Judah is Conquered

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Today's Reading: 2 Kings 25:1-30

There are two things that I think the Bible tends to be most-often characterized as: 1) a book of hope and grace, and 2) a book of judgement and destruction.  We will often struggle with reconciling the two "natures" and tones of the Bible.  But a passage like today's brings both together seamlessly.

Babylon has finally invaded Judah (the southern kingdom) and laid siege to Jerusalem.  The city fell, the temple (built by Solomon) was sacked and destroyed, and the people were marched off to Babylon into captivity.  Worth noting is that, unlike their time in Egypt, the Israelites were not taken as slaves; they may have been lesser citizens, but they were not slaves.  In Babylon, Israel was permitted considerable freedom to makes lives of their own.  In fact, through Jeremiah (29:4-7), God actually encouraged Israel put down roots, to work, thrive, and prosper!

Our thinking and perspective is different, but to Israel, what they were experiencing was nothing short of a complete abandonment and rejection by God.  The mindset was that gods were restricted to specified territory and only resided in a single house (temple).  In Israel's thinking, God lived in the temple in Jerusalem, and his power only extended to Israel's borders.  The logical conclusion was that God couldn't help Israel in Babylon even if he wanted to.  He wasn't powerful enough.

This is where a text like 2 Kings 25 comes into play.  We need to remember that while we are able to read these stories and glean something from them, they were originally intended for the Israelites in captivity, or soon after returning to Jerusalem.  The description of the temple being looted and Jerusalem being destroyed is devastating. And yet, after everything comes down, look what Nebuchadnezzar does: he appoints a man named Gedaliah son of Ahikam as governor.

Ahikam was a close advisor of King Josiah (2 Kings 22:12).  So the new governor was not a Babylonian, but an Israelite.  Jeremiah also refers to him as a good friend.  And Gedaliah's advice?  "Chill out, serve Babylon, and everything will be fine."  Gedaliah would then be assassinated, but he had sought to encourage Israel with a message that many Christian Americans continue to struggle with: it's okay to "serve" your country, whoever is leading it, and still be faithful to God.  In fact, serving our country (whatever country it is) might actually be one of the best ways to be a "God-fearer."

Fast-forward 37 years, and the last king of Judah is still alive and in prison.  The new Babylonian king breaks "tradition" and frees Jehoiachin, and actually gives him an official position within the empire.  There's a taste of restoration taking place.

It's easy for us to become discouraged and maybe even jaded by feeling like God has abandoned us.  Maybe our faith is waning, or our church is declining, or we simply feel distanced from God's presence.  Often times, there are hints and signs that God is not as distant or that things aren't as bad as we may think.  Sometimes, like Israel and the Babylon Captivity, God has just shaken things up a bit to force us to re-descover our zeal and to worship/serve him and the world in a different way.  Without a doubt, this is a certain kind of loss...but there's also something to be gained...

Solomon Builds the Temple

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Today's Reading: 1 Kings 3:1-2; 5:1-6:11

"The people...were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had to yet been built for the Name of the LORD."

Looking at a Bible timeline, there was roughly 500 years between Israel leaving Egypt and Solomon building the first temple.  The Tabernacle - a sort of tent-temple was built during the exodus.  So for 500 years, Israel lacked a church building.  

Think about that a second.  Most churches will never hit the 500 year mark.  There are a number of churches in Europe that have been around and functional that long.  In the continental US, the oldest continually operating congregation is Marble Collegiate Church in New York City; they started meeting together in 1628 and have met continually, without changing affiliation or experiencing any sort of stoppage for the past 389 years.  If they were Israel at the time of today's reading, they would have another 111 years before they would finally build their first building.  Today, it's hard to imagine a group of people meeting together for worship on a regular basis and not making a push for a permanent home within the first 5 years.  Israel waited nearly 500 years!

There's a couple things going on here: 1) Israel's commitment to worshiping God and being patient for him, and 2) God's faithfulness.

