So ever since we first heard about you we have kept on praying and asking God to help you understand what he wants you to do; asking him to make you wise about spiritual things; and asking that the way you live will always please the Lord and honor him, so that you will always be doing good, kind things for others, while all the time you are learning to know God better and better. (Col 1:9-10)

I would have willingly let Paul pray for me, wouldn’t you? Paul didn’t just pray once for the Colossians, he kept on praying for them. The first section of Paul’s prayer concerns the mission—what has God called you to do? We are all called to be a witness and to testify to what God has done for us.  If Paul were here now, he would tell you, ‘keep your testimony fresh.’ I know what God did early in my Christian walk, but what is God doing now?

Secondly, with what gifts has/is the Holy Spirit gifting you? Romans 12:6-8 show us God’s motivational gifts; they’re in your spiritual DNA. They are sharing, like a good storyteller, serving others, teaching, financing, administration, and care-compassion.  Additionally, the Holy Spirit will equip you with the power tools to do the work. (1 Cor 12) Ready for the Ministry of the Church in Ephesians 4. All five ministry gifts in Ephesians four are aspects of Christ’s ministry and are multi-dimensional. More tomorrow.

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Folly is Standing at the Door.

I said to myself, “Come now, be merry; enjoy yourself to the full.” But I found that this, too, was futile. For it is silly to be laughing all the time; what good does it do? So, after a lot of thinking, I decided to try the road of drink, while still holding steadily to my course of seeking wisdom. Next, I changed my course again and followed the path of folly, so that I could experience the only happiness most men have throughout their lives. (Ecc 2:1-3)

Solomon was known for his wisdom. One can read the Book of Proverbs and be amazed at his God-given knowledge and wisdom. In 1 Kings 10, the Queen of Sheba comes to test Solomon, but God gives him the correct answer every time. “She exclaimed to him, “Everything I heard in my own country about your wisdom and about the wonderful things going on here is all true.” (1 Kings 10:6) So, how can a man that is so wise end up at the house of folly? Well, perhaps Proverbs 9 has the answer. Down the road from Wisdom’s house is the House of Folly, and Folly is standing at the door, looking for customers, tempting them; “Stolen melons are the sweetest; stolen apples taste the best!”

The Beatles wrote and sang the song, ‘The Long and Winding Road.’ (Lennon/McCartney). “The long and winding road that leads to your door will never disappear I’ve seen that road before, It always leads me here; lead me to your door.”

For Solomon, his folly was all those wives and concubines from foreign lands, many from countries that God forbade the Israelites to marry. 1 Kings 11:3-4 tells us, “He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines; and sure enough, they turned his heart away from the Lord, especially in his old age. They encouraged him to worship their gods instead of trusting completely in the Lord as his father David had done.” Solomon had everything, yet he went down the long, winding road to knock at Folly’s door.

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But God!

“In my opinion, nothing is worthwhile; everything is futile. For what does a man get for all his hard work? Generations come and go, but it makes no difference. The sun rises and sets and hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south and north, here and there, twisting back and forth, getting nowhere. The rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full, and the water returns again to the rivers and flows again to the sea . . . everything is unutterably weary and tiresome. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied; no matter how much we hear, we are not content. History merely repeats itself. Nothing is truly new; it has all been done or said before. What can you point to that is new? How do you know it didn’t exist long ages ago? We don’t remember what happened in those former times, and in the future generations, no one will remember what we have done back here.” (Ecc 1:2-11)

“Yes, and how many times must a man look up before he can see the sky? And how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” (Blowin in the Wind, Bob Dylan)

One might be forgiven for thinking that King Solomon and Bob Dylan were related. However, now that the fireworks have fizzled out and the smoke has cleared, the ball has dropped in Time Square for another year, and the news on January 1st is no better than December 31st, you might agree with these two prophets of doom, and gloom, and the montage they painted. But God!

But God is always there, always working, and always good! God’s nature is nothing but goodness, and the wheel within the wheel may seem as though it is going backwards; I can assure you that God is moving forward. Will you join me and get on board with God?

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Ethics and the Old Testament–a social ethic

A Social Ethic

At one time, the whole Earth spoke the same language. It so happened that as they moved out of the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled down. They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and fire them well.” They used brick for stone and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven. Let’s make ourselves famous so we won’t be scattered here and there across the Earth.” God came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built.  God took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.” Then God scattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That’s how it came to be called Babel, because there God turned their language into “babble.” From there God scattered them all over the world. (Gen 11:1-9)

Rebellion in the known world was about to become cataclysmic. Babel represented a world that did not need God, it was immoral and unethical. Later, another city, Sodom, would replicate the kind of social dynamic that happens when God is left out. In Babel’s case, God breaks in a confuses their plans, and the people are scattered.

