Sunday, February 28, 2010

February 28

OT: Lev. 22:17-23:44

Thinking about God's view of abnormality helped me to see His commands about sacrificial animals in a new light. I always thought that those were there b/c God wanted only the "best," the "firstfruits." And that's true. But as we discussed yesterday (I'm not using the "royal we" when I say things like this. I picture you actually 'discussing' these things with me, even if it's just in your head:)), abnormality and deformity have deeper, figurative meanings.

Leviticus 22:28 says, "Do not slaughter a cow or a sheep and its young on the same day." Twice earlier, the Israelites were told not to cook a goat in its mother's milk. I wonder if these two commands are also given because of abnormality. I have heard repeatedly, and I know my parents would attest, that it is "abnormal" for children to die before their parents. Parents are supposed to outlive their children. Maybe this is true even in the animal world, which is why God gives the commands. And same with cooking the goat in its mother's milk. That just seems "abnormal." That was all kind of a small point, but since this was the third Scripture on animal parents and children, I thought I would address it. Besides, as you can probably tell, I'm really on a kick with the whole "abnormal" concept. I like it! It helps!

The festival of Booths is so interesting to me (23: 39-43). First of all, I can't for the life of me picture the "booths." The best my brain can give me is a lemonade stand made out of twigs and palm leaves. That or a refrigerator box with "windows" cut out:). Needless to say, neither of those sound incredibly accurate. I also have vague memories of a story we'll read later where the Israelites completely "rediscover" the Law after living apart from it. They are so eager to follow it, and they realize that it is time for the Festival of Booths. So they all go to work, making their Booths. It is so uplifting and...well, cute! It is "cute" to me b/c the Israelites there seem just about as in the dark as I am about the significance of everything; they are just trying to "follow the Law." It's a nice deviation from their typical history.

NT: Mark 9:30-10:12

I'm not picking on the disciples, I promise! I am just very interested in communication. Literal versus figurative language continues to be a big obstacle for them (and to their defense, Jesus is a pretty cryptic guy sometimes). But it is just darkly comical to me that when He talks about his impending demise, they can't, for the life of them, get it. I understand, though. That seems a little too big to wrap one's mind around.

I always love the verses about the last being first and vice versa. And the little child verses. Those verses are so intriguing to me. And I think Jesus' statement, "whoever is not against us is for us" is always interesting, especially since He says the reverse in Matthew. I've heard a lot of explanations, which I've now forgotten, but it still vaguely makes sense to me. They are clearly spoken in two separate contexts. (For anyone who needs further clarification, Coach Sal left a comment on the Matthew version that probably makes more sense than my vague "separate contexts" idea.)

Mark also differs from Matthew in Jesus' statements about divorce. Matthew says, "But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery" (Matt. 5.32). Mark leaves out the "marital unfaithfulness" clause and is much more "equal opportunity": "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery" (10: 11-12). Jesus could have said both these things at different times, but I've also heard that Matthew is more patriarchal and "Law-oriented" as a writer. He was, for example, the one who took great pains to orient Jesus to the OT scriptures, both through his many quotes of prophecies and his listing of the genealogy. It is interesting to see their different personalities show up, if that is indeed what is happening here with the marriage instructions.

Psalm 44: 1-8

I love it when David gives such full credit for his victories to God. He really seems to understand that profound truth that we are nothing and can do nothing without God. I only wish I trusted myself as little as David seemed to. Sometimes, I have far too much confidence in my own abilities.

Proverbs 10: 19

"When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." Whew! I can vouch for the truth of those words. I so wish I was better at holding my tongue. Thank God He has helped me improve as I've grown, but still...there's a lot of room to grow:).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 27

OT: Lev. 20:22-22:16

The first few verses here mention a concept that intrigued me yesterday: the idea of the land "vomiting" the people out. That is a potent image. Today, we hear that people are often bad for the land in strictly environmental terms, that we physically mistreat the land. But God is talking about the idea that their immorality is so "unnatural" that nature itself will vomit them out. Of course, when he earlier refers to the inhabitants of Canaan being vomited out, the reader knows that His people are going to "help" the land along in that process. It does put the Israelites' actions in a different light. Many modern readers might consider their actions to be genocide. In God's eyes, however, it seemed to be a natural, inevitable consequence to their sin.

The main thing that got my attention today was the instruction regarding priests with physical defects. Had Dr. Briley not written his earlier comment, I would have taken huge offense at that. Again, it seems like a lot of these laws would have helped to establish the inferiority of certain people in the eyes of the Israelites. People generally cannot help if they have a physical defect. Didn't God make them that way, after all? Why can't they serve Him as a priest, then?

However, Dr. Briley's comments have helped me see the possible metaphorical nature of "abnormality." Things like birth defects and death came solely as a result of sin. And for that matter, so did painful childbirth. And frankly, so did the spilling of any blood, even animal blood. Adam and Eve, as I noted, were apparently vegetarians. So all those things (including, apparently, the blood itself) were "unclean." And yes, people could not help the effects of sin that they were experiencing, but those effects still separated them from a holy and perfect God. Hmmm, I finally feel like I might be kind of getting this. Kind of.

NT: Mark 9:1-29

In light of those ideas, it is cool to me how Jesus did touch all those people, and He healed them. He healed the demon-possessed boy today. And in healing them, He often makes the point that the physical healings weren't the heart of what He came to do. He did those things to point to the heart of His message, which was about spiritual healing. Even in the NT, the physical and spiritual are linked. And the intent is that the physical would point to the spiritual. I think the same might be true of the OT Laws.

I'm getting ahead of myself in our NT reading, though. First, we have the Transfiguration. This has always been a very interesting scene to me. Today, I reflected on its purpose. Jesus took only his three closest disciples to witness the event. I wonder exactly what it conveyed to them (or what it was intended to convey. It seemed to mainly convey fear.) Jesus already seemed to be establishing His authority in powerful, undeniable ways. I wonder what this appearance with Moses and Elijah added to all the miracles. Maybe it was just one more thing to help people believe and understand.

Speaking of understanding, I thought it oddly hilarious and kind of sad that the three disciples struggled to figure out what "'rising from the dead' meant" (10). To their credit, they are catching on to Jesus' use of figurative language, and there's no doubt the "yeast of the Pharisees" debacle is still fresh in their minds. However, this was one time when Jesus was being strictly literal. In other words, they can't win for losin.'

Psalm 43: 1-5

Our footnote said that in some manuscripts, these verses were part of Psalm 42. I think I would go with those manuscripts. The text seems to be very much a continuation of those themes. But I guess that either most manuscripts or the oldest manuscripts have them separate. Otherwise, the compilers would have combined them. Also, in one of my Bible classes, I learned a weird rule of thumb about differing manuscripts (yes, I'm really going in this direction with the reading). If two manuscripts differed in what they said, and all other things were equal (like their age or the amount of corresponding manuscripts), then the general rule was to go with the one that was more problematic, that made the least sense. That's because, as manuscripts are copied, they usually go from "messier" to "cleaner," as the scribes "clean" up confusing or problematic passages. Thus, the "messy" one is probably the original. I think that's why the alternate footnote translations often make more sense to me.

Proverbs 10:18

It is weird that Proverbs condemns the concealing of our hatred. What are we supposed to do, be open with it? That hardly seems loving. Wait--I guess hatred itself isn't very loving:). So maybe we shouldn't have hatred at all:).

Friday, February 26, 2010

February 26

OT: Lev. 19:1-20:21

Well, what an interesting assortment of laws we have here. Reading through the hodge-podge makes me wonder again about the origin of these laws. Are these all laws from Sinai, or did God give these laws to Moses over time? Did God give them in this exact order, or have they been written down in a different order? So far, the laws in Leviticus have seemed haphazardly organized and somewhat redundant. Since God is a God of order, I'm not sure what to make of that.

I loved a lot of the laws today. Many were echoes of the Ten Commandments (19:2-4, 11-12, 16, 30, 20:10). Many were about mercy and generosity, such as the laws about gleaning the fields and treating the aliens well. Many were about justice, like the ones about not holding back wages or showing favoritism. My favorite ones, though, were found in 19: 17-18, which said, "Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." I love these words because they show how you can love truth and love others at the same time. The Israelites were told to rebuke their neighbor frankly when he did wrong; otherwise, they would share in his guilt. That reminds me of the verse that says, "Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves" (Rom. 14:22b). Both Israelites and Christians are instructed to stand up against injustice and immorality. At the same time, though, we are to love our neighbors, both in our hearts and in our actions. It is an interesting balance.

It's funny how so many of the laws today made beautiful sense, and then we also had an assortment of "stand-out" laws, which seem to exist for the main purpose of setting Israel apart and making them stand out. The Israelites couldn't wear clothing made with two types of material or sow a field with two types of seed. They couldn't eat from fruit trees for the first three years, and they couldn't trim the edges of the beard. Weird stuff.

