Posts tagged ‘God’

God Talking to Himself about You

Credit: The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo (1511) / Wikimedia

When God creates the plants, fish, and land animals in Genesis 1, He speaks to the land and water He has already created to bring these creatures forth:

Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. (Genesis 1:11)

Let the water teem with living creatures. (Genesis 1:20)

Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind. (Genesis 1:24)

God calls to the land to produce plants and animals and to the water to produce fish. Why? Because the land is where plants and animals belong and the water is where fish belong.

And yet, when God creates human beings, things change. Rather than speaking to the land, where we will live, God speaks to Himself:

Let us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. (Genesis 1:26)

If the land is where humans will live and belong, why doesn’t God call to the land to bring them – to bring us – forth? It’s because ultimately and in a very unique way, we don’t belong to the land, but to God. We are created in His image:

God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Yes, we will live on the land. And yes, the first man Adam is even created from the ground. But he belongs – and we belong – to God.

This is why Adam’s fall into sin in Genesis 3 is such a tragedy. He goes from belonging to God to wanting to be like God, which shatters his relationship with God. But God does not give up. Through the prophet Jeremiah, He envisions a time when:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel…” declares the Lord. “I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

God will make sure we belong to Him. We will be His people. He will be our God.

God loves you so much that, when He created you, He had a conversation with Himself about you. You belong to Him. And nothing can change that.

October 24, 2022 at 6:15 am Leave a comment

Joy in Trials

Credit: Quang Anh Ha Nguyen / Pexels.com

I love joy.

I love watching a child’s eyes light up when dessert is served. I love watching a dog wag its tail in anticipation of fetching a tennis ball. I love watching a couple on their wedding day look into each other’s tearful eyes and hold each other’s hands tight.

I love joy.

And yet, joy can sometimes be tough to come by – or at least to sustain.

Joy is often overcome by anger when we see injustice in our world. Or it is overtaken with loneliness when we feel isolated with no one to talk to. Or it is overwhelmed by grief when we lose a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, or another loved one.

The prophet Habakkuk ministered to the nation of Israel during a season when joy was tough to come by. The nation of Israel had fallen into spiritual corruption and the Babylonians were on their way to attack – and eventually conquer – Habakkuk’s home. In the midst of all this, Habakkuk, as most of us would, struggled to find joy. He opens his book by questioning – and implicitly accusing – God:

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen? Or cry out to You, “Violence!” but You do not save? Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

“Nothing is going well,” Habakkuk complains. “There is no reason to have joy.”

Except that, according to Habakkuk, there is.

Habakkuk closes his book:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

“Even when all else fails and is lost,” Habakkuk writes, “I still have the Lord. And He is enough for me to have joy.”

The apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This injunction, at first read, feels impossible. We can understand rejoicing, but to do so always seems ridiculous. But if Paul gives us the “what we are to do,” Habakkuk gives us the “how we are to do it.” We are to be joyful in God our Savior. Joy found in things other than the Lord will always come and go because other things always come and go. Joy found in anything other than the Lord is ultimately unsustainable. But joy that is in the Lord can endure always – because He is with us always. Find your joy in Him.

August 22, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Punishment and Patience

Credit: “Jonah foretells the destruction of Nineveh” by Jan Luyken (1712) / Public Domain

At the end of the book that bears his name, the prophet Jonah is seething. God has just spared city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which is the arch-enemy empire of Israel. Jonah had seen this coming. In fact, he was so concerned that God might allow Israel’s arch-enemy to stand after God called the prophet to go and try to help Nineveh that he tried to hop a ship sailing the opposite direction from Nineveh to Tarshish. Jonah was not interested in giving any opportunity to God to extend mercy to the Ninevites. And he says as much:

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah wanted the Lord to be a judgment juggernaut – not a gracious God.

And yet, around 150 years later, God’s judgment does come for Nineveh, but through a different prophet – the prophet Nahum. This is what Nahum has to say:

The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” (Nahum 1:14)

It turns out that the Ninevites repented of their sin during the time of Jonah, but then fell back into their sin after the time of Jonah. And now God’s judgment will come on them.

