Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 31

I'm debating whether to tell you on the front end that my brain is fried, or to just let you figure that out as you read. Hmmm....

OT: Deut. 16:1-17:20

One benefit of getting to read the same things over and over (is it just me, or are we, in fact, reading the same things over and over?) is that you get to pick out themes. One recurring theme that I don't think I've mentioned is, "Remember who you are." God very much wants the people to REMEMBER EGYPT. REMEMBER SLAVERY. REMEMBER WHO GOT YOU OUT. I'm not one to overuse caps lock (I'm more an italicizing gal), but I think those words merit capital letters. After all, God seems to be basically shouting them at the Israelites throughout Moses' speech. And it seems that the reason God wants them to remember those things is because they need to remember how much they have been given. It is crazy how prone we all are to forget that.

When we forget how much we have been given, according to this speech, we become proud. We begin to think that we deserve our blessings, and we turn away from God. We also tend not to treat those less fortunate with compassion. At least, that's the principle I get when I read these reminders of Israel's slavery and deliverance so closely connected to instructions to be compassionate to the poor and to the alien. And so closely connected to reminders to follow all of God's instruction, as we saw today.

The lesson I take away from these repeated reminders of Israel's past is that I should always remember how much God has given me. I should always remember that I am nothing without God.

My mind was also blown a bit by the instructions regarding kings. This is an example when God's omniscience makes my brain shut down. I know that when the people wanted a king, God took that as a sign of rejection of Him. Yet, He granted them their wish, even though it didn't appear to be his will. The commands in 17:14-20 kind of confuse me, b/c they seem to give guidelines for this future thing that God doesn't want, but He will allow. That's just kind of weird to me.

NT: Luke 9:7-27

The feeding of the 5,000 strikes me as the "not enough" miracle. It sprang from people not feeling that they had "enough." Last time, I talked about how Jesus was on emotional empty after hearing about the death of John the Baptist. He had gone away to a private place to mourn and regroup, and was instead met by a desperate crowd wanting a piece of Him. Even though, emotionally, He didn't have "enough," He still chose to act out of compassion and love. During today's reading, I focused on how the disciples didn't have "enough" food. And yet, they brought what they had: five loaves of bread and two fish. In both cases, the people without "enough" gave what they did have...and it became enough. And that was the miracle.

And really, that is the essence of any miracle. If we all had enough to meet our needs, we wouldn't need any miracles in the first place. If people always had enough health or enough ability or enough money, then why would would be the point of a miracle? A miracle is what happens when God takes our "not enough" and makes it "enough." In that sense, it is a miracle whenever we serve "beyond" our abilities, when we keep loving even when our tank is bone dry. It is a miracle whenever God gives us the strength to do what we honestly can't do on our own. I love how, in the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus gives the bread back to the disciples and lets them distribute it. Jesus puts the resources into their hands, tells them what to do with it, and when they obey, He takes care of the rest. That is cool to me.

After feeding everyone, Jesus tells His disciples that they must die to themselves. As you all probably know by now, I love to ponder the dying to self verses. I have become quite sure that the key to life is found in them (no, really). To me, death to self is the definition of true love. And love, we know, is what it is all about.

Psalm 72:1-20

Oh, Solomon. How interesting that you would appear today just after I read all the laws that your kingship broke. After all, you amassed all kinds of wealth and had tons of concubines, in direct violation of Deuteronomy 17:17. Tsk tsk. And you are supposed to be so wise! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, young man. Someone wise once told me that.

Oh wait. That was you.

Proverbs 12:8-9

Verse 9 is so interesting to me: "Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food." I totally agree with that statement, and yet it seems like an odd proverb. I do like the idea of not being fake and not living above your means just for show.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 30

OT: Deut. 13:1-15:23

How do you keep evil out?

That is what today's text made me ponder. Under the OT Law, the way you kept evil out was to kill anyone who brought it in. That was definitely dramatic, and it had a degree of effectiveness, I'm sure. And yet, there are a couple of drawbacks to that strategy. For one, you had to kill a lot of people. For another, its success depended on the resolve of the Israelites to kill even their closest family members. I've decided that you don't really want any plan to depend on the resolve of the Israelites for its success.

I think that God's instruction here was intended to demonstrate something, but I can't quite figure out what. Well, for one, it showed how deadly serious He was about sin and evil. Jesus furthers this stance with His (hyperbolic?) declaration that you should cut off your hand and gouge out your eye if it causes you to sin. At the same time, though, I think that both God's instructions here and Jesus admonition to self-mutilation are intended to show ultimately show us how evil cannot be kept out by external means. If you kill the one idolater, there will always be others. I don't think you can kill all the avenues through which evil can come because it ultimately comes through everyone's hearts. And seriously, if you cut off your hand or gouge out your eye, is that really going to keep you from sinning? No. It wasn't your eye or hand that caused you to sin; it was your heart.

We should, of course, remove the external factors that lead us to sin as much as possible. If that means (ahem) cutting off those who continually tempt us, or cutting off our own resources that allow us to sin, then that's what we need to do. Our family only has one tv, and that without cable, for that very reason. Best we can figure, nothing good for our family can come from multiple tv's or cable (except for ESPN for Greg:)). Not that it is bad to have multiple tv's or cable, but that is just one way we have found at this point in our lives to keep evil influences out of our home. Ultimately, however, building up barricades and/or hacking away at the world around us is not going to keep our hearts free from evil. Only God's presence, only His indwelling Spirit, can do that.

Changing gears...I am still loving all the debt-canceling that goes along with Jubilee. What a great picture. In the Jubilee instructions, however, I found another example of how all these teachings seem to point to the possibility of an ideal world, while acknowledging that it's not going to happen. For instance, earlier verses seemed to say that if people did what they should, then there would be no barrenness, no disease, no famine, etc. And yet all those things still happened. Along those same lines, the first few verses of chapter 15 talk about canceling the debts of fellow Israelites, and verse 4 follows those instructions with, "However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord you God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you." That's right: there should be no poor around them with all of these laws on helping the poor, and with all of God's blessings that He is going to give the people. And yet, verse 11 of that same chapter says, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in the land." So....if everyone does what they should, then there won't be any poor people. BUT...there will always be poor people. So, I guess that God knows that there will NEVER be a time when everyone does what they should. It's also interesting to note that it seems clear that it is not the poor people's fault for being poor. God is all about punishing sinners with consequences in the Law, but here, He commands the people to be kind and generous to the poor. Interesting.

NT: Luke 8:40-9:6

Today, I got all caught up in silly stuff while reading. I was so intrigued by the idea that the girl was twelve years old, and that the woman had been bleeding for twelve years, and that the woman was healed around the same time that the girl died. And my brain wanted so much to find something symbolic in the twelve years and/or the life-disease/death-life continuum portrayed in the story. It almost seems like Luke/God is going for something more here...but I've got nothin'. (But wow, how many slashes can I use in one paragraph?)

I also noticed today how Jairus was a synagogue ruler, yet another Jewish leader who believed in Jesus. It is so easy for me to see groups of people as cartoons, or at least as homogeneous in their identity and beliefs. And yet, groups of people are always made up of complex individuals. You can't really put them in a box. So let's far, we know of Jairus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and ostensibly the teachers of the law present at the healing of the paralytic who were not cartoonishly bad.

And I'm still loving the idea that Jesus sent the apostles out with nothing but the clothes on their backs...oh, and the "power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases" (9:1). I'm sure that was handy:).

Psalm 71:1-24

Favorite verse #1: "My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure" (15).

Favorite verse #2: "Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up" (20).

And, is it just me, or do you think the editors of this Bible sometimes just close their eyes and point to pick the verse they want to highlight? Verses 22-23 aren't bad, just kind of random...

Proverbs 12:5-7

The righteous are just, are saved by their words, and have houses that always stand firm. The wicked give deceitful advice, use their speech to lie in wait for blood, and are ultimately overthrown.

Monday, March 29, 2010

March 29

OT: Deut. 11:1-12:32

So many thoughts are swirling around about this passage. There is not a single, unifying thread that runs through them, so I will try to grab them each and put them down here before they get away.

The first is that Moses is getting quite repetitive, but I understand why. I mean, it's not like he can send the people email reminders of his message. It's not even like they can each get a transcript and read back over it when they forget. This is his one shot to address the people and to get his message through their thick skulls. And so, as such, he repeats his basic premises over and over: "God is in charge. God is about to GIVE you this land. (Not you. God.) When you get in there, follow God. Do what HE says. Do not follow idols. If you follow God, it will go well with you. If you forget Him and/or follow idols, it will go poorly." Repeat those concepts about 18 times, and you get the gist of Moses' message here.