I also thought it was odd how a lot of the rules from yesterday were repeated, but this time with consequences attached. That was kind of redundant to me. I wonder if the consequences were a later development b/c the rules themselves were not enough of a deterrent.

NT: Mark 8:11-38

I love little details that make Jesus seem so human. Like, how he "sighed deeply" at the Pharisees' demand for a sign (12). Love it.

In both Matthew and Mark, you have the feeding of the 4,000, the Pharisees' demand for a sign, the goofy bread discussion where the disciples don't get it, Peter's confession of Christ and rebuke of Jesus, and Jesus' radical pronouncements about dying to self and losing one's life. But Mark has one major difference from Matthew, which is the two-step healing of the blind man (Luke, in case you were wondering, has Peter's confession after the feeding of the 5,000, and there aren't a lot of other similarities in that section). So...what's up with Mark's miracle? Was Jesus having an off-day? Did it take Him two tries to heal the man? I don't have any good answers of my own, but I do remember a sermon I heard, or maybe it was in a college class, that Jesus' healing of the blind man was supposed to be a metaphor for the disciples' vision. Remember, they just looked like fools in the "yeast of the Pharisees" discussion, and Jesus seemed frustrated with their lack of comprehension. Even though they had Jesus with them and thus were not totally blind, their "vision" was so poor that people looked like trees. Very blurry and incomplete. However, Jesus would soon bring them full sight, and we get a small glimpse of that in Peter's confession of Christ.

Psalm 42:1-11

Verse 1 is incredibly popular, and rightly so, for it paints a beautiful image. However, I always forget how melancholy the rest of the psalm is. David isn't thirsting for God in this "holy" way; he isn't being "Mr. Righteous" here. No, he is desperate. He is down in the pit, and he is so incredibly in need of God's comfort and presence and intervention. I generally think of this verse in pleasant terms, but David is not describing a pleasant emotion here. He is engaged in spiritual warfare, and, by all appearances, he is losing.

Proverbs 10:17

Since I've been thinking of tweaks I need to make to disciplining my kids, these verses seem relevant to me. I like how the verses highlight the way that heeding (or not heeding) discipline sets a powerful example for those around you. When you heed discipline, you show others the way to life. That's cool.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

February 25

OT: Lev. 16:29-18:30

It was kind of weird to me that God went into such detail about taking a Sabbath once year on the day of Atonement. Don't the Israelites already do that once a week? It was funny to me that He warned them not to work and said that, "you must deny yourselves" (16:31). I thought, "Yeah, that would be really hard, but I think I would manage to 'deny' my desire to work for a day!" However, the more I thought about it, maybe wanting a true Sabbath is like Midas wanting the golden touch. It sounds great until all that you can't do really starts to sink in. If I was at my house all day and could do no work, I think I might start to go a little crazy. Can you cook on the Sabbath? How would we eat? Could I not clean a little? I wouldn't want things to be messy all day! I mean, I like to be lazy as much as the next person, but you need to do a little work to be able to enjoy your laziness sometimes:). Like I said, I love the idea of a Sabbath, but I can see why God felt the need to warn them sternly against working.

I also found it incredibly amazing--no hyperbole--that God says that people who sacrifice animals outside of the proper channels are "guilty of bloodshed" (17:5). I understand that God would cut off people who did not sacrifice things the right way, but "guilty of bloodshed"? Are you kidding me? So far, that has not seemed to be God's chief concern! Actually, this pronouncement really puts a lot into context for me. It's not that God didn't care about animals or that He took their lives lightly. On the contrary, He took their lives very seriously, to the point that killing an animal for a faulty sacrifice would make a person "guilty of bloodshed." It shows me how the animals' blood truly was a sacred offering to God, and a high price to pay for sin.

Next, we have a long list of rules about sexuality. When you start realizing all the ways that sexuality can be expressed, you start to see that God has a very narrow view of proper sexuality. We talk a lot about what is "natural" today in society, and people disagree over the definition of "natural," but to God, all sexuality except heterosexual sex within marriage is "unnatural." Because sin is "unnatural." We can have every desire in the world (and apparently, people back then did--geez Louise!), and those desires might totally come from our "natural self," our core identity, but according to God, they are "unnatural."

NT: Mark 7:24-8:5

I have always found Jesus' reaction to the Syro-Phonecian woman to be somewhat perplexing. Was Jesus joking around with her? Was He being playful? Or was He dead serious? Would He really have not healed her daughter if she had not given a witty response?

Next, Jesus heals a deaf-mute, and then feeds the 4,000. I noticed today that these people hadn't eaten in three days. I think it was because I was hungry as I was doing my Bible reading that I was really struck by how crazy that was. I guess people were more used to "going without" back then (I think just about everyone in history has been more used to "going without" than I am in my middle-class American position), but still! That is some dedication, to stay with someone for three days without eating.

Psalm 41: 1-13

I love verse 1, of course: "Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble."

I have some vague, half-thoughts about David's notions of and desires for justice, but they haven't quite formed into anything coherent yet. Clearly, this post is one of my less spectacular ones. I am having a real problem with abstract thought right now! I need to go to bed:).

Proverbs 10: 15-16

Even in my current lack of depth, verse 15 sounds incredibly redundant to me. "Poverty is the ruin of the poor"? Well, yeah...

Verse 16 is interesting. I am always attuned to "life" verses and am drawn to finding out all the things that bring "life." It's interesting to me that a good person's income is life-giving, according to this verse. It occurs to me that, in light of the surface-level logic of verse 15, perhaps verse 16 isn't saying anything deep about "true life." Instead, it is just saying that we need money to live, and when you earn your living honestly, you can have have life without punishment (unlike the wicked).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

February 24

OT: Lev. 15:1-16:28

Oh, for goodness sake! I try and I try to make this stuff make sense. I try to reason and to be logical. I theorize, for example, that all this "clean" and "unclean" is really about hygiene, and that God didn't mean it as a statement on morality. I try to make these commands seem reasonable for a populace to follow.

And yet, I am thwarted. Today's text just beat me soundly and threw all my logic back in my face. My theory on the sin and guilt sacrifices being for all the sins the people committed while they were "unclean"? Nope, they are for the uncleanness itself. According to 15:30, "The priest is to sacrifice one [dove] for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the Lord for the uncleanness of her discharge." First of all, there goes my theory. And secondly, gross! Do I really want to discuss emissions of all kinds with you today? NO. It is inappropriate. As my friend, Molly, would say, "This is not okay." And yet, apparently, God thought all this stuff should be everyone's business! I mean, it is going to be obvious to the world who just had sex and who is on their period, b/c, for all practical purposes, they are going to be useless to society! They will either spend all their time washing stuff and breaking jars...or they will have to leave the camp. Seriously, how do these people get anything done? These laws are beyond impractical to me. I think at this rate, a woman might spend most of her life outside of society, between...the two things (I'm just going to stop saying them. So not appropriate.)

Ugh. Moving on. Let's just leave all that knowing that I am 100% confused about what all these commands say about God and how they were able to be practically carried out.

It seems that God is trying to show the people just how unholy they are as humans. He really seems to be lowering them. The same holds true for the priests. In chapter 16, Moses tells Aaron that he can't just go into the Most Holy Place any time he wants (2). And Aaron and the priests are given another long list of things they have to do (and kill) to enter God's presence. At this point, it is seeming like the bulk of most Israelites' lives are spent doing things that are completely impractical.

And yet, they aren't impractical b/c the goal of these things is to connect people with God, which honestly, is our only purpose in life. I guess I am just frustrated b/c I don't understand, and I really hate not understanding. Okay, time to mentally repeat Proverbs 3:5-6 and move on.

NT: Mark 7:1-23

Alright, well I haven't moved on quite yet. More and more, after reading the strict Law these days, I can sympathize with the Pharisees. They take uncleanness very seriously, and after reading the Law, I can understand why! Of course, they are criticizing Jesus and his disciples for not ceremonially washing their hands before they eat, and that is apparently not in the Law. It is just a tradition. And while I can understand putting the "hedge around Torah," are they really going to add to the "clean" and "unclean" laws?? I mean, seriously! Those are already crazy hard!

I also thought it was interesting how Jesus says that it's not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of a man. That, um, struck me differently today, after reading our OT passage. Yet, Jesus is talking about the sinfulness of men's hearts. Hmmm...there are things connecting in my brain about the two passages, one about physical uncleanness, and one about spiritual. Perhaps those regulations in the Law that we read today were symbolic of a deeper truth about human nature, one that Jesus came to reveal? Like, that we are all unclean b/c of the sinfulness of our human nature? Maybe the OT was painting us a picture, like a metaphor. I don't know. It's still not making a ton of sense. But thinking about the connections between the two passages make me feel like I am looking "through a glass darkly" instead of staring at a blank wall.

