Sunday, January 31, 2010

January 31

OT: Ex. 12:14-13:16

One thing I just loved when I read the Bible through the first time was getting to see all the methods the Israelites used to remember things. They sang songs, they gathered for public readings of sacred material, they bound things to their foreheads, they worked them into conversations with their children...and they had ritual celebrations. The Passover, which we read so much about today, is the granddaddy of Hebrew feasts. It commemorates an amazing time in their history and serves as an indelible yearly reminder of how powerful their God is. I love that God has them do that.

I am drawn to methods of remembrance because I myself am passionate about remembering things. That passion expresses itself in different ways: it makes me a meticulous secretary, it results in elaborate scrapbooks and regular blog-upkeep, and it distills into nerd form and makes me ravenous for history. But in 2009, my brother's death shook up everything inside me, and my passion for remembering slammed into my desire to know God and to celebrate His blessings. Suddenly, I felt a gripping compulsion to record the blessings of everyday with my family and to thank God for each and every one of them. Thankfully, God knew that all that was coming in my life, and so He put a scrapbook kit called Project 365 into my hands two months before Mike's death. Thank You, God.

In case you are wondering about my logic, yes, I just indirectly compared the celebration of the Passover to my personal scrapbooking habits. You read that right. And yes, I must have just a touch of narcissism to see them as on the same plain (I really don't, btw). But I honestly do believe that the desire to record and celebrate God's works comes from God. It was His idea, after all, to institute the Passover. And I wish, for example, we did a better job recording our own church history. I think God does a lot of amazing things that get missed because we don't collaborate and write them down. At our year-end Wednesday night devo this year, the assistant minister opened up the floor for people to tell about their years and how they saw God in their lives. I was floored by the common threads that so clearly ran through all of our experiences. Turns out, this was a big year for our little church. God did some amazing things in a lot of lives. Some amazingly similar things, too. It made me wish that we had an annual church yearbook where we tracked the baptisms, the ministries, and the ways in which we as a church saw God work.

It was very important for the Israelites to remember how God worked. Why shouldn't it be important for us, too?

NT: Matt. 20: 29-21:22

Wow, I don't know if my brain has stopped working or what, but I just don't have a lot of thoughts about the triumphal entry today. I just took in the crowd's reaction, their enthusiastic praise, and I reflected how this crowd would change their tune in just a few short days. I also thought it was interesting how the crowd identified Him: "This is Jesus, the Prophet from Nazareth in Galilee" (21:11). That response shows how "off" they were about Him, despite their enthusiasm at His presence. Jesus was much more than a prophet, and for that matter, He wasn't even from Nazareth, which is actually quite an important detail!

Psalm 25: 16-22

Whoa, I just realized that this is the second half of that amazing, uplifting psalm I just read yesterday! Talk about a change in tone! In retrospect, it kind of makes all those lovely things about seeking God's guidance yesterday to seem somewhat more desperate and pleading than I had first read them. At this point in the psalm, David is completely dejected. There is a lot of the usual brutal honesty before God and pleas for God to help him. One phrase that I find pretty fascinating is David's request for God to "take away all [his] sins" (18). It's like David had an innate understanding of his deepest need, which was redemption. He longed prematurely for what only Christ could accomplish. Interesting.

I also like his statement, "May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you" (21). I like the idea that our integrity will protect us. And lest we get the idea that our own moral uprightness is what saves us, David quickly clarifies that His hope is in God. David's hope in God causes his integrity and uprightness. I love that idea, especially in light of the New Testament gift of the Spirit. Because God lives in us, He is quite literally our integrity and uprightness.

Proverbs 6: 12-15

Another potent warning about not being a jerk. What goes around comes around, people! (And apparently, with sin, it "comes around" a little harder than it "goes around." The consequences for sin, as described by the Bible, are steep.)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

January 30

OT: Ex. 10:1-12:13

Well, I was relieved to see that even the crazy officials came around after the plague of hail, since it seems that their pleas to Pharoah to let the Israelites go were unanimous (10:7). Unfortunately, the bulk of my cynicism about hard-heartedness still remains. It finds its chief biblical support in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. When the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers, Abraham replies, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:19). As a child, I thought that statement was ridiculous, but the more I live, the more I believe it. People can be so hard-hearted.

But not here, not today! Nothing like a little deadly round of hail to pound some sense into people! The text makes clear that, were it not for God's intervention, Pharoah would himself have probably been reasonable. But God is determined to push this last plague through.

And it is a sobering one. Even when you know well the triumphant end to this story, you just have to pause and reflect on the suffering and sorrow that is about to happen in the land. One thing the Bible makes very clear is that innocent people will suffer for the sin of others. Something that is also present, and yet even harder to grasp, is that the suffering of innocents is within the will of God. Now, that is a deep concept. In fact, it is too deep for me to explore right now (though I WILL tackle it at some point). What I will say now is that we as humans have to be very careful how we respond to that concept. God's response to the suffering of innocents is, of course, perfect. In his infinite wisdom, he finds the balance between justice and mercy, between righteousness and compassion. He works all things for the good of those who love Him.

People, on the other hand, are not perfect. And I believe that our response to the idea of the divinely controlled suffering of innocents can easily veer off in wrong directions. For one, it can make us angry at God, doubtful of His goodness. It can rupture our faith and cause our hearts to become bitter. Another wrong reaction, I believe, is to deny the sovereignty of God's will and to instead see God as some kind of helpless Force in the world, as a Being who doesn't want suffering, but is for some reason incapable to stop it. Perhaps such a response believes that God's hands are "tied" by some sort of pre-existing regulations He has set for Himself, like a rule against interfering with human will. (Of course, today's reading blows that theory out of the water.) Still another erroneous reaction to this concept is to become uncompassionate toward suffering, and essentially to respond to the pain of others with, "That's life. Get over it." Life isn't fair (and I thank God that it isn't, or else I'd be destined for hell), but that doesn't mean that we are not to hurt with those who hurt, that we are not to do everything in our power to alleviate the suffering of others.

So...those are some wrong ways to deal with this concept, in my opinion. What is the right way? Psssh. Like I know. I could get all "C.S. Lewis" on you now and grapple intellectually with the concept*, but I'll instead share the biggest lesson that I've been learning recently. The reality of the suffering of innocents is a phenomenon with which I still struggle, but I do know that I must respond with faith that God is good and perfect. I'm seeing more and more that faith requires us to do things, to think things that, honestly, don't make a lot of sense. Just tonight, I read Luke and Anna the story of Elijah and the widow. It just doesn't make sense to give your last meal away, but that's what God asks her to do (through Elijah). It doesn't make sense to kill your only son, to dip in a river as a cure for leprosy, to step out of a boat and expect to walk on water. It doesn't make sense to turn the other cheek, or that you have to die to live. But I am learning to trust that, b/c those principles are from God, they do make sense.

So no, the idea that the suffering of innocents could be part of the purpose of a good and perfect God does not make sense to me. Even in the brief times that I have felt like I can noodle some logic out of it, all it takes is for me to actually SEE some horrendous suffering for all my "logic" to fail me. But I do trust in God. I trust in His goodness, and in His wisdom, and in His perfection. Now, more than ever, I seek to believe His words and to obey them, even if that means doing something truly stupid, like stepping out on water.

*As a seasoned "grappler," I believe that there is definitely great value in intellectual grappling (I love C.S. Lewis!!!). I LOVE that God gave us our brains, and I think He expects us to use them. However, I also believe that there are also some places in God that human reason cannot take us. Thus, I try very hard not to make an idol out of human logic.

NT: Matt. 20: 1-28

As a child, I thought that the parable of the workers in the vineyard was beyond unfair. To pay the one-hour workers as much as the all-day workers was just sooo mean! When I got that the "payment" was heaven in the parable, I wasn't so bitter. I mean, I don't care if someone converts on his death bed and gets to go to heaven. I'm happy for him! But reading it today, I still don't really understand Jesus' application: "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (16). When I think of the Christian idea of the last being first, I think of the idea that those who serve will find life. Those who die to themselves will live. That kind of thing. I don't think of it as referring to the temporal point of your conversion. So...maybe I am misreading this parable. I don't know any other interpretation, though!

Verses 26-28 describe my interpretation of "the last being first." Jesus says, "Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave." Because I have heard those ideas all my life, I really, really love them. I wonder, though, how foreign they would sound to someone who is unfamiliar with Jesus!

Psalm 25: 1-15

What a wonderful psalm! There is so much to love, but today, I was especially drawn to the verses about God's guidance:

"Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me"(4-5).
"Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way" (8-9).
"Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him" (13).
"The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them" (14).

I LOVE the idea that God chooses ways for us. The verse makes it sound to me that the way "chosen for" us varies based on the individual. That is a cool concept.

Proverbs 6: 6-11

Oh, how I love the ant:). I so admire him and want to be like him. As someone who needs plenty of sleep and who very much enjoys sleep, verse 10 pops into my mind at the most inconvenient times: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest." And you know what happens then. Nothin' good:).

Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29

OT: Ex. 7:25-9:35

My brain kicked it into high gear while reading today's passage, and I hope I can convey all my swirling thoughts in a way that is fairly coherent.

