Tag Archives: Moses

Freedom with a Twist

By Eugene C. Scott

Oppression is chameleon. Throughout human history it has changed its color and adapted itself to every age and every need or right we humans must have. And it’s disguise is always—at first—beautiful, promising. This chameleon usually first promises us safety in a dangerous world, then maybe protection of beloved values, or true peace, or more food, or better wages, and even—paradoxically—freedom. Then somehow, slowly—maybe even unintentionally at times—it changes its color. The trap slams shut and we are caught.

The ancient Israelites came begging Egypt for safety from a famine and wound up enslaved for over 400 years. That was one expensive meal.

In 1789 the French Revolutionaries began an overthrow of a corrupt and absolute monarchy. Freedom, they cried. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then only four years later the Committee of Public Safety began what is now called the Reign of Terror. Up to 40,00 people were killed. The dictator Napoleon followed.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 turned out worse, with an estimated 30 million killed by Stalin’s government. Communist China and North Korea, so-called democratic nations in Africa, and the theocracies of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have followed suite. To name a few more recent oppressive chameleons. Even the theological American ideal of “manifest destiny” turned murderous.

What is the common denominator in all this oppression? Some today say religion. Others corporations. Some governments. And these are all elements to be sure. But religions, corporations, and governments are made up of people. You and me. Humans are the root of all this oppression.

We are each capable of wreaking it on others or releasing it in the name of getting something we think we need. When I visited that horrific reminder of human oppression, The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realized it was not Nazis or Germans who killed six million Jews. Yes, the murderers wore Nazi uniforms and were mainly German. But beneath those uniforms they wore human skin. This the Bible calls sin. And on this level it is hard to deny.

The good news is we are also capable of resisting oppression. Freedom also comes in many different varieties. Though true freedom is never deceptive nor makes promises of mere safety. Some varieties of freedom come harder than others. With a cost.

Political, economic, religious, personal freedom are the most common freedoms we cry out for. But maybe the most precious freedom is one we avoid at almost all cost: The freedom to not be safe, to cry, to struggle, to suffer. This is the freedom Jesus chose as an expression of his love for us. He freely gave his life for you and me.

Note the difference? Oppression promises to give but really takes. And leaves us no choice in the matter. Only God gives expecting nothing in return. Because God needs nothing.

If anyone ever could become a demanding dictator it is God. Often our cries to God for safety, mere happiness, contentment, a cessation of pain and worry are just that, invitations for God to declare universal marshall law in the name of public safety. But how much more would God’s mighty fist crush us if mere humans such as Pharaoh, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler did such thorough work?

So God continually grants us the freedom to suffer. Knowing this then gives us the freedom to love and live as creatures of love.

The ancient Israelites were mud and brick, hard labor, economic slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. But when God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go,’” their freedom is not escaping human oppression. God goes on to say, “Let my people go . . . so that they may worship me.” Worship is an expression of love. Soon enough, faced with a barren and dangerous desert, however, the people are crying out for the safety of Egypt. Give us the leeks and onions of Egypt they tell Moses.

Finally, as these people then stand on the edge of the “promised land” which contains not only “milk and honey” but suffering too, Joshua says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Those gods, like our gods of protective governments and human systems only take because they cannot give us what we truly need. The freedom to receive and give love.

This freedom is costly. But not as costly as choosing safety and other chameleon promises.

Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Seen Any Burning Bushes Lately?

By Eugene C. Scott

The desert had grown comfortable for Moses. After forty years of caring for Jethro’s sheep, he knew every bush and watering hole as well as he knew the seams and stitches of his old camel-hair robe. When he first arrived in Midian, a fugitive from Egypt and God, wariness was a way of life. He noticed all–the cool slant of the sun in the morning, the twitch of a conies’ ear as he approached an oasis, the heat waves drawing alluring pictures in the midday heat. His nerves jumped at each breath of wind or bleat of sheep. And always he wondered if he had run far enough from Egypt and feared he could never run far enough from God.