I also both love and am confused by Jesus' words in verses 9-13. He criticizes the Pharisees here for using "service to God" as an excuse for not showing proper respect and care for their parents. It is very "family values" of Jesus. And yet, He is the one who tells people to "hate" their father and mother and to leave their families. He is the one who says that He has come to bring division between families. So it's weird that He is criticizing the Pharisees for putting their duty to God before their duty to their parents. It seems like Jesus calls His disciples to do just that.

Psalm 40: 11-17

More great verses. My favorites are 11-12: "Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord; may your love and your truth always protect me. For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me." I love verse 11 because of the beautiful image of God's love and truth protecting us. And I love verse 12 (strangely) b/c it gives such a relatable picture of David. It's nice to know that this great man felt overwhelmed by life and by his own sins sometimes. I know that he has felt that way a lot thus far, but these verses in particular really resonated with me today.

Proverbs 10: 13-14

My childhood preacher once gave a sermon about raising children. He said the trick was to get them to internalize their morality, and not just to do what was right in order to avoid punishment. That internalization is the difference between wise people and fools, according to verse 13-14. Wise people "store up knowledge," and it is thus found on their lips. It comes from within them. Fools, on the other hand, have to have external punishments to keep them "in line."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 23

OT: Lev. 14:1-57

Everyone, we have our first baptism! And it's a bird baptism! How crazy is that?

Seriously, I saw some of what is apparently God's favorite symbolism in the dipping of the live bird into the blood of the dead bird during the ceremonial cleansing of the diseased person. The live bird is literally washed in the blood of the dead bird, in order to symbolize the transformation from uncleanness to cleanness. Wow. Now, if I only knew how the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn, and the hyssop played in. They seem symbolic, but of what? I know in Psalm 51, David says to God, "Wash me with hyssop, and I will be clean," so apparently hyssop was considered some kind of cleansing agent? Or maybe David got that concept from the Law. Hmmm....

Also, it was interesting for me to note that health care costs were high even back in ancient Israel! Whenever anyone got an infectious skin disease, they had to sacrifice two male lambs and one ewe lamb, three-tenths of ephah, and one log of oil in order to be pronounced clean. Wow. A couple weeks ago, Luke got a deep cut on his forehead, and we thought he might need stitches. Sadly, since I have a high-deductible health plan, my most recurring thought while tending his wound was, "This is going to cost me at least a grand." (Thankfully, it ended up not being that bad, so we didn't go to the ER.) I wonder if in ancient Israel, a person looked at the spot on their arm and thought, "Wow, this is going to cost me." (Actually, they probably had deeper fears than that, b/c if it was leprosy, then their current life was basically over.)

As with the women and childbirth thing, I found it odd that the previously infectious person had to offer both sin and guilt offerings at their cleansing ceremony. It occurred to me today that they offerings weren't for the uncleanness itself, but for any sins they committed during their time of uncleanness. After all, they hadn't been able to participate in the tabernacle stuff, so surely they were due to give an offering.

I also found the whole set of laws on mildew in one's house to be interesting. First of all, God says that He puts mildew in people's houses (33). To me, mildew is the equivalent of an annoying and time-consuming home repair. It was truly a pain to deal with the mildew problem. You had to empty your whole house, leave it for at least a week and then, at minimum, do some really serious renovations (36-45). And at worst, your home might be totally destroyed. All of that sounds like a more dramatic version of the practical headaches that we deal with in our everyday lives today. I tend to view things like home maintenance as...well, almost like distractions from my purpose, which is to glorify God. They seem like one of the many meaningless things that "just happen" and have to be dealt with. And yet, the view of God that He gives us through the Law is that He is over all things, and is in direct control of all things, even things like mildew in one's home. And so, if God is in control of all things, then they aren't things that "just happen" that have to be dealt with. They aren't distractions from God's plan for us; they are a part of God's plan for us.

Hmm...I don't know what I think about all that. I just wrote it down b/c those were the thoughts running through my head while reading.

Mark 6:30-56

Okay, I've mentioned before that I don't try to find themes, but my brain loves to make connections, and this idea of practical, daily life is in my head right now. In my own life, I am very interested in the idea that every moment of one's life can be used to God's glory. And yet, I don't want that idea to morph into a level of complacency in my life. So, the OT gave me some ideas about how the mundane, practical things can be part of God's plan for you. And now the NT is showing me how having too practical of a viewpoint can make you miss God's plan for you. The disciples were being eminently practical when they suggested that Jesus send the people away so that they could buy themselves something to eat. If anything, the disciples probably thought that they were being smart and even considerate to understand that the people were probably hungry by now. Jesus, on the other hand, had bigger plans. When he told the disciples themselves to give the people something to eat, they were still hung up on the practical impossibility of the request. And I don't blame them. Who wouldn't be thinking that way? However, I think if they had better understood Jesus' power, they would have been more inclined to see what He was wanting from them. Maybe. I don't know. I just thought it was interesting that the disciples' "practical" viewpoint obscured what Jesus was asking from them.

Well, I've mentioned that people have thought that Peter was Mark's source, but if that was the case, then why doesn't Mark include Peter walking on water here? He totally skips it! I would think that Peter would have been eager to have that one in there....

And lastly, I liked it that when Jesus and his disciples were super busy, He told them to come with Him to a quiet place to get some rest (31). It was a good reminder that everyone needs their batteries recharged, ideally by spending some quiet time with their Savior.

Psalm 40:1-10

Wow, this is a cool psalm. Our bolded verse is good, about God lifting us out of the slimy pit and putting us on a firm rock. Because God blessed me with wonderful Christian parents who raised me to love Him, I have never really experienced the feeling of sinking into a slimy pit, spiritually speaking. So while I like that verse, it wasn't my favorite in the psalm.

I also really liked verse 5: "Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare." This verse does a great job of describing God's lavish care of His people, especially in the plans He has in mind for them.

My favorite verses, however, were verses 6-8: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, 'Here I am, I have come--it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is written on my heart.'" Wow--what a visionary David is. No wonder he was called a man after God's own heart! How revolutionary for an OT Jew to understand that ultimately, "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire...burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require." Umm, strictly speaking, didn't God require those things?? I think I just read about them....

It occurs to me that the Law is a door to God, and that David has walked through it. Somehow, he has perceived the deeper truth behind the instructions for sacrifices, and as a result, has had God "pierce his ear" and write His commands on David's heart. He has entered a life of voluntary, love-driven servitude to God that completely surpasses the outward requirements of sacrifice, and God has made His will known to David in a profoundly personal way. I know that part of the reason that God's commands are written on his heart is because, as future psalms attest, David is ravenous for God's word. Apparently, it has started sinking in, in a big way!

Proverbs 10: 11-12

I love the idea that "the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life" (11a). What a great image. I pray that my words always bring life to those who hear them, that they always point them to God and His love.

I also loved verse 12: "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs." There are so many ways to take that last phrase, but my favorite way ties into the idea that "love always protects" (I Cor. 13:7). When Greg and I got married, my preacher offered a cool interpretation of that verse. He said that when you know someone so intimately, you learn all the unpleasant things about them that they manage to keep from everyone else. At that time, you have two options. You can either expose those things about them and/or ridicule them yourself. Or you can protect that person and seek to help them and complete them with your own love for them. I am so glad that Greg and I both took these words to heart. There are so many things about us that are less than stellar. But in most cases, our love for each other covers over those things. For example, I tend to stress and freak out over little things, to be "high strung," I guess you could say:). Instead of complaining about this tendency in me or resenting it, Greg has been amazing at "covering" it with his laid-back calm. Rather than allowing my sinful tendencies to "cause dissension" in our relationship, he is great at calming me down when I am stressed and helping me to see the big picture. And thus, his love for me gives me peace where I earlier had stress. It "covers" my wrongs.

That is just one possible interpretation of a very deep verse. If anyone has others, please feel free to share!

Monday, February 22, 2010

February 22

OT: Lev. 13: 1-59

Okay, I just took some cold medicine, and I am zoning, big-time, right now. So, abstract thought is currently not my strong suit. But this is the only time I'll have to type today.

You know that phrase, "cleanliness is next to godliness"? I think that idea may have come from the Law. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I think that people had to be "clean" to participate in society and especially to deal in any way with God (like through the tabernacle or through festivals and ceremonies). So that kind of gives the impression that being "unclean" is "bad," because, isn't it "good" to participate in those God-ordained practices? Reading all 59 verses on skin hygiene today, I realized (again) that being "unclean" is not an indication of one's morality. It seems to be all about hygiene and public health. For the good of Hebrew society, people who were unclean, whether they had touched something unclean, or were (ahem) going through something unclean, or infected with something unclean, had to leave. No offense to them, personally. Like I said, it is a public health thing. And public health is good.