Secondly, as a parent, I am intrigued by Moses' use of both carrot and stick. He doesn't just use one or the other, and he also doesn't say, "Follow God because He made you and loves you, and it would make Him happy if you followed Him." In other words, Moses does not highlight the intrinsic benefits to following God; he emphasizes the extrinsic benefits to following God. I find that to be an interesting choice, and in the context of the people's relationship with God, it makes sense. Spiritually speaking, they are toddlers. I have toddlers myself. And though I do try to emphasize the intrinsic benefits of making God happy, I also take the carrot and stick approach. I try, for example, to explain the value and importance of the church service to my kids, but I also tell them, "If you sit quietly in church, you can play in the gym afterward. If you don't sit quietly in church, you will get a spanking." I feel bad sometimes about using so many extrinsic rewards/punishments, but my kids just aren't at the point where the intrinsic ones are compelling. I don't think the Israelites are there, either.

But at the same time, do you think all these benefits are for real? If they follow the Law, will people really not be barren? Will they really not get any diseases? Will it really always rain when it is supposed to? Will all their animals really not miscarry? Will everything really go just splendidly for them? I keep thinking of David. Granted, he wasn't perfect, but he has repeatedly cited times where everything is going poorly for him, despite the fact that he is righteous. So...what do you think of these guarantees here? I personally don't know what to think.

And lastly, three verses really stuck out to me. Deut. 12:4 says, "You must not worship the Lord your God in their way." Verse 8 says, "You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit." And verse 13 says, "Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please." The principle that I get from these three verses is that we can't just worship God however we want. As NT Christians, we do have a lot more freedom than the Israelites had, but we are still supposed to fear God and to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." We have freedom, yes, but that freedom is only in the context of glorifying God completely with our lives. We don't have the freedom to worship God in whatever way we choose, or however "works for us." We are slaves to righteousness, and we are bound by scripture just as much as the Israelites were. I hate to think of the ways that my life and worship conforms to the culture around me and not to His word. It's so hard to figure that out sometimes.

BUT, on the flip side, I thought it was cool that God even gave the Israelites some freedom. He demanded a lot of their animals for sacrifices, as we have already discussed. And yet, He also gave them permission to kill and eat their own animals whenever they wanted. Since they had been complaining about having no meat in the desert, I guess that had been taboo up until this point. I love 12:15, which says, "Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want...according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it." I like this verse because it kind of gives us the freedom to enjoy our blessings, even as we try and serve God with our whole lives. Though Greg and I don't spend our own money on too much frivolous stuff, my parents have given us a ton of wonderful blessings, and I'm glad that I can be thankful for them and not feel guilty. (Even though, Mom, seriously, you've got to tone it down. We are all going to be spoiled rotten!:))

NT: Luke 8:22-39

Third time, guys. Third time. I read these two stories again and liked them, but I had nothing new. Then I prayed and read them again, and this time I was just impressed by God's power. In all three gospels so far, these two stories have been linked together in this order. In Luke, it connects them very closely in time: "When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town" (27a). So, first Jesus calms nature, and then he calms the human spirit. First, He drives out a storm, and then, He drives out a demon. First, He controls the weather, and then, He controls the devil's forces. Both of those displays of power are amazing, but it almost seems like the first one is merely a prelude for the second. The first miracle was "big." It was huge and awe-inspiring and amazing, and it directly affected (and saved) the lives of twelve men. The second was big, too, especially when you consider the amount of pigs involved, but it was not as "big" as calming a whole sea. And it only directly saved one man, and even then, his life wasn't in mortal danger, like the disciples. But it strikes me that freeing one soul from bondage is better than (temporarily) freeing 12 lives from physical death.

It is also interesting to note that the reactions to both of these miracles were fear and awe. As the disciples asked one another, "Who is this man?" Exactly.

Psalm 70: 1-5

Poor David.

Proverbs 12:4

Love it, of course! I sooo want to be my husband's crown. The idea of bringing disgrace to Greg is just abhorrent. And I certainly don't want to be "decay in his bones." I want to give him energy and joy for life!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 28

OT: Deut. 9:1-10:22

I sincerely hope that no biblical scholars read this blog because I am about to throw a theory out there that would get me laughed out of any scholarly room.

My theory is informed by my less-than-stellar reactions to my readings today. Let me give you a little breakdown of those reactions:

9:4-6--Oops! So much for my idea that maybe the people would have been spared had the Israelites been stronger. (Thank goodness I threw in a caveat of "in this passage" when discussing that theory in yesterday's reading. But still. A bit disappointing.)

9:9--Seriously? Moses fasted from food and water for forty days? Wow! Just like Jesus! I wonder if there were some purposeful corollaries there on Jesus' part.

9:13-14--Moses' recollection of the Sinai exchange doesn't include him negotiating with God, as in the Exodus version.

9:18--Okay, really Moses? You fasted again for forty days and nights? Really? Not only does that sound a wee bit impossible (not that that would rule it out), this also was not mentioned in the Exodus narrative.

9:21--You threw the dust into the stream??? I thought you made them drink it.

9:25--You laid prostrate before the Lord for forty days again? Why weren't all these forty day prostrations mentioned earlier?

Throughout the reading--Wow, Moses. You are really the blameless hero of your own narrative, aren't you? You never do anything wrong.

Okay, so here is my theory. The first five books of the OT are written history, and they are all accurate. Deuteronomy chapters 1-10 are also accurate, written history. They record Moses' speech, a speech that was given in history. And that speech was accurately recorded.

But. Some details of that speech are not accurate. Moses was not infallible or inerrant as he was speaking to the Israelites. And so there are some discrepancies between his words and the written history. That also explains why, in the space between Exodus and this speech, Moses has morphed into the blameless hero in his own mind, despite the fact that he is barred from the promised land. After all, we all tend to write our narratives in our own favor, with ourselves as the main character and protagonist.

So that's my way of reconciling the discrepancies between the Exodus account and Moses' speech.*

*Theories subject to change at a day's notice.

NT: Luke 8:4-21

Quick thought: Jesus' interpretation of the seed here hardly seems fair. According to verse 12, the devil comes and takes the seed away "so that they may not believe and be saved." My goodness. That is quite harsh and sad, don't you think?

Longer thought: "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature" (14). Luke's account throws in the "pleasures," which makes it even more applicable to me, especially these last few days. This past week, I have felt very off-focus spiritually. I am a big believer that the Christian life is supposed to be a Spirit-powered, every second kind of thing. I try to focus on God and to worship Him and live for Him every second of the day. But this past week, I haven't done that. I've been indulgent with my free time. I have lacked discipline. And I have not been in regular communication with God through prayer and meditation. My Bible reading is the only thing I have kept up with, and that is largely thanks to you good folks. But it has been done mainly at night, squeezed in before bedtime. And so, I have been caught up in the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life, and I have not matured spiritually this week.

If you get a chance, you might want to send up a prayer for me. Like David said in his sermon a few weeks ago, confession does not equal repentance. I have been aware of this slide for over a week, and yet I haven't turned the ship around.

Psalm 69:19-36

Verses 19-23--Poor David. Poor, poor David. I truly feel so sorry for the man.

Verses 24-28--Good grief, David! Feeling a little bitter today? "Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation"? "May they be blotted out of the book of life"? Good lands!

Verses 29-36--Back to good David.

Proverbs 12:2-3

I like how verse 3 sounds, "A man cannot be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted." For some reason, describing the two by what they cannot be was a little artsy and mind-bendy to me. I liked it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

March 27

OT: Deut. 7:1-8:20

"One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong,
and that you, O Lord, are loving." Psalm 62: 11-12a

Okay, that was random. But that verse kept popping into my head today as I read our OT passage. Specifically, I was pondering the relationship between strength and love. In the case of the Israelites today, they could not be loving because they were not strong. In this passage, Moses didn't say that they were to destroy the inhabitants of the promised land because those inhabitants deserved it. No, Moses makes clear three times in today's reading that if the Israelites do not destroy the inhabitants, those inhabitants "will be a snare to you" (7:16--see also 7:3-4 and 7:25). It stands to reason that if the Israelites had been strong enough to influence the inhabitants, and not vice versa, then perhaps they would have been permitted to live. But they were not strong enough. So they could not show them mercy or pity (7:2, 16).

I'm going to break away to the NT now, and that's not because I don't have any more to say about this. It's just because the NT ties in so well...

