Friday, March 31, 2023

God of Holy War

As Israel began a season of battle on the edge of the Promised Land, and indeed, throughout their struggle to take God's promise as their own, you see something very different on the battlefield. There are armies and commanders, trumpets and weapons, but there's also...the most holy thing. 

It's the Ark of the Covenant. 

The Ark is the container built to hold the tablets that God sent from the mountain with Moses. It rests under the mercy seat, a throne surrounded by cherubim carved to mark the place where God judges His people with love and where He metes out another chance over and over and over again. 

This Ark was supposed to be kept inside the Tabernacle. Not only inside the Tabernacle, but in the Most Holy Place - set completely apart to such a degree that even the priests very rarely see it. No one is allowed to touch this Ark. In fact, after it is captured and comes home to Israel, God strikes dead a man who reaches out to keep the Ark from falling to the ground and touches it. 

It is most holy. 

Strange, then, that we so often see this most holy thing accompanying Israel onto the battlefield. We often see them carrying it in front of them into war. We see them refusing to go to battle at all until the Ark arrives. This most holy thing, set apart in a most holy place, so holy that it cannot be touched, goes right out into the midst of blood and battle. 

This is exactly how God works. 

We think the most holy things are supposed to be kept away, tucked away. We think they are supposed to live in the halls of our churches, casting shadows through the stained glass and onto what can only be described as "church red" or "church purple" carpets. (If you know, you know.) We think that if we need something holy to encourage us, we have to go into a sanctuary to find it, into a set-apart place, far from the hustle and bustle and struggle of day-to-day life. 

But watching Israel in battle reminds us that this is not true. This is not what God intended at all. Rather, God made His holy things - even His most holy things - to fight with us. He made them go to before us, even into the toughest places. God's most holy place is not a retreat, but a surge forward. God's holy things are not tucked away from the world, but marched right out into the middle of it. 

God's holy things are made for war. 

And we are all in the battle. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

God of a Gathered People

You probably know someone who loves Jesus, but doesn't go to church. You've probably heard someone say that they don't need the church to be a Christian, that their relationship with God is their own and it works for them without the church. You've probably heard someone say they are "spiritual, but not religious" as a reason why they don't belong to a local body. 

You've probably heard that it's none of your business, anyway. As long as someone loves Jesus in their heart, who are you to judge? Who are you to insist that there's a better way? 

But did you know that our togetherness - our worshiping together - was God's plan from the very beginning? 

Yes, of course, He said plainly at creation that it was not good for man to be alone. And in the New Testament, we know we are admonished to "not neglect meeting together." These are kind of the two places we go when we're trying to make an apologetic for church attendance or membership. 

But it is even deeper than this. 

As Israel came out of Egypt and God was trying to instruct them on how to become a people, on how to live like a cohesive group of the blessed, He told them about the feast days that they ought to observe. He laid out plans for the holy days when they were supposed to worship. 

And at every single one of them, the first thing they had to do...was come together. 

God planned every single one of His holy days on a gathering at the altar, at the tent, at the Temple. He planned every single one so that the first thing His people would do when they thought about what a special, blessed, wonderful, holy day it was...was come together. He made a way for those who were ceremonially unclean to have a different time to come together because the holy things He was calling His people to were just not the same if you tried to do them in isolation in the camp of the unclean. 

God's holy things require community. 

Always have, always will. 

This is important for us who may be tempted to lean into the spiritual, but not religious crowd. For those of us who may hear them talking about how their faith "works" for them and how they still love Jesus and have a great relationship with Him. It sounds nice, but it's just not true. 

An essential part of worship is togetherness. And if you're not regularly coming together into the holy things with other persons, if you're not regularly being a part of a people of God, then you're missing something important.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

God of the Blessed People

God's people are on the move through the wilderness, and honestly, it doesn't look great. What should have been an eleven-day trek, two weeks tops, now looks like it's going to take about forty years, and if you're on the outside looking in, you'd think this would mean that God isn't really with this people as much as you've heard He is. After all, they can't even find their way to Canaan. 

Still, as they stand on the edge of Balak's land, he looks out over the massive sea of Israelites who somehow look so strong and multitudinous even after their sojourn through the desert, and he's intimidated. So he goes and gets the prophet guy, Balaam, to come and curse these people for him. Even though they are wanderers and don't seem to be making their way anywhere fast, it never hurts to curse a people who are standing on the edge of your territory. 

Then, something strange happens: Balaam and Balak end up standing on the top of a cliff, looking out over this people, and talking about how obviously blessed they are. Just look at them. 

No, no. This won't do. Balak decides they should go to another cliff and get another look. And when they get there, they look out over this people...and can't stop talking about how blessed they are, how much God obviously loves them. 

One more time. Let's go to yet another cliff and see what we see from there. You guessed it - look how amazingly blessed these people of God are. He truly loves them. 

This is the way that it ought to be, and for anyone paying attention, this is the way that it is. From a distance, it's easy for the world to judge our lives of faith, saying that they obviously don't make sense, that we're just wanderers without a path. That we're lost, no matter how much we insist that we know where we are and where we're going. 

But when we're right up on the edge of something, anyone close enough to see can observe nothing but God's blessing on our lives. We don't look like wanderers. We don't look like lost persons. We look like blessed persons, beloved persons. 

That's what God does. He pours out His blessing on our lives so thoroughly that it's all anyone looking can talk about, it's all they can see. They may come out to curse us, but the minute they set eyes on us, there's just nothing but blessing as far as their eye can see. Isn't that amazing?  

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

God in the Curse

It's tempting for us to want to think that God just makes everything better, that He takes away all of the broken things and puts life back the way it's supposed to be. When we believe, and when we pray, in faith, we expect that God is just going to fix everything, that all temptation will go away, that the stain of sin will be removed. 

But that's not really the example that we have in the Bible. 

We know, for example, that in the beginning, God did not remove the shame from Adam and Eve when they discovered themselves naked. No, He covered them up to comfort their wounded souls. But even then, He still cast them out of the garden. Behavior has consequences. 

So, too, in the wilderness, God sent snakes among His people to bite them with the poisonous sting of their own sin. And when they cried out to Him, He did not take the snakes away. Rather, He created for them a way to live even after the poisonous bite. He molded a bronze snake for them to look at to take away the sting. 

We'd rather He just take the snakes away. 

We know that in the end, He will. 

But we are living in the in-between. 

And in the in-between - that time between our sin and His Cross, that space between the sting of betrayal and the blood of redemption - in that time between the first day and the final judgment, we have to know that, no, God doesn't just fix it. God doesn't just take it away. God doesn't just make it possible for us to stop being tempted, to stop falling, to stop failing. God doesn't always just set things right. 

But He is always right there with us. 

He is always right there with us in the bushes, when we're hiding in our shame. He is right there with us in the wilderness, when we're running from snakes. He is right there with us in the image lifted up, when we're looking for life amid the poisonous sting of death. 

God may not fix things the way that we want Him to, but He's always with us as we face them. He will never leave us nor forsake us nor abandon us even unto ourselves. He is always, forever, eternally, right here with us. 


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.