However, I see so clearly how people can take something that is good, and can distort it into something bad, how they could start to view chronically unclean people, like women or lepers, as less of people b/c of their "unclean" status. After all, unclean people can't worship God in the traditional ways. So maybe that means that they are not good enough to do so. Maybe it means that God thinks less of them.

I love how Jesus completes the picture for us that was sketched out in the Law. The Law has a lot of good stuff, and it definitely has nothing that is bad or wrong. But human misinterpretation led to some distortions in perception, so much so that when Jesus came to complete the Law, most of the Jews didn't even recognize His fulfillment of it. That's a pity, b/c He gave the world a beautiful picture of how God feels toward the "unclean" and toward the powerless and helpless.

NT: Mark 6: 1-29

Speaking of not recognizing Jesus, today's passage has his own townspeople refusing to see Him for who He was. Despite the fact that they witnessed miracles, they managed to take offense at his "presumptuous" power and teachings. Jesus found their lack of faith amazing, as did I.

Next, Mark gives an incredibly shortened version (when compared to Matthew) of the sending out of the 12 (see Matt. 10: 1-42 for comparison. When the texts differ like this, scholars tend to read into the differences and speculate on the author's audience, setting, and purpose. I am not smart enough to do that, so I'll just note that Mark's is shorter:)). The thing that strikes me about Jesus' instruction in Mark is how low-drama it is. The disciples are to take little with them, stay in one place upon entering a town, and simply shake the dust off their feet and leave if they are rejected. I've heard speculations about why they were instructed to stay in just one house, and I can't remember the details, but it was something about how it was simpler that way. Otherwise, hosts might get their feelings hurt if they left or might seek to manipulate them with offers of room and board or other similarly dramatic things. This way, there would be no favoritism or drama. They would just go to the first house offered and stay there the whole time. The point of Jesus' instructions here seem to be that he wants nothing to interfere with or distract from their message.

After Jesus sends out the Twelve, Mark uses speculation on Jesus' identity as a springboard for telling of John's demise. In Mark's version, Herod is portrayed as even more fond of John than in Matthew's version. Mark points out that "Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled, yet he liked to listen to him." I can't decide if this information makes Herod more likable or less likable to me. I like his feelings about John, but it kind of makes his beheading of him even worse.

Psalm 39: 1-13

David is going through a weird process with God right now, and if I weren't so hopped up on cold meds, I might see better what he is talking about. He still feels weighed down by his sin and God's discipline. Thus, he tries to keep himself from sinning by saying nothing. However, when he failed to say even what was good, his heart burned within him. So he spoke.

And what he asked God was for God to show him the length of his days so that he could better understand the truth that his life was just a breath. Interesting. I think there's more to all that; I just can't quite grasp it right now.

When I first read verses 4-6, my thought was, "Man! Why wasn't this yesterday's reading? Or why didn't I read it this morning before church??" My whole lesson for the teen girls was about our life's purpose. One of my points was that life was just a breath (I actually used those words). And another was that life is ultimately meaningless without God. Wow, these verses would have come in handy!

Proverbs 10:10

"He who winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin." Not much to say here, so I thought I'd just restate the verse:)!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

February 21

OT: Lev. 11:1-12:8

Whenever I think of the Law, I think of "clean and unclean." For some reason, those particular regulations are the epitome of the Law to me. I guess I feel that way because I think that they, more than anything else, set the Israelites apart from everyone else. And that was one of the main purposes of the Law, I think. As God says in 11:45, "I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy." Holy means "set apart." And that was what God was doing to the Israelites by giving them the Law. He was setting them apart from everyone else in order to have a relationship with them.

As such, the specifics of the Law didn't really have to make sense. God could have said, "The color purple is to be detestable to you," and it would have fulfilled the purpose of setting the Israelites apart. His Laws, however, apparently do make a lot of sense. I say "apparently," because I don't completely see it myself. However, I have heard some compelling reasoning from other people on the subject. Patrick Mead, for example is a Scottish preacher up in Rochester, MI. This is all via Greg, but Mead apparently has some sort of scientific background, and he also used to be an atheist. One of the major factors in his conversion was the Law. He read it, and to him, the laws made so much sense, and for reasons that the Israelites could not have conceived.

And no, he's not a misogynist, which would have been my next question.

That would have been my next question, b/c I have always found portions of the Law to be extremely offensive. If you are trying to build a Biblical argument that God doesn't like women, look no further than the Law. In the Law, natural parts of womanhood are considered "unclean," which just fries me. I've always thought that it was, like, women were supposed to feel guilty for things that they couldn't help!

Patrick Mead has an explanation for that. I'm trying to correctly remember what Greg told me, but I think the idea was that being "unclean" wasn't necessarily immoral or anything. And that, in calling women unclean in certain times of their lives, God was giving them a chance to rest. Okay, I can go for that. I want to believe that God doesn't view those things as wrong or dirty, after all. And I totally get needing to rest after you have babies, like the Law talks about in 12:1-8. Patrick Mead says that when women were "unclean," they had to leave the camp, and so they set up a red tent outside of the camp where the women gathered. And since they were outside of the camp, they could just relax and not have to do any of the work that they had to do inside of the camp. (Take this with a grain of salt. All of this info is 100% based on my faulty memory of what Greg told me about the podcasts of Mead that he had heard.) But if that is true, I can go with it.

However, why are women more unclean because they have a girl?? And why do they have to give a sin offering just for having the baby? Maybe this is part of where Catholics get some of their ideas about sin and sex. And original sin. Hmmm.

Regardless, one thing I don't buy is that all of this was just "cultural" stuff. God doesn't change, folks. If this came from God, then it says something about how He feels on the matter. And most of the Laws He gave the people were radically counter-cultural. So why would he get all "traditional" in this one area?

Well. I got way off on that. The bulk of our reading was really about food! Patrick Mead loved this part, too, and apparently, it made a lot more sense to him than it did to me. One command I can get behind, though, is the pronouncement that rats and all kinds of lizards were unclean. Hear, hear! Those have both been the bane of my existence for some time now:). And I definitely agree with the idea that if a dead rat falls into your jug of water or in your food, then it is all unclean. You think? I'm glad that God makes that clear to the Israelites! It was certainly clear to me already!

NT: Mark 5:21-43

The editors of this book did this on purpose--I know they did! It would have made more sense to leave the OT reading at the end of Leviticus 11, rather than to shoehorn in eight verses in chapter 12. But they were trying to juxtapose the laws on childbirth and bleeding with Jesus' healing of dead girl and and a bleeding woman. I guarantee you:). "See?" the editors are saying, "I know you might have gotten the impression that God doesn't care as much about little girls based on those OT commands about childbirth. But look! Here He is going out of His way to raise a dead little girl to life. And I know that you think He is unmerciful to all those "unclean" women in the OT, but look! He heals this woman from her bleeding disorder. See?"

And it is a powerful juxtaposition. I have to say that even I was mollified by reading the story of Jesus' healings. It served as a reminder to me that, as always, you have to look at the whole picture of God's revelation to us to see the truth. You can't just hone in on one verse or chapter. (Sidenote: Greg has always found it hilarious that when people think of "context," they often just think of the surrounding verses. To Greg, context, at minimum, is the whole book in which the verse is found. But this reading shows us how "context" ultimately includes all of Scripture. You need the whole picture of the OT and NT to understand God. If you take either one without the other, you are going to get a skewed picture.)

Psalm 38:1-22

Wow, David is really low here, and for good reason. Usually when he is depressed, it is due to outside forces and enemies who are overwhelming him. Today, though, he has been brought down by his own sin and the subsequent discipline of God. I just have to say, Welcome to the human race, David! I wasn't sure you were a member there for awhile, when you boldly asked God to search your heart, when you maintained your total innocence and purity. But now that I see that you suffer and feel immense guilt like the rest of us, I can relate to you. I have definitely been there where my own sin and feelings of distance from God have been so overwhelming. I'm not saying that I have felt the same as David, or that God has disciplined us the same, but there are plenty of times that I myself could have written, "My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear" (4).

One interesting thing about this psalm is, ironically, how close David feels to God during this pain. Often, David is calling out for God, asking Him where He is and why He is hiding. Here, David knows that God is right there, that He is the One causing the pain. David says, "All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you" (9). That's an amazing perspective. Usually, when I am brought down by sin and feeling awful, I tend to think of myself as far from God. However, perhaps I should start viewing those awful feelings as being from God. Perhaps I should start to understand the perhaps even more painful truth that God is right there with me when I sin.

Proverbs 10:8-9

You know, I almost think that I would rather double the reading and go through Proverbs twice this year. Or triple it and go through it three times. It is hard for me to get any "flow" going while just reading one or two verses at a time. But the good part is, I'm usually out of words by the time I get here, so I'm glad that there is not much to say!

