Thursday, February 28, 2013

nice clothes

Read Exodus 28 and Matthew 22

And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother for glory and for beauty. Ex 28:2

What was it about Aaron that made him qualified to be the high priest? What did he do to deserve the honor to wear the magnificent garments of the high priest?

Of the many personalities we read of in the Scriptures, Aaron didn’t seem to have much of a personality. Initially his job was merely to speak the words that Moses was to speak because Moses didn’t think of himself as an adequate speaker. Twice he fell victim to peer pressure and joined with others in doing really bad things.

I think the lesson we learn from Aaron is all about clothes.

A typical high priest during Aaron’s time in that region of the world performed his intercessory religious rites naked. Aaron wore multiple layers of beautiful bejeweled clothes when he went before God for the people. Underneath everything was an undergarment specifically worn to cover his “naked flesh.”

I love wearing clothes. I was swimming with my grand kids last summer when Isaac stopped and looked long and hard at my chest. “Papa,” he said. “What are all those red dots on you?”

“I don’t know,” I told him. “Your mommy’s a nurse. Maybe she would know.”

He kept looking. I put on my t-shirt. I knew what his next question was going to be. He would want to know about all those little brown moles on me, each one with a hair coming through the middle.

The effects of sin and all its deteriorations pervade our world and ourselves. Yet as Believers we are told that we are a nation of priests. Rev 5:10.

Who do we think we are to imagine we could ever come into God's presence to intercede for anyone? How presumptuous to say to anyone that we will pray for them with the idea that God would listen to us.

But as Believers we come to God, like Aaron, fully clothed, beautifully clothed in the righteousness that comes to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In one of the wedding feast parables, we read of a man who came to the feast without a wedding garment. The king asked the man how he got in without a garment and he had no answer. The king then commanded, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into outer darkness.”

On the face of it, this parable seems incredibly (and arbitrarily) sever. But in reading it more closely, we learn the wonderful truth that all of us who come into the presence of the King come in not of ourselves, but we come clothed in the garments provided for us by the Bridegroom, the Son of the King Himself.

Question: What inhibits you from fully realizing your role as a priest--as an intercessor for others before God?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

the God who scares

Read Numbers 12 and Psalm 39

My sister called me this morning to ask if she thought my daughter Stephanie would be offended by my son-in-law Daniel Triestman’s response to her devotional on this blog:

I told her I did not think so for both had presented a well thought out and articulate Biblical perspective. Some people think the Word of God is as simple as: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” But the Scriptures were written through the inspiration of God Himself. And just as God’s thoughts are immense and often very complicated (look at how He put our physical bodies together), so His communication to us through His Word can be very deep and very full of meaning. He shows great respect to us, His creatures, by giving us the Holy Scriptures. The Apostle Peter says about the writings of the Apostle Paul, “His letters contain some things which are hard to understand.” But, like all the Scriptures, as we study them, we come to a greater (and more correct) understanding.

So here’s what Stephanie wrote:
As I’ve been reading through the history of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years. I get annoyed when people knock big-mouth Peter, doubting Thomas and the rest, but I think the Israelites deserve any flack they get. The Israelites saw miracle after miracle: were freed from the Egyptians; had food provided for them every morning and every evening; had water supplied in the desert time and again; conquered tribes and cities they never should have been able to; but they never remember what the Lord did the last time, and they never believed enough to consider that He would do it again.

Dan responded:
In reference to God's faithfulness I would agree that all of our doubts and reservations have been proven unwarranted. That being said, I might argue that the Israelites should be extended the same grace given to “big-mouth Peter” and “doubting Thomas.” Israel did not just witness the natural and supernatural blessings of God, but they also saw the natural and supernatural judgments of God. They were witness to history's most terrible demonstrations of God's wrath. The “miracles after miracles” that Israel witnessed were frightening acts of a vengeful God. They saw and experienced numerous plagues. They endured forty years of wandering through hunger and thirst. They buried friends and family. They were given 611 complicated commandments and suffered dire consequences for minor deviations. They did not have a personal relationship with God, but rather a national relationship which meant that people would be judged because of the actions of their representatives. The God they followed seemed constantly angry. He provided bread with worms. He gave quail, but poisoned it. He gave water, but first made the people to thirst. 