First of all, I was really drawn to the idea of a "hard heart." When reading this story, I have often noted how many times Pharoah hardened his own heart. In today's reading alone, he does it in 8:15, 8:32, and 9:34. Two other references to Pharoah's heart say that is was hard, but they don't say who hardened it (8:19 and 9:7). Only one verse specifically says that God hardened Pharoah's heart (9:12). The weirdest part to me is the order in which the descriptions of Pharoah's heart occur. Here are his reactions to the plagues today: he hardened his heart (8:15), his heart was hard (8:19), he hardened his heart (8:32), his heart was unyielding (9:7), God hardened his heart (9:12), he hardened his heart (9:34). I have always pictured it as, Pharoah hardened his heart for awhile on his own, and then God stepped in and took it to the next level in order to glorify His name. But in today's reading, even after God hardens his heart (during the plague of boils, in case you were wondering), Pharoah apparently has the reins back during the very next plague (hail). I have always found God's hardening of Pharoah's heart to be an interesting, somewhat disturbing concept b/c it messes with the idea of free will. But reading the story, I find that I don't really have a problem with it. God's hardening of Pharoah's heart seems a fitting punishment for all the times he hardened his own heart. I firmly believe that even today, there comes a point when people harden their hearts until they are truly impenetrable. God seeks us and draws us to him, yes, but there is no guarantee on how many chances we are going to have to turn Him down. Sometimes death cuts people off from the chance to repent, and sometimes our own hearts do.

Case in point: I am amazed, amazed, that there are officials of Pharoah by this point who ignore the warning about the hail (9:21). They choose to leave their slaves and livestock in the field. I mean, really?!?!?! How is it even possible to witness so many miraculous atrocities and NOT heed a direct warning? This kind of goes back to the hard hearts thing to me. See, I fully believe that as humans, we have the capacity to hold onto a belief (or lack of belief) to the point where our hearts are totally hardened to any other point of view. I think we do this a lot, actually; I think it is a pretty common phenomenon. For example, take a person's political views or their position on something like evolution or Creation. I believe that people often get to a point with those kind of beliefs that it does not matter what else they hear or see. It does not matter what else might happen, what new evidence might come to light. They believe what they believe what they believe, and NOTHING is going to change that. I guess in a way that can be good, if you are talking about faith in God. But there is another, perhaps even more common way, that that type of mental and emotional hardening leads to ignorance, pride, hatred, etc, even in matters of Christian religion.

Okay, I think I am rambling off the topic. The point is, I am intrigued by this matter of "hardening one's heart." Pharoah and his officials sound like crazy people to me, but I think that their way of thinking is actually more common than I originally assumed. And I am open to the possibility that my own heart is hardened to certain truths. Hmmm....

Well, believe it or not, I have further ruminations from this passage about the suffering of innocents, but we're running long, and the NT is a doozy, too....

NT: Matt. 19:13-30

Over the years, the story of the "rich young ruler" has perplexed me like none other. I get that God wants us to give Him everything, and I get that giving Him everything is a daunting, terrifying proposition...but what I don't get is, "What does that look like for me?" What does God want from me? What does giving Him everything look like in my life? There have been times that I have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am giving God all I have, and that I am right where He wants me to be. And then there are times when I'm not as certain. In those times, I ask myself, Does God want more of me? Am I giving everything to Him?

I have noted elsewhere that God calls people to different things. He tells the rich, young man to sell everything and follow Him. I don't, however, think He made the disciples sell everything. And he tells the disciples to follow Him, but he gives Legion a different assignment, even though Legion wants to follow Him (I probably should say, "The man formerly known as Legion." I don't want to define a man by his past:)). The point is, I have a tendency to see what God is asking of other people, to see where He is drawing them, and to think, "Oh, maybe that's what He wants from me, too." Like, I see this story and think, "Does God want me to sell everything I have and give it to the poor and follow Him?" Honestly, I don't think He does. But...I also have this nagging feeling right now that I'm missing something that He wants from me. And I kind of think I know what it is.

I think He wants me to write. (Yes, I know I'm writing now:). I think He wants me to write, like, books and stuff.) I have some ideas about what I should write, but I have even more ideas about why my ideas are dumb and why I am totally unqualified to write about anything. Even typing about writing books makes me cringe. And yet, I keep feeling this call very strongly. Which can only mean one thing:

God is out of His mind.

OR that I'm supposed to trust and obey, even though I don't know anything about anything and can't imagine that my writing would be a fruitful thing for the Kingdom.

(Sidenote: This is not at all where this discussion was supposed to head. I was planning on linking Jesus' interchange with the rich man to the idea of perfection in the sermon on the mount and then to God's testing of Abraham. I was also going to speculate for awhile about the idea that Jesus had not died yet--obviously--and whether or not his teachings are to be viewed any differently in light of his death for our sins.

It was going to be great--sorry you missed it:). Today was apparently a "feelings" day.)

Psalm 24: 1-10

"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (24:1). Haiti is the Lord's and everything in it, Afghanistan, and all who live in it. Iraq is the Lord's and everything in it, North Korea, and all who live in it. America is the Lord's and everything in it, South Carolina, and all who live in it.

It is such a good reminder to know that this place of pain and suffering and fear and death belongs to the Lord...which is why it also has beauty and joy and life and miracles.

I also like v. 3-4: "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false." This verse is a little mind-bending to me, b/c I know that Jesus is going to stand before God for me, having taken my place. At the same time, though, it's because of Jesus that I long for clean hands and a pure heart. And I shudder at the idea that I might be lifting my soul up to an idol, whether that idol is money or comfort or the illusions of control or domestic tranquility. My soul should belong to God and God alone.

Proverbs 6: 1-5

In humility, there is freedom. That is the principle I took from this practical example from Proverbs.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 28

OT: Ex. 5: 22-7:24

No big thoughts or elaborate theories today. I just have a few odds and ends:

--I am kind of confused by the language used to describe God's reaction to the Israelites. In 6:5, God tells Moses, "I have heard the groaning of the Israelites...and I have remembered my covenant." Exodus 2:24 says almost the exact same thing, but refers to God in third person. I have to say, I don't really get what the text is saying about God here. Is Moses using anthropomorphism, giving human characteristics to Something that is not human? B/c I don't think that this was the first time God had heard the Israelites. And I don't think He had forgotten his covenant. The text kind of makes God sound absent-minded to me, so I must be getting the wrong impression.

--Why did Moses stop the genealogy with Levi? I mean, I know he is from Levi, and he is clearly sharing his own genealogy here, but why list the sons of Reuben and Simeon if his point was to focus on him and Aaron? And if that wasn't his point, why didn't he list the rest of the brothers? And more importantly, why do I care? (Remember, I'm a "list" person:).)

--Luke has been crawling in my bed each morning and requesting that I read stories from "my Bible" (meaning, The One Year Bible). I have been impressed with how well he listens, and with the fact that he always wants more. I read a lot of the Moses/Pharoah story to him today (with no commentary from me), and after I was done, he asked, "Why did God make Pharoah mean?" I was impressed with the insight shown in that question (much better than when he wanted to know what ornaments were on Joseph's "richly ornamented" coat and whether or not it had candy canes:)). Courtney brought it up in the comments yesterday. Does anyone have any insights into that?

NT: Matt. 18: 23-19:12

In my mental file folder of "Scary Things Jesus Says About Judgment," you can find the parable of the unmerciful servant alongside the "sheep and the goats" and Matt. 12: 36-7 ("But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."). I have some non-Jesus scaries, too (like I Cor. 13:3 and Heb. 10: 26-7). The non-Jesus ones will wake you up, sure, but the ones out of the mouth of Christ have the most "bite" to me. Like this parable. The idea that God's forgiveness of us is directly dependent on our forgiveness of others is just scary to me. And I have to hand it to him: this is one masterfully told story. It kind of reminds me of Nathan's story to David about the sheep; like that one, it sets you up for a massive sucker punch at the end.

After going into region of Judea, some Pharisees question Jesus about marriage. I have a friend's marriage that is weighing very heavily on my heart today, so His words in verses 4-6 really resonated with me: '"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."' I am reminded here that marriage is such a sacred institution. It makes me think of Ephesians 5, where Paul uses the relationship between Christ and the church to describe the relationship between husband and wife...and he then reveals that his discussion about husband and wife was itself really a metaphor for Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32)! That whole metaphor-within-a-metaphor loop is a little mind-boggling, but just the thought that our marriages have mutually intertwined symbolism with Christ's relationship with the church is so powerful to me. Paul says that we as Christians have a "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). And I believe that when we participate in a godly marriage, we mirror that ministry of reconciliation to the world. And that's why it is such a tragedy when Christian marriages fail. (I'm indebted to Gary Thomas' Sacred Marriage for pointing out some of these concepts.)

All that said, God, please be with all the marriages in our church, and especially with the ones who are struggling and asking for prayers. Please fill the Christians in these marriages with Your Spirit and and love and wisdom and mercy. Please, God.

Psalm 23: 1-6

There was a period of life where, due to my own ignorance and narrow-mindedness, the 23rd Psalm had become "cliche" to me. I guess maybe I had just heard it too much or something. Regardless, I was an idiot to ever fail to recognize the beauty of this psalm! It is a masterpiece, and it's iconic status makes it resonate even more with me today. I cannot even pick out favorite lines and phrases because every word is nourishment to my soul this morning.

Proverbs 5:22-23

I like the description of evil deeds "ensnaring" a man, of sin becoming cords that "hold him fast." I like it not because it is pleasant, but because it is so apt. Sin masquerades as freedom sometimes, but it is really so limiting. It limits our life and our options both in obvious physical ways and in profound spiritual ways.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January 27

OT: Ex. 4:1-5:21

I am still finding Moses extremely intriguing today. What makes that guy tick? How did the Action Hero become the Whiny, Do-Nothing? What happened there? Allow me to float a theory...

