Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why Social Justice is a Christian Issue.

usclogo You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

Exodus 22:21-24

God’s heart for the poorest and least powerful is intense. He has strong words for Israel as He reminds them that they must do no wrong to the weakest members of their society: the fatherless and the widowed. This is not some liberal pablum for the disenfranchised. This is divine justice concerned for all people made in the image of God. God does not bless one group of people at the expense of another. His design is that the blessed group help those in need, so that the blessed people might grow closer to God in character, and the blessed people might rejoice in grace.

I believe that is why God has such harsh words for Israel for the mistreatment of widows and orphans. To do so was to forget their own history where they suffered under the mistreatment of the Egyptian system for so long. They had been the lowest of the poor. They had been dispossessed of land and property. They had been at the mercy of the government system that exploited them. But God heard their cries and rescued them. He does the same for those in suffering today, and He wants to use His people for the work.

Yesterday I toured the Urban Scholastic Center in Kansas City, Kansas. There, literally in the community I grew up in, I saw how the church is making a difference in the urban core among the neediest people. The inner-city culture is dying. Families are a novelty (at least in the sense of husband/wife/children) and education is being abandoned as an option. It is hardly being offered in the public schools. Spiritual death is all around with drugs, gangs, murder, abortion, and crime being all too common in the lives of most people.

But God has raised up a group of people who will not be deaf to the cry for help. And I think I just became one of them. I hope to help by offering counseling training, discipleship training, educational assistance, all as a volunteer. I want to see Christ take back the urban core. I want to see the gospel make a huge impact in the lives of these people. I do not idealize the situation. I grew up in the inner city and I know firsthand the life that has to be lived there. But God can change people and redeem the culture through the gospel. If I first really hear the cries. And I do.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

lex talionis


But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life,
eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Exodus 21:23-25

Moses was instituting a mediating principle for Israel where the previous experience of the nation lacked fundamental societal laws. This was meant to be a PRINCIPLE that mitigated excess violence. How strange that today it might be used to justify violence. The following two paragraphs condensed from an article at, shed light on WHY God would bring this principle out to Israel in the desert of Sinai.

Blood revenge had been the previous experience of the patriarchs to this point. Imagine  for a moment a situation where you lived in a place with no police force, no courts, no local, state, or federal government – no king or other authority ruling over you or the people around you. There is no authority to report any crime to – to seek justice. If someone you cared about was hurt or killed, vengeful feelings would have no legal restriction. You would probably want to take the matter into your own hands and seek retribution, maybe even to the point of blood revenge. Perhaps you would try to impose the same type of injury on the attacker that he imposed. Maybe you would even want to punish him in greater degree than his offense. After you take revenge, the attacker’s family may feel that they have been mistreated and may want to respond, setting up a cycle of retaliation and revenge between you and them – blood feuds were common in the Old Testament. Genesis 34 records an actual incident like this between Jacob’s family and the family of Shechem. After Jacob’s daughter Dinah is abused, Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, seek revenge by first deceiving Shechem’s family into getting men circumcised, and then they take the retaliatory action of killing all the males. Of course, it is clear from later in Genesis 49:5-7 that God did not approve of this action.

So the institution of the lex talionis (an eye for an eye) into the Mosaic law for Israel and the ruling authorities was actually quite an advancement for justice designed to prevent arbitrary retaliation and revenge. The injured person or relative of the injured person could go to the governing judicial authority in Israel to seek justice. These verses were to instruct the judge in a matter of this kind with guidance for handling a verdict on the matter. The punishment must fit the crime to the tee: no more than the crime but also no less. It was strict yet fair. It was also designed to prevent and deter such crimes. It successfully removed punitive actions for crimes from the hands of the victim and his family and put them into the hands of the governing judicial system, which was supposed to be a fair third party. This was proportional justice that appropriately punished the offender.

Technorati Tags: ,

Monday, July 27, 2009

To fear or not to fear.

Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin."

Exodus 20:20

What is Moses saying here? It sounds like he is speaking self- negating advice: “Don’t fear for God wants you to fear.” The situation was unique. This passage (there is more detail to come further in the text) is a summary of how Israel received their first ever revelation from God for the entire nation. The Law was delivered on Sinai, and Moses brought back the initial message that was received with fear. Why? Well, the people saw Moses walk up a mountain that shook, smoked, and was covered in sheer darkness. It looked like a natural disaster up there. And they had just witnessed what God could do with darkness, storms, plagues, and death in Egypt. Hadn’t they just been grumbling against Moses? Yikes. I think they thoughMt_Sinait they were in trouble.

But the fear they needed was just exactly what Moses was advising them to have. It was a fear of God that would be faithful to obey His commands. God was testing their resolve with the display of His might, and He would test and approve their character as a nation by obedience to the law. The goal: that the nation might emerge as His holy people. Moses put it this way: “that you may not sin”.

