Monday, May 31, 2010

May 31

OT: 2 Sam. 17:1-29

Such short OT reading, with such a large amount of stuff in it.

First of all, man! Absalom has totally gone over to the dark side, hasn't he?? He is going to kill his father. He means bizness! By entertaining both Ahitophel's and Hushai's patricidal schemes, Absalom moves from resentful, bratty son territory to Joaquin-Phoenix-smothering-his-dad-in-Gladiator territory. And that guy was baaaaad. I am honestly shocked by Absalom's behavior.

And what was up with the author describing Ahitophel's advice as "good" (14)??? Um, buddy, I'm assuming that by "good," you mean "effective," b/c that advice was not in any way "good." However, I can't fault the author too much b/c I absolutely love his use of phrases that the NIV translates as "such and such" and "so and so" (15, 21). The author does that so that he does not have to rewrite the entire plans from A and H, which makes sense--but you know Moses would have given us a thorough recap in both cases. I've gotta say, I'm partial to the "such and such" approach. It keeps the narrative flowing.

I know that I have technically read the Bible through once before, but this part definitely did not stick. I was thoroughly intrigued by the scheming, the well-hiding, and the double-crossing. The only suspense-killer is that I know who wins (duh), and I also remember what happens to Absalom (I mean, how can you forget?).

NT: John 19:23-42

Okay, since this is our fourth crucifixion, I am going to get tangential.

A line of thought was sparked by verse 28: "Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.'" You get the definite sense here that Jesus is playing a role, and that He knows the script. That concept spun off into comparisons between him and us, as Christians. One very popular idea in Biblical scholarship that has begun to trickle down to the Christian masses is the idea of "narrative," the idea that we are all players in one grand story. The Bible tells the first three acts, Revelation tells the 5th, and we are in the 4th (give or take. I am remembering that I typed this before b/c I noted then my compulsion to make this play Shakespearean. The point is, there is one story stretching from Genesis to Revelation, and we are IN the story right now.)

So anyway...bear with me. Jesus was capable of free choice, but he also had a role to fulfill. My mind is groping for the words to describe how we are in a similar circumstance. Yes, I believe that we have the power to choose our path in life. And yes, I believe that there is most likely more than ONE right path. I'm not a big believer, for example, in agonizing over what college God wants us to choose, or what city He wants us to move to, or what job He wants us to take. I say, seek God with all your heart, and "whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way; walk in it'" (Is. 30:21). So I'm still a big believer in free choice. But at the same time, I am trying to wrap my head around the idea that all of our independent choices lead up to the path we were always going to walk down. Like, it's all written in His book before we even do it. The only difference b/t us and Jesus in this case is that He knew the script, and we don't.

Now, that might seem a useless and pointless thought experiment, but to me, it helps reconcile the idea of free will with the idea of predestination. If we all have one path that we were always going to travel, well, then weren't we destined to go down that path? And if that path led to the Christian faith, then couldn't we say that God chose us for that path, that it was always written in His book? And couldn't it thus be possible to freely choose God and to be chosen by Him at the same time?

Maybe that's a stretch. That's where my thoughts led me today, though.

Psalm 119: 129-152

I loved verses 150-151, which say, "Those who devise wicked schemes are near, but they are far from your law. Yet you are near, O Lord, and all your commands are true."

"Those who devise wicked schemes are near...yet you are near." Evil is near, yet God is near. We have been talking with Luke about one of his recent memory verses: "God is with us wherever we go" (Josh. 1:9, kiddie version). We have been using that to explain why we don't need to be afraid of various things, like the ocean. But honestly, there is a lot of reason to be afraid of the ocean (and not b/c it is loud, which is Luke's reason). I mean, God made the ocean, but He also made the sharks in the ocean. When we are in the ocean, God is there...but so are jellyfish. And rip tides. So I've thought about how to teach that verse to my three year old, and the conclusion I've reached is that, "We are unafraid, not b/c bad things won't happen to us. We are unafraid, because God is still there in the midst of the bad things." "Those who devise wicked schemes are near...Yet you are near, O Lord."

Proverbs 16:12-13

Two proverbs about kings.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

May 30

OT: 2 Sam. 15:23-16:23

Today's reading continued the themes of dysfunctionality and intrigue in the royal family.

I am still a bit confused of David's immediate and rather cowardly retreat from the capital. At first, I thought he must just be rolling over and letting Absalom have the throne. Again, the dichotomy b/t David-the-mighty-warrior, and David-the-man-who-runs-away is just fascinating. The only other time David has fled was with Saul, and it was b/c he didn't want to hurt the "Lord's anointed." Come to think of it, the two instances do have some similarities. In both cases, David was the true "Lord's anointed," and he knew it. However, in both cases, he just could not bring himself to attack an enemy whom he loved. Also, both of these cases stand in unique contrast to almost every other case, where David let his sword do the talking.

However, in both cases, even though David fled, he didn't roll over and die. In the first case, he remained a player on the scene until Saul died, and in today's reading, he sends spies back to Jerusalem in order to undermine Absalom's reign and to report any developments to David.

Also in this passage, we get the first installment of the Ziba story, which will eventually demonstrate yet another instance of David's bizarre mercy.

And lastly, we get the lovely picture of Absalom having sex with all of David's concubines in a rather public manner. What a piece of work. I also think it is interesting that the text notes that Ahithophel's advice was viewed as the word of God, even though it was Ahithophel who recommended this wonderful sleep-with-your-father's-concubines scheme. I'm not going to go back and look it up, but that just seems like it's against the Law.

Alright, now that I've recapped the action, let me explore something I find even more intriguing. In 15:30, the text says that David went up to the Mount of Olives, "weeping as he went." Of course, that location turned on a lightbulb in my head, since that is where Jesus spoke to his disciples right before his crucifixion. I also was amazed by David's response to Shimei, who cursed him and threw stones and dirt at him. On the one hand, I could honestly see Shimei's point. Shimei's main accusation was that David was "a man of blood" (16:7-8). Now, I'm not saying that what Shimei did was right (it wasn't), but I do know that Scripture has talked about how much God hates bloodshed, and so maybe Shimei is right that all this is happening as a kind of judgment, or discipline for David.