Being a man of action was something that Moses got "honest." Even his birth involved some derring-do. Like young Moses himself, his mom was not one to sit back and do nothing. She took risks, bucked the law, and took matters into her own hands regarding her son. Having some knowledge of that, and seeing how unique and privileged his life was, Moses probably assumed he was something special. He probably assumed that God had some big plans for him. After all, his placement in this world was nothing short of a miracle. Surely God had a hand in that!

And yet, when Moses tried to do something, it all blew up in his face. Nothing happened the way he thought it would, he was forced to flee, and he spent the next however-many years as a nobody in the desert. Basically, life as he knew it was permanently over (or so it seemed). Physically speaking, he was completely marginalized from all that was going on in Egypt. He was cut off, voiceless. Moses probably spent those years feeling very stupid that he had ever considered himself something special. He probably became hardened and cynical during those years, so much so that even the voice of God was met with his skepticism.

That's just a theory, of course. I love trying to figure out why people do what they do. Next to God, people are the most interesting things on this planet to me:). I will say that I, too, have been disappointed when I thought that God was going to do something really awesome, only to see His plan go in a disappointingly different direction. Whether it was to heal my brother, start a revival of the church, draw someone to Him, change someone's life, whatever...I have had all these visions of grandeur, only to be crushed when my hopes did not materialize. It takes faith to believe that God's plan is better than our own lofty daydreams. It takes faith to see how forty years (or whatever) of being a shepherd in the desert is better than intervening and fighting for your people.

I have also thought a lot about a very bizarre scene in this morning's reading. Why on earth did God appear to Moses on the way to Egypt, all ready to kill him? What was that about? I still don't really understand, but here is my best take. It says in verse 20 that Moses has "sons," plural. And yet, Zipporah only circumcises one son. It strikes me that Zipporah knows what circumcision is, she knows how to do it, and she knows that it is something that would appease God in this moment. Based on all that, I theorize that it was only the youngest son who was not circumcised. I think that by that point in his life (the point of his last son's birth), Moses was so hardened and cynical toward God that he had stopped circumcising. He was no longer participating in the covenant between God and the people of Abraham. And even after God appeared to him and talked to him, even after he started back to Egypt, he still had not circumcised his son. That makes it seem like he is not taking this whole thing incredibly seriously. Even after talking directly to God, he does not see the need to consecrate his family before God or to obey His command. And...I guess God got tired of that.

Again, that's just a random theory. Regardless, the grossness of spontaneous circumcision aside, I like stories about quick-thinking women who save their families:).

NT: Matt. 18: 1-22

I love the concept of having to become a like a little child to enter the Kingdom of heaven. I've always heard and assumed that it meant to have a child-like faith. I continually seek that.

I also find it interesting that I am so determined to take Jesus' words in the sermon on the mount strictly literally, and yet I still have my hands and eyes. Apparently, I don't take literally his admonition to blind myself to keep from sinning, just like I don't take literally his talk about moving mountains and hating my family. My picking and choosing seems a bit contradictory to me. I guess the reason I take the radical love stuff more literally is that Jesus' love was not a metaphor. It had a metaphorical dimension, sure, but the cross was real. And he really washed His disciples' feet. But still, I do see somewhat of a contradiction in my thinking there.

And I am also very happy that verses 15-17 and 21-22 are in the same passage because they highlight something that I find kind of confusing. In the first section, Jesus says to confront the one who has sinned against you, and if he does not repent, then you are to treat him as an outsider. The second passage, on the other hand, says to forgive someone up to 490 times. Hmmm....

This sounds wrong, but here is a thought I have on all that. We are to forgive people because God forgave us. Our forgiveness is to be a reflection of God's grace. And yet, God does not forgive us if we don't repent. So, if someone sins against me, I confront them, and they don't I to withhold forgiveness from them? Again, it sounds wrong, but in a way, to forgive someone who is unrepentant and determined to keep sinning doesn't sound very reflective of Christ. the same time, God is their judge, not me. And when we don't forgive people, it eats us up inside. I know people who have been abused by other people who will never repent. Some of the abusers are even dead by now. But if the abused people don't forgive them, anger and resentment will make their lives bitter. So it seems like forgiveness is good...but I do notice that Jesus never specifically says that we have to forgive someone who is not repentant. Or does He? Someone help me here!:)

Verse 18 has another reference to binding and loosing stuff. What I would give to understand exactly what that means!

Psalm 22: 19-31

More of David's pleas for God's rescue. I am always ambivalent when people promise praise to God if He saves them, as David seems to do here. It sounds kind of like you are bargaining with God: Do this for me, and I'll do this for you. Maybe not, though. Maybe I am just being cynical.

Prov. 5: 15-21

As a wife, I really love this admonition for husbands to be satisfied with their wives:). Preach on, Solomon!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January 26

OT: Ex. 2:11-3:22

It has only recently been brought to my attention what a go-getter young Moses was. To me, his defining moment, personality-wise, has always been his reluctant reaction to the burning bush. But really, that Moses was a far cry from his younger self. Young Moses took an active interest in his suffering kinsmen, killed an abusive Egyptian, and sought to intervene in a fight between Israelites. Even after he fled in fear from Pharoah, he bravely came to the rescue of Jethro's daughters at the well. I mean, in that scenario, Moses was just a weary stranger taking a break. It took some initiative and passion to drive away a bunch of shepherds and then water the women's flock. I really admire young Moses. And I wonder what happened to him.

Clearly, young Moses was somewhat misguided. It seems like, with the Hebrew slave situation, he knew that he should do something to intervene, and he was willing to intervene, but he just didn't know how to intervene. Even if he hadn't gotten "caught" the first time, I just don't think that going around and picking off mean Egyptians was the most effective strategy for helping his people. It is also interesting that, despite his position of relative power and his sympathy toward the Hebrews, the Hebrews themselves didn't seem too keen on him.

So if young Moses was passionate but misguided, what was old Moses? Was he disillusioned? Cynical? Weary? Self-doubting? What had happened in the years between his daring shepherdess rescue and his encounter with God? I would really like to know...

NT: Matt. 17: 10-27

Like the mysterious "keys to the Kingdom" reference in yesterday's reading (16:19), today's reading offers a tantalizing glimpse into the potential power of the church. A man brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus and explains that Jesus' disciples couldn't cast out the demon. The disciples' inability to heal the boy seems to vex Jesus a bit. He sighs, "O unbelieving and perverse long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (17:17). It is funny to me that this exasperates Jesus so much. I mean, I can see how when His disciples say dumb things, it frustrates Him sometimes, but c'mon! This is a powerful demon we're talking about! Jesus acts like it is no big thing, like the disciples should just be able to kick it right out. Personally, I am impressed that the disciples can cast any demons out!

When the disciples privately question Jesus about their inability to drive out the demon, he explains to them bluntly that is is because they "have so little faith." He goes on to say, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (20). Now, regardless of your opinion about modern miracles and healings and that sort of thing, do you not get the impression from this verse that we Christians today might be missing something? That maybe there is some kind of power that we are not tapping into? That maybe we have some faith issues today? I don't know...I acknowledge that Jesus might be speaking figuratively about the mountain, but I just can't read Jesus here without thinking that I must be missing something. I don't feel like I have that kind of power in my life.

I do feel like I'm getting a little closer to understanding that power. I have been really praying for the Spirit lately, for small miracles like being filled with love and joy and peace despite the stress of my day. I have prayed for God's wisdom and focus when I am overwhelmed and for His strength when I am weak. And it has been amazing to feel that fruit of the Spirit in my life and to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is not me. Sure, I can grit my teeth and "make it" through the day on my own power as a fairly decent human being. I can push on and persevere and not snap at anyone or be ugly. But when I am filled with the Spirit, it is not a "grit your teeth and try real hard" thing. In those times, my existence is not defined by my own strenuous efforts but by His power. And that is a cool feeling. I am pretty interested in seeing what else He can do in my life, in what other ways His Spirit can use me for His kingdom.

Psalm 22: 1-18

Well, I should have saved yesterday's ruminations on David's "down"side for today! Oh well. Just know that Psalms 21-22 perfectly encapsulate what I am talking about when I speak of David's erratic nature.

It is also cool to think of the connection this psalm has to Christ. He Himself identified it as a prophecy about Him when He cited it on the cross. And sure enough, several parts of this psalm point specifically to Him. Verses 16-18 are especially pertinent.

Prov. 5: 7-14

More warnings against following the adulteress. I was especially intrigued by verse 9, which warns the son to stay away, "lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel." The idea of giving our best strength away to an ignoble cause is interesting to me. What a tragedy that would be.

Monday, January 25, 2010

January 25

OT: Gen. 50:1-Ex. 2:10

Well, we've crossed over into Exodus.

What struck me today was just the immense suffering of the Israelites. First of all, it must have been so scary, disorienting, and overwhelming to have your freedom just stripped from you like that. The Israelites had no recourse, no way out. They went from living freely to being pressed into hard labor as slaves. The text says that the Egyptians "worked them ruthlessly" and "made their lives bitter." That really struck me. Their whole lives were made bitter. Their whole lives were defined by suffering and hardship. And with Pharoah's edict regarding the babies, the value of their lives were degraded, and the family unit, part of the fabric of their very existence, was destroyed. They weren't like David, who had his ups and downs. They didn't walk through the valley of the shadow of death; they lived there.

