Leviticus 2

My quiet time today [back when I wrote this] was from Leviticus 2:

“Now when anyone presents a grain offering as an offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour, and he shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it. He shall then bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests; and shall take from it his handful of its fine flour and of its oil with all of its frankincense. And the priest shall offer it up in smoke as its memorial portion on the altar, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD …”

It reminded me of something very simple: that I can do my work each day in a way that brings pleasure to God.

I know that God’s forgiveness and cleansing is a permanent thing, that we have been given the righteousness of Christ, and that nothing we can do can make God love us either more or less. But I also know that, just as the actions I take and the thoughts I think can grieve the Holy Spirit, so they can please Him.

In the Old Testament, God trained the Israelites to see him as taking pleasure in their sacrifices, using the imagery of a sweet-smelling smoke rising into the sky. In the same way, as we live by faith and abide in Christ, offering our daily works to God as a kind of worship (Romans 12:1), we can know that it brings him pleasure.

It’s not that he needs our work, but that he is glad to see the fruit of his own work in us.

It’s not because he is our Lord and we are his faithful servants, but because he is our Father and we are his beloved children.

When we can’t quite say what is bothering us

Recently for my quiet time I read Daniel 2. In that story, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which disturbed him, and asked the wise men to interpret it. When they asked him what the dream was, he refused to tell them, asking them to say both what the dream was and what the interpretation was. He apparently wanted to be sure they weren’t just making something up. When they couldn’t (and when they mouthed off to him for asking them to) he decided to kill all the wise men, including Daniel.

Daniel and his friends prayed that God would show mercy and give them the answer to the king’s request. That night he had a vision in which God showed him the answer. He praised God, saying

“Wisdom and power belong to him …

It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;

He knows what is in the darkness,

And the light dwells with Him.”

I often have thoughts or fears that disturb me. Sometimes they are even mysterious and deep and subconsciously powerful, like the king’s dream seems to have been.  It has been a great encouragement to me across the years that God is so wise that he can understand and reveal these profound and hidden things.

But sometimes I feel disturbed, stirred up, agitated, and do not even know why. I have the sense of having an urgent question, but don’t even know what the question is!

The great thing is that even that is not too mysterious for God. If he could give Daniel not only the interpretation of the dream but the knowledge of the dream itself, how much more can he reveal to me what is bothering me, along with its answer! After all, I at least have my question within me somewhere, however ill-defined it may be: Daniel didn’t even personally experience the dream that so disturbed Nebuchadnezzar, and yet God was able to reveal to him everything he needed to know.

In Genesis 40:8, Joseph said, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” It is up to God to tell me how to make sense of the riddles in story of my life. In Daniel 2, we learn than even the riddles themselves belong to God. Not only can God answer all my questions, he can also teach me what the questions should be. (Compare Romans 8:26 and Psalm 77:2-6.)

Seeking God’s blessing

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago.

The sermon today was on John 6:26-36.

Bread
Jesus miraculously fed the crowd.
  Spiritual “anointing”
Recently when I taught, God spoke to people through me in an evident way. I love that. But today, in Sunday School, everything I planned went wrong.
They looked for him again because they wanted more.   Me: Lord, I’m so frustrated at how Sunday School went. How can I worship you this morning, when I am angry and discouraged about Sunday School?
Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.   Jesus: Why are you seeking me? What did you learn when I anointed your teaching? Did you learn that I am the source of fruitfulness and meaning? Did you learn that it is worth seeking me above all? Or is it only that you loved the experience of knowing I was doing something supernatural through you?
  Me: (sputtering) Well … well … I know that you give meaning in an eternal sense, but I also wanted things to go well this morning. When it didn’t, that messed up my joy. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it just did.
Do not work for the food which perishes,   Jesus: Think about it, Kevin. After an “anointed experience”, the joy fades for you in a day or two. How often will you need your anointing fix?
but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Your joy can be more permanent than that. I know you like to see me at work through you, but, you know, I’m still at work even when I don’t use you. Your joy in what I am doing doesn’t have to fade whenever it isn’t happening through you.
Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”   Me: OK. So how can I  have that joy now? What do I need to do?
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”   Jesus: Just let go and trust me. You don’t need to be personally successful.
So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?   Me: But how can I trust you to be meaning and fruitfulness for me if you aren’t going to keep giving me experiences like that?
Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’” After all, that’s how it works with other people! They have all these stories about how you make them fruitful! As long as they obey, and surrender to you, then you reach people through them. As long as they have faith, you show up.
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.   Jesus: You miss the point. It was never their experiences of anointing and fruitfulness that mattered. It was always just a matter of God being in it.
For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” What is “anointing” after all? Isn’t it the Holy Spirit’s presence and work? That’s all that was every really important. The anointing isn’t an experience, it’s a Person.
Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”   Me: OK, then give that to me.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.   Jesus: You know what to do. Just keep abiding in Me.
But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” The reason you are struggling is because you aren’t responding in faith right now. (Ouch!)

