EPISODE NINTEEN (April 20, 2018)


It is impossible to even imagine the incredible difficulties the Israelites encountered on the trek from the Red Sea to Mr. Sinai. There were 600,000 men, probably as many women and even more children. The logistic problems were astronomical. But they arrived after about 3 months of travel and camping out at the foot of Mt. Sinai permitted some recuperation.

This was also a time of preparation and instruction on how they were to live following the new beginning initiated In Egypt with the Passover. Moses received personal instructions from God which he then passed on to the people. The initial instruction was in the form of ten commandments that God Himself had etched in stone. The first four governed their relationship to God and the rest described what their relationship to one another should look like. Jesus actually summarized the ten commandments in His response to a question asked by one of the Scribes: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” {Mk. 12:28). “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk. 12:29-31}. If this is our experience we will have kept the ten commandments.

To love the Lord like that is easier said than done. Nearly every morning (should be every} I pray, “Lord, help me to love you like that!” To do that demands full concentration. And, of course, if we truly observe the first (to love Him) then the second – to love our neighbor as ourselves – is relatively easy.

Our problem is that there are too many distractions in our lives that distract our concentration on loving God. A word that characterizes our culture {and, unfortunately, seeps into the church) is “carelessness”. We are careless in how we dress, careless in our stewardship, careless with grammar, careless in our manners, and other careless acts adinfinitum.

I can hear you mumbling under your breath. “What do you expect from an old coot who was part of the coat and tie crowd that once occupied church pews. I confess we were much too legalistic in our concerns. And I find myself often in a service cravatless. But allow me to be a little upset over dirty jeans. And there are things more important than grammar, manners, etc. But as we think of the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves we need to review Paul’s advice to the Philippians “in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Do you think that is easy? It takes deliberate concentration which few of us are willing to pursue.

I hadn’t planned to go off on this rabbit trail but I think the Lord lead me, or perhaps I just stumbled on it. You decide!

Back to Sinai. You recall when Moses was on the mountain receiving instruction, the people grew restless and demanded Aaron give them a god. Perhaps they thought it should be with a capitol G, but what they wished for was only with a small g. When Moses returned and heard the worshipping of one other than Jahweh, he grew angry and flung down and destroyed the commandment stones. But undeterred, he climbed back up the mountain for a second edition. Moses had reluctantly accepted God’s call to leadership but he gave himself fully to the task.

In addition to the commandments and much more information of how the children of Jacob were to conduct themselves, Moses was also given intricate plans for a tabernacle that was to be a symbol of God’s presence with His people. The plans were given in intricate detail which were to be followed meticulously. The author of Hebrews reminded his readers that Moses was instructed by God, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain” (Heb. 8:5) And the obvious reason was that the tabernacle, like so much of the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of Christ and His relationship to the new covenant.

And in the tabernacle we have a beautiful and detailed picture of Jesus Christ. Just outside the entrance was the brazen altar. On this altar the animals were sacrificed which would procure forgiveness for the sin of the people. Just as our entrance into eternal life is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

More to come!!

 

EPISODE EIGHTEEN (April 13, 2018)


We ended the last episode of “The Story” writing about the Gospel. We will pick it up again with this episode. We wrote briefly about the importance of the Passover. It provided redemption for Israel and the sparing of the lives of those behind the blood sprinkled door. But that was only part of its significance. “The Lord said to Moses ad Aaron in the land of Egypt, this month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” (Ex. 12:1,2).

In other words, the Passover in Egypt was the beginning of a new history for the people of God. After describing its celebration, and then the actual experience of it by the people, it would be referred to at least 4 additional times in chapters 12 and 13 of Exodus. It would be celebrated yearly by Israel throughout their history, It is still celebrated by Orthodox Jews.

Not only was this event, the sacrifice of a lamb, the beginning of life for Israel but our response to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God results in the beginning of life for all of us. Our sinful history is obliterated by the blood of Christ and our lives, like those of the Israelites, will now be directed by our Lord. And similar to Israel’s experience, our lives are not filled only with milk and honey, But God remains faithful and I can’t recount the times I have reminded God (actually primarily myself) of His promise “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Cor. 10:13).

