Taking God’s promises and commandments personally

Bible opened to John 3:16 -- God's promisesYou’ve read a lot about claiming promises in the Bible. But then you look at many of them and find that God made them to specific individuals for specific purposes.

Are those promises really for you? What can you do with them?

Somehow we don’t have the same curiosity about commandments in the Bible, but at least some of them raise the same questions.

In Joshua 1:6-9, God gave commandments and promises to Joshua. Joshua had long known that he would succeed Moses as Israel’s leader and take them into the Promised Land. Now, Moses had died. It was time for him to step in.… Read the rest

Strength, courage, and adequacy

Moses blesses Joshua

Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest / James Tissot, late 19th century

God’s first words to Joshua are, “Moses my servant is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan.” Joshua had known that this moment would come.

Everyone knew that Moses would not lead the people into the Promised Land.

We have all experienced starting a new venture or getting a big promotion, something that we have prepared to do for a long time.

But when it comes time to actually start working, it’s only natural to have some jitters about our adequacy.

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Burning but not consumed : Moses, God, and a bush

Moses and the burning bush

Moses and the burning bush / Raphael, ca. 1515

Fire appears in the Bible a lot.

  • God is like a refining fire (Malachi 3:2).
  • His word is like a fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock (Jeremiah 23:29). Three friends of Daniel spent some time in a fiery furnace.
  • Elijah called down fire on the men sent to arrest him (2 Kings 1:10, 12).
  • James and John wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54).
  • Tongues of fire appeared over 120 people in the upper room on Pentecost (Acts 2:3).
  • And during the Exodus God appeared as a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:21-22).
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Arise, shine, but how?

full moonAs an old camp song says, “Arise, shine, give God the glory, glory.” But let’s be honest. We have no light in ourselves. There is nothing inherent in the human race that allows any of us to shine.

Of course, that song is based on a scripture. “Arise. Shine. For your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).  If my light has come, if God’s glory shines on me, I can reflect it.

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Trusting experts or trusting God

Trust in the Lord

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not into thine own understanding.” Pass under this sign whenever you enter St John’s Church Hall (Knypersley, Staffordshire, Great Britain)

In traditional translations, Psalm 146:3 says not to trust in princes. We don’t have very many princes around any more. Even in traditionally Christian countries that still have kings and queens, they reign, but don’t rule. Perhaps we could update it to say not to put trust in politicians, but what’s the point? Everyone obeys that commandment, Bible or no Bible. But let’s look at how The Message renders the verse and read ahead a little more:

Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
 who know nothing of life, of salvation life. 


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God: an ever present help in trouble

Tower of refuge

Maiden Tower, Baku, Azerbaijan (12th century)

God is our refuge, says Psalm 46, an ever present help in trouble. Everyone knows trouble. Some people know a lot of trouble:

  • Job loss and other financial distress
  • Relationship troubles, which can include various toxic relationships or the loss of loved ones.
  • Sickness and injury
  • Oppression and persecution
  • War and violence
  • All manner of natural disasters
  • Etc.

We commonly call the natural disasters “acts of God.” It takes robust faith to believe that God is our help in trouble.

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Trusting the God of ordinary things

Trust in the Lord“Trust and obey,” says the hymn, “for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

That’s easy, even fun to sing in church on Sunday or perhaps at home during personal devotions. It’s nothing but church talk if we don’t put legs on it, set our hands to work on it, and let it control our mouths and, yes, our thoughts once we close the hymnal.

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Approaching the darkness that might surround God

When Moses came down from the mountain and read them to the people, something very unexpected happened. Instead of bright lights and angelic rejoicing and good cheer, an odd kind of storm erupted. There was thunder and lightning, but instead of rain, there was smoke.

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Happy birthday, universal church!

Pentecost / Josef Ignaz Mildorfer, 1750s

This past Sunday was Pentecost. It coincides with an ancient Hebrew festival, but the events of Acts 2 on a particular Pentecost right after Jesus rose from the dead marks the birthday of the church. Alas, the church is divided into various Orthodox, Coptic, Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal denominations, but we all have but one birthday.

“They,” probably the same 120 believers mentioned in Acts 1:15, gathered together in one place, and most certainly not for the first time. This group probably amounts to the first messianic synagogue. On Pentecost, Jesus baptized them with the Holy Spirit as he had promised.… Read the rest

Living in the middle of the story

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife / Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo (1660s)

When we come to the end of a novel or a movie, we know how it turns out. We get a lot of satisfaction knowing how it turns out, possibly because we can’t possibly get the same satisfaction in our own lives. After all, we’re living in the middle of the story.

Joseph had ten older brothers. Jacob, his father, essentially put him in charge of the family business. Jacob loved Joseph more than the others because he was the firstborn son of the only woman he had ever loved.

But he must have given Joseph all that authority because of his natural ability and character.… Read the rest