God doesn't work on the same timeline that we do.  And so often we forget that.  God wasn't in a hurry to get a temple.  Eventually he promised that one day a temple would be built for him, but that was still a generation or so out.  In the meantime, the people continued to worship in the places and the ways they always had and that were available to them.

We have a tendency to get wrapped up into thinking that we have to have a place to worship. I was almost obsessed with this when I was a church planter.  But realistically, God doesn't need a place to be worshiped - and he said as much to David through Nathan.  A building is for us, not God.

God accepts our worship whenever and where ever we offer it.  But he's also faithful in showing that he knows we need the help.  But the next time you're at the beach, or hiking through the woods, or enjoying the peace and quiet in your own backyard, worship God.  He'll hear you, see you, and be glorified through you.  But also, come together with others.  Israel may not have had a temple, but they still gathered together.  When Marble Collegiate Church began meeting, they "did church" in a gristmill that probably smelled like manure and was covered in grain dust.  God was still worshiped and glorified by them.

David & Goliath

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Today's Reading: 1 Samuel 17:12-58

Like the story of Noah, or Daniel in the Lion's Den, or Jonah, David & Goliath is a story that we love to tell our kids but is also much darker and more serious than we often let on.

Israel is once again taking on the Philistines.  The two sides meet in a field, line up in battle formations, and then from the Philistine side comes a man initially described as being nearly 8-feet tall.  He's a mountain of a man, that no one has ever beat  in battle.  The proposal is that both sides send out their best fighters, let them duke it out on the field, and the side who's man manages to stay alive is declared the winner.

Typically when we tell this story, we focus in on the fact that David, a boy of probably 10ish (In Judaism, 13 is considered adulthood and David is consistently described as a boy), was victorious and defeated this unbeatable Goliath with nothing more than a sling-shot.  It's a great story that lends itself well to the idea that with God we can overcome our "Goliath's," no matter the odds.

I don't want to take too much away from that message, as there are other places in the Bible that bring a similar message, such as Philippians 4:13.  But I also have a tendency to constantly ask, "Is that really what this is about?"

Maybe the idea of overcoming enormous odds is there, and I can mostly accept that.  But this time through, something new jumped out at me that I hadn't ever noticed before.

Israel's role and place in the Bible is pretty special, and Israel often stands-in for a lot of of different things.  In the OT world, Israel represented God and his Kingdom and everything connected to it.  When Goliath comes out on the field every morning and mocks Israel, he's not just mocking a rival army, he's mocking and attacking God himself.  David hears it, and his response is telling: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?"  Unlike the vast majority of Israel, for David, this is all about God's own reputation; David is angry that God is being defied and disrespected!

At 10 years old, David stands up and fights.  Not because he wants the gold or the girl, but because he wants to defend God (and not that God needs David or anyone else to defend him).  God rewards him - does great things through him.

On one hand, I can look at this story and see it as an example of how we can defeat our "Goliath's" with God's help.  But this morning, I'm seeing a story that shows me what God promises if I will faithfully stand-up for him when the world attacks.  Will I speak truth when God's kingdom is not being upheld?  Will I cower in fear of what may happen to me if try to defend the Kingdom?  Will I be bold in proclaiming - through word and deed - the good news of the Kingdom?  Do I believe that God will bless those efforts?

The Israelites Request a King

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Today's Reading: 1 Samuel 8:1-22

I've been thinking a lot lately about something that Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  The basic idea is that no mater what we might say we want, we will always pursue and do that things that line up with our real treasures.

I can't help but see this very thing happening in 1 Samuel...

Israel was a theocracy is the truest sense of the word.  They were ruled directly by God, who then appointed judges and prophets to speak through and make his will known to the people.  At first this worked, but as is often the case, the people started to despise the fact that they were different from everyone else.  They wanted a human king to tell them what to do.  They were insecure with the fact that things worked differently for them.

