Year of Biblical Literacy – Bricks Without Straw – Reflection on Exodus 5

Episode 103 is a supplemental podcast for the Year of Biblical Literacy. It is a reflection on the implications of Pharaoh’s command to the Israelites to manufacture bricks but to do so with straw which they find, not already supplied. Just as the Israelites were being commanded to do more with less to take their focus off God and onto Pharaoh, how should Christians think and act today while living in a culture which demands more time and attention from us? Some ideas about how to recognize this and work through it in Christ are provided within the podcast.

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Bricks Without Straw – Part 5

MudBricksThe following is the fifth and final part of the article: Bricks Without Straw:


We know that the Lord guides us through our circum-stances. Yet, there is no guarantee that making the time for growth in Christ would be an easy thing. We are told in Scripture to not only lay aside sin but also “everything that hinders” (Hebrews 12:1 Emphasis added). Jude writes that we need to ‘contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). The word translated into English as “contend” is taken from the Greek word from which we get the word “agonize.” Keeping the faith is not an easy matter. It requires diligence,patience and sacrifice. Today, many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are learning this lesson to the extreme. Martyrdom and persecution are the price that they pay to keep their precious faith.

I suspect that too many of us expect our life in Christ to just “click into place” without effort. Our walk of faith must never be on “auto pilot.” Despite living in a culture of easy, instant spirituality, we are presented with many opportunities to actively and purposely grow in the faith. Being made in God’s image, we are creative beings. Be creative in finding ways to “redeem the time” and keep fellowship with Jesus. Some of these ways are nothing more than points of good time management. Schedule your time of prayer, Bible study, or meditation on the Word as you would a doctor’s appointment or a business meeting. Perhaps it means waking up half an hour earlier to carve out time which you thought you did not have. Lunchtime at work might provide a time for prayer, reading, or study. It may even mean going on a fast from listening to the radio in your car or watching television. Perhaps your car act can as a portal version of an “inner room” which provides you some small level of sanctuary and solitude to read, reflect and pray.

Something that has been helpful to me is the using a smart phone. I use an app created by Olive Tree for reading several Bible translations on my iPhone. I also keep a number of e- books available to read with a Kindle app). It continues to fascinate and challenge me that the equivalent of a large library can be kept and accessed on a device which fits in my shirt pocket. When waiting in a doctor’s office or stuck in a long line in a grocery store, it is really satisfying to get out my smart phone and read from the Bible or a work of classic Christian literature. When I find myself in a long line at a grocery store, I find that being able to pick what I read from my iPhone is a better use of my time than being assaulted by magazines with images of celebrities in the tabloid racks, beckoning me to read about their latest diet or love affair. It is a wonderful way to redeem the time.


I’m happy to report that Julie recovered and is doing well with no recurrence of her blood clots. My mother was able to return home and live there right up to the last week of life six years later. In the midst of some prolonged time pressures during that period in 2002, I’ve learned some very valuable lessons about my faith. You can find the time to maintain a good fellowship with God in the midst of difficult circumstances. He expects us to. The Lord has placed us in these times so that we will find Him.

We live in a society in which we face enormous time pressures. We’ve seen how this can be used as a strategy against us by the enemy of our soul (Matthew 13:39; Luke 10:19) with the goal of trying to separate us from fellowship with God. Realizing this, I am learning the value of being selective with the time and treasures that the Lord has given. Lastly, I know that none of this will happen without a struggle. It takes creativity to fight back against the time pressures we face. If you see me on the street or in a store, tell me about how your struggle is going. I’ll be the one standing in line, reading the Psalms on my smart phone.

End of Part 5

Links to the previous entries for this article

Part 1Part 2Part 3; Part 4

Bricks Without Straw – Part 4


The following is Part 4 of the article: “Bricks Without Straw“:

While the ideas for this article were being put together, my wife Julie mentioned that she thinks that people often avoid silence voluntarily because they are afraid of the sense of emptiness they will find during those times of silence. I agree. Noise and busyness are two things that can take our minds off God.