Even more than the truth of Shimei's words, I was struck by David's response. David allows this man to continue to hurl insults and to cast stones on him for a long period of time, driving David and all those around him to the point of exhaustion (14). Even though David had it in his power to strike Shimei down, he chose not to.

Here's where both the Mount of Olives and the treatment of Shimei came together for me: David is called a man after God's own heart. Lately, I have had some trouble seeing that b/c David is so flawed and confusing in his actions. The more I think about it, however, the more I see that what confuses me about David is what confuses me about God. David can be terribly bloody and violent. He can bring death and destruction to his enemies with a ferocity that stuns me. And at the same time, he can be bizarrely merciful. He can overlook sins, to the point where I am critical of him for doing so. I want him to retaliate against Saul, to punish Joab for killing Abner, to bring down the thunder on Amnon, to fight Absalom. I am confused by his turning the other cheek to Shimei, and by his later treatment of Ziba (I won't get ahead of myself, though). In short, David's mercy makes no sense to me. At times, it hardly seems just. Thus, I am confused by both David's wrath and his mercy, and I am especially confused at how they can both reside in the same person. Same with God. I am confused how the Being who wiped out the world in a flood, who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, who burnt Nadab and Abihu, and who struck down Uzzah could have put up with the judges, or stomached David's deceptive massacres. Plus, I have similar confusions about Jesus. Jesus was a man who verbally slapped the Pharisees time and again, who physically attacked the offering-sellers in the temple, who got cantankerous and testy with the crowd in Jerusalem...and also the man who touched the lepers and welcomed the children and pardoned people for sins they didn't even confess. The same Jesus who overturned tables let people mock him and spit on him and nail him to a cross. And it is that dichotomy of wrath v. mercy that is so baffling to me. I can see having one or the other, but not both. And I guess that that is mystery of God to me. It's the thing that I just can't quite wrap my head around.

So again, the confusion I have with David is exactly the same confusion that I have with God. Wow--maybe the description of David as "a man after God's own heart" is more apt than I thought. One crazy thing that I realized during this exploration is that, when it comes down to it, God's mercy is more baffling to me than His wrath. I understand why a perfect God would punish sinful man far more than I understand why He would pardon him. It's funny--all this time, I thought it was God's wrath with which I struggled. Now, I think it is more the mercy and grace.

But I'm sure glad that it exists and that God has extended such blessings to His people.

NT: John 18:25-19:22

In his time at the Mount of Olives, his weeping, and his toleration for abuse and scorn, David's actions mirrored the events leading up to Christ's crucifixion. In today's NT passage, Jesus endures the flogging, beating, and jeers that I thought of while reading about David and Shimei. Like David, Christ could have ended it at any time; like David, He chose instead to endure it, with the reasoning that it was from God.

I am always fascinated by Jesus' interaction with Pilate in John. Pilate's mild annoyance ("Am I a Jew?"), I get, but what is behind his other statements? When he says, "You are a king, then!" is he fascinated, or amused? When he asks, "What is truth?" is he apathetic or intrigued? I'm not sure; I just know that his conversation with Jesus convinced him that there was no reason for this man to die.

Whatever Pilate was feeling during that first conversation, he was not playing around when he came in for the second one. The wrath of the Jews against what he found out was the alleged "Son of God" was formidable enough to strike fear into him (19:7-8). His words to Jesus reflect an interest and a fearful frustration that was not there before. Jesus' words convince him to try to set him free, but his desire is not stronger than his political alliances. When the people's words pit Jesus against Caesar, Pilate finally hands him over to be crucified.

All in all, John's picture of Pilate is much more sympathetic than the one in the Synoptics.

Also, I remember from my Writings of the New Testament book that the location spoken of in verse 13 ("the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement") was initially thought to be a historical error by biblical scholars. Apparently, later archaeology has revealed that such a place did exist. John was right.

Psalm 119: 113-128

This psalm has shifted from explicit declarations of love for God's Word to condemnation of those who do not follow God's word. There is also the continued theme of the psalmist's personal struggles against his enemies.

Proverbs 16:10-11

Verse 10 praises kings, and verse 11 praises honesty in business dealings.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 29

OT: 2 Sam. 14:1-15:22

Whew, this passage was convoluted! David and his whole household are so dysfunctional!

For one thing, Joab concocts one of the strangest plans ever in order to convince David to take Absalom back. It is almost like he is trying to pull a "Nathan," but his words through the woman are not nearly as direct or sensible. And I love it that when she is finished with her long and meandering narrative/speech, David has just one question for her: Was Joab a part of this? Oh, well. Good try, Joab.

So Joab tries to trick David b/c he can tell that David is sad without his son. David is convinced by Joab's scheme and brings Absalom back. However, he does not speak to Absalom for two years. Um...why? Clearly, this treatment caused some resentment in Absalom, as he then seeks to usurp David's throne. At this point, I am thinking, "This family is so messed up!" I did not understand any of their actions today.

I did think it was funny how Absalom was described as so beautiful and vain (25-26). Apparently, he was hot stuff! And apparently, he was quite taken with himself, as he would weigh his hair each time he had it cut...and it would weigh five pounds! Wow! That is a lot of hair.

So Lady Lovely Locks seeks to take his father's throne, and when the coup occurs, his warrior father...immediately flees. Say what? This is the David who killed Goliath, the David who "has his tens of thousands" (or however the song went). This is the David who raids towns and pursues marauding armies. Yes, that David. And he flees???

I've come to a conclusion: David is an absolute wuss at dealing with people he loves. Machiavelli, he is not. He will kill strangers, no problem. But his mentor/king, his adviser, his way. He simply can't handle it.

