Archive for May, 2011

May 31, 2011

The Lord and The Law

by Bethany

Today”s Reading: Deut. 23:15-26:19

Law | The law of the Lord is anything but reason free from passion. Although modern readers may be confused about what to do with the Old Testament laws, we know one thing for sure – every law tells us something about the passionate character of the God who gave it. Although some may be more confusing than others, their truths are not limited to any one nation or time. Therefore, we – like the Israelites – must know and understand the commandments if we want to know and understand our Lord.

Obedience | As we have already seen, God delivered His law to His people because He wanted them to put His character on display to the nations around them: The LORD your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws — that you will listen to him. And the LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised” [1].

Calling | Although salvation is by faith alone – not by works so that no one can boast – our true faith is revealed by our obedience and – in turn – our obedience puts the Lord’s character on display to the world. Thus, we will increasingly look more and more like Christ: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” [2].

Prayer | Lord, Thank You for giving us Your law so that we can know You. We confess, however, that we have not accurately displayed Your character when we have been disobedient. Forgive us and work in our hearts to pursue You in increasing measure. Amen.


[1] Deut. 24:16-19 NIV  |  [2] 2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV

May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day Weekend

by Bethany

We will resume posting tomorrow. Hope you have had a restful weekend.

May 27, 2011

Faith Is Not Blind

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Deut. 19-20

Faith | Believing in things that I cannot see is difficult for me. As a lawyer, I value concrete evidence, logical assumptions, and rational reasoning. Unfortunately, however, much of life is about making decisions with incomplete and imperfect information, as we make future decisions based on past data. For example, I can trust that my chair will hold me up tomorrow if it has supported me in the past. Yet, when it comes to obeying God and believing that He will make good on His promises, where do we look for data?

The Promise | As the Israelites stood at the edge of the Promised Land, God promised to be with them in warfare: “When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you” [1]. But how could they trust Him? On what data could they rely?

The Past | When the Israelites left Egypt and passed through the wilderness, although the Amalekites attacked them, God fought for them merely by raising Moses’ hands: As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning … So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army” [2].

The Future | Although they could not see into the future, we now know how God continued to bless Israel with His presence in warfare. He gave them victory over Jericho [3] by their mere marching around the city and He helped them defeat the Midianites, even though Gideon’s army had only three hundred soldiers [4].

The Present | Although we are also called to trust God by faith, not sight [5], we have far more information than the Israelites did. We have centuries of His dealings with Israel and the good news of Jesus Christ. Thus, as we can look back to see His faithfulness, we can look forward to trust His promises: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” [6].

Prayer | Lord, Thank You for giving us a record of Your dealings with Your people and for fulfilling Your promises to them. As we make decisions tomorrow – faith vs. fear / obedience vs. disobedience – help us to believe You and Your promises. Amen.

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[1] Deut. 20:1 NIV | [2] Ex. 17:11-13 NIV | [3] See Joshua 6 | [4] See Judges 7 | [5] Heb. 11:1 NIV (“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”) | [6] Rom. 8:32 NIV

May 26, 2011

Jesus as a Great Moral Teacher: “Patronizing Nonsense”

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Deut. 16:18-18:22

Moses | After God delivered the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were in awe. Fearing that the fire of His glory would consume them, they asked for a mediator. Although Moses fulfilled this role while they were in the wilderness, God told him that He would call another prophet [1]: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name” [2].

Christ | No one spoke like Jesus did. His claims were not neutral or polite. In fact, they were irrational and bombastic … unless, of course, they were true. After all, He claimed to be God [3], the sole source of eternal life [4], the one who would raise people from the dead [5], and the all-satisfying joy in eternity [6]. He said that we could do nothing without Him [7], that He existed before He was born [8], and that He could forgive sin [9]. When He preached, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” [10], the temple guards proclaimed, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” [11] and many wondered whether He was the prophet of whom Moses spoke.

Lord | As C.S. Lewis argued, it is foolish to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher and also reject Him as God: “A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic … or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” [12].

Prayer | Lord, Thank You for sending Your Son as our mediator – rather than a mere moral teacher or prophet – for it is His obedient life and atoning death that saves, not His teaching or words. Open our hearts to believe in Him. Amen.

