Friday, January 26, 2018

Bible Reading Reflection (Lev 1-8)

The New Testament states that the things written before are for our learning.  The law is a school master to lead us to Christ.  Even though we are not under the law that was given specifically to Israel, and not to the church, there are still vivid lessons to learn.  I need to slow down and read more carefully.  I need to ask, "What does this teach me about God, myself, and my relationship with God?"

I am struck by the fact that when there is sin among the people it is not just the priests that act on their behalf for atonement.  The elders are instructed to bring a bull for a sin offering.  Instead of pointing a finger and saying "they" sinned, the elders represent the people in making atonement for sin in the camp.  The offering required is larger than the offering required for any individual that sins. 

Unlike the sin offering for an individual, the blood is required to be brought into the sanctuary by the priest, sprinkled before the veil seven times, and put some of the blood on the horns of the incense altar in the sanctuary.  The rest of the blood is to be poured at the base of the altar in front of the sanctuary, then burn the fat, kidneys, long lobe of the liver, and burn the rest of the carcass outside of the camp.

God doesn't give the specific rationale for all these details, but the vivid visual of all of this happening brings several things to mind.

First, there is the sheer gravity of sin.  Life blood offered before the Lord shows that sin is a matter of life and death.  Sin, which is disobedience to God, forfeits what God offers in fellowship to him, which includes life.  There are sin offerings, guilt offerings, the morning and evening offerings, and more.  I wonder how much blood there might have been over time before the veil in the sanctuary and on the horns of the incense altar, and on the altar in front of the sanctuary.  These blood stains would have been constant reminders of sin, and the danger that sin poses to life and fellowship with God.

Second, there is the condition of the heart.  God instructed that these offerings were for those who sinned "unintentionally."  This was not intended as a means by which one could buy his way into sinning willfully.  Perhaps this is why the offerings were to be from the flock or the fields, and not something they picked up from the wild that cost them nothing.  There is so much emphasis on "purity" in these passages, which are supposed to teach a lesson about remaining pure.  True purity is not mere ceremonial purity, but purity of the heart.  My desire should be to have a pure heart, as the Psalm says, "Create in me a pure heart O God."  Jesus said that the pure in heart will see God.  This reminds me that outward obedience to a ritual in itself does not magically remove sin.  Obedience must be obedience from the heart, rather than going through the motions as if the actions have some magical power in themselves.  God is not like this.  He is the living God and desires a change in heart.  Whether it is baptism, repentance, prayers of confession, I need to realize that it is much more than an outward ritual, but an inward submission of the will and heart to God.

Third, there is solidarity.  It seems that the attitude of the elders was to be to act on behalf of the people rather than to point a finger at them and separate themselves from them.  As shepherds, they took responsibility for the people as a whole.  It would be similar to elders in the church having a special prayer service where they confess to God that there is sin in the body and ask for forgiveness.  They prayer is not for them, but for "us" together as a people.  As a people, "we" have sinned.  It seems to me that there has to be an attitude of humility and solidarity in order to do this.  Pride and arrogance would cause me to think in terms of "them" rather than "us."  God redeemed a people, not just a bunch of separate individuals.  I tend to think more in terms of individual responsibility, which is definitely a biblical concept, but I do not tend this think in terms of collective responsibility and collective guilt, which is also a biblical concept.  As a leader in the body, I need to take this to heart.

Fourth, there is grace.  I usually don't hear Christians talk about this in terms of grace, but what else can it be?  God has declared that he is slow to anger and abundant in steadfast love.  It is covenant love.  Because of this, God provided a way for redemption and reconciliation.  These were not arbitrary rules, but show us some lessons we need to learn about sin.  Also, these are a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice.  This is not a sacrifice that we make, but one that the Lord makes for us.  Jesus, because of his steadfast love, offered not the blood of bulls and goats, but his own blood in order to provide eternal redemption.  The New Testament says that the blood of bulls and goats could never really take away sin.  They are a reminder of sin.  It is the blood of Jesus that once for all takes away sin.  This makes sense, because the only one that can forgive sins against our Lord is the Lord himself.  He offers his life for ours.  This shows in an even more vivid way the sheer gravity of sin along with the sheer gravity of God's undying love and loyalty to us.