That is so weird.

NT: John 18:1-24

Well, we are starting up our fourth round of Jesus being crucified. I am not really looking forward to it.

Like I mentioned with one of the earlier accounts, I find it so amusing to see the details that John chooses to include about Peter. John's gospel is the only one that states that he went with Peter as he followed Jesus. In fact, John takes pains to specify that Peter had to wait outside the high priest's courtyard until John came back and got him (15-16). I also find it odd that no one asked John about his relationship to Jesus; they only pestered Peter. I wonder why that was, and I wonder what John would have said. Perhaps they already knew that John was with Jesus, since he was known to the high priest. Perhaps there really wasn't a lot of danger for them, but Peter perceived that there was, and that is why he lied. Who knows?

Psalm 119: 97-112

My, my, the psalmist is, um, confident today. In the "Mem" stanza, he asserts that he is "wiser than my enemies, has "more insight than all my teachers," and has "more understanding than the elders" (98-100). That is a little ironic, since wisdom, insight, and understanding should probably lead to more humility than he is demonstrating here, but I will try not to judge.

I have always loved verse 105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." That simple verse has been an aid to me for years.

Proverbs 16:8-9

Verse 9 is tailor-made for someone like me: "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." I am a big planner, and I think a lot of that comes from the fact that I like the idea of control. I know cognitively that control is an illusion, but planning things out ahead of time helps to continue that illusion in my life (and it helps things to generally run more smoothly, but I'm focusing on the deeper issues right now). Anyway, it is always good for me to hear that the Lord determines my steps, b/c I tend to get attached to my plans. I need to remember that my plans are basically irrelevant when it comes to God's plans.

Friday, May 28, 2010

May 28

OT: 2 Samuel 13:1-39

Well, that was cheery.

Today, David's son, Amnon, raped his sister, Tamar. Two years later, he is killed by Absalom.

Because I have heard this story several times, and because I am apparently a weirdo, my main focus was on the application of the Law to this situation. Did Tamar scream? It's not conclusive, but I am going to give it a "yes." She definitely protested. So...shouldn't Amnon now be forced to marry her? I think that's how the Law went. But apparently, he wasn't. And in fact, it doesn't seem like much of anything happened to him up until Absalom killed him. I am especially perplexed by David's reaction. The text says that David was "furious," but what did he do (21)? Apparently, his reaction involved words, since it is contrasted with Absalom's silence on the matter (22). Hmph. I really wish we could have gotten more on David's reaction. Regardless, it seems like a similar scenario to Joab's murder of Abner. David is not much on administering consequences to those closest to him. Saul, Joab, Amnon, and Absalom have all pretty much done as they have pleased with no repercussions from David.

NT: John 17:1-26

Jesus' prayer has some interesting language regarding salvation. In it, Jesus says of Himself, "For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him" (2). A few verses later, he says, "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word" (6). Of these people, Jesus later says, "I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours" (9). That last verse seems to clearly state that God did not give all people to Jesus, but just some. And so Jesus is not praying for all those other people who were not given to Him by God. These verses raise more questions about the idea of predestination and the fact that it is God who determines who is saved and who is not. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? I always find the idea of predestination anathema to themes of choice and the need for obedience that are found throughout Scripture. I must say, though, that there are also quite a few verses that strongly support Calvin's theory.

I think this passage is where we get the idea of "in the world, but not of the world." I think people apply that phrase in different ways, but my take on it is that we are "in the world" strictly in terms of physical location. Like, we're not in heaven, or in a distant galaxy. We are here on earth. But we are not "of" the world any more than Jesus was "of" the world (14). Thus, we should not be more "a part" of the world than Jesus was. Now, what does that mean, exactly? I have no idea. I do think that my interpretation of the concept is more radical than some, but I can't say that I am living it out, exactly. That's mainly because I don't really know how to live it out.

Lastly, I would be interested to know what others think about this little observation of mine. Twice in this prayer, Jesus asks for the believers to be one, as He and God are one (11, 21). In verse 11, Jesus prays that for the current disciples, and in verse 21, He prays it for all future generations. In verse 23, he also asks that God would bring all Christians into complete unity (23). So let me ask you: Did God answer that prayer? Based on my understanding of church history from Acts up until today, I would have to say no. Believers today are just as fragmented as the Corinthians were, when Paul pleaded with them to be united in Christ (I Cor. 1:10-13). So let's think about that. God did not give Jesus what He asked for. So...what makes us think He will give us what we ask for? Why did Jesus say that? God didn't even do that for Jesus, and yet Jesus says that God will do that for us? I am not trying to be blasphemous regarding Scripture; I just truly do not understand this. Furthermore, I have never heard a satisfactory explanation, so I've got to assume that it is a stumper for many people.

Psalm 119: 81-96

Interspersed among verses declaring his love and devotion toward God's word, we get little pictures of the psalmist in trouble. In today's stanzas, the theme of the psalmist's suffering is particularly prevalent. I think that it is interesting that personal suffering is so strongly linked to devotion to Scripture. I guess that is one of the benefits of suffering; it drives you to God's Word.

I was both intrigued and confused by verse 96: "To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless." What does he mean there? How can there be a limit to perfection?

Proverbs 16:6-7

"When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him" (7). That is a neat verse. The Bible makes it clear that, as Christians, we will have enemies. This verse, however, shows that our lives shouldn't be filled with rancor, even in the presence of our enemies.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27

OT: 2 Sam. 9:1-11:27

When reading the Synoptics, I mentioned that Jesus sometimes used "Nathan's," where He would tell a story describing the sin of the Pharisees, in order to get them to unknowingly condemn themselves. Today, we read the original "Nathan," and I've gotta say, it was masterful. I love Nathan's story about the little lamb, and I especially love how directly he drives his point home: "You are the man!" Boo-yah! He does not pull any punches, but goes directly at David with the strongest language of condemnation and of God's disapproval. I did get a little confused by Nathan's declaration that God was going to give away all of David's wives. Was that punishment lifted when David openly confessed his sin afterward? David's confession did seem to make somewhat of an impact, as Nathan responded, "The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die" (13-14). That, of course, seems a bit unfair to the child, but I think we have already worked through those issues as best we can, and I have no new insights to add. Unfortunately, sin affects more than just the sinner, and children are the most likely candidates to bear the brunt of the parents' sins, even today.

