September 21, 2018 -Trust…but Verify, Potiphar’s Wife, and the Eighth Commandment – Acts 17:10-11, Genesis 39:6-20, Exodus 20:16

truth

Ronald Reagan used to quote an old Russian proverb: Trust, but verify. Long before Ronald Reagan, some of the earliest Christian believers in Berea were commended for being discerning regarding what Paul and other preachers taught.

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:10-11 (ESV)

As we study the Bible we are called to be discerning. Our faith is not a blind or an uninformed faith, but a faith handed down to us through the word of God.  If we want to hear from God, Scripture is where He speaks to us.  We need to look for evidence to corroborate what we are told, and to learn for ourselves what the Bible says.  This not only applies to our study of Scripture, but the insistence on truth should be paramount in how we live our lives together with others as people of God.

There is a movement in politics and culture known as #metoo to which the sounding cry is “Believe Women!” It is true that women have been sexually harassed and abused by men in power in the workplace.  It is true that women have suffered the effects of domestic violence in the home.  It is also true that many women have been intimidated or coerced into remaining silent and not reporting abuse.  Many women who have truly been abused have been ignored when they tried to tell their stories. Many women live in fear of their abusers. Many women live with abuse for years, in silence, for economic or other reasons.  Some become so paralyzed by fear that they convince themselves that they either deserve the abuse, or that it is somehow “normal.”

These acts of harassment, abuse and violence against women are illegal as well as being morally reprehensible and sinful. When these acts occur, they should be reported and investigated. When a person is proven guilty of perpetrating such acts, that person should be punished to the full extent of the law.  There should be no tolerance in our society for sexual harassment and abuse.  However, women who exploit and malign innocent men for their own personal revenge or gain must also be called out.  A woman should not get a free pass for using false testimony to incriminate or tarnish the reputation of an innocent man. Not every woman who cries “wolf” is telling the truth.

When anyone’s testimony about abuse could be tied to destroying the credibility of another for political expediency (both political “sides” have been guilty of this- think Monica Lewinsky or Anita Hill) or in one way or another can be levied to his or her own personal gain, or used to preserve one’s hide (to cover for a consensual affair, for instance), that testimony should invite heavy scrutiny.  The proverb, Trust, but verify, certainly should be in play.

We learn in the story of Joseph that not everyone’s testimony- even a woman’s- should be taken at face value.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.  He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.  And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.  And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled.   And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. Genesis 39:6-20 (ESV)

We should take the story of Potiphar’s wife as a cautionary tale. Accusations of misconduct or abuse should be taken seriously, but there should also be a burden of proof beyond the circular argument of “he said-she said.”  It is just as much of an error to dismiss an honest witness as it is to believe a groundless witness without proof.

Humanity was good at breaking the Ten Commandments even before God handed down the tablets of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Breaking the Eighth Commandment seems to be just as rampant in today’s society and in the media as it was back in Joseph’s time.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16 (ESV)

Don Henley mentioned in the 1985 song, “Dirty Laundry,” that we all love dirty laundry. Even though we might try to avoid the more salacious stories in the news, we still find ourselves gravitated to “the bubble headed bleach blonde that comes on at five,” and we all ask ourselves, “Is the head dead yet?”

Humans love a tasty piece of gossip.  Some people also crave the attention that comes from being portrayed as a victim.  Not every claim can be taken at face value as true.

We must take the time to listen to each other- and to investigate the facts before we make decisions that will affect another’s life or reputation. Gossip has the capacity to destroy others’ reputations and cause them undeserved suffering and harm.

As Christian people we are called to look at our lives through the lens of how our actions affect our neighbors. Many women who come forward with testimonies of harassment and abuse are telling the truth. Those who have truly suffered from harassment and abuse should be heard and civil justice must be sought whenever possible.  The reality is though, that some women are false accusers such as Potiphar’s wife. Her false testimony landed Joseph in prison even though he committed no crime against her, her husband or God.

The good news for all of us is that in our fallen world Jesus forgives us when we confess our sins to Him and ask Him for forgiveness. We are free to call on the Holy Spirit for help to love our neighbor- to care for those who have truly been damaged by sexual misconduct, abuse, or domestic violence, and to be discerning when people slander others for their own personal gain.

September 18, 2018- Where Were You? Job 38:1-18, 1 Peter 4:12-13

 

job whirlwind

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

 Dress for action (literally: “gird your loins”) like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,

and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,

that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
 It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.

 From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.

 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?

 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this. Job 38:1-18 (ESV)

 

The story of Job is one that most of us can identify with. Job is basically a person who most people would consider to be a “good guy.”  He tries to do all the right things- bringing up his kids right, trying to do the things God wants, and so forth.  Obeying the law is a good thing insofar as we are capable of doing it, but nobody can keep the law perfectly, and breaking one little point of it means you’ve messed up the whole thing. Job tried, but he was still an imperfect person who sinned, under the curse of the Fall, just like the rest of us.