The Passover ushered in a new life for Israel. They lost no time in taking flight from Egypt. The Egyptians were happy to see them go and continued to shower them with gifts. They must have left with many wagons to contain their wealth and the goods that the Egyptians had given them.

Soon after their departure Pharaoh had a change of heart and his army set out to pursue them and return them to Egypt. But God, true to His promise to lead them out of Egypt, again came to their rescue. He provided a cloud to guide them by day which turned to a pillar of fire to guide them by night. When they arrived at the Red Sea the cloud spread darkness over the Egyptians so they could not continue their pursuit. God instructed Moses to stretch his hand over the sea and God provided a highway through the waters and the Israelites arrived safely on the northern shore.

God had provided the parted waters solely for them to cross. When they had arrived safely on the other side, the path was no longer needed. Moses again stretched out his hand and the waters returned to their normal flow. Unfortunately for the Egyptian army they had also taken advantage of the path through the sea and were in the middle of it when the waters returned to their normal flow.

The Israelites continued on their journey to Mt. Sinai. I suppose progress was very slow since there were so many, including thousands of children, considerable live stock and many wagons holding all their possessions. Among their possessions were also the bones of Joseph, fulfilling his request that they would also be interred in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph’s father, Jacob. And God continued to lead them with the pillars of cloud and fire. And He said to then, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of he Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer” (Ex. 15:26).

However, they did not always listen diligently or do what was right. They were not far into their journey and they began to murmur. But God faithfully lead them, providing water along the way, and food (manna and quail). And God would later remind them “I have lead you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.” (Deut. 29:5).

They arrived at Sinai “on the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 19:1). They had been traveling for about three months. Most of that journey was through desert where food and water was scarce. God had protected and preserved them which should have been a great encouragement to them in their future conquest of and settlement in Canaan. Unfortunately, this was not the case. They continued to grumble and disobey God’s rules. But God forgave them over and over and continued to stand by His promises. You remember God’s covenant with Abraham. Usually both sides of a covenant would walk through the covenant sacrifice but in this case God walked through alone.

Israel would find Sinai an awesome place. Stay tuned!
 

EPISODE SEVENTEEN (April 9, 2018)

Having heard God speak to him from a bush that burned but was not consumed, Moses, rather reluctantly, was ready to lead Israel out of Egypt. But the task before him was formidable. Pharaoh was obviously enjoying the free labor of hard working people and maintained a tight grip on them. To soften Pharaoh’s heart God sent a series of plagues that made life extremely painful for the Egyptians. Can you imagine living among swarms of frogs, then gnats, then flies. And intermixed were boils, hail storms, days of total darkness, loss of livestock, water turned to blood.

After all this Pharaoh’s heart remained like stone and he refused to let them leave Egypt. But God had one final plague reserved for Pharaoh. A night was coming when every firstborn male, of man and beast, including the oldest son of Pharaoh, would be destroyed. Until now, the Israelites were protected from the plagues on Egypt, but now they too could be targets for the death angel.

But God provided a special protection for them which would have a very significant eternal effect on them. On the 10th day of the month each family was instructed to choose one lamb without any defects out of their herd. Evidently that lamb was penned so that it would be readily available. On the 14th day of the same month, at twilight, they were to slay the lamb and sprinkle its blood on the door posts of the dwelling. They were then to roast the flesh and eat it. Whatever was not consumed must be burned.

During that night, the angel of death passed through the land of Egypt and slew every first born son of every Egyptian family, including the oldest son of Pharaoh. He also passed through the Israeli section of Egypt but when he saw the blood on the doors he passed by. Pharaoh was finally convinced that keeping the Israelites in Egypt was not in his best interests.