David's reaction to his son's illness and death kind of reminds me of my reaction to my brother's illness and death. While he was alive and struggling so badly, I was perpetually worried, perpetually filled with sorrow for him. I cried often and was on my face before God several times praying for him. In fact, I honestly think I cried much more for him when he was alive than after he died. After he died, I was able to take comfort in the fact that all of his horrible suffering was over. Over. It was such a wonderful thought to think of the fact that he was finally free, and it was especially amazing when I considered that I would see him again in just a little while. When I cry now, it is definitely not for Mike. It is for me, my parents, and my children. Still, I do think that for me, the sorrow was deeper before he died. Thus, I can kind of understand David's feelings on the matter.

Lastly, it is always perplexing to see David as just another conquering king, who attacks cities, takes their king's crown, and forces the people into hard labor. I mean, why? I guess it was simply to expand his kingdom. Perhaps when the Israelites expanded their kingdom, it brought glory to God. That is hard for me to understand, as I live in a time period where imperialism is definitely out of vogue.

NT: John 16:1-33

Jesus' words here make many scholars think that John is writing specifically to Christians who are facing persecution. That theory might even help scholars date John (I think I might be making stuff up, but I do remember hearing that John was much later than the others. Clearly, I haven't checked my Writings of the New Testament in awhile).

In this passage, I especially love the Jesus' promises about the Spirit: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you" (13-14). As always, the more I read the Bible's description of the Christian life, the more I see that Christians have a real, inner power in this world. After all, God is in us, guiding us into all truth and making known to us the His mysteries (some of them, at least:)).

And one more thing: Jesus has said several times in the last few chapters that whatever we ask for in Jesus' name will be given to us. In verses 23-24, Jesus continues that theme: "In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." I have mentioned before that I don't quite understand these kinds of statements b/c I haven't always found it to be true in my own life and in the lives of many Christians whose faith I really admire. However, this time, the very next verse gave me pause. In it, Jesus says, "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father" (25). where was the figurative part? Was it when He talked about childbirth (21), because I don't really see anything else that could obviously be considered figurative language. Maybe the whole, "ask and you will receive" thing in the verses immediately preceding are figurative. Who knows? I mean, clearly that is problematic. For one, if they are figurative, then what do they mean? And why do they sound so...not figurative? I mean, if those words are figurative, what other plain-sounding things are figurative? I am confusing myself, but the bottom line is that I didn't really have much of a clue what Jesus was talking about in verse 25.

I did get verse 33, though, and loved it: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." It is always good to be reminded that peace does not mean the absence of trouble, but the presence of God. And I'm glad that Jesus is straightforward about the fact that Christians will have trouble in this life. We are not exempt.

Psalm 119: 65-80

I like how often the psalmist asks for understanding and refers to the need to meditate on God's laws. Today, he does so in verses 66, 68, 73, and 78. I love it b/c I think it is easy to think of the Law to which the psalmists refers as being pretty straightforward. Do this. Don't eat that. Offer this sacrifice. Wear this kind of clothes. And so forth. I mean, why meditate? Why not just memorize? Why ask for understanding? Why not just ask for good recall? The psalmist's words affirm to me that God's Law was much more than a list of rules, and the people who sought God back then weren't content with just a checklist of do's and don'ts. They wanted to understand God's Law and, in so doing, to understand God. They wanted to explore His character like I do. God has never been simplistic, and even in the OT, people prayed for understanding and insight into God.

Proverbs 16:4-5

Verse 4 says, "The Lord works out everything for his own ends--even the wicked for a day of disaster." I think we saw this principle at work in both our OT and NT passages for today. In the OT, Nathan tells David that his son will die b/c David's sin made "the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt" (14). In other words, God brought consequences to David in order to maintain His reputation. Similarly, Jesus tells us that the Spirit will come into us to "bring glory to me" (14). In these examples, both punishment and power are ultimately given so that God's name will be glorified. (I also randomly thought of Gal. 6:7, which says, "God can not be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." Again, human consequences are linked to God's honor.) See, God has a reputation to maintain. Perhaps part (or even a lot) of the reasoning behind God's concern for His reputation is that man must understand enough about His power and righteousness to be drawn to Him. Hmmm. That sentence did not really describe what I was thinking, but I can't think of a better way to put it right now, so I will just continue to mull it over.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 26

OT: 2 Sam. 9:1-11:27

David has been making some decisions that I like. Yesterday, I liked that he wanted to build a house for God, even though God wasn't too sold on that idea. Today, I liked that he wanted to show kindness to Saul's family and that he wanted to "show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash" (10:2). Unfortunately, Hanun son of Nahash was not incredibly receptive to David's "kindness delegation," which resulted in some bloody battles. Even those were pretty fascinating to read about, especially since they didn't seem to be David's fault at all. The Ammonites were hateful to David, and when they saw he was mad, they went to battle with him (10:6). I mean, what can ya do? David fought.