In contrast, Christian saints have cherished their times of silence and solitude. Thomas A Kempis taught his monks to find the joy of the Lord while alone and quiet in their cells. In his 15th Century work “Imitation of Christ“, he instructs us in his chapter on silence and solitude:

Remain with him in your cell for you will not find so great a peace anywhere else.

In Thomas’ time, the word “cell” did not have the meaning it does in our culture. In the 15th century , the word “cell” did not describe a place of confinement. Rather, it was a small room that served as a monk’s quarters. It took its name from the Latin word coelum, which means “heaven.” Those times of quiet and aloneness with God are not a time of confinement but rather a sampling of heaven and interacting with Our Lord Jesus who sits, at this moment, in Heaven at the right hand of His Father (Luke 22:69).

Discouragement is another way that we try to make “bricks without straw”. It will often cause us to channel our time and energies into self-pity. It can produce an inner numbness of the spirit. It deflects us away from focusing on doing the will of the Lord. The Bible offers an example of what can happen when discouragement sets in.

In the fourth chapter of the book of Ezra, we read about how the Israelites came back from exile in Babylon. They soon began to re-build the Temple. When political pressure mounted against them, the construction was forcibly stopped. The people became discouraged. The re-­building of the Temple was not resumed for twenty years. The Israelites had inverted what Christ would teach centuries later:

Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things shall be added onto you.(Matthew 6:33)

They sought first “all these other things.” As a result, the other things failed. Keep in mind that money, food and houses are not evil. But it is evil to pursue them as a first priority.

Haggai reminded the Israelites that they needed to place God’s priorities first in their lives (See Haggai 1). What happened to those Israelites after their return from exile is a danger that we face as well. In our discouragement, we tend to take our minds away from the priority of Christ. Those other things that usurp God’s first priority in our lives will ultimately fail to satisfy us.

End of Part 4

Links to the previous entries for this article

Part 1 Part 2; Part 3;

Bricks Without Straw – Part 3

brickThe following is Part 3 of the article Bricks Without Straw


At the start of my walk with Christ, I was blessed to study Scripture with a wonderful Bible study leader named Celeste. She taught me that the choice for a Christian is not between good and evil, since that choice is already settled. Rather, the choice is between what is good and what is best. This requires being selective and living life prayerfully with a sense of discernment. The times in which we live continue to force Christians to make a choice between the good and the best. We live in a world with so many choices that we are tempted to not choose but to try to have and do it all.

While our choices of things in the Lord are increasing, such as Bible translations, books, audio and videos, the amount of hours per day allotted to us hasn’t increased. Consider how Christian literature from over twenty centuries of church history is becoming more available to the average believer. Protestants are becoming familiar with the writings of Teresa of Avila. Catholics are learning to appreciate the insights of Jonathan Edwards. Western Christians are being introduced to the works of Eastern Orthodox theologians such as Gregory of Nazianzus, Simeon the New Theologian and Bishop Kallistos Ware. Many classic Christian writings are now on the Internet or available on downloadable media.

Some simple math will show that our culture’s attitude of trying to have it all falls far short of reality, especially if Christians believe that and try to apply it to the area of devotional reading on these digital sources. The equivalent of a church library can now be stored as text on a single DVD as well as older media such as compact discs, or on more modern storage devices such as memory sticks or even large scale devices (relatively small and affordable) such as a terabyte drive (1 terabyte = 1,000,000,000,000 bytes [or characters] of information). To give you some sense of scale, a Bible with a fair amount of commentary and notes takes up about 5 megabytes (5 million characters) of information. If you put the equivalent of what a 1 terabyte drive holds into books the size of a pocket-sized version of the Bible and put those books, one next to each other, you would need one shelf just under 4 miles long to hold them.

