Monday, February 1, 2010

February 1

OT: Ex. 13:17-15:18

In today's reading, I loved seeing some of the ways that God works. First of all, he sends the Israelites on the longer way (through the desert to the sea) because He knows that their faith may not hold up to the obstacles on the shorter way (through Philistine country). God, of course, could have delivered the Israelites from the Philistines had they gone that way, but He chooses the detour for their sake. Sending people around the "long way" seems to be one of God's M.O.'s. He sent Moses on the long way, perhaps because Young Moses wasn't ready for the shorter way. I think Joseph would agree that he took the long way. The Israelites will continue to take the long way on their journey, which will include a 40-year hiatus in the middle of the desert. I think it is interesting that, in most of those cases, the "long way" is used because the people themselves can't handle the shorter way (Joseph may be an exception to this argument, but then again, maybe not.) I wonder how much that happens today, how often we end up taking or being sent on the long way because we need the extra prep time. Thinking about that concept both in the lives of the Israelites and in my own life, I am reminded my one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis. In Mere Christianity, Lewis observes that, "The longest way around is the shortest way home." He says that that is often true in life and in faith. I agree.

As a Christian striving to keep in step with the Spirit, I also appreciate the daily guidance God gives to the Israelites, in the form of the fire and the cloud. He doesn't give them the whole road map or the whole game plan, but He lights their way and leads them through each day. I find that He still likes to operate that way. I personally might prefer getting a road map up front:). Yet, from the beginning, God has always seen great value in making humans trust Him on a daily, often hourly, basis for their direction and provision.

I also like the way in which God's glorification often depends on nothing more than us humans being still. That doesn't mean that we are always to do nothing. In this case, being still was perhaps the hardest thing the Israelites could do, given their terror and the natural human adrenalin response. "Being still" to the Israelites meant holding firm, being steadfast, and trusting God. I, also, need to always hold firm and be steadfast in my trust of God. Sometimes that might mean that I am to "be still." Sometimes, that might mean that I am to keep on doing what I'm doing, even though it's hard. And sometimes that might mean that I am to stop what I'm doing and go into another direction. Another thing that "being still" underscores is the idea that it was very clear that God and God alone delivered the Israelites. As a prideful person, I like to get credit for good things that happen. I like it when people chalk up my successes to my brilliance or work ethic or general awesomeness:). But honestly, people's positive thoughts about me are quite worthless in the eternal scheme of things. Everything about my life should point people to God. I cannot save people's souls or give them what they truly need. Thus, in order to do my job as a Christian, I must live my life so that when people look at me, they see God's glory instead of "Kim."

Of course, the Israelites did not face that conundrum. God made it very clear Who was working here. I can't be sure, but I don't think they struggled with pride at this point!

NT: Matt. 21: 23-46

A couple of days ago, I noted that God wants us to use our brains. Today, Jesus supports that observation by using his brain quite well. He definitely shows us here what He means by the phrase, "shrewd as a snake"! First, He traps the Pharisees with a question about John the Baptist in order to avoid a premature showdown regarding His authority (21-27). Then, he pulls two "Nathans." A "Nathan," you may have guessed, is where you tell a story meant to lure in a person so that you can expose the error of his ways, just like Nathan the prophet did to David. The anonymous nature of the story makes the audience see their behavior apart from themselves and ultimately leads them to indict their own behavior without realizing what they're doing. I myself have used the "Nathan" before:). (Other helpful persuasive strategies in the Bible are the "Philemon" and the "Choose Life," from Moses. I like those two even better than the "Nathan"! The "Philemon," especially, works great with teens!:))

The first "Nathan" is short and sweet, about two sons whose actions don't match their words. The chief priests and elders agree that the son who says he will not obey and then does is better than the son who says he will obey and then does not. Jesus then shows them that they have indicted themselves for their lack of obedience in recognizing the Christ. The second "Nathan" is longer and more pointed. I am kind of surprised that the chief priests and elders fall for it after being suckered into the first one, but I think that the idea that they are responsible for the deaths of God's prophets is so foreign to them they truly can't see where the story is headed. The irony, of course, is that this story further motivates them to plot against Jesus, thus making it a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Psalm 26: 1-12

More confidence before God from David. I really do find David to be a fascinating individual. He walked with God in such a unique way; he was truly ahead of his time. This morning, I asked my teen girls what it meant to "know God," and one of the girls answered that she thought of David. I think that was a great answer. David communes with God in a continual, personal way: "Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth" (2-3). To be able to say those things, pre-Holy Spirit, is pretty amazing.