Lord, may I see sin as you so.  Help me to be able to look past the initial enticement to see the devastation and death it brings.  Purify my heart.  May I learn to enjoy the pleasures of life in the way that you intended with joy, peace, and holiness.  The blood of the Lord offered for me?  For us?  How can it be? How great is your love!  How great is your loyalty!  How great is your mercy!  Thank you Lord for your patience. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Bible Reading Reflection (Exodus 25-40)

I have always found most of this section of Exodus to be somewhat tedious.  I typically find myself just trying to get through reading the text and hurrying through it. 

As I meditate on this text, it occurs to me that this is exactly the opposite of how the Israelites would have treated these passages.  There are several sections that conclude with something like "Do this so that you will not die."  Several times, God was adamant that they make everything exactly like the plan that God showed Moses on the mountain.  God's blueprints for the construction of the sanctuary, its furniture, its utensils, the anointing oil, incense, the clothing of the priests, and even the ordination ceremony were to be followed according to God's instructions without any deviation. 

Part of what I have found tedious is the text seems redundant to me.  After giving such detailed instructions, the text gives a detailed account of the execution of those instructions.  It is almost as if I am reading those instructions a second time.  It is nearly a minute by minute account of how they made the sanctuary, its furniture, its utensils, the anointing oil, incense, the clothing of the priests, and even the ordination ceremony.  Why not simply say, "And they did as the Lord commanded?"  It seems redundant.

I am reminded that the New Testament says that the law is our schoolmaster intended to lead us to Christ.  The former things were written for our instruction.  What lesson am I supposed to get from this?  Did I read it too quickly? 

Perhaps the lesson has something to do with the people's attention to detail.  After all, this is God's sanctuary, not some other common place.  God wanted it made a certain way, and he wanted things to be done a certain way.  God gives few detailed explanations as to why each piece was to be done a certain way.  I am convinced they are not just arbitrary.  There is a reason.  Perhaps for his people, it was to teach them something about treating the holy God as holy.  Paul said to the Athenians that God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything.  All of these instructions are not for his benefit, but for our benefit.  What does it mean to honor God?  Part of it has to mean to honor his instructions with faithful obedience without deviation.  It means not rushing through reading his word, but to digest each part of it and put it into action.  To do otherwise is to dishonor him and not treat him as holy.

It occurs to me that God does not give such detailed instruction on building a physical sanctuary for Christians today.  However, the New Testament says that we, God's people, are his sanctuary.  God's sanctuary is made up of his people rather than wood, gold, and various materials.  God's instruction on how we as his people are to be formed, or rather transformed, in order to act as his sanctuary should be taken with the same level of attention as Israel gave to inanimate objects for the sanctuary.  Forming people is a bit messier that hammering out gold, silver, or bronze, but it is how we honor God and treat him as holy.  We ourselves become holy for the holy God.  For me, this means that I am devoted to God without reservation, even if it means I am out of step with my family, neighbors, and society. 

This reminds me of the children's song, "Trust and obey. . ."  This is how we treat God as holy.  We live in a time where there is a disdain for authority, rules, and boundaries.  The redefinition of morality, ethics, and other such things are a reflection of this.  Christians are not removed from this.  We live in the ocean of this culture.  But we belong to a different kingdom that is not of this world.  To simply go along with the current indiscriminately dishonors a holy God.

Lord, we are a mess.  You give clear instructions, and we seem to be very good at finding ways around them.  Please forgive us for not treating you as holy.  Thank you for your mercy and patience. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Stranger

I heard a knock on the door while I was in my warm office studying and preparing for my next lesson to teach.  He was a tall skinny man with an unkempt red hair and beard and a huge backpack.  He explained his situation.  He was trying to get to California and had been riding the rails.  I didn't know anyone did that sort of thing any more.  He said the train stopped downtown, and he got off.  He was asleep and did not get off where he had intended.  He had come from Boston where he had been staying with family.  They took all his money and were into drugs, so he got out of there.  He said he used to travel by rail, but gave it up over ten years ago.  But he had no way to get back.  I wasn't sure what he wanted.  I offered him money, but he didn't want any money.  He wanted some way to continue his journey.  It would be hard to do in a little town like this.  He needed to be either at a truck stop, or some place like Lincoln or Omaha.  I told him that I didn't know what else to tell him.