God chooses a man who will bring not only God’s redemptive plan but God’s ethics to the world.  Even before these chosen people existed, God was talking about nationhood. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:1–3)

Notice there that God says, “I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God’s plans were worldwide. In my view, they missed it, turning the blessing inward rather than outward to the world. The Old Testament is speaking to us corporately. With a plan that is worldwide.

Walter Brueggemann wrote in his book, ‘A Social Reading of the Old Testament: Prophetic Approaches to Israel’s Communal Life.’  “We may re-articulate our covenantal hope for the world. So long as this subversive paradigm [covenant] is kept to God and church, we are safe enough. Its character of surprise and threat becomes clear when the covenant is related to the world beyond the believing community. The covenantal paradigm affirms that the world we serve and for which we care is a world yet to be liberated. A theology of covenanting is not worth the effort unless it leads to energy and courage for mission . . . The three belong together: a God who makes covenant by making a move toward the partner (Hos. 2:14, 18–20); a community that practices covenant by the new forms of torah, knowledge, and forgiveness (Jer. 31:31–34); and a world yet to be transformed to covenanting, by the dismantling of imperial reality (Is. 42:6–7; 49:6).”

Food for thought.

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Ethics and The Old Testament–Pay it Forward

Pay it Forward.

If any of your fellow Hebrews, male or female, sell themselves into your service, they can work for you for six years, but in the seventh year you must set them free from your service. Furthermore, when you set them free from your service, you must not let them go empty-handed. Instead, provide for them fully from your flock, food, and wine. You must give to them from that with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember how each of you was a slave in Egypt and how the Lord your God saved you. That’s why I am commanding you to do this right now. (Deut 15:12:15)

“Personal experience of God’s goodness is turned into motivation for ethical behavior that responds out of gratitude and love.” (Wright, 2004) Time and time again, God reminds the blessed Israelites to do unto others as God has done for them.  When someone puts themselves into your service to pay off a debt, once that debt is paid or at the end of six years, send them off with a blessing as you have been blessed. And should they forget, God reminds them time and time again ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt to give you Canaan’s land and to be your God.’

Leviticus 25:35:38 makes it very clear. “If one of your fellow Israelites faces financial difficulty and is in a shaky situation with you, you must assist them as you would an immigrant or foreign guest so that they can survive among you. Do not take interest from them, or any kind of profit from interest, but fear your God so that your fellow Israelite can survive among you. Do not lend a poor Israelite money with interest or lend food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt to give you Canaan’s land and to be your God.”

How can we call America a Christian nation when we ignore these scriptures? God’s word here clearly goes against Capitalism and a free market economy. Some would answer me by saying that these scripture texts are Old Testament or Law. To which I would remind them that this is neither old nor the law, this is the ethical virtue of God—God is good(ness). As Christians, how can we do anything less?

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Ethics and the Old Testament–Knowing.

The Lord proclaims: The learned should not boast of their knowledge, nor warriors boast of their might, nor the rich boast of their wealth. No, those who boast should boast in this: That they understand and know me. I am the Lord who acts with kindness, justice, and righteousness in the world, and I delight in these things, declares the Lord. (Jer 9:23-23)

I heard Christians boast that when they get to heaven, they can’t wait to see:

  1. Their mansion, which, as it so happens, is a bad translation of the Greek.
  2. The streets of gold. Even though there are no streets of gold in heaven or the coming kingdom, God is an allegory for purity.
  3. Jesus….in that order.

One would expect God to be number one, not eternity’s presumed materiality.

So, back to the Old Testament, the most important aspect of knowing God is not what God has done (stories) or what he has said (word). The thing that God wants most is to reveal the essence and substance of his nature.  This is done through the historical, the prophetic, a song or a poem, or even a love story and journal written by Solomon.

Jeremiah tells us not to boast in wisdom, power, or the prosperity that comes as a blessing from knowing God, but to let the very character of God permeate our nature. How does God want to be known? He wants to be known as a God of kindness, justice, and righteousness.

