It’s time for a little update, not much, but I am no longer new to blogging. I have been at it a few years. Not that I have gained any particular stature. I simply can’t claim to be new at it. I still write as part of my profession, but blogging is more interesting. Blogging is my way of sharpening ideas and fleshing them out. I know I don’t always “get it right”, but it’s the journey that counts.
I have been on a journey for truth since I emerged from the haze and confusion of adolescence, much of it self-induced. Stepping out of that myopic existence I began to get an inkling that a world of truth lay in front of me to encounter, and so I set off. I didn’t realize, then, how much faith is required to seek truth. Continue reading “My Journey”→
The passage in Numbers 20:1-13, which I quote below (in the NIV), has puzzled me in the past. I have been unsure that I understand it well, and it has bothered me, perhaps, as a result.
As with many things I don’t understand well, I often “shelve” them for later consideration. Later is now, as I have just read through the passage again in my yearly journey through the Bible. This is the setting:
“In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.”
Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, had just died. Not much is said about her death, but Moses and Aaron must have been grieving. That grief on top of the contention of the Israelites they were trying to lead according to God’s direction, and the harsh circumstances of the desert must have weighed heavily on them.
“Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, ‘If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord!'”
I believe their “brothers” who “fell before the Lord” is a reference to Korah who led a rebellion against Moses. (Numbers 16) Korah challenged Moses and his right to lead the Israelites. Korah was not happy with his clan’s roll in caring for the Tent of Meeting, and he was basically saying, “Who put you in charge?!”
Moses set up a demonstration before the people for God to identify who was in charge. When Korah and his clan burned incense, the ground rumbled. Moses told the people to back away from Korah and his tribe of rebels, and the ground swallowed them up.
Not long afterward the wanderings of the Israelites brought them to the Desert of Zin. These Israelites were so angry and distraught about the conditions in the desert that they wished they had died with Korah in rebellion against God.
The desert conditions must have been pretty inhospitable! Moses was losing the hearts of the people, and they were turning against him… again! The people said:
“‘Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!’”
Of course, Moses was God’s man, as was demonstrated graphically in the Korah situation, but the continued to take their dissatisfaction over their circumstances out on Moses. Instead of seeing God at work in their midst, they saw only Moses, and they blamed him for their situation.
“Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.”
Moses and Aaron knew the real story. They knew that the people were really finding fault with God, not Moses or Aaron. They were intimate with God and knew well that God was not to be trifled with.
The glory of God appeared to them. God’s presence should have given them boldness to stand resolute on their confidence in God’s direction. They should have not have had no doubt that God was with them. Right?
At the same time, the Israelites should have had no doubt that God was with them, as well. God’s presence went with them also, going before them in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They had seen the demonstrations of the power and holiness of God at the Red Sea, at Mount Sinai and in the ground swallowing up Korah and his band of rebels.
What more did they need to see to understand that God was with them?
Yet, they did not trust that God had their back. God had given them manna every morning, and God gave them so much meat when they demanded meat that it came out of their nostrils. Yet, they continually grumbled and complained and wished they were back in Egypt.
Something had to be done to put down the unrest!
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘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.’” (Emphasis added)
God told Moses to take the staff and speak to the rock. The instructions were simple and pretty clear.
“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?’”
Moses started out all right. He took the staff as he was commanded, but things begin to go off the rails after that. Moses was obviously perplexed that the people were so angry, and he was taking it personally. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses turned to the people and spoke to them, and he was full of the wrath he felt for them in that moment.
It’s hard for me to blame Moses for feeling this way. I am sure I would take it personally also. It was personal! The people were obstinate. What more could Moses do to demonstrate that God put him in charge?! Yet, they continued to challenge Moses and blame him for their unsatisfactory conditions.
Moses knew better, but his own emotions got the best of him. He took their opposition personally, and his anger led him to forget God’s instructions to him:
“Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.”
The result was good, right? But, Moses didn’t do what God commanded him. God told him to speak to the rock. Instead, Moses spoke to the people, and he struck the rock with his staff. Thus, God responded accordingly:
“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.'”
I don’t completely understand the significance of these things. God’s response seems a bit harsh in light of the faithfulness of Moses before Pharaoh, in receiving the delivering the Ten Commandments, and in putting up with the grumbling, and complaining, and the obstinance, and waywardness of the Israelites.