Of course, I didn't like his decisions surrounding Bathsheba as much. I was reading on the couch this morning by Greg, and when I read 11:1, I laughed and shared it with him: "In the spring at the time when kings go off to war..." I said something about how I was glad that that was an annual tradition for them, much like we might have Easter egg hunts. That was the only phrase I read, and I didn't mention where I was in the Bible, but Greg smiled and responded, "But David didn't go off to war. That was the problem. Instead of being where he was supposed to be, he was looking at a naked woman from his rooftop." I was seriously impressed that he knew right where I was reading based on that one partial sentence, and I thought that he made an interesting point. I've probably made clear that I'm pretty conflicted about war, but I thought it was a good point that David's problems started simply from not being where he was supposed to be. In fact, the whole story demonstrates quite well the steps toward a fall into sin. First, David is not where he is supposed to be. Then, he sees something he isn't supposed to see. As a result, he decides to do something he is not supposed to do. When he then reaps the consequences of that decision, he tries in vain to cover it up, which results in his worst decision so far in the process, which is murder. So many steps. So many bad decisions. It is just painful to read, and it is even more painful because Uriah is such a stand-up guy, such a dedicated soldier.

Joab's savvy in telling David about Uriah is one of the reasons I start appreciating him as I read II Samuel. Again, as a Christian, I'm conflicted over the use of cunning and game-playing...but both of those things seem like necessary skills if you are going to be a good strategist or political advisor. And Joab executes them well.

And after all the moral ambiguity we've faced when reading the exploits of the judges and kings so far, I'm glad that Scripture comes right out and says, "But the thing David did displeased the Lord" (11:27b). You think? But still, I do appreciate that the text clarifies that.

NT: John 15:1-27

John is still on a roll with me. There are lots of deep thoughts and lots of clarity coming through these chapters.

Today's "big picture" idea is how Christianity requires us to "remain" in Christ. Christ is the source of our strength and power as Christians, much like a vine is the source of life for its branches. Like those branches, we as Christians can do nothing if we do not "remain" in Christ. (And again, that "reciprocal indwelling" I mentioned yesterday is further articulated today in verses 4-5. Both verses speak of us remaining in Christ and him remaining in us. It's still just a touch too deep for me, though. I see it, and I do understand it on some levels, but I can't fully grasp the mystery.) Like yesterday, there is also a lot of emphasis on actions. Verses 4-5 talk about how remaining in Christ helps us to "bear fruit," and verse 8 and 16 emphasize the importance of bearing fruit. It brings glory to God when we do it. Verses 9-10 and 14 clarify that to remain in Him (or remain in His love, more specifically), we must obey His commands. And verses 12-13 and 17 specify that His primary command is to love others.

So let's recap. As Christians, we are to remain in God (and God in us), so that we can bear fruit to His glory. And the way we bear fruit is to love others. And conversely, we cannot be part of God if we do not love others. Okay, got it.

I also thought that Jesus' words in verses 22 and 24 were thought-provoking: "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin...If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father." These verses, combined with Romans 2:14-15, shed a little light on the question of people who have not heard about Jesus. You could even take it a step further and say that these verses pardon those who do not hear about Jesus in a real and powerful way. Perhaps there are people who have lived around churches their whole lives and have not heard about Jesus in a real way. Along those lines, I read an interesting quote by C.S. Lewis today: “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him." Lewis' speculation (and it is just speculation) seems to be based on verses like John 15:22, which clearly seem to open the door to salvation for those who have never heard of Jesus. Of course, there really isn't much point to this kind of speculation besides to make us feel better and to make God's judgment make more sense to us. After all, it really should have no effect on our actions, which should point others to Christ in real and powerful ways. Still, it is interesting that Jesus chooses to share those insights into God's judgment.

Psalm 119: 49-64

The two verses that stood out to me today were kind of random:

"Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law" (53). I think that that is a good way to put it. I have a problem with the idea of "righteous anger," not because it doesn't exist, but because it is such an easy idea to distort. As Scripture says, "Man's anger does not bring about the righteous lifestyle that God desires" (James 1:20). Thus, we must be very careful when we describe our anger as righteous or justified. At the same time, indignation does grip me when I see wickedness. I love the word choice of indignation. And I love that the psalmist describes himself as passive in the process. I've definitely been there. You can't help but feel indignant at injustice, you know?

"I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes" (59). As someone who could be described as an "overthinker," I appreciate this verse. I do consider my ways...a lot. I ask myself why I do the things I do, why I think the things I think, and whether my actions properly reflect my beliefs. I ask myself if I am following Jesus' commands according to my best understanding of them. And I do also try to turn my steps to God's statutes as a result of my introspection, with varying results.

Proverbs 16:1-3

"All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord" (2). So true! All I can say is, Amen. That verse also reminds me of the verse that says "the heart is deceitful above all things" (Jeremiah 17:9). That's what makes true introspection so hard (and also why you need the Spirit in your life to guide you and to help you weigh your own motives).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 25

OT: 2 Sam. 7:1-8:18

I'm not sure what to think about today's reading. I liked David's desire to build a house for God, but God's response confused me. God seemed a bit put off by the idea, though He did go on to say that Solomon would build a house for Him. I also just think it is weird to think of God having a house or a tent or any other residence. I feel that God chose this way of presenting Himself as a symbolic gesture to help the people understand His presence in a concrete way. After all, God did some big things outside of the ark. He helped the people in battle, and spoke to people through various means. It's not like they had the ark every time they saw God working or heard Him speak (right?), and so it's not like the ark or the tabernacle was where God always was. I feel like the people got that. Anyway, I just don't quite understand the OT God. (I think that's an understatement.)

For example, I also found His contrast b/t Solomon and Saul to be quite chilling: "But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you" (7:15). The idea of God taking His love away from someone is scary to me, though I can also see how that statement mainly refers to the idea that God ended Saul's reign. And I still don't understand statements like the one in 7:10, where God says, "And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning." See, I have two issues with that verse. One, I kind of remember God saying similar things about the people coming into the Promised Land. Two, I kind of remember that people do continue to disturb the Israelites. I guess you could argue that this verse is contingent on Israel's obedience, but I would have preferred that such caveats be clearly included. If only God had asked me for my input when writing the Bible. Oh well:).

I also thought it was chilling how David measured his enemies out and killed 2/3's of them. I guess that's a step up from killing all of them, but the way he did it just seemed...wrong.