Immediately after the Passover Feast Israel began the journey. As they began their journey God spoke to Moses and Aaron, and said “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” (Ex. 12:2). This was the beginning of a new nation. It began with Redemption. The lamb that was slain was proof of their total inability to help themselves. They became aware of their total dependence on Jahweh. At Mt. Sinai they would receive the rules of the road; how they should live as a result of their redemption.

There are many references in the Old Testament that refer to Jesus. Many are very specific, some not so direct. Often, especialy when reading the Psalms, one wonders “Is this referring only to David, or is this reference Messianic?” Here we are left with no doubt. John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world, saying, when he saw Jesus, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Redemption came to the children of Jacob through the shed blood of the Passover lamb. And just as this was a new beginning for them, the Redemption made possible by the death of Jesus Christ is a new beginning for us. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (II Cor. 5:17). John proclaimed the same truth in different words, “whoever hears my word and believes him who (God, the Father) sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24).

This, my dear readers, is the Gospel. The very good news that “The Story” is all about. Isn’t it absolutely amazing that this Gospel is so incredible that it takes 66 books to describe it. And there is still much more to learn. It would be tragic if we would ignore the opportunity of responding to the One whose words of centuries ago still echo today, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28 – 30).

EPISODE SIXTEEN (April 5,2018)


After Jacob died In Egypt, his sons took his body back to Canaan and he was buried in the cave he had purchased for a burial place for his wife, Sarah. (Gen. 50:13,14),  They then returned to Egypt and continued to dwell in Goshen. Joseph also died in Goshen and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin. As an Egyptian official he undoubtedly received special honors, perhaps a special edifice. But the author of the Pentateuch decided that information was not relevant to “The Story”.

For the ensuing 450 years we have practically no information about life of the sons of Jacob. From what follows we learn of several important things that occurred during those years. The sons of Jacob grew into a great nation. They also became wealthy. Reading ahead about the construction of the tabernacle a vast amount of precious stones and costly metals were used. The lampstand itself consisted of 75 pounds (not ounces) of gold.

 So they obviously accumulated a great deal of precious metal and stones and costly fabric in Goshen. And were aided by God. “I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing,  .    .    .   .  So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” (Ex. 3:21,22).

When they left Egypt Israel did not leave empty-handed. In addition to what they received as “gifts” from the Egyptians they probably, by their own diligence, amassed fortunes of their own. How strong was their memory of God’s promise to Abraham of a land of their own is unknown. Whether knowingly, or unknowingly, they left Goshen with sufficient funds to  finance construction of the tabernacle.

They were evidently faithful stewards of their riches. Their future goals made a present squandering of possessions impossible. Seems like there is some contemporary lesson to be learned from this. Scripture does not discourage hard work and its rewards. It does have a great deal to say about incentives and the use of things. Paul encouraged labor but that its incentive should be “that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph. 4:28). We would do well to read the two chapters (8,9) in his second letter to the Corinthians where Paul deals with how we believers should handle the responsibilities of Christian stewardship.

After 450 years we again experience God’s active involvement in the world. Two crucial events took place that altered the history of God’s people. Firstly, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (Ex. 1:8) The good life they had enjoyed in Goshen came to an abrupt end. They became the slaves of Pharaoh and endured hard labor to discourage revolt. Perhaps they were involved in building the pyramids. At any rate, their lives changed.

The second major event involved the birth and subsequent survival of a male child. Pharaoh had ordered that all male infants should be destroyed. So it was obviously the intervention of God that this infant survived. You remember how the mother of Moses placed him in a (waterproof) basket and placed the basket among the reeds along the river bank. There he was discovered and cared for by a daughter of Pharaoh. Moses grew up in the court of Pharaoh which was part of God’s training for his future assignment.

“HE IS NOT HERE, FOR HE IS RISEN” (March 29, 2018)

These words have been repeated by believers at this time of year for twenty centuries. Eight words (only 5 in Greek), only one with more than one syllable, contain such a wealth of reality a whole dictionary does not contain enough words to adequately explain them. It was the climax of God’s provision for our salvation. The only greater event will occur when he appears at His next coming. And so we magnify God especially on this day, and enjoy the day and the life that His Resurrection made available.

