Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

Book Review: A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

Book Review: A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

Author: Eugene H. Merrill

Publisher: Kregel Academic

ISBN: 9780825425592

Kregel Exegetical Library: A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles, written by Eugene H. Merrill is another fine addition in the Exegetical Library Commentary Series by Kregel Academic. I am one of those who rarely does deep study in the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles, not that I do not read from there, but most often the Chronicles is a supporting player to my studies from the books of Samuel and the Kings. It is for this reason I really do not have a strong comparison commentary for 1 & 2 Chronicles and must base my review solely on the merits of this work with a slight nod toward previous commentaries in this Exegetical Series.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about Kregel’s commentaries is the wonderful charts and tables that are a strong feature in every commentary I’ve reviewed in this series. This work from Eugene Merrill is no exception. It too features a very helpful assortment of charts and tables. Similarly, I really like that the Kregel includes an index of all the charts and special features found within the commentary for easy navigation, for example, there are excurses featured throughout the book and each is notated by page for quick reference, notations of hymns and praises found in the Chronicles are also indexed as are other theological discourses. This, in my opinion, makes this a very handy resource for quick research.

Merrill has included a fairly substantial bibliography at the end of the commentary. I was/am especially impressed with the source material he has referenced for backgrounds and history. I feel my wallet will become substantially lighter after having encountered this list of references, several titles of which really caught my attention.

As I reported earlier in my review, I do not have any comparison to the Chronicles commentary specifically, but I am pleased with the writing style of Merrill and found it understandable and not overly academic or terribly full of Hebrew language, which I would have difficulty understanding since I have no schooling in the language and have to rely on my word study resources and the explanations of the author.

I continue to recommend the Exegetical Commentary Series by Kregel as it represents a solid, Evangelically objective approach to the Scriptures. I’ve come to trust the series and will continue to recommend it to friends and colleagues.

Revisiting The “I’m better than I was card”

Revisiting The “I’m better than I was card” 

I originally wrote and posted this a few years back. As I was reading some of my past writing, I thought this an appropriate reflection as I head into a new year. What is it that God is calling me to? What is it that he desires of me? He desires whole-hearted devotion and complete transformation to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ… How often do I drag my feet? How often do I think of myself better than I should?

Scripture Meditation: Ezekiel 33:10-20

10 “Son of man, give the people of Israel this message: You are saying, ‘Our sins are heavy upon us; we are wasting away! How can we survive?’ 11 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?

12 “Son of man, give your people this message: The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins. 14 And suppose I tell some wicked people that they will surely die, but then they turn from their sins and do what is just and right. 15 For instance, they might give back a debtor’s security, return what they have stolen, and obey my life-giving laws, no longer doing what is evil. If they do this, then they will surely live and not die. 16 None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live.

17 “Your people are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right,’ but it is they who are not doing what’s right. 18 For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. 19 But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live. 20 O people of Israel, you are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right.’ But I judge each of you according to your deeds.”

I’m still pretty hung up on this passage of Scripture from Ezekiel that I was also considering in yesterday’s meditation and post. While this passage speaks pretty loudly in its entirety, I keep being drawn back to the words shared in verses twelve through sixteen. In these verses, the LORD God Almighty is giving instruction to the prophet Ezekiel to send a wake-up call to a people who have grown complacent in their faith, even taking for granted the mercy and salvation of their God. It seems the people didn’t take seriously the nature of their sin against God. The nation of Israel was rife with idolatry, sexual immorality, greed, oppression of people, and a host of other abominations that were counter character to the nature of God. The end result was that the people were not reflecting the nature of the God who had called them out and made them His own.

Interestingly, it seems as though the people may have had the attitude that they were entitled to God’s goodness in spite of how they behaved. In fact, in verse seventeen, the people actually hold God responsible for their treatment. It doesn’t seem as though they are taking personal responsibility for their sin. Even more interesting, paying attention to the verses twelve through sixteen, it appears there may have been some assumption on the part of Israel that because they were “righteous” at one time in their history (as a nation or group) that God should show them favor in spite of what their hearts revealed in the way of rebellion and disobedience in the present. And, it seems as if the people are completely blinded by their own self-righteousness and pride, because they do not turn from their sin…

“The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.”