So fear of God is a good thing. Being afraid of God is another issue. Fearing God meant knowing that God could judge sin. That is a good thing. Being afraid of God as a force of judgment was one thing, being mindful to respect Him and obey Him was another. Moses is calling people to see the fear of the Lord as a good experience because it inclined them to follow and obey Him. He reminded them that this listen would serve them well. If they kept this experience of being in awe of a mighty, fearful power of God, they could more easily heed and obey the word of God, and that would benefit them all. God would be pleased with His people, and the nation would not sin.

Technorati Tags: ,

Thursday, July 23, 2009

God’s plans for a people.

Glass globe on silvery background. You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Exodus 19:4-6a

Exodus is about God’s saving a nation to Himself, but not at the exclusion of the world. He called Israel as His people so that He could reach the world. They were to be a kingdom of priests… God’s mediators to the globe!

It is clear that God sees Himself as sovereign over the nations of the earth. The earth is the Lord’s. Not just the mountains and the oceans. The people of the planet are His. Israel is a particular treasure among all these possessions. And God wanted them to shine in such a way that the world would be drawn to Him.

There is tender relationship with Israel. They were rescued from the cruel bondage that was Egyptian slavery. They were carried to safety and drawn to God. They were asked to enter into a unique covenant with the God Who saved them. They were experiencing new blessing that no other nation before or since has known.

God’s plan for them included the world. And the same is true today. The church is a unique people of God (and let me be absolutely clear: the church is not Israel. We are the Bride of Christ. Israel is Yahweh’s Bride. We have a new relationship under the new covenant. Israel is still uniquely God’s nation and He will resume unique dealings with them as many scriptures testify). The church as a unique people of God has the responsibility of reaching out as a shining light to the world as well. God loves the world. God loves the church. The church is the means by which God sheds His love abroad in the world. And as a Christian I am part of that call to reach the world that I am in. God always loves the world. God always uses His people to reach the world.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Delegation: some good advice

judge scales So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves.

Exodus 18:24-26

This may be the biggest miracle of the book of Exodus: a man took the counsel of his father-in-law! Reuel/Jethro saw that Moses was not in a good place as a leader. And he must have been an educated and astute man… he is called the “priest of Midian”, and we can deduce that he had interacted enough with leadership and people to advice Moses on the problem at hand.

And the problem was a big one. Thousands of people generate thousands of problems. And the people were lining up every day to Moses the leader to settle disputes. It was wearing him out and bogging down his leadership. Sometimes, leaders can get so caught up in the daily performance of dealing with people that they can’t even see where the details are keeping them from leading. But Jethro, as an outside consultant of sorts, could easily see the way this was hurting both the leader and the nation. So he proposed that Moses delegate the task of settling disputes to other qualified men who could mediate these issues. And an appeal system was instituted that still allowed the hardest disputes to make their way to Moses if needed.

Moses saw delegation as a “win/win”. He heeded Jethro’s proposal. And he instituted the judgeships necessary to make leadership effective. He administered as a leader rather than let himself get pulled down into the thousands of details of the lives of a nation in transition. This was a wise move that God honored. It sets an example of wise leadership today. And I take note of how God, in His wisdom, can use the insights of others to build more effective relationships and ministry.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More grace for grumblers.

And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

Exodus 17:7

canyon stream

Again, in outstanding deference by God, Israel’s contentious nature comes out and God’s grace answers the cries of His people. So many generations ago, Jacob had wrestled the Angel of the Lord and been renamed Israel - “strives with God”. And the nation of Israel, now freed from Egyptian slavery and under God’s leadership under Moses in the desert of Sinai has lived up to that name. First they doubted God over food. Now they are fighting with Moses and God over a perceived lack of water. God came up with a novel plan to shut them up.

He led Moses to a large rock. Now in my opinion that had to be the opposite of what Israel was looking for. In the desert, you look for water by looking for green, for palm trees, for an oasis that shows water is there. Instead, a dry barren rock becomes a flowing stream when God instructs Moses to strike it with his staff and show Israel just how much God can do.

But there is a vivid reminder that more than just water was seen at the rock. Moses renamed it Masseh - “testing” and Meribah - “quarrel” because of the events that led to God’s provision at that location. It was a place of simultaneous blessing and painful reminder of Israel’s repeated lack of faith in God and trust in the leadership of the man Moses whom God had provided.

Leaders will always have their Masseh moments where people will test the strength of the leader’s faith. Moses did the right thing. When people grumbled against him, he cried out to God. He knew that God was the real leader of this people. And there are those Meribah episodes as well, when an argument against God seems to be all the leader hears. The leader knows better, but the people need to hear from God. And that is where this episode lets us know that God will know just what to do. Israel never really looked at a rocky outcrop in the desert quite the same way again! God could make of the dry desert stones a stream of water to care for His children. That is the lesson of grace for grumblers!

