Monday, March 27, 2023

God of Holy Provision

The Levites were God's special people, even among His special people. He chose them out of all Israel to care for His dwelling place and to assist the priests, bringing offerings before the Lord and ensuring that the unclean things stay outside of the Tabernacle. Because of this special assignment, the Lord did not give the Levites an inheritance of property in the Promised Land. 

But He did give them something. 

He gave them a portion of almost every offering that was ever brought into the holy place. He gave them a cut of the meat, a measure of the grain, a cup of the wine. He gave them a tenth of the tenth, a tithe of their own. He called them to do a holy work, and He provided for them as they did it so that they wouldn't have to worry about the things that other persons had to worry about. 

What's so cool about the provision that God made for the Levites is that it came out of the offering that Israel made to Him. The portion that God gives the Levites is His own portion. At least, part of it. 

Sometimes, I think we set our eyes too horizontally. We're always looking around us for the things that God is going to do, for the ways He's going to provide. When we talk about the Levites, we even talk about the cities and the fields that He gave them, as though that was the big thing He was doing. 

But more often than not, what God gives us isn't something we can see with our eyes on the horizon; we have to look up. God gives us a portion of Himself, something absolutely holy. He gives us His love, His peace, His patience, His kindness. He gives to us His steadfastness, His mercy, His grace. He gives us His glory - at least, part of it - and you know what? That's what sustains us. That's what enables us to live. 

Yes, the Levites got fields. Yes, they got a few cities in the middle of their brothers' lands. But if that's all you think God gave them, you're missing the bigger picture. 

He gave them a cut of the holy portion, a tenth of His tenth, a tithe of their own. He provided for them out of His own provision. 

He does the same for us. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

An Eternal God

Once again, we come back to the one solution that answers the questions without creating more: what if the Bible is simply inspired by an eternal God who already knew how we would translate it in our times and who understands that this doesn't change His message at all? 

After all, He tells us He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Isn't it, then, just us who change? 

And really, not that much. If there's one thing we know, it's that even though our world and our circumstances change, humans don't really change all that much. Our hearts are still wrestling with the same things that they have always wrestled with. We are neither more nor less insecure than anyone in ancient Israel. We are neither more nor less concerned with right and wrong. We have neither more nor fewer questions about our standing with God. 

At our core, in the depths of our hearts, in our very souls, human beings are remarkably consistent across time. 

We tell ourselves that it's different, that the Bible must be irrelevant to us because it doesn't mention anything about social media, for instance, or because very few of us is at risk of losing our ox or because we no longer have flat roofs that require us to build a safety barrier around them or because Israel never had to deal with the corporate world or gas-powered vehicles or airplanes. 

In fact, these are the nits that we pick with the Bible pretty often. We talk about how we can't believe the peoples in the Bible ever had slavery and what horrible persons they are, and we pick this as a hill to die on. But it's not about slavery; slavery is a cultural context the same way that homosexuality is part of our cultural context. The emphasis has shifted in the past four thousand years or so, but at the end of the day, the slavery has so little to do with the truth that God was trying to tell us. As long as we let ourselves get caught up on context, we'll miss the whole Word given to us. 

That's the point, isn't it? Every question that we've looked at for the past two weeks is, in its essence, a question of context. It's a question of whether God could have said what He actually said, given the societies that peoples have lived in. 

But truth is truth, and humans are humans, and God is God. And when we don't let ourselves get hung up on the questions of whether the contexts are valid, what we discover is...the truth is. God's Word is. What God actually said, unencumbered of all of the human junk we waste our time discussing around it, is eternally valid. 

So doesn't it make sense that we keep re-translating the Word for our times? Wouldn't God expect us to do that? The primary rule we have to remember is that culture doesn't contextualize truth; truth contextualizes culture. It's this rule that we seem to have gotten backward in all of our searching. 

I'll tell you what I believe - I believe that if the Word isn't the inspired word of God, then it's nothing at all. It cannot give us any information at all about the God that we serve; He is simply a God created in our own image according to the prevailing winds of the time.

But if...if God's Word is truth beyond its context (and therefore, still truth no matter what context we put it into, as generation upon generation of the faithful have proven over the course of human history), then we need to stop all of this nonsense about trying to "establish" the Word of God or set it in its own context and focus on setting the eternal truths in ours. 

(And no, this doesn't mean that we just use it to affirm whatever cultural beliefs we already hold. That is a dishonest act, and it does not please God.) 

I just find that if I take for granted that God is an eternal being with an eternal truth and boundless love, then all the questions of academic types and pastors with pet political purposes...just fade away. Every question is answered. 

Any other way, any other way at all, and we're left with more questions than we started with. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

A Thoroughly Corrupt People

There are some who say that where we left off is precisely the answer: human beings, as a whole, are so corrupt that everything we produce is prejudiced according to whatever the prevailing bias of the day is. Except, of course, in our own time, where we have evolved so efficiently as to be able to be completely objective in everything. 


The King James Bible is corrupt because it was commissioned by a king who wanted to subject his people. The Bible the Catholics use is corrupt because it is used to give power to the Pope. Thomas Jefferson's Bible is corrupt because he owned slaves while he was alive. In fact, almost all of the Bible is corrupt because it mentions slavery at all. The Bible from the Roman era is corrupt because homosexuality was used as a means of social coercion in those times. The ancient Bible is corrupt because those peoples believed in a flat earth. And on and on and on we go about all of the "backward" things peoples believed across time that renders their translation of the Bible corrupt. 

Only we, in our infinite knowledge and incredible access to both science and archaeology, are able to completely, objectively translate the Scriptures in such a way that we can finally know what they say and what they mean based on all of these other corrupt factors that have influenced them over time. 

Spoiler alert: anyone who has ever undertaken to translate the Scriptures has believed the same thing about themselves. 

Yes, you say, but this time, it's true. Just look at all of our science and technology that is so far beyond what anyone before us had! We have arrived

Then, in the very next breath, we admit that our science and technology are still developing and that we're still discovering things. But no mind that. We have arrived.

Our biggest trouble is that we too often use everything we have "learned," all the things we "know" and that we're very confident about, to undermine what anyone else could have possibly ever known. The issue of slavery is a big one in recent years. No one who ever owned a slave can, in our minds, have anything valuable to say about humanity or life as we know it because they were so utterly morally wrong. 

The truth is that a generation or two from now, the world will be saying the same thing about us. I don't know what the topic of choice will be, but generations who have continued to develop upon our knowledge will come to a conclusion far different from what we have, and they will judge us for being wrong. 

We will staunchly defend ourselves because, in most cases, we have acted with the best of intentions, with pure motives, with a sincere interest in arriving at what we're certain must be "truth," but to future generations, that won't matter. It certainly doesn't matter to us. We don't care how earnest previous generations were; we only care that they are morally wrong, and that colors everything that we are willing to believe. 

Do you see how this is a problem? Using our own foundational understanding as the basis, nobody can ever do anything with any real meaning or staying power. Everything is temporary, everything is subject to change. We admit it even ourselves. 

So even while we're undertaking to translate the "most authoritative Bible ever" based on our oh-so-sophisticated and advanced knowledge of the Scriptures (which we say must also be interpreted before they can ever be translated), we also know that we're still learning. Bibles that we confidently translated even fifty years ago are still undergoing edits as our knowledge develops.

How, then, can we ever know? How can we ever have any idea what God ever said or meant or anything meaningful? 

Well, there is one way.... 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

An Inspired Word

One of the arguments against the Bible is that "that's not what it really says." We say this because what most of us are using is an English translation of an ancient script, and so, we are convinced that English persons of certain times and places had certain motives in their translations and therefore, they are not pure. 

Of course, if you're paying attention, this sounds exactly like the argument that scholars and some pastors use to discredit the Bible as the inspired Word of God altogether - it was written by Israel at a time when they needed to bolster their national identity and confidence, so it's basically a human document that served a certain people at a certain time in a certain place for a certain purpose.

In fact, they will go even further than this and explain that there were translators even back in the ancient times. We have found scraps of the Bible with slightly different variations to certain key words or phrases, and this shows that someone was translating somewhere. They say this was to make the reading easier, but that's just speculation; we don't know why some words are different on different scraps than on others. We can only put our understanding onto it. 