Consider a scenario in which you purposely limited your Christian devotional reading to using a reader tied to a terabyte drive (a storage device unimaginable for everyday use only as far back as 2002 but commonly available today). This terabyte drive is filled to its maximum capacity with books, articles, etc. If your desire is to eventually read through every last piece of text on that drive, you will run into a problem, namely, with available time. If you devoted one hour to such a daily reading, it would take you a little over 39,452 years to get through everything on the terabyte drive. If you started at age 10 and read for one hour every day, for the next 80 years, you would get through only 0.2% of the readings available to you. Restricting yourself to a much smaller device such as an iPhone wouldn’t help. With the available space on an 8GB iPhone, your one hour daily readings would take 236 and a half years. Examples like these show us that with today’s choices, trying to have it all cannot happen. There is simply not enough time. You have to be selective and make a choice. Keeping this in mind allows us the freedom to know, ahead of time, that we must be selective and do so in the light of God’s priorities for our lives.

The same holds true for other aspects of our Christian walk. We can, in essence, be making bricks without straw, in areas that do not involve an oppressive schedule forced upon us by our jobs or through other life circumstances outside of our control. Strangely enough, we can engage in a self-imposed oppression. For example, we live in a culture that thrives on noise and activity. These conditions are not ideal for taking time to reflect on God and your life in Him. Yet, how often, when we are by ourselves, do we needlessly destroy the silence by turning on a television or an audio player?

End of Part 3

Links to the previous entries for this article

Part 1 Part 2

Bricks Without Straw – Part 2

adobeThe following is Part 2 of “Bricks Without Straw.”

We live in an era in which more and more time is demanded of us. According to a December 2013 Gallup Poll, 11% of Americans got less than 7 hours per night in 1942. That percentage increased to 40% in 2013. Concerning our amount of time at work, the Center for American Progress states:

The typical American middle-income family put in an average of 11 more hours a week in 2006 than it did in 1979.

With only a fixed 168 hours per week for all of us, this comes at a cost. It comes at the cost of less time for family, church, community service, friends and leisure activities. Even our children face time demands unknown a generation ago. In a 2002 article for Newsweek, entitled Doing Nothing Is Something, Anna Quindlen, wrote on the need of kids to have more “downtime”. She wrote:

Soccer leagues, acting classes, tutors – the calendar of the average middle-class kid is so over the top that soon Palm handhelds will be sold in Toys ‘R’ Us. Our children are as overscheduled as we are, and that is saying something.

That was written in 2002. How much more so today?

Whether part of a purposeful strategy by the Evil One or the result of life circumstances which legitimately require our increased time and attention, how do we keep our minds on Christ, when it seems that we are being forced to make “bricks without straw?”


I have found comfort in the fact that God does indeed control all things. His Spirit blows through the sails of the ship of human history while His hand is firmly on the rudder. His purposes will eventually be accomplished (Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 46:10). Yet, God’s control is not just on the large-scale level of national and global events. He knows us individually and knows us well and at a level of detail which we cannot know ourselves. The Psalmist instructs us as he prays to God:

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.  (Psalm 139:1-4 ESV)

Such a God is no stranger to our needs and circumstances. In Acts 17:25-26, Paul tells us that God created us and put us where and when we are for the very purpose of our finding God:

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

In the stress-filled times in our lives, there is a tendency to look to another time or place as where we would find comfort and contentment. David, during his years of being chased through the land of Israel like a criminal, wrote:

Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest- I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm. (Psalm 55:6-8)

With King Saul and his army pursuing him, Israel’s future king wanted to be anywhere other than where he was. I think we’ve all had that feeling at some time. Being a history buff who has seen his share of 18th and 19th century American buildings, I used to think that life must have been much simpler (and thus better) in those times.

Yet, the Bible tells us that the best time and place for us to live for God’s glory is where He has put us and in the time He has placed us. (As in, right here, right now). God knows that for me, for the person that I am and He wants me to be, I need to be alive now in early 21st century America and not in the America of the 18th century or any other time and place. That holds true for all of us. Where and when we live in the scheme of human history is not an accident. The Lord knows us and the events that make up our lives. The hospitalizing of Julie and then my Mom did not take Him by surprise. Yet, according to Him, it is in the midst of life circumstances such as these that God tells us, amazingly, that we can best reach Him.

End of Part Two

Part 1 of this article can be found here.