Today, however, Moses drowsed as he followed his flock across the desert. His sandals scuffed a rhythm on the hard, dry desert floor. Horeb, the mountain of God, towered in the distance, its long shadow touching the noses of his lead sheep. But Moses noticed not. He had grown comfortable. So it is he walked an hour or more without perceiving the bright light that flickered at the base of Horeb. In the early days Moses would have seen it afar and worried if it were the glint of an enemies’ weapon. Today he shuffled almost upon it before the fire registered. And he only looked up because his flock veered off to the right of the burning bush.

Moses stopped and planted his staff in the dirt between his feet. He sheep continued ontheir well-worn route. Moses rubbed his old eyes and wondered how this bush came to burn. Then slowly he realized the bush was aflame but it did not burn–no crumbling branches, no ember, no ash. “Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.’” Exodus 3:1-4

Amazing what God resorts to to get our attention. Remember the one time you knew the correct answer to your math teacher’s question and you waved your arm until your biceps muscle seized and your arm plummeted to your desk like a dead weight? And your math teacher never noticed. She called on the kid sleeping and drooling on his desk next to you. I wonder if God feels like that? He burns bushes, throws lightning bolts, and generally makes a nuisance of himself, waving his arms around like an eager fourth grader, and we never notice.

I have a friend who, when he is out in the woods, always sees a deer or elk or coyote or grouse or rabbit or something. I can hike a trail for hours and never see a blessed thing. But then Jay joins me and suddenly the hills are alive. I once asked him if he attracted all these animals by wearing a special scent or failing to shower. He simply smiled and pointed out a six point bull elk watering fifty yards off the trail. Some people are just tuned in.

Jay loves the wilderness so much he becomes a part of it. He has trained himself to notice things most of us ignore. Dead tree branches transfigure into the rack of a buck standing behind a tree, and a flickering, golden oak leaf is really a doe perking her ear at a strange noise. Jay doesn’t miss much.

I’m sure by now you get the point. Most of us are like Moses almost missing God in a burning bush. We might even be worse than Moses and walk right by the durned thing. And the tragedy is God only occasionally speaks through burning bushes. The rest of the time his subtle voice is in the flick of a leaf or the blink of an eye. We rush down the trail of life claiming it leads through a barren wilderness, while God is dropping hints of his love and presence at every turn. Stop, look, listen. God is there.

Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Contrary to popular belief that verse does not advocate blind faith. It commends “the ancients” for hearing God’s voice and seeing his hand in everyday life. They trusted God in the supernatural world because they walked with him in the natural world. We can be certain of what we do not see only if we open our eyes to what God has put before us.

“When the Lord saw that [Moses] had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

“And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’” But of course God knew where Moses was. Moses was really saying, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”

Life often grows comfortable–we habituate to its wonders. We drive the same route to work. And glaze-eyed notice nothing.  What must God do to get us to say, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”? Usually it’s something that burns like fire.

Eugene often misses God and good things right in front of him. Fortunately God is patient with him and keeps trying. Eugene also co-pastors The Neighborhood Church.

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Is God a Control Freak?

By Eugene C. Scott

There have been times when life has been completely out of control. And there seemed nothing anyone could do to change it, fix it, or stop it.

Even God.

It was as if my life were a passenger jet first wobbling, then looping and finally plummeting out of control. But before it hits the ground I bust into the cockpit only to discover God chatting it up with the co-pilot (and no, contrary the popular bumper-sticker, I am not God’s co-pilot and neither are you), while He is also texting and updating His status on Facebook. In the meantime my life is heading down nose first.

“Who’s in control here?” I shout. “Don’t You know You’re not supposed to text and drive? Grab the wheel. Get a grip!” God simply smiles and shrugs and goes back to texting.

People who believe in God love to talk about God being in control. By this we usually mean that we believe God can and should keep most–if not all–evil, bad, or even slightly uncomfortable situations from befalling us.

