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A Hopeful Thought

Philippians 3:18-21 – 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

We live in a hard world. We live in a world teaming with folks who oppose God and his ways. We live in a world in which the fundamental truths of how God has made us are being denied by those who would do away with all standards of biblical righteousness. We live in a world where people worship their drives and glory in what should be their shame.

What thought will give us hope in such a time? What calling do we have? We need to remember who we are and whose we are. We need to remember what is and what is not our home. Paul, writing to the Philippians, reminds them that our citizenship is not in this world. Our citizenship is in heaven. Is this Paul being escapist? No. it is Paul setting our minds on their proper priority. We live on this earth while we know that we are eagerly awaiting the return of our Savior. We long for the day when Christ will come, will transform these lowly and broken bodies into eternal, heavenly bodies that are like his glorious resurrection body. WE look for him to come, consummate the kingdom, and rule forever. We look forward to this with confidence, and we have hope to live through and even transform this world.

No, do not become so heavenly minded that you cease to be of any earthly good. But neither should you assume that anyone who is living rightly here on earth can avoid being heavenly minded. Paul quite clearly comforts the Philippians with a reminder that our citizenship is with Christ and our hope is in his return. May we not let ourselves ignore that hope. May we love it and let it make us serve our Lord faithfully in the here and now.

Justice

Exodus 23:1-3 – 1 “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2 You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, 3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.

God is interested in justice, true justice. We do not need to put other labels in front of the word justice. In fact, doing so will quickly make us turn from justice toward something else. Thus, social justice, racial justice, climate justice, immigration justice, or any other word added to justice risks the concept of justice as a whole.

As God sets the standard for the nation of Israel, a nation to live under his particular guidance and authority, he points them toward justice. Notice what we are not to do. Do not lie to get your way in a court (v1). Do not join up with a group to win a lawsuit that is unjust (v2). And, do not show partiality on the side of the poor (v3).

That bit in verse 3 grabs my attention. In modern social justice arguing, siding with the poor is precisely what is expected. After all, the poor have not experienced equity. They have been victimized by a society that is clearly shaped against them. But the Lord does not hold with modern critical theories of oppression. Instead, God is clear that we are to do nothing to pervert justice in a hearing. We do not side with the rich. WE do not side with the poor. We side with the one who is right in the particular hearing.

May we learn to be a people of true justice. May we not be tempted to anything less. Adding something to justice will not leave us in a place that honors the Lord.

Quick Thoughts in Exodus

Sometimes we struggle in reading through the end of the book of Exodus. Is there really something to learn in the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle or in the anointing of the priests? Here are a few quick thoughts I had when my daily reading took me through Exodus 29-31.

Exodus 29:19-20 – 19 “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, 20 and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar.

In the anointing of Aaron and his sons to be priests, we see this odd instruction. After a particular sacrifice, the people are to put the blood of the lamb on the priest’s ear lobe, thumb, and big toe. How strange? Why?

Maybe we are to see that the priest, the faithful servant of the Lord, is to be consecrated to God in multiple areas of life. We belong to God in what we think (the head or ear lobe), what we do (the hand or thumb), and where we go (the big toe on the foot). No aspect of life is our own. Every part of your life—thoughts, actions, locations—belongs to God.

Exodus 30:11-13 – 11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. 13 Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord.

When the people were coming into the land, God was going to have the people counted. And every adult who was counted was required to pay a ransom for his life. Rich or poor, it does not matter, every person is to pay this price. Why? Every life belongs to God. Every person is a sinner who rightly could die. Everyone needs payment to be made for who we are and to cover what we deserve.

How much does this point us to Jesus? Every one of us has sinned before God. Every one of us needs a price to be paid so that we might live. Only Jesus has the infinite worth and personal perfection to pay that price on our behalf.

Exodus 30:31-33 – 31 And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people.’ ”

When the people were to make the sacred anointing oil, there were restrictions. This oil could not be used by ordinary folks. In fact, if an average joe were to make this oil, he would be cut off from his people.

What might we learn? God has every right to declare a thing his own. God has every right to tell his people that certain things are off limits. God has every right to tell us what is holy and what is not. And we have every obligation to follow the Lord’s commands instead of thinking that we get a say in how we are to worship.

Exodus 31:1-5 – 1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, 4 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

Here, we see that God has set apart a particular man and given him the skill to craft the artistic items needed for the tabernacle. Here we are reminded that God, when he has a ministry he wants fulfilled, will gift his people with the skill needed to accomplish the task. God gifts us on purpose to do the work to which he calls us.

All these are simple thoughts, But all these remind us that there are glorious lessons for us to learn even in obscure passages.

Sledgehammers or Burden Bearers

Matthew 23:1–4 – 1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

In Matthew 23, we are watching Jesus speak in relation to the religious teachers of his day. The Savior knows that this group of men is trying to trap him in his words. Jesus knows they want him dead. And Jesus knows that, within just a few days, he will go to the cross to lay down his life to rescue his people.

