Exodus 19-21; Proverbs 11:22-31

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I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. —Exodus 19:4

Mom and Dad Eagle at their new nest in Norfolk Botanical Garden, 31 January 2008

Exodus 10-12; Proverbs 10:22-32

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James Tissot 1836–1902
The Plague of Locusts (Exodus 10:13)

The Most Important Days

On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat—that is all you may do. —Exodus 12:16

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. —Matthew 28:1

January is the time of year when I go on "the hunt"—not for after-holiday deals on decorations but for the perfect calendar. I start looking in December, but I don’t get serious about my search until January. My requirements are simple: I want a week-at-a-glance, book-type calendar that will lie open on the counter near the telephone. It must also begin each week with Sunday, not Monday. It’s this last criterion that is complicating my search. More and more calendars start the week with Monday, the day God considers second.

This trend, like others in our increasingly secular culture, gives the least prominence to what God considers most important. For reasons I don’t claim to understand, God chose to give special significance to two days of the week—the last and the first—the day He rested after creating the world, and the day He arose after redeeming the world.

Although the calendar I use is not essential to my faith, it does help me remember that my life begins and ends not with the work I do for myself, but with the work God does for me through worship and rest.

Click here to read the published version in Our Daily Bread.

Psalms 12-14

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Postcard Christianity

Read: Psalm 13

How long will You hide Your face from me? Psalm 13:1

When my husband and I visited Mt. Rainier, the highest point in the continental United States, I expected to see some spectacular sights. But for two days, the mountain remained shrouded in clouds. So instead of taking pictures, I bought postcards.

Our vacation caused me to question the way I portray my faith. Do I present a “postcard” view of Christianity? Do I show it only at its best and thus give the false impression that life is always sunny for Christians—that our view of God is always clear?

That’s not what King David did. In passion-filled poetry, he admitted that he couldn’t see God and didn’t understand what God was up to. But by the end of his prayer, he was again resting in faith, knowing that what he couldn’t see was nevertheless there because he had seen it before in God’s bountiful care.
Christians are like people living at the foot of Mt. Rainier. They’ve seen the mountain before, so they know it exists even when clouds are covering it.
Even though suffering and confusion sometimes cloud our view of God, we remain confident that He is still there by recalling all the times we’ve witnessed His goodness and grandeur. –Julie Ackerman Link

Click here to read the published version in Our Daily Bread.

Exodus 7-9; Proverbs 10:1-11

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Nicolas Poussin 1593/94–1665
Moses Turning Aaron's Staff into a Serpent (Exodus 7:10)

Exodus 1-3; Proverbs 9:1-9

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If you want to have a little bit of fun the next time you’re in a theological discussion and someone asks, “Who is God?” say “I am.”

The likely response to such a preposterous answer is, “What do you mean you are God?”

Then say, I didn’t say, “You are God,” I said “I am.”

You could prolong the confusion and, if you’re clever enough, perhaps become famous for creating a religious version of Abbot and Costello’s classic comedy sketch “Who’s on First?”

Or you could quote Exodus 3 and explain that “I am” is the name God gave Himself when Moses wanted to know what to call Him.

I have long wondered why God would call himself by such a silly-sounding name, but slowly I am learning its significance. People who study writing or language know that a sentence needs only two things to be complete: a subject and a verb. So when God says his name is “I AM,” He is saying that He is complete. He is matter, and He is motion. He is everything there is, which is everything we could possibly need.

Jesus left heaven to put flesh on God’s bare-boned answer to Moses’ question “Who are you?” Here are some of the details Jesus added to explain His Father’s name and to expand on what it means to bear the name “I am.”

I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world.
I am the good shepherd.
I am the resurrection and the life.
From Revelation 22:13; John 14:6; 6:48; 8:12; 10:11; 11:25

If you’re questioning who God is, get to know Jesus. —Julie Ackerman Link

Genesis 46-48; Proverbs 8:12-31

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We're not exactly sure what Joseph means by "All shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians" (46:34).... Most likely this was an issue of class, that herding sheep was below the dignity of upper class Egyptians. Being an owner of livestock is different from being a shepherd, just like a rancher is considered a cut above a cowboy. —Ralph F. Wilson, The Life of Jacob

The Most Depressing Day

Scientists in the UK have calculated that the most depressing day of the year comes in the third week of January. Winter days are dark and cold, holiday excitement has worn off just as debts are coming due, and New Year’s resolutions have all been broken. The celebrations, gift-giving, and good intentions that once made us feel happy now press us down and leave us feeling hopeless.