Given life’s raft of tornadoes, cancers, marriage break-ups and daily disappointments, it doesn’t seem that God has the same agenda. Is God is in control of this wildly tilting planet of ours? This discontinuity between believing in a loving God and living in an unpredictable world is the genesis of the question “how could a loving God allow (insert painful, devastating life circumstance here)?”

Most of us–even those who don’t really believe in God–understand that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Being should be able to prevent the personal and global problems of the world.

Yet life does not reflect any such controlling God. Not mine anyway. To me God seems to be anything but in control. But it’s not just me–or you. Even the Bible seems confused on the issue of God being in control. God did not stop the first two of us from making a bad choice. Then–like dominoes–character after biblical hero stumbles and falls: Abraham, Jacob, Saul, David, Judas, Peter and Paul to name the biggies.

Consider the story of Joseph. God gives him a big dream and then lets his brothers nearly murder him and finally sell him. Israel ends up in slavery for four hundred years. Moses tries defending some poor Hebrew slave and is cast into the desert for another forty years. Yes, Moses eventually sets his people free. But couldn’t God have prevented those tragedies? Wasn’t there a better way? Not according to God.

Or on a smaller scale, couldn’t God have kept my father or mother in this world just a little longer? In Navy terms, God doesn’t run a very tight ship. This pain and struggle that often permeates our lives leaves us a choice. We must believe God is in control and we have done something for which God has removed his controlling hand and let us swing in the wind, as Job’s friends claimed. Or to cease to believe in God, as C.S Lewis once did and so many others have.

Or to rethink how God and control interact.

Love requires freedom. Control kills love’s response. I have complete power over a toy remote control car. Not so a kitten. I can make the car turn left, right, back up, stop. But I can never win love from it. A kitten, however, listens to me not. It runs free and ignores anything I say or do except the opening of a can of cat food. But I can win love from that . . . well maybe using a cat was a bad example but you get what I mean.

A world in which love exists, much less thrives, must favor love and danger over control and safety. Therefore, God, unlike us, seems to eschew control.

If God is not in control, who is? Or is God simply a wimp?

God is no wimp. And God is indeed sovereign. Surprisingly so. In God’s surprising sovereignty prevention of pain gives way to redemption of pain.

In 1990 I was offered my first ordained pastoral position, associate pastor to families in a large church in Bloomington, IL. Dee Dee, my wife, and I prayed, sought advice, studied, debated and decided to accept the position. We moved, lock stock and two young children. A mere two years later spiritually, physically and emotionally broken I was ready to give up this dream of serving God in the pastorate and strap on my carpenter’s tool belt again. The church we went to serve was a broken, dying place. The senior pastor was on his umpteenth affair and the congregation took its pain and confusion out on anyone new and vulnerable: The Scott family.

What was God thinking? We asked for wisdom. God could have prevented the whole thing.

Instead God redeemed it.

In the middle of this came a phone call out of the blue. “I hear from a mutual friend you’re in a difficult church,” the pastor I had met at a wedding in Denver years ago said. For some reason I told this virtual stranger my story.

“Our senior pastor went through something very similar here as an associate pastor. Can he call you and talk to you about our need for an associate pastor to families?”

Almost two years to the day after we moved to Bloomington, we were on our way to Tulsa, OK. We spent almost nine years serving at Kirk of the Hills. Some with equal pain to Bloomington.

But Dee Dee and I return to Tulsa often. Our youngest daughter, Emmy, was born there.  Our oldest daughter, Katie, son-in-law, Michael and two beautiful grandchildren still live there. You see Katie married Michael, a boy who came to love Jesus and my daughter in the Kirk of the Hills youth group.

Redemption indeed. God could have prevented the pain of Bloomington. But he chose a better story! A story of taking our pain and turning it into something more beautiful than any Van Gough, Remington, sunset or seascape.

God is no control freak. I love Him for that.

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I Found God. Or Did God Find Me?

“I found God on the corner of 1st and Amistad,” goes the popular Fray song. Many of us who talk about knowing God talk that way. “I found Jesus,” people say.

