Done! Let’s Move On!

Wrapped up Judges this morning. What a tough journey it has been. Tougher this year than in past years for some reason. Perhaps because over the past year we’ve had a ringside seat as to what it kind of looks like when “everyone does what’s right in their own eyes.”

And what a gong show — in the worst, most depraved sense — these last chapters have been. Gibeah, a town in Benjamin, has gone full on Sodom and Gomorrah and an innocent woman dies because her “husband” hands her over to a lust-filled, out of control mob. Then in “righteous indignation” he takes her corpse, dismembers it, and sends it throughout Israel evoking national outrage. For all the evil that Israel had fallen into by wedding themselves to the culture around them, Gibeah had crossed the line of whatever the prevailing moral standard of the day had been determined to be.

Then extreme cancel culture kicks in. 400,000 soldiers from the tribes of Israel rise up to go act as judge, jury, and executioner as they purpose to wipe off the map Gibeah and its army of 700 fighting men. But then tribalism rears it’s head. The people of Benjamin muster a combined military force of 26,000 to come to the defense of wicked Gibeah.

Bottom line? Three battles and over 65,000 battlefield deaths later, not only is Gibeah erased from the map, but the entire tribe of Benjamin is decimated.

Situation status?

And the people of Israel had compassion for Benjamin their brother and said, “One tribe is cut off from Israel this day. What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them any of our daughters for wives?”

(Judges 21:6-7 ESV)

Some remaining consciousness of Jehovah? Good. Compassion for Benjamin? Good. “What shall we do?” Hmm, not so good for a people who are accustomed to doing what’s right in their own eyes.

This sordid tale gets more bizarre as they decide to destroy another city of Israel and “harvest” virgins to be wives for the Benjamin survivors. But that doesn’t fill the quota and so they devise a plan whereby, although they can’t voluntarily “give” their daughters to the men of Benjamin because of an oath, they can set up a scenario whereby the remaining bachelors of Benjamin can forcibly “take” some of their daughters. O’ brother!

Honestly, if I was authoring Christianity, I wouldn’t include any of this in my holy book.

Unless, of course, I wanted to illustrate the depths of depravity and destruction which are the logical, eventual outcome of a people who remove God from their collective conscience and default to everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. Warning, warning, warning!

Like I said, I’m glad my readings in Judges are completed for another year. Hard, hard journey. Too close for comfort as I look out at the trajectory of our prevailing culture. Done! Let’s move on.

For joy comes in the morning. Light shines in the darkness. Beauty comes from ashes. The futility of man’s self-righteousness sets us up for God’s grace and the true righteousness which is from faith and for faith through the gospel.

Even as I wrap up Judges and process these final depressing thoughts, I know that, Lord willing, tomorrow I start in on the book of Ruth — an oasis in the desert of everyone doing what was right in their own eyes. A reminder is coming that God’s redemptive story is not derailed. A foreshadowing with be seen of a Kinsmen-Redeemer who is able, ready, and willing to pay the price to deliver the world from sin and death. The Deliver who is ready to shepherd men and women in a way that is right in their Creator’s eyes — leading them in a manner which enables those created in the image of God to thrive as they follow Him, and not just survive as they rely on their own wisdom.

Can’t wait for tomorrow morning.

Because of God’s grace. Only for God’s glory.

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The Purpose of Our Gathering (A 2014 Rerun)

Late night last night. Kind of foggy this morning. Difficulty getting the old pump primed. So, went through the archives.

Surprised that I haven’t written anything on 1Corinthians 14 since 2014. This morning it came alive as (I think for the first time) I underlined every use of the word “prophecy” or “prophesies” in orange, the color I use to mark references to the Word of God. Prophesy as in “forth-telling” not “foretelling.” As in declaring divine revelation, not predicting future events. Paul exalts this spiritual gift over tongues because prophecy “builds up the church” (14:3, 4, 5). And we are to “strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12). So, how big a deal should the Word of God — divine revelation — be when we gather? Pretty big.