Interesting to me is the fact that, as the Savior faces down this group of falsely religious men, he warns us against them. And the first warnings against them have to do with the lack of heart in the religious leaders. Jesus does not deny that they have the ability to set policy. But what Jesus points out is that these men neither do what they themselves preach nor do they work in any way to help others.

What makes me want to challenge myself and others as I look at this on an early morning is verse 4, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” Following the Lord does require things. Honoring Jesus requires life change. True godliness includes that we should turn from sin and turn toward righteousness. And we need religious teachers, faithful Bible teachers, who will point these things out. But, and this is the Savior’s point, the one who is willing to burden others with requirements had also better be one who is willing to work with others to help.

On the Internet and in the church hallways, there are sledgehammer saints. These men and women love to lay down the law on you. They love to tell you what has to change right now if your faith can be taken seriously. But how many of those folks also are willing to stoop with you under the burden and help you carry it? It is easy, super easy, to tell people how wrong they are. It is hard, often frustrating, and deeply time-consuming to actually help a person to change instead of just telling them they have to.

Christian, as you think of your role in the church, are you a genuine helper, a burden-bearer, or are you more a sledgehammer saint and keyboard warrior? I do not think it is hard to see which one Jesus appreciates. No, we do not tolerate sin. Neither do we crush brothers and sisters in the faith who are genuinely wrestling against their sin. May we tell each other the truth, but never stop letting folks know that we are right here with them to help them lift the burden.

Who Else Would Jesus Call Satan?

Matthew 16:23 – But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Lots of people are fascinated by the moment when Jesus called Peter “Satan.” It is a pretty dramatic rebuke. But I wonder if we let the heaviness of the rebuke prevent us from seeing an application that we must grasp.

Just a moment before, Jesus had commended Peter. Peter boldly stated that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus said that such faith, such a confession, such a truth is the rock upon which he would build his church. And Peter must have felt pretty good.

But then Jesus turned the conversation. He started talking about his soon-coming execution. Peter felt the need to step in. No way was Peter, the man who just called Jesus the Christ, going to see Jesus crucified.

It is then that Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” When Peter sees Jesus as the Christ, it is commendable. But when Peter focuses on the things of man above the things of God, Peter, like the devil, is an adversary to Jesus.

Of course this passage helps us to see that Jesus would let nothing stand in the way of his plan. The Savior had to go to the cross if he would be able to save the souls of believers. We have no way to be right with God if Jesus does not die in our place.

But I wonder if there is more. Obviously, the crucifixion is a done deal. It has been perfectly accomplished in the past. But, do some who claim Christ, do some churches, stand as adversaries to Jesus by thinking about the things of man rather than the things of God?

What would it look like to have the mind of the church set on the things of man? I do not think this is a tremendously hard question to answer. Just look around and ask yourself where people gather and focus on things that have little to nothing to do with the Savior. Where are churches interested more in building their numbers and becoming important in their towns than on exalting Christ even when that is unpopular in their community? Where are Christians looking for safety above looking for ways to serve the Lord? Where do churches compromise the clear word of God for the approval of society? Where do churches make the continuation of their organization of greater importance than faithfulness to the commands of the Savior?

What would it look like today to have the mind of the church set on the things of God? We know that answer too. We see it when Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow him. We see it when he reminds us that those who love him and follow him will be hated by the lost world. We see it when we see the New Testament commands to love one another, to obey the word, to preach the word, to sing songs that teach true doctrine, and to take the gospel into the world. All of the New Testament epistles are designed to show the church how to be people whose minds are set on the Lord and his priorities.

Christian, what about your own life? Does it look like the things of Christ are front-and-center? Is your hope in him and his return? Is your hope in eternity? Is your priority his glory in the here and now? Are you eager to follow him even when that following will take you to places culture cannot approve?

Friends, we may love and serve our Savior. And we will face temptations in this life to be his adversaries by focusing more on the things of man than the things of God. May we be faithful. May we repent when we fail. And may we be on the side of the Lord eternally.

Pointing to Jesus in Judah

In the latter chapters of Genesis, we watch the unfolding tale of Joseph in Egypt, the famine, and the move of the people of Israel into that foreign land. While Joseph is the man used of God to prepare the way for the family’s move, Judah begins to emerge as the leader among the brothers. Though he is the fourth-born, Judah will be the son of Jacob who will carry forward the promise of God’s blessing.

Interestingly, Judah is not at all a good man as the story opens. In chapter 37, Judah is the one who suggested selling Joseph to slavers (Gen. 37: 26-27). In chapter 38, Judah is a scoundrel from the beginning. In that scene, Judah moves among the Canaanites, is dishonest with his daughter-in-law, and even unknowingly commits sexual immorality with her. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute hoping to get pregnant by Judah, and her scheme works.

