassionate God. He is the very one who provides for the needs of his people. He is the one who reaps vengeance on mistreatment, including the mistreatment we inflict, even the mistreatment we receive. When we call out to our Lord in repentance we know he is the compassionate and mercivul God. He is the one who can provide food for his people even though they rest one of seven days, even though they give their land a rest from cultivation every seventh year. He gives us what we need according to his power and plan, not according to our wisdom or diligence.
Does this mean we should all quit our jobs for a year every seven years? No, it really doesn't mean that. It does mean that we are to be characterized by a radical dependence on the Lord rather than on ourselves. And we see as we confess on a daily basis that our Lord is the one who gives us what we need and that he gives it because he is good and kind. Do we look for proof of this? Let us look no farther than the fact that our Lord has given himself for us, his real life for our life, his real death for our redemption, his real bodily resurrection as the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead, his real presence among his people as the fulfillment of his promise never to leave us or forsake us. Surely we can trust that he will provide our every need.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 20.1-24 and Luke 4.1-15.
A few years ago (I probably blogged about it, in fact), I saw a church sign which said, "Feeling bad? Take two tablets, the 10 Commandments!" My sudden application of the brakes to make sure I read correctly could have caused an accident if there had been more traffic. Normally I don't have to read beyond Exodus 20.3 to feel a burden of conviction. After all, how many times every day do I elevate something else before God? How many times to I prefer my comfort? How many times do I doubt God's real presence with me? How many times do I take things into my own hands? How many times do I decide that when worst comes to worst at least I can pray in case that will accomplish something? I doubt I need to recount any more ways that I fall short of that first commandment, do I? Yet I take comfort in knowing that we are all that way to one extent or another. We all fail at the various commandments of God. We don't do them willingly and with our whole hearts, with pure motives, all the time, as God minimally demands. Maybe the church sign should have said, "Feeling good about yourself? Take two tablets, the 10 Commandments!" Indeed, our Lord convicts us of sin through his law.
See in verses 18-21 how the people fear God's presence? When the living God announces his presence and tells what his demands are we should fear and tremble. We who are sinful wish to escape from the presence and glory of God. He is a consuming fire.
Notice here, though, that while God is making himself plain to his people, he is also describing the characteristics of his people. I've heard it stated that in Hebrew these are actually indicative mood statements, descriptions, rather than imperative mood commands. Unfortunately, the Lutheran Study Bible on my desk doesn't corroborate that, I have no significant understanding of Hebrew, and a comparison of the Septuagint would be worthless as the second person plural imperative and indicative are identical forms. Yet, whether these commandments are phrased as commands or descriptors, they say something important about God's people. As our Lord has redeemed us from other gods, he has given us a desire to come to him. He invites us into his presence through Word and Sacraments, promising hat he is here to show his love to his people. He gives his name to us, placing it upon us in baptism, promising that he will defend that which is called by his name. He has given a time of rest, particularly a Sabbath day's rest from the toils of sin, effective today and every day in Jesus Christ. He has shown the value of parents who guide us and care for us, the very flawed picture of God's care for us. He has valued our lives and has shown us how to value the lives of others. He has called us into an exclusive relationship with himself, pictured in our exclusive relationships with our husbands or wives. He has shown that we are his prize possession which he will guard, teaching us that we should honor that which belongs to someone. He himself is the truth, thus removing falsehood from the lips of those who are called by his name. He is the one who has provided all we need, showing us that we need no desire of that which belongs to our neighbor. Our Lord has called us by his name and has given us what we need. We are thus free to show that in all our actions and attitudes. He describes his character, the character he has placed upon us, in these commandments.
Do we fear? We fear rightly. We dare not approach our Lord in his glory trusting in our own works. We dare not approach our Lord in our righteousness. But he has purchased us, we are his possession, we are called by his name, we are created in his image, we stand before our Lord not in our own righteousness but in the righteousness of Jesus, his Son. We have been called to approach him through the means he has given us, and we are perfectly safe in that. We have been called to come to our Lord. He makes his name be remembered. He comes to his people. He blesses his people. This is our great and mighty Lord.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I'm going to take a bit of a break from posting on this blog, probably for a week or so. I have a long history of migraine headaches and am hitting a bad cycle of them. Time to back off from as many time-critical demands as I can so as to concentrate on those which are genuine obligations. Desperate for some lectionary posts? Check the archives. While you do, pray for me to get back onto an even keel.