Keep in mind that Moses grew up in luxury and privilege in Pharaoh’s household. The Israelites were “his people”, but only by genetics. Moses put up with a lot with these people he didn’t grow up with and didn’t even know very well, but clearly, his disobedience to God was more significant than I have appreciated.
I have been reading through parts of Exodus. Today, I continued reading about Moses and Pharaoh. Pharaoh hardened his heart to the plea of Moses to let the Israelites to travel three days into the wilderness to meet with God, and Pharaoh did not take the signs Moses performed to heart.
Up to this point, all the signs Moses and Aaron performed Pharaoh’s magicians matched. Aaron threw his staff to the ground, and the magicians did the same. It didn’t matter that Aaron’s staff swallowed up the magicians’ staffs. The magicians answered what Moses and Aaron were presenting, and Pharaoh would not listen to them.
Moses turned the water of the Nile to blood. Pharaoh’s magicians did the same, “and Pharaoh’s heart became hard”, it says. (Ex. 7:22) He turned, walked away into his palace, and he didn’t take it to heart.
Aaron stretched out his arm with his staff and caused frogs to emerge all over the land. The magicians did the same, and Pharaoh was not moved, at least not right away.
Later, Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and asked to them to “Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away…, and I will let your people go….” (Ex 8:8) Moses did it, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen….” (Ex. 8:15)
Moses responded by having Aaron summon a plague of gnats. This time the magicians could not duplicate what Moses did. The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But, “Pharaoh’s heart was hard….” (Ex. 19)
At the former demonstrations, the Pharaoh’s heart became hard, or he hardened his heart. After the plague of flies, however, the Pharaoh’s heart was hard.
Pharaoh’s heart was already hard at this point. He had been hardening his heart all along, but Pharaoh’s heart was already hard by the time Moses and Aaron summoned the plague of flies and the plague of flies “ruined the land”.
Even though Pharaoh’s heart was hard at that point, “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.'” (Ex. 8:25)
Sometimes even people with hard hearts toward God will have moments in which they seem to believe, or seem to repent, but there is no heart change. They desire to be delivered from their dire circumstances, but nothing more. It isn’t really a true change of heart, and it doesn’t last.
Moses insisted that the people be allowed to leave the land and go into the wilderness. “Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.” (Ex. 8:28)
We make deals with God. We bargain for relief from the pain or difficulty that brings us finally to God, but we don’t mean it. We are “forced” to the point of praying to God as a last resort, but we don’t come willingly, and our hearts have not changed.
This was the case with Pharaoh:
“Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.” (Ex. 8:30-32)
Pharaoh didn’t understand that the God of Moses and Aaron is the God who gives all people life and breath. He saw “their” God as a means to an end: a possible solution to the immediate relief he desired. Pharaoh didn’t perceive God as his God too!
We are often tempted in the same way to view the Bible, church, and God Himself as a means to our owns temporary ends. We aren’t looking down the road. We don’t appreciate that the universe, this earth, our world and our very beings are wholly dependent on God!
Once we get the relief we are looking for from the immediate difficulty we are going through, we harden our hearts again. We no longer take it to heart. There is no lasting change. We go about our own lives as if God does not deserve our hearts.
This is a human tendency we all have. All people can be “religious” at times. Many people go to church on Sunday, or once in a while, maybe on special holidays, but they live in Egypt the rest of the time.
We get religious sometimes in the same way that we might carry a rabbit’s foot or consult a medium. We want something. We want good fortune and good health.
God should not have to make a deal with you. If you are bargaining with God for some immediate relief in your life, your view of God is too small, and you are missing the mark!
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.'”
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
Be perfect. Really? No one is perfect, except God. Right?
I am reminded of the rich young ruler who called Jesus “good teacher”. (Luke 18:18) Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? Only one is good, and that is God.” (Luke 18:19) If no one is good but God alone, no one is good. Full stop.
Look at the context. He starts with this extreme statement: “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20)
The Pharisees were probably considered pretty righteous dudes. They knew their Bibles. They devoted their lives to studying the Law and living rightly before God. If I was standing there, I am certain I would be asking myself, “What does a guy have to do?!”
Just when people like me might begin to grasp for hope of a way out, Jesus ratcheted up the standard even higher:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
By this time, I might have understood the point: no one measures up. If we are judged by the things we think, and not just the things we do, we are sunk! Who can be saved?!
Then Jesus adds the requirement, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect!” could it get any worse?!