But they will use this to say that even the Bible, even the ancient Bible, isn't a purely inspired document, if it ever was, because we have evidence that human hands were on it. 

That's certainly one route to take, but it raises more questions than it answers and it gets us exactly where the world wants us to be - claiming, even "proving," that the Bible is nothing special. 

There is another solution. 

What if God inspired the translation of His Word as much as He inspired the writing of it? What if God is okay with the way His Word has been read across history and put into new languages for new peoples in new cultures in new times in new places? What if, to God, the meaning of His Word has really not been changed by this?

There have been, throughout history, a fair number of heresies. There have been groups that have tried to claim this or that "truth" about the Scriptures that the world of Christianity at large has stood up against and said, "No way. Nope. Nuh-uh." Throughout its history, the Word of God has been staunchly protected by the people of God, and unlike science, there has not been a time in our history when we have gone back and said, "You know what? That guy we called a heretic was actually right all along." 

God's people have made pretty good decisions about the Word and what it means (and what it doesn't mean). 

Which means that the translations that we have were widely agreed-upon by the peoples of the time. By the Christians of the time. What we've wrestled with the most is not what the Bible says, but how the Bible has been used (such as the King James Version, whose misuse prompted Protestants to go back and re-translate). And if what we have are widely-agreed-upon versions of God's Word, then we have to believe that the translations were also inspired by God and approved by Him or they wouldn't have gained the traction that they have. 

I mean, the only other thing we could possibly believe is that corruption was so widespread that an entire people of faith bought into it so thoroughly that they corrupted the eternal Word forever. 

And actually, of course, there are some making exactly this argument.... 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The English Version

The argument that arises when we talk about the Bible being inspired by God Himself is that well, maybe the original Bible was inspired, but the one most of us are using today is a translation of that Bible, done by a human being (or a group of human beings) who lived in a certain time in a certain place and had a certain theological orientation and certain cultural influences. So maybe the Hebrew and Greek bibles were inspired, but the English version is most certainly corrupt. 

I'm still working my way through the book that in part inspired this series, and the author is even less helpful here. He creates even more a mess about what is the original Bible and what is not. In the chapters that I read this past weekend, he says that Israel wrote their Bible (our Old Testament) during or after their exile in Babylon in order to create a national identity through story. He then goes on to say that their Bible was later translated into Aramaic, which was the primary language of this period. Do you see the complication?

He's saying that a people of a certain time and place wrote their Scriptures in not-their-contemporary-language and only generations later translated it into the tongue they were all speaking. 

That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It seems to me that if you're living in a time when you're all speaking Aramaic predominantly, you don't write your Bible in a language you aren't speaking. If your goal is to create a national story to inspire your people, you put it in the language they are most fluent in. In the exilic and post-exilic times, that would have been Aramaic, but here we are continuing to say that Hebrew is the original language of the Old Testament (at least, of much of it) and that the Aramaic translations that came were later. 

So what language was the Bible even written in? 

This is important because at the same time that we're saying the OT was originally written in Hebrew, we are drawing on the Aramaic and Greek translations of it as authoritative for our purposes. We are saying that the ancient Aramaic and Greek translations are legitimate because we have found so many scraps of them and are able to piece them together. In fact, for some passages, that's primarily what we have - these translations. We have formed much of our Bible as we know it by drawing on these remnants of translations to fill in the holes for us. 

You know the question that follows: why are the Aramaic and Greek translations authoritative and absolutely valid in creating the Bible that we know, when they are not the original versions (and we confess that they are not), but all English versions are prejudiced junk? 

Some scholars and pastors solve this problem by saying that we know that the Aramaic and Greek versions were just as skewed as the English versions because they were translated by human beings in certain times and places and cultures and that we're not actually deluding ourselves and not even trying to. We're just using the best of what we have. And yet, that "best of what we have," we have called holy when we refuse to use the same word for the English versions. 

It's contradictory. 

And there is, of course, a better way. A simpler way. A way that answers the questions without raising more of them. We'll dive into that tomorrow. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Did God Really Say?

All of this talk about text and historical criticism, about our starting point, about tearing apart the Bible to try to piece together the Scriptures and make human sense out of it, it brings us to this one pointed truth, which is sure to ruffle a few feathers:

All we're really doing is asking the same question that's been asked since Genesis 3 - Did God really say...? 

That is the point of literally all of this criticism. It has to be. Because in all of the years that I've spent in church and spent in academia and spent in the seminary, the conclusion that all of this criticism draws is never "Yes, God really said."

It's always - Moses didn't really write that book. Isaiah was written by three different persons. The Greek word here was actually used more commonly to mean _____. The culture of this period of captivity leads us to believe the people really needed _____. 

No one, and I mean no one, who is engaging in all of these archaeological digs, Hebrew and Greek exegeses, historical inquiries, and questions of authorship ever comes out and says, "Yup. God wrote it, and that's what He meant." 

No one. 

And it's how we're getting into so many of our Bible debates. It all starts with someone who thinks they have all of this background knowledge, all of this insider information, all this high-brow stuff that comes from having done "all of the research" who says something like, "What the Bible really means here is..." and all of a sudden, what God says doesn't matter. What God "meant" by our own human wisdom is what counts, and just like the serpent, we have turned it all around. 

We are convincing ourselves to pick the fruit and eat it, all the while proclaiming our own righteousness in doing so. 

They say it's naive to simply read in faith, to think that the Bible just says what it says that it says. To say that it means what it looks on the surface like it says it means. To believe that God wrote it with a particular aim in mind and that it might transcend all of the questions that we have about it. They say that's the problem with us Christians - that we're just too willing to believe without the "facts." That we have to ask the questions, all of which are really one question: Did God really say? 

And if our answer is yes, He did, we're still wrong. Because, they say, that's not what He meant. 

It's troubling.'s complicated. I get that. You might even right now be thinking about how complicated that is and think I'm missing this glaring reality that turns the questions on their heads or at least makes them somewhat legitimate. I assure you - I'm not missing it. I know what the next question is. And we'll talk about it. 


Friday, March 17, 2023

The Simpler Reading

It seems to me - and remember, I'm just a person of faith, not an academic (although, oh wait, I do have an MDiv) - that all of the "trouble" that academics and pastors with a pet perspective have with Scripture can be solved by the simplest reading. 

They won't tell you that. In fact, the foundational principle for all academic/historical studies of the Scriptures is "the harder reading is usually the right one." This stems from the fact that they believe that an editor would have changed a reading to make it easier, not harder, so if you find two scraps of scroll with the same passage on it and one is all tangled and hard to figure out, it's likely that the other guy tried to simplify it. 

Yet, these are the very same guys who spend their lives trying to complicate the Scriptures for you and tell you that they can't possibly mean what they clearly say. So...(do you see the contradiction?). Church folk have, through much of their recent history, been gatekeepers. Are we really to believe no one ever wanted to make it harder for others to come to God? We're making it hard more often than we care to admit. 

Anyway, I digress.

The simple reading of the Scriptures is the one taken by faith: that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and simply recorded by men. Taking this reading, all of those other questions disappear. 

Was Genesis written by Moses on the edge of the Promised Land or was it written later after exile as an explanation story of Israel's origins? If God inspired the Scriptures and intended them to teach us something, the question is irrelevant. Because it's no stretch of the imagination to believe that an eternal God could have inspired an eternal Word. 

Can we relate to the passages that talk about the culture of the times, that address a people living in a particular place under a particular circumstance? Academics and scholars will tell you that we need to look at all such Scriptures under a microscope and figure out the real point for the real persons and extrapolate from there and not put too much stock in it because their world was so different from ours. The easier reading, by faith, says that God can speak a Word that makes as much sense in 2000 A.D. as it did in 2000 B.C. and as it will 2000 more years from now. Again, we're talking about an eternal God. 

We could say that we know that God condescends to let us use Him in our human means. Or we could say that God uses our human means as an access route to Him. 

It's all perspective. But the truth is that if I believe what faith tells me I should believe about God and take that as my starting point, all the "questions" that academics have fade away. Because I know my God can do that. I know my God does do that. I know that's who God is, and I don't have to tear apart every single word of every single verse to try to prove that He did it again there, too. If I take that for my granted, I can start putting human involvement into perspective instead of starting from the human perspective and trying to fit God into it. 