As he walked away, I felt convicted.  I was concerned for my safety and would have preferred he took my money and went on his way.  I would have felt I did something to help.  However, he didn't want money.  As I watched him go up the hill and start to cross the bridge, I began to remember some of the sermons I have preached.  Jesus told the story about the Samaritan who helped someone by the side of the road.  He took a risk to do so.  Why did Jesus tell that story?  Oh yes.  After Jesus taught that we need to love God and love our neighbor, a person asked, "Who is my neighbor?"  I was watching my neighbor walk up the hill and over the bridge.  Suddenly, I felt a wave of shame come over me.

I hopped in my car and went after him.  I pulled into Casey's and waited for him to get there.  When he got there, I stopped him and offered to give him a ride to the truck stop, or if he could wait a couple hours, to Omaha.  We visited for a bit about the possible merits of either destination, and he decided on the truck stop on I-29.  As he put his back pack in the back seat and climbed into the car, the thought came across my mind again.  I don't know this guy.  He could pull a knife or a gun on me.  This is not safe.  Then I remembered the story again that Jesus told about the Samaritan who stopped to help someone in need.

He tried to tell me the story of his life on our trip over to the truck stop and how he had gotten stuck in the situation he is in.  If it wasn't the middle of the winter, he said it wouldn't be as bad.  But it was so cold out.  When we pulled up in front of truck stop, he thanked me.  I told him that the reason I decided to help him in this way was because Jesus tells me that he is my neighbor, and therefore I needed to help him.  I wasn't going to at first because of concern for safety.  But Jesus didn't stop from serving people out of concern for safety.  Do I think I am greater than him that I don't have to?  Jesus reminded me that servant is not greater than his master.   Before he got out of the car, I asked him if we could pray together.  I asked God to help Robert to be able to finish his trip, to help bring him and other Christians together to help him along the way, to keep him safe, and to bless him.  It was at that point that I noticed the tear running down his cheek.

On the drive back to my office, the odor of that stranger lingered in my car.  It caused me to reflect on the whole experience, especially my reluctance and the source of it.  A flood of Bible passages started running through my head as well.  There is the one about entertaining angels unawares.  There is the one about saying "be warmed and be filled" and not doing anything about it.  Then of course there is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which answers the question of "Who is my neighbor?" when we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The only regret I now have is not taking the time to share the Gospel with him.  Even though I told him that Jesus is the reason I am helping him, I didn't take the time to share the Gospel with him, which is a much greater need than finishing his trip to California.  The Gospel would help him to make the journey to Heaven.

Lord, please help me not to become so cautious that I pass by those who need help.  Help me not to put your light under a basket due to fear or inconvenience.  Help me to remember that so much of the ministry Jesus performed was in those times he was on his way somewhere but was "interrupted" by someone in need.  Help me never to fail to take the opportunity to share the Gospel, which is the greatest need.  Thank you for your patience and mercy.

Meditation on Time

Ps 90:12 - Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (NIV)

Col 1:25 … I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you (ESV)

1 Pet 4:10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (NIV)

1 Cor 12:4-6  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (ESV).

In thinking on these scriptures, I am reminded that we are stewards of God's resources and gifts.  All of us have received gifts.  I am also reminded from the Corinthians passage that various kinds of gifts, service, and activities, are all really the same thing.  They represent faithfulness in stewardship for God.

One of the most precious resources in any kind of service is time.  How quickly it can get away from us.  I am reminded of how Jesus maximized his time.  It seems that much of his best activity took place in the "interruptions" of his travels and plans.  The disciples were often impatient, but Jesus saw each of these as opportunities to demonstrate the love of God through service and to share God's message.

I am also reminded that ministry is messy.  Jesus was willing to enter into our messy world and our messy lives to restore the stability and beauty of God to them.  The needs, problems, and challenges were endless.  Many who came to Christ were "invisible" to everyone else, whether it was the beggar by the road, the leper, the poor, etc.  Yet, Jesus didn't just hurriedly pronounced a blessing on them and move on.  He gave them his time.  He showed that they were precious to God, that all were precious to God.

I guess it really is not that complicated.  Just slowing down and being with people is huge.  Jesus never seemed to be in such a hurry that he neglected this.  Time, such a simple thing, yet so much can be done when we recognize the value of just a little time. 