“Was he lost?” I want to ask.

Does God crouch down behind a bush, counting to a billion, playing hide and seek with us? Or does God seek us?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

2 Kings 6:1-7:20

Acts 15:36-16:15

Psalm 142:1-7

Proverbs 17:24-25

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Kings 6:1-7:20: There’s a cliché that asks, “If you can’t find God, guess who has moved?” This is a guilt-line to try to convince us we can’t sense God because we are doing something wrong. Maybe. But the four lepers found out that it was God who had moved. God was not sitting against the city wall waiting for them to die, as they were. God was out in front of them taking care of business.

“If you can’t find God, guess who has moved?” Sometimes the answer is: God. And we need to get up and follow.

Acts 15: Paul and Barnabas argue over young John Mark. As far as we know, they never work together again. A deep friendship is broken. But God redeems even this. In place of Barnabas, God provides Silas, Timothy, Titus, and many others as partners for Paul.

And John Mark matures and becomes a partner of Peter–another person Paul argued with–and eventually writes The Gospel According to Mark.

When we give our disagreements and disappointments to God, he turns them into better stories.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

I believe God seeks us out.

For me this is really good news because I’ve never been able to find anything. “If it was a snake it would have bit you,” my mom used to say pointing out my lost shoe right under my nose. If not for my wife, I would have starved to death long ago because of my inability to find food in the refrigerator.

This is genetic, some say, part of being a male.

Maybe so. Even though God is pretty big, I’ve over-looked him often enough. Then some of us even refuse to look.

I once saw a magazine advertisement that asked, “What do you do if people won’t come to the doctor? Take the doctor to them.”

God had the same idea first. God takes it to us, so to speak. He sent Philip and Peter and Paul and Barnabas and many un-named others out to find those who had need. For that matter, God never hung out a shingle for his spiritual health clinic, hoping we would seek him out.

“Where are you?” God asked Adam and Eve. God sought out Abraham, Moses, the Samaritan woman at the well, and, in Acts 16, Lydia. God even seeks out you and me. As a little boy, I once ran away to see if my mom would look for me. She did. It felt great–not the spanking I received after she found me–but that she cared enough to seek me out.

Did you know God cares so much about you he is always on the hunt for you? The Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson called God in his poem by the same name.

“Lost and insecure, You found me, you found me,

Lying on the floor, where were you? Where were you?”

The Fray ask as if it’s God’s fault we hide from him. Maybe, if you haven’t already, it’s time to stop running.

  1. Which passage spoke to you and why?
  2. Has God found you?
  3. If so, when and how?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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Do You Believe In Miracles?

On December 15, 2009, healing evangelist Oral Roberts died at age 91 from complications related to his pneumonia. Some were grieved by his death–and others were relieved. But everyone who knew anything about him could agree on this: Roberts was a lightening rod of controversy.

For years, every Sunday morning on his nationally televised program, he proclaimed, “Something good is going to happen to you.” Roberts believed that God can enter our everyday lives and change them.

He later founded a university that drew thousands of students who agreed with him. And etched on the floor of the basketball court in his university arena was this phrase: “I believe in miracles.”

Do you believe in miracles? And if so, what role do they—or should they—play in our lives?

Yesterday, our guest blogger Mike Mullin, began a discussion on miracles and our faith. This morning, we’re going to continue where he left off.

TODAY’S READING

Exodus 15:19-17:7
Matthew 22:1-33
Psalm 27:1-6
Proverbs 6:20-26

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Exodus 15:25. Immediately after crossing the Red Sea, we read that God tested the Israelites. After the thrill of watching God inflict plagues on Egypt, then securing their release, and then parting the Red Sea, God wanted to determine their commitment to him. Remember, Israel had spent 430 years of bondage in Egypt with little or no instruction on following Yahweh. The rest of Exodus reveals the deep roots of Egypt that still existed in Israel.