Long ago in Egypt the Hebrew people had high hopes that Moses was going to rescue them from slavery. But their hopes were dashed when the good intentions of Moses led to worse conditions for them. Instead of gaining freedom, the people were pressed even harder by slave drivers who demanded that they produce more bricks with fewer resources.

Moses cried out, "Lord, ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all" (Exodus 5:23 NIV).

As Moses and the Hebrew people were about to learn, God’s rescue plans sometimes don’t kick in until all hope seems to be gone.
If the circumstances of your life seem to be going from bad to worse, sending you into depression and despair, remember that God always hears and answers our cries, but in His time, not ours. —Julie Ackerman Link

Click here to read the published version in Our Daily Bread.
Click here for more information about "Blue Monday."

Matthew 12-17; Proverbs 8:1-11

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Masaccio 1401–1428
Rendering of the Tribute Money (detail) (Matthew 17:27)

Who's the dude with the short skirt?!

Aerial view of Capernaum from BiblePlaces.com

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Genesis 43-45; Proverbs 7:6-27

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Alexander Ivanov 1806–1858
Joseph's Brothers Find the Silver Goblet in Benjamin's Sack
(Genesis 44:12)

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. However, in the case of 19th century European fine art, many of the thousand words left false impressions. Benjamin was not, as this painting depicts, a pre-adolescent boy when the silver was found in his sack after leaving Egypt with his brothers. He was already the father of ten sons: Bela, Beker, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard (Genesis 46:21).

Genesis 40-42; Proverbs 7:1-5

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Genesis 40
Joseph to Pharaoh's cupbearer: "Get me out of this prison and show me kindness" (v. 14). But the cupbearer did not remember. Once back in the comfort of Pharaoh's palace, he forgot those left behind in prison. The chapter ends with these words: "The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him" (v. 22).

Loving God with all my mind means remembering (and doing something about) those being held captive by the world systems of injustice.

Who do I know that needs to be remembered today?

Alexander Ivanov 1806–1858
Joseph, the Butler and the Baker (Genesis 40:8)

Genesis 41
Two years later, the cupbearer remembered! Joseph is brought out of prison to interpret for Pharaoh a deeply troubling dream. Joseph insists on making sure that Pharaoh understands where the information comes from: "I cannot do it," Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires" (v. 16). Joseph not only interpreted the dream; he outlined a strategic response. And Pharaoh believed him—even though he was a stranger, a foreigner, a prisoner. Amazing.
The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, "Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?"
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you." (vv. 37-40)
Imagine President Bush appointing a prisoner from Guantanamo Bay to head up the Department of Homeland Security.

Seven years of abundance followed, and Joseph followed through on what he had advised Pharaoh. Egypt stored up so much grain that Joseph "stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure" (v. 49). Yet Joseph did not take credit. Thousands of years later, the apostle Paul instructed believers to follow this kind of example when he wrote, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you" (Romans 12:3). Joseph demonstrated the measure of faith he had by saying, "God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering" (Genesis 41:52).

Loving God with all my mind means understanding that God can make something good out of my misery.

Loving God with all my soul means giving God the credit for all the good he empowers me to accomplish.

Lord, grant us the strength to withstand whatever misery we're experiencing. Increase our faith just as you increased the quantities of grain in Pharaoh's storehouses. May we not squander the resources you provide, but distribute them generously in your name so that the whole world will know that your power is at work in the world to feed the hungry, release captives, and defeat wicked oppressors.

Genesis 31-33; Proverbs 6:1-11

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Fords of the Jabbok

Then Jacob took his family across the Jabbok River, but he spent the night alone on the opposite side. That night a "man" wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, it was wrenched. Jacob then told the man, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." Jacob's name was changed to "Israel," and Jacob called that place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared" (Gen 32:30). Peniel/Penuel is the hill pictured, according to this author. —from BiblePlaces.com. Click here for more photos and information about this location.
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606–1669
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (Genesis 32:25)

Psalms 6-8

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Gary Haugen, founder and president of International Justice Mission, spoke at our church this morning. If you were unable to attend, you can watch or listen online.