It kind of blows my mind that such lifelong suffering can be part of God's plan. I wonder what His feelings are on the matter. Clearly, He feels that He can use suffering to accomplish His purposes. But is He heartbroken over it? I sometimes think so. Tonight, I heard a testimony from a man who spent many years of his life suffering from sin, both his sin and the sin of others. It was very hard to keep from bawling all the way through. And in the middle of choking back my tears, I thought, "Surely this reaction is of God. Surely this is some reflection of how He feels about suffering." But I also see how in His wisdom, God could see the end result of suffering, could see what it all means in ways that we can't. Maybe that mitigates His sorrow.

There I go, trying to figure out God again. One day I'll know. I look forward to that Day.

NT: Matt. 16:13-17:9

Jesus says something very enigmatic about the Kingdom in verse 19, and I really wish I knew exactly what He is talking about. Something tells me that an exact knowledge of the meaning of this verse would be very revelatory. I think it would put a lot of pieces together for me. So if anyone has any ideas, by all means, fire away.

Poor Peter. This guy's mouth is on a roller coaster ride this reading. First, he confesses that Jesus is the Christ, which is an amazing moment. And then shortly thereafter, he pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Him for all that "dying" talk. I like Jesus' response where He says, "you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Jesus then goes on to elaborate on some "things of God": "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses it for me will save it" (24-5). It's crazy how the "things of God" are so opposite the "things of men." They are the opposite of our survival instinct, our innate selfishness. In my life, I yearn for the things of God. And yet, because they are so foreign to my instincts, it is hard for me to 1) believe them and 2) practice them. Dying to self is hard. I sometimes feel like I get glimpses of the radical Truth of Jesus' call, only to have those glimpses obscured by my instinct for self-preservation and my "common sense."

And lastly, a quick thought: I wonder how Peter and co. knew that those guys with Jesus were Moses and Elijah. I think it had to be one of those things where they "just knew."

Psalm 21: 1-13

You know, reading through the Psalms, David sometimes seems like a basket case. Like I alluded to earlier, he's up, he's down, he's up, he's down. This man is definitely not a stoic! But I think the reason for the wild ride is that David is completely authentic before God. I don't think I give my emotions such free reign as he does before God. I try to be more...well, more stoic, I guess. And I am honestly realizing that a lot of that comes from pride. I remember one time when I was really, really hurt by something that only God could have prevented. And for weeks, I did not reflect my sorrow to God. My prayers were more along the lines of, "I know that You give and You take away. You have already blessed me so much. I know You don't owe me anything. So, just to let you know, I'm cool with this." I later realized that I was really just being stubborn and angry. I was hurt by God, and hurt that He let something like that happen, knowing that it would hurt me. And I felt stupid crying out to the one Person who could have prevented it. I saw through that that it sometimes takes humility to be truly sorrowful before God.

Not that David is sorrowful before God here. Quite the opposite. But the whole time I was reading all these really great things that God has done for him, I was thinking back to those other times that he was just broken and defeated. Apparently, I'm in kind of a somber mood tonight:). I think it was the testimony.

Proverbs 5: 1-6

I think it is so true how sin (described here, specifically, as an adulteress) entices with such wonderful promises, with words that "drip honey" and are "smoother than oil." And yet, "in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword." It is amazing how directly applicable that metaphor is to all manner of sins, from illicit sex, to alcohol and drug abuse, to gluttony, etc. Seeing the effects of sin is always so heartbreaking. I remember at Workcamp once, we were building sheds, and a teen remarked that "construction was an unforgiving profession." He meant that, if you make one little mistake in measuring or leveling, the consequences for your building were often disproportionately large compared to the mistake. I think sin is like that. So often, a small slip-up yields disastrous consequences.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 24

OT: Gen. 48:1-49:33

I enjoyed the moments of tenderness in today's narrative. I liked the picture of Ephraim and Manasseh sitting on Jacob's knee, and I liked the affection in Jacob's reply, "I know, my son, I know" (19). Awww....

I have always found Jacob's blessings to his sons to be so interesting and confusing. I wish I had a more complete knowledge of the rest of their history to see how his blessings played out. I also wish I knew what he was talking about with Reuben defiling his bed. Huh??

Jacob's blessing to Simeon and Levi provided more confirmation of my low opinion of them. They are violent, angry men, and Jacob definitely does not approve.

I like his blessing to Judah. I must say, Tamar incident notwithstanding, I do see a lot of righteousness in Judah. And even with the Tamar thing, his reaction to Tamar's proof was not a foregone conclusion. Men in power have done much worse when they were embarrassed by someone. But Judah publicly recognizes his hypocrisy and does the right thing. I'm not saying he's a saint, of course. But my final prognosis is that I like him:).

It seems that Jacob sees the "other six" kind of like I do. His blessings are shorter and kind of superficial for them. "Asher's food will be rich"? Who cares?:) And I wonder if the men of Dan went on to be known for their guerrilla warfare. That's what I kind of got from his blessing to them (16-17).

And I still love the phrase, "was gathered to his people." That is a comforting image.

NT: Matt. 5: 29-16:12

Ah, the feeding of the 4,000--one of the many times where I picked on the disciples only to eventually realize that I was just like them. I used to think that they were so dumb to have seemingly completely forgotten the feeding of the 5,000 and to be just as clueless as they were the first time. (Did I mention that I can be a bit judgmental?) And yet, I have a habit of rejoicing over the ways God is faithful to me, only to turn around and freak out at the next challenge/obstacle/disaster coming down the pike. And the thing is, I even write down the amazing things God has done for me, the great ways that He has come through. But apparently, I have a latent belief that yesterday is no guarantor of tomorrow, or something. Like the disciples, I find myself back at square one a lot.

As I was reading about all that, I thought, "One day, I'm going to find out that I'm not as great as I think I am with figurative language, and then I won't even have that to hold over them!":) But nope, I got to the "yeast of the Pharisees" debacle and literally laughed out loud from verse 7 to verse 12. I especially cracked up at Jesus' exasperation ("How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread?") I will always pick on them for that:).

Psalm 20: 1-9

David's psalm continues the theme of blessing that began in our OT passage. My favorite blessing is, "May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed" (4). Amen!:) And of course, the idea that "Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God" is always a good thought (7). I think it is interesting that the Bible consistently and repeatedly tells us not to put our trust in the physical but to trust in God. And as much as we hear the many, many admonitions, as much as we see the many, many stories of God's miracles, as much as it is pounded into our is still SO hard for us to do (or maybe this is just me). Talk about hard-headed! Despite all that, I sometimes find the most difficult command in Scripture to be "walk by faith and not by sight."

Prov. 4: 20-21

Verses 20-22 has more descriptions of wisdom as life. And verse 23 is one of my all time favorite verses: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." I emphasize that one to the teen girls a lot:).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January 23

OT: Gen. 46:1-47:31

I must say, I kind of got chills yesterday during Joseph's joyous reunion speech when he happily invites his whole family to Egypt. Yeah, it sounds great now, but we all know how that's going to turn out. Joseph, of course, recognizes the move as being in line with God's plan, and it is. In today's reading, God Himself assures Israel that going down to Egypt is the right choice: "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again" (46: 3-4). All of that is totally true, and God is faithful...but His ways are not always the easy ones. That's for sure. There is a lot that happens in between Israel's present and the fulfillment of God's promise that is probably better for them not to know right now.

I must say, the modern American in me chafed at Joseph's hard dealings with the people. I am reminded of how foreign a concept "welfare" was back then, and even how revolutionary God's own instruction was for his people to leave behind some of their grain for the poor. Apparently, you didn't just give grain away back then, even if people were starving. Instead, you bought all their livestock, all their land, and even them as people. Joseph may just be executing Pharoah's wishes at this point, but I find it sadly ironic that his family will one day end up on the wrong side of that type of hard-nosed policy.

I also think it is interesting how detestable the Hebrews already were in the Egyptians' sight. Back in 43:32, the text describes a meal with Joseph and his brothers: The Egyptian servants "served [Joseph] by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptian who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to them." Then in today's reading, Joseph instructs them to tell Pharoah that they are shepherds, saying, "Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians" (46:34). Is it any surprise that this relationship did not end well?

NT: Matt. 15: 1-28

I am still finding Jesus' relationship to the Law very interesting. He came to fulfill it, yes, but in the meantime, He seems to be breaking it left and right. Although, I can't remember if the ceremonial washing of hands before eating was part of God's Law, or if it was added later. Regardless, Jesus thinks it's a little bit ridiculous.

And He has a good point. When He chastises the Pharisees, He appeals to the heart of the Law. "Honor your father and mother" is one of the ten commandments, but the Pharisees break it when they neglect their parents for the sake their own traditions. I think it's easy to bash the Pharisees here, but I recently gained some insight into them when I read all about Jewish history in one of my books, Writings of the New Testament. That book described the Jewish act of interpreting the Law as a communal activity. I am really fuzzy on the details right now, but the Jews call it midrash, and those writings are basically transcriptions of conversations between the Jewish leaders as they try to figure out how to apply the Law to modern times. See, Jewish life had evolved. When the Jews received the Law, for example, they were more agrarian. By Jesus' time, many of them lived in cities, such as Jerusalem. Thus, many of them didn't have fields at that point. could they follow the Law that says to leave behind grain in your fields for poor people? Midrash was an attempt to interpret the Law for "modern" times, to find ways to obey it when you are living a different lifestyle. Honestly, reading the whole explanation kind of made me sympathize with the Pharisees. They were zealous for the Law and were trying to figure out how to keep it. They weren't like the Israelites in older times who completely neglected the Law. On the contrary, they were very dedicated to upholding it. In fact, their goal was to provide a "hedge around Torah" so that they would not even come close to breaking it. But sadly, their zealotry over how to keep the exact letter of the Law ended up completely missing the point. It took them away from God, to the point where Jesus called them "blind guides."

