Category Archives: Verses I Want to Ask God About

These are scripture verses I find that don’t make sense to me. That’s not to say that I think that the Bible is wrong. It’s infallible. Some verses just seem random to me or I don’t understand God’s ways sometimes. It’s just that I need to ask God about them when I get to heaven. If you have an understanding of them please leave your take on them. The Bible says two heads are better than one.

Paul, Barnabas, John Mark and other distractions

“Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in ministry.” II Timothy 4:11

It confounds me what we Christians allow to distract us, even scripture. What do I mean by scripture distracting us? How can scripture distract us if God’s word doesn’t return void?

Scripture distracts us when it draws us into debates, arguments, pious ramblings that, frankly, are vain. Scripture distracts us when we miss the point of what is being said and use it to prove we are “right” when it’s overarching message is reconciliation and restoration.

II Timothy 4:11 is one of those verses that brings us back to reconciliation. Let me press the rewind button…

Sometime earlier the same Mark mentioned above “deserted” (Acts 15:38; Acts 13:13 uses the term “left”) Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 15:36-41there arose a “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas about Mark, who was also known as John, rejoining them. Barnabas said “yes”; Paul said “no.” Here is where the distracting question of scripture rears its ugly head. Who was right and who was wrong. Some contend that Barnabas was wrong because he didn’t submit to Paul’s apostolic authority. Yet, in Acts 14:14 both Paul and Barnabas are referred to as apostles, so that argument is tenuous at best. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Barnabas was politicking for his cousin.)

On the other hand, when Paul and Silas departed for their missionary journey the were “committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.” This certainly lends credence to Paul’s apostolic authority. In addition, scripture is replete with testimony to the effectiveness of Paul in ministry and is rather quiet about Barnabas. Seeing that scripture is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit there must be some reason that we’re told of Paul’s effectiveness and not Barnabas’.

And, of course, the arguments could continue in support of both. But that continues the distraction of what really happened. That would be like saying that the point of God coming to earth was to die on the cross and stopping there. Was Jesus’ death on the cross a necessity? Yes! But only to the point that it led to His resurrection. The point of Jesus on earth isn’t His death; it’s His resurrection. Simply dying on the cross would make Him a martyr. Coming back to life reveals Himself as Savior.

The biblical story of what happened between Paul and Barnabas is similar in a microcosm. When we flippantly proclaim, “I know who was right” and dropping a one liner to support our position is, at best, ending the story early. It certainly risks intellectually bankruptcy. The narrative is much more complex than that. To understand the central message of any story we must follow it to its conclusion.

Please notice that there is no animosity recorded between Paul and Barnabas. There is no mention of “he said/he said” and no mention of the argument continuing. Paul himself cautions against any such distractions when he says in I Corinthians 3:3-7, “You are still worldly. For since there is still jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men. What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? … neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

The point of the Paul vs. Barnabas narrative (and I hesitatingly use versus at the risk of continuing the pointless argument) is not who was right and who was wrong. The point all scripture isn’t about who is right, it’s about reconciliation. That brings us to II Timothy 4:11. Paul and John Mark are reconciled. I suppose that Paul and Barnabas were reconciled, as well…strike that, I contend that they were never divided. They may have gone their separate ways physically, but spiritually were united and undivided. It’s not unreasonable to contend that both Paul and Barnabas would scold us for being distracted by contention that didn’t exist.

The narrative isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. The narrative is about reconciliation. It’s a reflection of the redemption story. Jesus, the one “who makes things grow,” is the only one that is “right” and He chose to be “wrong” on our behalf so that we can be reconciled to God.

That’s why worship.

Beware the Third Mile

My Running Shoes
My Running Shoes

“Nadab and Abihu, however, fell dead before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai.” Numbers 3:4

I love to run. Well, more specifically I like to run after the first mile. The first mile is hard. It takes discipline to get started. The second mile is better, but I still feel like I’m plodding along. During the second mile it takes discipline to maintain pace.