So often, like Jonah, we want God’s judgment to come in our way and on our schedule. We want to be judge, juror, and executioner of those who have sinned against us, or even of those who are morally opposed to us. But Jonah’s experience with Nineveh echoes the apostle Paul’s words:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:18-19)

God will judge – but not always in our way and on our schedule. Indeed, as Nahum – the prophet who does announce of God’s judgment – says:

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (Nahum 1:3)

The Lord does have power and punishment for sinners, but only after the Lord practices patience – lots of patience – with sinners. And for this, we should be grateful. Because God is not only patient with them, but patient with us. So, let’s be patient with God and allow Him to carry out His mercy and His judgment in His way.

I have a feeling He might know what He’s doing.

August 15, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

What makes God, God?

What makes God, God? Traditionally, God’s fundamental attributes have been described as omnipotence – that God has power over all – omniscience – that He knows all – and omnipresence – that He is with all. Certainly, these are all true and critical attributes of God. But as the prophet Micah closes His book, He sees something else foundational to God.

Micah begins with an announcement from God that He will rescue Israel in power. God says to Israel:

“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them My wonders.” Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the Lord our God and will be afraid of you. (Micah 7:15-17)

God’s power will overpower all the powers of the world, Micah says. This is God’s omnipotence at its most expansive. But it’s not just this traditional attribute of God that makes God, God. For Micah continues with a critical question:

Who is a God like You? (Micah 7:18)

What is it, Micah muses, that makes God so unique? What is it that sets Him apart? His answer is as stunning as it is soothing:

Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

It is God’s mercy – and not only His power, knowledge, or even presence – that makes God, God. What makes God utterly unique is that He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Instead, He hurls our sins away and, by doing so, becomes our hope and stay.

Martin Luther spoke of two types of God’s work – His strange work and His proper work. God’s strange work is His work of judgment in power. It is a work that is meant to reprove and, if not heeded, condemn. But though God does this work, it is strange to Him. It is not His preferred mode of operation. His preferred mode of operation – His proper work – is that of mercy and grace. God’s desire is to redeem and not just to reprove – to commute the sentence of sin instead of condemning people in sin. This is what makes God, God. And for this, we can be thankful. Because it is God’s mercy that allows us to approach Him, to rely on Him, and to find our rest in Him.

In Hebrew, the name Micah means, “Who is like the Lord?” The answer is, of course, “No one.” But because of what the Lord is like, we can like the Lord. We can love the Lord. Because He loves us.

August 1, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Bearing God’s Name

The Second Commandment is not just a prohibition, but an offer. God says to Moses:

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name. (Exodus 20:7)

Famously, the ancient Jews became so concerned with misusing God’s name that they would not even speak it. Instead of calling God “Yahweh,” the name God gave to Moses to share with Israel when He appeared to him in a burning bush (Exodus 3:13-15), they instead referred to God using a title of respect – “Lord.”

Though this instinct not to misuse the name of God is commendable, it does beg a question: Though we should not misuse God’s name, does this mean that there is no good use of God’s name? It is this question that brings to the forefront God’s offer in this commandment. Because there are most certainly many good uses of God’s name.

We can use God’s name to bless. (Numbers 6:24-26)

We can use God’s name to call to repentance. (Acts 2:38)

We can use God’s name to call to faith. (Acts 10:43)

We can use God’s name to baptize. (Matthew 28:19-20)

We can use God’s name to offer salvation. (Romans 10:13)

God’s name – even though it can be misused – is still quite useful.

In Hebrew, there are two words behind our one English word “misuse” in this commandment. There is the word sawe, which means “vanity” or “emptiness.” There is also the word nasa, which means to “take up” or “to bear.” This is why many Bible translations will render this verse: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” We certainly want to avoid sawe. But we also want to embrace nasa. We want to bear the name of God in our lives and through our lives. As one of Jesus’ followers, Peter, reminds us: “Praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16).

To whom is God calling you to bear His name this week? It’s a name worth sharing because it’s a name that our world needs to hear.

July 11, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

What Does God Think of You?

Credit: Pixabay

In Daniel 4, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, loses his mind. In punishment for his pride over his accomplishments as king and his power over his kingdom, God strikes him with a bout of insanity that causes him to believe he is a wild beast:

He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:33)

God restores Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity when, instead of reveling in his pride and power, he looks toward heaven and praises his Maker:

I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. (Daniel 4:34)

His song of praise to God is particularly notable:

His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

Nebuchadnezzar’s ad hoc worship song sounds pious, but its theology is a bit off. The Psalmist asks:

LORD, what are human beings that You care for them, mere mortals that You think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow. (Psalm 144:3-4)

The Psalmist admits that, before God, humans are nothing. And yet, he also marvels that God cares for them and thinks of them anyway.