I find the example of the Pharisees convicting. Like them, I see the value in Scriptural interpretation as a communal event. Yes, we are supposed to read the Bible as individuals, but if we only lean only on our own understanding, we are liable to end up with some wacked-out, divisive views. I believe that we should always be studying and interpreting as the body of Christ together. Like them, I also seek to know how to interpret Jesus' teachings in modern times. I try to figure out how to apply it in specific ways to my life today. No one has ever slapped me on the cheek, for example. So what does "turn the other cheek" look like to me? I seek answers like that. And like them, I like "hedges" and boundaries. For example, God gives specific commands regarding marriage. However, I've never read any specific commands regarding male/female friendships outside of marriage. Even so, I have my own "policies" governing my interactions with other men. You won't, for example, find me going out to eat with another man or talking to another man about my problems. Not that the Bible specifically says that's wrong, but that's a "hedge" that I put around the Bible's commands.

So really, I see that I have a lot in common with the Pharisees' view of Scripture. The warning I get from Jesus is not to miss the point. The point of Scripture is not rules, but relationship. God might lead me, for example, to fulfill "turning the other cheek" in specific ways in my own life, but I am not the interpreter of that command for other people and their situations. I can point to Scripture and advise and recommend, but when it comes down to it, I am no authority. Similarly, I might put up hedges to help keep me close to God, but I shouldn't judge other people if their hedges look different. And I shouldn't miss the point with my hedges. If they are becoming a distraction from God or are hardening me to His will, then I need to change them.

Well, that was a meandering tangent. I did not dream when I started typing that I would go off on all that. One more thing before I move on: I love that when Jesus calls the Pharisees "blind guides," Peter asks him to "explain the parable to us." That's what I'm talking about with the figurative language:). They make me laugh sometimes:).

Psalms 19: 1-14

What an amazing psalm. I always forget how much it has in it! I love the ode to nature in v. 1-8, and the way it describes nature as a form of divine revelation. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge" (1-2).

And I like the shift from praise of general revelation to praise of special revelation (isn't that what Scripture is called?). Keith Lancaster made parts of this portion into a song, and I always sing it in my head while I read it.

David is finally showing some humility in 12-13: "Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me." Amen!

My favorite verse of this psalm, though, is the last one: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer." I latched onto that one a couple years ago while reading through the Psalms, and it has since found it's way into most of my journals and Bible covers:).

Prov. 4: 14-19

Good reasons not to follow the path of the wicked.

(Poor Proverbs--I'm always out of words by the time I get here)!

Friday, January 22, 2010

January 22

OT: Gen. 44:1-45:28

Okay, maybe Joseph is messing with his brothers some, what with the false accusations of stealing and all. I think his main objective is to get Benjamin to stay behind with him, but he definitely struck terror into their hearts with that one.

I am continually compelled to psychoanalyze the brothers. My newest diagnosis: Reuben has a good heart, but he is kind of cowardly. He really seemed to care for Joseph at the beginning, but couldn't stand up to his brothers. And then, he was the first to guarantee Benjamin's safety to his dad, but when they were all in front of Joseph, it was Judah who had the guts to speak up. And since I am all about reading too much symbolism into an event, I found it interesting that Judah offered to trade his life for Benjamin. He has a Descendant who will take that concept to the next level.

I'm also realizing why it is so hard for me to remember the names of the "other six" (Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulon). They are basically non-characters.

I really felt for Joseph when he bawled like a baby upon revealing himself to his brothers. Talk about some passion. I also thought it was conspicuous that the text only mentioned Benjamin weeping with him. I wonder how the other brothers reacted. Were they scared? Relieved? Resentful of all the mind games? Who knows...

But, I must say, all in all, that was a good story:).

NT: Matt. 14: 13-36

I really like the picture we get of Jesus in this passage. He has just been informed of the death of one of his closest friends, John the Baptist. Understandably, he withdraws "by boat privately to a solitary place" (13). Do you see the emphasis on privacy? On his need to be alone? Jesus was just dealt a blow. He needs to mourn, to regroup, to process.

But instead, he is greeted by a crowd clamoring for Him, wanting something out of Him. This situation seems like an extreme version of what I have experienced often in my life. Sometimes, physically and emotionally, I am at the end of my rope. I need to recharge, to go off by myself somewhere and commune with God. But life just doesn't let me. It keeps going, and people (like my kids) keep needing something out of me. It is during those times that I hope and pray that I can be like Jesus, who "had compassion on them" and helped them. It is not always convenient to do God's work. We don't always feel like we have the emotional resources. But often, it has to be done anyway. I find comfort in knowing that Christ was in those situations, too. And that I have "the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2: 16) and His Spirit in me to help me.

And along those same lines, Christ uses the opportunity to teach His disciples to work beyond their resources. Their physical resources of food were woefully inadequate to feed thousands of people. Yet, in Jesus' hands, those resources were more than enough. (Court--can you tell that I'm thinking of you with all this "resource" talk? Thanks for that line of thinking:).)

Afterwards, Jesus finally gets His needed "alone" time and goes "up on a mountainside by himself to pray" (21). And then...He decides that it is a lovely night for a stroll on the water. (Just kidding--it's storming.) What follows is another relatable moment for me. First of all, I should say that I love Peter. I spent years making fun of him before I realized how much we have in common: the propensity to put our foot in our mouth, the passion without the understanding, the get the picture. And like Peter, I have so often gotten all excited and stepped out in faith, only to freak out two steps later and fall flat on my face. Or sink in the water, as the case may be. I love that Jesus "immediately" reaches out his hand and catches him. After gently chiding him, I guess they walk back to the boat on the water together, which is cool also. Or maybe Jesus carried him. Regardless, I love Peter's willingness to get out of the boat, I relate to his freaking out, and I am so thankful that Jesus is always there to pull us back up.

Psalm 18: 37-50

After all these years, I still haven't quite reconciled the OT violence with the NT teachings of Jesus and the apostles. I trust that they fit together, but it doesn't really click with me how they fit together. The psalmist here is pumped that he has beaten his enemies "as fine as dust borne on the wind" and that he has "poured them out like mud on the streets" (42). Again, that just doesn't sound like Jesus to me. Maybe Jesus' teachings in that regard were a totally "new treasure":).

Prov. 4:11-13

I always love the imagery of being guided along "straight paths" (11). And I was intrigued to read another description of wisdom as life: "Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" (13). What a cool verse.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21

OT: Gen. 42: 18-43:34

Still loving the story. Sometimes in the Bible, people's actions seem inexplicable to me. They just don't respond quite like I would imagine myself responding. In this story, however, there are so many relatable moments. For instance, I can totally see the interchange between Jacob and his sons in 43: 6-7. Jacob: Why did you tell him you had another brother in the first place? The sons: He asked! How were we supposed to know he would say to go back and get him???

Good point:).

I also think it is interesting that Joseph chose to keep Simeon. That kind of backs up my "Simeon and Levi are jerks" theory. Maybe there was a little revenge involved there? And along those same lines, I think it is interesting that Reuben and Judah both dramatically promise their father that they'll bring back Benjamin; Levi is not so inclined. Keep in mind that Levi is older than Judah (as is Simeon). These two just don't seem like great older brothers.

I think Joseph's steward's response in verse 23 is interesting: "It's all right...Don't be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver." I wonder if the steward is in on it, if he knows the whole deal. Or maybe he is just reciting what Joseph told him to say. Regardless, it is clear that Joseph's intention is not to terrorize his brothers or to make them suffer. He just seems to be trying to figure out what to do.

I found the scene where he sees Benjamin again to be very moving. Poor Joseph! He had been away from his family for so long...

NT: Matt. 13: 47-14:12

Jesus tells another kingdom parable in 13: 47-50. This time the Kingdom is described as a net that catches fish, which will be separated on the shore. This one is pretty straightforward and seems to be clearly talking about the "full Kingdom" that is coming at the end.

Jesus then asks the disciples if they have understood all these things. Their answer is succinct: "Yes." My answer is succinct, too: "Yeah, right." Keep in mind that these are the same guys who, when Jesus warns them to be on their guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, think he is fussing at them because they didn't bring bread. Figurative language is not their strong suit! I think Jesus kind of sees through it, too, because he immediately throws out another really cryptic zinger: "Therefore, every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." So, disciples, make what you will of that!:)

And what do we make of that? (Like I know.) If nothing else, I think his comparison underscores the fact that Jesus' teachings are connected to the teachings of the Old Testament and are "in line" with them, while at the same time taking them to a new, previously unknown level. I actually kind of saw this in our readings from Psalms and Proverbs today, but I'll talk further about that when we get to those passages.