I remember reading a little saying that said, "No man on his death bed, surrounded by his loved ones, ever says, "I regret not spending more time at the office."  When you have little time left, suddenly what is most precious becomes vividly clear.  Time devoted to faith, family, and service to people in the name of Christ are what has substance.  Everything else is just a vapor.  The word, "vapor" reminds me of the Hebrew word that appears repeatedly in the book of Ecclesiastes.  It is usually translated "meaningless."  So much of what we think are things of substance have no substance at all.  Many do not realize it until they have wasted most of their time on it.  This is why Qohelet, the author of that book, warns us toward the end of his life not to make the same mistakes he did. 

New Years resolutions?  I am not sure how wise it is to wait until a new year to make resolutions I will not keep.  I only have a limited number of new years in my lifetime.  As long as it is called "today," I need to make the most of our time.  The time is now.

Lord, may I never be in such a hurry to maximize my time that I lose out on the most important and precious things.  Help me to number my days and gain a heart of wisdom.  Help me to slow down and savor life and love.   Help me to be less passive and devote my time to the things of lasting substance that will last beyond this life.  God, you have devoted your time to people.  People, the most precious thing to you.  Help me to learn from Jesus, and to order my time as he did.  Thank you for your patience and mercy. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bible Reading Reflection (Ex 13-16)

So, God takes Israel the long way to Canaan.  The most direct route would lead them through Philistine territory, and God thought that if Israel faced war, they would change their minds and return to Egypt.  Curiously, the text says that Israel left Egypt and was "ready for battle," yet God led them away from war with the Philistines.  Even though Israel was "ready for battle," they were not ready at all.  God had purposefully led them to an area that was strategically poor.  If they would to face an enemy on land, they would have been boxed in with the sea behind them and the enemy in front of them and have no place to turn.  God wanted Pharaoh to pursue Israel.  The ever ready Israel saw Pharaoh and his army approaching, but instead of mustering for battle, their confidence, if they had any at all, melted away.  They were terrified and accused Moses of leading them out to the desert to die at the hands of the Egyptians.  There was no thought of victory or deliverance in their minds.  Moses told them to stand firm, and see the deliverance of Yahweh.  They would not have to fight at all, but Yahweh would fight for them.  God opened the sea and Israel passed through to safety, while God drowned the pursuing Egyptians in the sea.  How poetically appropriate.  The Egyptians, who had drowned male Hebrews babies in the water in an effort to destroy them are now themselves drowned in the water.

As I reflect on the "readiness" of the Hebrews, I am reminded of myself.  I feel confident.  I feel ready to take on anything.  Then God leads me to a place where I am boxed in.  There is no place to turn.  In spite of my confident readiness, I am not ready at all.  My fear, doubt, and even unbelief come to the surface.  My confidence melts away in the face of an unbeatable challenge.  I cry.  I complain.  I lash out at those close to me.  I isolate myself.  I have a pity party.

I have to wonder.  Where did my confidence and readiness come from?  Did I really trust God, or was I just saying that I did because it sounded good?  Do I truly trust God, or is my trust in a government program to bail me out?  Do I have confidence in God's promises, or is my confidence in my perceived ability to control and handle things on my own?   Do I calm myself in God's presence, or do I frantically look everywhere but up?

Lord, I cannot do this.  I really cannot.  I thought I could, but I can't.  I am admitting my impotence and powerlessness and utter lack of control.  I thought it might go one way, but instead it went a completely different way.  Help me to see past of the illusion of control.  Help me to squash the deceitfulness of pride.  Help me acquire true courage and confidence from faith in you.  Thank you for your mercy and patience. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Bible Reading Reflection (Gen 46-50)

It has been mentioned at least twice in Genesis that Joseph married an Egyptian woman.  Not unusual, considering he spent most of his life there.  However, the text mentions twice that Asenath, his wife, was the daughter of an Egyptian priest.  I am not sure why these details are mentioned.  Scripture typically disapproves of Israelites marrying pagans, especially Canaanite ones.  The Canaanites were so wicked and detestable with their cult prostitution, child sacrifices, and other abominable practices that the land vomited them out.  Maybe since Asenath was an Egyptian and not a Canaanite, there is no condemnation or hint of disapproval?