Exodus 16:1-3. One month into the wilderness, Israel was already grumbling and ready to return to Egypt. Apparently, they suffered from short memories because in Egypt they lived as slaves, barely eking out an existence—and they certainly didn’t sit around pots of meat, eating all the food they wanted. This tells me that miraculous signs and wonders aren’t enough to win our devotion to God—which yesterday’s guest blogger, Rev. Mike Mullin, explored.

Exodus 16:16. An omer is equivalent to about 2 quarts in volume.

Exodus 16:34. The “Testimony” is a reference to the Ark of the Covenant.

Exodus 16:35. Jesus referred to himself as Israel’s daily manna in John 6:48-58.

Matthew 22:1-14. Jesus was referring to himself in this parable (as the king’s son), and the resulting destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D.

A few other thoughts hit me about Jesus’ parable: First, in this parable, Jesus was referring to religious people. Second, many of the people who turned down the king’s invitation weren’t opposed to the son, they were just too busy to squeeze his invitation into their plans. We live according to our priorities. Some, however, responded much more violently. Thirdly, I’ve always wondered why Jesus concluded this parable by kicking out a man who wasn’t properly dressed for the occasion. This tells me that being invited to the banquet doesn’t mean I can attend under my own terms. Following Jesus means following him–not expecting him to follow us.

Matthew 22:15-16. The Pharisees were religious conservatives and the Herodians were Roman Empire supporting “liberals.” To get them to work together required extreme measures.

Matthew 22:17. The Bible Background Commentary explains Jesus’ dilemma: “If he publicly takes the view characterized by those later called Zealots (no king but God), the Herodians can have him arrested; if he rejects that view (which he does), he may compromise his following.”

Matthew 22:18-21. I love this. By asking his detractors to show him a coin—which included Caesar’s image—Jesus exposed their hypocrisy, since any “good” Jew would refuse to use Roman currency.

Matthew 22:30. People who romantically assume that they’ll be married “forever” are sadly mistaken. Marriage only lasts as long as both parties are alive.

Psalm 27:1-6. What a great passage on perspective. In the midst of life-threatening stress, David understands where to revive his hope and his strength: by dwelling the house of the Lord.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

I grew up in a religious culture that placed a high value on miracles. Oral Roberts was an icon for many of us. Although some of the miracles I saw were merely the product of hype, and really not miracles at all, others were legitimate. Some even happened to me.

True story: in high school, some friends and I prayed for a girl who broke her pelvis in seven places due to a car accident. She walked with crutches and was told that she would never be able to have children. But by the grace of God, she was healed. The next day she and I ran through the school hallways, praising God. Her friends were utterly astonished. But a year later, she had no interest in following Jesus.

Most of my life I sought that one miracle that would take me over the top in my walk with God. Something that would deliver me once-and-for-all from my sinful tendencies. But it never happened.

Israel witnessed some pretty amazing miracles. Imagine walking through the Red Sea on dry ground. Yet in today’s reading, they complained and grumbled incessantly, longing to return to their lives of bondage. This was only 6 weeks into their journey!

As much as we want God to miraculously change our lives, those miracles he may graciously give us will never be enough.

Miracles are good. Asking for them is good. They’re like glimpses into God’s heart and his extravagant love for us.

But our faith must rest on more than miracles. Our faith must rest on a relationship with God through his son Jesus and a commitment to follow him.

At times, I get frustrated reading about Israel’s grumbling and irritability in the desert. They loved Moses’ miracles…in the moment. But learning to follow him? That took a lifetime.

Just like us.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to your heart in today’s reading?
  2. Have you ever experienced a miracle? What happened? How were you changed? What difference does it make in your life today?
  3. What does “dwelling in the house of the Lord” look like for you? Share a time when it made a difference in your life.

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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A Tale Of Two Men

Two days ago, Jason Giambi reached an agreement with the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball team to play back-up first baseman.

Did you miss that news story? Surprisingly not.

Not long before, Mark McGwire reached an agreement with the St. Louis Cardinals to become their hitting coach.

