Commandment and Ordinance (Exodus 20-21)

Painting by Ferdinand Bol on WikiCommons

And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:1-3, NKJV)

“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them.” (Exodus 21:1)

Exodus 20-21 describes the beginning of God’s covenant with his chosen nation, Israel. It includes the Ten Commandments and the first series of judgments, or ordinances, that God gives Israel. There are a lot of details in these chapters that are often criticized and misconstrued. Three of these issues are addressed below.

One common criticism of Christianity is that when God commanded the Israelites to worship Him alone, He was suggesting that there are other gods that humans can potentially worship. This is true in at least two ways. First, the Bible does speak of other spiritual beings, such as angels (Heb 1:13-14), that people have been known to worship. Second, throughout human history, people have carved and casted images and participated in ceremonies to honor other deities (Exod 32). That these are true is not problematic. It merely speaks to the existence of other spirit beings and the human tendency to worship persons and things other than God.

A second common criticism of Christianity is that when God commanded the Israelites to worship Him alone, he was showing Himself to be insecure and not deserving of worship. This is false. The Bible teaches that God is the creator of all things. As creator, He alone deserves our worship. No other person or thing deserves our worship. Also, as our all-knowing creator, He knows what is in our best interest. God did not give this command from a position of insecurity, but of deserving authority and concern for what is best for us, His creatures whom He loves.

A third common criticism of Christianity is that the Bible supports slavery. This is false. Slavery in the ancient world was universal and cruel. God permitted slavery, but required that male slaves be given the choice of freedom (21:2, 5-6); that slave families be kept together (21:3-4); that women slaves purchased as wives be treated as wives and not property (21:7-11); and any kind of permanently marring violence be accompanied by freedom. These are not laws that support slavery; these are laws that require even the least of society to be treated with dignity and respect (21:12-27).

So, Exodus 20-21 does not depict a God who is insecure and supportive of slavery. Rather, these chapters remind us that God alone is deserving of all our worship. He is a loving God Who hears the cries of the suffering, defends the cause of the outcast, and rescues the hopeless from their captivity. He is a good God who cares about what’s best for all of us, chooses us, saves us from our sins and invites us to receive eternal life with Him (John 3:16).

Sitting At Jesus’ Feet

Silverdale Waterfront Park, October 21, 2021

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NKJV)

A new year often comes with new hopes, new dreams, new expectations. And, for the first couple weeks, it’s easy to get carried along from the fast-paced hustle-and-bustle of the holidays to the rigor and vigor of new visions at work, home, school, play, and so forth.

I can’t count how many New Year’s resolutions I’ve broken. But I can probably count all the ones I’ve kept on just one hand. That’s because, while God certainly did create us to serve Him in the world He made, that service can only be maintained through the strength He gives us.

In the two verses above, we see two sisters: Martha and Mary. Martha is distracted with hurrying around the house, making food and serving people. Mary is calmly sitting at Jesus’ feet, her gaze directed toward Her Lord.

I’ve been in church all my life, a believer for around 25 years and active in ministry for almost two decades. I’ve seen a lot of Christians burn out from serving too hard. I’ve seen others feel hurt when invited to become more active participants. I think, somewhere between the extremes—between serving too hard and hardly serving—is where God would have us live. But in any case, our service is only for Him when it begins, and is carried to completion, with our hearts and minds yielded to Him.

In any kind of service for His Kingdom, we need vision, direction, power and compassion to carry out the work. Vision to know what to do; direction to know how to do it; power to do it the way He desires; and compassion to let the light of His love shine in us throughout the process.

There’s a balance between sitting and serving that often eludes us. For those who, like me, tend to serve too hard, the challenge is to surrender to the leading and timing our Lord. For others, the challenge is to receive the clarity and strength to be active for the Lord. In either case, God is continually inviting us to direct our focus toward Him, hearing His word and resting in Him.

We’re now nearly three weeks into 2022. Wherever you’re at in life, know that God loves you. Whatever you’re doing, or not doing, know that God is inviting you to find joy and peace in His presence. Whatever your circumstances might be, I want to encourage you to find time to sit at the feet of Jesus. In the high times and heartaches. Let’s find some time each day to sit at the feet of Jesus, that we might know Him more and serve Him from hearts filled with His presence.