At his lowest point, Judah attempts to have Tamar condemned to death for her sexual sin (Gen. 38:24). But then Tamar makes Judah aware that he is the father of the children she is carrying. Tamar brings forth some personal items of Judah’s that he had given to the woman he believed was a prostitute. When he sees them, he is changed.

Genesis 38:26 – Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.

Judah confesses. He knows that, though Tamar behaved badly, she was still more righteous than him. From that point forward, Judah would not misuse Tamar. And, from that point forward, when we follow the story of the brothers, Judah begins to play a prominent role. His changed life makes a difference.

During the years of famine, Jacob sends his older sons to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph, recognizing his brothers and testing them to see if they have changed, sends them all home, but keeps Simeon as a prisoner. Joseph’s demand was that they must return to Egypt with all the brothers including the youngest, Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother.

Jacob is hesitant to send the men down to Egypt. He believes that joseph is dead. He fears losing Benjamin as well. And it is Judah who steps in.

Here is where I found myself contemplating a pointer to Christ in Judah. Obviously, Judah is not perfect like Jesus. In Judah’s story, we see what looks like a conversion. And once God has changed Judah, the Lord will use Judah. In that changed man, God shows us a hint of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.

Genesis 43:9 – I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.

Before, Judah had been the one to sell Joseph for profit to slavers. Now, Judah is the one who says that he will offer himself as a payment. If the young men cannot return with Benjamin to their father, Judah says that he will personally bear the blame.

Then, when the encounter happens with Joseph just before Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, we see a hint of what Jesus, the Messiah descended from Judah’s line, would do. Joseph threatened to force Benjamin to remain in Egypt. Judah stepped in.

Genesis 44:32-34 – 32 For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”

Judah stands before Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt, and pleads for Benjamin’s life. Judah asks that Joseph punish him in Benjamin’s stead. Judah does not ask that Joseph’s justice not be served. Instead, Judah asks that he take that penalty so that Benjamin might be free.

Was Judah a good man? Again, from the beginning, we know that he was not. But the Lord changed him. More importantly, the Lord used him to point to exactly what Jesus would do. We have sinned before God. We deserve God’s wrath. Unlike Benjamin’s story, there is no set up here. We are truly guilty. And our sin would earn us hell.

What did Jesus do? Jesus carried out God’s design. God the Father sent God the Son to accomplish redemption. Jesus stood in the stead of all those God will forgive. Jesus took upon himself the full punishment of God for the guilt that God would forgive. Jesus sacrificed his life, suffering the equivalent punishment to our forever in hell, in order to prevent us from facing that judgment. Jesus then rose from the grave, proving the judgment fulfilled and offering life to all who will come to him in faith and repentance.

It is beautiful to see hints of the gospel scattered all throughout the Old Testament. Judah is changed, and it reminds us of our conversion. Judah stands up and offers himself as a substitute for Benjamin, and it reminds us of Jesus.

Value in that Chapter You Skip

Genesis 36:1–2 – 1 These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). 2 Esau took his wives from the Canaanites: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite,

Genesis 36 is a chapter full of names. In that genealogy, we read of the descendants of Esau, the Edomites. And one might ask why God has chosen to record this chapter for us. Honestly, I’m just not that interested in reading a list of the descendants of a man who does not carry the promise of God or move forward the biblical story line.

But before we turn our noses up on such a chapter and skip it, let’s remember a couple of things at least. Genesis 36 is a record of the faithfulness of God. The Lord keeps all of his promises—all of them. Back in Genesis 17:17-21, God promised Abraham that Ishmael would be a strong man who fathered nations. Then God recorded for us that fulfillment in the genealogy of the sons of Ishmael in Genesis 25:12-ff. Similarly, In Genesis 27:39-40, God promised Esau through Isaac that he would be strong, but not blessed like Jacob. In the genealogy of the Edomites in Genesis 36, we see that God did exactly what he said he would do.

We also learn in Genesis 36 that the Edomites, who could have stayed near Jacob to participate in the blessing of the Lord, moved to live among the Canaanites. There is a clear delineation being made, a clear separation between those who are the people of God and those who are not. God works to show us that the family line that carries the promise of God is preserved and not confused or corrupted in any way.

In this chapter, we see reminders of common grace. Though the Edomites are not the people of God, not willing to worship and follow God, not part of the line of promise, they still are blessed. Sons and daughters are born to this people. They expand and gain land and wealth (cf. Gen. 36:6-8), even discovering lovely things like hot springs in their land (v. 24).

This chapter also shows us where certain enemies of the nation of Israel come from. WE find out that the descendants of Esau are the Edomites, a people who become a thorn in Israel’s flesh. We read in verse 12, “Timna was a concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz,” which shows us where the Amalekites come from.