Here is where it gets interesting to me. How often do we, as a people, do something similar with our actions and attitudes? I will confess that when I first examine my own heart concerning issues of sin, I am always prone to compare myself to “my best days.” I will think, “Oh, but I’m much better than I was… and God sees how much I have grown since I was the despicable me.” And, I will do this with little intention of changing the things that I still know are unpleasing to God. I will consider those “still to be corrected abominations” something that God forgives because of my “past righteousness.” Wrong. Let’s read that verse thirteen once again. “When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.” We can see this same theme carried over under the dispensation of grace under the blood of Jesus too. Hear the words of James the brother of Jesus as he writes; “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).

Funny (in a sad way) how we are so easily ensnared in this twisted deception that the false self would tempt us to believe. We want to place blame on God too. We want to say He isn’t fair… just like the people of Israel. We will lie to ourselves and say it is too hard to change and God’s expectations for us are too difficult, but He tells us otherwise “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” (Deut. 30:11). I think the truth is that we just need to be honest with ourselves… either we want to walk after Jesus or we do not. If we do choose to walk after Jesus there is the way of repentance, dying to self, and the life of service to humanity (Phil. 2:5-7). If we choose otherwise, we have no one to blame for the mess we make for ourselves…but ourselves.

 


 

“Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart…” (Hebrews 3:15)

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. The LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor. For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation. Happy are they who trust in the LORD. (Psalm 86:11; Psalm 147:12; Psalm 62:1; Psalm 40:4)

Book Review: A Commentary on the Psalms

Book Review: A Commentary on the Psalms

Author: Allen P. Ross

Publisher: Kregel Exegetical Library

ISBN: 9780825425639

A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 2 (42—89)

I continue to be impressed with Kregel’s Exegetical Library and Commentary series. I have obtained and reviewed several offerings from this set and the excellence and consistency remain steadfast. This second volume in Alan P. Ross’ Commentary on the Psalms keeps the “high bar” standard alive in the series.

This is actually the first volume of the Psalms series I have had the opportunity to work in. Volume one was released in February of 2012 and volume three is slated for release later this year (November 2014). I can say that I will be going back for volume one and I’ll be waiting in line for volume three, as I’ve enjoyed this copy immensely and count it as an indispensible resource for my Psalm studies and personal devotions.

Allen P. Ross (PhD, University of Cambridge) is professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School and has also taught at Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry and Dallas Theological Seminary. Having chaired the Old Testament department at Dallas Theological Seminary and served as Hebrew Scholar assisting in the translations of the New Living Bible and the New King James Bible, Dr. Ross is imminently qualified to offer exegesis and insight from the Psalms.

The treatment of each Psalm begins with an introduction of the text and textual variants. Here Ross shares the English translation and information relative to the original Hebrew, Greek translation variants, and other relevant manuscript and/or translation information. Next, is composition and context indicating the nature and purpose of the Psalm (lament, praise, hymn, confession of repentance, etc.). Following these introductory sections, Ross begins his exegetical analysis and expository commentary. This section is where Ross’ expertise truly shines. His extensive knowledge of the Old Testament and understanding of the Hebrew language combined with the temperament of an educator make this presentation very readable and interesting. I have used many commentaries that tend to gravitate toward one or the other spectrum of too academic or too narrative (almost paraphrasing the text with personal opinion). This commentary series seems to rest in the sweet spot of that spectrum with a comforting push toward the academic side. Ross completes his treatment of each Psalm with a homiletical application or “what does this mean to me” and “what should I do with it” consideration.