We don't experience the miracles that Israel experienced, but we also don't experience the judgments either. We complain, but our complaints are not met with immediate death. We doubt, yet we can always see more than a meal or drink into the future. We disobey, but are not under a burdensome law. We covet, yet have a diet that consists of more than a daily serving of boiled bread. We have a personal relationship with our God and know Him as a God of grace. 

Is it possible that Israel's complaints were not that God was going to let them die by forgetting about them, but rather that God was going to make them die by paying attention to them? How do you love a God that scares you?

Here’s my take:

In all ages, with all people, God is to be feared, Dan writes that we (of the church age?) don’t experience the miracles that Israel experienced, but we also don't experience the judgments either. We complain, but our complaints are not met with immediate death. But one of the first events of the church age was the death of Ananias and Sapphira. All they did was keep some of their own stuff instead of giving everything to the church in Jerusalem. Well, not quite. They lied about what they gave, and conspired to lie, and when questioned, stuck to their lie. Why did they do this? Most likely because they wanted to appear just like everyone else who had given all that they had. But they didn’t quite trust God enough to give away all of their stuff—like everyone else. Was that such a big deal? Nobody messes with God, period. He is always the God of grace, but at all times He is still God, holy, righteous and in charge.

At the end of Psalm 39 David pleads, “Look away from me that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.” vs 13  But this plea is an anomally from what David typically asks of God. In the verse before he writes, “Hear my prayer. Do not be silent to my tears.” vs 12 Continually throughout the Psalms David is asking God to give him His attention and only rarely does he ask God to look away from him. In asking God to look away here, I believe David is acknowledging his faithlessness and thus the appropriateness of God’s disciplines. But he knows God is so good and so merciful that he also writes, “And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions.” vs 7&8

Did the Israelites get a bad deal from God? Was His relationship with them all about fear? Was it all about the nation and not at all about the individual? To those who did not respond to Him in His kindness, that was certainly the case, but what about Joshua and Caleb and Rahab, and Moses himself? As God said in the 2nd commandment, “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers to the third and fourth generation to those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands (of generations) to those who love me and keep my commandments.”

The only Israelites who got worms in their manna were the ones who specifically did not trust Him to provide manna for the next day; and the only Israelites who got the plague while the quail meat “was still in their teeth,” were the ones who demonstrated by their weeping for the meat of Egypt, that after all God had brought them through, all they cared about was food.
God said in the 2nd commandment, “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers to the third and fourth generation to those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands (of generations) to those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Always God’s mercy and lovingkindness and faithfulness far surpass His judgments.
“But God commendeth His love towards us in that while we were yet sinncers Christ died for us.

What do you think, did the Israelites get a much worse deal from God than He gave the disciples of Jesus or has given to us? 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

it turns my stomach

read Exodus 27 and Hebrews 10 & 11

“Make an alter of acacia wood; it shall be five cubits long by five cubits broad and three cubits high and overlay it with bronze.” Exodus 27:1

This was where all the burnt sacrifices were made. This is where atonement was made for the sins of all the Israelites. I’m guessing it was kept blazing hot day and night, for all the sheep and the goats and the bulls offered on this bronze alter needed to be consumed down to their ashes.

Yet we are told by the writer of Hebrews that “the priest stood daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which could never take away sin.” Heb 10:8 But he also tells us, “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there remains no longer a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful judgment and a fire that will consume.” From Heb 11:26&27

Several years back, my son-in-law decided to celebrate the Passover by actually killing and then cooking and eating a lamb. He and my daughter purchased a lamb from a local farmer. They took care of the lamb for four days and then they cut its throat—or actually a friend of theirs cut its throat for they could not bear to do it. They took a video of what they did. I could only watch part of it. When the knife was brought out, I had to leave.

I have been around the killing of animals before. I’m fond of meat and I do realize that to get meat, one has to kill an animal. But to kill an animal for a ritual type reason was more than my stomach could handle.
But that is what God required of His chosen people. He required hundreds of thousands of ritually sacrificed animals, many of which were not for meat at all, but had to be totally consumed.

A primary lesson of sacrifices is to teach the one for whom the animal is sacrificed the seriousness of sin. Adam and Eve had to have animals killed for them after they had sinned. When sin came, they were found to be naked. Leaves could not hide their nakedness. Their nakedness to be properly covered required the skins of an animal.