When God made a covenant with Abraham, he promised him relationship with God, a land, and a nation of descendants which would produce kings. Now, as we follow the line of Edom, we see that, though this nation has not chosen to follow the Lord, they have still been blessed with land and possessions, many descendants, and even kings (v.31).

No, 43 verses of names of the descendants of Esau may not always be exciting. But do not let yourself assume that there is no value in it. God is good. God is faithful. God blesses the world with common grace. God fulfills all his promises. And God keeps his people. We see all this hinted at even in a chapter many like to skip in their reading plans.

Never Forget that Governments Use Crises to Seize Freedoms

President Ronald Reagan was known for clever humor. At least once he quipped that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I wonder how much more that joke rings in our ears today.

While reading through the book of Genesis in my newest Bible reading plan, I found myself thinking about government. No, I do not believe that the narrative at the end of Genesis is there for the purpose of teaching us about politics. But, I think, as we observe the narrative, we can at least see something of human nature and political nature holding true-to-form.

In Genesis, God moves to relocate the family and future nation of Israel to their own land in Egypt. God prepares the way for Israel to move to Egypt through the way that Joseph helps the government of Egypt deal with the disaster of seven years of famine. Over a period of four centuries between Genesis 50 and Exodus 1, the family of Israel will grow into a nation. Then, in Exodus, God will bring this new nation out of its incubator and into the promised land.

Now, let’s ponder government. With the point already made that this is not the message of Genesis, let’s catch some truth anyhow. What is the nature of a government when its people face a crisis? In historical human experience, when the government helps a people out of a time of crisis, the government will also use that time of crisis to increase its own power over the people. Particularly, in Genesis, Joseph puts together a food-storage program that saves the lives of many. However, when the people need to come to him, a government official, for their food, he gives it to the people in exchange for their property and eventually their freedom.

Genesis 47:20-21 – 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other.

Understand, dear friends, that any government not bound by the standards of the Lord and his holy word will move to grant itself greater and greater power over its people. Government will happily use times of crisis to take freedoms from its people. And even when freedoms are returned, they are never as many as were taken. A government that takes five freedoms from you and returns to you three has not left you as free as you were before it reached into your world.

Joseph was used by God to save lives. But Joseph was also used by the government of Egypt to create a new world in which the people and the land were under the thumb of Pharaoh. Eventually, this same power became the power that enslaved the people of Israel. And let’s not take time to ponder much about the fact that the oppressive taxation of Pharaoh was a 20% flat tax, which, all the sudden does not sound as bad as some other systems with which you may be familiar.

It will be for you to figure out your own views on politics and government. But, dear friends, be very careful tolerating the taking of your freedom by leaders in power. The powerful have a very hard time giving freedoms back to the people. And if we let these things pass unnoticed, we put ourselves in a very vulnerable position.

A Call to Worship

Nehemiah 9:5b-6 – Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Why worship the Lord? Here, as we see a congregational prayer in Israel after the walls of Jerusalem were built, we see a great starter reason. Worship the Lord, for he has made and sustains all things.

God is the only God. The Lord is the only God over all. Only the Lord created the heavens, the earth, and the seas. This is saying that God made everything there is, everything you can think of. God made the sky and all in the sky. God made the land and all that is on or under the land. God made the seas and everything within. There is no part of the entire universe that God did not create by his mighty power, out of nothing, for his glory. Thus, there is no part of this universe that does not belong to our God.

Not only did God create all things, he sustains all things. If God were to remove his power, the universe would disappear in an instant. Nothing we think is solid could remain without God empowering it to do so. God is necessary, not only for the beginning of creation, but for the continuing existence of all things.

Indeed, as the prayer begins, blessed be our God! Blessed be his name. Rightly do the heavenly hosts worship him. Rightly should we.

Yes and No

Matthew 5:37 – Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

In Matthew 5:33-37, the Savior poses a challenge to the way that the religious leaders of social movers of his day were using their oaths. Men were making flowery promises, swearing by the temple, by the heavens, and all the rest. But they were also coming up with legal loopholes so as not to have to keep their word. But Jesus tells them that this is lying, even if they think they have escaped on a technicality.

As he concludes, Jesus challenges his followers not to use fancy oaths to give their word. Instead, the followers of the Savior should be able to get by with a simple yes or no. The point is that, if we are honest people, if we are known for truthfulness, if we are seen as reliable, nobody will need from us flowery promises. Once we are seen as people of our word, when we say yes to somebody or no to somebody, they will know we are telling the truth.

In our litigious society, people are more and more looking for loopholes. People love to agree to something only to do backflips to find the way out. May this not be true of us. May we be people of our word. May we never be able to be accused of telling a lie or tricking people with squirmy legal language. May we instead be honest, above-board, and trustworthy in all things. That is what it means for your yes to be yes and your no to be no. Christians