A Place of Atonement

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord. And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the Lord.So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.

“And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from his people.”-Leviticus 17:1-9

We all have a place where we go to find peace or solitude. For some it is a chair on the back porch, some have a hammock in the yard, and others just go for a wolk, ride, or drive. No matter who you are, or how old, humans just need some “alone time” every now and then. For Christians, our alone time is never “alone”. God is always there, through his presence as the Holy Spirit. And, when it the time comes that we need to reflect on and ask forgiveness for our sins he is even more present. God knows the sin in our lives even before we commit it. He does not force us to travel down a path toward it, but he does see the path we will take. He is waiting at the end of that path, just past our bad decisions and wrong turns to deliver us if needed, or to just listen as we confess.

Our own places of sacrifice can be anywhere we deem appropriate for talking with God. My own “Place of Sacrifice” is at my desk in my office at home at 5:30 AM every morning. I pray, read, and write at that same desk. I invite God to place the words and thoughts into my mind that guide me through my prayers and my writing. But, most importantly I confess my sins and offer the sacrifice of my time, my income, and my life as atonement. I do my best each day to continuously give my life over to God and to thank Jesus for the greatest sacrifice of all.

If you don’t have a “Place of Sacrifice” just look around where you spend your days, maybe it’s a quite corner of your home, or on your long drive to work.  Wherever it is be intentional about going there each day and making it a special and holy place for you to lay it all down before God.


Find your Moses

The Israelites always got a bad rap when I was growing up and I still hear it in sermons every now and then today. Preachers love to use the example of the Israelites coming out of Egypt and complaining as a warning to us the God always provides for a faithful people. But as I see it, the Israelites aren’t much different from the rest of the world then or now. Everyone complained to God or their God’s during times of trials and tribulations. Mankind did it back then and we still do it now. The key is that the Israelites has an amazing, God-fearing leadership team. I think that’s the more important lesson here. We all have “bad times” and seasons of struggle. Finding a strong mentor or leader to fall under and make them your Moses. They will show you how God can part the waters and provide refreshment even when you’re struggling.

Exodus 13-15

No Room

I’ve been thinking about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. I know, “Duh, it’s Christmas time”, but I have been specifically thinking about a particular event. Mary and Joseph having “no room at the inn” (Luke 2:7).

My first thought was, “Inn…what kind of inn does the little town of Bethlehem have in the final moments of a world without a Savior?” So, I looked into it and found out that there are two trains of thought on this question. For most of us who have grown up hearing the Christmas story we have been led to believe that of the many inns in Bethlehem none of them had room, due to the Roman census, and Mary and Joseph were shuffled off to a barn or cave to give birth to Jesus.

In reality there would have been only one “inn” in Bethlehem.


This inn, called a “caravanserai” or “khan”, was a communal building used for travelers or merchants to sleep in while in the city. It was a large square building with a group sleeping area in the central courtyard and individual rooms around the perimeter. Some theologians and historians believe that this is how the story happened:

There were no individual rooms available for Mary and Joseph so the only area that they could sleep in was the group sleeping platform in the courtyard. The inn keeper, being a decent, God-fearing man, gave up the only “private” place available, the barn. He couldn’t let this frightened, young mother give birth in a crowded courtyard in front of a bunch of smelly travelling salesmen.

The second version of this story has to do with the multiple meanings of the Greek word “katalyma”. Luke actually uses this word later, as does Mark, when describing how Jesus requests a room for the Passover meal with his disciples:

It is presumed that katalyma refers to Joseph’s family’s home. Joseph has returned for the Roman census to his hometown, where he must have some family, and this family would have a guest room in the top floor of their home. This would have been a single large room where several people would be sleeping. Joseph’s well-meaning and thoughtful cousins would never dream of having Mary give birth in the middle of a room filled with people. So, when the time came, she was led down stairs to one of the stable rooms, which are attached to the house. Then she is able to give birth in private in a relatively warm and cozy part of the house where there was most definitely a manger.