NT: Luke 7:36-8:3

Unlike the Israelites, Jesus was strong enough to coexist, to hang out even, with "sinners." He spent quality time with drunkards and prostitutes...and was without sin. Now, that is some strength! In fact, in today's reading, a prostitute (I guess) comes right up to Him and literally covers him (his feet) with kisses and rubs her hair against them, and He is totally fine with that. As a woman, I honestly cannot imagine doing something so passionate to a man that involved physical touch. There have even been times where I wish it was okay to be more affectionate, but it just seems that no one (including myself) is strong enough for that kind of affection.

But Jesus was. The Israelites had to put up barriers (in a big way); Jesus didn't. We have to put up barriers; Jesus didn't.

But it makes me ponder the relationship between strength and love in my own life. There are some things that I am strong enough for (right now). There are some relationships that I can handle, in which I can be the influencing factor and not the other person. But today's reading makes me consider what I am not strong enough for. When I am around negative people, do I get caught up in negativity? When I am around worldly people, do I get caught up in worldliness? When I'm around impatient people, do I start acting impatient, too?

In so many ways, I am a weak person. And yet, I can't exactly kill people who cause me to stumble, can I?:) And I don't even know if, as a disciple of Christ, that I am supposed to avoid those people. I mean, if things get to be a real problem, then there is always a time to cut people off, simply because I am too weak to handle the relationship. But more often, I think I need to cultivate my relationship with God and to seek His Spirit, so that I can be strong enough to be truly loving to those who need it.

I don't know if that made sense to anyone else. It was a little abstract even to me, but that's just where my thoughts went today.

Psalm 69: 1-18

Reading David, I am reminded again how blessed I am by love. I have always had at least two people who loved me deeply and unconditionally. And so often, I have had even more! And on the flip side, I have very rarely been mocked and scorned, and then for only brief periods of time (say, Jr. High). I remember in college, a mentor in the faith inexplicably "turned" on me, and for the first time, I experienced what it was like to have someone consider me an enemy. And let me tell you, it was a horrible feeling. I have always lived in a little bubble of love. Even if people didn't like me, I guess they kept it to themselves. And never would their negative feelings approach an animosity that I could regularly feel.

What I learned from that brief experience with someone who truly and vocally did not like me was that it is awful to have enemies, especially when you did nothing wrong. It totally does a number on your self-confidence and, no matter how unfounded it is, it makes you question yourself in big ways. It is also really humbling.

And David seemed to experience that all the time, and in ways that far surpassed my experience. I simply cannot imagine what that had to be like. I do know that God probably used the experience to humble David and to draw David to Him. As Moses said in our Deuteronomy passage, God sends hardship to discipline us (8:3-5).

Oh, and in case you were breathlessly following my life story here (ha!), the person randomly and completely apologized years later after I had moved away. So...we're cool now, I guess:).

Proverbs 12:1

Only quoting this verse can do justice to the "smack!" it gives you:

"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid."

Wait, I love knowledge...but discipline and correction? Not so much. Well then, I guess that makes me...*smack!*

Friday, March 26, 2010

March 26

OT: Deut. 5:1-6:25

Today's passage had a lot of cool stuff in it, but unfortunately, I was unable to focus at first b/c I was so shell-shocked by what seemed like major contradictions from the Exodus version of Sinai. In Exodus, God was adamant about keeping the people off the mountain and away from the fire. He told Moses twice to keep them away (Ex. 19:12-13, 20:21), and He even specified that Moses should set up some kind of barrier ("limits") to keep the people away. God specified that if they came too close, they had to be killed. In Deuteronomy, Moses makes it seem like it was the people's choice because they were afraid of the fire (5:5, 24-27). I was totally baffled and shocked by this rendition. Plus, I did not recall that God gave all the people the 10 Commandments first, out loud, before His and Moses' tete-a-tete. Huh? I could hardly wait to finish my reading so that I could investigate.

Well, for starters, in Exodus, God does tell Moses that the people will hear God speaking to him from the cloud, so that they would put their trust in Moses. Exodus 19:9 says, "The Lord said to Moses, 'I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.'" However, Deuteronomy says that He spoke from the fire, and it makes it seem like God spoke directly to the people. In Deut. 5:4, Moses tells the people, "The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain." So, what is it? A cloud, or fire? Did God speak to Moses, or to the people?

As for the differing versions of why the people kept their distance, I could actually see on second reading how the two versions could correlate. If Moses told the people beforehand to stay off the mountain, then their reaction would naturally be fear. They would naturally tell Moses, "Hey, it was cool hearing God talk, but we don't want to die, so we are going to leave now" (paraphrase of Deut. 5:24-25). It is just so odd to me how Moses, like, slants history. He totally picks and chooses details to convey certain things. I know I've talked about this, but it is still a bit crazy to me. Strictly speaking, Moses is not a good historian. His histories have way too much of a thesis. Not that he is trying to be a good historian; I don't mean that last sentence as a slam. I am just stating the facts. And it seems that Moses' thesis is Exodus is that God is holy. But here in Deuteronomy, he seems to be emphasizing the "love" side of God. In Deuteronomy, the emphasis is on how God carried the people and worked everything out for them. And in the Deuteronomic (ha!) version of the giving of the Law, Moses seems to stay way more positive. Yeah, he says that there are consequences for breaking the Law, but he spends way more time talking about all the good stuff that happens when you follow the Law (5:10, 28-29, 32-33, 6:1-3, 10-12, 17-19, 24-25, plus the good stuff about the 4th and 5th commands is expanded. On the other hand, he only emphasizes the negative consequences in 5:9 and 6:13-16). He also talks about fun things like loving God with all your heart and soul and strength. In general, I just got happy vibes from reading this version.

And, oh my goodness, I adore all the verses on teaching children. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 is my parenting mantra, and I also like Moses' admonition to the Israelites to recite their personal history when their children ask about the rules that they follow. That is a great admonition. It is so important to teach our children that God's instructions are not a list of rules or obligations, but rather that they are a natural, willing response to all that God has done for us.

NT: 7: 11-35

Luke is so great with details: "When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, 'Don't cry.'" Don't you get such a great picture of Jesus from this simple sentence? Johnson was right: in a few words, Luke can evoke a whole world. His stories draw me to Jesus in a deeper way than Matthew and Mark did. I feel like I can see Jesus so clearly through his stories. I can see Him being touched by the woman's grief and telling her not to cry. I can see Him doing His most impressive miracle thus far in Luke out of plain compassion, and not to make a point or prove that He had the power to forgive sins (like with the paralytic) or whatever--not that He didn't have compassion for those people, too. Mostly, I just love that Jesus seemed to act on emotion here. I can relate to that:). I'm glad that Jesus is not coldly logical. I'm glad that He laughs and tells jokes (a plank in your eye! That's a good one!:)), and that He turns over tables and raises a boy from the dead b/c He feels sorry for his mama. I like that He appreciates ridiculously illogical displays of devotion such as pouring expensive oil on someone's feet. I like all that. I really like Jesus as a person.

Psalm 68:19-35

When I read verses 1 and 2, I thought, "I love this psalm! I love the idea of God being a Savior who 'daily bears our burdens.' I love that He is 'a God who saves.' What a great psalm!" Then, I got to the part about crushing hairy crowns and "plung[ing] your feet in the blood of your foes" and was like, "Gross." I'm not criticizing the psalm; I'm just saying that I don't really revel in violent imagery. It's just not my thing.

Proverbs 11: 29-31

"He who wins souls is wise"?? What does Solomon mean by "winning souls"? Is it just me, or does that verse seem a little ahead of its time?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

March 25

OT: Deut. 4: 1-49

Moses is really hitting his stride in his discourse today. There are some really good passages throughout this chapter. However, I don't have one overarching thought, so instead, I'll just note the little things that occurred to me:

--In verse 2, Moses told the people not to add or subtract from the Law. In building up their hedge around Torah, I guess the Pharisees missed that memo.

--Moses repeatedly urges the people to pass their Law and history down to their children and their children's children. It reminds me of the importance of passing our values and faith down to our children. Teaching our children seems like something that everyone agrees that we should do, but I don't know if we always understand what a monumental task it is. It takes a lot of work, prayer, and consistency! And it is so vitally important to the future of our family. All it takes is just one generation to go wrong, and you have some serious problems on your hands! As much work as it takes to pass down our faith, it is still a lot easier to keep a ship on course than to have to turn it around later (or salvage the wreckage)! Moses' repeated instructions on the matter are a good reminder to me of the importance of my job as a parent.

--Verse 7: "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?" Cool.

--In verse 9, Moses tells the people to "be careful, and watch yourselves closely." To follow the Law requires very deliberate, purposeful living. I try so hard to live purposefully, but it is so easy to slip. For one thing, it is hard to keep my brain "on" and focused all the time. I so often fight the urge to just relax, to let my guard down, spiritually speaking.