And hey, sure, Genesis might look a lot like Babylon's own origin story, but how can you say with any definitive proof that Babylon's came first? Maybe Babylon copied Israel after the people of God went into captivity there. They say that the Babylon scrolls are older, but we're talking about a people with an oral tradition. It's not unfeasible to think that Israel had an oral origin story long before Babylon did, that Babylon heard it and was impressed and made their own version, and that Israel then worked in captivity to record their own story so that the Babylonian version didn't too much overtake it. Just because the scroll is older doesn't mean the story is. 

See what I'm saying? You can do all kinds of mental gymnastics and appeal to all kinds of authorities if your starting point is wrong - if your starting point is the wisdom of the world and what we're so sure we "know" by nature of our own human advancement. But God's people have always started with faith (or at least, we should have). And if you start with faith, the questions really aren't as big as they seem. 

In this case, the simpler reading is also the most complete one. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Mental Gymnastics

It's all mental gymnastics is really what it is - the "experts" (be they academics or pastors or just some guy you met on the street who intimidates you into believing he knows the Bible better than you do) tell you that the Bible wasn't written the way that you think it was written, so you can't trust anything you think you read, but at the same time, they use what the Bible they claim is flawed says about God to defend their position on the flawed nature of the Bible. It's...exhausting. 

And it's supposed to be. 

See, if they can convince you that you don't know what you're reading and that you need help, then they can step in and offer that help and become the voice of authority for you. It doesn't have to be sound; it only has to sound convincing. And as we've seen already this week, a lot of it does...on the surface. (If you dig even a slight little bit, all of the ground starts to crumble pretty easily.)  

They'll tell you that you can't trust Genesis for any meaningful explanation of the origins of the world because Genesis was written much later than Adam, and even later than Moses. In fact, they say, Genesis didn't come around until after the exile in Babylon (which is another biblical story they use to anchor the dates for their argument, so is the biblical story of the exile accurate? should we use it as meaningful history?) and when it did, it was so much like Babylon's stories of their origins that it would be laughable to think that Genesis is meaningful at all. It's not God creating the world; it's a people justifying their own existence. 

Then, in case that ruffles too many of your feathers, they will draw on the Genesis narrative that says that God created this world by hand and then walked among it with us to say that it is exactly like God to use a human means like a largely-copied origin story to make His people feel special right when they need it most. 

Then, because you don't know what to take literally and what makes you an idiot any more, they are more than willing to step in with more of their academic "discoveries" about the Bible to help you sort out what is real and what is not. They may even tangle a web for you about how there can absolutely be claims made that God inspired the Bible, but it was still written by human hands in certain times and in certain places, so inspired by God or not, the Bible as we know it is a human document. 

And from here, well, we can say just about anything and make it sound authoritative. 

Anything, that is, except that the Bible is God's own story inspired by God's own hand and timeless for God's own people. 

Once they've got you tangled in their web, almost anything goes...except faith. If you simply profess the kind of faith that has held onto the Scriptures for thousands of years (going back even before Jesus, of course, because even He was aware of the value of what we now call the Old Testament), then you're naive or foolish or an idiot. You're one of "those" religious fanatics who is wholly incapable of examining your beliefs. Your faith is really "blind." 

So you end up either lost or stupid and in desperate need of someone to save you from yourself, which is where these types shine. They step in with their own explanations and interpretations and tell you what you're supposed to believe so as to relieve you from your shame and free you from feeling lost or stupid (or both). 

It doesn't have to be this hard. It's not supposed to be this hard. In God's eyes, it's not so difficult. 

Tomorrow, we'll look at the simple answer to all of this. Then, on Monday, we'll drop a bombshell on this whole charade.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Knowing God

Here's another point that the sources I am reading right now make about why we should read the Bible with a grain of salt: "We know that it's very much like God to condescend (come down) to a human level to be with His people, so it's no stretch of the imagination to think that He would let Himself be written about by humans on a human level in stories that make sense for what the humans are trying to say." 

Again, on the surface, you think, yeah. This makes sense. God is always coming down to walk with humans - in the garden, on the streets of Jerusalem, etc. Maybe it's true, then, that we shouldn't worry so much about putting the Scriptures under a microscope and looking at everything human about them. After all, that does seem to be what God is about. 

Then, these voices step in and explain how Israel wrote their story the way they wrote it because it served a purpose for them, breaking it all down in human terms and telling you that every culture had its own creation story, so Israel wrote Genesis so that they would have one, too. Every culture had a story of triumph and of how they got to where they are, so Israel wrote Exodus so that they could have one, too. The conclusion is that Israel's "myths" are much like those of the other cultures around them, except that the God figure is different in them, and this, they conclude proudly, is how we got our Bible. 

Cool, I guess. 


How do you know that God likes to condescend (come down) to His people? How do you know that He's the kind of God who likes to meet us on human terms? 

Well, they say, we know that because the Bible tells us that. It records that for us. does the Bible, which you say is just a human creation and a product of culture, tell you something meaningful about God if it was just written for cultural defense, to explain the appearance and position of a people? 

Do you see the trouble here? Those who are attempting to say that the Bible should be viewed as a human creation are using the things that the very same Bible says about God to defend the way that the culture would have written about said God to build their own story in the same way that other cultures built their stories. They want you to believe that on the one hand, the Bible is true about some aspects of the nature of God, but that it's mythological about others and completely cultural about still some other things. On one hand, it tells us something about God that we cannot understand without it, but at the same time, the whole thing must be taken with a grain of salt because it cannot be considered to be historically accurate (they say that as a myth, because of its "genre," it doesn't have to be to be meaningful). 

This is precisely why so many have so much trouble with the Bible. Which parts are we supposed to take literally? Which are figurative? How do we know if what we're reading about God is true or if it's just part of the story that Israel needs to tell to bolster its national unity and confidence? 

This kind of reading requires a high level of mental gymnastics. It requires us to become detectives about what we're reading and figure out how we're supposed to understand it and what it is meant to tell us. 

And that's exactly the point, they say. That's exactly what they've been getting at all along. So doesn't this, too, prove their thesis? 

(Not really. We'll get into that in the next couple of days.)  

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The More We Know

The argument for needing to read the Bible differently in our modern (or postmodern) age usually says something like this: "We know more now than we have ever known before, so we understand things better, and this must change the way we read our Bibles." 

These persons will then go on to say that we understand culture better and know what was going on at the times the Bible was written. We understand archaeology better, so we are able to better date the scraps of the Bible that we have found and know that it was written at a different time than maybe we thought. We understand humans better, so we can understand their motivations for writing the things they wrote at the times in which they wrote them. We understand science better, so we don't "have to rely" on the Bible to tell us how things were created. 

They will say something like, "Human knowledge is always evolving. It's always growing. That's the nature of knowledge. So when we discover something new, we can adjust what we thought we knew to fit what we now know for sure."

The author of the book I am currently reading even says that when the Bible was written, peoples believed that the earth was flat. Since we now know that to be false, we simply can't trust their take on science at all. They were a pre-scientific peoples, so they can't teach us about things that science can teach us about. 

And it sounds convincing, doesn't it? It sounds almost humble. We admit that we didn't use to know things, now we know them, and so, we are growing. We are learning. We are a people capable of change and development.  


The glaring elephant in the room is that if our knowledge is always growing and developing and changing, and if what we know today is leaps and bounds beyond what we were very confident we knew yesterday, how do we know that what we know today is any truer than what we thought we knew yesterday? That is, how can we be sure that now, we know for certain what yesterday seemed so certain and turned out to be false?

And to be fair, I have never read anything in the Bible that advocates for a flat earth. I haven't read these "pre-scientific" peoples putting their "limited understandings" of science into it. So we're supposed to throw out everything they did write based on something they didn't write that we think they believed? For all we know, Israel believed in a round earth and the flat earth theory was "new" in the medieval ages, only to be disproven and go back to the way we thought things were originally. 