Nebuchadnezzar sings:

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. (Daniel 4:35)

But this is not how God regards people. He cares for them and thinks of them. In fact, He cared for Nebuchadnezzar so deeply that He personally disciplined him in his pride so he could learn the value of humility. Certainly, being struck by insanity did not feel to Nebuchadnezzar like God regarded him as much of anything. But Nebuchadnezzar was wrong. What felt like abandonment by God was a gift from God to, ultimately, sanctify him.

We, too, are regarded as precious by God. When things turn hurtful or hard, it may not feel that way. It may feel like we are nothing to God, or perhaps like we have been abandoned by God. But even times of trial can be used by God to sanctify us.

The Psalmist is right. God cares for us and is mindful of us – so much so that He sent His one and only Son to us.

May 16, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Daily Bread

Credit: Pixabay / Pexels.com

As inflation continues to wreak havoc and interest rates rise, the future can feel uncertain and even ominous. Before I wrote this blog, I checked my stocks. They were all red. My stocks weren’t the only things that sank. My heart did, too.

And yet, in the midst of uncertain times, we are called to trust God with our resources. In fact, we are called to trust that God will give us all the resources we need. We are called to believe that God will answer our prayer: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Jesus’ words from this famous in line in the Lord’s Prayer echo a story from ancient Israel. In Exodus 16, God feeds the Israelites with bread from heaven as they wander through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land:

The LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (Exodus 16:4-5)

God provides the Israelites with all the resources they need. But His provision comes with a provisio – they are only to gather what they need for each day. It is daily bread. And on the sixth day, when they are to gather what they need for two days, this is so they might rest on the seventh day.

Unsurprisingly, the Israelites struggle to follow God’s instructions. Some try to gather more than what they need for each day:

Some of them kept part of the bread until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. (Exodus 16:20)

Others, instead of saving bread so they can rest on the seventh day, try to work every day:

Some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. (Exodus 16:27)

The Israelites’ struggles mirror our own struggles. On the one hand, like the Israelites who tried to hoard bread, we can fail to trust God for what we need each day. On the other hand, like the Israelites who failed to sufficiently save bread and tried to work on the seventh day, we can also fail to save for tomorrow so we can enjoy rest one day. Gathering and saving. Working and resting. And, above all, trusting. These are the pillars of stewarding what God has given us.

The Israelites lived in a world where resources could feel scarce. We do, too. But just because resources feel scarce doesn’t mean they are scarce. God still provides. We are called to trust that. We are called to trust Him – even in a time that can feel uncertain.

May 2, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Don’t Destroy Yourself!

Credit: Bartolomeo Biscaino (1629-1657) / Wikimedia

In the book of Exodus, the Pharaoh of Egypt seeks the destruction of the Israelites because they “have become far too numerous for us” (Exodus 1:9), and he is worried that “they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Exodus 1:10). In response, Pharaoh issues an edict: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live” (Exodus 1:22).

It is at this time a Levite woman gives birth to a son and, at first, attempts to hide him so he might not drown in the Nile:

But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. (Exodus 2:3)

This brave mother follows the letter of Pharaoh’s edict to throw her son into the Nile, but with a twist. She places her son into a basket, and then places the basket with her son into the Nile. Famously, this basket boy survives and grows up to become Moses – the one who rescues the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt.

In a showdown with another Pharaoh of Egypt that takes place some 80 years after Moses was first placed into a basket as a baby in the reeds of the Nile, Moses and the Israelites find themselves backed up against a sea called the Sea of Reeds, which we know today as the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18), with Pharaoh and his army coming to destroy them. But just like God protects Moses from the waters of the Nile when he is placed among the reeds, God protects Israel from the waters of the Sea of Reeds by splitting them into two, so the Israelites can pass “through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:23). But when Pharaoh and his army try to pursue them, “the water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived” (Exodus 14:28).

Pharaoh sought the destruction of the Israelites by declaring that they must be drowned among the reeds of the Nile. But instead, he himself is destroyed by being drowned in the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh’s berserk desire for destruction only destroyed him.