As I said at the beginning of my review, this is another fine addition to the Kregel Exegetical Library and should be near the top of anyone’s list for Commentary sets working with the Psalms. You can check out an example chapter here.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publishing to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

Book Review: A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

Author: Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Publisher: Kregel Academic ISBN: 9780825425561

A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

I have quickly become a fan of “all things Kregel,” at least where it comes to theological resources. I have reviewed, and now use, quite a few books from the Kregel Academic publishing house. I can honestly report that I have not had a single resource that has disappointed me; each and every book has been a very useful and enlightening tool for my Bible studies. This commentary from the Kregel Exegetical Library Series on the Old Testament book of Judges and Ruth is no exception to my report.

This commentary, written by Robert B. Chisholm, follows a bit of a different format than many of the commentaries I most often go to for my Scripture studies. First, Chisholm uses his own translation of the Hebrew texts (he is eminently qualified for the task as department chair and professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary as well as translator and senior Old Testament editor of the NET Bible). Second, Chisholm does not spend a lot of time wrestling with issues of textual criticism. While this might be important at some level of study, I have found it to be mind numbing and tedious when I am more concerned with working with meaning, interpretation, and application of the text. This is where this commentary shines, in my opinion.

There are thorough introductions to both books (Judges, and Ruth), providing expected detail information such as literary structure, chronology, outline, and socio-political landscape in addition to other items helpful in developing a high-level perspective. Included in the introductions, and not familiar to me in other commentaries, is the inclusion of a short section titled “Modern Proclamation of…” where Chisholm makes the effort to connect these ancient manuscripts to contemporary culture. Additionally, he includes preaching ideas for these texts toward the end of the introduction sections and each outline section of the book titled, “Homiletical Vantage Points.” I found these pieces thought-provoking and insightful.

As is expected with most commentaries, this is well-documented with resource references and thoroughly annotated. Concerning resources, a treasure trove bibliography is also included for each book at the end of their respective section. By treasure trove, I mean, the selection for Judges alone is thirty pages of reference titles!

While this is a very academic work, I did not find it “over my head.” I should mention that I am not a language scholar, nor do I hold a seminary degree. I found the commentary very accessible, fairly easy to read and understand (if you’ve had experience working in commentaries), and very practical. I was able to glean and apply information at first glance. This, in my opinion, is a ranking criterion for any “good” resource work and especially a Bible commentary.

As I mentioned at the outset of this review, I am rapidly becoming a huge fan of the works published by Kregel Academic and this Exegetical Library is very exciting to me. There are several other volumes planned in this series with a couple already available. If Kregel is able to maintain continuity of quality as found in this volume for Judges and Ruth, it is likely to become one of my favorite commentary series. This is an excellent choice for studies for these two Old Testament books.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publishing to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What Have You Done for Me Lately

23MAR2014—Sunday

Lent.18—What Have You Done for Me Lately

Readings: Psalm 95  Exodus 17:1-7  Romans 5:1-11  John 4:5-42

Summary thoughts from my reading of Exodus 17:1-7 today…

A few points grabbed my attention while I was reading from the Book of Exodus this morning.

  1. “Once more the people complained…” (Ex. 17:2)
  2. “Why are you testing the LORD?” (Ex. 17:2)
  3. “But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses…” (Ex. 17:3)
  4. “The people argued with Moses and tested the LORD by saying: ‘Is the LORD here with us or not?'” (Ex. 17:7)

This last point “stirred my pot” a bit…where the Hebrew people asked if the LORD was with them or not, so I turned a few pages back in my Bible to reacquaint myself with the narrative of the Hebrew people as they made their exit from Egypt. Here are a few important details I noted:

  1. Exodus chapt. 13 – God provides freedom for the Hebrew people from 400 plus years of slavery and bondage under Egyptian rule.
  2. Exodus chapt. 14 – God provides escape and salvation from Pharaoh’s army as He miraculously parts the Red Sea allowing passage for the Hebrew people and drowning their oppressors.
  3. Exodus chapt. 15 – God provides clean drinking water for the Hebrew people in the middle of the desert
  4. Exodus chapt. 16 God miraculously provides an abundance of quail (meat) and manna (bread from heaven)

These are a series of mysterious and inarguably divine interventions by the hand of a loving God. Clearly, the LORD was with the Hebrew people. The timeline of these events are not too far separated from one another; it might have been days, it might have been weeks, it might have even been over the span of months, but it was certainly a series of events that would have been hard to forget… Yet, we see the Hebrew people, tormented by the urgency of their immediate felt needs completely oblivious to what had been happening among them. The LORD was with them in a very big way and yet the people have the audacity to question very seriously whether the LORD was with them at all…whether God cared for them at all…asking if God’s motives were to lead them to the desert only to allow them to die. Drama much? Selfish much? But God, what have you done for me lately?