See, we have just decided that we know everything, so we're willing to throw out thousands of years of thought based on what we think we know now. And if something seems a little fishy, we're willing to say that our knowledge has grown a lot...but we aren't willing to say that it must then still be growing. We always think we've arrived.

Do you see the trouble with this line of thinking? Do you see why this argument isn't as good as it seems on the surface?

Monday, March 13, 2023

Starting Point

You may have noticed by now that I've been doing something a little different in this space this year. But we need to take a break from that for a minute because something is eating at me. 

It comes in part from the Twitter pastor I follow who continues to say some of the dumbest things, but it also comes from a book I won last year that I'm finally getting around to reading. And both have come together in a single, very important question: 

How should we read the Scriptures? 

For much of Christian history, the Scriptures - the Bible - were the way that persons of faith interpreted the world. It has been our starting point, the place where we begin. We start with what we know about the Scriptures themselves - that they are inspired by God, that they are useful for teaching, rebuking, reprimanding, learning, growing. We have always started with the truth about God and worked our way outward from there. 

But there is currently a shift in this perspective, raises a lot of very important questions. 

For example, the book I am reading tries to bridge the gap between evolution and creation. This is a question that we've been asking for a hundred or so years since Darwin proposed his theory of evolution. How do we reconcile science with faith? What do we do when the two disagree? 

We used to be epistemologically humble. We used to admit that our understanding of anything is finite, that it is limited, and we used to readily confess that maybe we don't know as much as we thought we knew. Today, we seem to say the same thing, but only about the Scriptures. Too often, what we say is that we just don't know as much about God as we thought we did. 

And, in fact, the book I am reading proposes that evolution and faith do not have to be at odds at all (which is true). But the angle that it takes is that we simply need to read the creation account differently in light of all that evolution teaches us. 

That is, it takes evolution to be true and then reads backward into the Bible from there to try to harmonize the two ideas. 

The pastor on Twitter, who has been so much fodder for this space in the past year or so, has recently gone on a tirade about how we simply cannot read the Bible literally. We shouldn't expect to. The Bible, he says, was written by specific men in specific cultures at specific times, and we should not believe that it speaks directly to us. Rather, what we must do is discover what the Bible said to the persons of its time and extrapolate from there. 

This has become a really popular talking point in biblical studies in the past few decades. Academics love to talk about this kind of stuff. It's all "contextual," they say, and unless we understand the context of the Bible, we will read it "inappropriately" or in other words, we'll create a lot of errors in understanding God. 

At the same time, these guys usually try to say that Jesus Christ is written throughout all the pages of the Scriptures, that thousands of years before He was conceived in a virgin, a people who could not possibly understand what "Messiah" meant were talking about them. 

So on the one hand, they say that you can't take the Bible literally because it is so time- and culture-specific that it's impossible to have anything timeless come out of it and on other hand, they insist that times and cultures without an understanding of Christ have written about Him. Because God, uhm, "inspired" them to do so.

To make the confusion even more plain, let's say it this way: we cannot assume God's inspired Word is timeless, but we must absolutely believe it transcends time. 

Confused yet? Precisely. 

These two examples raise important questions about how we're reading our Bible, about how we're supposed to read our Bible, about how we're supposed to use our Bible to engage our culture, our lives, our times. And my fear is how authoritative these kinds of things sound, so much so that they easily convince those who are not thinking critically about them. 

So let's talk about a couple of these ideas for a few days. (I don't know right now how many days that will be.) 

Let's talk about what our starting point should be with Scripture. Is it the Word? Is it culture and time? Is it science? What do we actually know?

This matters. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

God of Foreigners

We live in a world that wants to make our personal faith in God a private matter. If you believe in God, that's fine, but don't expect the rest of the world to buy into your value system. If you want to worship and sacrifice and live according to the example of Christ, good for you, but don't expect everyone else to do the same. 

We see this a lot in politics, especially, where we are repeatedly told that we cannot "legislate our morality," as though that's not what every single politician is doing just by nature of being a human being who has a morality at all - who has a belief about what is right and wrong. (But I digress.) We are told to keep our faith out of the public square, to stop holding others accountable to our standard of living, to let others just be who or what they desire to be. 

But while that may be the world's understanding of how God "ought" to operate, it's never been God's. 

Because God understands that we share this world. We share this space. We routinely come into contact with others who are not in our household, per se. It's why He cast out the foreign nations ahead of Israel - He said if He didn't, they would get sucked into worshiping the way that the world worships. These other peoples would lead them astray. 

And it's why, when He gave the law to His people, He included very deliberately and explicitly in that law foreigners who were living in Israelite households. The law was the standard of living for anyone in Israelite territory, whether they were a biological son of Jacob or not. The law was for servants and hired men and slaves and visitors and, well, everyone. 

See, God's law is a way for men to live together under God. The world gets hung up on that "under God" part sometimes, but there is a big bulk of the law that is just about how men ought to live together - being responsible to one another, being accountable for our behavior, being mindful of how our behavior affects and influences others. 

Most of it is wildly agreeable, even to the most atheistic of our neighbors. Which means...maybe God was onto something.  

Thursday, March 9, 2023

God of Good Friends

Israel had a battle to win. Moses, as commander of Israel's army, had a job to do. On the surface, it seems straightforward, but nothing in life ever is, is it? 

Moses was standing at a vantage point where he could see the whole battlefield. As the sun glinted off every weapon, it caught Moses's eye. His vision was darting back and forth across the landscape sprawled out before him as he watched Israel's men do what they would have to do well: fight. As he raised his hands in encouragement and in guidance, he noticed that his men seemed to become stronger. They were fighting harder. They were winning more definitively. 

But if his hands came down, his men started to lose. 

Again, it seems straightforward, doesn't it? But Moses is a man. Flesh and bones. Blood and a breath of Holy Spirit. He can't hold his arms up forever, and, well, there are a lot of enemies to be defeated. 

That's where his friends step in.

See, Moses doesn't stand on this lookout alone. No, he has at least two friends with him. At least two advisors. At least two other men who are seeing the same thing that he is seeing.

And when all their cries of, "Dude, hold your hands up again!" and "Bro, you got this," start to fail in his human frailty, these two friends do something remarkable: they find a stone for him to sit on and then, each one taking an arm, they hold up his hands for him. 

These are the friends that God provided for him. These are the men that God took out of the battle, men who might otherwise have been fighting, and called to stand on that lookout with Moses. For no other reason than that God knew Moses would need them. 

God gives all of us friends. He gives all of us those persons who could be fighting but instead are standing with us. He gives us those who can see the same battle we're looking at, who catch the same glints off the weapons as they flash around under the sun. He gives us those who can see our human frailty and know when we're growing weary. 

He gives us those who are willing to pull over a stone for us to sit on, then stand there and hold up our hands for us. 

I know it doesn't always feel that way, that sometimes, it feels like we are hopelessly alone. But God hasn't called us to live like that. From the very beginning, He said plainly that it isn't good. Not for man to be alone. And that's why He gives us friends. 

So that we never fight alone. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

God's Festivals

After leading His people out of Egypt, God tells them that they must remember - and celebrate - that day for the rest of their lives. Every year, they must prepare a lamb, grab their walking sticks, don their sandals, smear some blood, and celebrate the Passover. 

And from the second Passover ever, it doesn't go as smoothly as it sounds like it should. 

It seems fairly simple to us: just do what God told you to do. But we are a people who don't have to worry about the kinds of things that Israel had to worry about. As a people not living under the law, we don't have to worry about things like cleanness and uncleanness, but it was the first thing on Israel's mind. 

In fact, some men came to Moses right away and said, "Uhm, hey. We know the Passover is coming, but we are unclean. We really want to celebrate, though, because we know how great a thing this is. What do we do?" So Moses had to go ask God about the unclean among them, and God has this response: 

Let them celebrate it next month when they are clean.

Notice that God doesn't say, too bad. Notice that He doesn't say it's their own fault. Notice that He doesn't say that they have to just stay cut off from this celebration and hope that next year is better. Notice that God doesn't judge the unclean at all. 

No, what He says is, I will make provision for them, and they can celebrate.