The chances are much more likely that you heard about McGwire’s story than Giambi’s. Why? Because four weeks ago McGwire—the former single season home run record holder—admitted that he injected himself with steroids earlier in his career. Baseball fans were incensed.

But Giambi used steroids too. A former teammate of McGwire’s and a baseball star in his own right, Giambi is a 5-time All-Star  and the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2000.

So what’s the difference?

After the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2004 that a number of professional baseball players had taken steroids—including Giambi—Giambi admitted his guilt and apologized to the fans. His prompt confession caused a moderate stir which quickly died down.

McGwire was exposed as well in a 2005 book written by former baseball star Jose Canseco. As a result, McGwire was subpoenaed to testify at a congressional hearing on steroids later that year. But when asked if he had taken steroids, McGwire replied, “I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to be positive about this subject.” He never answered the question directly. You can watch his testimony here.

Five years later, McGwire finally came clean: “I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”

Two men with similar offenses. One apologized quickly and moved on with his life. Another man avoided admitting his guilt, only to confess it years later…amidst a storm of controversy and protest.

A little humility goes a long ways in helping a person avoid further pain and sorrow.

Just ask one of our characters in today’s reading…

TODAY’S READING

Exodus 10:1-12:13
Matthew 20:1-28
Psalm 25:1-15
Proverbs 6:6-11

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Exodus 10:3. This verse echos yesterday’s discussion about humbling ourselves. Again, God asks Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” At this point, Pharaoh would lose face before all Egypt if he gave in to Moses’ request. Hardened hearts and pride go hand-in-hand.

Exodus 10:7-8. His royal officials are now trying to convince Pharaoh to let the people go.

Exodus 10:13-14. According to the Bible Background Commentary, “Locusts breed in the region of the Sudan and would have been more plentiful than usual in the wet climate that initiated the entire sequence.” The east wind, then, would have blown the locusts into Egypt. Incidentally, a locust eats the equivalent of its weight every day.

Exodus 10:21-29. The Bible Background Commentary explains, “The comment that it was darkness that could be felt (v. 21) suggests that the darkness was caused by something airborne, namely, the khamsin dust storms known in the region. There would be excessive dust from all of the red earth that had been brought down and deposited by the Nile, as well as from the barren earth left behind in the wake of the hail and locusts…The fact that the text emphasizes the darkness rather than the dust storm may indicate that the sun god, Amon-Re, the national god of Egypt, the divine father of Pharaoh, is being specifically targeted.”

Exodus 11:1-10. Once more, from the Bible Background Commentary: “In Egypt Pharaoh was also considered a deity, and this last plague is directed at him. In the ninth plague his ‘father,’ the sun god, was defeated, and now his son, presumably the heir to the throne, will be slaughtered. This is a blow to Pharaoh’s person, his kingship and his divinity.

Exodus 11:3. This verse made me laugh. Of course the people were favorably disposed toward Moses. He was making Pharaoh, their king, look like a fool. Pharaoh’s pride was destroying his country.

Exodus 12:2-3. This refers to the Hebrew month Abib, which begins with the first new moon after the spring equinox, generally between mid-March and mid-April.

Exodus 12:7. Placing the blood of the lamb at the top of the doorpost and on both sides forms a cross. This foreshadows Jesus by 1500 years.

Matthew 20:1-16. Matthew’s Gospel was written for Jewish believers. In light of this, I can imagine that as Gentiles were coming to faith, the Jewish believers were feeling a little uncomfortable. It was upsetting the balance of power—and changing their culture. I can hear them claiming, We’ve been in the faith since Jesus; we should enjoy extra privileges. But Jesus said no. In the same way, every follower of Jesus is a recipient of God’s grace. No one is better than the other.

Matthew 20:20-28. Read “The Word Made Fresh” and then take a second look at this passage. The tentacles of pride are insidious. Most telling of all is the fact that the other disciples were “indignant” with James and John—obviously because they, too, wanted to sit on either side of Jesus in the age to come.