Paul backs us up into the same corner using the Old Testament: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) (Proverbs 20:9 (“Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?”); and Ecclesiastes 7:20 (“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”)
If no one is good, and we have all fallen short, then no one can be perfect either. We don’t measure up. We are all doomed! We can’t gain our way into the kingdom of God because we aren’t good enough to enter.
The good news (the Gospel) is that we don’t have to measure up. We don’t get into the kingdom of God by earning our way; God offers it to us as a gift (otherwise, we would be able to boast about it). (Eph. 2:8-9) Jesus, who was good and perfect, redeemed us by his sacrificial death!
So, if we don’t have to be perfect, or even good, to enter the kingdom of God, does it not matter what we do?
Of course it does! If we are not going to earn our way in (like an employee working for a wage), but we want accept the gift God offers to those who become righteous by faith (Rom. 5:3-5) we need to accept all that goes with that gift: we become God’s children with the intention that we become like Him. (John 1:12)
Therefore, we should take goodness and perfection seriously. We can’t simply dismiss it because God has given us the gift of salvation with the intention that we would become like Him. In the rest of this meditation, I will focus on the perfection of love, which is the “excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31) we should seek to emulate God, the Father, as His children.
I have been reading 1 Corinthians in light of the recent happenings at Asbury University. Some people call it a revival, and other people question whether God was even involved. Perhaps, both ends of the spectrum are not quite right. Some people are quick to think that signs are evidence of God’s stamp of approval, and other people have are quick to box God out of anything that doesn’t fit their theology.
In a previous article, I shared what I see in 1 Corinthians that is relevant to the subject. Because Greeks desired to be persuaded by argumentation, Paul came to them with nothing more than the simplest Christian doctrine (“Christ and him crucified”) in order to rely on a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power”.
If Greeks demanded wisdom, and Jews demanded signs, I am left to conclude that God doesn’t give us what we demand. (Though, He actually gives is both if we are willing to acknowledge it.) He doesn’t dance to the tunes we play for Him:
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
“‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
The Pharisees completely missed God incarnate standing before them because he didn’t meet their expectations. He healed people on the Sabbath; he hung out with sinners; he didn’t come from Bethlehem (or so they thought); he challenged them, instead of affirming them, and their theology was too rigid to account for him.
Some people observing the Asbury phenomenon concluded it couldn’t be a move of God because: there was no preaching (though there was); it happened outside of church; the denomination of the University ordains women; LGBTQ students may have led worship; people laughted and spoke in tongues; and similar things I heard people say. The lack of preaching, though, was a common critique.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says went to Corinth with the strategy to refrain from preaching anything other than Christ and him crucified – the most fundamental of all Christian doctrines. Instead of relying on great preaching, he came to them with a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power” so that their faith would not rest in the persuasive powers of speech. (See the article linked above.)
It’s not that Paul came to them with no message. In the same way, it’s not like no message was preached at Asbury. The Asbury “revival” began with a message in the chapel on a Wednesday morning. Students and faculty got up front throughout the more than two week continuous “chapel” to read from scripture and give short messages, but the messages (the preaching) was light – just like when Paul went to Corinth.
The issue at Corinth wasn’t that the Greeks were demanding signs of God’s presence. They had the spiritual gifts and were using them (though not very well). Their primary issue was their lack of unity and quarrelsome boasting and disagreement about who they followed. They were divided and argumentative.
After identifying the problem of their lack of unity and two potential errors (a demand for “signs” and a demand for “wisdom”), Paul diagnosed the core problem with the Greek Corinthians – their desire to be persuaded with speech. Thus, he concluded that more speech wasn’t going to solve the problem. He needed a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that their faith would not rest in the persuasive words of men.
This is what I addressed in the last article, but I want to move on to the second error, now. Different expressions of the body of Christ tend toward different errors. If the Corinthians erred in relying too much on persuasion, the Jews (Paul admitted) erred in relying too much on signs – demonstrations of God’s power. (Though, ironically, the miracles performed right in front of the Pharisees were explained away!)
I find it instructive that Paul did not exhort the Corinthians to abandon the spiritual gifts. No, he encouraged them to desire the spiritual gifts! At the same time, he instructed them to put the spiritual gifts in perspective and use them for the mutual benefit of the whole body.