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[1] Since Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised Land due to his lack of faith in the Lord, God had to raise up another prophet to take his place. | [2] Deut. 18:15-22). | [3] See John 13:19 (where Jesus identified Himself with the I AM of Exodus 3:14). See also John 10:30. | [4] See John 10:10-11; 14:6; 8:12; 12:46; 5:29. See also Matthew 18:8; 25:42, 46. See also John 6:35; 4:14; 10:27-28. | [5] See, e.g., John 11:25; 6:40 | [6] See, e.g., John 17:24 | [7] See, e.g., John 15:1,5 | [8] See, e.g., John 8:58 | [9] See, e.g., Mark 2:1-6 (noting that even the Pharisees knew that Jesus’ claim to forgive sins was His claim to be God). | [10] John 7:37-38 NIV | [11] John 7:46 NIV | [12] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity. Macmillan, 1952 (pp. 55–56). A few days after the Madrid terrorist bombings in 2004, Bono was interviewed by a French journalist. When the conversation turned to Christianity, Bono said, “It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven,” and the journalist replied, “Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?” Perhaps having read Lewis, Bono responded, “It’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: “No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: ‘I’m the Messiah.’ I’m saying: ‘I am God incarnate.’ And people say: ‘No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you.’” And he goes: “No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah.” At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: “Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this.” So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was, the Messiah, or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson … I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched. Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas, New York: Penguin Books, 2005 (p. 227).

May 25, 2011

You Are His Treasured Possession

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Deut. 14:1-16:17

Individualistic | Western culture often encourages expression of the individual over obligation to the community. From individual liberties to capitalist markets, we sing with Walt Whitman, “I celebrate myself” [1]. Thus, when we – as individualist Christians – sin, we often default to thinking merely about how our sin has affected our personal relationship with God, forgetting about its effect on the community or on the Lord’s reputation.

Treasured | As we have already seen, God did not choose Israel because she was powerful or impressive. In fact, she was stubborn, faithless and rebellious. Nevertheless, He chose to display His character through her: “[Y]ou are a people holy to the LORD your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession” [2]. They were to live in a special way when it came to how they ate (eating only clean foods [3]), spent their money (offering ten percent tithes [4]), handled debts owed to them (canceling debts for the poor [5]), treated their employees (freeing their slaves [6]), and celebrated (remembering the appointed feasts [7]). Repeatedly, He told them that He would bless them for their obedience so that their joy would be complete [8].

Loving | Today, the calling over Israel to display His character is extended to the church. Thus, we are to be holy as He is holy and, when we sin, we not only hurt our relationship with Him, we also put His reputation at risk: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” [9]. What does it look like for us to love one another? Actually, it looks similar to the laws given to Israel – tithe our income, be merciful to the poor, treat our employees with respect and celebrate festivals that remind us of all His marvelous works for us.

Prayer | Lord, When You call us to be Your children, You call us to display Your character and bear Your family resemblance of holiness and love. Yet, we confess that we are highly individualistic in our lives, forgetting that how we live affects the church and the display of Your character. Forgive our selfishness and help us to work together, loving one another and cherishing Your reputation. Amen.

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[1] Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass.  |  [2] Deut. 14:2 NIV  |  [3] See Deut. 14:3-21  |  [4] See Deut. 14:22-29  |  [5] See Deut. 15:1-11  |  [6] See Deut. 15:12-18  |  [7] See Deut. 16  |  [8] See, e.g., Deut. 14:29; 15:10, 18; 16:15, 17.  |  [9] John 13:34-35 NIV  |  Special thanks to Allison F. for her spectacular editing skills!

May 24, 2011

Kill Sin or Be Killed By It

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Deut. 12-13

Struggle | Have you ever said that you are “struggling” with a particular sin when, in fact, you are surrendering to it without much of a fight? I have. For many years, although I said that I was “struggling” with believing in God’s promise to work for my good [1], I rarely fought against my mistrust of Him and, instead, worshipped my own ability to plan for my future. In January 2011, however, I decided to fight for faith in His goodness by taking a promise from the Bible [2] and meditating on it for thirty minutes a day. Today, although I still “struggle” to put my faith into practice, I am actively trying to kill my sin of unbelief.

Destroy | As God prepared His people to go into the Promised Land, He longed for them not to negotiate or flirt with idolatry, which is the purest form of sin [3]. Thus, He told them to destroy completely all the places that were used for idol worship: “Destroy completely all the places … where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones … cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places” [4].

Mortify | Today, although we may not bow down to golden statues, we are tempted to worship idols like money or sex or power, as we place our trust in these things rather than in God. Yet, like the Israelites, we are called to destroy these idols completely. As John Owen noted, since sin is always at work in the business of killing our souls, we cannot be slothful or negligent in our fight against it: “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you” [5]. How do we do this? By reading and believing and wielding “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” [6], against sin.