I can’t help but wonder how often I might be tempted to do the same. I’m sure no one else has found themselves in similar places. Right?

Prayer:

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

After Many Days…

After Many Days… [17SEPT2013]

Readings: Philippians 1:6 ◊ Ephesians 6:13  1 Kings 18:1; 19:11-13  Hebrews 12: 1-3

I am thankful for the “great cloud of witnesses” that have gone before me. It is often the counsel of their testimonies that encourages and inspires me to press on in my journey of faith. In my most recent days, I am encouraged and comforted by the testimony of Elijah the Tishbite (Elijah means “my God is Yahweh”).

Elijah first shows up in the Book of First Kings (chapter 17). There isn’t much information about his past or his beginnings and nothing much about his relationship with God prior to his giving a word from the LORD to King Ahab (1 Kings 17:1). An interesting chain of events follows Elijah after he delivers a prophetic message to Ahab. The LORD sends Elijah off into the wilderness…it is unknown if this is for protection or hiding, but God provides for him with food brought to him by ravens and then later from the provisions of a widow woman. There is no way for us to know what happened during this time Elijah was in the wilderness, the story does not provide details. What we do know is that Elijah was in the wilderness and with the widow at least three years or more.

As I mentioned, best I can tell, Elijah didn’t have detailed instructions on what to do with himself during these three plus years. All we know is that the LORD told him to “go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook and drink from it while ravens feed you” (1 Kings 17:2-6). Elijah did this until the brook dried up from the drought, then the LORD gave him new instructions to “go live in the village of Zarephath,” where he would be cared for by a widow woman (1 Kings 17:8-16).

It seems there was a lot of waiting going on. There are no significant reports in the narrative that describe anything else that was happening in Elijah’s life other than being faithful to the last word the LORD had given him. It seems, for the most part, Elijah waited. It is also difficult to tell what inspired him during these days of waiting. It makes sense to me that it may have been a very simple and slow routine. It was, after all, ancient Palestine sometime during the 9th Century B.C. I remember too, Elijah’s first residence was a camp beside the Kerith Brook…one might assume he was living alone for however long it took for the drought to dry the brook. Later, he moves to Zarephath and lives with the widow and her son for however long, but it doesn’t appear that Elijah’s habit changes much… he continues to wait… in obscurity and in relative quiet.

Chapter eighteen of First Kings provides us with some more insight; “After many days, the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year” (1 Kings 18:1). Here is what caught my attention: After many days… and In the third year

After many days, the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year…

By my standards, that’s a long time to wait. In relative obscurity. In relative silence, regarding God’s speaking to him. As I go back and read the account of Elijah again, God didn’t give Elijah details regarding the instructions. God said to Elijah “go” and “I will provide for you.” He didn’t tell Elijah how long it would be that he would be gone for. Also, it doesn’t seem that there was constant chatter between Elijah and God during this time he was set aside. It does seem as though Elijah was faithful to God… first, he was obedient to God’s instructions and second, he lived believing faithfully in the provision and power of God. I don’t think Elijah knew what was going to happen. I think he believed and trusted God. Period.

After Elijah receives a new word of instruction from the LORD, he once again acts obediently. This word and Elijah’s obedience to it, leads to a rather dramatic chain of events (1 Kings 18:1-19:18).

“After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year… “

 ”Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.

…the LORD was not in the wind

…the LORD was not in the earthquake

…the LORD was not in the fire

And after the fires a sound of

SHEER SILENCE.