So what? Well, I see these two scenarios as an opportunity to examine our own lives and how we live for Jesus. You see Jesus was either born among loving family members, safe in a warm home, or, he was born in a kind-hearted stranger’s barn. But until I really paid attention to the story that the Bible tells I thought that Jesus’ parents had been turned away by a callous, greedy inn keeper. A man who didn’t care about a young, pregnant woman and her poor husband. It was only when I stopped listening to the world and started listening to God that I discovered the truth.

You see the world wants us to believe that Christmas about something else besides Jesus. The world provides a lot of distractions, some even look spiritual and make you think you’re doing it “God’s way”, but when we stop, ask, and listen to God the truth becomes clear. So, take a moment this weekend and look at what God says Christmas is about, then tell someone else about what Jesus did for you and how you invited him in.

My Psalm

My Psalm of Lament to God

1 O God in Heaven, I can not see you on Earth!
Satan drowns out your beauty
And the World distracts me from my prayers
2 Everywhere I turn I see hate, envy, greed, and temptation
From social media, music, movies and TV
It seems the goal of man is to erase your glory.
3 Friends and family have become distractions
And my own eyes and ears have turned against me
My body has become my enemy
4 My heart wants what Paul writes,
To die daily, to pick up my cross
But I let my mind control me instead of my love for You
5 Holy Spirit I need you now!
Renew my spirit with the breath of God!
6 Jesus I need you now!
I am a sinner and I need mercy and forgiveness!
7 Father God I need you now!
Create in me your kingdom on earth!
8 Give me the strength to overcome the issues that face us
If my strength is not enough then I will depend on yours
Only through you and by you can I overcome these obstacles

9 Political issues of our country and the world consume your people.
Though it is all part of your plan,
the media thrusts these problems into our vision.
10 They distract us from the Kingdom purpose that you have.
We are overwhelmed with stories of death and destruction.
We are confused by the constantly spun stories.
11 I beg you now God! Please renew the minds and hearts of your
Create in us the strength and power to see through the lies.
Create in us a new calling and focus for your Word.
12 Clear our vision and give us the ability to see your hand
We know you are moving in all things
We know all things are from you and for you.
13 I await you with a clear faith in your power
Even as I lose my sight to temptations
Even as I turn to the left and right away from your plans
14 I know that you are with me. I know that your plans for me are
My faith in you is renewed through prayer.
My faith is renewed through reading your Word.
15 I will choose that which is wholesome for my ears and my eyes.
Please have mercy on me when I fail.
Please forgive me when I come to you after the fall.

16 I do not deserve your mercy or your forgiveness.
This is a gift that God the Father has given through His Son
This gift is more valuable than anything on earth or above it
17 I praise you God for your forgiveness and mercy
I praise you with all of my spirit and soul
I praise you with my words, thoughts and deeds
18 Though the World may have made social media
Though celebrities and politicians may speak evil
I will praise you through this storm
19 I will use what man has made to praise you for your creation
My praise to you drowns out the greed of the lost
My praise to you drowns out the whispers of Satan
20 God will never leave me or forget me, he lifts me up when I am down
God may allow me to face trials and troubles
but, God always has a purpose.
21 God always has my best interest in mind,
he has great things for me planned.
Even before I existed God knew I would be used for His glory.
22 No matter what the World, or Satan, or man may put in my way
I know that God will use for his glory.
Father God, your will is perfect!
23 Thank you God for creating all of the universe for me to connect with
Thank you God for providing a way for man to connect to you
Even though we failed you; your grace saved us.