Today's readings are Exodus 10.21-11.10 and Hebrews 4.1-16.
In today's reading we see that our Lord threatens destruction against unbelieving Egypt. As if the plagues they had sustained thus far were not enough, they are now threatened with the death of every firstborn of the nation. Egypt has already been plunged into various hardships which threatened their water supply, their food supply, their sanitation, and all their physical comfort. Now, after enduring a night that lasted three days, they are threatened with the loss of their future leaders, an overturn of all the customs of inheritance, a tremendous social upheaval. All they need to do is release Israel from bondage.
Why does Pharaoh refuse to grant God's demand given through Moses? This ongoing refusal angers Moses. It is very provocative. Yet God has told us many times that Pharaoh's refusal results in God's showing his wonders and his majesty. Notice in Exodus 11.3 that the people of Egypt understood that the Israelites had God's favor and they did not. They were willing to give what they had to the people of Israel. Doubtless many of them would even ask to join with Israel, becoming members of the covenant community as well. In this way the offspring of Abraham can become a blessing to another nation.
As with the people of Israel, our society looks at us. We proclaim God's wonders. Do we exhibit them? We suggest that our Lord is mighty. Do we live as if he is mighty? We say that the Lord is forgiving. Do we confess our sins and seek his forgiveness? We say that the Lord gave himself for our sins. Do we realize that we are without hope except for this forgiveness? May the Lord display his wonders in our society, showing through us his nature, a nature that convicts of sin, brings people to repentance, grants them forgiveness, and makes them walk in new life through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 9.29-10.20 and Hebrews 3.1-19.
As we continue to follow the conflict between God and Pharaoh we see that Pharaoh continues to harden his heart against God's calling. He knows he is wrong. He admits he is wrong. He makes promises to let Israel go and he goes back on those promises. He confesses he is wrong, asks forgiveness, then sins against God and Moses yet again. His heart seems to soften then harden again.
We find it easy to condemn Pharaoh, but we are really very much like he is. We know what our Lord has revealed to us in Scripture yet we secretly think there are some things that we would do differently. We have the audacity to think we are right and God is wrong. We know God's calling but we question his wisdom. We confess our sin and then we go sin again. We harden our hearts again and again.
Let us not be fooled! Our Lord will accomplish his will, his good and perfect will. Just as he delivers Israel out of the bondage they endure in Egypt, he will also deliver his people out of their bondage to sin. He has done what is necessary. Through Christ's death and resurrection the burden of sin has been released. We simply continue to live in it, taking it upon ourselves, hardening our hearts over and over. Yet Jesus has broken the bonds of sin. He has cancelled the debt that we owed. He has taken our sin upon himself. He has risen victorious over death, hell and the grave. He has done all that is necessary to complete his perfect will. All that remains is for him to gather his people to himself.
Lord, we confess we live in a state of contradiction. Though you have forgiven our sin yet we live as though we are slaves to sin. Grant us your forgiveness and remind us of your promise that you will never leave us or forsake us. Accomplish your good will in and through us.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 9.1-28 and Hebrews 2.1-18.
Today we read that the Lord continues to pour out plagues on Egypt. Now he makes it very clear that he is distinguishing between his people, the Hebrews, and the Egyptians. He spares the livestock and crops of the Hebrews from the plagues which destroy livestock and growing plants. Pharaoh's confession in Exodus 9.27-28 is telling. "This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God's thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer" (ESV).
How many times do we see God's displeasure against sin? We know what our Lord has commanded, at least certainly enough to know we are repeat offenders. We know he calls for perfect righteousness. We know he has defined that righteousness. We need only to read the Ten Commandments to realize that we fail. For that matter, we need only to read the first commandment to realize that. Really? Do we love and trust God only, with our whole heart, all the time, no matter what? Or do we daily erect other false gods?
What has our Lord shown us in this passage? He makes a distinction between those who are united by their calling and their faith in him, those who have held to his promises and continued with God's covenant community, and those who are not his people. We can even see in our modern society that there are some situations which are much worse for those who are not involved in a local church, for those who are not placing their hope in God, for those who are trusting in themselves and nothing but themselves. Our Lord shows us daily that it is by his grace we live.