Then there came a voice to him…”

There is more I could say about the narrative itself, but I started to consider the parallels in my own life. A few words from my journal follow:

“After many days…” we get scared or at least I do. I feel like I’m in a holding pattern. Waiting. Sitting idle in the wilderness and I begin to wonder. I wonder where I’ve failed and I wonder what “I need to do” in order for God to conform again to my expectations. Sometimes I go “many days” where I do not hear from God according to my preferred way to hear Him speak—and I doubt. I doubt me and I doubt God. I doubt the systems and I doubt the religious exercises. I doubt my direction. I doubt my instructions. I doubt my location and I doubt the state of my provisions.

I remind myself when I am left in a kind of dark unknowing…feeling helpless and shrouded in my doubts—there is still within me a desire to know that which is totally beyond me! It is here that I recognize God’s deep and abiding love for me. Here, in the face of this great Mystery, is the Bridge that joins the great chasm between me and the invisible God. Here, in this Cloud of Unknowing, Jesus rushes in, reaches out, and extends to me a lifeline, saying; “I am with you always!”

I remember:

  1. God, who began the good work within me, will continue his work until is complete and perfect. He is faithful to do this.
  2. When I have done all that I can do and done all that I know to do—then I stand and wait upon the LORD, faithfully trusting His timing and His provision.
  3. God will always find me in my solitude…there is no where I can hide from Him—He is everywhere.
  4. God wills me to Himself. I respond to His call with faith.

” A heart that has no other wish but to possess God must attract him to itself, and this secret of love is a very great one, since by this way alone sure faith and firm hope are established in the soul. Then it is that we believe what we cannot see, and expect to possess what we cannot feel.” -Jean-Pierre de Caussade

“God is nearer to me than I am to myself, more intimate to me than my inmost being.” -Augustine

A Prayer:

Lord, Open my lips—And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

I will worship my mighty King and Lord. Revive me now, God, my Helper. Blessed be the Father, the Word, and the Spirit. For these Three are One.

O, Breath of God, Heal me in my mind, my body, and my soul. Because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule my heart, through Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever.

Lord, hear my prayer—and let my cry come unto you.

“i”dolatry: What is a False God?

“i”dolatry: What’s a False God?

I was reading from the writings of the prophet Hosea today. It’s pretty interesting that I was directed to this passage of text (Lectionary Readings Cycle C—Proper 12—for Sunday July 27). The past few days I’ve found myself in various conversations discussing the topic of idolatry. It’s curious to me that our definition of idolatry is often very narrow; it is almost comical too that when we think of or discuss idolatry we hardly ever consider ourselves as idolaters or lovers of false gods.


When I revisit the Decalogue or Ten Commandments as given by God through Moses, I notice a founding premise that helps broaden my understanding of what idolatry is. Paraphrasing Exodus 20:1-6, I read the following words:

I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself anything that you can imagine that will capture your attention and energy over what is deserved of me. I the LORD your God am a jealous God.

I don’t believe I am subverting the understanding of the original text by assuming this to mean that anything that comes between me and the relationship I have with God is idolatry. Subsequently, I think this expanded understanding of idolatry means many things that I formerly assumed were harmless distractions most likely qualify as idolatry.

I think… we don’t like this quantification. Just like we prefer safe stereotypes (think devil in red tights with tiny horns and pointed tail rather than an “angel of light”), we like to assume false gods (idols) are little statues that we would literally bow before. If I do not do this, I’m not an idolater and do not worship false gods. Right?

Another of the primary precepts and directives from God to humankind reads as follows:

Now this is the commandment— The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. ­Deut. 6:1-6

While I think it may seem obvious, anything less than complete and utter devotion to our God is some form of idolatry. This may sound distorted and harsh, but the reality is that “anything less than” clearly assumes there is something that is getting more attention than the God who has created us. Look again at the foundational commandments and precepts for living in relationship with God… Remember, it is He, who has established the conditions of the relationship, and it is He, who has given the definition through this clarification for what is construed as idolatry. After all, anything not God is a false god, if we elevate it to a position of importance over Him.