NT: John 14:15-31

Well, I was trying not to overstep any bounds yesterday with my application of Jesus' words to us as Christians, but apparently, I need not have worried. Yesterday, I tentatively suggested that Jesus' words about being in the Father and the Father being in Him could also be applied to us, since we have the Spirit. I was a little hesitant in my comparison b/c, while we have God's Spirit, I wasn't sure I could say that we were in God the way He is in us. But Jesus says almost as much today: "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you" (20). Thus, it is a reciprocal indwelling. And I'm really not sure what I just said.

On another note, I cite this passage often as the place where Jesus says three times that if we love Him, we will obey His commands (15, 21, 23). This idea resonates with me b/c when it comes down to it, I think in concrete, practical terms, and I value productivity. That's why I love I Cor. 4:20 ("For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power"). Words by themselves, without accompanying actions, just bother me. Though I was an English major, I am not an "art for art's sake" type of person. I prefer art to have a purpose, and the more concrete the purpose, the better. I love examples where words, whether in books or speeches, are a catalyst for direct action. I'm getting off track, but the point is, Jesus' words here are ones I can sink my teeth into. When it comes down to it, love is nothing--nothing!--apart from actions. I appreciate feelings and emotions as much as the next person, but they are ultimately meaningless if they don't lead to something real.

Lastly, though I love those three verses, they also really challenge me b/c they make me examine my life more closely. I mean, I think I love God. I feel like I love God. But do my actions say I love God? Do I love others not just in word or tongue, but with actions and in truth? Do I love in the radical way that Jesus commands? Do I need to take a step further in my actions? I revisit these questions often, with varying results.

Psalm 119:33-48

"Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word" (36-37). What amazing verses. When I examine myself like I talked about in the NT section, I usually end up praying along these lines. Sometimes I need God's wisdom to know if I am pursuing something real and godly with my life, or if I am in reality just pursuing selfish gain and worthless things. I don't want to be distracted by worthless things. I want to do things that are real and that have eternal significance.

Proverbs 15:33

"The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor." I didn't realize how often the Bible says part A of this proverb. Out of curiosity, I looked it up on biblegateway, and I saw that we have already read those words three other times (Psalm 111:10, Prov. 1:7, Prov. 9:10).

Monday, May 24, 2010

May 24

OT: 2 Sam. 4:1-6:23

Some quick, random observations:

--Chapter 4 required some forced set-up. Verses 1-4 had a lot of awkward explanation so that we would understand what was about to happen.

--There has been way too much stomach stabbing of late. Why the stomach?

--People have got to stop coming to David, bragging about killing his enemies. It never ends well for them. Again, David's system of morality is odd to me. It has a weird consistency, but I can't quite understand the whole. For example, David can kill whole villages, but not his individual enemies?

--David is finally king over all Israel, and he moves his headquarters to Jerusalem. This begins, I assume, the era where Jerusalem figures so prominently in Israel's history.

--God's presence definitely has an ebb and flow throughout Scripture. Sometimes, like in Judges, God does not seem to be anywhere around. Other times, He is very involved. The difference seems to be as simple as people seeking Him. When righteous men seek God, He seems to answer.

--Uzzah is going to mess up my blog structure. He takes a longer thought.

Along with Nadab and Abihu, Uzzah serves as one of those warnings people cite as an illustration of how God demands exactness. I don't know. I know of too many times that God showed mercy to Biblical characters to see God's actions here as applicable in blanket form to us all. For example, after God kills Uzzah for touching the ark, David gets angry at God and ditches the ark at some guy's house for three months! Isn't that bad, too? I can't explain why God chose to kill Uzzah for trying to keep the ark from falling, but I do seem to remember getting insight into the seeming harshness of the action when I read the parts about the ark in the Law. It was a BIG DEAL to touch the ark. And I'll also note that, ironically, the times when God seems to be the harshest are the times when the people are pursuing Him the most. It is almost like a good thing, like, a "God disciplines those He loves" type thing. (I know--tell Uzzah that.) It's kind of the same in the NT. Jesus is really merciful to outsiders, but when you start pursuing Him, buddy, you better count the cost. He might tell you to give up everything and everyone you love!

Okay, those thoughts were random, scattered, and ill-formed, but I'm pressed for time, so I must move on.

NT: John 13:31-14:14

Wow--Jesus is really starting to articulate the concepts of Christianity in a really clear way here. I think that from John 11 to here has all been really good stuff, and if I remember correctly, the goodness continues right through Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane. There's lots of insight in these passages.

For one, Jesus again clearly tells His disciples to love one another, and elaborates that their love is what shows the world that they are His disciples (34-35). For another thing, He says some things about Himself that I believe are also partially applicable to all Christians. He tells His disciples that if they have seen Him, then they have seen the Father (14:9). In verse 10, he elaborates: "Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work." Now again, this is not 100% applicable, but as Christians, the Bible tells us that we have God's Spirit within us, and Philippians 2:13 tells us that "it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." And since we are also Christ's ambassadors, we are, in a sense, God's representatives here on earth. In a sense, when people see us love with selfless love, they see God.

Psalm 119: 17-32

Oh, man. I love Psalm 119. Here are my favorite verses for today:

"Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (18).

"My soul is consumed with longing for you laws at all times" (20).

"Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders" (27).

"I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws" (31).

"I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free" (32).

These verses all have the idea of seeking understanding, of longing for God, and of pursuing Him. Those themes are near and dear to my heart.

Proverbs 15:31-32

"He who ignores discipline despises himself" (32a). Good point, and well-worded.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

May 23

OT: 2 Sam. 2:12-3:39

Aw, man! I liked Abner! I liked how he was a take charge guy. I liked how he tried to get Asahel to leave him alone before being forced to kill him. I liked it when he told David's men, "Must the sword devour forever? Don't you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their brothers?" (2:26). I really liked those words. I didn't exactly like how quickly he defected from the man whom he helped empower, but I did like how much he helped David as a result of that defection. I liked his competence. I liked the way he could bring people together. I liked him right up until that jerk, Joab, stabbed him in the stomach.