I also see something about faith.  Israel lacked faith that a God they couldn't see really was taking care of them and could command the respect of the nations.  They didn't trust that God's plan and approach would work for their long-term wellbeing.  Hence the reason God says to Samuel, "...it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king."  God was no longer good enough, and God's ways were no longer productive in their minds.  And rather than continue to sit and rest in and trust that God was still just as powerful as he showed himself to be during the exodus, they opted for putting their faith in a human and human plans.

I think about this in regard to how I conduct myself.  Yes, on a certain level I have be pro-active in working and making sure I keep a job so that I can pay bills; I can't just sit back with the attitude of "God will make sure my bills get paid" and use that as some kind of holy excuse for laziness.  But at the same time, do I trust God and what he has revealed for me enough to sit and rest in what he's doing?  Do I trust that the ways he says things do and will happen in the Bible are still that way today?  Or am I acting like Israel and running off looking for a human, earth-bound solution to the things I ought to be trusting God to handle?

Joshua's Farewell Speech

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Today's Reading: Joshua 24:1-33

I love the Bible.  I know I say that a lot.  I love the story of the Bible, I love the drama of the Bible, I love the rhythm and cadence and patterns of the Bible.  I love reading about the multi-millennia story of God and his people that we see in the Bible.  And I have to admit, that sometimes I am more in love with the Bible than with the God of the Bible...

That's a constant tension for me...to look past the intricacies and nuances of the text - to peel all that away - and see God; to see and contact with the singular focus and object of everything in the Bible.  Who is God?  What is he doing?  How do we connect with him?  What is the nature of our relationship with him?  I have to constantly ask myself these questions otherwise I lose touch with what is most important about the Bible.

I love what is happening in Joshua 24 because it's one of those scenes that forces me to refocus and get back to what the Bible is ultimately all about: God.  The book of Joshua is a dramatic book packed full of some of the most exciting stories in the Bible.  After wandering for 40 years around the wilderness learning how to depend on God, they are finally allowed to enter the Promised Land, where they see God do even more neat stuff.  Israel (and by proxy, us) gets a front row seat to watching God's power on full display.  This entire book is like long, detailed account of what will ultimately take place during the three days form the cross to the empty tomb.  In fact, Jesus' real name - his Hebrew name - is Joshua ("Jesus" is a Greek transliteration).

When all is said and done, there's a call and opportunity to renew the covenant - the relationship between God and his people.  It's essentially laid out as "Look at everything you have seen and heard that God has done for you!  Don't forget this.  The time has come to make a choice: will you choose to live here in this land and worship the God who has done all these things?  Or will you reject this God and continue worshiping the other gods?"

Ultimately, for this moment anyway, the people unanimously declare that they will be faithful to God.  But I'm struck once again by the fact that, based on Joshua's speech, God has done everything he's done despite the persistence of Israel (at least some) to continue to worship God alongside gods.  They continue to group God in among a whole bunch of other gods they can pick and choose from when it's most convenient.  God still blessed them and did some pretty amazing things for them!

For me, a passage like this is one more reason I feel like it's good to have a healthy sense of our own sin and brokenness.  Not to wallow in it, but to be very aware of it.  God's grace is not just something we are given when we've managed to overcome and eliminate sin and unfaithfulness in our life; God's grace is precisely for those moments when we are sinful.  Sin does not preclude us from being able to enjoy God's grace - it's the reason God's grace is so incredible!  It's the reason why we may be moved to echo the same words that Israel declared that day: "We will serve the LORD our God and obey him!"

The 10 Commandments

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Today's Reading: Exodus 20:1-21; Deuteronomy 5:1-21 

When I was in HS, my view of the Law was pretty negative...like most people.  Because I attended a Christian school, one of my required classes was Bible, and one year we were required to read The Law of Perfect Freedom by Michael Horton.  I also remember my Bible teacher making a pretty big deal out of the fact that the title sounds like a massive contradiction.  I do not remember much in the way of what was discussed in the book, but I do remember that whole situation being the beginning of my shifting view on the Law.

