Posts Tagged ‘ESV Journaling Bible’

"The gospel in a gangster movie": meditation on Genesis 45:16-20

December 10, 2019

“Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.” Genesis 45:20

Last week I watched Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Irishman. I think I now understand the appeal of gangster movies: because I want to know the favor of someone who has the power and resources to get things done for me—who would enjoy doing so. And if I had such a person in my life, I would gladly give him love and loyalty in return. (Of course, I might also live in fear of crossing him, because mobsters in movies, if not real life, are capricious, to say the least!)

Not to compare the Pharaoh to a mob boss, but something like this is happening in today’s scripture. Jacob and his sons have found the favor of a seemingly all-powerful, eminently resourceful benefactor. And they’ve done so not on their own account, but on account of their relationship with Joseph.

I’m jealous!

But not so fast. If we’re in Christ, aren’t we in a similar position—only infinitely more so? As Paul writes, “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

These words are astonishing: Do all circumstances, all events, all people, and all things—through God’s sovereign hand—serve me and my interests? And not just me, of course, but everyone who is in Christ? How is this possible?

Yet, how could it be any other way? “We are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” I’m reminded of a quote, which I can’t find at the moment (I think it’s Robert Farrar Capon), which reads something like this: “We are so bound up with Jesus that if the Father wants his Son, he gets us, too.”

As with Jacob’s family, we enjoy God’s inexhaustible favor not on our own account, but on account of Jesus and his relationship to his Father. In other words, because we’re with Jesus, the Father is pleased to give us the “best of the land” and the “fat of the land”—for which he’ll spend our lifetimes preparing us.

To say, as I want to say, “But I’m not worth this,” is to miss the point: I’m not worth it, but God’s Son Jesus is.

“God designed this very moment”: meditation on Genesis 45:7-8

November 20, 2019

And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. Genesis 45:7-8a

Joseph has just revealed his identity to his brothers, who, years earlier, caused him great evil and suffering. But Joseph sees the bigger picture: God chose him to be Egypt’s savior, and his brothers couldn’t impede God’s plan. Indeed, they could only unwittingly help bring it about! God transformed all of Joseph’s trials into something good.

If that’s true for Joseph, how can it not be true for us? After all, if we’re in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit residing within us (1 Cor 6:19); we stand before God as perfectly righteous, with the imputed righteousness of Christ (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9); we are God’s beloved children (John 1:12-13); we are the ones on whom God’s favor rests (Luke 2:14); we are, already, “seated with God in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6). Not to mention God’s promise to work “all things” for our good (Rom 8:28).

If God’s promises are true, he hardly has less of a good plan for our lives than he did for Joseph’s. And he’s working that plan out through everything we’re going through. Do we dare believe that we enjoy this kind of favor with God? If not, why not?

Lord, give me faith to believe that everything I’m going through at this moment is part of your good plan for my life. #esvjournalingbible #biblejournaling

“Choosing the ‘better portion'”: meditation on Luke 10:41-42

August 26, 2019

Luke 10:41-42: But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Are you a Mary or a Martha?

Contrary to popular preaching, I don’t believe Mary and Martha represent two different personality types: Martha, the driven, results-oriented extrovert—a Type A; Mary, the quiet, contemplative introvert—a Type B. “Marys” are idealistic, if naive. “Marthas” are practical, if brusque. Both are good and necessary for a church.

No, I believe they represent two different kinds of disciples: those who are faithful to Jesus and those who aren’t.

So I’m mostly a “Martha.” How about you?

But notice Jesus’ words in v. 42: Mary’s choice to sit at Jesus’ feet listening to his word represents the “one thing necessary,” the “better portion” (a footnote in the CSB: “the right meal”). These words remind me of Jesus’ telling his startled disciples in John 4 that he has “food to eat that you do not know about”—because his “food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:32, 34).

Give me this food, Lord Jesus! Or enable me to acquire the taste for the food you’re already giving me (Psalm 34:8). If only you’ll satisfy my heart’s deepest longings (Psalm 37:4), I can live on peanut butter sandwiches. #ESVJournalingBible #BibleJournaling

“God would be unjust to revoke my forgiveness”: meditation on Psalm 94:1-2

August 19, 2019

Psalm 94:1-2: “O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!”

When I read this stern appeal to God’s justice I’m tempted to feel one of two things: fear or doubt. First, I’m tempted to feel afraid: O Lord, if you’re avenging, judging, and “repaying the proud,” who am I that you would make an exception in my case? After all, is anyone as proud as I am? But if I’m not afraid, should I then doubt God’s Word? After all, the Bible seems to teach that God’s commitment to justice is absolute—that it’s part of his nature, that for God to deny justice is to deny himself.

So… can the Bible be trusted?