The devil asks God if he can have his way with Job, insisting that Job only loves God because of the blessings God gives him. The devil is given permission to torment Job in all sorts of ways, but not to outright kill him.  Job ends up losing everything during this trial.  Job questions God as to why he deserved to be tormented, and Job demanded answers of God.  Job was possibly the first to ask the pervasive question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Job’s friends tried to console him- and place the blame on him for his afflictions. Their logic was that if only Job had been a “better guy,” or if he could only have figured out what he did to cheese God off and stopped doing it, then maybe he wouldn’t be suffering. We do that to ourselves. We think that if we can only be good and follow all the rules that nothing bad will happen to us. Then we are shocked when we are brought to a place of suffering, illness or loss, even though these are the conditions of our fallen condition and our fallen world.

We can become incredulous in times of adversity, and we are often tempted into attempting to bargain with God, even though Jesus and the apostles who first proclaimed the Gospel to the world let us know in no uncertain terms that the people of God share in both the burden of the Cross as well as in Jesus’ resurrection into eternal life. (It’s called Theology of the Cross…)

Job’s friends don’t use the best theology to explain his plight to him. God doesn’t work on the quid pro quo system.  We can’t bargain with God in the hope that our good behavior will garner us our “best life now” or comfort and a trouble free life.  We have nothing to offer God except to confess our sins and to pray for Christ to have mercy on us. Even the abilities to confess and pray and believe do not come from us, but are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here God reminds Job- and us- that we are beggars at the throne of grace indeed.

God reminds Job (and us) that He is the one in control. God is the one who set up the universe, the seasons, and the cycles of life. Who are we to question His wisdom- we who were nowhere to be found when He spoke the universe into being?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13 (ESV)

In Christ alone we have hope. This world and its trials and pain and loss are not the end.  He is the Author of all salvation, redemption, a new heaven and a new earth.  Jesus is walking with us through this shadow of the valley. Death is not the end.  In Christ, death and suffering and loss do not have the final say.  We are forever in the care of the one who spoke creation into being.  Trust Him.

September 14, 2018- Just Say the Word-Isaiah 55:6-11, Ephesians 2:10, Job 38

Job Whirlwind 77

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;  let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:6-11 (ESV)

What beautiful comfort the prophet Isaiah brings us in these words.

God is in control.

We aren’t the ones who orchestrate the seasons. We aren’t the ones who set the universe in motion. God brought about all things ex nihilo (from nothing) simply by speaking the words. God is, was and will be in all places and times- and beyond space and time, forever.  We can’t fully comprehend Him because He is so far beyond us.

God reveals to Isaiah, and through his inspired writing reveals to us as well, that God’s word always accomplishes that which He speaks. We don’t understand the mechanisms.  We might not agree with the timing or in the results, but God has set plans, and His will is going to be accomplished.  Our opinions and inputs are not required. God does work His will through us, as the apostle Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

Redemption and salvation have been accomplished by Jesus for us. We do nothing as we are brought to the font in baptism.  We add nothing to the gift.  We can do nothing but receive and respond.  We can marvel in God’s response in Job 38 when Job asked God why he had to suffer.  Where were we when God created the world and set its systems in motion?  What gives us the right to question God- even though we do?  How can we do anything but trust the Designer that He has goodness and redemption planned for the creation of His design?

Faith is the gift of having confidence that we are forgiven, set free, and made God’s own forever in Christ. Faith prays the prayer of the father of the demon possessed child in Mark 9:14-29“I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Jesus taught us that the name of God is holy. In His name, Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, to look to God for our provision day by day.  Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done.  Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus taught us to pray to be forgiven of our sins and to forgive those who have sinned against us. As we pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer we are directed to depend upon our sovereign God, God whose very word made all things come to be- for all things.

We can trust that God will meet our needs. He speaks and creation happens, the seasons, the growth, and the harvest are all under God’s control. We have become his redeemed and beloved children in Christ, and in Christ we will be safe in His care forever.

 

September 13, 2018 -Praise God, He Hears Us, the Curtain is Open- Psalm 116:1-9, Mark 15:33-39, Hebrews 9:24

temple curtain

I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.

Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.

 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling; 

I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living. Psalm 116:1-9 (ESV)

 

Do we see God as a merciful God? Some of us have come from religious traditions in which catechesis (teaching about the faith) focuses on God’s anger and wrath. If we only get one side of the Law-Gospel equation we might be scared into a degree of behavior modification, (or into a life of guilt and anxiety) but teaching the Law without balancing it with the Gospel makes it difficult for us to call on God in times of trouble, especially when we really screw up and need Him most. Feeling our inadequacy and guilt and sin should serve to convince us of our utter inability to make ourselves “good” and bring us to the Good News that Jesus died to save us from our sins. In Jesus the curtain of the temple separating God from man was taken away.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39 (ESV)

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24 (ESV)

The Psalmist reminds us that by faith Jesus set us free to call out to God in all situations- in our despair, in thanks, in good times and in trouble. We have nothing to prove to Him.  There is nothing we can earn or deserve from Him. When we cry out to God, He answers us for Jesus’ sake.  He sees Jesus and not all of our sins that have been covered by His blood.

When we are thankful- praise God. When we are troubled in our hearts, trust God for resolution and comfort. Jesus took away the curtain that keeps us from coming to the presence of God.  Trust Him.