Pray | Lord, When Your Son was killed, He destroyed the power of sin and death. Yet, we confess that we often give sin a foothold in our lives when we negotiate with it. Forgive us for not prevailing upon it and truly struggling with it. Help us to wield Your word against our sin, as You root Your promises in our hearts. Amen.

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[1] Rom. 8:28 NIV  |  [2] Fighter Verses.  |  [3] Although God hates all sin because it is the worship of other gods, idolatry is the purest form of sin because it is imminently direct.  |  [4] Deut. 12:2-3 NIV  |  [5] John Owen, The Mortification of Sin.  |  [6] Eph. 6:17 NIV

May 23, 2011

His Love for Us & Our Call to Love Him

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Deut. 10-11

Love | Do you love God? Is that even a question you ask yourself? Does the idea of loving God make you uncomfortable? Although some people do not use such language, the Bible repeatedly speaks about loving God – even in its books of law. In fact, Deuteronomy is more like a marriage covenant than a legal treatise.

The Lord | In spite of Israel’s small size [1] and rebellious heart [2], the Lord chose to pursue and love her: To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations” [3]. Then, out of His great love for them, He blessed them by giving them the law, the land [4], descendents “as numerous as the stars in the sky” [5] and – best of all – His presence: “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” [6].

The Israelites | In response to His great love, He called Israel to love Him: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” [7]. They were called to love Him in the way that they lived, as they sought to be holy as He was holy [8].

Us | Today, although we often do not associate law and love, we must recognize that they are inextricably linked in the heart of God. As Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” [9]. Thus, when temptation to sin arises, we should not merely ask God to keep us from it. We should also pray for God to grow our love for Him.

Prayer | Lord, Thank You for loving us and not merely giving us the law. We confess, however, that we often have separated law and love and, thereby, seen a poor image of who You are. Yet, more than anything else, we want our hearts to grow in loving You and You alone. So, increase our love for You. Amen.

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[1] Deut. 7:7 NIV (“The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.”) |  [2] Deut. 9:5 NIV (“It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land.”)  |  [3] Deut. 10:14-15 NIV  |  [4] Deut. 10:22; 27:8 (noting that, when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the Lord would be fulfilling the promise that He made to Abraham in Gen. 12:7).  |  [5] Deut. 10:22 NIV (noting that, by the time the Israelites were entering the Promised Land, the Lord had fulfilled the promise that He made to Abraham in Gen. 15:5).  |  [6] Deut. 31:8 NIV. See also Deut. 31:6; 33:27.  |  [7] Deut. 10:12-14 NIV. See also Deut. 6:4-5 NIV (“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”), Deut. 7:9 NIV (“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”), Deut. 11:1 NIV (“Love the LORD your God”), Deut. 13:3 NIV (“The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul”).  |  [8] This is essentially the theme of Leviticus.  |  [9] John 14:21 NIV  |  [FN] Much research was taken from Mark Dever, Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament.

May 20, 2011

The Dangers of Prosperity

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Deut. 8-9

Success | How do you measure success? While a single guy living in New York may measure it by seeing how many numbers he can get on a Saturday night, a mom may look at her kids’ report cards. Although a public company uses its shareholder value, a sports team looks at its wins. When it comes to being a Christian, however, how do we measure success?

Warning | From the beginning of the Israelite nation, God promised to bless His people materially [1]. Yet, just as He was about to bring them into the Promised Land, Moses warned them, Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God … Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God … He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness … to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth … ” [2].

Good | God knew that the prosperity in the Promised Land would be dangerous to their souls because it would tempt them toward self-sufficiency and pride. Thus, before He brought them into the Promised Land, He brought them through the wilderness “that He might humble [them]” and, thereby, “do good for [them] in the end” [3]. Yet, the “good” that He aimed to do was not in the giving of material blessings. No, the “good” He aimed to do was in making them to be intensely and enduringly aware of their total dependence on Him for everything, so that no reasonable person could ever say, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”

Prayer | Lord, Although the wilderness is not easy, we want to be trained by it so that we are happy, free and thankful – wherever our journey leads. Do not let us rush through our seasons of wilderness, only wishing it were over. Instead, show us how to be successful – that is, entirely dependent on You whether in want or wealth. Amen.