There are ways in which we worship false gods. It is possible to be so attached to a thing or a person as to turn it into an idol. Even though you don’t say it with your mouth, you have an object of worship that is not God.

Another way to have a false god is to put your confidence in anything other than God. If you wish you were rich or desire to have a certain friend or supporter, and think that this will bring you happiness and security, you may have taken a false god. The Lord is God alone. Our confidence is to be anchored in him alone.

Think about these false gods as weeds in your garden. Pull them out by the root. Set your heart on nothing that is not God. Love God with your whole heart. Do everything for his sake. And above all, obey God. For if we merely revere, love, and trust—but do not obey—God, we are making God into what we want; we are making him into a false god.

Some greatly fear and believe in the conjunctions and influences of the heavenly planets and bodies in the sky. Others stand in awe of tyrants. Some put their trust in money, and they scratch everywhere for money, not regarding whether they get it by right or by wrong.

There are those who are overly self-confident. They have their merits and good deeds to rely on instead of relying on God. This is the greatest idolatry of all.

Others are servants to their own bellies, forgetting God while they eat and drink. Their stomach is their god.

Some are even able to make an idol of the true and living God. When we imagine the form and shape of God, we have missed God.  Be careful not to create an idol in your heart.

–Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556); Catechismus

All of the above should serve as a warning to us. We should be ever mindful of how creative we are in fashioning idols for ourselves. John Calvin is credited with saying, “The human heart is an idol factory…” We should remember this. We are fond of ourselves and would much rather consider that we are more the suffering saint in the company of Hosea rather than a straying harlot like Gomer. We are not only easily deceived, but we are expert deceivers of ourselves. How often and tragic it is that we convince ourselves that we are given in allegiance to God, but the truth is we are more closely aligned with a god we have fashioned in our own imaginations. We have imagined something we call “God,” but the truth is that we have created a false god. And this might be the most vile and treacherous form of idolatry…When we fashion idols for ourselves out of God Almighty.

We use the Creator of all things as a template to create a god of our own imaginations. It is here that we invariably fashion ourselves as the object of our affections and worship. We make a god we can imagine…and like…and successfully serve on our terms. A god fashioned from our imaginations is akin to the original sin. It is akin to me shaking a fist in defiance at the One True God to say, “I will be like the Most High God!” I say this because a god fashioned from my imagination is ultimately the god of “me.” If we deceive ourselves into believing we understand God well enough to “create” a version of him in our mind—then he is no god at all—He has merely become me and I have appeased my ignorance and curiosity by calling him “god.” Beware. Beware indeed.

For another perspective on idolatry, see here

Living Large

Living Large

Readings: Psalm 32 ◊ Jeremiah 17:7-8  Romans 12:9-13  John 14:7-9

Reading from Daily NRSV: 1 Samuel 25:1—2 Samuel 7:29

I continue to read about the lives of Saul and David. I am noticing afresh and remembering some interesting details about the God-chasing life of David… taking some cues jotting down notes.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. -Romans 12:11

David loved God with absolute abandon; this is how I read the account of his life from the Bible. I see this one thing common about David, remaining constant through the entirety of his life… I see his passion and intensity as the guiding example of his life. In fairness, I think his fervor and force cut both ways, for good and for not-so-good. Passion and intensity… it seems that almost all David did, he did with all his heart, soul, and strength. Could this be one of the reasons God loved and favored him so much despite the fact that David’s zeal led him to make some very poor choices? I don’t believe that David loved God as much with his head as he loved God with all his heart and I think this is a difference maker. We remember the Bible teaches us that God looks upon the heart as he determines the love of a man… “The LORD does not see as mortals see: they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7 NRsV

So… zeal and passion can be the catalyst for some pretty bad “cuts and bruises.” This was evident in the life of David and it has been true in my life too; I read that passion and zeal was a characteristic of the apostle Peter too, who was one of Jesus’ closest buds. Oh, and Peter’s zeal got him in some rather tight spots on more than one occasion too, but I think it was what was so endearing to Jesus.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God… -2 Timothy 1:6