 

 

Praying for our nation

My quiet time verses yesterday morning were the concluding paragraph of 2 Chronicles.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia — in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah — the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also[put it] in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!'”  (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).

First, some background. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles tell of the rise and fall of the nation of Israel. In the last chapter, just before these verses, the nation of Israel was wiped out, its leaders were killed, its capital was burned down, and the temple was destroyed. The chapter makes it really clear that all this was not because God had failed them but because He was judging them.

These two verses hold out a sliver of hope for Israel. It’s the end of the book, but not the end of the story. It shows that God still has some measure of mercy for Israel. Who knows whether He may restore them more fully in the future?

It’s really important that Cyrus acknowledges that all His power, including that over Israel, comes from “the LORD”. When the word LORD is capitalized that way, it means that it is a translation of the Hebrew word Yahweh. In other words, Cyrus is calling Israel’s God “the God of heaven” and giving Him credit for his power.

As I read these verses, it reminded me of the general discouragement that a lot of conservative Christians are feeling about our nation these days. Most of my Christian friends these days feel as though they are under a constant barrage from secularism in politics and in the culture.  I agree with them about this general sense of being under attack. It’s a hard world in which to live as a Christian.

(I don’t think Christians have a monopoly on persecution. I think it’s also a hard world for atheists and gay rights activists and feminists and all sorts of groups that feel like they are battling the status quo. There’s more than enough hostility to go around. More on that some other time, perhaps.)

Anyway, today is the National Day of Prayer. The verses above remind me that even in hostile territory God is in charge. They remind me that even in the middle of judgment God can show a measure of mercy and restoration. They remind me that even leaders who worship other gods can be led to show favor to Yahweh’s people. It encourages me to know that today a lot of us will be crying out to God together for our nation.

“the One who lifts my head”

A few days after wondering about this, I spent some time in Psalm 3, which says,

You, O Lord, are a shield about me.
My glory and the One who lifts my head. (Ps 3:3)

The first statement in this verse, “You are a shield about me” is about objective security. Whether we feel afraid or not, we have the promise of God that He is our protector. I think “You … are the One who lifts my head” is about subjective security, about feeling secure. God not only protects us, He encourages us (i.e., puts courage in us).

When God protects us, whether we know it or not, He is a shield about us. When He protects us and tells us so, then He is the One who lifts our heads (by His promises). When He gives us supernatural peace that overrides our fears, that is also an example of His being the One who lifts our heads (directly). The Psalm doesn’t prove by itself that He ever gives us peace directly like that because it actually doesn’t say anything at all about how God lifts our heads. Still, when He does, I somehow like having this imagery to think about it with.

The Psalm points to the fact it is part of God’s character to lift us up when we are down. 2 Corinthians 7:6 simply says, “But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us …”

“Sometimes God calms His child …”

On a recent Sunday evening our church’s children’s musical had a song with these words in it by Scott Krippayne:

Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm 
And other times He calms His child 

I found myself wondering about the difference between “Sometimes He calms His child” and “Sometimes He reminds of us His promises and expects us to calm ourselves.”