24 I praise you God for all that you provide for your children
Thank you for giving me the opportunities to grow
Thank you for giving me the patience to learn
25 Thank you God for giving me all of the advantages that I have
Thank you for reminding me that I am blessed
Thank you for reminding me that other’s are not
26 Father God, you are my everlasting Father.
You are my savior
You are my redeemer
27 Lord, you are my salvation and my security
You brighten the darkness in my hour of need!
You bring light into my heart when it is dark
28 My eyes have been opened and your glory is all around me
I see your beauty in the world around me
You are reflected in nature and in the kindness
and grace of man.
29 I will sing and shout and praise your name forever until time has ended
Until Heaven and Earth have been made whole.
Until all of your people have been whole.
30 With my whole body I praise you God
Forever and ever



A Close Reading of Psalm 70

How often do we forget important information? Or lose a piece of vital instruction because we neglected to write it down? I imagine that this is not a problem that has recently reared it’s head. The Bible is full of information and facts that were written down so that they would not be forgotten. So that they could be shared with future generations. King David was no exception to this. Psalm 70 is titled “A psalm of remembrance” and as I explain in the video it is an almost word for word copy of a portion of an earlier psalm of his. He wanted to have on hand a prayer that could be said to God in order to remind himself of what God does for His faithful people. I hope that the following video gives you a better understanding of, and a way to remember, who God is and what he does for his children.

Laments: Psalms from the Past and Present

Psalm 13: Lament Psalms from the Past and Present

The lament psalms are a special genre of psalm that is described as, “the psalmist’s cry when in great distress he has nowhere to turn but to God” (Longman, 26). Within these psalms there is a division of elements that are specific to the lament and describe a type of “coming to grips” for the psalmist. Beginning with a cry to the LORD and complaint but ending with confidence in God and praise the lament is the most human reaction to adversity and has definitely stood the test of time. We see laments throughout the Bible and even in today’s music and media.
Psalm 13 shows the elements within its content as follows:
v1-2: Invocation and complaint
v3-4: Plea for God to help
v5-6: Confidence in God’s response and hymn of praise
Of the seven elements within a lament I see only these five and within the verses of Psalm 13 these five elements are combined and compressed into each other. For instance, in verse one the invocation is only the first four words, “How long, O LORD?”. The rest of the verse is a complaint to God, David accuses God of forgetting him and hiding his face from him.
As we look at other laments, specifically Psalm 3, 4, and 6, we see a mirror of this same pattern for the most part. Firstly, in comparing Psalm 13 to these there is an immediate repetition of a questioning psalmist. Only Psalm 6 of the four psalms does not begin with an exclaiming question, in Psalm 3 and 4 David also asks for answers to his questions as the invocation of the psalm. One major difference I see in each of the psalms is a seemingly random order in which the first six elements of the lament are placed, all end in praise and/or confidence in God’s response.
In Psalm 3 the order appears to be: invocation(v 1), complaint(v 2), confidence in God’s response(v 3-6), plea to God for help(v 7), hymn of praise(v 8). Psalm 4 differs from this order: Invocation( v 1), plea to God for help( v 1), complaint( v 2), confidence in God’s response( v 3), complaint( v 4-6), hymn of praise (v 7-8). Finally we see Psalm 6 as an even more diverse order of elements: invocation and complaint (v 1), plea to God for help (v 2-5), complaint (v 6-7), confidence in God’s response (v 8-9), curse of enemies (v 10). While these seem random in order, aside from the first and the last elements, I believe there is a method to the madness. For one, God does nothing in confusion but everything is in His order.
While each of these psalms has a similar theme, they are all complaints about men fighting or speaking against David. They are all laments which call out to God for help in defense of David. Psalm 3 and 6 request attacks against his enemies by God (3:7b, 6:10) while the other two only asks for protection. One thing I like about my ESV Study Bible is that it titles each chapter of the Bible. These chapters are titled as Save Me, O My God (Psalm 3), Answer Me When I Call (Psalm 4), O LORD, Deliver My Life (Psalm 6), and How Long, O LORD (Psalm 13). There is an obvious pattern of distress in the psalm’s titles, but they always end with a praise hymn to God.
In looking at the way we read and examine the Psalm it is vitally important to recognize this in each lament. While some may think that the lament psalms and even the book of Job doesn’t belong in the Bible due to being written by man in a weakened state and questioning God’s existence and love for his people, I believe these books show the exact opposite. The lament psalms show man at their best, because they are at their worse. With nowhere to turn and being attacked on all sides the only option for defense is through God and his grace and in this way our weakness is his strength. Though there will always be darkness in our lives, due to the infestation of sin in the world, our end is only a bright beginning of our eternity with God.
True laments, while easy to find in the Old Testament, are hard to find in contemporary music. Johnny Cash’s “Spiritual” is one that comes to mind for me. Most modern music can only provide half of the solution though. It’s great at delivering the complaint or the curse, but the plea to God for help and the confidence in God’s response is almost always lacking. And when it comes to praising God in the midst of pain you could go blind trying to find a pop song that echoes those sentiments. The lyrics for “Spiritual” are below:
I don’t wanna die alone
Jesus, oh Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
My love wasn’t true
Now all I have is you
Jesus oh Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
If you hear my last breath
Don’t leave me here
Left to die a lonely death
I know I have sinned but Lord I’m
Jesus, oh Jesus
If you hear my last breath
I don’t wanna die alone
Jesus, oh Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
My love wasn’t true
Now all I have is you
Jesus, oh Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
All my troubles
All my pain
Will leave me
Once again
All my troubles
All my pain
It’s gonna leave me once again
All my troubles
All my pain
It’s gonna leave me once again
Gonna leave me
Once again
The lyrics alone in no way do this song justice and I encourage you to search for it on YouTube in order to get the full effect of the song. You can see though, that while many of the elements are there; the invocation, plea for God’s help, confidence in God’s response, and confession of sin, what is lacking is the hymn of praise. As with many modern songs of lament, and I believe a big reason why so many teenagers relate to music so easily, there is much complaining and blaming but very little requesting aid from God or even acknowledging Him.
As I discussed in a previous exercise on psalms in modern music, I believe that God is in everything in this world. He created everything and my theology is that he inhabits a little part of everything and everyone we encounter, after all “if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that [emphasis mine]” (Luke 6:33). God uses everything to complete his plan to reunite us with Him. He used evil empires that attacked both the Israelites and their enemies to guide His people back to him and to correct their wrong paths. Why then can’t he use what we deem as secular music to show us an area we are lacking in or a new way to view his creation. If it makes you feel better, add on your own hymn of praise to the end of a modern lament that touches you but fails to give honor to God.