I grew up with a weird mix of influences when it comes to using and applying the 10 Commandments.  The church I grew up in was fairly conservative, my home life definitely was not (we were probably the only Democratic household I knew), and my Bible teacher considered my solidly conservative church to be dangerously liberal, i.e. he was the most conservative out of them all.  I learned to love the Law, to delight in it (to use mildly "Biblical" vocabulary).  But I also learned to love it for what it was intended to be: something more than a legal, moralistic code.  I came to see the Law as an important part of God's grace and a necessary component of fully living into the life that Jesus has invited his disciples.

For that reason, while many grow tired of hearing and will even seek ways to outright avoid the 10 Commandments, I love them.  While the language is heavily dominated by "Thou shalt not..." I see in those words a God who is fully embracing and offering himself as the loving Father that he is; he is simply doing what good parents do - he is watching over, instructing, and showing his children the best way to live and how to get the most of their relationship with Him.

Every good, solid, and healthy relationship has standards, expectations, and boundaries.  Our relationship with God is no different.  God is love and grace, but not to the extent that we can do whatever we want and still expect the relationship to thrive.  Relationships are two-way streets.  God promises and gives us grace (more grace than we could possibly know what to do with), and in return, we respond by committed to live in a way that bring honor and glory to Him.  We do that by living within the Law.

Something else often overlooked when it comes to grace and Law...When God met with Israel at Sinai, he was officially codifying his relationship with Israel.  I tend to see the whole thing as something like a marriage ceremony.  In a wedding, bride and groom exchange vows making commitments to one another about what each will offer to the other and laying out the nature of this new relationship.  At Mount Sinai, a very similar thing happened.  God met with Israel, and said "This is how it's going to be.  I will be your God and will do great things through you.  You will be my people and conduct yourself in this way."  The marriage takes place in Exodus 20.  And then in Deuteronomy 5 when the Law is re-read, Israel is about to enter the Promised Land (the land promised to Abraham and his descendants), and we have something like a re-newing of the vows ceremony.

I find myself going back to the Law often.  I renew my commitment to it.  I confess and receive forgiveness when I break it.  I find myself worshiping God because despite my own repeated failure to obey, God has yet to break his promise to me...

The Israelites Leave Egypt

Today's Reading: Exodus 12:37-51; 13:17-22

A shared, common story and symbol or sign are vital to helping a group of people united together in community.  For the Israelites, the shared story is slavery in Egypt and Passover, and the sign is circumcision.  These two events - perhaps more than any other - give Jews their sense of identity.

Passover is a strange thing; as part of his plan to rescue the Israelites out of slavery, God promises to kill the first-born male in every house unless a very specific set of instructions are followed and the door frame is painted with sheep blood.  Somehow, for some reason, that's supposed to protect the people inside.

Likewise, circumcision was mandated as the "sign" that a person was a member of the Israelite community.

There's a few things that jump out at me:

  1. Circumcision was nothing new, or unique to Israel.  God had commanded Abraham to be circumcised and to have all the men in his household circumcised as part of the covenant between the two of them.  This is a return to how things always were, but had likely become forgotten during Israel's time in Egypt.  Also connected to circumcision is that this could easily be seen as a form of forgiveness: God is giving Israel a second chance to get back on track.
  2. For Christians, Passover must be seen as a precursor to Jesus' own death.

The exodus story as always fascinated me because of it's connections to Jesus' own story.  I know it can often be difficult to "see/find" Jesus in the OT, but there are few places where this is easier or more obvious than in the Exodus.  The Exodus was massive living example of what God was planning, and the entire experience was used to create an identity.

There's an arc to the story of the Bible.  God created everything and declared it perfect.  He established a special kind of relationship with humans.  Humans enjoyed an existence devoid of pain and death.  But humans messed it up by disobeying God in the Garden, and were then condemned to death.  Although cursed, God promised to fix the problem of death/sin.

In the exodus story, Israel - God's chosen people, the descendants of Abraham - finds itself in slavery to the biggest, baddest, strongest nation in the world.  They are oppressed under Egypt's power.  All of this represents the burden of death and sin.  After a very long time - long enough for Israel to give up hope - God delivers them from their captors.  In the process, he gives them a new identity through "blood of the lamb" and circumcision.