What does it mean? What’s the takeaway? There are times that my passion and zeal have been choked for fear of making a mistake and missing the mark. Exercising caution, being prudent, showing maturity, and being conservative… I think these can all be euphemisms for fear. I’m sure that I’ve missed God opportunities for both being a blessing and being blessed by curtailing my fervor and intensity. I think; after reading this past week on the lives of Saul and David…and remembering Peter, I would rather live a little reckless in my passion and spill my zeal all over the hands and feet of Jesus rather than living a cautious and clean life and risk missing Jesus altogether. It’s obvious that David and Peter were both forgiven for every fail they committed. Maybe this is closer to what Luther meant when he advised to “sin boldly.” I don’t think the sin is intentional, but the wide-open, live-love-large passion and zeal are.

Sometimes some of the greatest plays that make the highlight reels are made by players willing to risk it all, body and limb, diving to make the play with reckless abandon. Sometimes they miss, but sometimes what they do is spectacular. The misses are often quickly forgotten; the spectacular plays rarely are and these players willing to risk it all for the love of the game, often become our favorite players because of their passion and fervor. I think this is how I want to pursue Jesus. I can live large for him, because his grace is large for me. Amen.

A Prayer of Scripture

O LORD, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. I will confess my transgressions to the LORD. It is with clean heart I ask, Lord, grant me the gift of seeing my life through your eyes. Help me to see this time as an integrated part of my life’s journey right now. Teach me to continue my dialogue with your Spirit as I go about my tasks this and every day.

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.  They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.

Glory to you, Source of all being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end. Amen.

Righteous Dis-ease

Righteous Dis-ease

Readings: Psalm 92 ◊ 1 Samuel 16:7  Psalm 119:145-147  Romans 5:15  

Reading from Daily NRSV: 1 Samuel 16:1—24:22

The past few days I have been reading from the Book of 1 Samuel, looking into the lives of the Kings Saul and David. Each time I read from these narrative accounts I come away with an equal part of encouragement and “dis—ease.”

All through these ancient stories, I read of many of the men and women in the Bible showing equal parts of “faithful” and “faulty.” There are countless stories depicting deep love of God and then it seems like there comes the counterbalance of fleshly foible revealing the frailty of their humanity (i.e., not one of them lived perfect lives).

“The LORD does not see as mortals see: they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7 NRsV

King David is especially notable in this sense, described as a man after God’s heart and arguably one of God’s favorites…and not perfect by a looooong shot. He lied, he stole, he cheated, he adulterated, he murdered, he showed poor parenting skills…and these are just off the top of my head, but even in the midst of these moral failures God loved him, favored him, and blessed him immensely. This is one major example of why I come away from these readings encouraged. It is also for the same reason I come away from this with a heavy conviction of “dis-ease.”

How often am I tempted to redefine obedience so that I am not doing what God requires but what I desire instead?

The reason I feel so uncomfortable with their fleshly failures is not that I think we should live morally perfect lives…even with the Holy Spirit upon or within us, (David had the Holy Spirit upon him and still committed epic failures). No, the reason is much more vainly motivated than that… I feel disturbed and dis-eased because I realize how easy it is for me to justify and excuse my failures and weaknesses in light of God’s forgiving nature toward me and Christ-imputed righteousness to me. This is pretty sobering to think about when I consider that “God looks upon the heart…” What does my heart really look like, when I redefine obedience to fit my desires? Am I really living to deny self, so I might conform fully to the image of Christ? Or, do I slack off from that transformation of character and nature, assuming that God forgives my frailty? I mean… “He knows we are dust” Right?

I don’t particularly like this tension I live in, but I think it is healthy for my soul. These questions and my honest answers keep my running on my knees to the Cross of Christ feeling very poor in spirit. I want to be righteous for the sake of my God, Jesus. I do want to live a morally perfect and Christ-like virtuous life; I do. I think the balance is in setting the bar for my goal as the life Jesus lived. I don’t think I should be satisfied or comfortable with my weaknesses and failures, but I don’t think they should paralyze me either. God the Holy Spirit is with me and has empowered me to succeed and live a life that reflects Christ in me; I know this and should let this be the guiding principle for how I go about my daily living.