As I look over the story again, Joseph is the one who is front and center as a positive example in every way.  Even though Joseph lived the majority of his life in a land that was not his home, and in the shadow of gods that were not his, and in a marriage to the daughter of a priest of one of those gods, Joseph remained loyal and faithful to his heritage and his God.  He had a clear sense of identity that never faded even when he became a powerful government official in Egypt.  Joseph did not adopt his wife's gods, but was faithful to the true God, the God of his fathers. The text does not say, but I think it is reasonable to assume that Asenath became a follower of Yahweh, and made her husband's God her God.   After all, Ephraim and Manasseh, her sons, are part of the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.

We live in two worlds as well.  Our true home, heritage, and identity is tied up in God.  Our temporary lodging place is here.  As Paul wrote in the New Testament, "Our citizenship is in Heaven."  We belong to the Kingdom of God.  Whether my boss is a Christian or not, whether my spouse is committed to God or not, whether my family, friends, and neighbors accept Jesus or not, Joseph's example reminds us that we need to remember who we are.  It is too easy to let our spouse, job, and family divide our loyalties.  
Lord, may we never forget in whose Kingdom we belong.  May we, like Joseph, never lose our sense of identity and remain loyal and faithful.  You have been loyal and faith to us even though we do not deserve it.  May we be loyal and faithful to you, the only one who is truly worthy.  Thank you for your mercy, love, and patience.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Bible Reading Reflection (Gen 42-45)

Joseph must have had a keen sense of God's presence.  When he sees his brothers, the same brothers who had sold him into slavery many years before, he feels no resentment or righteous indignation toward them.  Even though he lived as a slave and was thrown into an Egyptian prison for many years, he does not retaliate or seek justice for the wrong done to him.  He understands that God's hand was in everything that happened.  The end result was that his father and the rest of his family were preserved from starvation from the seven year famine that had struck.  Who could have ever thought that this would be the end result?  I am reminded of that passage from Ecclesiastes 3 that says God has placed eternity in our hearts, but no one can fathom what God is doing from beginning to end.  I would like to see over the horizon of God's plan, but I am very limited in what I can see.  This story reminds me to trust God.  All things indeed do work out for good to those that love God. 

Lord, please help me to always be aware of your presence in all things, so that I am not shaken by what wrongly appears to be your absence, or what appears to be events outside of your control.  Help me to have the perspective and faith of Joseph so that I am always in harmony inwardly and with you. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Bible Reading Reflection (Gen 38-41)

Why is chapter 38 here?  What a scandal!  Not sure what the takeaway is here.  I am immediately tempted to focus on Tamar and her sordid activity.  However, the text seems to focus on the unrighteousness of the men in the family.  Judah had left his brothers and became friends with an Adullamite, then took a Canaanite woman for a wife.  The text does not name her, though it does name her father.  Does this indicate disapproval in a subtle way?  Judah had three sons by this Canaanite woman, Er, Onan, and Shelah.  Judah procured a woman by the name of Tamar as a wife for Er.  Before Er and Tamar could have a son, God struck him down because he was wicked.  Onan, the next oldest brother, was to fulfill his duty to his older brother by fathering a child with Tamar that would be considered Er's son.  This strange custom was actually common in that part of the world.  Onan went in to Tamar and would sleep with her, but would spill his seed on the ground so that she would not get pregnant.  The text says it was because he knew the child would not be his.  Interestingly, Onan would have been next in line for the family inheritance, but this would not be the case if he fathered a son for his dead older brother.  Because of Onan's wicked actions, God struck him down as well.  Judah promised his daughter-in-law the remaining son, Shelah, as a husband when he was old enough to marry.  Judah then sent his daughter-in-law away back to her father's house.  In the meantime, Judah's Canaanite wife died.  When Shelah grew up, Judah did not give him to Tamar as a husband.  So, Tamar put on the garments of a cult prostitute, veiling herself, and sat by the road where Judah would be passing by.  She seduced him in disguise, and conceived.  Of course, when Judah found out Tamar was pregnant, he wanted to have her put to death.