Fast-forward to the NT, and God sends his Son who is repeatedly identified as the "passover lamb" who sheds his blood for humans and, once and for all, crushes the "serpents" head!

The God of grace!  Showing himself dramatically in the story of Exodus!

The Israelites go to Egypt

Today's Reading: Genesis 46:1-30

Okay, so, let me just say it: reading lists of names in the Bible are boring.  One day I hope I'll figure out what the reason/purpose is behind putting all that in the Bible.  Until then, I'm slogging through it just like the rest of you.

I see God's providence.  We're 3 generations post-Abraham.  The family is still living in Canaan, where God would eventually tell Abraham to stop walking and settle, but there's a severe famine in the region and people are running out of food fast!

Thinking back through some Biblical history, Abraham had a son named Isaac; Isaac had twins name Jacob and Esau.  Esau was the first born and by birthright deserved to get all of Isaac's stuff, but Jacob was sneaky and managed to steal Esau's inheritance.  And by extension, he got God's blessing of being the line that would eventually become Israel.  Jacob had a bunch of sons...13 to be exact.  The second-youngest was his favorite, got a fancy coat, and his older brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.  He eventually became second in command in Egypt.

The story itself shows how God's provision works in the messy world we live in.  People are messy and far more often than not, we do what we believe is in our own best interests.  And God uses that.  He made a promise; a promise that one day the serpent's head would be crushed and a descendant of Abraham would become a blessing to the nations.  That's by no means a green light to do whatever we want, though.

So there's a famine in the land, Abraham's family has only grown to roughly 70 over the last few generations, and the drama and tension is building to make us think that God's plan for redemption is about to come to a sudden end.  And then the second-youngest, Joseph, re-appears on the scene.

How often do we look at our situation and lose hope?  How often do we look at our life and wonder what could ever come out of it or how we're going to make ends meet?  How often do we look at the church and all we see is everything bad; all we see is the 7-year famine staring us in the face and dwindling grain supplies.

Verse 29 sees Joseph jumping on his chariot and rushing out to meet his family.  He goes straight to his father Jacob (who believed he was dead) and threw his arms around him.  They embraced and cried "for a long time."  Then Jacob says, "Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive."  Jacob was on the verge of death and God provided.  Jacob never lost hope.  He died happy.

And God provided...

Isaac's Birth and Abraham's Testing

Today's Reading: Genesis 21:1-7; 22:1-19

So let me get this right: chapter 21 starts off with "Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah...Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham..."  And then in chapter 22 God tells Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, and kill him - sacrifice him as a burnt offering for God.

As a dad...I have a few choice words.  I have to be honest: people tell me I've got great faith, but if I'm Abraham, I think this is where my faith runs out...

Just off the top of my head I don't think there's another story in the entire Bible, outside of the Gospels themselves, that does a better job illustrating what happens on the cross than this one.  A good Study Bible will tell you that the region of Moriah where God told Abraham to go, is believed to be the region where Jerusalem now sits (place names change over time so there's no 100% way to know for sure).  Jewish and Muslim tradition both hold to that.  In fact, inside the Dome of the Rock, built on the former site of the Temple, there's a rock feature that is believed to be the rock upon which Abraham was about to kill Isaac on.  This is a mere stones through away from the location of Jesus' own crucifixion.

Clearly the story turns out fine in the end, with Isaac being saved and a ram being offered as worship instead, but the whole concept of a god who asked so much of Abraham, gives him the one thing he's always wanted, and then demands that a father sacrifice his own son?!  I'm speechless...

It can sometimes be hard to fully grasp the significance of what God went through at the crucifixion.  Our trinitarian theology says that the Father and the Son are one, which really just makes the whole thing really complicated.  But on the cross, the Father sacrificed his son - his only son (just like Abraham and Isaac) - in order to appease God (seriously, I get the language here is really weird).