"The wise in heart accept commands" (8a). It doesn't say that the wise in heart accept the commands that they understand. As I read through the Law, and I get so confused about what God means, I have to always remember that, as God's child, my job is to accept His commands because they are from Him, not because they make sense. If they make sense, then all the better. But ultimately, my obedience is what is required--not my understanding.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

February 20

Oh, my. It is time for the death talk. I didn't intend for it to be now, but the text sets it up so well. And I've been needing to get these thoughts on paper (or on screen) for awhile. Too bad it happened on a Saturday when no one reads. Pity.'s the time.

I really don't feel compelled to find "themes" for the readings, but the OT and NT definitely have one today. The theme is, to paraphrase words of the apostles, "Don't you care if we die?"

OT: Lev. 9:7-10:20

Let's first take a minute to absorb the full impact of what happens in today's reading. The elaborate seven day ordination ceremony is coming to a close. Israel has just ordained its first three priests as all the people watch, perhaps with a mixture of fascination and fear. And now, it is time for the first sacrifice for the people. Before everyone's eyes, five animals are ritualistically slaughtered, dismembered, and burned. And then, the glory of the Lord appears to all the people in the form of a fire that comes out (from the cloud?) and consumes the offering. The people react appropriately: they "shouted for joy and fell facedown" (9:24). What an amazing moment. What a time for celebration and awe and hope and reverence. Seizing the moment, the newly minted priests, Nadab and Abihu take their censors, put fire in them, and add incense. Apparently, this is the wrong thing to do. Apparently, it breaks one of God's rules. To be honest, I have no idea which one it breaks, and I'm not looking back to check b/c it's kinda beside the point. All I remember about the incense is that it had to be an exact mix and that no one else could replicate it for their own use. The problem doesn't seem to be with the incense anyway here, but with the fire. Oops.

So what happens? Fire from the Lord comes out and consumes them. They burn to death in front of their father and all the people. Talk about a change in tone! The mood quickly changes from joy and awe to horror as the two men probably run, roll, and scream until all that remains of them are charred, lifeless bodies. What does Aaron do during all that, I wonder? Does he try to put them out? Does he stand there in shock? Does he scream and wail? What's even worse is Moses' reaction. Aaron has just watched his sons burn to death, and Moses' first words are essentially, "See? That's what God meant when He said He was holy" (paraphrase of 10:3). All Aaron can do is remain silent. Stunned into shock, no doubt. Moses continues to be harsh, strictly warning Aaron that while he could mourn for his sons (thanks, Moses), he could not let his hair become unkempt or tear his clothes or move from the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. And then he decides it is a great time to let Aaron know about a few more rules for priests, namely that they can't drink wine when they go into the tent. Maybe Moses chooses this time to tell Aaron that because he knows that Aaron would like nothing more than to go into the Tent and get hammered right now. Undoubtedly, Aaron is probably wondering, "What have I done? What have I gotten myself into?" He has got to be absolutely horrified by this God that he is now commissioned to serve.

Pondering that scene brought all my "death thoughts" to the surface. I mentioned in an earlier entry that I believe that there are two erroneous reactions to shocking, God-sanctioned death. One is to be unfeeling, to think, "Oh well, God is God. They had it coming." Yes, great introspection. Do you have any idea what we all "have coming" to us? This might be a good time to explore those implications! My own reaction veers not to that extreme, but to the other extreme. I tend to see such a wanton destruction of sacred life and get angry. I ask God, "Why did you do that?" How can you just take life away like that, for nothing? (And yes, I know it wasn't "nothing," but it seemed like "nothing" to me.)

And to me, that is a good question to ask God. I think we need to explore that, if not for ourselves, than for the many, many people who are "turned off" to God because of the pain and suffering and death they see all around them. It is our job to witness to those people, to spread the Truth in a way that they can understand. But first, we have to try to understand it ourselves.

I think the issue is complicated for Americans (and I guess to most Westerners) because of the influence of Enlightenment philosophy on our thinking. Since we were schoolchildren, we have heard repeated a very powerful thought: "We hold these truths to be self-evident...that [all men] are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." I have to hand it to Jefferson--that sentence sounds amazing. So simple. So powerful. And, the more I think about patently ridiculous. We are endowed by our Creator with an inalienable right to life??? Do you know what inalienable means? It means incapable of being alienated. It means something that you can't take away. Friends, our "right to life" is alienated all the time. And our "right to life" is not just alienated by other people, like murderers or judges or soldiers or what have you. A person's right to life is alienated every time they have a heart attack. Or die of cancer. If we have an inalienable right to life, then every fatal car accident, every terminal disease, is a violation of our rights, a crime against humanity, perpetrated by our Creator.

There is no such thing as the "right to life." Life is not a right. It is a sacred, precious gift from God. And as such, the Bible tells us that in general, we have no right to take others' lives. (In general, mind you.) And as such, we have a duty as humans to seek to protect life, to pass laws securing life. But the basis of such laws is not "self-evident" ridiculousness. The basis of such laws is God's revelation to us about the sanctity of life. (And as such, when we see God take life away, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, we need to understand that as a serious message from God. It should drive us to our knees!)

"There is no right to life," is part one of my thoughts. Part two is, "God looks at life much, much differently than we do." Our natural instincts, our desire for self-preservation are so strong that we see life as a "self-evident" right. For our life-loving selves, anger is a natural reaction to death, either our own or others'. After all, life is a sacred and beautiful gift, and having that gift taken from you (like Aaron did, not to mention Nadab and Abihu themselves) will rock your world. Take it from me, it will not be a cool experience for you. But in God's eyes, physical life is not something to which we should cling. God came to give us life, but by that, He didn't mean air in our lungs. Whether we have a beating heart is not God's chief concern. Real life is not found in the functioning of your vital organs. Rather, the life God wants His people to have is found in Him. How many times have we read in Psalms and Proverbs this year that wisdom is life, that God's words are life, that God is life? How many times do the Gospels call Christ "life"? How many times does Jesus say that He has come to bring life? Life is a relationship with God. Strictly speaking, the functioning of your vital organs is irrelevant. That is in God's hands. And if it is best for His plan that you get publicly immolated, that you get slaughtered with your whole city, that you get your head chopped off because of a vindictive queen, that you get crucified upside down, or sawed in two, or used as a human torch...well, then that's what is going to happen. And those things aren't tragedies or crimes against humanity. No, those things are part of a glorious, divine plan. And for God's saints, they are merely a prelude into the full, complete version of real life.

Wow, there is so much more to say. I have verses about how God views the deaths of the wicked and righteous, respectively; thoughts about the dramatic shift in perspective on life b/t the OT and NT (seen, for example, in David's groveling v. Paul's "for die is gain" pronouncement); and caveats galore about our attitude toward the pain of others and about the eternal implications of OT deaths like Nadab and Abihu...but I have a feeling that we will have plenty more time to continue this discussion when the Israelites start clearing out Canaan. For now, my brain is satisfied with unloading that portion of my thoughts:). I welcome feedback! Really--I would like nothing more than to have a discussion with someone who disagrees with or is bothered by this line of thinking. Such discussion serves to refine my thoughts, and I would hope it would be beneficial to the other person, too.

NT: Mark 4:26-5:20

This passage starts off with some great little parables highlighting the power of the kingdom of God. In the first, the kingdom of God continually grows and expands on its own, regardless of man's intervention. In the second, the kingdom of God flourishes from a tiny seed into "the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade" (4:32). Nice.

In verse 33-34, it is reemphasized that Jesus is using only parables to teach and that he is only explaining them to His disciples. More mystery.

In light of Nadab and Abihu, I found 4:35-41 to provide a fascinating contrast. In the OT passage, God is frightening and awe-inspiring, and He kills at will if one misstep is made. In the NT passage, foolish, faithless apostles are literally shaking God and yelling at Him, "Don't you care if we drown?" And then the Holy One wakes up, calms the storm, and asks the disciples, "Why are you so afraid?" many answers to that question, especially in light of our OT reading:).

Of course, it is also interesting to keep in the back of your head how the lives of all these apostles ended. I think that historical records indicate that all of them, or almost all of them, were martyred. And the last chapter of John indicates that Jesus definitely knew at least of Peter's fate. So..."do you care if we drown?" Well, yes, b/c it is not your time. But your time will come. And it will not be pretty. But it will be part of the Plan.

It's amazing to me when it starts to sink in how much our physical lives are merely tools for God to use to spread His kingdom. We are His instruments, to use as He sees fit. And He may see fit to calm the sea for us. Or He may see fit to let us be crucified upside down. It all depends on what is best for God's kingdom at the time. His Kingdom is the reality. Our physical lives are not. They are only real to the degree that they are used in service to the reality of God's kingdom.