In closing, let's simply observe that Pharaoh seemed persuaded, as we seem persuaded. Did he let the people of Israel go? Not this time. When we are persuaded, when we confess our sin, when we promise to go and sin no more, we are equally liable to go back on our promise. We are equally likely to forsake our commitments. But we'll see in a subsequent reading that God delivers his people anyway. He will accomplish his will and desire regardless of the weakness of our faith. In Christ, sinners are saved, period. In Christ, sin is atoned for, period. In Christ we can look forward to the resurrection of the body, period. Jesus himself is the resurrection and the life. This is not dependent on the quality of my faith. It is not dependent on my perseverance. It is not dependent on me at all. It is dependent on the validity of God's promise. Let us then look to our Lord, the one who makes his mighty promises and who keeps them.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 8.1-32 and Hebrews 1.1-14.
Our Lord continues pouring out plagues on Egypt. Notice just a few things. First, both frogs and flies had some sacred significance to Egyptians. God is turning something that is significant to the local culture into a curse against that culture. He is showing that what they honor is something which he can use to inflict judgment on them. Also notice that beginning with the plague of flies God makes a distinction between Egypt and the Hebrews. He brings no plague of flies on the Hebrews but he does on the Egyptians.
Pharaoh and his advisers start to recognize that this is God's hand and that they cannot either cause these things to happen or control them. Moses can pray that the Lord will remove a plague and it will be removed. But Pharaoh and his wise men are unable to do anything about the situations.
When we realize that we are in trouble, when we realize that we are unable to help ourselves, when we see that the things our culture values are not all we would like them to be, may we also look to the Lord who uses those things in our lives. May the Lord show us the distinction between his blessing and his curse. May the Lord show us how he has come to bring life, hope, blessing, all embodied in God the Son, Jesus Christ, who gave his life to redeem this world to himself.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 7.1-25 and Mark 16.120.
At God's command Moses goes to Pharaoh with the demand that Pharaoh should let his people go. Pharaoh, again, as we would expect, denies the request. He does not want to release his slave population. He knows that if they leave the Egyptians will be without a valuable labor force. He may also fear their rebellion spreading to other segments of the population. Notice how God has prepared Moses for this. He has warned Moses that he should not expect a positive response but instead that God will deliver his people from Egypt through supernatural signs and by bringing trouble on Egypt.
This is exactly what God does in this world. He overturns our judgment, our wisdom, our plans through his supernatural signs. He works counter to our expectations. We plan out how our lives should go. We take steps, wise steps, well reasoned steps toward furthering our lives, our careers, raising our children, any number of other things. We think we are well reasoned. Yet our Lord overturns reason again and again. He shows himself to be the supernatural Lord who works in ways we would not expect.
Two of the ways God works in counterintuitive ways are pictured in this reading. First, a serpent is something which would be dangerous. Yet the serpent God creates not only does no harm to its master, Aaron, but it also overcomes many other serpents. The serpent God creates provokes the magicians of Egypt to do something quite dangerous, in creating dangerous serpents of their own. God takes what would normally be an accursed animal and shows his glory through it. Second, he shows through turning the water of Egypt to blood temporarily that he is the master of life and death. He is able to bring terrible destruction on the people of Egypt, just as he brings good on them, good which they never even noticed because it was so plentiful and seemed so permanent.
We realize that we take God's provision for granted. We often act as though this world is all there is. We act as though we will never have a shortage of common materials, all of which are ultimately provided by our Lord. We act as though God does not matter. Yet in this time of Lent we are brought face to face with the fact that the Lord is real, that he is acting in the world, and that his ultimate goal is to redeem us from the death we cannot avoid by dying that death on our behalf. We see that this world is on the brink of eternity. It is not our permanent resting place. Our Lord has gone before us in resurrection to eternal life. He likewise calls us to join with him by faith. We need not fear the serpents or the water which we cannot drink. He gives us life forever.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 5.1-6.1 and Mark 15.33-47.
In our Old Testament reading we see the people of Israel, who have been suffering from oppression, suffering still more. When Pharaoh hears of their plan to leave he increases their workload, imposing a demand on them which they cannot fulfill. The people of Israel receive penalties and cry out even more to the Lord for deliverance. Pharaoh gloats that the people have not been delivered from their labors.