--In verse 21, Moses tells the Israelites for the third time that it is their fault that he can't enter the Promised Land. For goodness sake, Moses, ain't that dog died yet? (Sorry, I tend to think in "Georgian" sometimes.) And for the last time, it's your own stinkin' fault!

--One of my favorite concepts in the Bible is found in verse 29: "But if from there you seek the Lord you God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul." Incredible.

--In verses 32-38, Moses just brings it. I mean, he speaks incredibly. It was at this point that I actually began to visualize him, to hear the cadences of his words (which were, conveniently, in English). To me, this is some really good oratory.

NT: Luke 6:39-7:10

Today, we finished up the Sermon on the Plain, which is much shorter than the Sermon on the Mount. We got the plank-eye stuff again, and the idea of a tree and its fruit. I am always convicted by the tree/fruit analogy. No matter what kind of person I believe I am, no matter what kind of person I can convince others I am, the proof is in my actions. When I am impatient with my kids, or lazy and self-indulgent, or easily angered, I show my true colors. It's easy to blame those actions and words on circumstances (stress, fatigue, sickness, etc), but Jesus puts it bluntly and succintly: "For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks" (45). If I get impatient, it is because I am an impatient person. If I am lazy, it is because I am a lazy person. If I am easily angered, it is because I am an angry person. You can judge a tree by its fruit. Wow.

But you can't judge me b/c you are not supposed to judge:).

I always love the wise man. Maybe I'm deluding myself, but I do feel like my house is built on the rock. I believe in my heart that God can get me through anything.

Love the centurion. Luke isn't the only one to write about him, but he does tend to portray Romans and other outsiders favorably.

Psalm 68: 1-18

This psalm really highlights the complexity of God. He has a ferocity that can blow his enemies away like smoke and melt them as wax before the fire. And yet, he is also "a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows" (5). And He "sets the lonely in families" (6). What a wonderful image. It always hits me on two levels. For one, this verse is true of everyone who has a good family. As individuals, we would be so lonely, but God has set us in a wonderful family. And two, I think this also refers to our spiritual families. As a church, we are supposed to be family to each other. This verse also makes me examine whether God is perhaps needing me to be the family for someone who needs it right now. Is there anyone whom I am overlooking?

Proverbs 11:28

"Whoever trusts in riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf." This verse goes well with the parable of the wise and foolish men that we read about in Luke.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 24

OT: Deut. 2:1-3:29

I have a feeling that you will all get sick of me talking about history in this section. But it's going to happen:). After all, this is a history...of Moses reciting history. I mean, what else are we supposed to talk about?

What I find absolutely fascinating about Moses' rendition is the way he shapes the narrative for the people. Strictly speaking, he is telling the people a slightly altered version from what he writes in Numbers. For instance, Moses throws in that the reason that Sihon didn't let the people pass through his land was because God had hardened his heart. I don't remember that detail being in the earlier version. You can tell from these details that Moses' history here has a thesis, like I mentioned yesterday. The thesis is that God has always been in control of every event, and that He has carried them to this point. Thus, Moses chooses not simply to recite the events, but to build in a commentary that supports his thesis. For example, I find his statement in 2:7b a little bit hilarious: "These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything." I could see the people thinking, "Yeah...except for, um, THE PROMISED LAND. And occasionally food and water. And meat, we never had meat. And a place to call home. And all the family members we lost that God killed. But yeah, other than that, you're right--we haven't lacked anything." See, Moses is giving an interpretation. I'm not saying his interpretation isn't correct; I'm just saying that other people could reasonably have a different interpretation of those last forty years. And interpretations are really important. Our perceptions of reality are often more influential than the reality itself. That's why I think it is important to ponder and pray over our own personal history and to let God shape our narrative. For example, I could look at my brother's death as a sick joke of the cosmos, the bizarre and arbitrary malfunction of synapses that led an otherwise healthy man to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger. Or I could interpret the events in the framework of the thesis that God controls the world, and that He loves me and my family and wants what is best for us. That interpretation is what is going to maintain my faith. In the same way, Moses gives the people an interpretive narrative that will maintain their faith as they enter the promised land and begin the task set before them.

NT: Luke 6: 12-38

Well, it's time for the Sermon on the Plain! I learned in college that, because this version differs so drastically from the Sermon on the Mount, and because verse 17 specifies that Jesus went down "to a level place," that this sermon should be considered as an entirely different occasion than the Sermon on the Mount. I am always interested in communication, and it fascinates me how Jesus can use the same rhetorical structure to convey two entirely different messages. For instance, the message of the Beatitudes is a completely spiritualized version of the Sermon on the Plain's literal references. The Sermon on the Plain concerns itself with physical poverty and wealth, and it is one of the factors that lead scholars to believe that Luke had a soft spot for the poor. (A soft spot for women and the poor--and in that day and age, too! I'm telling you, he was a cool guy.)

If it is possible, the Sermon on the Plain is even crazier than the Sermon on the Mount, and that's saying something! According to Jesus here, poor people are blessed and wealthy people are cursed. Even if I could skirt around the idea of being "wealthy" (which I can't), I definitely can't deny that I am well-fed. So...this is bad news, right? I mean, what do I make of this?

Well, if I take the rest of the sermon at face value, I won't be "wealthy" for long, will I? If someone steals my coat, I should give him my shirt, too, right? And if someone asks me for anything, I should give it to him, right? So I probably should have given money for that bus ticket to that guy who pounded on our door at 5:00 am when we lived at the parsonage, right? I mean, even though the church had already given him bus ticket money when he hit up the office, we still should have given it to him because he asked, right? And if he hadn't knocked, if he had instead broken into our house and taken something that belonged to us, we shouldn't have demanded it back, right?

It might seem like I am being sarcastic, that I don't really believe these things are true. But the fact is, I don't know what to think of these words. I mean, what does following them look like? I really have no mental picture that doesn't either 1) seem ludicrous and unfeasible, or 2) seem to completely water down Jesus' words into something more palatable to my instinct for self-preservation.

And those were just the verses on giving! Do not even get me started on turning the other cheek. (Wow, clearly I have made no progress since reading the Sermon on the Mount! It seems that I was just as confused then....)

I do love verses 37-38. If I could cherry pick from this sermon, then these are the verses I would choose to follow:). Don't judge; don't condemn. Instead forgive and give generously (but not to the crazy degree, like earlier. This one just says, "Give." I can do that:)). Peace, love, and happiness, dude. Just chill with all the judgment and condemnation. I could handle that part:).

Psalm 67: 1-7

Wow. Anyone who is feeling uneasy about events in the world at large (that would include me) should just take a nice, deep breath and read this psalm aloud. It makes for a great prayer; praying it did wonders for me.

Proverbs 11:27

Whoa. I know I must have read this proverb before, but my brain totally erased it. Thus, it was a wonderful discovery today. "He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it." This is kind of like the divine version of karma. And I see loose ties to the crazy thoughts on the Sermon on the Plain. To show the level of goodwill that Jesus seems to be requiring sounds so irrational. But this verse reminds us that people who seek good get good. I tend to think that seeking the good of loving my enemies would get me broken teeth. But this proverb showed me a different view of the concept....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 23

OT: Numbers 36:1-Deuteronomy 1:46

This is not the first time that the division of the land has come up, nor is it the first time that we've heard about Zelophehad's daughters. But I don't think that I have elaborated before on how intrigued I am by God's method of distributing land. He doesn't do it based on might or merit. No, he divides it equally among His children. (This is not a socialist rant, btw:). For the last time, I'm not a socialist!:)). But it is interesting to me to note the ways that God takes pains to keep a meritocracy or a "might makes right" mentality from taking over. He seems to want to keep things fairly even. And so He institutes the Jubilee, a year in which all land is to revert to its original owners. No matter how hard you work or how rich you get, you don't get to keep the land you gain.

In today's reading, God keeps marriage from dividing the land disproportionately. If the land is passed down to a woman, then she must marry within her tribe, so that the land stays equally divided. (I am also interested in how, despite all these provisions, there were still poor people and wealthy people.)

This is interesting to me not because I think that it is a useful model for today (heaven forbid I think much of what we have read so far be a useful model for today. We are not a theocracy, for one. God doesn't tell us to annihilate our enemies, for another.). Rather, it is interesting to me to read about a society that is soooo different from our current one...and yet, seems to be an okay model. I mean, God designed it. When I got on Facebook today, I saw holy terror in the statuses of so many Christians when faced with the possibility of a change in our society. And I have nothing to say about that change, per se. I was more interested in the fear. I mean, even I am a little scared of the change. And so, it was oddly comforting to take a long view of man's history and see that our little time period is not the end-all.

