Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I have been reading through the Torah - the first five books of the Bible - sometimes called The Pentateuch.  Torah means "instruction" and it gives an account of God's shaping the world for redemption.  Starting with the creation it leads the reader to see how the Fall of mankind is being reversed through the work of God in and through his people.

As I read recently I was struck by this particular passage:

Exodus 25:1-2 (NIV)
1 The LORD said to Moses,
2 "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give...

6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense...

8 "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.
9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. 

From there Moses goes on to explain the various things God directed him to have made.  They made a chest that would become the Atonement seat on the Ark of the Covenant.  They made Cherubim statutes that would serve as a reminder that God's presence was always there and that His Holiness was paramount in all that they did to worship Him.  They made a table for the bread to remind them that God was their provision, not their own ingenuity and skills.
But, one of the most important things as a reminder was the lampstands.  They made them from pure Gold and filled them with oil.

Exodus 27:20-21 (NIV)
20 "Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.
21 In the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is in front of the Testimony, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the LORD from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.

My soul is in need of this reminder over and over again.  The lamp must keep burning and the oil must be continually maintained.  The oil does not come from within, it comes from the Holy Spirit of God.  The oil of God is that desire to ask God for help in everything...my prayers, my work, my marriage, my family, my friends and church...everything.  Day and Night I am in need of fresh oil...the fresh filling and working of the Holy Spirit of God.

We will dry up...the lamps go out...and we'll be tired, without hope, without motivation, with the wrong attitudes, with complaining and bitterness of soul without the oil of God's Spirit within.  From Him comes "love, joy, peace, perseverance, patience, self-control", and on and on it goes.

Sometimes....the greatest thing we can do is pray the prayer of "God I need you..."

"O God, because without you we are not able to please you; mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit would in all things direct and rule our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, Now and Forever, Amen."


Monday, August 20, 2012

Building the Walls

A reading from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah is where my thoughts as a Pastor go today.

Nehemiah 4:1-6 (NIV)
1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews,
2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, "What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble--burned as they are?"
3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, "What they are building--if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!"...
6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

Later it is added:

Nehemiah 4:14-17 (NIV)
14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes."
15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work.
16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah
17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other...

The events described  above may not be familiar to you, so let me paint a brief picture.  The nation of Israel went into captivity twice...first as the Northern 10 tribes known as Israel, or Ephraim; and second as the southern two tribes of Benjamin and Judah.  It was the second time in the period of 604 to 586 B.C. that Judah (which was the rightful heir of Israel) was attacked and destroyed by the Babylonians.  The walls were torn down, the Temple destroyed, and 1000's were taken into captivity - just a remnant of people were left behind.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote in this time period and he prophesied the captivity would take place.  He also stated that it would last 70 years - which interestingly coincided with the number of years of Sabbath years for the land that the Children of Israel failed to observe since they had come to the land.

The book of Nehemiah is written after all of this takes place.  The Babylonians fell from power in 540 BC.  The Persians allowed the Jews to go back to the land and rebuild, and they did...first under Ezra, and then later under the influence of Nehemiah.

That long introduction is to get to the main point in the passage.

The ability to survive as a people of God was only possible because they worked together, and as vs 14 says, they fought for...not fought with....or fought as...but they fought FOR each other.  They fought for their families.  They fought because they knew there was an enemy that was fighting to destroy them.  I don't know if believers in general believe there is an "enemy", and that a "fight" is going on for our families.  It seems pretty obvious in looking at our society that family life is under attack and that there are many families that are divided, frustrated and fractured - to the point of great vulnerability.

I have raised my four children and now they are raising their children (except the one Andy who is not yet married).  Raising kids has "eternal" significance in God's Kingdom.  Jesus reminded us that "the children should come unto me."

The wise person will work together with others to protect the family...BUILD THE WALLS so that they family is safe.


Monday, August 13, 2012


Hello my friends, back to blogging after a 10 day drought.  Sorry, I took some time off for some work around the house, and extra work in my areas of Pastoral ministry and college lecturer.

First though, let me add that I've been reading through the Pentateuch this summer.  (I read through the entire scripture in a year and finished that early in July).  In the Fall I begin my fifth year at Christian Life College - Madison as a lecturer and Academic Dean.  I love teaching scripture and I have a deep appreciation for Academics over more general ways of learning.  The Fall course is called "The Torah Story - a Survey of the Pentateuch" (which if you are not familiar with is the first five (Penta) books of the Bible:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).  I am looking forward to this course as much as anything I've taught over the first four years.

Last week I drove to Chicago to give a lecture on the Process of Spiritual Formation.  This summer class of a dozen students sat with me for three  hours as we walked our way through various process items.  What would cause those students to take a two week lecture course, three hours a day?  What causes people to sign up for a college course in the Pentateuch?  What causes any of us to take extra time to dive into God's word to seek him, grow in our faith, and learn?


As I read through Exodus last week I came towards the end of the book and into the account of Moses' hunger for God.  It reads like this:

Exodus 33:7-17 (NIV)
7 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the "tent of meeting." Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp.
8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent.
9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses.
10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent.
11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
12 Moses said to the LORD, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.'
13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people."
14 The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
15 Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.
16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
17 And the LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."

Moses' request in vs 13 is simple:  "teach me your ways so that I may know you..."  Jesus said, "I am the way...".  God has a way that is full of wisdom, full of life, and fulfilling in every way.
Sometimes we tend towards our own self-absorption, self-pity and selfishness in general...the way of the Lord is a check on living in that kind of futility.
Moses' second request is "grant me your presence".
What I love about God's answer is the fact that with God's presence comes His rest!  Sabbath.

Hunger...hunger for God...hunger for something more than the blah of a self-centered life...I'm hungry.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Proper Fear

I am still thinking about this role of the Fear of The Lord.   It seems that we live in a world of easy believism and the tendency to excuse, or even deny, the nature of our sin.  I know it from personal experience.  Being willing to be ruthless in being honest about what we face, and where we succumb, is the first steps in our ability to make wise choices, instead of foolish ones that lead to shame and condemnation.

Here's a few passages I've read recently over the last two days or so that I didn't seek after, but read in the natural settings of my readings...see how they hit you.

Proverbs 1:1-7 (NIV)
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight;
3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young--
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance--
6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Exodus 20:20 (NIV)
20 Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning."

Luke 12:1-5 (NIV)
1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.
3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
4 "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.
5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

OK, those are pretty clear aren't they?  We can live haphazardly, without regard, doing what we want and then thinking "we'll be ok" - all of which scripture calls "foolish"; or we can live with a conscious awareness that the wisdom of God - his ways - which Jesus embodies (I am the way...) represent a wise and fulfilling life.

Here's a passage to take to heart...we'll read through the chapter break.

1 John 1:8 - 2:2 (NIV)
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. 
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

It is our great privilege to have an advocate for us, so clearly one that took on our sins, and lives even now so that he can continue to make intercession, and be the atoning sacrifice (present tense) for our sins.

We live in a place of Security, but let us Properly live in a place of a Wise Fear of the Lord.

Today, among our prayers, our community is praying for Rick.  His surgery is this morning.  Say a prayer for him and for his family.