But first, we have to read about the sad death of John the Baptist. This is one of those stories where my innocent-kid interpretation clashes with what I now think is really going on. As a child, I guess I pictured Herodias' daughter being, like, five years old and coming out in a tutu or something. And now, um, I don't think it was exactly like that. To say the least. It is sadly ironic that the same gross immorality that John the Baptist condemns in Herod is what kills him. And the whole reason for his death is so ridiculous and seemingly arbitrary. It all has to do with Herod's immorality, his big fat mouth, and his unwillingness to be embarrassed. Yeah, those are great reasons for someone to die. Very noble. But, you know what? John's role was over. It was time for him to go. His was a depressing demise, to be sure, but in a way, it was also the best day of John's life.

Mission: accomplished. Now, the "Elijah who was to come" can rest.

Psalm 18: 16-36

Here is the second half of David's victory psalm. What struck me today (besides David's continuing confidence in his morality) was our highlighted verses: "It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the deer; he enables me to stand on the heights." The part that really jumps out is how David acknowledges that it is God who makes his way perfect. See, the Old Testament sometimes gives the impression to me that people can be moral on their own strength. Take God's words to Cain in Gen. 4:6: "...sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Or take Moses' "choose life" speech, which he delivers when he gives the people the Law. He tells them, "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach" (Deut. 30 11). You know, I just get the impression from those verses that people can obey the Law. But David (who, again, was a man after God's own heart) understood the deeper truth that it was God who was responsible for any moral uprightness. And that's what Jesus taught. See? New treasures as well as old...

Prov. 4: 7-10

Here is another "old treasure" that Jesus taught in a new way: "Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding" (7). I don't know about you, but wisdom sounds a lot like the pearl of great price here. I am getting interested in this picture of Wisdom in Proverbs. It is described in similar terms as Jesus describes the Kingdom, and it is also described in similar terms as Christ Himself. For instance, we read earlier that wisdom was a means through which God created the world (Prov. 3: 19: "By wisdom the Lord laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place"). That reminded me of John 1, which talked about Christ (i.e. "the Word"): " In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." Again, this seems like another "old treasure" that Jesus makes new. Wisdom here is something more than just intelligence, or a logical approach to things, or a "good head on one's shoulders." The wisdom of Proverbs seems like a divine gift, a path to life. (Oooh! That's another one! Prov. 3: 22: Sound judgment and discernment "will be life for you." And the whole book of John repeatedly calls Jesus the "life"). Basically, wisdom is described in similar terms as Christ and His kingdom is. That is cool to me. I feel like there is more there, but that's all I've got right now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20

OT: 41:17-42:17

No deep thoughts today--I just enjoyed the story. I fluctuate between totally understanding Joseph's reaction to his brothers and being totally mystified by him. Today was one of those times where I felt like I "got" him. I could see his confusion, his overwhelmed feelings, and his uncertainty of how to respond all culminating in his harsh, bizarre words to them. He needed time to process.

My favorite moment of today's reading, though, was when Joseph remembered his dream shortly after the brothers bowed to him. I love that moment: the moment when it all clicks together for you and suddenly, everything that seemed so complicated and frustrating before all makes sense. I think of it as a Signs moment, for anyone who has seen that movie. Without giving it away, everything "clicks" together in the end, and the characters finally understand all of these seemingly disparate happenings as part of one divinely-controlled whole. (Okay, maybe that was giving it away.) I have felt that feeling a few times in my own life as circumstances have aligned in uniquely God-driven ways. Often, the "click" comes much later, like when I look back on events and am shocked to see clearly how well Someone was working all things together for the good of those who love Him.

When I looked back to see the placement of Joseph's memory in the narrative, I see that it was what caused him to speak harshly to his brothers. Again, I think that is because he was so overwhelmed by the "bigness" of what is happening that he has to buy time to process it.

NT: Matt. 13: 24-46

The parable of the weeds is one of Jesus' most effective arguments for not judging people prematurely. At least, that is what I get out of it:). Oh, how I like to think that I am a harvester. But no: the angels are the harvesters; I am a servant. Servants are just not bright enough to separate wheat from chaff. In pulling up chaff, we might pull up wheat by mistake. I am reminded of the way the gospels portray the complexity of humanity, how the hated centurions and tax collectors and prostitutes are often the "righteous" ones. Those examples, combined with this parable make me realize that I am not qualified to go around and label "good" and "bad," when it comes to people. Yes, I am told to judge a tree by its fruit, but Jesus also makes it clear that people's hearts and souls and eternal destinies lie far beyond the powers of my own judgment.

And now, we get to some kingdom parables. I have mentioned before that the concept of the kingdom of God has been near and dear to my heart, ever since our church did a series on prayer last year (thanks, church and God!). I spent last spring and summer studying all of the kingdom references in the Bible and reading various books on the idea of the kingdom of God. The basic conclusion I came to was that the "kingdom of God" is anywhere that Christ reigns. He tells his followers that the Kingdom is within them. He tells the people that when He performs miracles, that the Kingdom of God has come to them. So there is a sense that Christ brought the kingdom of God with Him when He came to earth.

However, there is also a degree to which the kingdom has not come in its fullness. The Old Testament prophecies speak of a time when the lion will lay down next to the lamb, a time when men will beat their swords into ploughshares, a time when peace will reign. Clearly, that time has not come yet to earth and will not come until Christ comes back to fulfill all things. SO, there is a sense that the Kingdom of God is "already, but not yet." It is already here, and it has not yet come. Another mind-bender, I know.

I think that most people who study the kingdom agree with that synopsis. The differences really start to set in when we start talking about how then Christians should act. Should we act like the Kingdom is already here? After all, it is here within us. So should we love with perfect, Kingdom-style, turn the other cheek love? Should we as Christians beat our swords into ploughshares? Or should our actions acknowledge that the Kingdom is not yet here? Should we continue to "fight the good fight" on a physical, violent level against our enemies?

Bear with me. I'm realizing that this is tangential, but I'm on a roll. Based on my readings, the granddaddy of "the Kingdom is here, so act like it" philosophy is John Yoder, a Quaker. We'll call people like Yoder, "Alreadies," because they act like the Kingdom is already here. "Alreadies" tend to be pacifists. They believe that God's Kingdom is more powerful than any force on earth, that God's love is more powerful than any force on earth, and that it is the only true "weapon" we have as current Kingdom dwellers. David Lipscomb was an "Already," as was Barton Stone. And apparently, some of the earliest church fathers, like Origen. "Not Yets" on the other hand, believe that in a fallen world, it is immoral not to stand for social justice and to protect the innocent, even with force if necessary. They bemoan the need for forceful "coercion," but they acknowledge how the lack of, er, godly violence can lead to all sorts of suffering and injustice. C.S. Lewis was a "Not Yet." He wrote a pretty compelling essay on why he is not a pacifist. Augustine, Reinhold Neibuhr: also "Not Yets."

So, when I read the kingdom parables (yes, we're back!), I have to try to discern what dimension of the Kingdom they describe. Do they describe the kingdom that is present here and now? Or do they describe the "full Kingdom" that will come at the end of this world? Or do they somehow describe both? For example, take the parables of the mustard seed and the flour. What stage is the kingdom currently in on the spectrum of smallest seed to largest garden plant? And where are we in the dough-mixing process? Did Jesus bring just the seed, or did His life and the life of the church reach plant level? I know those all might sound like weird questions. But I think that for me, I sometimes think of the Kingdom of God like this tiny little seed that makes no real difference in the world. Oh, one day it will, sure. But not now. So I'm not going to fully live in the kingdom now. But part of me wonders if I am just blind to the power of the kingdom of God that is all around me. Maybe the kingdom doesn't have much power in my life because I am too scared to trust in its ways, because I am too scared to be a citizen of the kingdom and live a life of love. Because we all know that turning the other cheek doesn't work, right?


Anyway, moving on. I believe that the last parable is definitely applicable to our lives today. Jesus compares the kingdom to a pearl of great price. When someone finds it, they sell all they have to purchase it. Throughout my life I have had to continually examine if I am truly giving everything to God. I have points where I honestly feel like I have, and then I have points where I know I'm holding something back. Right now, I constantly have to turn over my desires for my family's safety and security to God. It is hard when you have kids. I want to keep them safe according to my definition of safe, and I have to continually remind myself that God loves them much more than I do, and that we all belong to Him.

Psalm 18: 1-15

I love these "rock and refuge" psalms. David is feeling so victorious here. It is fascinating to see how human he is: at times, he is on top of his game and feeling great before the Lord, and at other times, he is flat on his back begging God to help him. I liked the opportunity to rejoice with him today:).

Prov. 4: 1-6

I think it is interesting that, though Solomon's wisdom came directly from God, the wisdom enabled him to see how valuable the teachings of his own parents were in his life. Maybe it was because of his father's teachings that he asked God for wisdom in the first place!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19

OT: Gen. 39:1-41:16

What stood out to me during this reading of the story was how all credit for Joseph's success is given to God. The text makes it explicit several times (39: 2, 5, 21, 23). Joseph himself makes it explicit when he interprets the dreams (40:8, 41:16). And even other people recognize it (39:3). As successful as Joseph is, no one gives him any credit--least of all himself! I love that when Pharoah asks if Joseph can interpret his dream, Joseph flat-out says, "I cannot do it." He goes on to say, "But God will give Pharoah the answer he desires" (41:16). Now, that is some humility! I am really inspired by this example!