But in our celebration of Easter we need also to remember the equally important event that preceded it. The Apostle Paul in explaining the Gospel in his letter to Corinth stated that “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (I Cor. 15:4). But that statement was preceded by “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” (15:3). The Crucifixion and the Resurrection are inseparable. Had the first not occurred the second would be meaningless. We can only celebrate the second if we understand the first.

Isaiah introduces the Messiah as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isa. 53:3). That certainly characterized His earthly life. He was constantly harassed by the Jewish leaders who more than once attempted to take His life. He lived His life among the homeless. You remember His words to the Scribes, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Mat. 8:20). And in His hour of greatest need, as he faced the cross, His disciples were sleeping. Would we have been ready to mix our tears with His blood in Gethsemane? Are we now? I’m not sure we take our call to prayer seriously.

On the day of crucifixion we have a list of all the events that lead to the sixth hour. The next event recorded occurred in the ninth hour with Jesus crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46). All we know about the 3 hours between the sixth and the ninth hour was that “there was darkness over all the land” (Mat. 27:45).

The only thing available to us to fill in that blanc is our imagination. Imagination is a special gift God gives us that we too often misuse. Whether I misuse my imagination in filling this blanc I will let you determine. But I wonder if during that time a list of all the sins that Jesus was dying for flashed through His consciousness. If He was aware that that was what awaited Him, it is no wonder that in the Garden He was perspiring drops of blood. It is impossible for us to comprehend the pain He endured to bear the penalty of our sin. I suggest we need to try which should be part of our preparation to celebrate Easter. Then we can respond with passion! HE IS RISEN INDEED !! 

“The Story” once again experienced a interruption. Am finally recovering from what seems to have been a serious sinus infection. Perhaps “The Story” can continue in the coming week. 

EPISODE FOURTEEN (March 20, 2018)


Before my last entry, which was a slight detour from “The Story”, we explored the many events in the lives of Jacob and his sons that were part of God’s preparation in settling His covenant people in Canaan, the land God had promised Abraham. It is not unlike the way God deals with us, His children. The author of Hebrews had it right when he wrote “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight  your paths” (Prov. 3:6). As I look back over my life (Quite a long view) I recall many crucial events that set the direction of my life. I am quite certain that your experiences would be the same.

One such event has had a quite a profound effect on my life. With the help of a lovely step-daughter, Renee Damgaard, I came into possession of a Kindl reader.  In the last couple of years I have read dozens of books which, hopefully, contributes something to “The Story”. I have checked out many of Tim Keller’s books from the Seattle, WA public library. One of the last book’s I read was The Scriptures testify about Me, edited by D.A. Carson. It contains sermons about Jesus from the “OLD” Testament. My attempt at (re)telling “The Story” had already given me a new appreciation for the Old; this book further enhanced it. I suppose we could have survived with only the “NEW” but we would have been greatly impoverished.

And a study of the life of Joseph should give us a new appreciation of seeing Jesus in the Old. We see the life of Jesus writ large in Joseph’s life. He was the epitome of honesty and integrity. He could easily have escaped prison by submitting to Potiphar’s wife’s advances. No one would have known. We have no record of any spiritual or moral training of Joseph. Perhaps Jacob was a better father than we imagined. Prison was evidently preferable to him than displeasing God. And, of course, this was all part of God’s plan to grow a nation in Egypt.

There are many characteristics of Joseph as well as events in his life that foreshadow those of Jesus. We have already seen his devotion to truth. And Jesus could say with veracity, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6),  and His life would demonstrate its validity. And He would enable His followers to know the truth and enjoy the freedom it provides.

Joseph also experienced rejection. He was obviously Daddy’s pet and recounted dreams that indicated he would one day be superior to his brothers. All of which contributed to the hatred they had for him. They attempted to kill him but God averted their plan since Joseph had not yet completed God’s plans for him.