The Corinthians lack of unity and order was evidenced not only in their argumentation; it was also evidenced in the haphazard and selfish ways they used the spiritual gifts. Paul doesn’t tell them to stop using the spiritual gifts, just as he doesn’t tell them to stop preaching. Instead, he urges them to follow the “most excellent way” – emphasizing faith, hope and love, but above all love
I imagine we might say of the Corinthian church in those days that they were experiencing an “outpouring” and the “moving” of the Holy Spirit because of “the demonstration of way they “moved” in the spiritual gifts (to use a modern term). Not only were they “moving” in the spiritual gifts, but Paul came to them with his own demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
Some segments of the modern church would say the Holy Spirit was really moving in that church. Maybe they would have even called Paul’s visit a revival, an outpouring, or an awakening.
Here is the thing that strikes me, though, as I read Paul’s letter in light of the Asbury “revival”. While it may have seemed like the Holy Spirit was “moving” in their midst, the Corinthian church was being torn apart by quarrelsome arguments, tensions, sexual sin, broken interpersonal relationships, and strife. Though they were “moving” freely in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they were lacking in the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
I listened to Voddie Bauchaum summarize what is wrong at Asbury recently. The video title is (Wow) The Asbury Revival is NOT of God. His summary is similar to other skeptical takes I have heard, so I will summarize his summary here. (You can also watch the video and hear what he says for yourself.)
Bauchaum said he listened to four testimonies of students who attended the “revival”, and they “confirmed exactly what I figured was going on.” It’s a small sampling size, but I have no reason to believe he didn’t hear what he heard.
His conclusions were more in number than his sampling size. First, he said, “This event is nothing more than strange fire.” (The whole event.) For proof, he offered what the students said in their testimonies: One student admitted said he experienced a “fit of laughter”; another student claimed his mother began speaking in “unknown tongues”. (If Bauchaum supplied a summary of the other two testimonies he heard, I missed it.)
The phrase, “strange fire”, is a reference to Leviticus 10:1-3 an incident in which two priests put incense into censors and offered “strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.” (KJV) Those men were consumed by fire from the Lord, the passage says. Therefore, Bauchaum is comparing the people at Asbury to the two rogue priests who presented offerings to God they were not instructed to give and were killed for it.
Clearly, Bauchaum is suggesting that “this event” is not of God; it is “unauthorized” worship; and God views it like He viewed the priests who offered strange fire and were killed for it.
As further proof that this event could not be from God, he said, “A lot of this took place out of the church!” He added that “the university ordains women for ministry, so there is a lot wrong here.”
He went on to explain to say that he was looking for a man of God taking the pulpit to open the Bible and preach the word of God, “and it never happened.” Though he didn’t say it, I am left to assume that revivals must happen only inside church buildings, and then only when a man of God preaches the word of God from a proper pulpit.
I note that he didn’t do much research if he only heard four testimonies, as I found testimonies all over the Internet, including many statements by professors and school administrators. The happenings at Asbury took place over roughly a two-week period, so there was a lot of footage to see and many people who were there talking about it.
I also note that the chapel service began with someone preaching, but, then, I don’t know if he was “a men of God”, and I don’t recall whether he used a pulpit. (Sarcasm alert.)
Bauchaum warned that Satan tricks people with music. As anecdotal proof, he recounted his own experience attending a Pentecostal church a few times when he was a new believer. He recalled feeling emotional, on the verge of tears, because he felt like God was moving, but he determined it was “nonsense” after reading the Bible for himself for several weeks.
To his credit, he said that he “matured really fast” during during those few weeks. (I am not being sarcastic now. These were his words, not mine.) He said he desired to hear someone preach the Word of God because he was hungry for preaching.
To be fair, I can appreciate. I have been in his shoes before when all I wanted was to hear a meaty sermon that dug deep into God’s word.
Bauchaum recalled an old Paul Washer sermon in which people were moved by the preaching of the word, not by the music. As proof that this is the way it should be done, he quoted Romans 10:17: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (No issue there.)
I don’t know if Bauchaum is a cessationist (someone who believes the “gifts of the Holy spirit” have ceased), so I don’t want to make any assumptions. If he is a cessationist, then it would not matter if people had limbs grow back: a cessationist has already determined God doesn’t do those things anymore.
To give him the benefit of the doubt, I can admit that his concerns might be just as validly expressed by someone who is not a cessationist. His concerns do suggest a need for some circumspection, but I have greater concern over his conclusions than any of the spectacle he described that took place on the Asbury University campus for over two weeks in February of 2023.