Moses agreed with me on the history thing, because as his society was about to make a big change, he thought it would be a good time for a little history lesson. In Deuteromy 1 (woooo-hoooo! Who would have thought I would be so happy to get into Deuteronomy?!), Moses began to recount all that had happened to the Israelites since Mt. Horeb (is it bad that I cannot remember what happened at Mt. Horeb?). I kind of think that the thesis to Moses' recollection is found in verse 31: "There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place." I never thought I would reference that "Footprints" poem in this blog, but that's what I thought of when I read that line. In the poem, and in Israel's history, the people probably did not feel at the time that God was carrying them. It was only when they looked back that they could see it.

Oh, and I also like how Moses is the world's first historical revisionist! In verse 37, he claims, "Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, 'You shall not enter [the land] either.'" Um, no dear, that was because of you. Don't go blamin' your problems on other people!:)

Of course, since it was Moses who wrote the Pentateuch (right?), he was at least honest in the written version, the one that we've already read. That's what counts, right?

NT: Luke 5:29-6:11

Jesus is a crazy person in today's reading! He and his followers hang out with sinners, they don't fast, and they pick and eat grain on the Sabbath! And then He even heals someone on the Sabbath! Does this Man have no respect for the Law?

Of course, I don't really remember anything in the Law about eating with sinners. Or fasting. Or, for that matter, picking and eating grain (specifically) on the Sabbath, or healing people on the Sabbath. Hmmm...

It's crazy how much the Pharisees seem to have expanded the already daunting Law. Again, isn't the Law hard enough to keep on its own? This "hedge around Torah" is beginning to look ridiculous.

I was intrigued by verses 36-39. I think we have already read them and discussed them, but they struck me for two different reasons today. For one, I somehow stumbled onto a blog today that strongly advocated that women wear only dresses. Their chief support was found in some verse in Deuteronomy, which said that men shouldn't wear women's clothing and vice versa. That line of reasoning brought to mind several people that I know that believe that the Law is still at least partially in effect, or applicable today. My interpretation of this verse really speaks to that idea. Jesus did not come to put patches on the Law. For instance, He did not come just to fulfill the burnt sacrifice part but leave the "no tattoos" part. No, He fulfilled the whole Law, which meant that even all of the foods were now clean. It meant that Paul could even urge people not to be circumcised. He brought, in other words, a new wineskin.

The second thing that struck me was how Jesus said, "And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'" It's a little odd b/c old wine is better than new wine, isn't it? But I think that Jesus' point here is that people don't like change. We always tend to think that the old is better. It seems just to be a general human tendency to think that the past was better. I know that I tend to feel that way!

I may be off on my interpretation of these verses, but the context leads me to believe that the view has some merit. I can think of objections, though....

Psalm 66:1-20

Wow--I don't even know if David wrote this psalm (I'm thinking 'no'), but I still love it! I love how upbeat it is the whole time, even while it is very open about the bad things that happen in life. Verses 8-12 really exemplify this idea. The psalmist starts out by praising God for preserving the people's lives. And without any change in tone, he goes on to recount how God "tested" them and "refined [them] like silver" (10). The psalmist elaborates that God imprisoned the people, laid burdens on their backs, let them be trampled, and sent them through fire and water. He does not sugarcoat the situation, to say the least. And yet, this psalm is one of uninterrupted praise. I like that.

Proverbs 11: 24-26

These type of verses always remind me of my parents, who give ludicrously to others. Seriously, they hemorrhage money...and the great bulk of it is in giving to other people! (Sorry Mom, I had to share!:)). And yet, God always gives back to them and provides for them in amazing ways.

I think this proverb was particularly well-timed for both my mom and me. They have their tax appointment today, which is never fun. And I was debating yesterday (when I read and wrote this) whether or not to have a yard sale this Saturday. My mom could probably use the reminder that God always provides for the generous, no matter how much they end up paying in taxes:). And I needed this verse to push me over the edge and decide not to have a yard sale and instead give all the baby clothes and toys away. After all, the vast majority of them were given to me. I really need to pass it on. It would be seriously cheap of me to sell a bunch of stuff that was given to me! Thanks, Proverbs!

Monday, March 22, 2010

March 22

OT: Numbers 33:40-35:34

God has a thing with blood.

I've spent much of today trying to figure out what that thing is.

On the one hand, he requires a lot of it. Most of His requirements involve the blood of animals, but He also has laws that require the blood of sinful humans. Today, He talked about the need for murderers to die. His explanation for this need is found in 35:33: "Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it." Specifically, this atonement needs to be enacted by the "avenger of blood," who is mentioned several times. I guess that the avenger of blood would be a close family member of the dead, but there doesn't seem to be a specific designation as to who would fill this role. And apparently, the avenger of blood should (?) want to kill the person, even if it was an accident. Even if someone unintentionally kills, without "malice aforethought,"they get handed a type of prison sentence: they must stay in a city of refuge until the high priest dies. That is, assuming that they make it to the city of refuge before the avenger of blood gets to them. That is an interesting way to handle the situation. God doesn't tell the avenger of blood to let up if it was an accident. He seems to give them license to kill the accidental murderer anyway if he doesn't make it to the city first. Weird.

So, God requires a lot of blood. But, based on today's reading, much of His requirement seems to be based on the fact that He does not like bloodshed, which I find to be a little ironic. He says that bloodshed pollutes the land. Furthermore, He earlier passed laws that made all bloodshed seem unclean, including different types of bloodshed that we would call "natural." I find that odd because it strikes me that the shedding of blood is integral to man's existence. Birth involves the shedding of blood. Death often involves the shedding of blood, even natural death. In short, blood kind of seems to be everywhere. It is part of the natural life cycle; it is part of the unnatural, sinful things that men do to each other; and it is part of God's punishment for sins.

So what is God's deal with it?

Here's my take for today: blood is an integral part of the sacred life that God created. It was not meant to be shed. Ever. In fact, man was not meant to die at all. Death came as a result of sin. And for that matter, so did painful childbirth. And so maybe all shedding of blood is the result of sin, either directly (like murder) or indirectly (like having babies). And so God is trying to convey that it is all unclean.

Maybe He is trying to tell us that this is not how it was meant to be.

And maybe that is why death still hurts so much, both for the person dying and for the people left behind. Maybe that's why I can have every assurance that God uses death as part of His plan, and yet I still mourn for my brother. We mourn, despite our faith, because we are supposed to. Because death is unnatural. And thankfully, God has harnessed it and can use it as a powerful tool to spread His kingdom. But it still wasn't part of the original plan.

So... that's where I am with that today.

NT: Luke 5: 12-28

We have already read this story twice, which is perhaps why I found myself focusing mainly on the Pharisees today. In verse 17, Luke tells us that the "Pharisees and teachers of the law...had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem." That was interesting to me. It shows that these people were curious about Jesus. They traveled from many different areas to hear what He had to say. I'm going to give them credit and say that they did not just come looking to condemn Him. I think that it is more likely that they were curious and interested in what this man had to say. I bet they had heard a lot about Him and wanted to check Him out for themselves.

And to their defense, Jesus' words in verse 20 do seem heretical: "Friend, your sins are forgiven." I totally agree with their mental response: "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" I mean, they're right, you know? Only God can forgive sins. And they don't know Jesus from Adam. If this had been my first introduction to Jesus, I would be thinking the same thing.

I love how Jesus is able to display His divine power in response. First, He shows that He could read their minds (of course, the Pharisees could say that Jesus merely deduced what they were thinking...and maybe He did!). They could not, however, account for the miraculous healing that followed. What is interesting is that verse 26 says that "everyone was amazed and gave praise to God." Wouldn't everyone include the Pharisees? I am reminded that many Pharisees did believe in Jesus, like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. The Pharisees weren't all corrupt. They were well-educated and zealous for the Law, after all. Their position of power, however, did corrupt many of their hearts.

Hmmm...I think that in saying that "everyone" praised God, Luke begins to highlight a bit of the complexity of the Pharisees. He is good at showing "bad guys" (like the Romans) in a favorable light.

Psalm 65:1-13

This beautiful psalm is a nature lover's delight. I am not a huge nature lover (I love the idea of nature more than actually being immersed in it), but do love the idea of God's order and provision. I love how nature is described as so orderly and shaped by God, and how its purpose is to tell about God and to bless people. I also love how universal these truths are. As verse 8 attests, "Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy."