Jesus also experienced the rejection of His brothers. John informs us that Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:11) The Jewish leaders were always at odds with Him and tried to kill Him more than once. They finally achieved their goal, but only when the time was right, and to further God’s plan. And His death brought life and freedom to multitudes.

Another foreshadowing of Jesus ministry we see in Joseph was his involvement in providing food for his family. We have already seen the many events that God had engineered in Joseph’s life that prepared him for this responsibility. But while Joseph was merely the distributer of food, Jesus could claim “I am the living bread .  .  .  .  if anyone eats this bread he will live forever.” (John 6:51) This provision is clearly seen in the Communion service. That this service is referred to as the Lord’s Supper, or the Lord’s table is significant. We receive nourishment as we thoughtfully take the bread and drink the wine. Eating a tasty and nourishing physical meal (stopping at the right time) leaves one with a physically satisfying contentment. Partaking of the Spiritual nourishment of the “bread of life” leaves us with a satisfying Spiritual contentment.

Finally, Joseph settled his family in a land that was favorable to their growth. We have practically no information about their existence in Goshen for the next 450 years. They evidently enjoyed the favor of the Pharaohs and were able to multiply. They probably experienced ups and downs that prepared them for the Exodus. And so God also deals with he Church. During most of it’s history the Church has suffered persecution. We, in America, have endured little persecution only because of God’s grace. But don’t relax quite yet. Christianity was once honored by our leaders. Then the honor degraded to tolerance. Now our culture has become primarily hostile to believers. It is unlikely that life for us will get better.

God’s purpose for Israel during those years in Goshen was to equip them for their escape to Sinai and continue to prepare them to be an independent nation to enjoy life in Canaan, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. But there were many more adventures, good and bad, that still lay ahead.

 

EPISODE THIRTEEN (March 9, 2018)


If you have followed my meanderings from the beginning, you will recall the emphasis I placed on getting the beginnings right. And that Is accepting the events recorded in the first chapters of Genesis as exactly what actually took place. If this is true, then everything that follows fits into place. Scientists, philosophers and even theologians who question these events have struggled to present an alternative explanation of our world that makes sense, without success. Scientists, especially, understand that only God can create something out of nothing. And yet they refuse to accept creation by God. Some have begun to accept creation by some designer, but not God.

I have just completed reading a book with a captivating title, “The Absurdity of Unbelief”. There was a quotation in this book that I found especially interesting and intriguing. The statement was made by a recognized scientist, George Wald, in an article entitled “Innovation and Biology” that appeared in “Scientific American” in 1958. He stated “There are only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God. There is no third possibility. Spontaneous generation, that life arose from non-living matter was scientifically disproved 120 years ago by Louis Pasteur and others. That leaves us with the only possible conclusion that life arose as a supernatural creative act of God. I do not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in God. Therefore, I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible; spontaneous generation arising to evolution.”

It is interesting that Dr. Wald refers to his view of creation as a philosophy. He acknowledges that his view is based on his own presuppositions and not on the laws of science. The apostle Paul anticipated many years earlier how “wise men” would respond to what took place as recorded in Genesis.  Writing to the Romans he affirmed “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (1:19). He then lists attributes of God which “have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,” (1:20). In other words, men are doubters not because of lack of evidence, but they deliberately reject the truth.  “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man . . . “ (1:22).

I think many of the millennials fit into this category. Their complaint was that the church was filled with hypocrites and it was the social advocates who were getting things accomplished. The real reason for leaving the church was to attempt to  escape the guilt that accompanied an immoral life style. The hypocrites in the church were not as bad as they were made out to be nor were the social activists as good as they imagined.

We all need to be reminded that God doesn’t grade on the curve. He doesn’t compare us with one another. We all face a pass/fail test. We pass by recognizing the death of Jesus as having paid the penalty for our sin. If we refuse His offer of Grace we fail and the consequence is much worse than getting an “F”.

Had to get this off my chest and we’ll get back to “The Story” next week.