Judah, like myself, wanted to condemn Tamar.  Curiously, when Judah found out what had happened, he declared Tamar "more righteous" than himself.  Which are the greater infractions in the story?  Judah had broken his promise and left his daughter-in-law with nothing.  In a world where women depend on husbands and/or sons for safety and survival, Judah left her with nothing at all.  Instead of treating her like a daughter that married into the family, he sent her away back to her father's house.  Out of sight - out of mind.  If he had her put to death, she would definitely be out of sight and out of mind.  Tamar cunningly forced Judah not to dismiss or discard her.

Tamar gave birth to Judah's offspring, twins.  The family line continued not through Shelah, but through the younger of Tamar's twins, Perez.

Maybe the point is not Tamar and whether she was right or wrong.  Maybe the focus in on Judah and his sons as negative examples.  Judah and his sons stand in stark contrast to Joseph, who demonstrated honor and integrity even as a slave and in prison.  Joseph could have given up on God during those years in an Egyptian prison, far from home with no prospects of returning.  But the text says that Yahweh was with Joseph, and showed him steadfast love and favor.  I don't have my Hebrew Bible handy, but I suspect "steadfast love" could be the Hebrew word, "hesed," which means covenant love and loyalty.  Joseph seemed to show love and loyalty to God, living honorably with integrity, even if it got him into trouble.  What a contrast!

Judah and his sons by the Canaanite woman seem to be examples of selfishness, dishonesty, dishonor, wickedness, and buddying up to the Canaanites, whom God had told Abraham he would dispossess from the land due to their ongoing wickedness.  They are also an example of not caring for your own.  The New Testament says that those who do not care for members of their household are worse than an infidel.

Lord, please do not let me focus so much on another's shortcomings that I become blind to my own faults.  Please help me to be an honorable person of my word that takes responsibility, even if it is difficult or dangerous.  Thank you Lord for taking care of us through the cross, and taking responsibility for your creation by carrying out your plan to provide a way of redemption and reformation.  Thank you for your patience and mercy.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Bible Reading Reflection (Gen 34-37)

God was about to renew the covenant with Jacob, so Jacob tells everyone in his household to "put away the foreign gods among you."  It seems that idolatry was an ongoing presence from nearly the beginning.  I recall in an earlier reading that Rachel had stolen her father's idols when then left home. 

I wonder why Jacob did not destroy them?  Why did he bury them under a tree where they could be dug back up at a future time? 

But aren't I like this sometimes?  There is something that I know I need to let go out of my life, but I don't do it completely.  I leave the door cracked.  I bury it rather than burn in.  I tuck it away out of sight, but I don't smash it.  Why is this?  Do I not really believe that I can be content without it?  If so, do I not realize that this is Satan's lie?  After all, he is the one that convinced Adam and Eve that taking what they should not have would make them wise and open their eyes.  Can I not learn a lesson from this?

How do I convince others in my life to let go if I do not completely let go?  We all need to let go of that secret sin, of underlying grudges, of anger, pride and self-righteous judgmentalism.  These are the sorts of things that destroy marriages, jobs, families, and congregations.  If I am truly going to destroy these things, I need to bring them to him in prayer, then truly destroy them, not bury them where I can dig them back up later. 

Lord help me to completely destroy the idols in my life.  Help me to truly let go of the desire to get even.  Help me to destroy the anger, grudges, and pride that harm myself and those whom I love.  Help me to see that I do not need these things.  As you were patient with Jacob, you have been patient with us.  Thank you for your mercy and patience. 

Bible reading Reflection (Gen 27-33)

Jacob had such a hard life.  God chose him over his older brother, but that did not make life easier for him.  Jacob was always reaching for more.  He was always striving to advance and get ahead.  Whether it was trying to find ways to obtain what rightfully belonged to his brother, or to scheme on how he might obtain his father-in-laws wealth, Jacob was always wrestling, fighting, and striving. 

However, God has promised to be with Jacob and the bless him.  God made a promise to him at Bethel when Jacob saw the vision of the ladder reaching into Heaven.  However, Jacob still continued to wrestle and fight for everything.

What characterized Jacob was not going up and down that ladder, but wrestling, struggling, and fighting all the time.  At the fork of the Jabbok river, Jacob even wrestled with God, the one who promised to bless him and be with him.  This match lasted all night, yet Jacob was spared, to his amazement.  So, Jacob called that place, "Peniel" (face of God).  God could have simply overpowered him, but he did not.  Instead, God put Jacob's hip out of joint so that he would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.  Jacob would always remember every time he walked. 

