Posts Tagged ‘ESV Journaling Bible’

“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”: a meditation on Genesis 18:22-33

April 18, 2019

The following reflection on Genesis 18:22-33 comes from the handwritten notes in my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition.

Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

18:32: “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it”: Undoubtedly, Abraham’s chief concern is not so much with God’s justice as a general principle as for the safety of his nephew Lot, who lives in Sodom. Surely, Abraham reasons, God won’t “sweep away the righteous with the wicked.” But exactly how confident would Abraham be in Lot’s own righteousness?

Abraham himself, you may recall, didn’t earn justification before God through his own good works but through faith: “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Unless Lot was likewise justified (and where’s the evidence?), we should be unimpressed that Lot is relatively more righteous than the citizens of Sodom! Scripture tells us why:

“None is righteous, no, not one… no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10, 12).

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:6).

In Jesus’ parable of the two debtors and its application to Simon and the prostitute (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus doesn’t deny that Simon is relatively more righteous than the woman. But it doesn’t matter: each owes a debt before God that he or she is unable to pay. The woman realizes it; Simon doesn’t. Therein lies the problem.

But maybe Abraham knows that Lot isn’t righteous. Maybe he’s counting on someone else’s righteousness to save his nephew. Otherwise, why not simply ask God—who would be unjust to “put the righteous to death with the wicked” (v. 25)—to rescue only the righteous in the city? If Lot and his family were among the righteous, then so be it. But that’s not what he asks. He asks, ultimately, if God would destroy the city for the sake of as few as ten righteous. God answers “no” before abruptly ending the conversation.

Yet we the readers might continue this thought experiment: “Suppose there were fewer than ten… Suppose, in fact, there were only one righteous person in the city? Would God destroy the city for the sake of one?”

But we Christians already know the answer to that question, don’t we?

Because, regardless whether Lot, his wife, and his two daughters were righteous, we sinners know ourselves. We know our own hearts. We know that if God were destroying cities because of the unrighteous living within it, we certainly wouldn’t be the basis on which the city is spared! Right? We would need someone else to be righteous for us!

And here’s the good news: Our Lord Jesus is that one righteous man!

He is the One on account of whose righteousness we will be saved. All we need to do is “move in with him” and “live with him.”

I can tell you how to do that!

“Why are you cast down, O my soul?”: a meditation on Psalm 42:5

April 16, 2019

The following reflection on Psalm 42:5 comes from the handwritten notes in my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation

42:5: Notice the psalmist is now talking to his soul, not God. And one thing he is telling it, as in v. 4, is to remember those times in your past in which you experienced the fullness of God’s presence. If God seems absent at this moment, it is only temporary.

I’m unimpressed with well-intentioned social media memes that urge us to “move on” from the past, to get over it (as if our therapy bills don’t prove how difficult that is!), to look to the future alone. “You can’t change the past,” they tell us.

Respectfully, I disagree: While we play a role in shaping the future—by all means—the future is largely outside of our control. (Think of tourists in Paris right now who are changing their itineraries because of yesterday’s out-of-control events! A building that stood for almost a thousand years and survived two world wars, among other things!)

So, no… it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the past is practically the only thing we can change! Not the events themselves, obviously, but our interpretation of them. We can grab hold of the promises of God’s Word, which assure us that nothing happens to us, his children through faith in his Son, except that which he causes or allows for good reasons, and always in the best interest of our souls (Rom. 8:28; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7)—given the freedom he grants us to disobey him and make mistakes.

We may experience a healthy kind of regret and shame over events in our past, which are fruits of true repentance, but we don’t stop at regret and shame: We go one step further. We tell ourselves (and pray) something like this: “Gracious Lord, if it took that mistake, that failure, that setback, that heartbreak, that disappointment, that suffering, that sin, to bring me to this place of greater love for you, greater trust in you, greater dependence on you, then I thank you for these events in the past![1] They have made me into this person that I am today—and the person I am becoming in the future.

“If anything had happened differently, I would be someone else. But you want me to be the person I am today—not because I’m perfect right now but because I’m one day closer to becoming that person you are making me into! After all, you did not create me once, when I was born, or even twice, when I was born-again through faith in your Son.

“Rather, you are ‘creating’ me through everything that happens to me—good, bad, or indifferent.

“So I will be grateful. Indeed, along with the apostle Paul, I will give thanks, not in spite of everything, but for everything (Eph. 5:20)—because everything that happens to me has been sifted through your redemptive, providential hand.”

“Why are you cast down, O my soul?”

That’s an excellent question!

1. Please note: I’m not for a moment implying that we should “go on sinning so that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1). Rather, I’m saying that God “factors in” our sinful choices and uses their often harmful consequences for our good. Consider the younger son in the parable of Luke 15: Would he have been better off had he never left home, squandered his father’s wealth, and brought himself to utter ruin? Of course not! He was saved through the experience! Apart from it—had he stayed home—he would have remained as lost as his older brother—even if he were outwardly obedient to his father.

No one hurts me more than I hurt myself

February 23, 2019

The following are lightly edited notes on Genesis 3:12-13 from my ESV Journaling Bible, Interlinear Edition.

3:12: “The woman whom you gave to be with me”: Regardless of extenuating circumstances, we must take responsibility for our role in sin—for our contribution to it. The man blames God first, then the woman. The woman blames the serpent. Yet there’s always a sufficient amount of guilt for which we are responsible.

As I consider my frustration over ways in which I perceive that I’ve been mistreated in life, like Adam and Eve I want to prove myself righteous: I want to avoid blame; I want to to justify myself. My pride—my ego—is a genuinely destructive sin. And my anger is a related sin: I’m angry because I don’t perceive that I’m getting what I deserve.