If I remember correctly, I think I eventually come to like Joab, too. Go figure. Today, however, I did not care for him one bit.

I think it is interesting what an uphill battle it was for David to actually become king, even though he was informed at an early age that it was God's plan for him. It reminds me that just because a task seems to be definitely from God, does not mean it is going to be easy or natural. I have several things in my life like that right now, one in particular. I feel quite sure that these are things that God wants me to do. And yet, they are just hard. Plus, life keeps getting in the way.

Oh, and how many wives does David have now? Good grief! He gets around, doesn't he?

NT: John 13: 1-30

This passage has always been one of my favorites, and one of the most formative in my faith. It is definitely one of those clear passages that tells you how to live as a Christian. For one thing, it really illustrates the idea of service that Jesus talked about (and I blogged on) yesterday. Dying to ourselves and serving others can be so anathema to our human nature, and often, our pride can't compute the sacrifice. If we are to put others before ourselves, for example, does that mean that they are more important than us? Does that mean that we don't matter? I like how John illustrates the reality of the situation here. In verses 3-4, he says, "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; SO he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist." I love the word, "so." I love that it is not, "but." Or "however." Verse three tells who Jesus was. Verse four tells what he did. "So" tells us that who He was caused what He did. There is a direct correlation. And who was He? He was powerful. He had immense authority. He was from God. He was returning to God. And because He understood the fullness of His identity as God's Son, He was able to humble Himself, empty Himself, and serve others.

I think it is the same for us as Christians. We are God's creation; we come from God. We are members of God's kingdom; we have power and authority. And one day, we are returning to God to live with Him forever. And when we get that, it becomes a lot easier to fulfill our purpose on earth, which is to glorify God by loving others by serving them. It starts actually making sense that we should die to ourselves, empty ourselves, and serve. After all, in doing so, we are Christ's ambassadors, and we point people to God. Thus, we help to fulfill the divine mission, which is for each man to reach out to God and to find him (Acts 17:27).

I also loved how the text makes clear that Jesus also knew that Judas was going to betray Him. And even so, He washed Judas' feet as well. Now, that is an example of loving your enemies. I can't imagine the mortification of pride that it would take to kneel before someone whom you know will betray you and to humbly wash his feet. It makes my heart burn to think of it. I pray to God that He will give me the strength to treat my enemies with that kind of love and humility.

Psalm 119: 1-16

Well. We'll be here for awhile:).

Which is okay, b/c I love Psalm 119, and I'm looking forward to spending the week or so that it will take to read it! In fact, I even got a verse for my lesson tomorrow:

"How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word" (9).

I'm teaching teen girls, but I think it applies, too:).

I especially loved verse 5: "Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!" I feel ya.

Proverbs 15:29-30

Verse 29 is interesting: "The Lord is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous." I think the reason that God is far from the wicked is because they have walked away from Him. I've seen in Scripture when people rebel against God, there is a certain point where He gives them over to their desires and essentially seems to leave them (Romans 1 has some examples of this, and I even think of Pharoah. Before God hardened Pharoah's heart to a tragic degree, Pharoah hardened his own heart repeatedly.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 22

OT: 2 Sam. 1:1-2:11

There was a lot of confusion in today's OT passage.

First, an Amalekite stumbles into David's camp spouting a story of Saul's demise that was totally different than the one we just read. In I Samuel, Saul asks his armor-bearer to kill him, and when the armor-bearer refuses, Saul falls on his own sword. This Amalekite, on the other hand, claims to have been the one to have killed Saul. When I first read this, I thought, "Why on earth would this enemy come to David's camp in the first place? And why would he claim to have killed David's king?" As I typed, though, I had my lightbulb moment. He thinks David is Saul's enemy. He is wanting to get credit for killing him and to curry favor with David.

See? This is why I type my thoughts. I think as I type (which is probably pretty obvious). Anyway, like Achish, the Amalekite did not understand David's loyalties very well, and his ignorance led to his demise. I feel like there is a good foreign relations lesson here, but I don't have the energy to flesh it out.

I didn't dig David's song too much. I like his psalms a lot better. I even wondered if David had written it himself, b/c it just didn't sound like him. The verse says, "David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan" (17). Does "took up" mean "wrote?" I guess so.

And lastly, there was confusion about the succession of kings. Reading this passage made me glad that I live in a civilized enough country that we have very clear rules on the succession of power. In Israel, they lacked some critical protocol. On the one hand, the men of Judah made David "king" over Judah. On the other hand, Abner appointed Saul's son as king over several other tribes. That just seems confusing for everyone. I bet David was wishing that Samuel was still alive to back up his anointing story, were he so inclined to refer to it.

NT: John 12: 20-50

Jesus' words in verses 24-28 really get to the heart of my current passion:

24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.27"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!"

To me, this is it. This is the heart of Jesus' instructions to us. This is how we fulfill the two greatest commands; it is how we love God and love others. I think it was Martin Luther King who said, "To love is to serve." I had that statement on my bulletin board throughout high school and college, and I still agree with it 100%. And I would also say that to serve is to put someone ahead of yourself. And to do that to the fullest extent, you have to die. Occasionally, that means to physically die, to lay down your life for someone else. For most of us though, life doesn't usually come down to that. Rather, we have to die a thousand little deaths every day in order to love those around us the way Jesus calls us to. And frankly, that concept is not always appealing. In fact, it is not even usually appealing. And that's why I especially love verses 27-28. Jesus didn't find the idea of dying for others appealing either. And yet, He realized that God's will was more important than his personal desires, as strong as they may be. And I mean, I know that my desire to get on Facebook rather than serve my family does not compare to his desire not to be tortured to death...but the basic principle remains true in both situations. You do what you are supposed to do, what you were made to do, even when you don't want to do it. Do it, just do it! Love. Serve. Die. Every day.