When I was in kindergarten, a handicapped boy followed me around the playground. I demanded several times that he stop following me, but he would not. So I picked up a large dead branch and smashed it over his head. It seemed to me at the time an appropriate thing to do, especially as he stopped following me. The principal observed what had happened and tried to get me to understand the seriousness of what I had done. Not until he called my mother and I saw her come into his office weeping did I understand that this was a very bad thing that I had done.

It is way too easy for us to lightly dismiss certain sinful behaviors of ours. Too often we rationalize our dishonesty, or our appreciation of the sensual, or our meanness. If each time we casually sinned we were required to ritually slay a lamb; and then required to burn that lamb to ashes on one special prescribed alter, perhaps we would be less apt to behave in that same sinful way again. Maybe then, before our temptation became a sinful act, it would turn our stomachs.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Read Exodus 26 and Hebrews 10

And the veil shall separate for you the Holy place from the Most Holy. Exodus 26:33

Unlike animals, we humans make lots of divisions. We separate one thing from another.

Our buildings divide the inside from the outside. Our homes divide the personal from the public. Our bedrooms divide the family from the intimate.

Our days divide the workday from the weekday, from the holiday.

Our relationships divide from the public, from our friends, from our family, from our spouses.

I know a fastidious man who careful divides the food on his plate. He eats one item, then he turns his plate and eats the next item.

When I was a child, adults were divided from children. Every adult was called Mr. or Miss, or Mrs. and one was required to speak clearly and loudly when one talked to an adult.

Perhaps the most important distinction of all is what divides what is mine from anybody else’s.

The girl I eventually married would ask me continually, “What are you thinking?” Until I met her, I felt strongly that my thoughts were my own business. More than anything else of mine, I kept my thoughts as my own thoughts. It took me a long time to be able to honestly and completely share with this person my thoughts.

There is nothing more distinct than God and man. He is all that we are not. He knows fully; we know just a little. He is all powerful; we are continually made aware of our limitations. He is so good; we always fall short of being good. Most of all, He is holy; and we are common and profane, and doomed to die and return to dust.

Incredibly, God came to Earth. Though He is omnipresent, He located Himself above the mercy seat and between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. But that place was veiled and covered; separating it from where a person might go.

When the Lord Jesus died, the Great Separation ended. The separating veil was torn from top to bottom. Mark 15:38

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near with a true heart and in full assurance.” From Hebrews 10: 19-21

When I got married, all distinctions between myself and my new wife were dismantled. There was no longer my stuff, my space, my thoughts, my problems. Everything became ours together.

It was a very good thing to become so unseparated.

How much better to be unseparated from our God and our Savior, who loves us and gave Himself for us. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

willing to give

Read Exodus 25 and I Corinthians 3

“And every person whose heart moves him, you shall receive a contribution for me. And this is the contribution you shall receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen; goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst.” Exodus 25: 2-8

There are so many good lessons to draw from this passage of Scripture. A few of them are:
  1. 1.       The Lord loves a willing giver—they are the only givers from whom He will receive a contribution
  2. 2.       The Lord desires a wide variety of contributions
  3. 3.       And those contributions include both the very beautiful, and the very mundane and practical
  4. 4.       All these contributions are to make a place where the Lord will dwell in the midst.

My wife and I live at Story Book Lodge Christian Camp. This is a place where every willing Believer has something they can profitably contribute. It is the best of all possible places for a serious Christian teenager (or adult) to come, for a large variety tasks are necessary. At a Bible camp, a young person can find use for his gift in preaching, or teaching, or discipling. Or he can use his talents to sing, or put on clever skits or funny performances. Or, he can contribute his willing hard work. All of our youth workers are required to do the plain hard work of washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, mopping, etc, etc. But each year we have one or two young people who blossom as hard workers.

One summer a mother sent her big adolescent son to Story Book who was so odd and such a loner. He was 15 years old and he was still acting out cartoon fantasy stories. We had an old man at our camp who had done all the rock work at the camp for every building project. This summer he insisted he was going to continue to do this, though the project was the biggest he had ever undertaken. He saw this big kid and decided he had to have him for his assistant. And this big kid, who, I don’t believe had ever before lifted anything bigger than a video game control in his life, spent the whole summer lifting and selecting and placing  20 to 80 pound field stones for our elderly rock layer. I saw him last fall and he said to me, “That was the best summer of my life.” Story Book is a beautiful camp. A good part of its beauty is all our rock work, much of which was done by this young man.