Proverbs 11:23

I love the idea that "the desire of the righteous ends only in good." In short, when we are righteous, we want good things. Maybe that is why God is inclined to give them to us!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March 21

OT: Numbers 32:1-33:39

Allow me to relate imperfectly to Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh for a moment.

When I read this story, I felt that I was kind of like them. They were incredibly blessed, and they saw some good, easy land, and they wanted to take that instead of crossing over the Jordan into the inheritance God planned for them. This proposition did not go over well with Moses, who thought that they were trying to get out of fighting for what the Lord had planned for them. The tribes hastily clarified that, no, they weren't trying to shirk their responsibilities. They would do what God wanted...they just really wanted this life. The one on this side of the Jordan.

I don't really know if what they did was right or wrong. God seemed okay with it, even though it wasn't His plan for them. But I can't help but wonder if they didn't miss out because they chose not to embrace the full inheritance that God had for them.

The way I relate to them is that I feel very blessed, and I love the comfy life I have. I don't want to shirk my responsibilities to God or anything...but sometimes I wonder if, by embracing my comfortable life, I am missing out on the "full inheritance" that God has for me. Like, maybe He has plans for me that don't involve my picture of how I want my life to go, and by clinging to that picture, I am missing out. I don't know. I guess I just don't feel radical enough in my life sometimes, though I'm honestly unsure of what God would want me to do differently.

It's a strained analogy, to be sure, but I am a little interested to see how all this works out for them. Does their "settling" end up being a good thing or a bad thing?

NT: Luke 4:31-5:11

I don't really have any deep thoughts about the NT. I just love seeing how much Jesus loves people. After witnessing God's violent tendencies yesterday, seeing Jesus heal people left and right was a wonderful experience.

I also love how people couldn't get enough of Jesus. Verse 42 says that they tried to keep Him from leaving, but He told them that He had to go preach the good news to others. Jesus did such amazing things in their lives that they just didn't want to let Him go. (Do I sometimes try to keep Jesus all to myself instead of sharing Him with others? Or am I just looking for ways to engage in self-flagellation with today's reading?)

Luke's gospel shows how Jesus' calling of the disciples was not a completely spontaneous, "Follow me." Jesus had used Simon's boat as a platform to preach to the masses. Thus, Simon was well aware of Him and His teachings. After reading the OT, I also understand Simon's reaction a little better when Jesus works His fish miracle. Simon falls "at Jesus' knees and [says], 'Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'" Apparently, the people have learned all too well that sin and God don't mix. And so if you couldn't stop sinning, then you had best be staying away from God! Thus, when Peter sees someone who clearly has a bit of God in Him, he is terrified of dying. And rightly so! The fact that Peter had nothing to fear underscores just how truly amazing this shift is from the OT to the NT.

Psalm 64:1-10

Yeah, yeah. People are still jerks, and David wants God to "take care" of them. (Today's plan involves shooting them with arrows.)

I did like verse 9: "All mankind will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done." (I'm a sucker for the highlighted ones, apparently.) I have definitely been pondering what God has done lately!

Proverbs 11:22

Oddly, I love this verse. Maybe it is because our culture worships outward beauty so much that I appreciate the acknowledgment that such beauty is nothing if the inside doesn't match the outside. And I am especially drawn to the idea of how that is true of a "woman who shows no discretion." To be frank, outward beauty is such a gift. It makes me sad when people waste that gift, when they nullify it by the choices they make.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March 20

OT: Numbers 30:1-31:54

Okay, first of all, maybe I was wrong: the amount of livestock that Israel gained from their raid on Midian would sustain the animal sacrifices for a loooong time (31: 32). If they already had those kind of numbers themselves, then they are good to go.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. First, there are some laws about making vows--specifically, about women making vows. I'm a little torn between thinking that these regulations are demeaning and thinking they are awesome. On the one hand, they definitely reflect a patriarchal system, where a man can nullify a woman's word so easily. On the other hand, I feel like I have made several rash commitments in my life, and it would be great if my dad or husband could just say, "You know what? Let's not do that." (In fact, I think that Greg has dissuaded me or given me an "out" before, and it was very helpful.) So, it's a toss-up in my mind.

Moving on.

Okay, I talk and talk and talk about God's view of death and all that...but the fact is, I'm never going to be cool with genocide. I know that it's not my job to be "cool" with it; it's my job to have faith, and I do. But I sincerely hate reading about God giving orders to massacre populations. I am not looking forward to Joshua. I can't help it--I always imagine the people as individuals. I imagine the women and children watching their husbands and fathers be slaughtered and their homes destroyed. I imagine them being led away, terrified, from the only home they've ever known. I imagine the horror of then realizing that they, too, will be killed. I imagine all the little boys...and the little girls "given" to the Israelites as slaves.

Blech. Not cool.

Oh, and they killed Balaam! Boo, hiss!

I believe that everything I've rambled on so far about death is very applicable here. But it seems that my heart will never be behind it. I just hate to witness suffering and killing, even if it is only on the page.

Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 3:5-6.

Okay, time to move on:).

NT: Luke 4: 1-30

It's odd--when I feel like I don't "get" something in the OT, then for some reason, my confusion always carries over to the NT. I think it is because of my mindset. I come to the NT confused, and a little annoyed by my confusion, and feeling a tad rebellious because I am not "on board" with the Bible. And so then I read something like Jesus' temptation and am like, "I just don't get this. Why pick these temptations? And why are they temptations, exactly? Why can't Jesus turn the loaves into bread? Why can't he throw himself off the temple? And why would He be the least bit tempted by Satan's offer to 'give' him all the kingdoms? If that would really help him, then Satan wouldn't have offered it, right? And they aren't Satan's anyway."

I know, I know, I've heard about 53 sermons in my life on analyzing the temptations of Jesus, and if I had to, I could give convincing explanations for all these questions. But my annoyance with the OT genocide is making me ornery!

I do love the prophecy that Jesus reads to the people of Nazareth: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (18-19). Now, those are some words I can get behind!:) I do think that it is kind of weird that Jesus seems to then antagonize the people. They are all speaking well of him and are amazed by him (22), and Jesus really takes pains to change their opinion! It seems clear that they are not getting what He is saying, but I still think that His way of getting their attention is a little strange...

Psalm 63: 1-11

Once again, David comes through for me in a big way! After my little temper tantrum with Numbers and my hardheadedness with Luke, I read this Psalm and just melted. I'm sorry, God! I do love You and trust that Your ways are best! I do earnestly seek You and long for You and thirst for You. I have seen Your power and Your glory, and Your love is better than life. I will praise you as long as I live, and You do satisfy my soul, as with the richest of foods! (You are even better than that delicious salsa I ate today at Molly's:)).

God is my help, and I sing in the shadow of His wings. My soul clings to Him, and His right hand upholds me.

David went through a lot that he didn't understand, and he still trusted unconditionally. I'm not even going through anything--I'm just reading about it. Is it too much for me to trust, too?

Proverbs 11:20-21

Still more righteous v. wicked.

Friday, March 19, 2010

March 19

OT: Numbers 28:16-29:40

Remember all that "big picture" talk from yesterday? Well, today's reading calls for a different approach, and so I officially declare today to be "detail day."

And so you can all get an idea of just how I spend my time, I will show you the numbers I added up today involving animal sacrifices. These are all based on yesterday's and today's readings. Yesterday's reading laid out the sacrifices that had to be given each day, each week, and the first of each month. Today's reading detailed the sacrifices that had to be given during festivals throughout the year (and let me tell you, that seventh month was a doozy!). So without further ado, here is the grand total of animals that had to die during the course of one year:

1,063 lambs
102 bulls
31 rams
10 male goats

And that does not include all the animals that had to be sacrificed anytime anyone was unclean, which included any time anyone was born or died. It doesn't include what had to be sacrificed anytime anyone sinned, whether intentionally or unintentionally. And it doesn't include any voluntary offerings. No, this is just the baseline amount of offerings.

That. is. crazy. I am no animal expert, but I am 98.5% sure that it is impossible to sustain an animal population with those type of numbers. These rules, then, are simple not sustainable. I really don't believe that they are.

So...what the heck is going on here? What is God doing? He clearly does not need the animals for His own benefit, as he clarifies repeatedly through David and the Prophets. So what is the purpose of this carnage? I think it is two-fold. One, these Laws show that God expects a lot out of man. These animals represented a chunk of change, to say the least. The Israelites are going to have to give up a lot of their physical resources just to attempt (key word) to stay in right standing with God. And even though (thank the Lord) the rules are different today, Jesus still expects us to give up a lot. He expects that, given His perfect sacrifice, we will willingly lay down our lives to Him. He expects us to completely live for Him. And really, is that too much to ask? I don't think so. After all, glorifying God is the whole point of our lives. What's great is that, like I mentioned yesterday, this "living sacrifice" is not to secure our own salvation; that has already been done. No, this is supposed to be a willing, happy thing. Easy yoke, light burden, that type of thing:).