I think 1Corinthians 14 resonates as well this morning because the late night last night was spent at our monthly deacon’s meeting. While we covered off the status of what was going on presently, we talked a lot about future direction and some potentially pretty significant ministry decisions. Our deacons discussed at length “the whats” last night. This morning 1Corinthians 14 grounds that discussion in “the whys.”

Here’s a rerun of my thoughts from 2014.


Little is the time I spend these days trying to come up with the definitive position on whether or not the spiritual gift of tongues is for today. But there was a time when I was on the verge of obsession as I sought to wrestle this topic of some controversy to the ground. Those days come to mind as I read the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Seems back then, as I wrestled with the place of sign gifts in the church, I found myself more often than not in chapter 13 trying to figure out what “the perfect” was that would cause “the partial” to pass away (1Cor. 13:10). But I really should have been spending more time in chapter 14 . . . focusing less on the practices of our gathering and more on the purpose of our gathering.

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. . . . What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

(1Corinthians 14:12, 26 ESV)

In chapter 14, Paul’s breaks down the relative merits of one who speaks in a tongue vs. one who prophesies . . . of one who speaks in an unintelligible language (v.9) and one who declares “some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching” (v.6) . . . of one who utters “an indistinct sound” (v.8) with their spirit for their own benefit (v.4) and one who clearly speaks, if only “five words,” with their mind “in order to instruct others” (v.19).

And the “rhythm section” of this mini opus . . . the underlying back beat of Paul’s argument, is that the purpose of our gathering is for edification . . . the building up of each other.

If repetition is the Scriptures megaphone . . . if recurrence is the Spirit’s way of saying, “Listen up!” . . . then, if there’s anything definitive I take away from my reading today, it’s that the church is to come together for building up. Six times Paul says that when we come together it should be for edification . . . for the building upon of a foundation . . . for promoting “another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, and holiness” (from my online Greek dictionary).

The “whats” of our church practices are less important than the “whys.” Let all things be done for building up.

Everything we do, when we come together as the family of God, should be run through this filter. How easy it is to program for program sake . . . to put things in place to satisfy individual preferences . . . rather than purposefully practice that which our local gatherings of believers are uniquely equipped for so that our local gatherings might result in believers maturing in their most holy faith . . . so that our church bodies might grow up into our exalted Head (Eph. 4:15).

And we aspire to such not so we can be like those professional body builders who develop muscle for the sole purpose of parading themselves. But we desire “muscle” so that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Eph. 3:10) . . . we desire built up bodies so that a lost world might be drawn to a loving Savior.


By His grace. For His glory.

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When There’s No King . . .

Continuing to read in Judges this morning. And encountered the first of four repeated strikings of an ominous gong.

In those days there was no king in Israel.

That gong sounds in Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25.

Implication? It echoes out twice from this repeated warning — “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 17:6, 21:25).

Modern day translation? Things were out of control!

If Samson’s story hinted at how out of control things were when it came to the sensual, the story of Micah demonstrates how out of control things were when it came to the sacred.

A mom blesses the LORD when her son confesses he stole 1,100 pieces of sliver from her. And the way she responds in gratitude for her son’s repentance is to “dedicate” the silver to the LORD. How does she do that? She takes 200 pieces of the returned silver and sends it to the silversmith “to make a carved image and a metal image” (17:3-4). She makes an idol! What?!?

Micah takes it home and adds it to his collection. He already has a homegrown shrine, so he takes the idol, adds an ephod, supplements it with some additional household gods, and then ordains his son as a priest over it all. Viola! A DIY worship center.

That’s when enough is enough and the gong sounds for the first time.

And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

(Judges 17:5-6 ESV)

Eventually Micah will make the whole set up “legit” when he hires a traveling Levite to be his “real priest.” (Though the Levite probably wasn’t of the Aaron’s priestly line, it was close enough).

And lest we think this is totally a pagan pursuit, as Micah stands back, beholds his shrine, bows to his carved image, and reveres his personal priest . . .

Then Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

(Judges 17:13 ESV)

You know the LORD will prosper you now?!? O brother! Micah, give your head a shake!