But here’s where the cross of Christ comes in: It reveals both God’s perfect love (Romans 5:8) and his perfect justice (Romans 3:26). In other words, on the cross, God did not choose love over justice; rather, the cross vindicates justice. The penalty for all my sins—past, present, and future—was paid (Colossians 2:13-14). My sins are “forgiven and forgotten” (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12).

So this startling good news follows: God is just when he forgives me! Indeed, it would now be unjust for God to revoke his forgiveness and find me guilty—or else he would punish my sins twice.

Why have I never considered this before? Am I only just now understanding the objective substitutionary atonement that I’ve professed to believe for years? 🤷‍♂️

Better late than never! #ESVJournalingBible #BibleJournaling

“When our feelings betray us”: meditation on Genesis 32:9, 12

August 14, 2019

Genesis 32:9, 12: And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good’… But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'”

Jacob is preparing to meet his brother, Esau, twenty years after Jacob robbed him of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Esau vowed to murder him back then. Will he still be angry? Jacob assumes the worst. Most of Genesis 32 recounts Jacob’s plan to appease his brother with generous gifts of livestock. “After that,” he thinks, “I can face him, and perhaps he will forgive me” (v. 20).

In the midst of his fear, Jacob prays a prayer in which he reminds God of his promises to protect him, prosper him, and do right by him.

Of course, if God’s promises are true, why is Jacob afraid? Doesn’t he know that he will be invincible—literally un-killable—until God brings him safely home? Even if Esau were still angry (which he isn’t), he would be unable to harm his brother.

But I know why Jacob is afraid in spite of God’s promises—because I know my own heart. In his moment of greatest fear, Jacob’s feelings have betrayed him, as feelings often do. Jacob’s only defense against his feelings—and our only defense—is the word of God: “The Lord who said to me…” “You have said…”

My point is, contrary to that great REO Speedwagon power ballad, we can fight our feelings—at least our feelings of fear, doubt, and despair—with the objective truth of God’s Word.

So let’s start fighting!

“The power is in Jesus’ word, not my faith in that word”: meditation on Luke 5:4-5

August 12, 2019

Luke 5:4-5: And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Everything in Peter’s experience, including fruitless hours of fishing the night before, told him that Jesus’ word would fail. If the fish weren’t biting at night, they wouldn’t be biting in the daylight. Besides, Jesus is no fisherman: he had made his living as a carpenter. “Stay in your lane, Jesus!”

But notice: Peter’s lack of faith doesn’t prevent Jesus from working the miracle.

What a relief—the power is in Jesus’ word, not my faith in that word! In other words, my faith is in Jesus; my faith is not in my faith in Jesus.

Here’s how this helps me: To say the least, I often don’t feel as if I’m a highly favored “son” of God in whom my Father is well pleased; I often don’t feel as if all my sins are forgiven; I often don’t feel as if the Father could love me as much as he loves his only begotten Son Jesus. My experience often tells me that God’s promises can’t be true.

But in what or whom will I trust? My feelings, my experience, my intuitions? Or Jesus?

Given my bent toward self-deception, who’s more likely to be telling the truth—Jesus or me? I choose to believe Jesus.

#ESVJournalingBible #BibleJournaling

“The blessing we need versus the blessing we want”: meditation on Genesis 27:41

July 6, 2019

Genesis 27:41: Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

I can relate to Esau’s anger, if not his murderous rage. I am someone for whom the sins of anger and covetousness have been constant and unwelcome traveling companions in my life. Nevertheless, from a Christian point of view, Esau has no reason to feel embittered. By all means, his father, Isaac, has treated him unfairly. But who’s ultimately in charge? Doesn’t Esau’s heavenly Father have the power and will to redeem this wrong?

While our Father doesn’t distribute his earthly blessings evenly, he always gives us precisely the blessings we need in order to find true and lasting happiness—which only comes through a personal relationship with Jesus. If Jesus is what we want, he’ll ensure that Jesus is what we’ll get. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). “If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

I don’t get angry because my Father isn’t giving me the blessing I need; I get angry because he isn’t giving me the blessing I want, which someone else possesses. To say the least, that’s my problem; I want the wrong things.

If Jesus is my only treasure (Matthew 13:44-46), I’m already rich. Why covet the earthly treasures of others? #ESVJournalingBible #BibleJournaling

“No man can prevent God from blessing you”: meditation on Genesis 25:23

June 19, 2019

Genesis 25:23And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”

The story arc that begins with this verse and continues through chapter 33 describes many unlikely ways in which God blesses and prospers Jacob—often in spite of himself! For instance, according to the ancient law of primogeniture, Esau, Jacob’s firstborn twin brother, should receive the birthright and blessing of his father, Isaac. But God has another plan, which the wily Jacob is more than eager to implement, however unwittingly.