Secondly, I really am starting to believe more and more that the purpose of the Law was to teach people that they couldn't keep the Law. I get a lot of that understanding from Romans 7. I also see people like Abraham and David who seemed to attain righteousness apart from the Law. Abe didn't have the Law, and David...well, let's just say that David was not called "a man after God's own heart" because he kept the Law so well. I think his duping of Ahimelech and eating of the consecrated bread is a prime example of David's relationship with the Law (and Jesus even supported David's actions there!). So...however you got to God back then.... maybe it wasn't a direct result of the perfectly keeping the Law. I've said it before that the Law was like a door. It wasn't an end in itself; instead, it led people to true understanding.

I don't know. I don't know if I even agree with all that I just typed, and I definitely have some stuff to tell Moses when he gets to his "Choose Life" speech. But those are my ponderings for today.

NT: Luke 3:23-38

"[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph..."

And thus begins Jesus' "lineage." In grad school, I read a book called Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie. The whole first half of the book discusses this man's family history and lineage, right up until his birth...where it is revealed that he was accidentally switched, and so his parents aren't really his parents. And I was like, "Well, thanks for those 200 pages of nothing!" (Of course, since his lives were shaped by those parents whose lives were shaped by that history, it wasn't "nothing," but you get the point.) Sharing Joseph's lineage is kind of the same story.

And let's not skip over the fact that this genealogy is very, very different from the one in Matthew. There are a TON of differences, but what got me was that Luke has Jesus coming from David's son, Nathan, and Matthew has Jesus coming from Solomon. I've heard that perhaps one genealogy traces through Mary and one through Joseph, and I am inclined to believe that...except for the small detail that they both claim to be through Joseph.

So I don't know. And I kind of don't care. I mean, I would like to understand this, but my faith is not based on whether these two genealogies agree. However, if anyone has any insight, please share!

Psalm 62:1-12

After the oh-so-riveting instructions on sacrifices and NT genealogy, I could have kissed David for such a wonderful psalm! Let's take it from the top, shall we?

"My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken" (1-2). I love these words (and I love how verses 5-6 basically restate them). I love the idea of rest for my soul. I love that I can rest in God. And I love the reminder that God alone is my rock. My salvation and my fortress aren't found in the fact that I have an amazing husband (which I do), or wonderful, healthy children (which I do), or that I can pay my bills (which I can), or that I am physically healthy (which I am). In my blessed life, it is so easy for me to slip into the thinking that my circumstances make me happy and secure--when really it is God alone. Life is sooo fragile. If I lean to heavily on those other things...they may tip over! And that's the least of what could happen to them...

[Sidenote: Maybe one reason that David was so in tune with and close to God was because of all the struggles that he went through. He couldn't forget God--he needed Him too much!]

I also adore verse 8: "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge." It's hard to elaborate on this verse without simply restating it, so if you don't see what I see in it, um, just reread it very slowly:). It's wonderful. My favorite parts are "at all times," and "pour out your hearts."

And lastly, this psalm gave me a wonderful surprise. For months last year, my personal anthem was, "Your Love is Strong" by Jon Foreman. It is entirely made out of Scripture, and I love it when people base songs in Scripture. Especially when they "make it their own," like Foreman does. Plus, a lot of it centered around the Lord's Prayer, and that's what our church was focusing on at the time. I got all the Scripture references in the song...except one: "Two things you told me/That you are strong/And you love me." Huh? Was that a Scripture? Where is that? Because he had clearly paraphrased it, I knew I wouldn't be able to find it. Until today. "One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving." Eureka! That's it! That made my day.

Proverbs 11: 18-19

More wicked v. righteous.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March 18

OT: Numbers 26:52-28:15

I'm a "big picture" type of person. As such, it is really hard for me to talk about the small picture if I feel like I don't get the big one. Also, if given the choice, I would always rather discuss the big picture than the small one. So that's what I'm doing today.

I have many "small picture" thoughts (on Israel not being a meritocracy; on the "extra" Levite clans; on God's policy with Zelophehad's daughters), but my "big picture" thought came while reading about the daily sacrifices in chapter 28. It struck me yet again how much work had to go into simply maintaining a relationship with God. The priests had to offer two animal sacrifices a day just to be in right standing with God. If they failed to do this (or failed to do any of the other billion things), then the relationship was ruptured. This, friends, is a high maintenance relationship. A relationship between a holy God and sinful man takes a lot of effort to maintain.

Which is why it is absolutely amazing that Jesus totally maintains it for us. There is no more worrying about "right standing" with God. We don't have to do the maintenance. You might be thinking, "But yeah, we do. There are all sorts of things we do to maintain our relationship with God, like Bible study, loving our neighbor, prayer, etc." My answer is, "Nope." That's not what is maintaining our relationship. Our relationship is maintained by Christ. What we do is enjoy it. We don't have to work to keep a relationship with God. No, we do what we do because we have a relationship with God. We don't work in order to be saved; we work because we are already saved. Our deeds are not the burnt offering; they are the thanks offering. The freewill offering. (Whatever, I'm still not great with knowing my offerings:)).

I know that this is not new ground. I'm pretty sure Paul and Luther and a bajillion other people already covered this for us. But every time it hits me, and I mean really hits me in my soul, it is such a revelation. Christ truly did bring us freedom. I happened to research freedom in Christ today for other reasons, and the Scriptures emphasize that He brought us freedom from sin, freedom from human regulations, freedom from the Law, from condemnation, etc. There is no more worry about our standing with God. Amazing.

NT: Luke 3:1-22

Today, John the Baptist begins his ministry. His message, while good, strikes me as once harsher than Jesus' and less radical. He calls the people, "brood of vipers," and warns them of their impending doom should they not repent (7-9). He pictures Jesus as on one big housecleaning mission, ready to separate the wheat from the chaff--and to burn the chaff in "unquenchable fire" (16-17). In other words, John does not play around. Everything about him is harsh: his lifestyle, his word choices, his message to the people and to Herod. However, he is also oddly not as demanding as Jesus ultimately would be. John is actually fairly reasonable in his instructions. He says that people with two tunics should share with those who have none, and people with food should do the same. That makes sense. He also has pretty reasonable standards for tax collectors and soldiers. The love to which Jesus would call his followers in the Sermon on the Mount was much more radical. And yet, Jesus also seemed less harsh, though he could be pretty harsh to people like the Pharisees. They make for an odd contrast.

It makes me wonder how much John understood about the big picture. I have no doubt that he acted and spoke just like God wanted him, too, and that he did a great job as the "voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord'" (4). Good job, John:)! But at the same time, he seemed a little unsure about Jesus when he was locked up in prison. He even sent messengers to Him saying, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" He asked this even after Jesus was pretty clearly revealed to him as the Christ during Jesus' baptism. So it sounds like John had a partial mental picture of Christ, and that he gave a partial message of what life in the Kingdom of God looked like. Christ completed that message.

Psalm 61:1-8

I'm glad our Bible bolded verses 1-2, because that ensured that I would catch the end of verse 2. There, David asks God to "lead me to the rock that is higher than I." What a wonderful request. How insightful. That is the beauty of God, isn't it? That He is bigger than us. So many times during the day, I come to the end of "myself," and yet I find that there is more work to be done. In those times, I pray the rudimentary equivalent of "lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Take me to a place that is more than I am, where I can see further than where I can now, where the ground beneath my feet is stronger and higher and safer. Give me Your strength, and Your vision, and Your love. I want to live my life securely on that rock that is higher than I.

Love it, David!

Proverbs 11:16-17

Because I'm a woman, I latched onto verse 16: "A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth." Besides the obvious, literally true interpretation of this verse, I wondered if there was a poetic significance in the choice of "woman." After all, women didn't get much respect in those days, and so choosing to talk about a "kindhearted woman" getting respect probably served as even a sharper contrast between her and the ruthless man. If it had been a "kindhearted man," that wouldn't have been as crazy a contrast, see? I mean, of course, a good man would get respect. But this proverb tells of a woman getting more respect than a man, which was just a little bit crazy back then.