Can an injury inflicted by God ever be a blessing?  I guess when we fight against God, we may come away with a limp as well.  We may have our own "Peniel" in life that may break us.  But, perhaps this is part of the life-long process that God uses to remake us?

Bible Reading Reflection (Gen 23-26)

I find it amazing how far Abraham was willing to go to find a good wife for Isaac.  It wasn't until Isaac was 40 years old that he sent his servant to travel the distance to the country he came from to find Isaac a good wife.  This reminds me of what we used to tell our children when they were young.  They were not allowed to date until they were 40!  Prayer was such an integral part of this process.  And God provided beautifully.  Here was a beautiful woman of character that was of the same faith.  Though they had never met previously, the text says that Isaac loved Rebekah.  I wonder how things might have turned out differently if there were no prayer or thought given to finding a wife.  I wonder how things might have turned out different had Isaac taken a Canaanite wife.  Maybe he would have been like Esau who married Canaanite women and caused his parents all kinds of grief.  Maybe he might have been like Samson, who seemed enamored with Philistine women.  It likely would not have gone well. 

I wonder, is there a lesson in this?  How much does parental feedback play in having a "plan" to find a good spouse?  Is there a plan at all?  What place does diligent prayer and openness to God's will play in finding a good and godly spouse of character?  How much patience is there in the process?  Is there a wait for maturity, or a rush into marriage right now?  How far is a godly person willing to travel?  To what lengths might one go to find a godly spouse?  How much would these considerations help to promoted a strong, loving, lasting, beautiful, and honorable relationship?  Instead of marrying the one he loved, Isaac loved the one he married. 

Of course, this is not intended to be a formula for the "right way" to find a wife.  However, these questions deserve consideration.  The Hollywood version deserves to be rejected, if then length and strength of Hollywood marriages are to be any indication of how things may turn out if one hangs his hopes on finding a spouse the Hollywood way.  To be moved more by chemistry than by thoughtful considerations from a plan born out of prayer invites a greater possibility of heartbreak.  A beautiful marriage does not have to begin with fiery, head-over-heels love.  That can come after marriage begins and be just as beautiful, passionate, and delightful.

Lord, I pray for my marriage and the marriages of those around me.  I also pray for those considering marriage, which is a life-long commitment.  Please grant wisdom, patience, and clear thinking as the solid foundation.  Thank you for the beauty of marriage.  May we learn what love is from you, since you are love. 

Bible Reading Reflection (Genesis 26:3-5)

In Genesis 26:3-5, God told Isaac he would be with him, establish the oath he had made to his father, Abraham, because "Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statues, and my laws." Abraham's faithfulness and obedience to God became a lasting blessing to his children, his children's children, their children's children, and even me. I am reminded of how I have seen the same thing reflected in Christ. Hebrews 5:8 says that He learned obedience in the days of his flesh and became to source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. The faith and obedience of Christ has become a lasting blessing to all of us who believe. This is why Romans 3:21-22 says (my translation) "The righteousness of God has been made known. . . through the faith of Christ to all who believe." His faithfulness has resulted in blessings upon blessings for us.
Now, I have to ask myself what lessons God is trying to teach me here. What do I learn as a preacher of the Gospel? What lesson do I take away as a father and grandfather? Am I faithful to God? Am I obedient to the Father? If I am only partially faithful and obedient, how can I be a blessing to my children, my grandchildren, and my church family? If I want a blessing for them, don't I need to be faithful and obedient to God? Like Abraham, isn't being a good father connected to being faithful? 
It occurs to me that my faithfulness, or lack of it, affects not just me, but it affects my children and my children's children. 
Lord, please help me to be faithful. I am selfish. I am not as selfless as I need to be. I have more good intentions than I do good actions. I ask you to transform my heart and mind. Help me to focus on what really matters and what is of real substance. Thank you for the greatness of your merciful patience and love.