Since God chose Jacob rather than Esau to carry forward his covenant promises through Abraham (see Genesis 12:2-3), why doesn’t God simply enable Jacob to be born first? Wouldn’t that have been far less trouble for everyone involved? Yes, but since when does our Father seem interested in sparing us, his chosen ones, from trouble? Moreover, how often do we look back on this trouble and think, “While I hated it at the time, I now see that it was good for me”?

One of the most harmful sins I commit is comparing myself with others—in my case often fellow ordained clergy, including district superintendents and bishops—and believing that I’m not getting what I need from them. Or, indeed, that they are standing in the way of something I need. Success is a zero sum game, I fear, and there’s only so much of it to go around. (Again, I’m not proud of this; it’s a sin to feel this way!)

To say the least, this scripture says otherwise. If God wants me to have something, he will ensure that I have it. No one and nothing—not the will of man or even powerful institutions—can impede God’s sovereign choices. And because I am in Christ, I can be sure that what God chooses for me will always be in my best interest.

So God is saying to me, through today’s scripture, “Trust me, Brent! Don’t be afraid that I’m giving you anything other than what is best for you at this and every other moment! No one and nothing can stand in the way of the blessing with which I want to bless you. No one and nothing can prevent you from receiving my very best for you!”

“As with rich and fat food”: meditation on Psalm 63:5

June 10, 2019

Psalm 63:5: “My soul will be satisfied, as with rich and fat food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.

It’s not as if David were talking about bare subsistence here: “rich and fat food” is an extravagance. If this kind of feasting is available to me right now, and every day, I would be foolish to turn it down. Seeking God through his Word is not mostly a “discipline,” or at least it shouldn’t be. If “fat and rich food” is being served, and I’m hungry, I shouldn’t need to be “argued into” eating. There’s no competing desire that will need to be suppressed in order to go to the table.

Still, I am a sinner. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). Teach me, Lord, to satisfy my deepest cravings on what’s best for me. The good news, according to this scripture, is that “what’s best for me” is also what happens to taste best.

“Self-doubt is perfectly justified”: meditation on Psalm 59:9-10

May 31, 2019

For at least a few nights in a row, I’ve had the the same academic-related nightmare: I’m back at college (Georgia Tech, in my case), taking classes I’ve taken before—except this time I feel lost, confused, and overwhelmed. I have final exams coming up with seemingly no time to prepare for them. I’m going to flunk out.

Of course, the reason why I’m taking these classes again isn’t clear. Even in my dream I’m still a full-time pastor. And each morning I wake up, after a few moments, feeling a sense of relief: I’m not back in college. I don’t have to re-take these classes.

I can probably psychoanalyze myself enough to know at least a couple of the reasons for my dream: First, I’m an itinerant United Methodist pastor who has a new church appointment starting in late June. I’ll be the senior pastor of Toccoa First United Methodist. Aside from literally packing up, moving, and unpacking, I’m looking forward to the new appointment. I know that God is protecting me and taking care of me. Still, the old, familiar fears haunt me: What if I don’t measure up? What if I don’t succeed? What if the new church doesn’t like me?

Second, I’m afraid for the future of my denomination, and my place within it. While I still hold the same theological and doctrinal convictions I held nine years ago—when I defended them before the Board of Ordained Ministry and was ordained—I’m reminded almost daily of how out of fashion some of these convictions are among the leadership of today’s United Methodist Church.

If worst comes to worst and the UMC asks me to compromise my convictions (and the Council of Bishops and I likely disagree over what “compromise” looks like), what will I do? Where will I go? To say the least, I’ve forgotten all engineering knowledge. If I can’t preach and teach God’s Word with integrity, what else can I do? I may be a lousy pastor, but I’m better at being a pastor than I am at anything else I’ve ever done! So pity me!

Anyway, I know what you’re thinking: “Brent, you need to trust Jesus. You need to have faith.”

Well, yes… But isn’t that always the hard part? Like that fine Taylor guitar collecting dust in the corner of my bedroom, faith is a fine thing to possess without ever having to practice.

So I need a word of reassurance from God.

If only there were a book in which God’s words were written down! Oh, wait…

Psalm 59:9-10: “O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.

I wrote the following in my journaling Bible:

“my Strength”: David coins a new name for God: my Strength. As I consider the challenges that lay ahead of me, how desperately I need the Lord to be “my Strength.” I feel fear in the pit of my stomach. I worry that I’m inadequate. But I need you, Lord, to be adequate for me… more than adequate! My Strength, I need you to make me “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37). I need you to prevail against my chief enemy, Satan—who causes this self-doubt within me.

But not so fast: as always, what Satan intends for evil, you intend for good (Genesis 50:20). Why is self-doubt a bad thing if it moves me to a deeper trust in you, my Strength?

Let’s assume, from this point forward, that my self-doubt is perfectly justified! I am weak and inadequate. Therefore, I will trust more fully and confidently in you, my Strength.