It also shows how mysteriously God works. So far, I've decided that God must just be picking the best from a bad lot to accomplish His purposes. But His will is far more mysterious than that. I am beginning to love that Judah's prostitution scandal is interpolated into the Joseph narrative. Knowing that Jesus is going to come from Israel, which person would you think He would choose to use? If I didn't know the genealogy, I would pick Joseph. But nope--God goes the daughter-in-law/hooker route. Not what I would have expected! And yet...He does have big plans for Joseph. After all, it is His work through Joseph that ultimately preserves Jesus' lineage through a deadly famine. That is important!

In my life, there have been so many times when I see the "obvious path" of how God is going to work. And then, He totally doesn't work it out the simple way that I had envisioned. Having those experiences has helped me understand the importance of always pursuing a deeper relationship with Him. I am always to look to Him, not my own understanding or my own perceptions of His will.

NT: Matt. 12: 46-13:23

In the past, I have interpreted verses 46-50 as kind of a slam on Christ's mother and brothers. I mean, c'mon Jesus! At least go out and see them! (And maybe He did.) But this time, I read it not so much as a jab at his physical family as an affirmation of his spiritual one. What would later come to be known as "the body of Christ" is as much a family as one's own flesh and blood. In some ways, it is even more of a family (though I'm blessed to have my physical family as part of my spiritual family). I totally agree with this concept of "church family." I really do think of my church that way. Luke and Anna have so many "grandparents" in the church, and I have spiritual "parents" who set amazing examples for Greg and me. We have brothers and sisters who encourage us on our walk. And I definitely feel a huge responsibility to my many children:). Just this Sunday, a boy about Luke's age came up the aisle crying after church. I didn't see his parents, and so I instinctively ran and scooped him up like I was his mother and then went off to find his real mom:). That act was a physical representation of the spiritual responsibility I feel to all of those children, as members of my "family."

Of course, we all know the parable of the weeds. What struck me today was that I always consider myself the good soil:). And yet, today's reading showed me that my soil might have a few thorns in it. I mean, I don't feel like my faith is getting completely choked out or anything, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth have at times made me unfruitful. And I often wonder how much my worries and fears limit my fruitfulness even in strong times. Hmmm...I will have to think about that some more.

Psalm 17: 1-15

Upon reading an earlier psalm, Becky made a comment regarding David's spiritual confidence before God. That confidence is on full display in this psalm, as well: "Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing" (3). Um, wow. All I have to say about that is that 1) maybe not hearing the Sermon on the Mount gave David some false confidence in his own righteousness, or 2) this man truly was a man after God's own heart. Either way, I know that verse is not something I could say!

Proverbs 3: 33-35

"The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous." As a
"homemaker," I love the idea of God blessing a home. I pray that He blesses ours.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 18

OT: Gen. 35:1-36:43

First things first: today is Martin Luther King Day (fun fact: my son's initials are MLK, and that's not an accident). I love so much about Dr. King, and so I was excited when it was brought to my attention that one of the verses we read today is connected to him. Apparently, there was/is a plaque at the motel where he was shot that quotes Gen. 37: 19-20: "Here comes that dreamer! Come now, let's kill him...Then we'll see what becomes of his dreams." I think that linking that verse to King came through divine insight. The parallels are amazing when I think about them. Both Joseph and King had dreams that others found very offensive and threatening. And yet, both dreams (I believe) were from God. And both dreams prevailed despite the odds and despite all the harm and hate that the world could throw at them.

Okay, now let's delve into the story at hand.

The historian in me wants further insight into Joseph's brothers. I need more interviews! I'm gathering in my head all the scraps of info I have on them (the Leah/Rachel feud, Jacob's favoritism, Simeon and Levi's overblown vengeance on Dinah's rapist...and that's all) and trying to picture everything that went down that day. Reuben and Judah particularly intrigue me. Reuben, the oldest, wanted to spare Joseph, but for some reason could not stand up to his brothers. And yet, after it was too late to do anything, he did come out to his brothers and admit his attachment. And Judah--what was his motivation? Was he being kind-hearted or strictly mercenary? So many questions...

...But not as many questions as I have with the Judah and Tamar story! The Bible is messing with me again! I have prayed for clarity, but there are some things, apparently, that I am not ready to understand. See, Genesis is a history. It's a historical narrative. And historical narratives tell stories for a reason. They have to answer the "so what" question. A biographer, for example, picks and chooses the stories that they tell about a person because they are trying to highlight or explain something important. They might not detail what so-and-so liked to have for breakfast each morning, because who cares? On the other hand, they will share an anecdote if it tells you something--like, for example, if the anecdote reveals the ambition that goes on to drive that man to the Presidency. That would be a story to include. I just don't see what this story is supposed to tell us. Why include it? I mean, what are we even supposed to think? Are we supposed to be proud of Tamar? What are we supposed to see about Judah? It's just bizarre. Plus, I can't even talk about it in detail because I would be too embarrassed!:) The Bible is rated R, people. If this story came on tv, I would switch the channel!

NT: Matt. 12: 22-45

Aw, man, I'm so confused by the Old Testament, and then I get to the New, and even Jesus is being esoteric. I kind of, sort of understand the individual sentences, but what does it all mean put together? Let's see, first he heals a demon-possessed man, and the crowds wonder if he's the Messiah (the "Son of David"). This causes his enemies to try to link him to Satan [Sidenote: Isn't that human nature? I get so tired of hearing about politics, because neither side can ever acknowledge anything good about the other. One side will do something so good that I can't imagine the other griping about it, but they always manage to find a way. They try and turn it around to make the other side look worse than ever. The Pharisees were no exception.] Jesus easily explains the idiocy of their accusations in verses 25-29. He starts to lose me with the "strong man" analogy, but I think I get it. Satan is the strong man, right? And Jesus ties him up and robs him? Hmm, that doesn't sound right:). Maybe not.

Verse 3o ("He who is not with me is against me...") seems to jar with the earlier verses. Maybe he is still trying to delineate the difference between him and Satan? And then verses 31-32 (regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) seems even less connected to His theme. Clearly, I'm missing something.

I'm back on board with verse 33-37...and I catch up just in time to be smacked in the face. "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word that they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Beautifully and powerfully spoken, and yet absolutely terrifying.

Psalm 16: 1-11

Love it, love it, love it. I've decided that I love hearing godly people share their thoughts on God. I love all of your comments, for example. And so I especially love getting to hear the musings of this man after God's own heart. I love every single verse in this psalm, with the exception of 3-4, which just confuse me (and I'm tired of being confused today!:)). Some favorites: "I said to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing'" (2). "I will praise the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me" (7). And the first prize winner goes to, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand" (11).

Prov. 3: 27-32

"Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act" (27). That is a convicting verse. I know so many people who deserve good, and it is very often in my power to act. Not always, mind you, but often. I have been realizing lately that I need to be more on the lookout for people who are needing encouragement, especially people who work so hard for the body of Christ and might need to hear some positive words.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 17

OT: Gen. 32:13-34:31

Oooooh...we have another step in Jacob's continuing relationship with God. When God appears to him and tells him to settle at Bethel, Jacob tells his household to purify themselves and to get rid of any foreign gods. He explains to them that this God is the real deal: "I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone" (35:3). I also find it interesting that God appears to Jacob again in Bethel and basically repeats the promises He told Him the first time. Two thoughts come to mind about that: 1. Jacob had no written word of God, so I'm sure He needed some reassuring reminders of God's promise every once in awhile. 2. I find it interesting how the human relationship with God is somewhat cyclical in nature...and yet how it is not a flat circle, but (ideally) an upward spiral. God appears to Jacob in the same place and basically tells him the same thing...but it is not the same Jacob to whom He speaks. Jacob has come so far in His relationship with God that God's words probably have an whole different significance and effect on him now. It kind of reminds me of different points in my life where I have read and been amazed at the same Scripture. Each time, though, the "me" who reads the Scripture is different, is on a different point on my journey with God.

Okay, the Bible is definitely divinely inspired, but I've also heard that you can see the human authors' personalities come out through their writing. If that is the case, then Moses really liked lists. And if anyone should understand that, it's me. I love lists. I love organizing things. I especially like the combination of lists and recording history, which is what he is doing in 35:23-36:43. However, after reading that, I've decided that Moses' love for lists surpasses even my own! First of all, he records Jacob's sons. Good. Then he takes the opportunity (since Jacob and Esau have just buried Isaac in the narrative) to record Esau's sons. Also good. And then, maybe he thinks that that recording is not "list-y" enough, so he records them again in a more "list-like" form. Okay. And then, he records almost the exact same list again, but this time specifies that the descendants were chiefs. By this point, I'm like, "I got it!" But since Moses is on such a roll, he then goes on to list the sons of some random guy in the region! (Well, he's not totally random, since the region is his region (36:8), and there is some intermarrying between his family and Esau's, but still...) Next, Moses lists the kings and then the chiefs. Talk about thorough! Like I said, I understand the inclination, but

NT: Matt. 12: 1-21

Today, Jesus refers for a second time to one of his "deep concepts": "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." This phrase trips me out. (Now that I typed that, I realize that "trips me out" is probably a hippie drug reference, but if so, it is very fitting. This phrases messes with my mind and expands my perceptions of reality!) In today's reading, Jesus breaks two rules (or maybe the same rule twice), and then He explains why that's okay. That alone throws me for a loop. See, I am a "rule" person. Rules are comforting. They bring order and security to the world. You can follow the rules and know that you are doing the right thing. Compared to Jesus' standard, rules are easy. You can train yourself physically so that the performing of them is second nature. You can have them memorized so that you never have to struggle with what's right and wrong, with gray areas and matters of conscience. Just follow the rules, and you're safe. Sigh. To someone like me, that sounds heavenly.