Over the past year, I've been really struggling with issues and questions of personal motivation for the work and ministry that I do.  I need my motives to be right; I need to be driven by a longing and desire to bring glory to God and to proclaim the good news.  In order to do that, I need to be excited about the gospel, too.  And unfortunately, I found myself caught in a place where the cross and the empty tomb had become old news.

God sacrificed his own son!  Would I sacrifice mine for God?  I confess...I can't.  But God did it for me.  For you.  Just in typing this up I feel myself overcome by chills, by holy and reverent fear and awe.  How could I possibly deny and fail to worship and give honor and glory to a God who loves me so much he was willing to sacrifice the Son of God for my sake?!

God's Covenant with Abraham

Today's Reading: Genesis 15:1-21; 17:1-8

So this Abram guy got a new name.  But not only that, he got a couple of covenants with God.

It's worth noting that God is the one who initiates both of these covenants.  One of the covenants has to do with Abraham's descendants gaining possession of the land the Abram is currently wandering around in.  The other is about Abram getting a new name (Abraham) and becoming the father of many nations.  Oh, and Abraham is currently 99 years old!

God comes to Abraham and initiates these covenants with him.  By all human accounts, Abraham is old, worn, and used up.  He's got nothing left and certainly doesn't seem like the kind of person that anyone would consider to be especially valuable for any reason.  But God makes him a promise that young men today couldn't possibly fathom as a legacy.

What does that mean?  It means that God is in the business of making old, worn out things valuable again.  It means that as tired and useless as I (or you) may think I am, God still cares.  And he cares enough to pursue us, to give us attention, to call us into service to him.  How many 99 year olds do you know are just now getting energized and ready to take on the world?  Abraham probably wasn't consider a great comeback, either.  But that didn't matter to God.

It's a lot easier for us to look in the mirror and find all the things that are wrong with us.  We do the same thing with churches, old shoes, and iPhones.  If God was inclined to throw things out after they spoiled, the Bible never would have made it past Adam & Eve taking a bite out of a piece of fruit.  God delights in using the imperfect and broken.  He delights in using each of us.  Perhaps he made a specific covenant with Abraham about land - something that symbolized wealth, success, prosperity, and importance.  But the same promises hold true for us, today.  Those willing and able to trust and walk with God in faith, will be blessed.  We never hit a point where God doesn't care or decided he's done with us. 

God Calls Abram

Today's Reading: Genesis 11:27-12:9

Faith.  That's all I see when I read these verses.

Here's Abram.  A Chaldean.  Who might have known something about God, but more than likely knew virtually nothing.  He was raised in the a family and a land that is better known for being one of the many enemies of Israel, than they are for worshipping the God who revealed himself in the Bible.  He's just sitting around, minding his own business, when one day out of nowhere, a voice speaks to him and tells him to leave everything behind and go somewhere else.  The real kicker is that this voice didn't even have the decency to tell Abram where he was going!  It just said to pack everything up, leave your family and home and everything you known, and start walking.  At some point, the voice will tell him when to stop.

This is one of those crazy stories of faith that makes ordinary Christians shake.  "Oh, please, God!  Don't ever do this to me!  Don't ever call me to go and do something like Abram!"  I think the closest I've ever come to having an "Abram experience" was when I felt certain that I was being called to attend a seminary in MI, which meant leaving the west coast where all our family, friends, and everything we've ever knows were.  Honestly, I feel pretty small even considering that a comparison.  At least I knew God...Abram doesn't even have that going for him!

This text has often been referred to as the Great Commission of the OT.  In other words, when God promises to make Abram a blessing to the nations and that all nations will be blessed through him, he's showing that despite the whole nation of Israel thing, God's plan for redemption and restoration includes every human being, not just a select few.  This is a pivotal moment in the story of Scripture: God's no longer simply making promises of salvation; he's now rolling up his sleeves, looking at his advisors, and calmly saying, "Shall we begin?"  It's time to get to work.  And all this "work" seems to rest on the shoulders of a no-name Chaldean named Abram and his barren wife, Sarai.