Technorati Tags: ,,

Monday, July 20, 2009


gathering manna

The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

Exodus 16:35

One of the greatest miracles of the Exodus was God’s grace at this moment in the story. Israel turned against Moses and God’s choice of him by grumbling against his leadership over the issue of not finding food in the wilderness. This really was an issue of not trusting God who had miraculously delivered them from Egypt and destroyed the armies of the most powerful nation in the region. They doubted that God could feed them and slipped into accusation, unbelief, and grumbling.

I think God had a plan to feed them all along. And I think it is clear from the miraculous manna that He was going to use a plan that would be bring worship of Him from the people. The rough part of this whole story is the spiritual ineptness of the Israelites. God gave them miracle bread. He even provided enough on Fridays so that they would not need to gather manna on the Sabbath. He told them to collect double on Friday, and they still went on on the first Sabbath only to find that God kept His word! They were a difficult people for Moses to lead. They were a difficult people for God to instruct.

But God was faithful. And entire generation would be cared for in this way with manna from heaven. God was showing a nation His grace. And even though they found themselves in a resource-poor desert environment, God brought them water and food daily. They had their needs met. And it was miraculous. They should have been drawn to worship and not to complaining!

God will work with complainers, though it is clear that He would prefer that complaining end. He gave the grumblers more grace than they ever deserved, even then they presumed upon it! But God was merciful to the complaining generation. He knew they were rescued slaves. And He kept being faithful to them, even as they struggled to be faithful to Him. God loves people, even complainers, with great love. There is thus hope for me, for I can be just like these people. I can get full of the wants of this world. I can get faithless. I can be deceived by my own forgetfulness and focus on just myself. And God will faithfully draw me back with His love and provision.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Vacation Break...

No postings for the next week or so. Heading into God's country for fishin', visitin', relaxin', and vacatin'!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Music of the Redeemed

musical notes

The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.

Exodus 15:2

The Exodus narrative suddenly turns into a musical! After Israel has been delivered out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and has witnessed God wipe out their oppressors as the Egyptian army drowned behind them, a worship service begins complete with musical performance. And it is Moses who leads Israel in this song. I have to think through the process.

Israel must have encamped on the “redemption” shore of the Red Sea for a while. It takes some time to creatively compose music, particularly and epic opera such as The Song of Moses in Exodus 15:1-18. And Miriam, Moses’ sister, who is now called a prophetess, appears to have choreographed a version of it as well according to Exodus 15:20-21. This would have taken some time. No one knows how long it took, but I would think that at least a couple of days transpired for this worship celebration to be planned and performed. And praise the Lord, the main content of it is recorded in scripture so that generations after this one can catch the power of God in the wonder of His deliverance. We can worship right along with a grateful nation!

From what I can tell, this song of Moses became the first liturgy in written form for Israel to use in worship. That is significant. I am sure the stories of Creation, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were told around family fires for generations. But the nature of this poetry would require it to be recorded. And so I think Exodus 15 just might represent the first portion of scripture to be recorded in a long record of God’s revelation that has culminated in the Bible I am reading this morning. It is instructive on worship. It is instructive on the nature of God. It is instructive on the power of God to save His people.

God deserves the worship of His redeemed people. These are the facts we glean from this song of Moses: God is mighty to save. He is glorious in power. He is great in majesty.He is majestic in holiness. He is awesome in His glorious deeds. God does wonders. He leads His people in steadfast love. He redeems His people. He guides us by His strength. God reigns forever and ever. There is a theology textbook worth unpacking just in this worship song!

Technorati Tags: ,

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dead Egyptians

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

Exodus 14:30-31

Egyptians drown

The same Red Sea that God parted to let Israel escape the sword of Pharaoh’s army became the means of destroying that army. The Jews walked across the dry land, yet the chariots of Pharaoh were mired in mud. When they realized what was happening, they could not turn around fast enough to escape their judgment. The walls of water fell in on the Egyptians and they drowned.

Egypt has been a source of pain and fear for Israel. These people had only known slavery there… as had their grandparents, and even earlier generations. To walk along the shore and see the bodies of dead soldiers, their former slave-masters, made their deliverance very real. It started to sink in, and the result was worship. They feared and believed God and his servant Moses.

God wants to deliver His people. He is in the saving business. And that principle extends to the things that enslave us today. I know that people struggle with the past, whether it is an abuse that they suffered, or a personal failure that seems to define them, the past can be a cruel master. And God wants to wash away that past in a flood of forgiveness letting us cross over to a land where we see our dead Egyptians for what they are: past controllers that now have no power over us. Praise the Lord that He delivers in just this way!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Generational Impact

generation men

And when in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.