We may not worry so much about unclean and clean...or do we? There are so many among us who believe themselves unworthy to come to God, for whatever reason. They think themselves unworthy to be part of the church. They sneak into our back rows after service starts and leave before it ends, trying not to be seen because their biggest fear is that they're not going to be welcome. They aren't going to get to celebrate the goodness of God. They aren't worthy. They aren't "clean." 

That's why what God says is so important here. (Well, what God says is important everywhere.) Because God says even if you're unclean, there's a way for you to come. Even if you're unclean, you don't have to miss out. Even if you're unclean, the Passover - which we know is also the sacrifice of Christ - is still for you, too. 

So...celebrate. Come. God says it's okay.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

God of Light Burdens

After God builds His Tabernacle so that He can dwell among His people in the wilderness, He assigns the Levites - who He has already chosen as His own - to be the ones to carry this Tabernacle from place to place, set it up, and tear it down. A few years ago in this space, we did the math on this, and let's just say here that this was TONS of Tabernacle. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of pounds of curtains and bronze bases and lampstands and Most Holy things. 

As God is explaining, through Moses, the incredible responsibility that the Levites now have to tote this Tabernacle everywhere, you can almost hear them groaning like they're back in Egypt. You can almost hear them doing the mental math in their heads as they look at this tent and all of its accoutrements. You can almost see them slump over in weariness, before they have even lifted a pound of it. 

Sure, they are excited. Who doesn't want to be God's selected people among His nation? Who doesn't want the honor of carrying God's house in the midst of the camp? Of course there's some excitement. But...the Levites are human. They see the huge burden erected in front of them, and they understand what it means that this is coming on their shoulders just as soon as the cloud breaks and camp starts to move. 

Then, God gives them a reprieve. 

God has the leaders of every tribe bring offerings for the work at the Tabernacle. And these offerings? They include oxen and carts. 

These offerings include the things that are going to make the work easier for the Levites. These offerings include enough carts to put all of the heavy things on (except, of course, for the Most Holy things, which must be carried by hand because of their sacred status). All of a sudden, all the Levites have to do is drive the oxen. The onus of the Tabernacle has been taken off their shoulders and instead, reins have simply been put in their hands. 

This is the way that God works. Yes, sometimes it seems like the burden is heavy. Yes, sometimes our shoulders start to sink just thinking about it. But God always calls others to contribute, to bring their offerings, to chip in to make the work easier. 

God didn't need oxen and carts. What possible use does He have for them? But the ones He called to work for Him could absolutely use them. And this means two things. 

First, it means that when you are called to what looks like a heavy task, ask yourself what God has called others to bring that might help you. 

Second, it means that when God puts it on your heart to bring something, ask yourself who you might be helping in pursuit of God's calling on their life.  

Monday, March 6, 2023

God of Help

We know from the stories that are so dear to our hearts that God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt. He called Moses to stand before Pharaoh and speak prophetic words and show the foreign leader the signs and miracles of the God of Israel. And we remember that Moses was unsure of himself, that he wasn't confident he was the man for the job. 

Then, we sort of kind of remember that God gave Moses his brother, Aaron, to go with him. Aaron goes into the throne room of Pharaoh, too. Aaron carries the staff that blossoms. Aaron speaks where Moses is too insecure to speak, and it is Aaron who becomes the first priest of Israel - he becomes the prototype of those who will stand between the people and God and minister. 

That would be enough to make a point - namely, that when you don't feel up to the task God has called you to, He will send help for you. He will send you someone to stand beside you and give you strength. 

But...that's not all. 

Because as we get into Leviticus, where the Israelites are wandering through the wilderness and trying to navigate communal life together and trying to organize an army and trying to stay in their camps and trying to settle around God's new Tabernacle and all of the people are grumbling - they are hungry, tired, scared, and unsettled just in general (as well as physically) - we see that God sent more men to help lead the people. God sent help to Moses when He sent Aaron, and then, God sends more men to help both Moses and Aaron. 

Isn't that great news?

It's great news for those of us who are trying to do it all. To those of us struggling to keep so many plates spinning in the air. To those of us who keep doing the math and keep coming up short. To those of us who are tired, hungry, scared, and unsettled...and who are trying to take care of others who are tired, hungry, scared, and unsettled. To those of us overwhelmed by all the things we have to do just to keep going, let alone to do anything we might consider "glorious" for God in this world. (Side note: whatever you're doing, if you're doing it with God in your heart, it's glorious.) 

God sends help. God sends helpers. God calls other men and women to come and stand beside us. He asks others to be the ones who can hold up our hands when our arms get weary and who can settle out the simple disputes that happen from time to time so that we can focus on the bigger things. 

God never expected you to do this all by yourself. Never. From the very beginning, He said it: it is not good for man to be alone. And in Leviticus, we see that He still stands by it when He sends other men to help even Moses. And today, we can trust that He still believes exactly the same thing, as He sends others into our lives to help even us. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

God's Discipline

Most of us harbor, somewhere in the recesses of our hearts, a fear that one day, we're going to mess up so badly that God is just going to cut us off. He's going to cast us out to where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and we're never going to get back in. God is going to be done with us, and we will spend the rest of eternity on the outside, never to be forgiven. 

How could God ever forgive a sinner like me? Why would He even want to? 

Our fears are not helped a whole lot by reading the Old Testament, where God is giving the law. There seem to be a lot of times when He talks about His people needing to be cut off from the community, or even killed for their transgressions. When we read with eyes that are insecure in the work of Christ on the Cross for us, it's easy to think that this is who God is, that He really is just that ready to have us removed to the barren places, cast out of His presence forever. 

But read again. 

There's a section in Leviticus 26 that in the Bible translation I'm reading this year is subtitled "Punishment for Not Obeying God." And if you read through that section, you'll discover just how unwilling God is to abandon us forever, even under the Old Testament law. Even before the Cross. 

Because what this passage keeps saying is, "If you do not obey Me, I will do this" then, "If you still do not obey Me, I will do this," then "If you still do not obey Me, I will do this." In fact, God repeats this five times, each with escalating calamity that will come. But the point is simple - God's "punishment" is intended to turn us back to Him. God wants us to be restored to Him. God wants us to come home. 

There is no one-and-done. There is no oops, I did it again. There is no sin so bad that God doesn't want you back. None. God will give you grace upon grace upon grace - yes, sometimes in the form of punishment (or rather, natural consequence, really), but not always. Grace upon grace upon grace to turn back and to come home. The point of every bit of God's discipline is to bring you back into His arms, not to push you away from Him. 

That's good news. At least, it's good news for a screw-up like me. 

How about you? 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

God of Creation

Throughout God's instruction to His people, one idea keeps circling back: rest

When we hear that word, we often think about God's command for us to rest on the Sabbath, to not do any work, to not make anyone else do any work, and to trust in His provision. And that's certainly part of it. 

But God makes clear that His rest is not just for us; it's for all of creation. 

We rest on the Sabbath because the land, too, needs a rest. The land needs a day when it is not worked. the animals need a day when we are not getting in their way. The air needs a day to circulate around us, to get into all the crannies of the world that we chase it away from with the forces of our just being human in that shared space. 

We rest in the seventh year because the land needs a year to lay fallow. The trees need a year to mature their fruit in their own time. The fields need a year in which they are not plowed, not torn up, not tossed. The birds need a year when they are free to nest wherever they desire, without fear of displacement or disruption. 

We rest in the Jubilee year and return everything to where it once came from because creation needs restored. Because all things need put back into their place and allowed to settle there. Because we need reminded that though, yes, we've been sent to tend the earth, there's a big difference between tending and dominating. And between providing for ourselves and being provided for. 

When God saw the Sabbath, when God saw rest, He saw that it was "very good" - not just for man. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that tells us that rest was created just for us or that it is good only for us, except for the self-interested, egotistical reading that we too often bring to the Scriptures. No, every time - every single time - that we are told about rest, we are reminded that rest is "very good" for everything, for all of creation. 

God, from the very beginning, has not just been taking care of us; He's been taking care of all of His creation. 

It's a good reminder for all of us who are tempted to be self-centered about His goodness. It's not just for us. It never has been. It's always been for more. 

What if you could see more of what God's goodness is doing? What if you could see His goodness beyond your own mirror?  