It’s not like he had forgotten God, or even thought he had abandoned God, it’s just that God got all mixed in with his worldly, culturally influenced ways. Just like everyone else, he was making it up as he went along. Somehow thinking that if it looked like something sacred, and it operated like something sacred, and it used the language of something sacred, then it must be bona fide sacred. That’s kind of what happens when there’s no authority outside the individual to hold them to account.

There was no transcendent authority — they had in effect made God in their own image. There was no written authority — you got to think that no one was reading the Word, or if they were, no one felt compelled to submit to it. There wasn’t even any peer pressure, or community authority, from hanging with others who had determined to walk in the ways of Jehovah. No longer a team sport, it was now an individual’s game. Everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.

I can’t help but see a warning here for God’s people today. We live in a culture where self rules. Where to be “authentic” is to go with what you feel inside. A culture that has cut ties with the transcendent and therefore has no ethic anchor to be tethered to, and no moral compass, beyond their own calloused conscience, to navigate with. A culture which is happy for us to bring in our God language and our God practices as long we don’t speak of them as having any God authority over our culture.

A culture which can lull us into a DIY approach to the sacred. Self determining to what extent the Word of God will have authority over our lives. Self picking and choosing how often to gather with the people of God and what level of accountability that holy community will play over the whole of my life. Self creating the manner in which I worship God, the way that works best for me and my family.

When there’s no king, we kind of end up doing what’s right in our own eyes.

O King of Heaven, call us back to Yourself. Rule in our hearts. Reign in our lives.

By Your grace. For You glory.

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If Only He Had Eyes to See

They gouged his eyes out. They were actually doing him a favor. If only he had seen that.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”

(Matthew 5:29 ESV)

Hovering over the story of Samson this morning. What a sad, sad tale. That Samson has been the hero of so many flannel graphs and Sunday School stories is a bit mystifying. That Delilah should be demonized, and Samson counted the victim, seems a little weird.

This guy who was foretold of the LORD (Jud. 13), born of the LORD (Jud. 13:2-3, 24), consecrated to the LORD (Jud. 13:5), empowered by the LORD (Jud. 14:6, 19; 15:14), rarely, it would seem, ever called upon the LORD — and that only when he was in distress (Jud. 15:18). For, though he knew his power came from God (Jud. 16:17), he owned it as his own and it sourced his licentious pursuit of whatever his eyes desired.

He saw one of the daughters of the Philistines and demanded his parents get her for him as his wife (Jud. 14:1-2). Though such a marriage was forbidden by God (Deut. 7:3-4), yet she was “right in Samson’s eyes” (Jud. 14:7). So, they forced a marriage which never should have happened and it was a disaster.

Later Samson saw a prostitute and this “holy, set apart” man of God defiled himself because of what his eyes lusted after (Jud. 16:1). And then, “he loved” Delilah, a seductress (Jud. 16:4-5). Hinting that she too was pretty appealing to the eyes.

Samson saw and Samson took. The power he possessed as separated unto God used to steamroll through whatever obstacles lay in the path his eyes chose. So, in a sense, removing his eyes may have actually led to him seeing clearly for the first time in his life.

But even that doesn’t seem to have been the case.

Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.”

(Judges 16:28 ESV)

When Samson does cry out to the Lord, there’s no evidence of remorse, contrition, or repentance. Only revenge. Wanting for himself what God said was His to determine (Deut. 32:35a, Rom. 12:19). For while Samson’s eyes may have caused him to sin, it was his heart that was the source of his sin.

Thus, while God accomplished His purposes through Samson’s life (Jud. 14:4), it was in spite of Samson’s leering eyes, not because of his loyal service.

Though Samson did not take his holy calling seriously, though he leveraged the power of God for his own lustful satisfaction, though his life came off the rails and was a train wreck, though he was the “poster child” for a people who had received God’s provision yet rejected God ways, “everyone doing what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 21:25), yet God answered Samson’s prayer as a way to show a wayward people, if they would notice, that He would not leave them nor forsake them.

If only they had eyes to see.

Eyes to recognize the abundance of God’s grace. Eyes to walk in a way which would bring God glory.

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Hardened Hearts

They saw Jesus and they were terrified. Beheld the Lord and were troubled.