Psalm 31

For this week I am taking the advice of my professor and uploading my latest close reading analysis here. I pray that this touches your heart and opens your mind to looking for new ways to experience God’s word.

The Lord is Close…

We recently lost a student at the school I work at. A loving, kind young man who was in the Special Education class that I assist in. Stephan “Jap” Thomas is known throughout Benjamin Russell High School and the town of Alexander City as a die-hard BRHS Wildcat fan. He cheered at every sporting event that he could get to. Jap graduated before this year but due to the policies for students in Special Education he was allowed to return for continued education with us, this would have been his final year under the policy.

Every student and teacher in the Alex City School System either knows or has heard of Jap. He was an honorary Wildcat football player the year he graduated and ran on the field with the football team. He is never happier than when he is at a pep rally and he has a great sense of humor that he shared with his classmates everyday. His teachers and the administration at BRHS thought of him as family and he was a beloved son or brother to all.

I have personally been struggling with the best way to support my fellow educators through this loss. I did not know Jap very well; this is my first year in the classroom and I am not a native of Alex City. I have been doing my best to offer my condolences, lead when the teachers need to mourn in their own way, and offer counseling to the students who want it.

I hope this small offering of words from Psalms will touch those who are hurting and remind them that God is always here and offers His comfort to all who ask:

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”(Pslam 34:18).

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

And perhaps the most important of all, in Revelation 21:4 Jesus reminds us that soon God will take away all of our pain, “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’”.

Rest easy Jap…we will see you soon. I can’t wait to see you shoot 10 free throws, run 10 miles, and tell me how you weigh 10 pounds. We love you buddy.