And...we also have Legion in this passage. Hmmm.....oh, what the heck, I'll try to tie it in, too. What struck me today was that Jesus brought new life to the demon-possessed man...and the townspeople reacted with fear. Even after the man explained it to them, they begged Jesus to leave (15-17). Similarly, I think that the"true life" that we've been talking about is scary to people. And why wouldn't it be? It is scary to hand over your physical self to God, to see your human existence as a tool. Yes, it is the only real existence, but it is so different from what we are used to--just like that sane, dressed man in the eyes of the townspeople. It should have been a wonderful sight, but it was just so different from their expectations, that they freaked.

Oh well, that was kind of weak:). But I was intrigued by the townspeople's reactions today.

Psalm 37:30-40

There is some good, encouraging stuff in here. But my brain has already emptied itself, so I've got nothin'.

Proverbs 10:6-7

Some contrast between the righteous and wicked. The righteous gain blessings and leave legacies; the wicked will be brought down with violence and forgotten.

Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19

OT: Leviticus 7:28-9:6

"The longest way around is the shortest way home." (C.S. Lewis)

That, to me, is one of the theme's of today's reading.

Before I read I prayed, "God, please show me something here about the sacrifices. I just don't get them. I mean, I understand the concept of them, but I just don't get how You seem so different here than You do in the NT." One thing that occurred to me after I prayed and even before I started reading is that the Bible describes one relationship: the relationship between God and man. It is a long evolution, but it is all the same relationship, the same fulfillment of the divine purpose. And, as we have noted before, God's plans tend to take the long way. He doesn't reveal all knowledge to us at once. In fact, He is very content to draw the process out. We will see some of this in three of our four passages today. We have also seen it in the way He allowed the Israelites to be in bondage for 430 years. I mean, c'mon! Don't you think He could have made His point with a hundred or less? But God is in no hurry. He sees time differently than we do.

Which is why He is content to have His people spend months stationary in the desert, while a human tactician would see them as crazy for not actively looking for a home. God's plan, see, is not to bring them to a home, but to have a relationship with them. The home is just part of the larger goal. And as such, they must come to a knowledge of Him, which is what they are doing now in the middle of the desert.

Another theme of today is: mystery. We'll see it in Mark in a big way, but we also see it here in the ordination scene how God is a God of mystery. He finds that element necessary in His relationship with man, which I find interesting. He is clearly cultivating mystery on Sinai, with His intimidating cloud-coverings, His stern laws, His keeping of the people at arm's length. You also see it in these complex ceremonies. I picture these ceremonies as confusing and somewhat scary, with the elaborate robing scenes, the slaughter and dismemberment of animals, and the liberal sprinkling of blood everywhere. There is definitely an element of mystery there, and it seems to serve to keep the people at a fearful distance (spiritually speaking) from God.

Like I said, however, this is all part of one relationship between God and man that still continues today. In God's wisdom, the relationship has evolved to a level of intimacy of which the Israelites had no concept. But first, a little more mystery....

NT: Mark 3:31-4:25

After reading the OT, what strikes me about the NT is the way that Jesus Himself embraced mystery. I have learned a lot of reasons that Jesus tells parables: simple pictures help people understand deep concepts; He had to obscure His message from those in power until it was His time to die; etc. But in Mark, you see that Jesus is hiding His message from almost everyone. He explains it only to the twelve because, as He says, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!"

Considering that the disciples didn't understand the parable, it would seem that the whole crowd was on the "outside." And yet, considering Jesus' incredulous reaction to the disciples' ignorance, it would also seem that He assumed that there were people in the crowd that could have gotten it. Regardless, Jesus is cultivating mystery around God. He is purposefully not revealing God's truth to everyone. And yet, in His death, resurrection, and foundation of the church, He will go on to reveal that mystery in a big way.

My thought is, has "mystery" passed? Does God still use "mystery" to draw people to Him today? Today, we talk about how God is all around us and desires a relationship with each of us. We talk about how He gives us His message clearly in the Bible, and how we can see Him everywhere. We talk about how we can have an intimacy with Him that cries out "Abba, Father!" And yet, is there no mystery to Him? No distance? Has He abandoned that M.O?

I don't think so, and that brings us to...

Psalm 37: 12-29

As close as we get to God, His ways are still not our ways. As the psalmist observes, He allows the wicked to run rampant on the earth, "to bring down the needy, to slay those whose ways are upright." To me, this decision is both an example of God's mystery and of "the long way." We are currently surrounded by a world that God could "fix" right now if He wanted. And because He chooses not to, children get horribly abused, women get raped, men get tortured, and so on (and you can exchange those nouns anyway you want b/c all those people can experience all those different things). Like the 430 year Israelite slavery, this pain-filled world seems like the mysterious "long way" to me. I can just go ahead and tell you that I will never understand it. I can have an arsenal of weak cognitive answers, but my strongest answers will only appeal to the need for faith. And yet, I am "good" with it. Why? Because I have read the story up to this point. I see that God has a wonderful plan for His people, and I have been impressed with the plot development so far from Genesis to the Gospels. Seeing the story from such an aerial view helps you to understand that things never make total sense from on the ground. On the ground in Leviticus, you have a crazy man splattering blood everywhere. On the ground in Mark, you have a crazy Man spouting esoteric farming stories. Only with a longer view can you see how this mysterious "long way" has been marching purposefully this whole time to one conclusion: the reconciliation of man and God.

Proverbs 10:5

Well, this was short and sweet, and as much as I would love to tie it in to the "long way" and "mystery" themes, it's just not happening.

Instead, all I can say is that working hard is good, and it reflects well on our parents.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

February 18

OT: Lev. 7:28-9:6

After today's reading, I finally caved and did a little research on the different types of OT sacrifices. My research took about two seconds and led me to this chart. And, just like that, it all became clear.

I knew that I just needed a good chart or table or something. Surely this couldn't all be as confusing as I was making it in my head!

I know I have repeatedly made this observation, but it strikes me anew every day: how can they have any animals left???? God gave some rules today about dishonesty and theft. After listing a bunch of examples, He wrapped up the list with, "or if he commits any such sin that people may do" (6:3). Talk about a catch-all! God is leaving no loopholes!

And, as usual, I was struck by the strictness of the regulations. There were no spontaneous offerings to God here. Even if you gave a freewill offering of thankfulness, God is very specific on how you are to thank Him for His blessings. They are to be "cakes of bread made without yeast and mixed with oil, wafers made without yeast and spread with oil, and cakes of fine flour well-kneaded and mixed with oil." Plus, the giver should add some "cakes of bread with yeast." O-kay. God definitely lets the people know what He wants.

Reading all these confusing rules makes me think that there is no way that people can perfectly fulfill the Law. I bet the priests were screwing up left and right. And those were the ones who were actually trying. In the 5th-6th grade Wednesday night class that I teach, we learned how Hophni and Phineas insisted on eating the fat that was supposed to be burned up and slept with the women who worked at the entrance. So there were tons of priests who were just big losers. But even the ones who wanted to do right probably couldn't handle it!

It seems like, according the NT, God was making a point here that people could not obey the Law. They could not meet the requirements demanded by God's holiness. Got it. But...He still wanted people to try! He still expected them to do their best to fulfill the Law for hundreds of years. That part is a little weird to me. It is like He is setting them up for failure...

NT: Mark 3:7-30

It's funny how Jesus gives the demons strict instructions not to tell about Him being the Christ. I believe that my Writings of the New Testament book addresses that idea, but I have already done enough research for you guys today:). (Plus, I want to go to bed!)

A lot of this was repeat from Matthew, and I felt like we explored it well in his version. I was kind of drawn to the scene, though, where Jesus calls the disciples. The text says, "Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve--designating them apostles--that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons" (13-15). This is an interesting scene to me. First of all, it doesn't say he just called the twelve. It says He called "those he wanted" and appointed twelve of them specifically. So maybe it was a bigger group, from which the twelve were chosen. I wonder how Jesus decided "those he wanted" and how He decided on the twelve (if they are two different groups). And I also noticed today that He gave the twelve special authority. I guess I should have always known this, but I think I have just been picturing things differently. I haven't been picturing Jesus choosing twelve from His big group and giving them special powers. I wonder what the others thought (if there were others there).

Psalm 37:1-11

This psalm always reminds me of 9/11, b/c I read it shortly afterward and was comforted by it. It still provides a lot of comfort. I am a scaredy-cat, as I've repeatedly mentioned, and this world seems very "big and bad," especially now that I am an adult and realize that adults don't have the special knowledge and powers that I thought they did:). So much goes on in this world that is completely beyond my control and understanding. Sometimes the darkness is just overwhelming, and I want to form a protective cocoon around my family and never come out. But this psalm comforts me, and it reminds me that I don't have to understand everything or know how to fix everything. All I have to do is "Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture" (3). And even though my pastures may not always seem safe by my standards, I know that I will always be safe as long as I have the Good Shepherd with me.