Then the third mile…ah, the third mile. I think of it wistfully with longing in my heart. I guess that’s when my runner’s high kicks in. My stride lengthens, my shoes lighten, feet gently padding the ground in tempo to the music that pulses from my iPod. It’s as if I’m gliding across a sheet of ice without any effort…a sublime experience to be sure. Sometimes I feel like I could close my eyes and just float along.

(By the way, you can follow my progress as I train and see what I’m listening to on my iPod by checking out the sidebar to the left. Near the bottom you’ll find my running stats and a list of songs I’ve listened to recently.)

Anyway, the discipline of the third mile is to not let my pace get away from me. When running distances longer than four miles a good pace for me to run is between twelve and thirteen minutes per mile. Yeh, I know it’s not terribly fast…actually it’s more like jogging. Sometimes it seems like I can maintain that pace indefinitely. I’ve made it over twelve miles at that pace.

But, if I don’t discipline myself during the third mile, then the fourth mile is like dying. And, anything longer than four is like death. During the third mile my heart relishes the feeling of freedom; basking in the glow of endorphins. But, my head sends out dispatches saying, “Whoa there big fella’. You ain’t built for speed.” If I don’t heed the warnings twelve minutes per mile slips to eleven minutes per mile which quickly becomes ten minutes per mile. Once I even made it to 9’51” per mile. Guess which mile it was. Yep, mile three. Guess how fast mile four was. I don’t know. I had to stop at about four and a half because I thought I was going to vomit.

Nadab and Abihu had seen God do some incredible things. They were some of the privileged few who saw God and lived to tell about it (Ex. 24:9-11). Later, they saw God himself participate in their inaugural sacrifice by sending down fire from heaven to burn the offering (Lev. 9). The complete story of what happens next is in Leviticus 10, but I’m using Numbers 3:4 because its curtness gives it more impact. By discipline they made it through miles one and two (Ex. 24). God privileged them to experience mile three (Lev. 9). But, they didn’t understand that God didn’t ordain them for that glory. They weren’t built for that kind of “speed”. They were intended to be witnesses to glory, not to be glorified. Glorification is God’s place. There was nothing inherently wrong with what Aaron’s boys were doing. Except that they were trying to take God’s place and create their own glory. And everything is wrong with that.

Then like so many of us in leadership do, they ran beyond God’s authority. They believed, like we often do, that just because there is blessing in what God is doing through us that He is sanctioning what we are doing on our own. God’s blessing isn’t necessarily endorsement of what we’re doing. Sometimes God reveals something amazing to us, a vision of what can be…a glimpse of what He can do, what only He is supposed to do. And, then we try to recreate it like we had something to do with the original. It’s as if we actually say to the Creator of the Universe, “OK, Big Guy. We’ll pick up where you’ve left off.”

Whoa! Wait a minute! That’s exactly backwards. We don’t pick up where He leaves off, He picks up where we leave off. We don’t continue where He ends, He continues where we run out. We don’t complete Him, He completes us.

As spiritual leaders our job is to follow God. Beware of the third mile. Are you wondering why mile four feels like death? Reflect on mile three to see if you ran too fast. Praise God for letting us chase His glory, but don’t run past it trying to make it your own. Running past his ordination for us is death. Do only what you can do and allow God the glory of doing what only He can do.

The Law of Conservation of (Spiritual) Energy

“At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt…”, “…Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested.'” Exodus 12:29 & 31

Ten plagues it took for Pharaoh to change his mind: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of the firstborn.

A few days ago I wrote that the reason Moses asked for the people of Israel to be let go was to go in the desert to worship (“Worship in the Desert“). Repeatedly God told Moses to make that request of Pharaoh. Repeatedly God let Moses in on the fact that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and that the request would be denied. But, Moses dutifullyconfronted Pharaoh knowing full well that it was a fool’s errand.