When we are slighted or hurt by someone, it can be easy for us to wish for – and, perhaps, even work for – their destruction – the destruction of their job, their reputation, or our friendship with them. But our desire for destruction – our desire for vengeance – more often than not, only destroys us. The bitterness and anger we harbor toward someone drowns our souls. This is why Jesus says, “If you hold anything against anyone, forgive them” (Mark 11:25). Jesus does not just say call for forgiveness in an effort to let someone who has upset us or hurt us off the hook. He calls for forgiveness to let us off the hooks of our own dangerous desires for destruction that will, if left unchecked, only destroy us. God doesn’t want our souls to get trapped in a vengeful Sea of Reeds.

So, who is God calling you to forgive today? Remember, forgiveness not only helps someone else; it rescues you.

And you’re worth rescuing.

April 25, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

What’s So Great About God?

Credit: Pixabay / Pexels.com

In Hebrew, the name “Micah” means “Who is like the Lord?”

In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah concludes the book that bears his name with the question his name asks:

Who is a God like You? (Micah 7:18)

Right before he asks this question, Micah speaks of God’s unmatched power on behalf of Israel:

“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them My wonders.” Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the LORD our God and will be afraid of you. (Micah 7:15-17)

Just as God dazzled the world when He rescued the people of Israel out from under their slavery to the world’s preeminent superpower at that time – Egypt – God will do so again during Micah’s day when, again, He rescues His people out from under their oppression under the likes of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

But this unlimited and unmatched power is not what makes Micah’s God unique. It is not just that Micah’s God can “beat up” on other nations’ gods.

Instead, what makes Micah’s God truly unequaled is something other than His power:

Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

What makes God matchless, according to Micah, is His mercy. All other religions and gods find their foundations in merit – you do your best, and the gods will perhaps sweep in and do the rest. But Micah reminds us that even when we do our worst, God, though He may discipline us, ultimately takes our worst and hurls it down into the deepest ocean trench and, in exchange, gives us His compassion.

Power, then, is not what foundationally makes God, God. Mercy is. Yes, we should fear God’s judgment on our sin. But we can actually see God’s mercy for our sin. Because “we do see Jesus” (Hebrews 2:9). And there is no one like Him – One who would die for our sin.

March 14, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Bridegroom of Blood

Credit: “The Circumcision of the Son of Moses” by Jan Baptist Weenix (c. 1640) / Wikimedia

Recently, I received a question about a strange story in Exodus 4. God has just called Moses to be the new leader of the children of Israel and has commissioned him to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt, who is enslaving the Israelites, and demand that he let the people go. While Moses is heading to Egypt to carry out his task:

At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.) (Exodus 4:24-26)

This is indeed an odd story. God, at the very time Moses is traveling to Egypt to do the thing God had just told him to do, tries to murder Moses.

But why?

Moses was on his way to becoming the spiritual leader of Israel. The first spiritual leader of Israel was also the progenitor of Israel – a man named Abraham. How did God mark Abraham as the father of this nation?

This is My covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised. (Genesis 17:10-12)

Moses, as the incoming spiritual leader of Israel, had not even marked his own son with the most basic sign of God’s covenant. He has disobeyed God’s command. And God is not happy. So, God seeks to punish Moses.

In many ways, this story in Exodus 4 and another story in Numbers 20 serve as bookends to Moses’ ministry. In Numbers 20, the community of Israel is in the desert on their way to the Promised Land after their rescue from Israel, but they do not have any water. So, Moses approaches God to discuss the problem, and God offers these instructions:

“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as He commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in Me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:8-12)

In Numbers 20, Moses disobeys God by striking a rock to get water from it rather than speaking to it. And his punishment is death. In Exodus 4, Moses disobeys God by failing to circumcise his son, and his punishment should have been death. But someone intercedes. Zipporah circumcises their son and touches Moses’ feet with the blood and foreskin to remind him that the same feet that just one chapter earlier stood before God on “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5) as God appeared to Moses famously in the form of a burning bush have now wandered into sin. His feet – and his very self – need covering and cleansing. And this is what they get.

After Zipporah performs the circumcision, she calls Moses “a bridegroom of blood” (Exodus 4:25). We, too, have a bridegroom of blood. But unlike Moses, His feet have never wandered into sin. Instead, they have only staggered to a cross where He shed His blood so that we could have “a bridegroom of blood” who saves us from sin.

Israel needed a greater and better leader than Moses. And so do we. And we have One in Jesus.

February 7, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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