I want to live like and leave the legacy of the person the psalmist writes about in Psalm 92.

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” –Psalm 92:12-15

A Prayer of Psalms

O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. I call out to you, O LORD, with all my heart… answer me, O LORD, and I will obey your decrees. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes, I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. Come, Creator Spirit, Paraclete, gift of God most high, visit the souls of your people, and fill with supernal grace the hearts which you created. Amen.

“So I forced myself…”

“So I forced myself…”

Reading: 1 Samuel 13:1—15:35

Reading today about Saul…

As I read about the actions and heart of Saul, I find similarities between his life and my own that I wish I did not. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say I’m probably not the only one, but I won’t project my thoughts on anyone else… at least not today, not in this post.

Reading in chapter thirteen, Saul had been given specific instructions by Samuel. The details of the instructions aren’t critically important, but Saul’s situation was deteriorating as was his patience. Saul felt as if he had to “do something,” so he did. Against Samuel’s instructions.

I think the interesting points I noted as I read this account was the wrestling it seems that Saul went through. It might not be obvious in the written account, but it certainly seems implied. It is evident that Saul knew his instructions because he waited as he had been told. Also, when he was confronted by Samuel, he began to explain himself and offer up an excuse…even to the point of projecting part of the blame on Samuel.

“When I saw that the people were slipping away, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering…” -1 Samuel 13:11 NRSV

Saul goes on to fully explain himself and then caps his excuse with the words that really caught my attention; “so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12).

“I forced myself;” says Saul. Some versions read, “I felt compelled…” In either event, what comes across to me is there was a deliberate weighing of a decision to choose against what he knew to do. “I forced myself.” Indeed. As I reflect on the choices of my life, if I am transparent, I have done exactly as Saul did in this account. There have been more than a few occasions when I have known the right thing to do and I deliberately chose a different path. Some of these decisions were not so obviously blatant rebellion against something I was instructed to do, but I think there have been times when I had a strong sense of what God wanted from me… I sensed the Holy Spirit guiding me and I felt “compelled to go a different direction.” Like Saul.

This attitude in itself is bad enough, but when confronted and rebuked by Samuel for his actions of insolence and disobedience, Saul appears to simply shrug off the rebuke and go his way.

“Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you…’ And Samuel left and went on his way…” (1 Samuel 13:13-15)

There are a number of lessons here for consideration, not the least of which is Saul’s continuing downward spiral toward complete self-absorption. Saul continued to “force himself” to make the decisions he wanted to make and then justify his disobedience in words that were couched in religious pontifications. He always did what he did for the glory of God… so he said. Interestingly, every choice he made “for God” was against the instructions and commandments of God.

I think the primary lesson I’m taking from this reading today was how easy it was for Saul to first turn his back to God. I wonder if he had been repentant when first confronted by Samuel if there would have been a different outcome. I also think while this might have been an obvious transgression, there are probably less obvious acts each of us might wrestle with, “feeling compelled” to do what we want to do that ultimately take us in a direction other than where God wished to take us. Perhaps when I “force myself” to do things my way, I don’t turn 180 degrees from God… I just turn 45 degrees away from him. And the slide begins.

I don’t want this to be me, not even a little bit. I’m in a season of seeking God’s direction for a new chapter of life for me and my wife. I don’t want to be second-guessing God and justifying guesses with religious reasoning. I don’t want to pontificate as Saul did that by doing what he did he could glorify God all the more. Samuel responded to Saul’s dogmatic excuses with these words:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

I do not want to take for granted hearing the Word of the Lord to me. When I ask God’s direction, I want to hear Him speak. I want to act in obedience to all He speaks to me. I do not want to reject His Word. I think paying attention to the little decisions and acting with integrity with those choices might be preparations for the bigger decisions. Getting the little decisions right and obedient might be what helps deter me from “forcing myself” to do what I think best instead of choosing to wait and obey God.

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