How often are we like Pharaoh? When someone wants something that we don't want to grant we increase that person's labors. The teenager wants some special privilege so we parents impose burdensome tasks on the child. An employee is dealing with a situation away from work which would be made much easier if he were to leave a little early. We say it would be fine as long as all the day's work is done and then we find extra work. Someone who has offended us wishes to be reconciled and we make it more difficult because, quite frankly, we want to hurt that person. We pile heavy burdens on those we disagree with, burdens we would not be willing or able to move no matter how hard we tried.
What is God's promise? He repeats his promise in Exodus 6.1. He will deliver his people. In fact, he will deliver them in such a way that Pharaoh, who did not want them to leave, will drive them out himself. Our Lord fulfills his promises. He fulfills them in ways that we can't imagine. He fulfills them in such a way that the very people who try to hinder his will are left speechless. Consider the crucifixion of Christ. The one who did no wrong is convicted as a criminal. The one who is a king is stripped of all his authority. The deathless one is put to a cruel death. The sinless one receives the burden of the sin of the world. The plans of sinful humans and of the devil seem to be complete as they have put the Lord of life to death. But God has promised a savior and that's exactly what he delivers, counter to expectation, counter to reason, counter to all our plans against him. In the resurrection of Christ we see God's triumph over death, hell and the grave. Indeed our Lord's promises in Christ are fulfilled.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 4.19-31 and Mark 15.16-32.
In Exodus today we see that Moses is returned to Egypt. The Lord has prepared him to face Pharaoh. The Lord has also prepared the circumstances of Moses' return. He has observed that the people who were going to kill Moses were all dead and gone. He has visited Aaron to arrange a meeting, since Aaron is going to act as Moses' spokesman.
Observe the mirror image in verses 21-26. Pharaoh will be punished by the loss of his firstborn son if he does not allow Israel to go serve God. Yet because of the Moses' failure to keep the covenant of circumcision God threatens to punish Moses on behalf of his child. So doing, our Lord teaches us that the disobedience of his covenant people is very serious. As we harm our children by our failure, so the Lord allows the blame to be on our heads. Yet at the same time, through the shedding of blood, our Lord has appointed forgiveness. He has called out a special people to himself, through the shedding of his own blood, received by faith.
As the Israelites could do, so also we can believe. We, like them, hear that the Lord visits his people. We know our Lord has seen our affliction. May we, like the Israelites, bow down and worship our Lord and Savior, who has come to us to redeem us through the shedding of his own blood.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Today's readings are Exodus 4.1-18 and Mark 15.1-15.
Our Lord has promised mighty signs to Moses. He has appeared to Moses in the burning bush which is not consumed. He has shown that he can adjust the way nature works to bring about his will. Yet Moses has trouble believing that God's power is in him and will work through him to deliver the people of Israel from their bondage. The Lord gives multiple signs for Moses to perform. Yet Moses still doubts, he still does not wish to speak out for God. Therefore the Lord sends Aaron to convey the message he has given Moses to the Pharaoh, the people of Egypt, and the children of Israel.
Do we face fears and doubts? We certainly do. Look what we proclaim as a Christian gospel, after all. We proclaim that sin is real, that it is an offense against God, who is invisible. We proclaim that there is one God who is eternally existent in three persons. Yet we maintain this is one God. We proclaim that sin brings death and that only the death of a perfect sinless human in our place can deliver us from sin. We proclaim that all humans are sinful, therefore to deliver us from sin we need a perfect human who must be specially provided by God. We proclaim that the sin of one person somehow puts sin onto all people and that the death of the perfect human will pay the penalty of sin for all humans, including those who have already died. We proclaim that the perfect one who died for human sin was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven. We proclaim a bodily resurrection, a resurrection to life in blessing for all who believe and a resurrection to life in condemnation for all who do not believe. We say that this eternal blessed life is procured not by our good works but by the good work of Jesus on our behalf. Is this enough to make us doubt? We Christians proclaim lots of things which seem utterly insane. Yet we have reason to believe they are absolutely true.
Just how supernatural is our Lord? Just how able to create, sustain, and adjust this natural world is he? Has he ever changed in this regard? While we fear that we are wrong, let us also look to our Lord in faith, knowing that he is the one who has done mighty signs in the world before and that he can continue to work in just the same way in the future. He has promised never to leave us. He has promised that he will be with us to the end. Resting in this promise of Matthew 28, let us then trust that he will be just as good as his word.