In I Cor 3:12 our good works are compared to gold, silver and precious stones. I believe in this passage the Apostle Paul is making allusion to our passage in Exodus. The good work of this young man is of lasting value, particularly because it was done with such willingness.

At our little church fellowship, we have a Quakeresque communion service every Sunday morning. At the service different men spontaneously share from the Scriptures precious truths about our Lord Jesus Christ. The meeting is meant to be Spirit led. The sharings vary greatly, just as the men who share vary greatly. Some are deeply theological. Some share an incident of something that has happened to them over the past week and they relate this incident to what the Lord Jesus did at the cross. Some simply read a read passage of Scripture and share a one or two sentence thought.

Intermixed with the sharings are songs and prayers. The meeting is a beautiful mix of gold and precious stones and common items. It is similar to the sanctuary at the tabernacle, the place for the Lord Himself to dwell in the midst.

Several years ago, we had a gentleman at our church fellowship determined to get every man who attended the communion meeting to share at the meeting. This resulted in men who to this day will not share at the meeting. Like those who gave to the tabernacle sanctuary, a necessary component for giving is the willingness to give. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

the young servant

written by Larry Rodgers

Read Exodus 24 and Luke 7

There are several Hebrew and Greek words translated ‘servant.’ One of those words in both languages specifically means a young man or boy. In Exodus 24:5 we read, “Then Moses sent the Israelite young men, and they offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings.” This was a very important job. It took a lot of energy. But remembering to when I was a young man, I would imagine this job, in the company of other young men, would have been a ton of fun.

As I wrote about in Thursday’s devotional, young men, left to their own devices, can be shockingly heartless. Bullying is so much fun. And cruelty to animals is not something that is aberrant to them. I have an Uncle who says he lost his Faith when he read the book, Lord of the Flies. This book tells the fictional story of a large group of boys who get shipwrecked on an island and quickly turn into savages. Though the book was fictional, my uncle saw that the story of the book was real.

But, curiously, this same creature can be humanity as God most intended humanity to be. Boys (and girls) like to please and they like to help out. Samuel was quick to do whatever Eli the priest told him to do. God trusted him to deliver a very important message to Eli.

In the gospels we read of a Centurion who had a special young servant. “Who was sick to the point of death, who was highly valued by him.” This servant was so valued, the Centurion used all his influence  to get Jesus to heal him. Then he thought better of using his position to impose upon Jesus and he sent friends to say to Him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am unworthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, and I say to one, ‘Go’ and he goes; and to another ‘come’ and he comes. Boys, under authority, are wonderfully quick to do what they are told.

This is sort of like telling people which of your children is your favorite, but I think my favorite time in each of my children’s lives was that time between six and twelve. They were so eager to learn and they believed me when I told them stuff. Two of my children loved to help me with whatever project I was working on. They just wanted to be near their dad and help with whatever I needed. My curse is my spaciness. But these children would keep track of where ever I had laid my tools. Before I began looking around for it, they would hand me my pencil or my tape measure.

Henry Sardina tells of when he was a young boy, his older brother came home after being in a Cuban prison. Henry says, “He was like a god to me.” see

Nobody so looks up to special people as a young person.

May we all be like these young servants: quick to obey; quick to learn; and quick to admire. How can the Lord help but feel good towards servants like that?

Friday, February 22, 2013

our faithful God

written by Stephanie Varghese

Read Deuteronomy 7 and Ephesians 2

I’ve decided that THIS will be the year that I read through the entire bible. I was finally shamed into it by my husband Eric’s sweet tiny Grandma. She is struggling with old age and spends a lot of time in bed, but every time I see her we, talk about what she has been reading and I’m always amazed how quickly she reads through the Bible. She told me once that she switches every other time she reads between English and her native language Malayalam, and even though she says she reads much more slowly in English I don’t think it takes her more than a month or two to read through the Bible. So, this year I decided it would be the year, and I have an app on my phone that let me pick from a couple different options and since stick-to-it-iv-ness is not my forte, I thought I may do better with a short term goal and go with the read through the Bible in the 3 months plan. I am supposed to read between 10-15 chapters a day.  Needless to say, I’m a bit behind, but I plug along.