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

God Says So

When God tells the Israelites how to anoint the first priests, He says something that ought to make us pause: He says, "Treat them as holy." 

Treat the priests as holy, before they have even done anything. Treat them as holy, before you even know whether they are a good priest or not. Treat them as holy, no matter what you might think of them otherwise. Because the Lord has declared them holy, and they are holy. Period. 

This is important for us as a people who are prone to withhold our good will from others. We spend so much of our lives trying to judge whether someone else is good or not. Whether someone else is worthy or not. When we pass a person on the street with a sign scribbled on cardboard, we start to wonder whether that person is really homeless or just trying to scam us, whether they have a true need, whether they're just going to take our money and blow it on drugs or alcohol or whatever.

We are a jaded people, I guess, if you want to call it that. We feel like our greatest calling is to protect our things, to protect our reputations, to protect our world from "degenerates." We take it as some kind of badge of moral honor if we "correctly" determine that someone else isn't worth whatever it is they're asking for or whatever they are claiming to need. We love "outing" others, proving that they aren't who they claim to be. There's something in us that feels a great sense of triumph when we determine that someone isn't worthy. 

Like, phew, we dodged a bullet there. 

But that's not what God says. That's not how God says we should approach others in our world. 

God says, treat them as holy. Because I have made them holy. And they are holy. Period. 

This is true of everyone in our world, not just our priests. It's just that we see it more clearly when God says it so plainly in Leviticus, but the truth is that He said it in the very beginning. He said, Let us create man in our image, and that right there means that every single human being who walks the earth, who has ever walked the earth, is created with the inherent dignity of being a human being created in the image of God. Every single human being is a divine image-bearer. And that makes them holy. 


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

God's Standards

It's hard to understand what is happening in the Old Testament when God starts to favor Israel and cast out the other nations before them. For the longest time, one of the complaints has been that God seems to like one peoples more than another, so He moves heaven and earth for them. And if that's the case, then is it true that you can be a good person and still experience the curse simply because God loves someone else more than He loves you? 

It's scary to think about. It's not the kind of God we would want to worship. How could we ever know where we really stand? How could we know whether we are loved or really loved? Whether we are one of the peoples He would move heaven and earth for...or one of the peoples He would just...move? 

Thankfully, God leaves no doubt about why He's casting out the peoples He's casting out: they're sinners. 

They are a people who live contrary to the way that God desires for humans to live. They are a people who worship in perverse and profane ways, who worship gods other than Him, who do despicable things - the very kinds of things God tells His people not to do. And when He tells His people not to do them? He says plainly that these are the very same things He's casting these other peoples out of the Promised Land for. 

Even when God casts His own people out of His own community, He's clear about why. He says plainly what it is that makes them unclean and why being unclean isn't compatible with being in His community. 

Never is it because He "loves this person more." Never is it because "so-and-so is just a better human being." No, it always goes back to God's standard for living and the ways that persons are not holding their end of that covenant. 

So we don't have to worry about whether we're loved or really loved: we are truly loved, and God is - and always has been - very clear about His love for His people and His standard for the way we ought to live. 

Monday, February 27, 2023

God of the Poor

Do you ever feel like you don't have anything to offer God? Like there's nothing valuable enough in your life to bring to give Him? 

There is a sad truth in many of our churches where persons believe that the church is for the "haves," but not for the "have nots." Where persons believe that what they have to offer is less-than, is small, is too little to be meaningful. Sadly, we have too often fed into this by making the poor among us our projects, reinforcing the belief that you are not a member of this church; you are an outreach of this church. 

But God isn't like that. Never has been, never will be. 

From the very beginning, God made certain that there was something for everyone to bring to His presence, whether they were wealthy landowners or indentured servants or homeless persons living on the streets. 

When God gives His commands for what kind of offerings His people are supposed to bring, look at the way that He structures it. He says, "This is the offering that you are supposed to bring. If you can't afford this offering, then bring this one instead, and it will be received just the same. If you can't afford that offering, then bring this one instead, and it, too, will be received just the same." 

In my last reading, I counted in some places three economic levels of offering that were all equally acceptable to God for fulfilling the requirement of the sacrifice, depending upon what your station in life was. Now, remember, all of these persons were entering the same Promised Land. All of them were traveling toward the same Canaan. Even so, God is still mindful of the fact that living in the same land doesn't mean everyone will have the same resources or the same successes or the same provisions. The nature of human society is simply that they won't. 

So God makes a way for everyone to, at the very least, have the same standing before Him. 

Do you ever feel like you don't have anything to offer God? Well, my friend, that's just not true. Whether you have very much or have very little, God has already made it clear that what you have to bring is just as lovely, just as pleasing, just as perfect as what anyone else has. 


Friday, February 24, 2023

God of the Evening

And there was evening...and there was morning. Today. 

There were a lot of ways to become unclean in the Old Testament, including many things that are impossible to avoid as a human being. And it was not just humans who became unclean - everyday things could also become unclean, just by touching the wrong things or being touched by the wrong persons. Israel spent a lot of their time trying to become clean again. 

And how exactly did that happen? 

It happened when they did exactly what God told them to do - go and wash, perform this ritual, sprinkle this blood, etc. But it didn't happen exactly then. See, you had to wash, or wash the item, or perform the ritual or whatever, but you would only be made clean again at evening, when God made you clean again. 

Evening was the time that everything in Israelite society was reset. It was the beginning of the day, not the end of it like we know it to be. It was the time when all things were restored, right at the moment when it looked like everything was shutting down.

But that's precisely the point - at the time when everyone and everything was returning to the home for the night, God would cleanse His people and send them home. It's the same idea as not keeping your neighbor's coat overnight; he might need it. God did everything He could to make His people clean by evening, so long as they followed His commands, so that they could be inside, warm, and with loved ones when darkness fell. 

Oh, how this wraps around my heart. Oh, how it gets me. Because I know the darkness, and I know the shame, and I know what it feels like to feel unclean and to desperately long for nothing more than to just. go. home. And by God's great mercy, we can. 

They say His mercies are new every morning, and that's great. And in our world, it seems true. But the Old Testament reminds us that His mercies are actually new every evening, before the darkness falls. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

God of the Unclean

One of the most common misconceptions about God is that He only wants us when we're clean. He only wants us when we're pure. He only wants us when we're praying three times a day, reading our Bible, going to church. Too many have said that they can't possibly come to God because they aren't "good enough" to do it yet. 

Too many spend their entire life on the sidelines, thinking they are just a couple of good decisions - a couple of hard-fought victories - away from "deserving" God. 

Which is why the ceremonial anointing of the priests, all the way back to Aaron himself, is such an encouragement. 

God gives us this elaborate ritual that is meant to anoint the priests into His service. It starts by putting the holy clothes on them and bringing them into a holy place. Then, they are to offer sacrifices for their sins and purify themselves before Him so that they can be inducted into His service. 

Read that again - it starts with coming into His holy place and then purifying themselves. 

That means that at the moment that these men stand before God to offer themselves into His service, at the moment that they come into the holy place, at the moment that they put on the holy clothes...they are not clean

They are not atoned for. They are not forgiven. The errors of their ways have not been sacrificed for. They have not been washed clean. At the moment that the priests come before God to be anointed, there is nothing holy about them except for the place in which they are standing. (Well, yes, and the inherent dignity that comes with being a being created in the image of God, of course.) 

Nowhere in the Bible does God ever say, "Go out into the people and find me the best, most righteous, most prepared individual that you can. Find Me someone who doesn't need My forgiveness so that I may have someone to work with." That's not how God works. 

He works with the unclean, then cleans them up. He works with the called, then anoints them. He works with the unrighteous and turns their hearts. 

If you think you're not "good enough" to come to God, remember: Aaron (yes, that Aaron - after the show in Egypt, after the blossoming staff, after the golden calf, after all of it) came to God dirty and stood in the holy place and became the first in a long line of priests. 

And that's exactly the kind of thing God is still doing. 

So just come. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

God of Accidents

God is more gracious with us than we are with ourselves. Or with each other.

One of the things that I love about God's law is how it makes space for the humanity in all of us. It does what we often can't (or won't) do in that it makes provision for the times when we're going to mess up without meaning to. God knows there is such a thing as an accident. 