For those of you that follow my blog you know that I have a category of posts about scripture passages that are confusing to me or, frankly, I just “don’t get.” It doesn’t meanthat I don’t accept them as the inerrant word of God, but I just don’t understand why God put them there…yet.

This is one of them. Ihave a hard time figuring out why God would purposely harden someone’s heart. I canconsider it in my head, but my heart doesn’t quite wrap all the way around it. I understand, intellectually, that God used all of the plagues and the deliverance of the Hebrews from them for His glory, but my heart feels there must have been a better way. Obviously, there wasn’t a better waybecause if there was God would have done it that way. But,something nags at me that there must be more. I want justa glimpse of God’s thinking. I echo the words of Einstein, “I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are mere details.”

And then, there it is. Einstein…physics…a piece of the puzzle. Particularly, the law of conservation of energy. Itstates that energy may neither be created nor destroyed. It simply becomes a different form of energy: kinetic may become potential or heat become light, but energy cannot be created from nothing or annihilated to nothing.

God wanted the Hebrews to be free. While some biblical scholars don’t believe they were slaves in the traditional sense of being owned by individual slave owners, the Hebrew words used to describe them and their forced labor certainly implies a sub-human status in Egyptian society. Based on the Egyptians’ treatment of the Hebrews it’s not difficult to imagine them being regarded as possessions or tools as oppossed to living, breathing beings.

In short, the Egyptiansregarded God’s chosen people equallyuseful either alive as forced-laborers or dead as fertilizer for their crops. Let’s go with the latter, for now.

If we regard the captive Hebrews as lifeless possessions exploited at the whim of the Egyptians, then freedom for them toworship inthe desertmeant “life” to them. In fact, inExodus 6:6 God says, “…I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm…” Redeemed here is “ga^al” which could be translated as”to redeem individualsfrom death.”

Are you still with me? Life is free…life ispassionate…life is energy. Life without freedom…life without passion…life without energy is, at the risk ofbeing obvious, dead. According to the law of conservation of energyif the Hebrews were to be set free from captivity, to come “alive”, then someone had to die. In this case, it was the firstborn of the Egyptians; in particular the firstborn of the King or Pharaoh that had to die.

Now, I know that this doesn’t answer my initial question of why the first nineplagues were necessary, but it does help with why the last one was. In order forsomeone to be free to live (spiritually), someonemustdie (spiritually).

If we jump into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and speedfrom the Old Testamentto the New Testament we find the same law of physics applies. Only now it’s God’sSon, the Firstborn ofThe King,thatdiedso that others could be free to live. And, Jesus’ passionate love for us was so full of”infinite energy” that His death was more than enough in exchangefor the life of every man, woman and child in the world! But, He had to die so that wecould live. And, we get to die to ourselves so that He can live through us. Jesus didn’t come to make people better, He came to bring dead people to life (please see earlier”Worship in the Desert“regarding “have to” and “get to”) .

And, “Jesus-life” is freedom. Before He brings us to life we’re just dead, possessions being exploited by some slavemaster: lust, drugs, porn, money, power, status, control…whatever it is it keeps us dead, it keeps us captive so that we can’t “go to the desert to worship the Lord.” Someone had to die so that I could live. Jesus was that someone. He died so that I could be free to worship.

That’s “why worship.” Worship isn’t to set me free; it’s because I amfree. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Free to worship!

God Almost Killed Moses?

This one goes inthe “Verses I Want to Ask God About” category.

“At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him.” Exodus 4:24

This verse comes right in the middle of Moses return to Egypt from Midian. Pretty random…don’t you think? Some people speculate it was because of Zipporah’s (Moses’ wife) refusal to circumcise their son thus keeping Moses from a rite so closely connected with the Abrahamic covenant. Others (Matthew Henry) believe it was because of Moses himself neglecting to circumcise him as a result of being unequally yoked who was too indulgent of the boy.

Either way, it seems to me to be a pretty random verse.