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[1] See Gen. 20:14-16; 26:12-15; 30:43; 47:27; Lev. 26:3-5, 9-11; Deut. 28:1-14  |  [2] Deut. 8:11-18 NIV  |  [3] Deut. 8:16 NASB

May 19, 2011

Our True Identity

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Deut. 6-7

Ethnocentrism | When Moses – an Israelite – married a woman from Cush (a region located south of Ethiopia and known for its dark-skinned inhabitants [1]), the Lord approved of it – even though his brother and sister did not: “Miriam and Aaron began to talk about Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite” [2]. And, as a result, although God did not utter a single word of criticism to Moses, God struck Miriam with white leprosy for criticizing her brother for marrying a Cushite: “Miriam’s skin was leprous – it became as white as snow” [3].

Hypocrisy? | Yet, when God was preparing the Israelites to enter the Promised Land, He prohibited them from marrying into nations that already inhabited the land: “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you” [4]. What was going on? Does this text suggest that interracial marriages are unbiblical, as some have argued in the past? Yet, how could God now prohibit such marriages when He had so strongly chastised Miriam for criticizing Moses? Was God being hypocritical?

True Identity | In prohibiting marriage between the Israelites and the other nations, the Lord was not interested in protecting ethnic or racial purity, but religious purity. He wanted to make sure that there would be a single faithfulness to Him, not divided affections for the other nations’ false gods. Thus, He was not prohibiting interethnic or interracial marriages, but rather marriages between those who belonged to Him and those who did not. Today, there is only one Biblical restriction on marriage – namely, that spouses must be “in the Lord” [5]. Thus, ethnic differences are not grounds to prohibit marriage because our identity is founded our being made in the image of God and being reborn in the Spirit.

Prayer | Lord, Thank You for giving us insight into the history of the Old Testament by causing us to reconcile two seemingly inconsistent accounts. Forgive us for failing to see others as You do, for You do not consider the outward appearance, but rather the heart. Work within us toward greater racial reconciliation in our churches, as we increasingly find our identities rooted in Your image and Your Son. Amen.

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[1] Later, the prophet Jeremiah rhetorically asked, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots?” (Jer. 13:23 NIV), where the word “Ethiopian” here is the same Hebrew word translated in Numbers as “Cushite.”  |  [2] Num. 12:1 NIV  |  [3] Num. 12:10 NIV  |  [4] Deut. 7:3-4 NIV  |  [5] See 1 Cor. 7:39 NIV (“A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”). See also 2 Cor. 6:14-15 NIV (“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?”)

May 18, 2011

Incentivizing Ethical Behavior

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Deut. 5

Ethics | Increasingly, governments are trying to incentivize corporate ethical behavior. For example, not only have many legislatures allowed companies to consider more than just maximizing shareholder value [1], even the SEC has proffered a new and controversial proposal for whistleblowers [2]. Of course, there is one thing that no government would ever do to encourage ethical behavior – that is, suggest that legal compliance is optional or inconsequential.

Commandments | As Moses continued Deuteronomy’s historical prologue, he recited the Ten Commandments and recalled, “These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly” [3]. He also reminded them of God’s incentive to comply: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” [4].

Compliance | Thousands of years later, however, Paul suggested that legal compliance was meaningless: “[Y]ou also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead … For when we were in the realm of the flesh,the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us … But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” [5]. Thus, when we believe in Christ, we die to the law and are free to be united in Christ, who rose from the dead.

Counsel | When Jesus met the law’s demands, He forever changed our approach to ethics. In Him, we are born again and the law is written on our hearts. Now, in order to obey, we do not look at a list of commandments, but rather we open ourselves to God’s entire counsel, hope in the gospel, and lovingly serve one another. Therefore, although the law is important, we measure our lives by it in a very different way than we did when we were under it. We are in Christ, not the law. Our approach is life, not lists.

Prayer | Lord, Since we could never earn our salvation through compliance with Your law, we thank You that Jesus met the law’s demands. Forgive us for cheapening His grace and cause us to obey Your law as a response of love, not self-justification. Amen.

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[1] Traditionally, corporations were only allowed to consider maximizing shareholder value when making decisions. Increasingly, however, legislatures have broadened their scope of “corporate purpose” to allow companies to take a variety of other things into consideration, e.g., their community, their employees, the environment. See, e.g., Wikipedia, “Shareholder Value.”

[2] Reuters, “Republicans Seek Changes to SEC Whistleblower Rule.” 11 May 2011 (noting whistleblowers who skip internal corporate reporting mechanisms to tip off the SEC directly to major frauds may receive 10-30% commission from sanctions).

[3] Deut. 5:22 NIV  |  [4] Deut. 5:29 NIV  |  [5] Rom. 7:4-6 NIV  |  [FN] Special thanks to Allison F. for her faithful work in editing.

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