Throughout His law, He keeps reminding us of this. There are offerings you bring when you've done something wrong, then there are offerings you bring when you have done something you didn't even mean to do that is wrong. There are offerings you bring because you know you've made a mistake somewhere, even if you haven't identified it yet, and there are offerings you bring when you become aware of the sin you've committed without even knowing it. There are cities that you can run to if an accident results in someone's death, so that you cannot be killed in revenge for something that you didn't intend to happen - the Scriptures say, for example, if you're chopping wood and the ax head flies off the handle and kills your friend. That's an accident, and God has made provision for that. 

It's not something we're very familiar with any more in our world: accidents. We believe that everyone is in control of their actions at every point in time, and any time anything at all happens, we immediately start looking for someone to blame. We look for someone to hold accountable. The ax head flies off its handle and kills your friend? It might not be your fault, but many in our world would be quick to say it's time to sue the ax manufacturer. Their product was clearly defective, and if they'd just done their job better, this wouldn't have happened. 

On one hand, maybe that's true. Maybe the ax was poorly made. In a disposable world that doesn't seem to take as much pride in the quality of its products, and with a workforce who has dubbed phrases like "quiet quitting" and "bare minimum Monday," it's easy to think that someone, somewhere, was negligent, and this is their fault. 

On the other hand, accidents do happen. Just by nature of our being human. We know this because we cause accidents in our own lives all the time. And sure, sometimes, we beat ourselves up over them. We think about the tiniest little things that we could have or should have done better, what we should have been paying more attention to, that might have prevented it, but deep down in our core, we know that we can't stop everything from happening. Sometimes, things. just. happen. Even with the utmost of diligence over our own lives, things still just happen. Accidents are real. 

God's Word reminds us of this. And not only that, but it reminds us of grace. God already knows that accidents happen, and He's already made a way for us through them. 

And if God has done this for us, don't you think it's time we do it for ourselves? And for others?  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

God Welcomes

We live in a world of distinct opposites: black/white, hot/cold, new/old, inside/outside. When we think about outside, we think about the other side of the door, the place where nature is, a place that is largely unbounded - a free-for-all. Inside, on the other hand, is secure. It is a place with walls and doors and this thing we call "welcome." 

Because when you're inside, you've usually been invited there. 

(Fun story: I was sitting in my living room one day many years ago when a woman walked in my front door with a hearty, "Hey!" and then looked around about 2/3 of the way through my living room and realized she had walked into the wrong house.) 

But this is exactly what makes the design of God's Tabernacle so stunning. 

The Tabernacle, and later, the Temple, of God has always been starkly divided. There was the "holy place," where the priest would make his sacrifices on behalf of the people and burn the incense and lay the bread on the table. There was the "most holy place," where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, the Mercy Seat sat, and the presence of God filled the place in smoke and fire. Then, there was the courtyard, where all of the non-priest persons of the people of God gathered for worship. 

There was the inside, the really inside, and the outside. And to the casual observer, it can look like God certainly built His house to live in and then kept His people in the yard - outside. 

Look again. 

When God gives Moses the design for the Tabernacle, and when the whole thing is finally set up, there are curtains surrounding even the courtyard. There are curtains dividing God's yard from the open field around it. There is a barrier that is part of the very design...that makes even the outside, inside. 

Because when you come to God, there's no such thing as outside. 

God has always been a God who welcomes us into His space and who comes to share ours with us. God is a God who has always been near to us, who has wanted to live and breathe and walk with us as much as He possibly can. God is a God who crossed the heavens to come to earth and who spent His ministry in living rooms (among other places) and going to the outside to welcome others in. 

It's too easy for us to think that we are stuck in the yard. That we're stuck outside, just waiting on an invitation to come closer. That God burns with His holiness in the Most Holy Place and we are destined to forever be two steps removed from there, too far away to really understand what that smoke and fire really is. But...we're not. We're right there in the thick of it; we always have been. 

With God, there is no outside. He wove a bunch of heavy curtains to make sure we understood this very thing. Even what looks like the outside is inside.  

Monday, February 20, 2023

God Draws Near

For the first time in Israel's history, while they are wandering in the wilderness, God takes a census. He wants a count of who is among His people, how many they are, how old they are. Of course, God knows all of this already, but it's part of the bigger story He's telling in this scene. 

And whenever Israel takes a census, starting with this one, it costs the people something. Every person who is counted is required to bring a monetary offering to the Lord - it's counted among the buyback cost. 

To some, this doesn't seem fair. God wants His people counted, then He "punishes" them monetarily for existing? He charges them a fee just because they are part of His people? For those who have doubts about God, this is exactly the kind of evidence they are looking for that God doesn't really care about His people as much as He pretends to; He's just like everyone else - out for His own gain. He wants to see what He can get from His people. He's...duplicitous, at best. 

But look at what God does with the money that is collected from this census, from this first census in the middle of nowhere: He uses it to build His Tabernacle. 

God takes the money that is collected from the Israelites who are counted and are "just existing," who are "charged just for being alive," and He uses that money to fund the building of the tent where He will dwell among them. He uses it to build His own house in the very place where they are already living.

That's what's so cool about God. He takes our offering and uses it to draw near to us. He uses what we bring to come closer to where we are. When He calls upon us to give to Him, to offer something of ourselves, that is the very thing that makes it possible for Him to dwell among us.

And dwell among us, He does.  

Friday, February 17, 2023

God Protects

Israel came up against some pretty big enemies on their way into the Promised Land. God said He would drive out their enemies in front of them, a little bit at a time so that they could take the land and fill it without having to clear it all over again from overgrowth and wildlife. Still, the people knew that the armies in front of them were formidable. 

And, let's just be honest - they didn't do a fantastic job of completely ridding the land of these peoples anyway. Plenty of remnants remained. 

Then, God gave them a command: three times per year, you will all come and assemble at My meeting place for worship. Three times a year, you will leave your homes and your fields and your livestock and your cities and you will come together in one spot to worship. 

It doesn't sound like a great plan. A people who have had to fight their way into the promise in the first place are probably not inclined to leave their captured land vulnerable, with all their best stuff in it, to go worship somewhere else. What's to keep their enemies from retaking their cities when they leave? What's to keep the remnant peoples from coming back and burning everything to the ground? What is the guarantee that if they all come together to worship, they will even have homes to go back to? 

God is. 

Because in the same breath that God tells them they must gather three times per year to worship, He also says this: and when you do, no one will try to take your land from you

No one will even try. No enemy will come against you while you humble yourselves in worship. While you're vulnerable, you won't really be because God Himself will be protecting you. 

Sometimes, the security we think we have in our land can keep us from coming wholly and humbly to God. We like our stuff. We like our homes and our fields and our livestock and our vineyards and our stuff. We don't want to put all of that on the line to come to God. 

The good news is that God says we don't have to. God says that when we come, when we obediently come in worship, we don't have to worry about what happens to our home. We will have a place, even when we leave it, because God says that no one will come to take it from us while we're out doing the next faithful thing. 

Do you believe that?  

Thursday, February 16, 2023

God of the Worker

There's a too-sad standard of service in today's Christian life, and it's this: "whoever is willing." 

Churches post notices all the time - whoever is willing to help _____, it really needs to be done. Or we need volunteers to _______.

It's not very often that we stop to ask whether the willing are the most able or whether they are the most gifted or whether they were even called to do that sort of work. In our packed-busy, no-second-to-spare, self-oriented society, it's hard enough to find the willing; we can't trouble ourselves with any of these other questions. If we did, we're certain nothing would ever get done. 

So the "willing" keep showing up and keep doing and keep giving, and then, we've got two problems: we've got a lot of stuff that's being done by persons who aren't being blessed by doing it, so they're burning out quickly, and we've got a lot of persons who don't know what earthly good their heavenly hearts are. 

I know what you're thinking: Aidan, the light bulb in the sanctuary just needs changed. God doesn't have to call someone to do that. 

Doesn't He? 