As I’ve been reading through the history of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years. I get annoyed when people knock big-mouth Peter, doubting Thomas and the rest, but I think the Israelites deserve any flack they get. The Israelites saw miracle after miracle: were freed from the Egyptians; had food provided for them every morning and every evening; had water supplied in the desert time and again; conquered tribes and cities they never should have been able to; but they never remember what the Lord did the last time, and they never believe consider that He will do it again.

Finally Moses has had it and he says, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers?.... I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

But God says in Deuteronomy 7: 6-9 “..The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you… but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.”

The Lord still makes these promises after all their unbelief and stubbornness.

This hits close to home. I am also stubborn. I also have continued to rebel and complain and lose faith at the tiniest twist in the road. Yet, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-6

What a promise, what a faithful God.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


written by Larry Rodgers

Read Ex 23, Matt 25

A very special quality of the Jewish people is when they look at a passage of Scripture, they study it so as to understand all its ramifications. That is why they have rabbis and the Talmud. If God said something, they wanted to be very careful to fully obey what He said. The greatest explainer of the ramifications of the Scriptures was the Lord Jesus. Especially in His Sermon on the Mount, He taught what each of God’s laws fully meant. For example: Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder for anyone who murders will be subject to the judgment.’ But I tell you, anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to the judgment.”

In Exodus 23:19 we read, “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” From this command, the Jewish people derive a significant part of their kosher laws. Being kosher is very important to the Jewish people. If a person does not keep kosher, his claim to Jewishness is deemed suspect. The ramification of this verse mean that every good Jewish kitchen has one set of cooking pots and utensils for cooking meat, and one set of pots and cooking utensils for anything else, for anything else might possibly have some sort of milk product in it. One might think the directive, “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk,” has nothing to say to today’s Jewish person. But instead its ramifications affect them very significantly. 

Also in Exodus 23, we read in verse 9: “Do not oppress the alien. You yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” Again, this is a law the Jewish people have taken very seriously. From my cursory knowledge of early history, I wonder if there has ever been a tribal group who so quickly received the alien into their community. Within a very short time, the alien became indistinguishable from any other Israelite. Much more than kosher, I believe assimilation is what once, paradoxically, defined the Jewish people. E.g. Rahab, Ruth, David’s mighty men, those who returned from Babylon.

We as Christian Believers do not subscribe to the kosher laws. As they are not commented upon in the New Testament, we accept that this prohibition is specifically for the Jewish people. But the first thing we see in the formation of the early church was the need to fully accept the aliens—who happen to be us, as almost all of us are the Gentiles (all the people who were not part of God's chosen community). Like Israel, we are obligated to remember that once we were aliens, those “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God.” Eph 2:12

The Lord Jesus tells us in His most poignant of parables, “I was a stranger and you took me in.” He says that to those who will be welcomed into His Kingdom. But to those who will be eternally excluded he says, “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in.” The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for some people without knowing it have entertained angels unawares.”

Very clearly from these passages we understand that we as Believers are obligated to be supportive of any international person in our neighborhoods, our schools, or in our churches. Never are we allowed to despise, or behave hatefully towards strangers and foreigners.

But are further ramifications that we are reasonably expected to understand from these alien/stranger laws? How do we behave towards those who are not part of our own special group? And might we sometimes form our own little group because it makes us feel good about our own personal worth when there are others outside who long to be a part of it?

When I was a young boy I had a best friend whose name was Jay. He and I were the same age, and our families were at our chapel whenever the doors were open. There was another boy who also was our age and was always at the chapel. Resourceful kids that we were, Jay and I came up with an incredibly fun game. We called it ‘ditch.’ Here’s how it worked. Jay and I would chum up to this kid. Then, at a given signal, we would both take off running in different directions and meet up at a prearranged destination. Much to our satisfaction, this ditched boy would always run after one of us. But with enough twists and turns through the people at church and through the parking lot and down the basements (our church had two basements) the one he was chasing would eventually elude him and then would come to our prearranged place. Did this third boy cry? I don’t know. We weren’t around to see. Horrible! Like the Psalmist I cry, “Remember not the sins of my youth.”