They weren’t demons who, when confronted by the Man from Nazareth, recognized Him as the Son of God and cried out in fear (Matt. 8:29, Mk. 5:7). No, these were His disciples who, when they saw their Master walking on the water next to their boat, didn’t recognize Him and so cried out in unbelief. They were those who had just been with Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 with a five loaves and two fish, but when they saw Him walking on the water they were beside themselves, out of their minds.

How come? Because their hearts were hardened.

And about the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

(Mark 6:48b-52 ESV)

Hardened hearts. I read that and immediately think of Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. His heart was hardened. And it led Him to stand in arrogant rebellion before the living God. To defy heaven becauses he believed he was the most powerful force on earth. That’s what I think of when I think of a hardened heart.

But that can’t be what we’re talking about here. These were Jesus’ disciples. Those who had left all to follow Him. Those who had been taught of the Master. Had bought into His teaching and were, in fact, transformed by His teaching. Had even gone out from the Master calling others to repent for the kingdom of God was at hand (Mk. 6:7-12). These guys weren’t determined to walk in defiance. They weren’t resolved to reject. They were on board. Yet, their hearts were hardened.

It’s not that they were defiant. But that they were dull. Not that they sought to usurp. But that they were slow to understand. Not that they didn’t believe. But that they needed help with their unbelief.

They had just participated in feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves and a couple of fish. Had just seen the power of Jesus to take little and make of it much. Had witnessed the Son of Man take a few scraps and satisfy the hunger of a few thousand. So why were they so utterly astounded, why were they literally “thrown out of position” and “deeply displaced” when they saw Jesus walk on the water? Because they still weren’t getting it. Weren’t picking up all that Jesus was laying down. Their hearts were hardened.

And I say to myself, “Self, what do I do with this?”

Do I think myself better then the disciples, that I am somehow more attuned, and pat myself on the back? Don’t think so. Or, seeing myself in these followers of Jesus, do I grit my teeth with renewed resolve to un-harden my heart, to lean in more, to work harder at not being unduly shocked at encounters of the divine kind? Mmm . . . not thinking that’s it either.

Instead, I wonder if our hearts just become softer as we continue to walk with the Savior. That unfounded awe will become tempered by faithful abiding. That some of the fruit of sanctification is developing a heart that is continually becoming more supple.

I’ve been given a heart of flesh to replace my heart of stone (Ez. 36:26). But, as with any heart transplant, it’s gonna take some time to fully integrate its operation. I’m thinking my “to do” is to be aware of the hardened heart. And to continue to walk closely with the One who is the heart softener.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Israel’s Real First King?

Realized for the first time ever that, at least technically, Saul wasn’t the first king of Israel. It was a guy named Abimelech.

And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem. . . . Abimelech ruled over Israel three years.

(Judges 9:6, 22 ESV)

Okay, before I start getting too excited by some “new revelation”, or put out my own new and improved Bible trivia game, there are some things to note here. First, Saul was a legitimate heir to a throne in Israel if Israel was to have a throne, he was of the tribe of Benjamin. Abimelech, on the other hand, was only sort of, kind of connected to any real succession — he was the son of a concubine of Gideon and had 70 half brothers who were Gideon’s “own offspring” from Gideon’s many real wives (Jud. 8:30). Saul was called to be king over Israel by God, whereas Abimelech’s rise to a monarchy was solely the result of his own murderous and crafty scheming (Jud. 9:1-6). Saul had some legitimate kingly character when he was crowned king, Abimelech had just come off slaughtering 69 of the 70 legitimate sons of Gideon. Saul’s coronation happened before all the tribes of Israel, Abimelech’s crowning was at the hands of his mother’s relatives representing only one city in Israel, Shechem. So, Abimelech’s kingship wasn’t really in the same league as that of Saul, or David, or Solomon, or the kings that followed after them.

Yet, he ruled over Israel three years. I’m thinking this is the same kind of rule as was held by the judges before him, and the judges who would have had authority in Israel after him. He filled a vacuum in Israel for three years. In a land that was increasing being marked by “everyone doing what was right in their own eyes” (Jud. 21:25), they’d didn’t care what authority they ignored, even if it was a self-proclaimed king crowned only by one city of his mom’s relatives.