Also, look at Jesus’ words in verse 28: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” What humility! The creator of the heavens and the earth, the savior of humanity, came to serve…us! What great love. And what a great model to follow.

Psalm 25:1-15. This is the prayer of a humble person. Look at verse 9: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” The key to receiving God’s direction in our lives is to humble ourselves.

Also, we read in verse 14 that the Lord confides in those who fear him. The word “confide” means “secret” or “friendship” and gives the idea of intimacy. Friends share secrets.

Proverbs 6:10-11. This passage runs through my mind at times when I try to take a nap. When it does, I can’t sleep!

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Stages take time to be built. The more time you have, the bigger the stage.

Today’s reading about Pharaoh really spoke to my heart…

Up to this point in the book of Exodus, we read about the seven plagues God inflicted on Egypt. Then today, we read about the locusts and the darkness, bringing our total to nine.

Each plague created time for Pharaoh to humble himself or time for a bigger stage to be built on which he would be humiliated.

Finally, Moses stood before Pharaoh and promised him that if he didn’t let Israel go, all the firstborn sons in Egypt would die—from royalty to the lowly slave girl to the best cattle in the land.

If the previous nine plagues had come true, surely this one would, too. But by this last confrontation, Pharaoh was so hard-hearted that he refused to budge. Pharaoh knew all the firstborn sons and livestock in Egypt would die—but he refused to humble himself.

Pharaoh’s pride now became a liability to everyone around him. And his subjects, to whom he owed the duty of protection and provision, meant nothing to him.

Lesson Learned: We Aren’t God

The insight that the Pharaohs were considered gods (mentioned in “Insights and Explanations”) really hit home. Ultimately, the confrontation became a showdown of wills—not between Pharaoh and Moses, but between Pharaoh and God.

It seems to me that walking in humility is really the acknowledgement that we aren’t God. This is the issue God targets in all of us. We aren’t God.

Like Pharaoh, when God begins dealing with our pride, other people are affected as well. Our family and friends. Perhaps coworkers or clients. It gets messy. And the longer we wait to humble ourselves, the stage upon which we will ultimately confess becomes bigger and bigger.

Humble Or Be Humbled: My Story

Earlier in my life, God began dealing with my pride. It wasn’t the first time, and surely won’t be my last. But in the midst of it, I refused to acknowledge my shortcomings. And the longer I fought God, a stage was being built for me to be humbled. At the end of that painful season, I departed a broken man—humbled on a stage before hundreds. And unfortunately, other people were affected. Family, but also friends. Some are embittered about the mess to this day.

I wish I could go back and do things differently. But had I not encountered the pain of my humbling experience, I would have repeated my mistakes.

My heart aches because I know what’s coming to Pharaoh. I want to warn him “It’s not worth it!” But when our hearts are hardened, we only listen to people who agree with us and tell us what we want to hear.

It really boils down to a choice we all will eventually make: be humble or be humbled

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to your heart in today’s reading?
  2. Describe a time when you were forced to humble yourself on a stage. What would you do different?
  3. Why do you think humility is such a big deal to God?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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Better Than Avatar At The Imax In 3D

Last Monday, the movie Avatar crossed the threshold of highest grossing film of all time. After only six weeks, the movie has rung up $1.859 billion (1,979,833,948.05 CAD; 14,135,817,410 ZAR; and 2,074,404,997.96 AUD for our foreign friends) in sales compared to now-second place “Titanic’s” $1.843 billion.

The movie’s success can be credited to a number of factors: the compelling storyline, realistic graphics, cutting edge special effects, serviceable acting, and the otherworldly mystique of Pandora.

But there was one overriding factor that made a difference to me. If I was going to see the movie, I decided I wanted the full “Avatar experience,” which meant paying a little extra to watch it at an IMAX theater in 3-D.

Although I’m not a fiction aficionado (I like facts!), the movie mesmerized me. Throughout the film, the 8 year old kid sitting next to me kept reaching out to touch the characters or the foliage. I wanted to do the same thing, but I refrained…because I’m an adult. (Actually, I did reach out for a low-lying branch one time—but don’t tell anyone!). The whole time, my friend Mike and I kept shaking our heads, looking at each other, and saying, “This is soooo cool!”