But I also loved the proverb itself. I know that women want love, and men want respect...but women want respect, too:)! (And I'm sure men want love.) Plus, this week, a very kindhearted woman has been on my heart, and my respect for her is sky-high. So this proverb brought her to mind, which is always a good thing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 17

OT: Numbers 26: 1-51

Well, there's obviously not much to say today. Israel took another census. I would have figured that they would have lost a lot of men, what with the 250 being burned alive, the 14, 700 having died of a plague, and the 24,000 having died of, well, another plague. And yet, their census numbers say that they have lost only a little over 2,000. So...that's good? (This also might be one of those Herodotus things that Coach Sal mentioned in the comments of the March 12 blog). All I can think of is maybe there were a lot of young boys under twenty in the first census who turned twenty by the time of the second one to make up some of their numbers. Also, I have no idea how much time has passed between these two censuses. It's got to be less than forty years though, right?

This line of thought isn't extremely riveting to me, so rather than investigate further, I'm going to move on:)..........

Luke 2: 36-52

Well, we didn't actually name our daughter after Anna in the Bible (though we liked that it was a Biblical name). We just loved the name, Anna Grace. (Unfortunately, Anna means Grace, so her name literally means "Grace Grace." Okay, are we talking about the text, or my daughter's name here? Let's try and focus:)).

As a mom, my first thought is, "How can you leave your son for a day and not miss him???" It is amazing how different these times were, that you could just trust that your children were with friends or relatives and have no thought to their safety. It kind of shows me how rampant and perverse our sexuality has gotten as a society, where I can hardly let my kids out of my sight today without worrying about what someone might do to them. Among other concerns.

It's neat, though, to get a little sense of the community in which Jesus grew up. They traveled as a big group, and they all trusted each other to the point that their kids could run around without them worrying about it. I don't know--reading that, I just sense that he grew up with a lot of love.

Except that no one missed him when he was gone for a day:).

As a child, I loved the image of Jesus amazing the adults in the temple and being taken seriously by them. Isn't that what every kid wants--to have adults take them seriously as a person? And unlike today's typical adult, the teachers of the Law didn't take kids seriously just because they were human beings. Children had no standing in society, and so you know that Jesus was saying amazingly intelligent things. I would love to know how the conversation started and what all was said.

And I love again how Mary "treasured all these things in her heart" (51). Too bad they didn't scrapbook back then:). Thankfully, she had a historian to write all this stuff down for her!

Psalm 60: 1-12

Oooooh, question of the day: the intro to the psalm says that it is "For teaching." What is it supposed to teach? And second question of the day: What story is the intro talking about? My cursory Bible Gateway search led me to believe it might be about 2 Samuel 8, which isn't much of a story, nor does it mention Joab, but it does talk about David becoming famous for striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt (13). And it says shortly afterward that Joab was over the army. So maybe Joab's forces killed 12,000 of those men.

The weird part is that both the intro to the psalm and my proposed context are victorious times. So why does verse 1 start with, "You have rejected us, O God..." The first three vereses, in fact, speak of God sending hardship on the land.

Okay. My knee-jerk theory is that David is trying to give some historical context to their present in order to teach people that God is in control of every situation. God is in control of everything, both the bad and the good. The same God who gave them victory also earlier sent them hardships. But even in the midst of hardship, God calls to the righteous (4), and He makes plans for their future victories (6-8). And so, when the righteous do go on to be victorious, they need to remember that it is God who led them to that point, and not themselves (9-12).

Proverbs 11:15

I have a thought about Proverbs that is longer than one sentence! Here, Solomon essentially advises not to put up security for another person. Wouldn't today's equivalent be, like, cosigning a loan? I feel like the principle of this advice is that it is dangerous to tie your money to other people's decisions. And that's true. If you want to keep your money, then you should not make it dependent on other people's ability to pay off a loan. These words are great for self-preservation.

And yet, at the same time, Jesus takes the idea of "wise" giving to a new level. In the Sermon on the Mount, He says to lend without expecting return. And throughout His teachings, you see that Jesus tells us to give freely to God, which often means to give freely to others.

So...what I get from these two teachings is that it is unwise to lend when you expect/want/need the item to be returned. If you are concerned about your own interests (no judgment here), then you should not engage in these practices (putting up security, striking pledges). However, if you have no concern for your own interest in a particular situation, then you should lend freely, not expecting a return (I think that's also called, "giving"). So either give your money away freely, or keep it, but it's not wise to try to find a middle ground. Does that sound right?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March 16

OT: Numbers 24:1-25:18

Wow, the donkey lesson worked wonders for ol' Balaam! I forgot what a stand-up guy he became! At least, he stayed very much in step with God's will for the duration of the story. When he didn't get the answer from God that Balak was wanting, "he did not resort to sorcery, as at other times" (24:1). Instead he blessed Israel yet again. It occurred to me yesterday that refusing to give Balak what he wanted might have been dangerous for Balaam. He's a stranger in a strange land, and Balak could have easily killed him, being a king and all. Thankfully, Balak didn't kill Balaam, though he was very angry (10). He points out that Balaam could have used this as an opportunity to get rich, but Balaam is willing to go home empty-handed. Furthermore, Balaam goes on to foretell bad things about Balak's future. How's that for honest?

I was interested in verse 17. Who is the star that will come out of Jacob, the scepter that will rise out of Israel? Balaam says that the person is far off: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near" (17). Of course, my first thought is Christ, and if that's who it is, then that is just so awesome. It's especially cool considering all of our discussion about Numbers and about God's plan for His people. If it is Christ, then God is already beginning to reveal that to people. And I think it is extra cool that He first revealed it to an "outsider," since Christ was sent to reach out to all mankind and to bring "outsiders" into God's kingdom. However, the rest of the prophecy sounds nothing like Christ:). The "star's" actions are very physical and very location-specific. So maybe it is someone else. Or maybe the prophecy is using figurative language (Argh! Curse you, figurative language!). Or maybe this is another one of those sensus plenior deals. Who knows? Not me.

I found chapter 24 just to be quite interesting. Because my new understanding of man's sinfulness v. God's holiness, I completely get why He wiped them out. I mean, good lands! Sexual immorality and idolatry? C'mon, people! Haven't you learned? You die for grumbling! Don't you think God would also frown on shacking up with outsiders and worshiping foreign gods??

One hole in the interpretation that I laid out yesterday is that God doesn't keep up this behavior. If it is Jesus who changed the ball game, then shouldn't God be intervening and dropping people dead left and right up until that point? But He doesn't. He still punishes the Israelites right up until Jesus, but I don't remember it being to this degree. Case in point: David complains constantly to God that the wicked are running rampant. If anything, he is frustrated that God doesn't strike them down (or break their teeth, or whatever). So I'm not sure why God's M.O. changed between now and Jesus. Maybe when I actually get to that point, it will be more clear.

NT: Luke 2:1-35

Have I mentioned that I love Luke? Seriously, I can't wait to meet the man in heaven. This all comes from me reading in between the lines of his gospel, but I think he is an amazing guy with a tender heart. I love it when men have real insight into women, mainly because that shows them (the men) to be caring and perceptive. Luke cares enough about women to see them, to acknowledge them (he mentions several women by name who are not found in any other gospel), and to try to understand them. Like, he notes that Mary, "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (19). First of all, what beautiful words. Secondly, how did he know that? Did he talk to Mary? If so, he asked the right questions b/c he came away with some real insight! I feel like I get insight into myself by reading his insight into another woman. I treasure and ponder things just like Mary does! Thank you, Luke, for putting that into words for me.

And I love his storytelling. The introduction to Luke that I quoted back at the beginning said that with a few words, Luke could invoke a whole world. That's how I felt while reading verses 25-33: Jerusalem and Simeon and Mary and Joseph all came alive for me. Reading Luke, I can picture Simeon so clearly as he goes into the temple courts while moved by the Spirit. I see him weaving in and out of groups of people and around pillars and tables. I picture his anticipation as he knows that God is directly leading him to his hopes and dreams. And I picture him holding and gazing at this little baby, and knowing that the infant is God's salvation for His people. Amazing. I cannot even imagine how profound a moment that was for Simeon, but what I can imagine is pretty cool to me:).

Psalm 59:1-17

The theme of David asking God to rescue him from enemies is not new, but I did note how he mentioned their words and the sins of their mouth in verses 7 and 12. Throughout Scripture, the power of words is conveyed so forcefully. My view of other Scriptures such as James 3, Matt. 12:37, and many Proverbs tells me that our words matter a lot to God. That is convicting to me!

Proverbs 11:14

I am bad sometimes about not getting outside guidance for my course. That seems like a prideful fault. Especially since my time in the women's class at Sunday school this week showed me just how many wise, godly ladies there are at my church!