I have been raised to be a good citizen, to think that rules are good. But Jesus maintains that rules are not enough. Rules can be distorted beyond their original intentions. Rules can become oppressive. A love for rules, in and of themselves, can lead to division and hatred and the desire to kill people. Rules do not bring holiness. They do not bring justification before God.

God does not desire "sacrifice." He does not desire the ritual following of rules per se. He does not desire merely our self-control and personal discipline. He desires something different, something more. He desires something that He sums up as "mercy." Again, this is a really deep concept, and I am just scratching the surface of its meaning, but if I had to sum up the principle of what He is saying, He is saying that we cannot achieve holiness through our own external efforts. To do what God desires, we must be defined by, driven by love. Later Scripture will clarify that we must be controlled by God's Spirit, by His perfect wisdom. No set of rules can provide a perfect guide through life. Rules are no match for sinful human nature. They are so limited, and so easily distorted by man. Instead, we must allow the Spirit to lead us and to guide us into all truth in every situation. Now, that is daunting to me. Rules sound easy by comparison. Keeping in step with the Spirit every second of the day sounds a lot harder. There is no "turning your brain off" there.

Psalm 15: 1-5

I like this psalm. It has a Proverbs-like vibe to it, and yet it is still really lyrical. I love the list of qualities it lays out for a righteous person wanting to "dwell in [God's] sanctuary." My only question regards verse 4. A person who dwells with God should "despise a vile man but honor those who fear the Lord." I really do get that, and believe me, I would like nothing more than to despise a vile man. But how does that square with Jesus' view of loving all people?

Prov. 3: 21-26

"My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck" (21-22). Love it. I love the whole thing, but especially these opening verses. I love how sound judgment and discernment are life. So true. Thinking back on my NT thoughts, I believe that on the core level, true "sound judgment and discernment" come from the Spirit. True wisdom is from God alone (I'm thinking I Cor. 1-ish thoughts right now). I do yearn for wisdom, for sound judgment and discernment, and I am grateful for the hope that the Spirit will grant those things to me as I try to keep in step with Him.

Friday, January 15, 2010

January 16

OT: Gen. 32:13-34:31

Bear with me: today's reading made me realize that I really need to go back and focus on Jacob's evolving relationship with God. So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do it, first of all, because I find the origins of man's relationship with God to be fascinating. This is amazing history, people! These guys didn't have the Bible. They didn't know about Jesus or about Paul's theology or about the Law or Moses and Pharoah or Passover or anything. These people represent our beginnings as humans knowing God! [Sidenote: I don't think I've ever italicized that many words in a sentence before:).]

Furthermore, I see more and more how Jacob is a very representative character. Today's reading makes that explicit when God renames him Israel. The nation of Israel got its name from a man who struggled with God. And they went on to struggle with God. Given our sinful nature, maybe to know God is to struggle with God. Regardless, Jacob is not just representative of Israel to me; he is also representative of humanity. I have been dogging him pretty steadily for days now and taking pains to outline what a loser I think he is. However, I'm realizing that all of his flaws can boil down to one word: Selfishness. He is the essence of a human. Looking back, everything he does--and I mean everything--is for his own gain. Getting the birthright, stealing the blessing, working to acquire his wives, working for his own wealth, trying his hand at cross-breeding, protecting himself from Esau--all of that was for himself. I think American culture would praise him! He knows what he wants and goes for it. He dreams big, works hard, and does what it takes to make it in this world. In short, he is your prototypical selfish human. Just like all of us.

So let's see how this prototypical selfish human relates to God, knowing that he does not have all the background knowledge that we have:

He starts out by blaspheming God, by seeing God as a tool to use to get what he wants. He does this when he invokes God while lying to Isaac, saying, "The Lord your God gave me success" (Gen. 27:20). At least, he has the decency not to claim God. He distinctly says, "the Lord your God." Your God, Dad. Not mine.

Jacob's next step in his relationship with God comes when he has the "stairway to heaven" dream while fleeing from Esau. While marveling at the stairs and the angels, he hears God tell him, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac." God then repeats His promise of descendants and land, and also promises to watch over him. As I noted during this day's reading, Jacob's reaction shows how distant he is from a relationship with God. He assumes that he has happened upon a special patch of ground, and then he gets conditional with God. He says, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey...then the Lord will be my God..." (Gen 28: 20). Do you see the selfishness? He still views God as a tool to use to get what he wants. Only, this time, he is dealing directly with God rather than just using His name. So...he has progressed a little, but only because God took the initiative to talk to Him.

Jacob's next mention of God comes in 30: 2, when he makes a general reference to God when talking to Rachel: "Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?" I'm not sure if this is a new belief for Jacob or if it just represents the theism of the culture at the time, but he acknowledges that God is in control of the events around him. I kind of think that Jacob's just saying that, though. If he really thought that the God he had dreamed about was in control, I feel like he would be wheelin' and dealin' with Him. After all, Jacob loved Rachel, and probably really wanted her to have kids. I kind of think he has forgotten all about that Bethel encounter at this point.

Next, God again appears to Jacob in a dream. This is after he has tried to produce speckled animals using white branches in water (I'm not a zoologist or anything, but that doesn't sound very effective to me). God makes it clear to Jacob that He has made the speckled animals, and He tells Jacob to get the heck outta Dodge. So... Jacob does. He listens! He does what he is told! He even starts giving full credit for his wealth to God! Maybe this dream served as a wake up call. God had reminded him of the dream at Bethel (31:13), and maybe that made him remember his covenant with God. Jacob sees that God can help him out, so he is totally on board with this "following God" stuff. But I wonder what his reaction would be if God asked him to sacrifice a son. Hmmm....

When Laban pursues Jacob, they have some God talk as well. There is nothing too noteworthy, except for that God is twice referred to as the "Fear of Isaac" (21: 42, 53). What does that mean?

Next, angels of the Lord meet Jacob as he is journeying toward Esau (32: 1), and in his stress about the meeting, he takes another new step: he prays. The prayer is a good one, though the skeptic in me is wondering how much Jacob the Self-Preserver is trying to butter God up so that God will help him. He tells God how unworthy he is, he tells him how he's worried for his family, and he discreetly reminds God of His promise to protect him (32: 9-12).

And that brings us to today's reading. For those who are still awake after that long catalog, I thought today's reading was by far the most fascinating and confusing interaction between Jacob and God. It happens when Jacob is once again alone, just like he was at Bethel. This time, God comes in the form of a man and wrestles with him. That. is. bizarre. Why would God do that? Furthermore, why would God come as a man who can't beat Jacob? The text says, "When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man" (32: 25). Huh???

Okay, here is my take (and this is a very rough draft of my thoughts): The wrestling match is representative of God's dealings with humanity. His naming Jacob, "Israel" seems to underscore the metaphorical dimension of this encounter. See, left to our own nature, we want our way, not God's way. In the meantime, God wants His way in our life because His way is what's best for us (wow, what an understatement). And that, my friends, is a conflict. Now, God could let us go our own sinful way straight to hell. BUT in his mercy, He comes down and wrestles with us, engages with us, meets us on our level. He reaches out to us, in other words. But in his infinite wisdom, he chooses not to overpower us. He limits Himself. He gives us free will. But he also draws us to Him and disciplines us and tries to lead us down His path through what we might call, divine intervention. Wrenching Jacob's hip was an example of His "discipline."

Now, Jacob was a stubborn, headstrong soul, so he wrestled with him all night. Finally, God was like, "Let me go. It's morning." I mean, after a certain time period, what's the point in continuing? This guy is not going to give up. But this is Jacob we're talking about, and as usual, he wants something. The man is desperately selfish, and he wants a blessing. So God gives it to him. I don't know what to think about that. I picture Jacob, covered with sweat and exhausted, clinging to God and saying, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (32:26) Again, that sounds selfish to me, but it also sounds...desperate for God. I think Jacob is at a point where he wants a relationship with God. Maybe it is just because he's seen the good things that God can do for him, but regardless, the desire is there. The passion is there, the openness is there, the willingness to engage is there. I don't know. These all seem like good steps to me. Interesting stuff. No, really, it is. Everyone wake up now. I promise I'm moving on:).

NT: Matt. 11: 7-30

With John on his mind (from yesterday's reading), Jesus tells the people how John was more than a prophet, how he was "the Elijah who was to come" from the OT prophecies. He points out the people's double standard in condemning him and John for opposite "crimes." And he notes that the cities in which he did most of his miracles did not repent. Now, that last part is really interesting to me. Sometimes, I wonder why our churches don't have more "fruit." Why aren't we converting the masses like the early church did? But Jesus' situation shows how human nature is not really conducive to converting and conforming to God's will. I mean, Christ Himself performed amazing miracles in these towns...and most people still did not repent! That's crazy!

Lastly, of course I love verses 28-30. But in light of all that "taking up your cross" talk, I'm not sure how "[his] yoke is easy and [his] burden is light." All I can figure is that even taking up your cross and following him is a light burden compared to going through life (and eternity) without God!

Psalm 14: 1-7

I'm pretty sure these are the verses that Paul quotes in Romans 3 (verses 1b-3 sound particularly familiar.)

Proverbs 3: 19-20

God's wisdom formed the earth and the heavens.

Whew, that was an epic entry. Thank goodness for naptime, which allowed me to get it done! If you stayed with me this long, I salute you!