Honestly… I’ve said this before, but it’s true: I go very easy on myself when it comes to the sins of pride and anger; yet I’m guilt-ridden when it comes to other, lesser sins. But if an alien from outer space were able to read my thoughts and observe my behavior for a few days, he would surely conclude that pride and anger were, by far, my biggest, most harmful sins—to myself and others. Why do I so often fail to see it this way?

Instead of falling on my knees and begging God for mercy—and thanking him that he hasn’t punished me worse for my sinful pride—I burn with anger, thinking, “This person, or those people, or this organization, or this institution of which I’m part, has badly mistreated me!” Yet no one has done anything worse to me than I’ve done to myself through pride and anger!

No one has ever hurt me worse than I’ve hurt myself! Full stop.

“This woman whom you gave to be with me…”

Oh, please, Adam! It’s not the woman, and it’s not God: it’s you! It’s how you responded to this particular test. You failed.

And you also failed, Brent. After all, your hero, the apostle Paul, was facing death at every turn—whippings, beatings with rods, imprisonments, hunger, shipwrecks, nakedness, not to mention the worst kind of slander from his enemies (which, in my experience, hurt worse than any sticks and stones)—yet he could say things like, “This happened so that we wouldn’t rely on ourselves but God” (2 Corinthians 1:9), and “We rejoice in our sufferings because of all these good things that God is doing through them” (Romans 5:3-5), and “I give thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:20), and “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

By contrast, at the first sign of adversity, I say, “Poor, poor pitiful me!”

My point is, I have more than enough sin for which I can take responsibility. Let me never say again—alongside Adam—”This person, or these people, or these circumstances are to blame. No… I’m to blame for how I respond to this person, or these people, or these circumstances.

Usually I don’t respond well. Forgive me, God.

Here are a couple of songs that are on point:

How history’s first temptation relates to us

February 19, 2019

With some light editing, I wrote the following reflection on Genesis 3:5 in my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition.

3:5: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”: It’s as if Satan were saying, “What God is asking of you is both unfair—because why should you deprive yourself of this delicious fruit?—and not in your best interest. And it isn’t even ignorance or naiveté on God’s part—as if that wouldn’t be bad enough! No, God knows that he’s harming you.”

In other words, Satan is attacking God’s character!

At this point, Eve should have said to herself, if not to Satan, “No, it can’t be that! God loves me and wouldn’t harm me or work against me. I must misunderstand the command if it leads me to this demonic conclusion. God is only good. If he’s issued the command it must be for my good. Regardless—and this is most important—who do I think I am in relation to God that I should second-guess him? How could I possibly know what he knows? Therefore I’m going to trust him, even though I don’t understand him.”

Satan tempts us in a similar way today: to believe that God’s Word (as revealed in scripture) is unfair, unwise, or harmful; to think that we “know better” than what he’s told us. And our skepticism about the goodness of God’s Word, we reason, is based on what we think it reveals about God’s character. “If the doctrine of hell is true, for instance—as scripture seems to teach—then that would make God less than loving”—as we understand love. If hell exists, something would be wrong with God; he would possess a character defect.

Of course we’re too pious to believe that. But now we don’t have to! We have recourse to a different idea! We can instead believe that a particular scripture is wrong, that it doesn’t reflect God’s true character or will, that the human authors who wrote it down got it wrong.

One reasonable alternative—that God is infinitely wiser than we are, so we shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t always understand his ways, especially since he tells us in Isaiah 55:8 that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”—apparently doesn’t cross our minds.

And neither does this: Why couldn’t an all-powerful and all-good God ensure that his written Word is telling the truth?

My prayer for the promise of Psalm 23:1: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”

February 4, 2019

My notes on Psalm 23:1, which I wrote in my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition:

23:1: “The Lord is my shepherd”: You are my shepherd, Lord. I am helpless apart from you. I can’t protect myself. I can’t lead myself. I don’t have the ability to discern the right path for myself. There are many wild animals and thieves who want to do me harm. Defend me, protect me, lead me—save me from my own stupidity and self-confidence. I gladly surrender to you, Lord. My life is in your hands. “I shall not want”: Years ago, I made too little of this verse. Give me the faith, Lord, to risk making much of it! It’s the same promise you make when you tell me, “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). It’s the same promise you make when you tell me, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). It’s the same promise you make when you tell me, through Paul, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). This is not wishful thinking; this is not hyperbole. You will give me everything I truly need. Inasmuch as “what I need” fails to correspond to “what I want,” change my wants! I often only want things that wouldn’t be good for me, anyway!

Psalm 20: Dear Christian, here’s what God wants to do for you!

January 26, 2019

Psalm 20:1-4:

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
    and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah

May he grant you your heart’s desire
    and fulfill all your plans!

From the notes of my ESV Journaling Bible:

The “you” in these verses is Israel’s king, his “anointed” (v. 6). Look at what the psalmist asks the Lord to do for the king: answer his prayers, send help, give support, “remember” his acts of worship and, on that basis, show favor, grant his heart’s desire, and fulfill all his plans.

Do we read this and think, “Of course these petitions are appropriate for the king of Israel, but who am I compared to him?”

Who are you? You are God’s child, holy and blameless, highly favored (Luke 2:14), anointed by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20), loved by your Father every bit as much as the Father loves his only begotten Son (John 17:23, 26). Because of the precious blood of Jesus, our position in Christ is even more exalted than David’s, or any sinful human king! Do we dare believe this? Do I? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b) Our Father wants the exact same good for you.

The doctrine of imputation is still on my mind, obviously, as it has been for a while. But am I wrong? Am I applying this psalm incorrectly? After all, if we believe the New Testament’s many words about our position in Christ (not apart from Christ, mind you), then so many of the Old Testament’s promises to Israel, or even Israel’s anointed, also belong to us.