Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lenten Bible Study: Sacrificial Smoke

As promised, a taste of the Bible study I'm working on. To get the most out of it, read what God has to say before you take a look at what I have to say. Use the questions to help yourself to focus on some of the themes in the readings. Then take a look at my comments.

I aim to make these as accessible as possible, so your comments will help me to refine these studies. Enjoy!


Ps 38, 65, 150; Romans 12:9-21; Deuteronomy 31:9-13

Discussion & Study

  1. How do Paul’s specific injunctions in the last half of chapter 12 fit with the command in 12: 1 & 2?
  2. Why do you think it would be important for the Law to be read aloud to Israel regularly? (Deut. 31:9-13)
  3. David’s dedication of Ps 38 specifies that it is to be sung during the Memorial Offering (Lev. 2). What imagery does he use in the Psalm that helps the worshipper identify with the offering?


The grain has been crushed beyond recognition. It’s powder. The altar shimmers with the heat of its internal fire. The priest thrusts his hand into the sack and, flour and salt in one hand, frankincense in the other, flings them all on the snapping altar. The flour goes up in a flash of glory. The frankincense glows and sizzles into perfumed curls of smoke that swirl up and up. “Remember!” whispers the priest.

Like the rainbow (Gen. 9:12 – 17), the grain offering is a memorial to God’s mercy. God in His mercy, does not allow the crushing and the fire we encounter in life to destroy us. Instead, we become glorious; we ascend to commune with Him in prayer and, ultimately, in person.

David describes himself as crushed by his sin and his enemies. He dreads the gleeful fire of his enemies’ gloating. He acknowledges that the only way he will escape is through God’s mercy. Like flour thrown above the altar, he will never languish in those flames. God will make haste to save him, to snatch him up gloriously into His company.

Paul gives us a sort of slow-motion view of the sacrifice. What does it look like to become a “living sacrifice”? Bless your persecutors. Love your enemies. Live in harmony. Pray. Hope. Rejoice. All of these are painful in a fallen world. But, contrary to our expectations, they will not destroy us; instead, by God’s mercy they will make us glorious. We will ascend into mysterious fellowship with Him even while we walk this earth. This is not intuitively obvious to the fallen mind.

As Moses prepared to die, he wanted God’s people to have the keys to the mysteries of God’s working. So he instructed that the Law, including the detailed descriptions of the sacrifices and their purposes be read aloud to the congregated people on a regular basis, so that they could remember.

These images will comfort and sustain us, too, when we feel the crushing of life, smell the smoke of destruction and sense the scorn of encircling enemies. Because of these God-given clues, we can face these fears with dignity, even with triumph, for as we pass through the fire, we will rise to His embrace, singing with David, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lenten Bible Study

Often Lent is viewed as a time to put away luxuries of life for a little while or to put aside self-indulgence - but not too seriously. Chocolate goes for a few weeks, but is back again permanently after Easter. Seems to me this does us little real benefit.

Lent is a good time to consider our ways and to form new habits more conformed to the image of Christ. Prune back the thorns that choke out your productive branches. If you want to lose weight, don't just fast frequently during Lent. Form a habit of eating less, and remind yourself when the hunger pangs come, that your strength for the day comes from God, not simply from the food you eat.

One of my Lenten observances this year is to become more regular in my communications with you. I'd like to begin by offering a preview of the Lenten series of devotions I'm writing. So here's installment one, a little background on Lent and the use of the Lectionary on which these Bible Studies are based.

My writing will improve if you comment. Perhaps that could be one of your Lenten observances: cease lurking and speak up!

Beauty for Ashes

Daily Devotions for the Lenten Season

These devotional meditations are based on the readings organized in the lectionary found at The lectionary is perhaps the first Christian Bible study manual, compiling parallel and thematically related passages of Scripture from the Psalms, the Old Testament and the New Testament in a daily reading regimen that covers the entire Bible in a three-year cycle. This tradition of readings stretches all the way back to the ancient synagogues’ practice of reading through the Torah, so as to acquaint the people with as much of the Scripture as possible.

Hearing the antiphonal voices of Old Testament echoing New Testament themes gives extraordinary richness to familiar passages. We are enabled to capture the reverberations of Old Testament stories in the nuances of those densely-packed New Testament narratives and analyses. Seeing what those Old Testament events foreshadowed in the New Testament helps to make sense of some of the odd consequences of seemingly minor events in those first events (For instance, why was it so important for Moses not to strike the rock that poured out water for Israel in the wilderness, so important that because he disobeyed, he was barred from entering the Promised Land?).

This particular series of readings is from Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary, which pairs Luke’s Gospel with the Old Testament prophets. The Revised Common Lectionary is used by Protestant churches across the English-speaking world.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Be Careful What You Pray For...

You really might get it. In October, I began to pray for God's direction for the phase of life I'll be entering in a big way as my second daughter graduates this spring, leaving only my son at home and decades of Empty Nest stretching out before me. By the time the 40-day season of prayer was over, God had completely wrecked and rebuilt my life.

I feel like the burned-over field ready for new spring growth. Still smoking.

But instead of heavy (& gorgeous) administrative offices, God has given a wind-&-fire public-speaking and writing ministry. And instead of the glad frenzy of keeping everybody's balls in the air, God is giving me the joy of going deep with the last phases of my son's education. Instead of me initiating projects in which I'd involve my children, my children are initiating projects in which they involve me!

I am moving from effecting change by the strength of my hands to effecting change by the strength of my word. It is a subtle and profound promotion. A new way of imitating Christ.

At the end of the day, I see. He has only burned my bonds.


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