September 10, 2018 – The Author and Perfecter of our Faith- Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Psalm 23

Jesus-Good-Shepherd-02

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 (ESV)

“By faith,” the writer of Hebrews repeats several times in this passage. Faith by its very nature must have an object.  Faith in faith makes no sense.  Faith in fallible people will always disappoint. Even though the writer mentions some of the heroic tales such as the crossing of the Red Sea, and notable characters of the Bible, such as Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel, these stars of these epic stories were imperfect sinners just like the rest of us. Faith in Jesus- the founder and perfecter of our faith- is the only faith with a valid object, the only faith that will not disappoint.

It is amazing to contemplate what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through His people.

One must marvel at the faith of the people of God over the millennia, but we also must realize that faith is a gift of God. The witnesses before us were only able to accomplish the “races set before them” because the ability to do so was given to them by God.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

We learn in the 23rd Psalm that Jesus is God with us- Emmanuel.  As much as we wish He would at times, He does not give us a pass from all the suffering of this world.  We carry our cross just as He had to. He does not carry us over the valley of the shadow of death.  We still have to walk through it, but we walk through it with Jesus beside us.

What comfort and what power there is in Jesus. We are powerless and helpless in and of ourselves no matter what we might want to think.

No matter what this world might throw at us, we have faith in Jesus- the real deal, the One True God, and we know we can endure anything because He lives in and through us, and in Him we have all we need.

September 4, 2018-Freedom and Feelings 1 John 4:19, Galatians 5:1,13-15

freedom1We love because He (Jesus) first loved us.- 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery….For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.   Galatians 5:1,13-15 (ESV)

“Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.”– Martin Luther from the Commentary on Galatians, 1535.

Freedom in Christ does not mean we are set free from the law of love. It means that because of Jesus’ love for us we are set free to love each other.

The Law is a good thing.  It shows us God’s will for our behavior toward Him and toward our neighbors.  The Law was given to maintain good order.

The Law also shows us our desperate need for a Savior.  None of us can follow the Ten Commandments (let alone the whole of the Mosaic Law) perfectly for even a day.

Our freedom in Christ does set us free from the penalty of the Law (which is death) but our freedom is not a license for “anything goes.”  It is empowerment from Jesus Himself to love as He first loved us.  No, we are not going to love one another perfectly.

Feelings are not good indicators of where we stand spiritually.  One day one might feel as if, “Hey, I am doing a really good job.  I haven’t murdered anyone, I do my Bible study and devotions, I am faithful to my partner, etc.”  But the next day, one might feel as if all is lost and God is far away. Feelings are mercurial at best, and following our fickle feelings will only lead us to despair.

The fact is that no person is able to justify him or herself.  Regardless of our feelings or how bad or good we think we are at any given moment, the reality is that justification and salvation is found in Jesus alone.

We are not set free because of our feelings.  We are set free of the curse of sin and set free to live out the Law of love because Jesus became the curse for us. Because Jesus died on the Cross and put death to death our freedom is in Him no matter how we feel. When we come to the font in Baptism we are washed clean of our sins, we are buried with Jesus in His death, and we are named and claimed as His own.  When we come to the Communion table, we share in His body and blood.  We can taste and see that He is good, He is there, and He is enough.

We are free because of Jesus, no matter what we feel.  It is in Him we have our life and strength and hope.

 

 

August 30, 2018- Pray for Wisdom and Repentance, and Trust God

 

apostle jamesCount it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:2-8 (ESV)

Sometimes the Book of James gets a bad rap because it challenges us to put the rubber to the road. James is so passionate about the actions that are the result of faith because he’s talking to early Christians who are going through all kinds of trials and persecution.

While at first glance it may seem he is emphasizing the importance of our behavior and our works, James really is telling us that our faith, which is a gift of God, is what gives us the ability to overcome and grow from trials.  We trust that God will get us through, that God will give us the wisdom and the strength to endure.

Godly wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit is available to us for the asking. There is precedent for believers to ask God for wisdom.  Solomon’s prayer before ascending his father David’s throne was a prayer for wisdom- wisdom rather than wealth or long life or earthly power- and God granted it to him.

In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” So Solomon came from the high place at Gibeon, from before the tent of meeting, to Jerusalem. And he reigned over Israel. 2 Chronicles 1:7-13 (ESV)

The challenge of applying the wisdom God grants us is found in the paradox we all live  under. The brokenness and imperfection of this world is due to the effects of the Fall. In this world we still live under the curse of the garden.  Our suffering and our failures are magnified by the result of sin, both the collective sins of humanity and the individual sins we commit often without even realizing it.

Solomon may have been the wisest man who ever lived save for Jesus, but Solomon didn’t always apply the wisdom he was given.  In Solomon’s later years he fell into the worship of his foreign wives’ idols, which led to the division and disruption of the kingdom of Israel after his death.

Jesus has broken the curse of the garden.  Jesus walks with us through the valleys of shadow. He knows the way through them. We share in His death in this world, but we also will share in His resurrection.  We can trust Him for the wisdom and strength we need in this life, just as His earthly brother, the apostle James, teaches us.