Exodus 13:14

God was leading a generation of slaves to become a new nation in a new land. And His plans involved much more than just the present generation. God wanted them to pass on a vibrant faith to another generation, and He used the mechanism of tradition and practice to instill in Israel the generational memory of the Exodus.

First God gives Israel the instruction on the Feast of Unleavened Bread to remember the swiftness of the Passover and deliverance. And Exodus 13:8 informs them to do this so that the next generation will know what God did for these former slaves. Then God instructs the people to offer to Him the firstborn of every livestock, and to redeem the firstborn child with a lamb, instituting a commitment to redemption, a remembrance of the more difficult aspects of the Passover, and teaching a strong commitment to having a life dedicated to the Lord.

God was interested in more than one generation. He always loves the world. I believe and know this. That is why the span of the Bible covers thousands of years of history. That is why it is still a living message for us today. The truth of God’s love for this present generation is shown in the availability of the gospel and Jesus’ mandate to His followers to proclaim the gospel in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) until the end of the age.

I am committed to this. My biggest passion in ministry right now is to develop the relationships and hand over ministry to the next generation of believers. I want to see the local church thrive. I want to see the teaching of God’s Word thrive. I want to see the gospel go forward. I want to see a new generation of 20-somethings and 30-somethings reach the world with the gospel. I want my kids to have a vibrant faith. I am convinced that this is the most vital, practical, and wisest use of my time and energy right now. I want to preach and minister the gospel in a way that involves myself in where the next generation is going with God’s leadership. I want them to know, appreciate and pass on the truth that God has always had a strong hand to deliver His people!

Technorati Tags: ,,

Friday, July 3, 2009

Time to wait.

red light The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.

Exodus 12:40-41

If Israel waited four centuries and another third for God to work, what does it mean for me to rest in God’s plan for a while? It will be worth it. And a season of waiting is what God has for me. I am not disappointed.

I had hoped that ministry timing would have had me launching out a larger counseling ministry at the beginning of 2009. It did not happen because funds were not available. I do want to wonder. Lay-counselors are trained and serving. There are weeks where those who serve as volunteers are counseling and helping more people than I am. So I was told to wait until the new fiscal year, which started this week. But again, the recession has hit the church, and all new spending, as well as much “normal” spending has been frozen.

It was no fun to have to tell people who were looking forward to serving on a counseling staff (at least part-time) that we could not go yet. God wants us in Egypt, I suppose, for just a little bit longer. And I have learned enough to patiently trust that God will do a bigger work, a better work, a more magnificent work in us and through us at just the right time.

An old praise chorus resounds in my ears:

Wait on the Lord

Listen to His voice

They that wait upon the Lord

Shall renew their strength

Wait on the Lord

let His Spirit lead

where the Spirit of the Lord is

there is peace, sweet peace.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Thursday, July 2, 2009

God of the difficulties.

Bad Road Network

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 11:9

God’s encouragement to Moses was that He was going to use even the rejection of His will by Pharaoh for His glory. The king might defy the Lord God of Israel, but Egypt would see God’s wonders multiplied among them. They already had. The tenth plague, though horrific, would make a deeply personal and spiritual impact.

This passage also makes it clear that Moses had gained respect with the Egyptians. He had not yet convinced Pharaoh, but the people of the land respected Moses and were in favor of the Israelites (Exodus 11:3). This resulted in Israel leaving Egypt with many of the treasures of the people. So even defiance of God has a purpose by God in His plan. That is an overwhelming sovereignty, but it makes sense. For God to be Who He is, He HAS to be able use even the worst of human choices for His glory. When we see bad road ahead, we should go forward knowing God will take us through it, in ways that His power will be known!

I find this to be a motivating encouragement given my days. This current economic depression has hit home in many personal ways. I know good people who are out of work. I know others who have seen their incomes drop dramatically. I have friends who are trying to sell homes in a depressed housing market because they cannot afford to pay a mortgage, and I have seen ministries (including my own) take substantial set-backs. I have had to make adjustments as well. And it is not easy to experience. But I know this: the banking crash, the housing crash, the construction crash, the governmental takeover of big business… all these did not take God by surprise. Perhaps he wants to get the attention of a pampered and self-driven people. When He does, His wonders are multiplied among those who know Him. That is what I know will happen and it makes no difference whether trillions in tax dollars stimulate our economy or not!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Things that only sound repentant

turn around Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, "I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me."

Exodus 10:16-17

Repentance leads to action, so beware of

hasty confessions in the heat of the moment,

flowery words with no promise of action,

fear of consequence with no remorse to make it right,

admissions of guilt without responsibility to change,

desire to not suffer sin’s punishment without keeping God’s demand for righteousness.