There are two things that can change: the circumstances or the fear. There are two parties who can be responsible for the change: God or us.

So when I find myself afraid in troubling circumstances, I suppose there are four possibilities:

  • I pray, and God changes the circumstances.
  • I pray, and God challenges me to make choices that will change the circumstances.
  • I pray and God takes my fear away.
  • I pray and God challenges me to make the choice to stop being afraid.

I realize that things aren’t quite so cut and dried. Probably all four cases occur mixed together sometimes. This list is just a way for me to arrange my thoughts about the matter.

What I am most interested in is how often the third case arises. I struggle with irrational but strong fear fairly regularly. I know that there have been times in the past when God simply overrode my emotions and took the fear away. (His doing that was even an important part of my getting saved, but that’s a story for another day.) I wonder how common that kind of thing is.

Tithing as a prayer

We’ve been looking at these verses in Sunday School:

Honor the LORD from your wealth
And from the first of all your produce;
So your barns will be filled with plenty
And your vats will overflow with new wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10)

Apparently there’s a connection between whether we tithe (or, at least, give something off the top to God) and financial abundance.

I was raised to tithe regularly, and Kate and I have done so all our lives together, but we haven’t always had full barns, so to speak. I still remember when I was in grad school and we couldn’t afford to get a new light bulb when one burned out, so we just kept moving the working light bulbs from room to room as necessary. We’ve always somehow gotten by, though, and compared to the people in the Old Testament times I suppose anyone in the US is living in luxury.

But God seems to be putting this verse on my heart these days, so I’m trying to understand what to do with it.

Does it mean we need to give more? Of course we could be more generous (which of us couldn’t?), but I’m not aware of any sin on our part as far as that’s concerned, and I don’t think that’s the point God wants me to get from these verses.

Does it mean God is promising to bless us financially in some new way? Certainly, we’ve been more financially strapped than usual recently, due to several unexpected hospital bills and automotive problems. I don’t see anything in these verses to suggest that God is going to provide differently going forward than he has in the past, though. I don’t think he’s promising anything like that.

Rather, I think he wants me to simply become aware of the connection between our giving and his provision — not in pride, nor in guilt, but simply aware. As part of this I’ve started trying something simple. It used to be that, whenever I put our tithe into the offering plate at church, I would say silently to God, “This is for you, as an act of worship”. Yesterday as I placed the tithe into the plate I said silently to God, “This tithe is my prayer to you, that you would take care of us financially.”

I’ve never thought of tithing as a prayer before. It’s sort of cool, whether or not our financial situation changes in any noticeable way.

Disappointment with God

As I write this post, I’ve just finished reading Exodus 5 for my quiet time. It’s one of my favorite chapters. Moses has finally accepted his calling to confront Pharaoh on God’s behalf. It was a gutsy decision on his part. He didn’t really know at first if he could trust God to do it. After finally stirring himself up to take this risk because God asks him to, he and Aaron go to talk to Pharaoh and what happens? Everything gets worse. Not only does Pharaoh not let Israel go, he actually increases their labor. The Israelites angrily tell Moses,

May the LORD look upon you and judge you, for you have made us odious in Pharaoh’s sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.

Moses goes back to God and asks plaintively

O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.

I always find this poignant. Especially that final line: … and You have not delivered Your people at all. 

Tonight I was thinking how easy it is for us to feel let down by God when we have made some effort to obey or trust Him, and things haven’t gone as we expected.

Based on what I think was the leading of the Holy Spirit, I spent some time mentally retracing my decisions and desires over the last few months. I made a short list of about 10 things in my life I feel the same way as Moses about. Then I went through each one and prayed Moses’ prayer back to God for my own situation.

I don’t think the point was that God wanted me to rehearse complaining to Him. Instead, I think it made me more aware of my tendency toward self-pity. Also, oddly, I felt as though God was drawing closer to me through the exercise.

Moses was wrong, of course, in thinking God had let him down, just as I am wrong when I feel let down by God. God was still going to deliver His people; He just hadn’t delivered them yet. The battle between Jehovah and Pharaoh was only beginning. Our timetable and God’s are very different.