Creation and the Fall (Genesis 1-3)

Painting by Jan Brueghel the Younger on WikiCommons

So, God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27, NKJV)

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21-22)

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)

Genesis 1-3 describes the creation of the world, the formation of Adam and Eve, and the corruption of creation through Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. There are many important details, but at least three are particularly relevant to what’s going on in the world today:

First, God created only humankind in His image, distinguishing humans from all other creatures. This image includes the physiological distinctions of male and female. Gender and sexuality are not cultural constructions that we may manipulate biologically or dismiss because of how we feel. Our physical bodies are part of our creation in God’s image and are to be respected. Gender and sexuality are God-ordained distinctions to be celebrated, appreciated and valued.

Second, the first mention of something that was not good was Adam’s solitude. God created humans to live in relationship and community. Accordingly, God formed Eve from Adam’s rib—not from his head, to rule him, nor from his foot, to serve him, but from his side, that the couple might serve God together as complimentary equals. Similarly, God does not call everyone to marriage, but he does call marriage to be respected by all (Heb 13:4).

Third, God’s design for humanity is to live in trusting relationship with Him and in community with one another. But right before Adam and Eve disobey God, we see Satan entice the couple to doubt God, be divided against each other, and exalt themselves to become like God. This is the process of sin that has plagued the world since creation—humankind doubting God, dividing against one another, and pridefully exalting ourselves against God, others, and nature.

So, Genesis 1-3 shows how Adam and Eve rejected the goodness of God’s So, Genesis 1-3 shows how Adam and Eve rejected the goodness of God’s creation that they already knew by rebelling against their creator and embracing their own desires. This is the story of the world—the goodness of God’s creation became polluted by the sinful rebellion of humankind. Now creation groans, watching as the atonement for human sin was provided by the Cross of Christ, and waiting for the redemption of all creation when the Son returns to reign in glory and restore God’s goodness to the world (Romans 8).

What Is the Church?

Photo by John Cafazza on Unsplash

In the Bible, the word “church” first appears in Matthew 16:18. It translates the ancient Greek word meaning “assembly.” In Matthew 16:16, Peter confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, referring to Peter’s confession, answered, “on this rock I will build My church” (Matt 16:18). Peter’s confession is the confession shared by all Christians. The church refers to the community of Christians worldwide who share the confession that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. (Matt 16:18; Acts 2:47; Eph 1:22; Col 1:18, 24)

The primary spiritual relationship between God and the church is the church’s identity as the bride of Christ. Christ is her head and she voluntarily yields to Him. The church is joined in spiritual covenant with Christ by God’s grace, being redeemed by Christ’s atoning sacrifice, which is received by every Christian through faith in Christ. Historically, the church began at Pentecost, when God poured out His Spirit as He promised in the Old Testament. Concerning the future, the church looks forward to Christ’s return, when He will make all things new (Acts 2; Eph 1:7-12; 2:19-22; 5:24-27; Jas 5:7-8; Rev 21-22)

The primary spiritual relationship between fellow Christians is the church’s identity as the household of God. Christians are brothers and sisters in a spiritual family. God places local churches within particular communities to reach those communities for His Kingdom. Christians meet together on a regular basis with their local church to encourage one another in faith and service to God and to participate together to reach the world for God’s Kingdom. (Matt 5:13-16; Eph 2:19-22; Col 3:13-17; Heb 10:24-25)

The primary mission of the church is to impact the world for God’s Kingdom. The church carries out this mission in a variety of ways by participating in evangelism, missions, local outreach and various aspects of public society. The church shares God’s heart for the lost and vulnerable and testifies of God’s goodness to a sinful world. (Matt 5:13-16; 25:31-46; 28:18-20; John 3:16; Rom 13:6; Jas 1:27; 1 Pet 2:15, 1 John 5:19)

The primary activities of the church include meeting together to study the Scriptures, take communion, sing, pray and encourage one another. The goals of these activities are mutual encouragement in faith and service to God, training for ministry and growing in spiritual maturity. These activities are to be pursued in a spirit of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, peace, unity and grace. (Acts 2:42, 47; 1 Cor 14:12; Eph 4:11-16; Col 3:13-17; Heb 10:24-25; Jas 5:14)

The primary leaders in the church are pastors, elders and other ministry leaders whom Christ anoints to direct and organize the activities of the church. Such leadership is carried out by yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the careful and accurate study of the Scriptures. Pastors and leaders tend to the spiritual needs of their congregations and train them to do the work of ministry. (Acts 20:26-28; Eph 4:11-16; 1 Tim 3:1-7, 8-13; 2 Tim 2:15)

What Is a Christian?