Prayer: Father, forgive us for our continual hard-heartedness. Show us every day the stranger who we need to include, and who we need to perceive as if he were the Lord Jesus Himself.

In yesterday’s devotional, Daniel said God’s fairness is treating people with equality. Today’s devotional is an illustration of that.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

life isn't fair

Written by Daniel Triestman

Reading: Exodus 22, Colossians 4:1

In Exodus 22, we get insight into God's justice. For a violator to be justified it requires not only restitution, but also a penalty. This seems reasonable -you steal something, you suffer loss. God also gives protection to victims of circumstances and defends the rights of the poor. For many of us this also gels with our personal sense of justice. Yet some of the provisions of Exodus may not sit so well with our understanding of what is “just:” if a man violates a virgin he gets to marry her, unless her father disapproves. How is any of this fair? What about the woman's rights? Shouldn't she get a say in what happens to her?

Every kid who has ever eaten a cookie smaller than their brother's cookie knows that life is not fair. Yet when we appeal to the great arbiters of justice, Mom and Dad, arguing “that's not fair” we are often given the profoundly dissatisfying explanation: “life isn't fair.” We can certainly see that life is not fair, but should life be fair? Is life not fair because of the effects of sin or because God has not made life to be fair?

The Scriptures seem to offer several apparently conflicting perspectives on “fairness.” Arguing for “unfairness” are concepts like God's Canaanite genocide or Christ's parables of the talents where “everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away (Matt. 25:29).” Yet we also see God depicted as one who is without partiality (Deut. 1:17; 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9) causing the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Matt. 5:29).

In Colossians 4:1, masters are commanded to extend to their slaves both justice and fairness. The word justice speaks of compliance to a law or standard. The word “fairness,” however, connotes the idea of equality -that each person should get the same treatment.

In respect to questions of fairness or equality I propose two fundamental, contradictory scientific principles to be discussed in the comments section below: 1. Equality cannot exist. Nothing is absolutely fair. Even if my brother and I had cookies that appeared to be alike, on a molecular level no two cookies are the same. In our dynamic universe nothing is absolutely constant, identical or repeatable. As well, given quantum mechanics' developing variables and sophisticated metrics, inequality is becoming increasingly pronounced. 2. Equality must exist. Buried within every complaint that “it's not fair” is the implication that things ought to be fair. Regardless of what our experiences have taught us, we all seem to have an intrinsic desire to see equality. Social psychology argues that it is part of our nature to rejoice in the exaltation of the humble or want to see the mighty fall. Despite experiencing bias and prejudice, we seem to expect that things should be otherwise. Inherent within the human experience is a belief that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator certain unalienable rights.”

As we read the Scriptures and study our world, we see profound “unfairness.” Our nature looks for equality and is left wanting. Perhaps this is the story of “fairness” -that things are not and cannot be as they should be. And so we are left to wait in faith for the true arbiter of justice, One who can restore all things to their proper place. Questions: Is God fair? How do you understand the difference between “justice” and “fairness?” Is “fairness” a Biblical ideal? Should we, as Christians, try to make life “fair” by advocating for civil rights or equality?. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

is that all there is? No! not at all

Reading: Exodus 21, Mark 8

It would have been an incredible privilege and very exciting to be one of those chosen by the Lord Jesus to be His disciple. Can you imagine waking up every morning knowing that something could happen that had never happened before? As a disciple you had a front row seat to the blind being made to see; the deaf and dumb hearing and talking; the dead raised; the demoniacs made into gospel preachers; and a few buns and a couple of small fish made to feed thousands. But then the Lord Jesus instructed His disciples to pick up all the pieces of bread (and fish?) that had fallen to the ground. For what? To eat later on when they were hungry? When the disciples would have to blow off the dirt or sand and after the bread was dried up. And who knows whose grubby hand this wasted bread was in before it was dropped on the ground.

How dramatic to be one of the Children of Israel as they experienced the greatest, most majestic display of miracles ever. Then every day had its own new miracles with manna appearing each morning, and low, slow flying quail showing up each night.  They received the Ten Commandments with all the fire and lightnings while they stood with mouths agape before Mount Sinai as God Himself descended upon it.

