Here are Pastor Bob’s remarks at the memorial service that Congregation Beth Shalom in Bloomington hosted for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
I recently read the incredible story of Gideon, a judge whom God raised up to free Israel from the tyranny of the Midianites. The men of Israel rally around Gideon and he gathers a thirty-thousand man army to do battle. But that’s not going to work for God’s purposes – he wants to make sure Israel, and the surrounding nations, know that it is God who is delivering Israel, not Gideon and and Israelite army. So, in an intriguing process, the LORD whittles Gideon’s army down to just three hundred men. And, these three hundred men route the Midianite army and send them fleeing.
The same principle applies, I believe to the church, local and universal. God wants to make sure the we know he is the one that gives the increase. It’s not our business savvy, our wise planning, our strategizing (though of course, those have a place). Nor is political power or cultural clout that will grow the church. That’s Gideon’s army of thirty-thousand. Nope, lay those things aside. It is the humble yet bold witness of the common Christian standing against seemingly impossible odds that God will use to grow the church and bring himself glory.
I haven’t posted a reflection in quite some time. To be honest, I fell behind and had some catching up to do.
Having finished the readings on the Law (Genesis thru Deuteronomy) I was struck by a few things that are consistent, but maybe under-noticed themes in these books.
First, the law and requirements for obedience follow after God’s deliverance. Of course we know that the giving of the law at Sinai follows chronologically in history the redemption of Israel from Egypt, but the law and requirements for obedience follows logically too. Throughout the Pentateuch, God’s redemption of Israel is shown to be prior to and the basis for his commands and Israel’s obedience. For example, in Deuteronomy 5 Moses reads to Israel the the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) God gave to him. The prologue to the commandments is “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” For us, it’s a reminder that obedience to God’s commandments is still required (as summed up in the law of love), but isn’t the basis for our salvation. Redemption comes first; then, as God’s people, we are expected to obey.
Second, mere obedience wasn’t enough. God’s people were to delight in God, to rejoice as the offered sacrifices and observed feasts, and serve the Lord in joy and gladness. Doing our ‘duty’ is only enough if we understand our duty is to delight in the Lord!
Third, it is impossible to miss in these books God’s heart for the foreigner and sojourner. These books make up Israel’s constitution. It is striking how much material there is about justice and compassion directed for the foreigner who resides in their midst. God reminds the people of Israel that they were once sojourners and foreigners in a strange land and God had compassion on them. So, they are commanded to show compassion and give justice to the non-Israelite among them. Leith Anderson contends that this, “love the sojourner/foreigner/alien among you” is the third greatest commandment in the Old Testament behind “Love the Lord your God,” and “Love your neighbor.” DW
Today I was reading in Exodus 29 about the ordination of Aaron and his sons for the priesthood. The previous chapters detail at length the prescribed dress for the priests who serve in the Tabernacle. Exodus 29 outlines the laborious, costly, and frankly bloody ordination service that would last a week. At least ten animals were sacrificed during this week long ordination, probably (on my reading) twenty-four animals: a bull and two rams, plus one bull a day for seven days, plus two lambs per day for seven days. It’s incredible, and reminds what a big deal the priesthood was – huge privilege and huge responsibility.
On this side of Christ first advent, we (believers) are all priests. The apostle Peter writes, “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). This too is an incredible privilege, and an awesome responsibility. We don’t feel the weight of it as much as Aaron and his sons did, in part, because we don’t see the sacrifices offered to consecrate us. But a great sacrifice was made, far greater the twenty-four head of livestock. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is an atoning sacrifice, but a consecrating one too. By it, we are made holy unto the Lord and consecrated for service. DW
Psalm 32 is a powerful reminder of the grace of confession. The psalm opens by declaring, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” After this opening flurry of blessedness, the psalmist recounts a not-so-blessed time when his “bones were wasting away,” his “strength was dried up,” he groaned all day long and felt God’s heavy hand upon him. Why? Because he was silent; he harbored and buried his sin. But, the turn comes in verse five, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” The soul finds healing in confession and the forgiveness God offers to the penitent. Great Psalm for Ash Wednesday! DW
Jesus gives us a very important lesson on how to read Old Testament prophecy in Matthew 11. Jesus is teaching about the importance of John the Baptist and his role as the forerunner to the Messiah. The prophet Malachi’s words are quoted by Jesus, “This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” Jesus goes a step further. Malachi had prophesied that God would send the prophet Elijah to Israel again. Jesus comments, “And if you are willing to accept it, he [John the Baptist] is the Elijah who was to come.” (Matt 11:14). This is an important lesson because it shows that the New Testament determines for us how we ought to read the prophesies of the Old. Not always to be taken literally (John the Baptist wasn’t literally Elijah reborn, but an Elijah type figure), Scriptures prophesies are to be taken seriously!
Psalm 25 is a beautiful prayer. As we’ve been thinking about prayer recently, part of this Psalm really jumped out to me. The psalmist writes, “For the sake of your name, LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.” Asking for forgiveness is linked to God’s name, his glory. I think there are two things going on here. First, the sins of God’s people are a stain on God’s reputation. Asking for forgiveness is asking for this stain to be removed, washed clean. Second, when God forgives, he is praised as the merciful, graceful, clemency giving, sin forgiving God. Both aspects of this prayer appeal to God’s concern for his glory and desire to be glorified. This is an important element of godly prayer, understanding how our prayers and God’s answers serve to bring him praise and honor. DW
Reading through the narrative of Scripture, it is easy to see that God progressively reveals himself to his people through the ages. Noah knows more of God than did Adam. Abraham knows more than did Noah. Moses knows more of God than did Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. God explicitly tells Moses this is the case in Exodus 6:2-3, ” God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD [Yhwh]. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, l but by my name the LORD [Yhwh] I did not make myself fully known to them.” This progressive revealing did not end with Moses either…it continues to us. We know more about God than Moses or David or any saint living before God’s ultimate revelation of himself in Jesus (Heb 1:1-3). In addition, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who illuminates previous revelations and guides us into all truth (John 14:24-26). What an amazing privilege! May God find us to be good and faithful stewards of what he has revealed to us. DW
Today I began my readings in the book of Exodus. The first chapter chronicles the growth of Joseph’s descendants in Egypt becoming a mighty people. The Hebrews were so numerous the Egyptians feared them and tried to control the population through hard service, slavery and even infanticide. Yet, God’s people grew – “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread abroad.” This passage brings to mind the oft quoted words of the early church father Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Mistreatment, persecution, and suffering are never pleasant – they certainly were not for the Hebrews or the early church. But, God seems to work through them more than prosperity, ease and comfort. Even in, or maybe especially through trials, God accomplish his purposes, advance his kingdom, and builds his church. DW
A couple of days ago I read the conclusion to Joseph’s story (Genesis 50). After the passing of their father, Joseph’s brothers fear he make repay them for the evil they had done to him by selling him into slavery decades prior. It is and understandable fear. But Joseph’s perspective is different. He reassures them, saying, “Am I in the place of God.” In other words, “God is the one who will judge and hold you accountable for how you’ve wronged me; not me.” That’s a hard perspective to adopt, but a critical one. We’re taught repeatedly that we need to stand up for ourselves, fight for our rights. We, in the quietude of our thoughts, are often planning our revenge, rehearsing what we’ll say and do to those who’ve wronged us. But, Joseph’s attitude freed him from this, allowed him to move on without bitterness and enabled him to forgive his brothers. How freeing to rely on the ultimate, perfect judgment and justice of God! DW