There are persons among us who get tremendous value out of working with their hands. There are persons among us who are good at tasks exactly like this. There are persons in your congregation right now who noticed that burned-out light bulb three weeks ago and it's literally been on their heart ever since that they should step up and change it, but they aren't sure who to ask for permission or how to go about it. And then, you send out a message that says, "Hey, if anybody has a few minutes, this light bulb really needs changed," and now, you've got seven persons stepping up who have changed light bulbs at their own house for years and think it probably can't be that hard, so they do it because it needs done, but meanwhile, Joe over here has had it in his heart for weeks. The light bulb gets changed, someone starts grumbling in their heart because they're five minutes late to Wendy's and the line is ridiculous now, and Joe is discouraged because he thought he finally had something he could do for the Kingdom of God, but he missed out on this one, too. 

When God gave Moses the design for the Tabernacle, He also told Moses exactly who in the camp He was gifting to do the work. Now, there were plenty of Israelites who knew how to weave, plenty who knew how to work with metals, plenty who could follow a blueprint. They had all been slaves in Egypt; they had certain skills. But there was no call out for "whoever is willing." 

No, God had a specific person in mind. 

He still does. 

Yes, even to change a light bulb.

So the message of today is two-fold: first, we ought to be looking around us for the person God has called to the work that needs done. And second, we ought to be looking inside us for the work God has called us to do. 

Because when God has a work to do, He equips, blesses, and calls the worker to do it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

God's Presence

Offerings were prominent in Old Testament worship. (And lest you think they are completely obsolete now, remember that the only way we can understand what Jesus did on the Cross is through our understanding of the sacrifice and what it means.) 

In the culture in which we live, it's hard to understand what's happening here. We have lost sight of worship as an exchange between the people and God. We have lost sight of the fact that when we worship, God is truly with us. Sure, we say things like that, but in practical terms, most of us have never experienced it. Or...we think we haven't. We feel a lot of times like we're just throwing our worship into the air and hoping something sticks somewhere in the heavens and maybe one day, God will tell us if it did. And if not, well, at least we were there. 

So that's the impression that we push upon these Old Testament passages when we read them. We get this idea that Israel just kept bringing all of these sacrifices, all of these offerings, and burning them on the altar and if they were lucky, some of the smoke - the aroma pleasing to the Lord - would waft its way up into the heavens and satisfy God for the time being. We get this idea that Israel would come, slaughter an animal, burn it, maybe eat part of it, and then go home without ever knowing if God was really there or not. 

But look at what God tells His people. In Exodus, just after He's finished explaining all of the sacrifices an what they mean and how they must be brought and offered, He makes a promise to Israel: whenever you bring an offering, I will meet you there. 

Whenever. Every time. No matter what you bring. No matter if it's a sin offering, a burnt offering, a fellowship offering, a bread offering, whatever it is - when you bring it to the Lord, He promises to meet you there. 

The same is true even today. Whatever offering we bring, whenever we bring it, God meets us at the altar. Every time. 

This ought to change the way that we worship. It ought to change the way that we live. It ought to change the way we that we think about how we're offering our lives to Him. Because every single time that we do, every single breath that we give back to Him, He meets us there. 

What would it mean to you to know that?  

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

God Prepares

Too often, when we read about the Exodus, we think that Israel just walked out of Egypt en masse, with the blessing of the Egyptian people (who were tired of the plagues), and that this giant blob of holy-ish people just poured into the space between captivity and Promise and spilled out into Sinai. They were all, we figure, just sort of following Moses, not sure exactly of where they were supposed to go except to know that they were heading Jordan-ish, starting with a impasse at the Red Sea. 

And then, we figure that by the time they are about to actually cross that Jordan, they have figured it all out, assembled themselves into military units, and they just sort of storm toward Jericho, pots blazing. (Joke...kind of.) 

But there's one little sentence in Exodus that ought to stop us in our mental images, in all the ideas we have about how Israel must have pulled this off. Because Israel didn't just pull this off; they had help. 

God says plainly, "I am sending an angel ahead of you to prepare the way." 

Such a small sentence. So easy to read right past. So easy, in a day in which we don't really "believe" much in angels and in which we have some really warped ideas about what angels might mean if they do exist, to just ignore this. To read it like a nice sentiment on a Hallmark card, the kind of sappy thing that religious persons say when they don't really know what they're saying or ought to say or whatever. An angel. Yeah, sure. That sounds like God. 

But it does sound like God. 

Sometimes, I think we don't give God enough credit for all of the preparation that He does in our lives. We think that He calls us and then, we're supposed to just go storming in. We're supposed to just move and blaze the trail as we get there. We believe that maybe He opens doors, but we're supposed to go busting through them like they're still in the way. 

That's not God. That's not what He does. More often than not, what God is doing for us is exactly what He was doing for Israel: He's preparing the way. He's sending an angel ahead of us to make ready our path. To open those doors. To weaken those walls. To instill in those people that something holy is upon them. 

How would it change your life - your faith, your courage - if you believed that God was still doing this? Not just for His people, but for His person - for you? How would it change the next step you take if you knew that God had already sent an angel to prepare the way?  

Monday, February 13, 2023

God's Law

As Israel stands on the edge of the wilderness, torn between the Promised Land and Egypt, God calls Moses up onto Mount Sinai and gives him the law that Israel is to follow. It starts with the Ten Commandments, yes, but He also provides law for how to bring sacrifices, how to live with one another, how to handle property and belongings disputes. There are even rules for sexual relations, ceremonial cleanliness, skin diseases, and mildew. 

Since that time, men have been trying to figure out what all of these laws mean and how we're supposed to apply them to this or that situation. In fact, that's the big beef with the Pharisees - they had "codified" all this law into hundreds upon hundreds of tiny little commands to "clarify" what God meant when He gave the law in the first place. 

But none of that is necessary. 

Notice what God doesn't say in His law. God doesn't say that He's given us the foundation and that it's up to us to figure out how to apply it. God doesn't say that this is just the starter law and that the rest of His instructions will come later. God doesn't say that we should invest our time in decoding and re-coding what He's said so that we can make sense of it and know what He really meant when He spoke on that mountain. 

No, what God says is, "Here is what you must do. This." 

Simply this. The law is complete as it was given to us. The law is whole as God spoke it. The law specifies all of the things that God cares about in the way that we live and move and have our being. If it's not in the law that God actually spoke, it's not in the law. Period.

And this is what I love about God. No matter how much we have convinced ourselves otherwise, there is no mystery in what God desires of us. There's no guessing, no figuring it out, no having to decipher or decode or anything. God spoke, and He meant what He said, and this is what He desires of us. Plain and simple. This is how we are supposed to live. 

Honestly, when we read a law that includes what to do if there's a spot of mildew on a single brick in your home, how could we ever think that God left something out?  

Friday, February 10, 2023

God of the Covenant

Fairly early on in the story of Israel, something remarkable happens: God instructs Moses to write things down for the people. 

In an age of widespread literacy like ours, especially at a time when almost all of our communication is written down in some form (many of us text instead of talking face-to-face, even), this doesn't seem all that remarkable. But when we think about the entirety of human history, we know that there were many eras when the written word was only for the learned. It was only for the elite. It was only for those who held positions of power in society and thus had been required to know how to read and write. 

Almost everyone else depended upon the learned to tell them what the written word not only said, but meant. 

Yet, here was God, giving His people a written word, and not just for them. This written word, He said, was to stay with them forever, being protected in the Ark of the Covenant for all generations of Hebrews to draw upon its wisdom.

But also, Israel was never to touch the Ark of the Covenant, so this written-down thing was to remain hidden in plain sight forever. 

It's not unlike a contract that we may sign today. We enter into a contract, and we file it away. We put it somewhere safe because we know it binds us to the persons and the situations with which we signed it, but it doesn't govern our day-to-day. We do what we're supposed to do; we trust the other person to do what they're supposed to do. We only pull that contract out when we believe the other party has broken it. 

Israel has never had a need to pull that covenant out of that box. Never. 

That's what I think is so cool about the whole thing. God writes down this covenant for a people who might not ever be able even to read it, who would have to rely on someone else to even tell them what it says, let alone what it means, and then He goes on to be so good of a God that they don't need to read it anyway. They don't need to look at it. They can keep it tucked safely away in a box covered with mercy because there's just not ever a real concern that God is breaking it. 

He is as good as He said He'll be. All the time.