Proverbs 6: 16-19

These lists are interesting to me. I think that the lists themselves are a poetic device. I mean, God hates more than those seven things. And I note that the first five proceed from top to bottom of a person's body. That itself is a device. I forget the name of it, but in ancient poetry, poetic descriptions usually proceeded from top to bottom of a person's body. So, in short, I don't consider these verses to be a comprehensive list, or anything other than a poetic way to share some of the actions of which God does not approve.


  1. Good points today. I can certainly relate to being led the "long way." It was definitely a long process for us to get our house. There were some houses along the way that we REALLY thought were perfect for us, but then the one we ended up with is SO much better than any of those. Now that we're working on painting and other updates/upgrades, the process is going more slowly than I imagined. It would be easy to get frustrated about that, but I realized this morning that it is probably better for us to be slower and more careful because we have never done this before. If we just rushed to get things done for our own gratificatio, we would be less pleased with the results in the end. (This is not a perfect analogy to the Israelites, but it's what's on my mind this morning.) :)

    I love your label for "Nathans." :) What is the Philemon? Does that refer to how Paul talked to him about Onesimus ("not to mention that you owe me your very life," etc.) or to what Paul told Philemon to do, taking his servant back after he ran away? (I could see either one being useful with teens.)

    I noticed the body parts in Proverbs, but I didn't think about them going from the top down. Thinking about that as a literary device, it bothers me that the last 2 of the 7 don't have body parts. Also, lying is in there twice (at least the way it's written in the NLT), so that bothers me too. I agree with God, though. I don't like "haughty eyes" either. That makes me think of the kind of attitude you see in pre-teen girls in TV shows, that real smug, "like, whatever!" kind of sass. That completely rubs me the wrong way. I hate to see girls in real life copy it. (I'm sure that "haughty eyes" encompasses, more than that, but that's what I think of.)

  2. Becky,

    This is all based on my own interpretation, of course, but a "Philemon," is where you put a VERY positive spin on what you want someone to do, acting as if the good deed is a foregone conclusion. I interpret the letter to Philemon kind of like, "Dear Philemon, Great news! We found your slave! Even better news! He is a Christian! I know that you will be SO excited to hear that, and I KNOW that you are going to welcome him back as a BROTHER and not a SLAVE, b/c you are such a STAND-UP GUY!" Call me cynical, but I don't know how much Philemon's positive reaction to Onesimus was a forgone conclusion. I think the effort Paul put into the letter and the fact that he reminded Philemon of how much he (Philemon) owed him show that Paul himself is not entirely sure of Philemon's response.

    I often use that philosophy in talking to the teens. Rather than say, for example, "Listen, we put you in a room with so-and-so on this trip, and I know you don't know her really well, but please don't leave her out," it is often more effective to emphasize the positive. "Hey, I was trying to figure out where to put so-and-so, and I chose your room because you are such a great leader and are so great at encouraging everyone around you. I thought that so-and-so would have the most fun in your room b/c I KNOW you would make sure to include her. Does that sound good? Thanks!" I have always personally found it more empowering to feel that someone has faith in me on the front end, rather than feeling like they think they have to instruct me because I'm going to screw it up otherwise:). That seems to be what Paul is trying to convey to Philemon.

  3. Oh, and I with the list in Proverbs, I'm cool with the fact that the last two have to do with whole people, and that he probably wants to get seven things in, since seven is an important number, as well:).

  4. Ah, that makes sense. (The Philemon thing.)