God does crazy things sometimes.  He does things in ways that make absolutely no logical sense. He uses the most unlikely peopled and he performs some of his greatest acts of salvation.  Faith.  We might want to hold Abram up and say, "Ya, but he was special."  But not really.  Abram was no different from any of us.  He was just bold enough to say, "Okay.  Let's do this.  I believe."

God's Covenant with Noah

Today's Reading: Genesis 8:20-9:17

What is the appropriate response to when we see witness God doing something extraordinary?

Worship.

One of the things I always try to do whenever I read the Bible (especially the Old Testament), is imagine myself in the position of the main characters.  Try to imagine being Noah or a member of his family.  Remember what you've witnessed the past 6 months.  A catastrophic flood that wiped out every living thing on earth except for you.  A show of force unlike anything imaginable!  Your life has been spared.  You have animals, food...God is good!  And now the waters have receded, dry land emerges.  The door is opened and everyone and everything makes their way out to begin the hard work of repopulating and re cultivating the land.

How would you respond?  Would shrug your shoulders or let out a huge sigh of relief and then go about your work? Or would you feel somehow compelled to mark this moment in some bigger, more significant way?

I imagine my response would quite similar to what Noah and his family do here.  And I don't say that because it's the "right thing" to say, but because that has been my very real experience.  The story of Noah, like so many in the Bible, is a story of salvation and restoration.  When I surrendered my heart and like to Jesus, I was in the pit of hell (per the worldview of a typical 16 year old boy who just broke up with his first girlfriend).  At the moment, nothing could have been worse.  Then, via the mouth of the camp speaker that night, I heard Jesus clearly calling and inviting me to him in a way I never had before.  And I responded.  First with amazement, and soon followed by worship.  All I wanted to do at that moment was worship God.

For those of us who have been Christians for most of our life, the incredible-ness of the gospel can lose its power.  We forget the first moment the gospel really hit us.  Noah had as real an experience as any, and in that moment, he worshiped.  He built an alter, he made vows.  God responded with a rainbow and a vow of his own.  There was a recommissioning of the human race.  And we are given one of the richest displays of redemption and worship found in the OT!

The Flood

Today's Reading: Genesis 6:9-8:19

Do we serve a vengeful God? A bi-polar God?  After all, what kind of God creates everything, calls it good, then a couple chapters later regrets what he did (Genesis 6:6) and turns around and destroys it all with a world-wide flood?

That's a major sticking point for a lot of people, and I can't say I'd blame you if you were one of them.  In fact, I'd almost think there was something wrong with you if you didn't struggle with this!

The effects of the broken relationship between people and God has reached a type of climax: people have become so evil, have strayed so far from the relationship in the Garden, that God is now regretting and having second thoughts about all of this.  However, in the midst of the chaos, God shows himself faithful.  Humans may no longer be faithful, but he made a promise and he will abide by it, even if the rest don't.  And that says something about God and our ability to rely on him.

We humans are fickle.  We're easily distracted and swayed by the latest and coolest idea or gadget.  Our loyalties and priorities are constantly shifting.  But one thing that does remain for us is that we are constantly giving in to our desire to put ourselves first - to make ourselves gods over our own little creations.  This is fundamentally at odds with the relationship established in Genesis 1.  But while our commitments waver, God does not.

God decides to wipe-out creation with a great flood.  But not in whole.  Do the lives of a very small select group of people justify everything that God destroys?  That's one of those really hard questions.  But in any case, it's what God does.  God also instructs Noah on how to build an ark for his survival and the survival of a remnant.  God brings the animals to Noah.  God closes the door that protects them from the waters.  God lets them know when it's safe to come out.  In the act of judgement, God has also provided hope and restoration.

God is working in the story of Noah.  We may find it funny, odd, or offensive, but he is working.  His faithfulness to the promise of savior who would crush the serpents skull, is still on track

The Fall

Today's Reading: Genesis 3

This is a chapter most people don't like reading or even thinking about for that matter!