I sensed God reconfirming His desire that I pour out my heart to Him. I ended my quiet time by laying before Him once again a specific request I’d had, one I’d felt disappointed in up until then.

Then I remembered the verses at the end of the Psalm we looked at yesterday in Sunday School:

Unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living … !
Wait for the LORD;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD. (Ps 27:13-14)

Luke 7:36-50

My quiet time passage just now was from Luke 7:36-50. I have a lot of minor questions/observations.

  • In verse 37, it says “there was a  woman in the city who was a sinner”. This is odd. Isn’t everyone a sinner? Apparently Luke used the word to mean someone with a particularly shameful lifestyle, someone seen by the general Jewish public as “a sinner”.  Interesting that he uses the word that way. We never would.
  • In verse 39, the Pharisee says, “If this man were a prophet, he would know … who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” He just assumed that if Jesus knew she was a sinner He would send her away. I get really annoyed when people make judgmental assumptions like that. It’s hard to get them to listen to your response because they’ve already closed their mind to it. Jesus responded by telling him a parable, which is one good way around that, I guess.
  • In imagining this scene, it’s hard to make sense of it if the woman was intruding in a private gathering, so I’m assuming the Pharisee had let a lot of townspeople in. That’s why he didn’t say, “what is she doing here?”, but rather “he must not realize who she is”. So I envision that Simon was sort of showing off his piety and wealth by inviting the rest of the town to come and see him act as host to the famous Jesus. Then when she showed up, he couldn’t really keep her out, he could only rely on the good sense of his guests to ostracize her somewhat.
  • The whole passage is strange in that it keeps changing the order between forgiveness and love. The parable puts the forgiveness first, with the love a result of it. Verse 48-50 seem to be about love (as an expression of faith) leading to forgiveness. Verse 47a seems to put the love first and 47b the forgiveness first.
  • Verse 50 is interesting, and it’s where I sense there is something meaty for me to think through. How were her actions an expression of faith in his forgiveness? The weeping might have been remorse for her sin, but it is interpreted by Jesus as an expression of love, not a cry of despair. I am sure she realized her deep need for forgiveness — she’d probably realized that her whole life — but I think the point here is that she’d became convinced of something no Pharisee had ever shown her before, that forgiveness was really available for her from this man. Were the tears even tears of gratefulness and joy, perhaps? I was looking at Psalm 32 the other day, and thinking about how hard it is sometimes to be really open with God about the things I’ve done wrong during the day. Not that I can keep anything from God, but that usually I don’t want to admit them to myself. This passage in Luke is interesting, because instead of focusing on the depth of our remorse, it focuses on our confidence that real forgiveness has been granted us in Jesus. It meshes well with Ps 32.

 

Tough faith

In my devotional readings for this week, the common theme I saw was that sometimes God puts us in positions where we are expected to be strong in Him even though we feel particularly weak. It’s been a crazy week for me, and I am convicted that it is easy for me to trust less and serve less than I should when I think I have an excuse.

These were the passages:

Exodus 4:10-17, in which Moses asks God to send someone else because he can’t speak well, and God gets angry,

2 Chronicles 14, in which Asa has 10 good years followed by a sudden crisis, out of which God delivers him — the climax is verse 11 where he calls out to God as the one who delivers those who have no strength,

Job 40:6-14, in which God says to Job, “You think you’re man enough to accuse me? Let’s see how tough you really are!” (interesting how when we think we’re too weak to live by faith, we also think we’re strong enough to defy God),

Ezekiel 1:1-12 in which the Jewish leaders are huddled in their city, feeling self-pitying and defeated (see v. 3),  but not dealing with their own sin,

Luke 7:24-30, in which Jesus praises the rugged, uncompromising John the Baptist, and

Titus 1:5-10, in which the requirements for an overseer (elder/pastor) are given, culminating in the overseer’s responsibility to keep resisting false teaching no matter how much it keeps on arising.