I've always loved verse 4: "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." I think that this is especially true b/c as you delight yourself in the Lord, the desires of your heart begin to conform to His will. Suddenly, a lot of the selfish things and creature comforts of this world are no longer your biggest cravings. Instead, you long to know Him and love Him and serve Him. And of course, God will give you the desires of your heart. (Whoa, as I typed that, I realized that another way to read it was just how I interpreted it. The NIV doesn't say that God will fulfill the desires of your heart; it says that He will give them to you. In other words, your very desires will come from Him. Wow, that's an interesting way to read it.)

Also, I noticed that our footnotes says that this poem was an acrostic using the Hebrew alphabet. That's pretty cool. I wonder how many other poetic devices, like rhythm and rhyme, are lost in translation. It's an amazing thought to me, b/c I think the psalms are beautiful and brilliant. I wonder how much more so they would seem in their original language.

Proverbs 10:3-4

There is a lot I can say about how the Lord "thwarts the craving of the wicked," but I'm too sleepy. I'll just say that I see it all the time. In our society, standards are falling away right and left, and it is truly becoming a world of "anything goes" and "do whatever you want to be happy." And yet, are we happier as a society? I think not. When we crave happiness apart from God, I just don't think it is possible to ever really fulfill that craving.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

February 17

OT: Lev. 4:1-5:19

See, this is what I'm talking about with yesterday's "continual slaughterhouse" comment. Every time anyone sins unintentionally, like if they unintentionally touch something unclean, they have to offer an animal sacrifice for atonement. Seriously, how are they going to have any animals left?? Thankfully, God puts in a provision about what to do if you can't afford the animal sacrifice (bring two doves or young pigeons, or if that's still too steep, about two quarts of fine flour). Because the Law isn't specific on what it means not to be able to afford something, I bet a lot of people were bringing flour. I mean, who can afford to bring an animal from their flock every time they thoughtlessly take an oath or accidentally touch something unclean?

Plus, are these the only unintentional sins? Probably not! Furthermore, where do these Laws even come from? I know it says, "The Lord said to Moses," but when did He say this? It doesn't seem to be on the mountain. We read all of those Laws in Exodus. Can God just add Laws at will? (I guess He can--He's God.) Is this, like, the ever-expanding covenant? That hardly seems fair. The people signed on for the Sinai version, not for all these amendments!

I know this probably all sounds mildly blasphemous, but I am just having a hard time understanding what is going on here. I think a good commentary on Leviticus would help clear up some things. I am reading the story like it is a continuous narrative, when it's not. The books are not in chronological order, and they are not homogeneous in form. We just crossed abruptly from a historical narrative to...something else. To a record of the Law. And in the transition, I feel like I've totally lost track of God. I'm having a hard time seeing His face here.

NT: Mark 2:13-3:6

It's kind of amazing to read this stringent Law in the OT, and then to look at the NT and see the result of that Law. In general, man does not do well with this many rules. Our hearts just aren't good enough (which is maybe part of what the Law intended to show us). Thus, when God actually comes down to redeem us, the Pharisees just can't get past His attitude toward the Law and toward righteousness. Why is He eating with "sinners"? Why don't He and His disciples fast? Why does He eat grain on the Sabbath? Why does he heal on the Sabbath? In short, why is He such a slacker when it comes to the Law??? They are probably thinking, "Wow, if Jesus had goats, birds, or flour, he would have run out by now, with all these 'sins.'" Or maybe that's just me:).

The responses they get are pretty amazing. First of all, the text responds, I believe, with the quotes around the "sinners." (Did they have quotes back then? If not, then this is the response of translators and not the original authors.) The quotes around "sinners" seem to highlight the irony of the idea that these people were worse sinners than the Pharisees, or anyone else. The New Testament presents an expanded concept of sin, which is pretty crazy when you consider how much the Law itself expanded the concept of sin. In the NT, however, the thoughts of your heart are explicitly brought to the table and presented as sins. Though the prophets allude to this in the OT, and though the Law commanded the people to love God with all their heart, I don't think the idea of heart was ever expanded as much as Jesus expands it.

Secondly, not only did the idea of "heart" expand the definition of sin, it also limited it. I know: Weird. Jesus and His disciples aren't guilty for eating with sinners because they are seeking to bring them spiritual healing (17). (And actually, is there even a Law that says you couldn't eat with 'sinners'? Maybe we haven't gotten to it yet, but I don't remember that.) Jesus' disciples weren't guilty for not fasting b/c they were in the presence of God, and it was a time to be happy. Jesus and His disciples weren't guilty for eating grain on the Sabbath, not only because picking heads off of grain was not work (for goodness sake!), but because they understood that Sabbath was made for the benefit of man, not to starve him! And healing someone out of love on the Sabbath was not wrong (again, duh), because it was an act done out of love to bring freedom.

All that said, I can honestly understand a little bit while the Pharisees were being a bunch of jerks with their rules. God's tone in the OT is hard, just like their tone. The Law doesn't exactly make explicit that God made the Sabbath especially for the benefit of the people whom He loves so much. It's more like, "Work on the Sabbath, and die!" Or be cut off. Whatever. There is not a lot of warm and fuzzy explanation that comes along with the command. And I know the Pharisees added a bunch of rules to form a "hedge around Torah," but given God's strict tone, can you blame them? After all, like I said earlier, who has that many animals to sacrifice? Perhaps they figured it was better to put some precautionary rules around the rules, just so they wouldn't run out of animals!

Regardless, I can see what Jesus meant when He talked about old and new wineskins. The Pharisees didn't just need a "tweak" to their thinking; they were so far off that they needed a whole new way of thinking. If you tried to pour Jesus' teaching into the "old wineskin" of their thinking, their brain would explode:). (I know that the old and new wineskins here are more traditionally considered to be the Old Law and the New Law, respectively. However, in light of the idea that Christ didn't come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, I would posit that the problem wasn't with the Law, per se, but with people's understanding of the Law.)

I also found it interesting that Jesus got angry at the people's hard hearts and was "deeply distressed" by them (3:5). The whole scene with the healing of the hand provides some interesting insight into Jesus. It also serves as a sad example of just how far wrong the people had gone, and how in need they were of the Man who now stood before them.

Psalm 36:1-12

This psalm has some amazing uplifting and encouraging verses in it, but I had a hard time appreciating them because I was hung up back at the first four. I am used to David's description of sinners not describing me. He talks about people seeking to take his life, plotting evil against him, giving false testimony to trap him...things like that. I can honestly say that I don't do any of that to anyone else. So when I read in verse 1 that David was going to take a few moments to elaborate on sinfulness, I wasn't too worried. But when I read verses 2-4, I was really stopped in my tracks. Especially verse 2: "For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin." How blind am I currently to my own sin? Or if I do know that something might be wrong, like my choice in tv show, for example, do I really hate that sin? Or do I rationalize it? And I try not to be wicked and deceitful, but have there been times when I've ceased to be wise and to do good (3)? Don't I have stagnant times when I'm not thinking deeply and growing and doing the good that I know I should do? And while I don't feel like I "plot evil," have I ever committed myself to a sinful course, like to seeking earthly security or wealth (4)? And am I guilty today of not rejecting what is wrong? Has my society eroded my morality in ways I don't even fully realize?

Those are all the things I thought of while reading the first four verses. Thus, I kind of stared, shell-shocked, at the rest of the passage without having all the happiness and light really sink in. I guess I can just say that it is a good thing that God's love reaches to the heavens and that His faithfulness stretches to the skies. I need all the love and faithfulness I can get during the long process of God's refinement of my heart!

Proverbs 10: 1-2

Here's one to read to Luke throughout his life:). My interest in family values was peaked today reading that verse. It occurs to me that Solomon really seems to view the relationship between parent and child to be pretty sacred. In particular, children have strong obligations to their parents. This idea, of course, has echoes in the Ten Commandments, which tell children to obey their parents, even before it forbids murder and adultery and all that other bad stuff. And yet, Jesus comes and says that He is going to bring division and to call people to leave their parents and families. And He says to hate your father and mother. I understand that "hate" is hyperbolic, but it just seems weird that He would say those things in light of OT teaching. I guess I have such a continual problem with that idea b/c I am so wrapped up in my family, and I just can't see how that is wrong. To me, loving my family is a major part of loving God. So why would Jesus make family sound like a distraction or a detriment?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February 16

OT: Leviticus 1:1-3:17

Wow, I honestly had no idea until I just typed the reference that we had crossed into Leviticus. Apparently, I need to start reading the scripture references as I read the scriptures!

What I really need to do is research all about the different sacrifices. I want to know how many kinds there were, what each of them were for, and what each of them entailed. Alas, I have a Valentine's date in two hours, so that is not going to happen. (Alas is probably the wrong word. I may be a nerd, but I would much rather go out with my baby than research OT sacrifices!)