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

The word “Christian” traces back to ancient Greek and can be understood to mean “like Christ.” It was first used in Antioch to describe the group of people who were converted by the preaching ministry of Barnabas and Saul and became followers of Jesus Christ. Specifically, they believed that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promised Jewish Messiah. Since that time, the word “Christian” has been passed down through history to distinguish people who believe in Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Jewish Messiah and put their hope in Him for the promise of salvation and eternal life with God. (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16; John 3:16-17)

The Christian faith centers on the person and works of Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus on the cross provided final atonement for sins. The resurrection of Jesus proved His victory over sin and death. A person who believes these truths and accepts them personally as the basis for the promise of eternal life is then said to be “born again.” This means that the person has become spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit, Who comes to live spiritually alongside our hearts, imparting new spiritual life and restoring our relationship with God. (John 3:3-8; Rom 3:21-26; 1 Cor 15:56-57; Heb 2:14-17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10)

When a person becomes a Christian, they receive a new nature. All people are born with a sin nature, which can be described as the innate predisposition to think and act against the character and purposes of God. Sin includes, but is not limited to, harboring negative thoughts and feelings about God and others, as well as intentional actions against God or causing harm to others, ourselves, and even nature. Before a person believes in Jesus, they are spiritually dead in sin and condemned to eternal death. But when a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, they receive forgiveness for their sins and a new spiritual nature oriented toward God. (Gen 3; Jer 17:9; Rom 3:21-26; 1 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:1-11)

When a person becomes a Christian, their relationship with God changes. Before believing in Jesus, a person stands against God as an enemy of His character and purposes, condemning them to eternal separation from Him. When a person believes in Jesus, that person becomes a child of God. The blessings of this new relationship include, but are not limited to, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a new spiritual nature oriented toward God, salvation from hell and eternal life with God. (John 1:12-13; Rom 5:6-11; 8; 2 Cor 3; Eph 1:3-14)

When a person becomes a Christian, their relationship with other people changes, too. Christians are spiritual siblings, members of the spiritual household of God, bonded together by their shared faith in Christ, shared indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and shared child-Father relationship with God. Non-Christians are neighbors, for whom Christians are to have loving concern for their spiritual condition. Neighbors include non-believing co-workers, family members, friends and others encountered in life. Christians are resident strangers in the world of humankind, no longer sharing the values of the world, but living as representatives of Christ’s truth and love in a world that is generally not oriented toward God. (Matt 5:13-16; John 17:6-26; Luke 6:27-36; Eph 2:19-22; 4:11-17)

Faith Through the Trials

Balboa Park 8-Miler, August 3, 2019

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4, NKJV)

I am a runner. I’m definitely not an elite runner; I’m what’s called a casual runner. I’ve never been exceptionally fast or fit. But a few years ago I discovered running as a tool for physical fitness, dealing with stress, and an outlet for friendship and outreach. Since then, running has become a life habit that helps me stay physically and spiritually healthy.

Many runners, whether elite or casual, have some kind of goal-oriented training mindset. We have goals to become faster, stronger runners in whatever stage of life we’re in. And we commit, in varying degrees, to some kind of training regimen that includes healthy eating, physical training and adequate rest.

Growth happens through training; races test our growth. When we race, we push our bodies as far and as fast as they can go. But the training prepares us for race day, stretching our limits so we can go farther and faster than before. Race day, then, gives us a momentary snapshot of our progress—an opportunity to look back on the training, reconsider any adjustments we might need to make, and to look ahead to the next race.

Living the Christian Life is a lot like running. The Christian Life is characterized by faith—not just faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, but also faith in God’s plans and promises for the world and in our own lives. God’s desire for us is to grow nearer to Him, both relationally and also in Christian character, which serves as a reflection of God’s heart that can be witnessed by the unbelieving world.

The trials in life can be extraordinarily difficult. But, similar to how races offer a snapshot of a runner’s progress, trials provide a snapshot of how our faith journey is going. They provide us with feedback about where our hearts and minds are and help us redirect our focus toward our loving Lord.

That’s one way we come to find joy in the trials of life. Not for the sake of the trials themselves, but by looking at them through eyes of faith—seeing how God has been working our lives, drawing near to Him again for spiritual renewal, and recommitting our hearts to receiving the fullness of His transforming presence in our lives.