Following the creation of people (Adam & Eve), humans enjoyed a face-to-face, personal relationship with God that was destroyed because of the events of Genesis 3.  An agreement was established between God and people in which they were expected to live within certain boundaries in order thrive in their relationship with God.  Should they wander outside those boundaries, the relationship would deteriorate to a truly tragic level.

Often this chapter raises questions about why God would set-up Adam & Eve.  If God is so good, why did he put the tree there in the first place?  If God is all-knowing, why did create a situation in which he knew that Adam & Eve would fail?

The truth is that all relationships have established boundaries.  Marriage demands a certain level of fidelity.  Friendships require trust.  Employment has regulations an contracts.  These things are aids in ensuring that everyone is getting the most out of the relationship.

God's desire is that humans would never know anything other than him.  That their attention, desire, and allegiance would never be compromised.  The best way to be human, is to be human in perfect relationship with the Creator.  And so he established limits and boundaries for the relationship to ensure that our desire for God would never be compromised.

But those boundaries were broken sending humanity on a turbulent journey.  The relationship was compromised.

God promised Adam & Eve that if they compromised the relationship, they would die.  Why would a loving, life-giving, gracious God promise death?  That's one of the many difficult questions a passage like this can raise.

But in any case, the perfection of creation was broken, and we are now living under it's curse.  In the last post, I mentioned that God's grace is found on every page of this book.  And it's here, as well.  The relationship between God and people was broken - Adam & Eve were thrown out of the Garden and lost their right to commune directly with God.  But at the same time, a promise was made: "I will put enmity between you and the women...he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal."  The one responsible for leading the humans astray will be dealt with once and for all.  The Church has come to see this as the very first promise of forgiveness, salvation, and restoration.

God also makes clothes for the humans; he doesn't leave them naked.  In one may be one of the most powerful statements of God's love and grace found in the Bible, the relationship might be tarnished, but God still cares.  He cares enough to continue to provide for and watch over the very people who rejected him.  

How often, as parents, have we heard our kids yell us and tell us they hate us?  Does our love stop?  Do we suddenly stop taking care of them?  Neither does God.  We are deeply flawed and imperfect people who are still loved and cared for and provided for by the God we are constantly rejecting through our actions and unbelief.  He promised forgiveness, and on the cross and by the empty tomb, we have received this forgiveness!  Praise God!

Creation

Today's Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:3

Every good story has a beginning, and our story is no different.  The good news of God's grace - of the cross and the empty tomb - is found on every single page of the Bible.  The Bible is the story off God's grace for creation...every single part of it.

The opening chapter of the Bible begins with simple words: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."  These have become some of my favorite words from the entire Bible.  It's only ten words, but it sets the entire course and tone for everything that follows!  God created.  He didn't just create some things, he created everything.  Everything we know (and don't know) to exist, has it's origins in God!  Pause for a moment and let that sink in...

It's difficult for us to imagine anything bigger and more powerful that the physical world that we live in.  And yet, none of this exists without the creative hand of God making it exist.

What follows is a beautiful hymn extolling the incredible-ness of what has taken place.  The repetition of the word "And" - something we would rarely give any thought to - conveys a sense of urgency and excitement.  It's not unlike what I might hear from my 7 year old son who is extremely excited about something that happened at school earlier in the day: "Dad!  Guess what!  Today, this happened!  And then this!  And this this!"  Each "And" piling up on top of another with building anticipation.  It cannot be contained.  The writer of Genesis is overcome with excitement about everything the God has done - all the ways his hand and work can be seen in the physical world we inhabit.  God did this!  God gave us all that we love in life!  Everything begins with him!

And what's more, after every moment of creative activity, God himself declares "It is good."  God is proud of what he has invented; he's not ashamed.  He takes delight in what is.  And in an effort to share that and show it off, he created people.  We are relationship, personal objects of God's love.  Created to be loved by God even more than creation itself.  Created in his image to also express love and to create, if even in a limited way.

For some, this is old news...a story we have heard more times than we can count.  But this is the beginning of all things.  Let's stand in awe and wonder and worship the God who is bigger than anything our own minds could possibly comprehend!