Click here for the whole sermon.

Matthew 7-11; Proverbs 5:15-23

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Question: Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged" (Matthew 7:1). Does this mean that if we love God we won't judge others?
Today's reading begins with one of the most misused passages of Scripture. Due to an unfortunate chapter break (complicated in this Bible reading schedule by a one-week gap since our reading of Matthew 6), we seldom read Matthew 7:1 in context. Instead, we tend to use it as a way of saying "mind your own business" to anyone whose opinion we want to silence. In context, however, the passage indicates that we are indeed to judge; we're just supposed to avoid faulty judgments. Furthermore, our judgments are to begin with self: "First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (7:5). Jesus then said, "Do not give dogs what is sacred" (v. 6). This means that we have to be able to judge what is sacred and what is not. Later, he said, "Watch out for false prophets" (v. 15), which requires that we can discern truth from falsehood. Jesus used the metaphor of fruit to help us understand how we're to judge. "By their fruit you will recognize them" (v. 20), he said. We are to judge people (including ourselves) by the quality of the fruit they produce. The kind of judging Jesus was warning against is actually found prior to 7:1 in the discussion about treasures in heaven and worry (6:19-34). The human tendency is to judge ourselves and others by appearance—by what we have and what we wear. But God judges by what we produce with what we have. And so should we.

Genesis 22-24; Proverbs 4:1-17

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Caravaggio 1573–1610
The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:10)

Today, the only way to see Mount Moriah, where the Lord tested Abraham (Genesis 22), is to go inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

To watch this entire video (30 plus minutes) and hear commentary by a Muslim guide, click here.

Machpelah in Hebron, burial place of Sarah (Genesis 23), and also Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah. (Rachel was buried near Bethlehem.)

Click here for more photos and information about Hebron.

Genesis 19-21; Proverbs 3:27-35

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Albrecht Dürer 1471–1528
Lot and his family flee from Sodom (Genesis 19:24)

The ruins of Beersheba, where Abraham made a treaty with Abimelech (Genesis 21:22-34).

A tamarisk tree in Beersheba.
Click here for more information about Beersheba.
Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. —Genesis 21:33

Psalms 3-5

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Today is Epiphany . . .
a feast having to do with the infancy and baptism of Christ. By the fourth century the eastern church observed it as one of the three principal feasts of the church year (the other two were Easter and Pentecost; Christmas didn't become popular until later). In the western church, which did not get Epiphany until the fourth century, the feast took on a completely different character. There it was associated with the coming of the magi (wise men) bringing gifts to baby Jesus, and scant mention was made of Christ's baptism. The eastern church still links Epiphany with the baptism of Christ. —Christianity History Institute
We don't know where the magi found Jesus, and we don't know exactly when (we know only that Jesus, according to Herod's calculations, was two years of age or younger). But we do know what the magi did when they located the child. As we read yesterday:
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)
Their response was like that of King David when he entered the Lord's house:
But I, by your great mercy,
will come into your house;
in reverence will I bow down
toward your holy temple. —Psalm 5:7
Our church does not officially celebrate Epiphany, but our service today had the sense of epiphany in that our worship celebrated "the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles."

Click here to watch the sermon.

From St. Albans Psalter

Matthew 1-6; Proverbs 3:1-10

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Peter Paul Rubens 1577–1640
The Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2:11)

Tomorrow is the Christian celebration of Epiphany. To read other lectionary texts, click here. To view other art depicting the Adoration of the Magi, click here.

Genesis 7-9; Proverbs 1:20-33

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Jan Brueghel the Elder: The Animals Board Noah's Ark (Genesis 7:7)

Michelangelo Buonarroti 1475–1564, The Flood (Genesis 7:17)

Genesis 4-6; Proverbs 1:8-19

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Cain and Abel by Il Tintoretto (Genesis 4:8)

from Art and the Bible

Genesis 1-3; Proverbs 1:1-7

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Michelangelo Buonarroti 1475–1564, The Creation of Adam (Genesis 1:27)

Michelangelo, The Fall (Genesis 3:6)

from Art and the Bible

Psalms 1-2

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Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers. —Psalm 1:1-3

Copyright © 2003, Moshé Tzvi Berger, All rights reserved.