Italicized Words In Your Bible

The photo at the top of this post is the first Bible my Father gave me when I was a young teenager. Prior to this, I had been reading out of a King James Version that had previously been a pew Bible. I treasured this new Bible because it was much more readable and was mine. On the cover it said, “New American Standard.” Most of the passages I have memorized over the years have come from this translation. In fact, when I read another translation, I sometimes get tripped up when reading aloud because the New American Standard is ingrained in my memory. One of the features of the New American Standard translation is its use of italicized text. When the translators provide a word in English that is not in the original Greek or Hebrew (or Aramaic), they indicate it by rendering the word in italics. This is not the only translation that does this. The King James, New King James, and 1901 American Standard versions all use italicized text as well. 
There is one text that has caused some people a little difficulty. We have always understood conditions such as blindness, deafness, and other physical features that depart from the usual pattern for what makes up an ideal human being as the result of sin. In other words, God did not design people to be crippled, blind, deaf, missing a limb, or have downs syndrome. In Genesis, before sin came into the picture, the world was an ideal place. In Heaven, there will be no sickness and dying. This is not the case in the between time. In fact, Jesus came to undo the results of sin, which is partially why many of his miracles can be characterized as assaults on the handiwork of sin, which includes blindness, lameness, and other conditions.
The text that has caused difficulty comes from John 9:1-4. “1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”
The difficulty in this passage in obvious. Jesus seems to be saying that this man suffered from blindness from his birth because God did it to him. I have even heard people claim that those born with handicaps are not abnormal because God had a different template for them. They based their conclusion on this passage. In other words, handicaps are God’s design. I understand the desire to comfort a handicapped child and tell him that he is not “abnormal.” Every child is precious because they have the breath of God. Even though a physical body (as well as the inward man) might be distorted due to sin, the image of God and the breath of God still resides in every human being. However, it is simply bad theology to claim that a physical handicap is some sort of “alternative template.” It is not very different than telling a grieving child that God took her mother because he needed her more. Death is no more a part of God’s original design than any kind of illness, genetic or otherwise. Jesus came to ultimately set everything right. There will be no death or sickness in Heaven, which has to include physical deformities. To claim it is some other pattern of God’s for creating a human being flatly contradicts the rest of the Bible. 
However, the difficulty of this text disappears when you read this passage in the original Greek texts of the 3rd and 4th centuries.
I reproduced the New American Standard translation rather than the New International Version because of the italicized text. Keep in mind that the italicized words were NOT in the Greek text, but were provided by the translators. Remove the italicized words, and you have the exact words in the Greek Text.
“1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents; but so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” 
Another thing to remember is that the earliest Greek manuscripts did not have punctuation or versification and were written in all capital letters. Punctuation did not appear in Greek Bibles until hundreds of years later and were not part of the original text. If you were to look at facsimile copies of Greek Bibles from the 3rd and 4th century, you can see this clearly even if you can’t read ancient Greek. Notice this page from Codex Siniaticus, a Greek Text from the fourth century.
Codex Siniaticus, 4th century

Punctuation was an addition to the texts long after they were originally written, probably to aid in reading the text. In fact, modern printed editions of the Greek text also includes punctuation along with lower case letters for the purpose of making it easier to read. In critical editions, there are footnotes that point out places in the text were a comma might be preferred over a period or vice-versa. 
In nearly every passage of the Bible, the addition of punctuation did not affect the text. However, that does not appear to be the case in this text. Read the passage again as it was in the original Greek text in all capital letters WITHOUT the punctuation and versification .
When you read this passage aloud, there are natural pauses. This is where we put a comma or period in English. Instead of doing this, I will put a dash where you pause in reading. 
Reading this passage aloud, it appears that Jesus does not give a reason why the man was born blind. He simply states that it was neither his fault nor his parents fault. Then, he ceases to deal with the question as to why the man was born blind. Instead of focusing on why he was born blind, Jesus says, “But so that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of Him who sent me as long as it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” Instead of getting bogged down in useless speculative questions and debate which do not do anyone any good, Jesus said that he and his disciples need to do the works of God before their time runs out. 
The works of Christ give us hope. I Corinthians 15 teaches us that we will be transformed and changed in the twinkling of an eye. Our corruptible, weak, mortal bodies will no longer be as they were before. We will have a new, incorruptible, immortal body that is not of this earth. There will be no death, no sickness, no deformities, no handicaps, or other defects.