So why chew on this? Well, at the very least, because “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2Tim. 3:16-17). And because, though this is about what happened among them, “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4a).

Lessons learned, then? Instruction received?

Well, as with so much in Judges it’s another warning to God’s people of where things can go when God’s people embrace the world around them and God is relegated to only a 911 call in times of trouble. When God is not King, when He is not Lord, something else is going to fill the vacuum. Someone or something else is going to lead the way, even if you’ve fooled yourself into thinking you’re the captain of your own ship. Apart from seeking first the kingdom of God, you’re up for following whatever, or whoever, is the latest fad, trend, or default direction of the world around you. When we refuse God as king, then we’re really opening ourselves up to anything as king.

And I guess the other thing that comes to mind is that Jesus really is the only one to fill that void. He is the only legitimate heir to every throne as He alone has been given all authority (Matt. 28:18). He is of the promised kingly line, the Son of David. He is of legitimate birth, born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit. He was ordained by God the Father as the Son in whom the Father is well pleased. He didn’t force His way to the throne through murderous intent, but instead gave His own life as a sacrifice, submitting to the path of the cross before receiving the crown. While He wasn’t appointed by His relatives, yet “to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12) and owns them now as brothers and sisters. Now, that’s a King!

Hmmm . . . Not sure you can really say Abimelech was Israel’s real first king or not. But no doubt my Lord is the only King of Kings.

To Him be all glory and power, forever and ever, amen!

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A Premise and A Principle

You need to know the precepts — need to know what’s right and wrong, what you should do and what you shouldn’t do — but I think we’re designed to operate by principles.

Case in point, the Ten Commandments. We should know all ten. Yet, when Jesus was asked which of the ten was the most important He responded that they were contained in two overarching principles: “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:29-31). Love God, love others. Operate under those principles and you’re going to walk in obedience to the precepts.

But what about when it comes to stuff that’s less clearly laid out? Stuff not specifically commanded or forbidden? Stuff where there’s freedom, but also the potential for destruction? Stuff like eating food sacrificed to idols? Stuff like participating in something which, though good with your conscience, doesn’t pass the “tummy test” for someone else? What then?

Chewing on a valuable principle in 1Corinthians 10:

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

(1Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV)

A premise and a principle.

The Premise. While all things might be lawful given the freedom we have in Christ, that doesn’t mean they’re helpful; doesn’t mean they’re profitable; they may not contribute to bringing together things that really matter. While all things might be permissible, they may not necessarily be edifying. Won’t necessarily promote growth in wisdom and holy living. Have no real value in restoring, rebuilding, or repairing. While something might be good, when it comes to it’s real value, it could be good for nothing.

The Principle. Seek not your own good, but the good of others. If I know that my freedom could be a choking point for a brother or sister and I’m operating under the principle that I’ll seek their good over my own, then I don’t need a rule to tell me what to do or not to do. I don’t need a command in order to consider others over myself. I don’t need a law in order to love others before myself. I don’t need a precept when I buy into the premise and resolve — as much as lies in me and by the empowering of the Spirit — to operate under the right principle.

I think that’s part of knowing how to walk as a mature Christian. Being informed by Scriptural concepts. I think that’s how we can thrive in our freedom. By understanding the framework of the kingdom.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Loaf of Bread? Really?

When Nebuchadnezzar had his dream about kingdoms falling, he saw a stone striking them and breaking them into pieces. A large stone cut out by no human hand shattering the kingdoms of men, itself becoming a great mountain and filling the whole earth (Dan. 2:31-35). That’s kind of what you might expect a vision of conquest to look like. A big rock shattering into pieces whatever is in its path.

But I’m reading in Judges this morning and another guy has a dream about imminent conquest. A mighty man of war in the Midian army. Part of the military force which had been oppressing Israel for the past seven years allowing the Midianites to annually reap and ravage the land, asserting their power and strength to take at their will the very food Israel would have fed on. And what grabs me this morning is how this guy describes his dream to his friend.

“Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”

(Judges 7:13b-14 ESV)

I get why his buddy understood what the dream was about. A tent inside the camp of Midian is struck and falls. It is turned up side down and laid flat. Sounds like pretty good imagery for “I’m pretty sure we’re done!” But struck by a tumbling loaf of bread? Really? That’s the imagery appropriate for the sword of Gideon? Huh?

Come on! Couldn’t we come up with more super-hero, avenger worthy imagery than a loaf of bread? And if we have to go with bread, couldn’t it at least have been a REALLY, REALLY BIG, SUPER FORTIFIED WITH NUTRIENTS AND VITAMINS loaf of bread? Apparently not.

After all, it’s representing Gideon & Co. You know, Gideon. The one whose initial response when God calls him to deliver Israel says, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Jud. 6:15). Gideon, the one who obeyed the Lord in tearing down the city idols “but because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night” (Jud. 6:27b). Gideon who needed a double fleece confirmation (Jud. 6:36-40). Gideon who, though he mustered an army of 32,000 men to go against the Midianites, was only allowed by the LORD to take on the enemy with 300 men “lest Israel boast over Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me'” (Jud. 7:2b).

I guess that’s the point of a loaf of bread. A massive striking rock crushing the kingdoms of earth is fitting when foreshadowing the Christ, the King of kings, coming to establish His rule. But, when it comes to God’s people going into battle against the world, it really is more like a loaf of bread rolling into the enemy’s camp. Seemingly innocuous at first blush. But when God’s behind the rolling it is a vision which strikes terror to those inside the enemy’s camp. Only in His power is a loaf of bread a weapon of victory. Only by His strength is it as crazy as a wooden cross disarming rulers and authorities, putting them to open shame, even as He delivers His people from sin and death (Col. 2:13-15).

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

(1Corinthians 1:26-29 ESV)

Just a loaf of bread? Yup! Really!

Only sinners saved by grace (Eph. 2:5), yet more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:37)? Yeah. That’s a “Really!” as well.

Only by His grace, that His power might be known. Only for His glory, that none should boast.

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My Good or His Glory? Yes!

Psalm 83 tickled my “taste buds” this morning. First time, as near as I can remember or tell from my journal, that I’ve paused to reflect on this psalm.

Not surprised that I’ve never paused here before. It doesn’t really present itself as much of an oasis for morning refreshment. It’s one of those songs calling on God to deal with Israel’s enemies. Asking God to “not keep silence”, to no longer “be still” but to engage in dealing with those who have “raised their heads” against Israel determining to “wipe them out” so that “the name of Israel be remembered no more.” While calling on God to intervene and make these enemies “like whirling dust” and “chaff before the wind”; to consume them like a fire, pursue them like a tempest, or terrify them “with Your hurricane” all speak to God’s almighty power, vengeance and judgment aren’t normally the sort of things you want to start your morning with.

But for some reason (I’m thinking a Spirit led reason) I’m chewing on Psalm 83 this morning. And there’s two things I’m noodling on.

First, God has determined to make Himself inseparable from His people. You mess with God’s people and you’re messing with God Himself.

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold Your peace or be still, O God! For behold, Your enemies make an uproar; those who hate You have raised their heads. They lay crafty plans against Your people; they consult together against Your treasured ones.

(Psalm 83:1-3 ESV)

Asaph, led by the Spirit, says that God’s enemies, those who hate Him, demonstrate that hatred through their scheming and conspiring against His people, His treasured ones. God and His people are inseparable. Love God, you’re gonna love the people of God. Love the people of God, it’s evidence that you love God. Hate God, you’re gonna hate His people. Hate the people of God, you’re hating on God Himself.

So Asaph’s cry for help isn’t just to protect his own skin, it’s a cry for God to protect His own Name. These enemies are not just making a pact to pummel Israel, the God-breathed scriptures say that “against [God] they make a covenant” (83:5). Take on God’s treasured ones and you’re entering into battle with the Holy One who redeemed that treasure for Himself.

A lot to chew on there, but in the midst of Asaph’s call-to-arms of God, there is a blessing and comfort for this child of God as I consider how intricately God has bound Himself to His people. My protection through His power not only is for my good, but more amazingly is also for His glory.

