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!


  1. Wow! Thanks for all that, Kim. It was fascinating study. Joseph is my favorite Bible character. After reading today's account, I had to jump ahead through day 24! Like I didn't have a clue how the story would end! Like I hadn't read it many many many times and even held Bible studies on it! It just does that to me. It is so personal! I love personal. Love you!

  2. I always love the Joseph story. I can totally relate to the idea of things culminating into something that makes sense. I'm glad you brought up the fact that Joseph needed time to think about what to do with his brothers. I just thought he was getting back at them, but I like your idea better.

    As for the Kingdom of God stuff, I have certainly not studied it as extensively as you have, but, basically, I think that the Kingdom is a spiritual thing and not so much a physical, literal "peace on earth" kind of thing, so the timing doesn't matter to me. I agree that it is "already, but not yet," and the "already" part is spiritual. It doesn't change how I act. Jesus said to love God and to love our neighbor. Different people have different ideas of the best way to go about "loving," and I think that's okay. I am not a pacifist, but I am certainly not a warmonger either. If it takes force to protect someone who needs to be protected, then so be it. I wholeheartedly believe that there will NEVER be political peace on this physical earth. However, people can have spiritual peace in their hearts despite living through a physical war. Paul advised us to live at peace with everyone as much as it is possible with us (Romans 12), but I think that is on a personal, not national, level. I think this is true of "turn[ing] the other cheek" too. If someone wrongs me personally, I should not get back at them for it. However, I think it would be irresponsible for the leader of a country to allow another country to invade without even trying to defend the borders. Yes, the people in the country could pray for God to save them, but who's to say that God doesn't work through national leaders and military might? Anyway, to me, the stuff going on on this earth is not what's important (at least I try to have that view). It is the spiritual stuff that's important, and only God knows about that. We can only ask for His guidance and trust that He'll stear us right. We don't have to understand His timing. It is enough to know that He knows. (Though, like I said, I have not studied this stuff very much, so maybe I'm wrong. These are just my opinions.)

    I think it is interesting when Solomon talks about his father because we know who his father was. It's like, "Oh yeah, he's talking about David! I know that guy..." It is always neat to see children taking after their parents.

  3. Mom--I love Joseph, too! Finally, a character we can all love!:) I love you, too!

    Becky--We are on very close to the same page when it comes to our beliefs in the use of force. I am kind of torn: on one hand, I find the idea that we as Christians do NOT wage war like the world does to be extremely compelling. (2 Cor. 10: 3-4--"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.") But I also find the argument (made by CS Lewis and others) that we have no right to turn OTHER people's cheeks to be equally compelling. So...I am not a pacifist.

    But it is easy to argue for violence on the national level. Even in relegating "turning the other cheek" to the personal level, how does that play out for a Christian? For example, do you shoot the robber (or beat him with a tennis racket b/c you don't have a gun in the house) or do you share Christ with him? We are always taught that we have the "right" to defend ourselves, but as citizens of the Kingdom, do we?

    Also, and this is probably a matter of semantics, but I wouldn't necessarily call the current Kingdom purely spiritual. When we do acts of love as a result of our citizenship, we bring it into the realm of the physical. Plus(and I know that you aren't doing this), my concern is that when we call something "spiritual," we divorce it from all "practical" matters. And we end up saying that we have peace in our heart while simultaneously wishing that the U.S. would just nuke Iran. Things like that:).

  4. I am torn as well about how our rights as citizens of this country and our responsibilities as Christians jive. As far as personal defense from physical violence, my inclination would be to protect myself at all costs (though if they are just stealing something and not actually trying to hurt me, that might be different), but I can see where that gets fuzzy when trying to turn the other cheek. I don't know. I do know that I get really annoyed with people who, for instance, make a big stink at the fast food restaurant when the underpaid workers get their order wrong. Sure, we have the right to complain, but is it worth ruining the workers' day (and, if they know we are Christians, ruining our witness) just to get a big mac without special sauce? (Okay, yes, I know there are ways to ask for these things nicely, but more often than not people get all huffy about it.) I wouldn't fault someone for pulling out a gun when someone attacks them. It's the stupid, little things that get to me. Those situations are easier to judge. (Though I probably shouldn't be judging anyway.)

    I know it sounds like a cop out to relegate things we don't understand to the spiritual world, and sometimes it is. But, I still say that even when we do things for the Kingdom in this physical world, we are acting according to the Spirit. (Really, though, everything we do has spiritual ramifications whether we realize it or not.) I guess that's the same thing you said, but in reverse.

    As for people who want to nuke Iran (or whatever other stuff like that), I would want to know what their motivation is. Are they just angry, or are they legitimately concerned for their safety or the safety of others? I agree that it seems hypocritical to claim spiritual peace on one hand while lashing out in anger on the other. Most of the time, I think people just don't realize what they are saying. It is easy to say "bad" things about places and people we don't know personally. It amazes me some of the really awful things people say about celebrities. Some of it is downright mean, but the people talking think it's okay just because the people are celebrities, like they don't count as actual people. (This is just another example of something that we think is okay in our culture, even in our Christian culture, that I think is really NOT okay.)

    Anyway, yeah, it's hard to let go of things we feel are our rights. Unfortunately, many of those things are things that, as Christians, we really shouldn't be doing.

    (Sorry, this is probably way off topic from the original passages for today.) :)

  5. Becky,

    I think you are right on about the comments about people and places we don't know very well. I've learned over time to let a lot of those comments go and not let them bother me, b/c, as you said, I don't think they really mean it.

    I was thinking more about personal defense. I really do believe that Christ-like love is a radical, self-sacrificial love, but my new understanding of the sermon on the mount makes me think that there are some things we can never do except by His Spirit. I'm like you: I would go down swinging, if left up to me. So if you ever read in the paper about me getting killed while turning the other cheek, you can know that that was ALL God:).