It does make me wonder, though, did the people keep up with all these sacrifices in Jesus' time? I know that there was some sacrificing going on. Joseph and Mary make a sacrifice at Jesus' birth, and people were selling animals for sacrifices at the temple. If I recall correctly, however, the full OT instruction on sacrificing makes it sound like a continual slaughterhouse. There needs to be a lot of dead animals to keep people's sins forgiven. Reading this also makes me wonder why Jews don't sacrifice animals today. According to them, Jesus was not the Messiah, and thus, He has not made the ultimate atoning sacrifice. Shouldn't they still be killing animals then? I wonder how they got around that one. PETA would be none too pleased!

It must have provided a powerful image to the people when they had to slaughter their own animals. I paid close attention to what the people had to do themselves and what the priests did in today's reading. The people had to get down and dirty; they couldn't just give their animal to the priest and say, "Here--take care of this for me." Killing an animal for one's own sins must have helped convey the wages of sin in a dramatic way.

NT: Mark 1:29-2:12

My "family values" meter always perks up when I read about Simon's mother-in-law. The disciples say that they have "left" all of their family, but at least in the beginning, they were still in contact. Which reminds me: Peter took along a believing wife with him after Jesus arose, so Jesus didn't break up all of his disciples' families.

Maybe it was the bold print that drew my attention to it, but I loved how Jesus was "filled with compassion" when he healed the leper. I also find it interesting that, despite a stern warning from the Messiah, the former leper completely defies Jesus' instruction and goes and tells everyone. I wonder how Jesus felt about that. Surely, He wasn't too angry. I also find it a little ironic that Jesus has told me to go and tell everyone about Him, and yet I often find myself tongue-tied. What a contrast.

Because I am apparently a shallow person, I have always been dazzled by Jesus' physical healings, more so than His forgiveness of people's sins. I guess it is because I've always heard that Jesus forgives sins, but I've never seen a healing. Thus, I think healings are something special. When I read about the paralytic being lowered through the roof today, however, Jesus' declaration of forgiveness for the man's sins seemed nothing short of miraculous. After reading in the OT about all that forgiveness entailed, it is amazing to me that Jesus can just speak forgiveness even before He died. What's more, the man didn't even ask for forgiveness! Don't you have to ask first? Don't you have to repent? Jesus' forgiveness of this man was an amazingly lavish display of grace! No wonder the teachers of the Law were put off! No one has the authority to forgive sins but God Himself! Who does this clown think he is??

Oh, right....

Psalm 35: 17-28

I don't have too much to say about the second part of this psalm. David continues lamenting over the deviousness and malice of his enemies. He continues to cry out to God for help.

Proverbs 9:13-18

Uh-oh! We have a new figure! The Adulteress has been replaced by "the woman Folly." Clearly, they represent the same concepts, but this figure is described even more as the mirror opposite of wisdom. When we read the Proverbs in such little bits, it is hard to keep the sense of "flow," but keep in mind that Wisdom has just finished her entreaties to people in the street. She started in the beginning of chapter 9 by building her house and preparing her meat and wine. Then, she goes out and calls from the highest point in the city, "Let all who are simple come in here! Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding" (9:4-6). All that we have read for the past couple of days make up the rest of her speech.

Now, it is Folly's turn, and she echoes Wisdom in a lot of ways. She sits at the door of her house, at the highest point in the city. She, too, calls out to passerby with similar language as wisdom: "Let all who are simple come in here! Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret taste delicious." Like Wisdom, she invites the simple in to eat and drink. Unlike Wisdom, though, she seeks to lure them into participating in forbidden things. I have to give it to Folly: she hits the nail on the head with the whole "stolen water" bit. It is an odd quirk of human nature that we are drawn to what is forbidden. Even if we know clearly that it is wrong and that things will not end well for us, we are still tempted to break rules and cross lines. Folly appeals thus to the dark side of human nature, while Wisdom appeals to the good side, to our logic and intellect and our desire to know God.

Monday, February 15, 2010

February 15

OT: Ex. 39:1-40:38

The bored part of me is wondering if it would have been so bad had Moses not exactly repeated all of God's instructions as the people carried them out. Why not just sum up what the people did? At the same time, I agree with him that these actions were some for the record books. Here is written proof that the Israelites were capable of obeying the Law to a T. Since their history will go on to cover all of their misadventures in grim detail, why not linger over the one time they got it right? Even in this era, they have been messing up right and left. This story, however, is one that they would want their children to hear! My favorite line is in verse 39:42, which says, "The Israelites had done all the work just as the Lord had commanded Moses."! Like I said, I am just so impressed with and happy for them. Moses blessed them as a result; if it were me, I would have had to break out into song or something!

I was trying to get a picture of how long all this took, so I looked up "month" on Exodus 19:1 says that the Israelites arrived at the desert of Sinai three months after they left Egypt. In today's reading, it says that they set up the tabernacle on the first day of the first month of the second year (Ex. 40:17). So that means that in nine months' time, they had received the Law and built the tabernacle. Honestly, I would have thought it would have taken longer for them to build all that. I guess when so many people worked together with God's help, they were able to make good time!

At the same time, as I was reading about all their activity in the desert, I was thinking how an atheist or an irreligious person would think that they were crazy! Here they are spending many months using so many of their precious resources to make a portable tent for their Deity. Someone who had no knowledge or belief in that Deity would probably think that their time would be infinitely better spent if they kept moving and looked for a home. And for that matter, they should probably be saving all their wealth to...I don't make a treaty or something with some king so that they could live in his land. Something useful. Something that doesn't involve a portable tent. Thinking all of that reminded me how bizarre the Christian life must look to a nonbeliever. As a Christian, my entire life, my reason for living, revolves totally around a Deity whom others do not believe even exists! Though modern day society actually seems to value some of the ideas that Christians hold dear, like love and peace, the ideas of Truth, of selflessness, and of righteousness are apparently becoming increasingly ridiculous to them. And as such, like the laboring Israelites, Christians are probably starting to look weirder and weirder to outsiders.

Granted, the Israelites were all alone and not influenced by outsiders (which is probably why they shine so brightly here), but I am inspired by their focused devotion to God in the desert. The workers are pouring all that they have into doing something for their Maker. When they were in societies, they had a hard time faring so well. Even though I am currently in a society that I find very distracting, I want to have that same kind of focused commitment that the Israelites had in the desert.

NT: Mark 1: 1-28

Well, I knew this was coming, but I've got to admit, I found it a bit jarring to start all over with Mark. Honestly, I didn't even realize that Matthew ended yesterday, though I know that the Great Commission comes at the end! I just wasn't thinking...

One thing that immediately hits me about Mark's gospel is that he seems more like a "big picture" kind of guy. Mark is telling a BIG story, and he doesn't have time for little things like details and character development the way that Matthew did. There is no genealogy, no birth narrative, no details on the temptation, no buildup of Jesus' relationship with the disciples. Mark comes out of the gate sprinting and immediately hits the high points: John came and prepared the way for Jesus; Jesus was baptized; Jesus was tempted; Jesus called his disciples; Jesus taught amazing things in the synagogue; Jesus healed people. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom! I have to say, reading the first chapter excited me. It seemed like something epic was coming, and I am excited to come along for the ride. This ride moves pretty fast, though, so I've got to try to keep up:).

Psalm 35: 1-16

Thankfully, I've never really had enemies, much less enemies on the level that David describes in this psalm, so I can't really relate. As such, the only thing that really leaps out at me is verse 8: "may ruin overtake them by surprise--may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin." The net and pit in this verse refer to the net and pit David's enemies dug for him. Proverbs has echoes of this concept in Proverbs 1:11-19, which talks about how people who lie in wait to way-lay others end up only way-laying themselves. What strikes me about David's use of this concept is that he is clearly looking for justice, not vengeance. He wants his enemies to suffer only what they are trying to get him to suffer, and no more. It kind of reminds me of the idea of "an eye for an eye." I read a book on just war that held that the concept of "an eye for an eye" is the beginning of justice and mercy. Vengeance tends to take things to the next level. "Eye for eye and tooth for tooth" (or "net for a net and pit for pit," in this case) sets limits on retribution.

And that, people, is your random thought for today.

Proverbs 9:11-12

It's funny to me how a long life is touted as one of the benefits of wisdom. I would say that, in light of NT teaching, that is kind of an outdated benefit. Though our survival instincts cause us to desire a long life, the NT makes clear that our physical death is gain. It also repeatedly emphasizes that physical death is not to be feared since we have already died in the most important ways.

Yet, I guess that even in the light of eternity, it is a blessing to get to influence and shine for our families. I count every day with my husband and children (and with my church family) as a blessing from God, in which eternal benefits can be reaped. So in that sense, I guess long life is good...