But with the big Ten came all these little laws about all the nasty things that may happen, and that people do to each other. Slavery and poverty were taken for granted. If a man was too poor, he sold his daughter into slavery. These were real women, with real lives. And slavery for a woman always meant the imposition of sexuality. The rules for this were: If she does not please her master, or the master’s son, or if the master does not then provide her the fair amount of food and clothing, “or her marital rights” she shall go out “for nothing, without payment of money.”

How do we reconcile, how can we consider this incongruous life mix of the mundane with God’s stupendous moments of intervention?

Eric wondered in yesterday’s lesson how the disciples appeared to totally forget about the feeding of the five thousand when the Lord Jesus talked to them about their dilemma of having a crowd of four thousand hungry people. He said to them, “I have compassion on them because they have been with me for three days and have nothing to eat.” (Apparently their 12 baskets of ground scraps was gone by that time.)

Here’s a thought: There is nothing that our Lord values more from us than our trust. A favorite verse of mine is Hebrews 11:6. “Now without faith it is impossible to please Him…” When things are just so mundane, so day after day, so always breaking down and deteriorating; that’s when we make real our faith in a good, kind and loving God. We remember all He has done for us. We remember most of all that He sent His Son to die for us, while we were yet sinners. And then we trust Him, when at this very present time in which each of us is living, things just really aren’t that great.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How Soon I Forget

written by Eric Varghese

Text: Jesus feeds the four thousand (Mark 8:1-10)

This is the passage that was preached on in our Church yesterday. As we have gone through the book of Mark, one of my favorite chapters has been Mark 6. Jesus sends out his disciples on a missionary journey with nothing but a staff for protection. No extra clothes, no itinerary, not even money to buy food. The disciples come back and declare all the miracles that they did and how God supplied all of their needs.

Not long after this endeavor Jesus and his disciples come to an interesting situation. Thousands of people following Jesus through the day and now at the close of the day they are hungry. Jesus who had supplied all the disciples earthly needs through the missionary journey asks them to satisfy the need of hunger for the crowd. The disciples think through the logical choice, what if we buy food for all of them? Well that would take 8 months wages from jobs we don't have to feed them! How soon they had forgotten their missionary journey, forgotten how Jesus had protected them, provided for them, and worked through them. Jesus ends up using the lunch of a little boy to feed the more than five thousand.

Fast forward two chapters and we come to an eerily similar situation. The great crowd is following Jesus, being without food for 3 days and Jesus again has compassion on them. Like before, they are in a desolate place where there is no chance to get food; Jesus asks the disciples to provide food. The disciples answer, "How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?" In my mind I shake my head at the disciples, come on guys, you just went through this! The correct response is, "Jesus we only have seven loaves and a couple fish, but we know that you can do a miracle, have enough to feed these people, and have left overs!"

Jesus does the exact same miracle, same food just different amounts. This time a little less people, there were only four thousand men. It's easy for me to be self righteous, holy and to look down my turned down nose at the disciples. There is a reason this blog post is titled how soon I forget. Just like the disciples I see the mighty hand of God working, even just the day before, and yet I am anxious for the coming day. Phil 4:6 tells us to be anxious for nothing but bring our prayer request with thanksgiving to God. The cure for anxiousness is remembrance, the confidence in our requests is thanksgiving. I believe we are asked to bring our requests with thanksgiving so we don't forget how God has guided and provided for us thus far. So we don't forget our previous request and how God answered them.

I pray that through the upcoming life "situations" I would not forget, not be anxious. Always remembering the provision of God in my life so far and ask with confidence, ask expecting a response. Sometimes through miracles, and other times through closed doors. Let me never forget the care of God through these miracles or closed doors.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

on being good

Read Exodus 20, Mark 10

For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of their fathers to the third and fourth generation, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who keep my commandments. From Ex 20: 5&6
“Why do you call me good,” Jesus answered. “No one is good, except God alone.” Mark 20:18

Larry Rodgers writes:

Those of us who are Believers take it as a given that we are unable to keep the Ten Commandments. Paul tells us, “By the works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight.” Rom 3:20.  But, curiously, I think most Believers do keep the Ten Commandments. Most of us can say like the rich young man in the gospels, “All these things I have kept since my youth.” Mark 10:20.