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Ethics and the Old Testament–Purpose

This advice seemed wise to Pharaoh and all his servants, and Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man with more God-given gifts than this one?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, no one is as intelligent and wise as you are. You will be in charge of my kingdom, and all my people will obey your command. Only as the enthroned king will I be greater than you.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Know this: I’ve given you authority over the entire land of Egypt.” Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, he dressed him in linen clothes, and he put a gold necklace around his neck. He put Joseph on the chariot of his second-in-command, and everyone in front of him cried out, “Attention!” So Pharaoh installed him over the entire land of Egypt. (Gen 41:37-43)

But Joseph said to them (his brothers), “Don’t be afraid. Am I God? You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today. (Gen 50:19-20)

In the Old Testament, the prophet, priest, and scribe become the storyteller, and the storyteller is prophetic, sacred, and memorialized. God is telling us stories that pose ethical questions to see how we might respond. I have lived the story of Joseph. Twenty-nine years ago, a friend, Linda Patton, prophesied that God would give me a coat of many colors.  Little did I know the significance of that prophecy. Perhaps you to can identify with an Old Testament story?

Joseph’s brothers did evil, and though God turned it around for good, his brothers were still evil, and God is always good and will consistently achieve his purposes. So, even though you might find yourself in the crucible of life, God has a purpose that is being fashioned there. Take courage!

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Ethics and the Old Testament–Word.

The Word

“Now look into it: into days long past, before your time—all the way back to the day God first created human beings on earth, from one end of heaven to the other. Has anything this amazing ever happened? Has anything like it ever been heard of before? Has any people ever listened to a god’s voice speaking out of fire, as each of you have, and survived? Or has any god ever tried to take one nation out of another nation using tests, miracles, wonders, war, a strong hand and outstretched arm, or awesome power like all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt while you watched?” Deut 4:32-34

The text this morning begins with a rhetorical challenge to the Israelites.  Of all the gods that you have both known and seen, the gods of the Canaanites or Egypt, have you ever experienced anyone like Yahweh? A God who speaks, gets involved, delivers, and promises? The answer was a resounding, “No!”

The problem was that the people seemed to be quite content with the dumb idols of their past. They were murmuring and complaining that they were better off back in Egypt or building a statue and worshiping the golden calf. The reality was that they didn’t want to go up and meet the living God, so they sent Moses.

Moses comes back with ’10 words,’ the Decalogue, and with them a moral law by which these people are to live by.  They were given an ethical standard for life and liberty. Instead, they turned them into laws or oppression and bondage.  They really did go back to Egypt.

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Ethics and the Old Testament–God’s Grace

The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up. When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” Moses said, “I’m here.” Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. (Ex 3:2-6)

Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD. (Exod. 6:5–8).

God gets the attention of Moses through the burning bush and introduces himself as the God of the patriarchs, Elohim. God didn’t give Moses the law there and send him down to Egypt with a message demanding obedience; if you do this, then I will redeem you, no!

Instead, God hears the cry of the Israelites, remembers their covenant relationship, and sets about redeeming the people.  Amazing grace was present, and God was in action all the time.  In your Bibles, you will see that it was an extensive period before the law was introduced.  Even then, you must wonder whether those ‘ten words’ were given not because God desired control but because the people needed to be kept on track. Throughout this journey from Egypt to the promised land, we see the people’s desire to go back to bondage. If you get into your car and trust your GPS, how much more should we trust God.

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Ethics and the Old Testament-the self-revelation of God

The Ethics of the Old Testament.

Over the coming days, we will dig deeper into the Old Testament and try to make sense of what God said, did, and wants us to do. And what God didn’t say and are just the words of men. Some will not enjoy the contents of these devotionals; they are those who don’t want to learn and are fixed in their thinking.  They believe that they know everything there is to know, only to realize that they know no more than the demons.

You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear. (James 2:19)

So, let’s start with God.

“You were shown these things so that you would know this: The Lord is the only God. There’s no other god except him. From heaven he made you hear his voice in order to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire. You heard his words from that very fire. And because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, God brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his own great power, in order to remove larger and stronger nations from before you and bring you into their land, giving it to you as an inheritance. That’s where things stand right now. Know then today and keep in mind that the Lord is the only God in heaven above or on earth below. There is no other.” (Deut 4:35-39)

The self-revelation of Yahweh (YHWH) is important and was measured by God. Exodus 6:3 says, “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, (El Shaddai or God of the Mountain] but I didn’t reveal myself to them by my name ‘The Lord.’ We might use the name Yahweh, sometimes considered comparable to ‘I AM WHO I AM.’  For the Israelites, God was no longer just the God of the mountain; God was everywhere in space and time.

The God of the mountain is the same God that a Christian worships on Sunday only.  Somehow, they don’t equate God being involved in every aspect of their lives. God is there with you right now.                              

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