Then, it’s the closing verses of the song that grab me.

Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O LORD. Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, that they may know that You alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.

(Psalm 83:16-18 ESV)

Is it just me, or are redemption’s purposes at play even in Jehovah’s vengeance and judgment? Even as God rises up against His enemies, even as God does what God needs to do to protect His treasured people, even as the songwriter cries out that the wrath of heaven would be poured out on earth, it’s that men — even men who were enemies of God — might seek His name, and know that He alone is the Most High over all the earth. That even in the severity of God, the kindness of God is seen when it brings His enemies to know that He is God. Here too, God’s intervention on Israel’s behalf and in defense of His holy inheritance, while resulting in His people’s good, ultimately is to make His glory known so others might benefit as well.

Hmmm. God protects His people because they are His people. Comes to their rescue because they are His treasure. What’s more, God will rise, and not keep silent to deal with sin and rebellion, but always with a heart that desires none should perish but that all should reach repentance (2Pet. 3:9). That men and women would come to their senses and worship the God who created them rather than war with Him.

For our good? Yup. For His glory? Yup again.

All by His grace? I’m thinkin . . .

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A Servant of All

One of the dangers of a daily reading plan, and especially one that has multiple readings in different areas of the Bible, is that the Scriptures get broken into “bit-sized pieces” and thus run the risk of becoming disconnected from each other. It can be easy to lose the flow, or fail to keep things in context. For some reason, I seemed to be more aware of that this morning as I read in 1Corinthians.

Maybe it’s because I was listening to a podcast recently that talked about the value of preaching overviews before diving deeper into specific sections and verses. Whether it’s an overview of a paragraph, or a chapter, or a book of the Bible, or even one of the testaments, or the whole Bible itself, there’s real value in getting the big picture in mind before focusing on parts of it through a magnifying glass. Thinking that’s why I’m seeing a connect this morning that I really haven’t seen before.

In 1Corinthians Paul is addressing a number of issues. Some of which he has put on the table, but others that apparently the church at Corinth had asked about. These are pretty easy to identify as Paul addresses each question beginning with a common phrase.

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (1Corinthians 7:1)

Now concerning the betrothed . . . (1Corinthians 7:25a)

Now concerning food offered to idols . . (1Corinthians 8:1a)

Now concerning spiritual gifts . . . (1Corinthians 12:1a)

Now concerning the collection for the saints . . . (1Corinthians 16:1a)

Now concerning our brother Apollos . . . (1Corinthians 16:12a)

So why’s that “big picture” important? Well, it helps me remember that 1Corinthians 9 is still dealing with the issue raised in 1Corinthians 8. That Paul doesn’t “move on” to the next topic until chapter 12.

Though in chapter 9, Paul is talking about his rights as an apostle (9:3-4, 12) — his right in the gospel (9:19) — it’s not because he’s left the topic of food offered to idols and refraining from eating for another’s conscience. Rather, it’s in illustration of it.

Paul released his rights in the gospel for the sake of the gospel. And while there’s a ton to mine from that, in context I think it’s presented as an example for those who should release “their rights” to eat food offered to idols, even if that right is founded in the freedom of the gospel.

And what hits me is what’s at the heart of being able to let go of what is rightfully ours, even when it’s rightfully ours for the right reasons.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.

(1Corinthians 9:19 ESV)

If yesterday’s big idea for deferring to others in disputable matters was the need for love, today’s big idea is the need to be lowly. A servant of all. Subject to the saints. Mindful of the many. Putting others ahead of myself for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of Christian unity. In humility counting others more significant than myself, looking not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of others (Php. 2:3-4).

Talk about counter-cultural.

Talk about supernatural. Apart from Christ in me and living through me, me is not gonna wanna do that. Unless Holy Spirit empowered, I’m not going to be able to do that.

But I want to. And in Him I am able to. For being a servant of all is the way of the kingdom (Mt. 20:26). It’s the way of the Master (Mt. 20:28). It’s the way for things which can divide to not be divisive.

It’s a way possible only by His grace. Only for His glory.

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