The Apostle Paul said covetousness was his Achilles heel in keeping the law. I may be delusional, but I don’t think, covetousness is an issue in my life. (I’m not sure how we as part of the Church age should relate to the Sabbath. But if the Sabbath was a requirement for us, for me; keeping it would definitely be doable.)
But then our Lord Jesus gave His commentary on the Ten Commandments and the law in the Sermon on the Mount and which puts things in a whole new light. There is no way any of us, even the best of us can begin to measure up: “Do not resist the one who is evil; everyone who is angry with his brother is guilty; let what you say be simply ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” As a wrap up, Jesus said, “You therefore be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

A few years back I counseled a group of ten year old boys at Story Book. One of the boys made sure he was always very very good. He was perfectly neat—he combed his hair whenever he entered the chapel or the dining hall. He was perfectly devout—I’d come back from the 7 am counselor’s meeting and he’d be reading his Bible. He was perfectly obedient. “What do you want me to do now? Mister Rodgers.” Another of my boys, nick-named Skeeter, was oblivious to being good. He needed perpetual direction. One morning he caught a small frog and he threw it as far as he could straight up. The frog came down in front of us with a splat. My good boy was horrified and gave Skeeter a lecture on the need of humane treatment for all of God’s creation. A look of grave concern came over Skeeter. “Mister Rodgers,” he asked. “Is that a sin too?”

A couple of thoughts:
1.       God gave us law for our own good, the good of those about us, and because He is a God of love and righteousness. Obedience to the law is necessary for good relationships with our neighbors and with God
2.       The law is not about our own achievement. As the Lord Jesus clearly shows through His Sermon on the Mount, we don’t even come close to accomplishing the good and perfect law of God, which is quite unlike our Lord Jesus, who in all ways perfectly accomplished the law.

The complete, unabridged law brings us a point of despair about ourselves where we cry, “Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” But curiously, if we are Believers, the Holy Spirit can then bring us to a brand new point, a point of joy! “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! For there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (from Rom 7:24 - Rom 8:1)

Daniel Triestman writes:

In Exodus 20, God delivers to Israel the Ten Commandments that would serve as the outline for the rest of the nation's religious and civil laws. Since the day Moses descended Mount Sinai these Ten Commandments have been re-purposed to a variety of ends ranging from historical legislation to political fodder to spectacular entertainment. The Ten Commandments have grown to take on an other-worldly mystique in popular culture, gaining favor in places where much of the rest of the Torah never really connected. There is something so fundamentally natural, yet profound in the teachings of the Ten Commandments that people who would never dream of keeping Kosher or sacrificing a bull to Jehovah would display them in front of their homes or insist that they be enshrined in front of their courthouses. Yet as ubiquitous as the Ten Commandments have become, it is perhaps the initial meaning that these commandments had for the nation of Israel that have the most significant implications for us today.

According to tradition, the Ten Commandments were contained on two tablets of stone each consisting of five commandments each. The first five commandments outlined religious law -how man was to relate to God. The latter five commandments detailed civil law -how man was to relate to one another. There has been some discussion as to how best to list the commandments so that they come out to exactly ten. Do we clump together no other gods and no idolatry? Do we distinguish between coveting your neighbor's wife and coveting his ox? As well, there are differing thoughts as to how to keep the commandments: What about the Sabbath, has it been replaced by “The Lord's Day?” Is taking the Lord's name in vain the same as yelling “goddamit”when you hit your thumb with a hammer? Is watching too much TV a form of idolatry? Regardless of how one divides the commandments or keeps the commandments, they carry little authority without appreciating the first great truth of Exodus 20 -that the commandments come from Jehovah, the God who has brought you out of Egypt. Without this personal and national relationship with a redeeming God, the Ten Commandments are just fun moral lessons to play with, argue over and occasionally fail at.

In Matthew 22, Christ responds to inquiries by people who “play with, argue over and occasionally fail at” the law for a living. When one of the Pharisees tests Him by asking “what is the greatest commandment” Christ shows how not only is all religious and civil law perfectly summarized in the sentiment of loving God and one another, but also that the utility of the entire Torah depends on first having a relationship of love with Jehovah and His people.

Question: What does a Biblical relationship with the Ten Commandments look like? Should we still keep them? Which ones? How? (Feel free to answer in the comments section below)