After seeing the movie in 3-D, I can’t imagine seeing it a second time on a regular screen in 2-D. Really, 2-D isn’t two dimensions, it’s just one dimension, with the flat characters and flat backgrounds appearing on a flat screen. 3-D makes all the difference because it gives us a fuller perspective of the movie.

You know, we can perceive God in 2-D or 3-D. We can see him from one perspective or from a fuller perspective, which makes him all the more real.

In today’s reading, we’re going to take a closer look at our three dimensional God.

TODAY’S READING

Exodus 5:22-7:25
Matthew 18:21-19:12
Psalm 23:1-6
Proverbs 5:22-23

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Exodus 6:6-8. Notice how many times God says, “I am the Lord” or “I will be your God.”

Exodus 6:12. In spite of God speaking to him, Moses remains unconvinced that God’s promise will come true.

Exodus 7:1. I love this verse! God was basically telling Moses, “You’re Pharaoh’s daddy!

Exodus 7:8-13. The serpent symbolized the power and authority. When Aaron’s serpent swallowed Pharaoh’s serpent, it communicated to Pharaoh that the God of the Hebrews was more powerful than him or his gods.

Exodus 7:14-24. God began by striking the lifeblood of Egypt—the Nile River. It gave the Egyptians access to water for drinking and water for their fields, not to mention the fish they could eat for food.

Matthew 18:22-35. The basic premise of this parable is, if we want God to forgive us (and we really need forgiveness), then we must be willing to forgive others. Through the years, I’ve seen numerous people try to neutralize this parable to justify their unforgiveness. But the question remains: How can I ask God to forgive me if I refuse to forgive others?

Matthew 18:35. When someone has offended us, he doesn’t want us to act nice while we’re simmering inside. He wants us to forgive from our heart. No one knows the true state of our heart except us…and God.

Psalm 23. The Bible Background Commentary sheds some light on the role of the shepherd and the sheep: “In contrast to goats, who are quite independent, sheep depend on the shepherd to find pasture and water for them. Shepherds also provide shelter, medication and aid in birthing.”

Psalm 23:4. The rod was more like a billy club that was worn around the belt.

Proverbs 5:23. The word for discipline means literally, “bond” or “band,” giving the idea of restraint. Although we may not like restraints, they’re good for us and prevent us from destroying our lives, and the lives of others.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Exodus 6:3 is an astounding verse. God told Moses that he appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as “God Almighty.” But beginning with Moses, he began revealing himself as the Lord. The Hebrew language renders God Almighty as El Shaddai, whereas Lord is rendered as Yahweh. As we briefly studied in a recent post, Yahweh means “I am.”

So what’s the difference between the two? God is both sovereign and personal. Powerful and tender. Holy and love.

All too often, I view God through one lens. He’s either God Almighty, who punishes my enemy but also hates my sin. Or I view him as Yahweh, who fills my every need and meets me in the tender places (like we read in Psalm 23).

But he’s both. A holy God and a God of love. A God who hates my sin and forgives my sin (which we read in Matthew 18:22-35).

To live as if God were only one of these two attributes is like watching Avatar in 2-D. He’s still God, but we lack the perspective that makes him who he really is.

So let’s give him what is due. He’s God in 3-D.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Why do you think God kept saying to Moses, “I am the Lord” or “I am your God”? In what areas of your life do you need him to repeat this to you? What prevents you from hearing it? (see Exodus 6:9).
  3. What’s the difference in the way that we respond to God if we only see him as El Shaddai or Yahweh? What’s your tendency?
  4. Do you find it difficult to forgive? How does Jesus’ parable about forgiveness help you move forward? Do you also find it hard to accept God’s forgiveness? If so, why?
  5. In your relationship with God, do you act more like a sheep or a goat (see “Insights and Explanations” on Psalm 23)?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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