Psalm 118: 19-29

I love the image of God opening the gates of righteousness for me. And I love the image of me walking through them.

Proverbs 15:27-28

"The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil." I am definitely guilty of not always weighing my answers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

May 21

OT: I Sam. 26:1-28:25

Today's reading was action-packed!

First, why was Saul still searching for David?? That man is crazy!

And speaking of crazy kings, what is Achish thinking, wanting David to fight with him against the Israelites? David is a celebrated Israelite warrior. Granted, he has fallen from grace lately, but still. He has only been in Philistine country for one year, and Achish thinks he is going to fight against his own people? Seriously? I'm glad that his local rulers had more sense, though I was morbidly curious to see how David was planning to betray them. I picture him taking Achish's head to Saul with another "Why do you hate me?" speech. Maybe I'm wrong, though.

Regardless, David and his men are wisely sent home, only to see that their town has been sacked and burned, with all of the people and livestock taken away. Needless to say, the men are seriously bummed about this and decide to pursue the raiders. Thanks to the help of a wandering Egyptian slave, they find the raiding party and get back all of their people and livestock.

One of my 6th grade boys found this verse to be hilarious: "David fought them from dusk until the evening of the next day, and none of them got away, except four hundred young men who rode off on camels and fled" (17). While reading the rest of the story aloud, he kept interjecting other huge qualifiers ("Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl...except for six hundred children.") Thanks to him, I always laugh out loud when I read verse 17. That verse also reminds me of the verses in Joshua or Judges that said, "The Lord gave all of the land to the people...except for this part and that part and this other part." (Or for that matter, when Jesus prayed, "I have not lost any that you gave me...except for that one," meaning Judas.) Thinking about all of these verses together kind of hints that these writings have a very different style than we do today. See, today, I have a problem with making an absolute, dramatic statement, and then adding huge qualifiers that essentially make my original statement seem untrue. And yet, I have seen that structure several times now, and while it confused me at first, I am beginning to see that it might just have been a different way to communicate, a different way of seeing things.

Oh, and while David is recovering his plunder, Saul and his sons are dying in the battle from which David was ejected. If this were a movie, the pacing of this passage would be superb. At the same time David is experiencing God-ordained victory, Saul is experiencing G0d-ordained defeat. The two scenes form a powerful juxtaposition.

And now I Samuel is over, and we are ready to begin the reign of David.

NT: John 11:54-12:19

In John's version of the anointing at Bethany, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus feature prominently. In fact, Mary is explicitly named as the one who anointed him, which definitely fits with her character. (Also, Martha served at the dinner, which definitely fits with her character!)

I don't have a ton of new observations to write here, so I'll move on.

Psalm 118:1-18

"The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (6)

"It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes" (8-9).

I love these verses. I struggle with putting my hope in things other than God, and when you struggle with that, you struggle with fear. I loved these reminders that God is the most important thing in my life, and that when I understand that, I truly have nothing to fear.

Proverbs 15:24-26

I especially liked verse 24, with the image of the path of life leading upward. I love the idea of my life proceeding upward to heaven.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 20

OT: I Sam. 26:1-28:25

I keep thinking about that old joke: a man is caught in a flood and prays to God to save him. As he is praying, a firetruck comes by to pick up any stragglers caught in the flood. The man tells them, "Don't worry; God will save me." As the waters rise, a rescue boat comes by to pick up the man, but he tells them, "Don't worry; God will save me." Finally, he is forced onto his roof, and a helicopter sees him and throws down a ladder. Again, the man waves them off, telling them, "Don't worry; God will save me." The man drowns. When he gets to heaven, he tells God how disappointed he is that God didn't save him. God replies, "I sent you a fire truck, a boat, and a helicopter. What more do you want from me???"

Here's a variation on that joke: A man is being hunted by his enemy, when his enemy unknowingly stumbles into his cave. The men around him say, "The Lord has given your enemy into your hands." The man says, "No, don't worry; God will take care of him." Next, God puts the man's enemy into a deep sleep so that the man can sneak into his tent. His friend says, "Today, God has delivered your enemy into your hands." The man says, "Don't worry; God will take care of him." Good grief--all we need is a third scenario, and we've got ourselves another joke!

Of course, I don't know if God was delivering Saul into David's hands, or if he was testing David, or what. I can appreciate David's respect for the Lord's anointed, though I did kind of want to shout at him, "You are the Lord's anointed!" Not that I'm advocating for David to kill Saul (okay, maybe I am). I just find the whole scenario confusing. And I'd love just to assume that David did the right thing, but it doesn't seem like his moral compass always points north.

Case in point: after showing some outlandish mercy to Saul, David takes advantage of Achish's hospitality by massacring his cities on the sly. I mean, what on earth? Is God cool with this? Do the Israelites really have carte blanche to kill whatever Philistines they can? Not only are David's actions genocidal here, they also just seem like bad manners.

But again, David's actions are not explicitly condoned by God (thank goodness), just as his sparing of Saul isn't explicitly condoned by God. I really just do not know what to think about this man so far.

And just try to explain the moral of this story to 5th and 6th graders. Go on--I dare you:).

I also found the witch of Endor story to be bizarre. A few points to ponder: the witch has some legit powers, as she conjures up Samuel and he correctly predicts the future. The witch is also a pretty nice gal, who takes mercy on a soon-to-be dead man when she sees that he is weak from hunger. She ends up feeding him quite a feast.

Complexity. That's what this passage has. You have a bizarrely merciful man who slaughters whole cities in his spare time. You have a king anointed and empowered by God who seeks guidance from a witch. And you have a witch who has compassion on the king who outlawed her (and rightly so, of course).

NT: John 11:1-53

Man, I love the story of Lazarus. I think John does a great job here of bringing out some juicy details. Allow me to pull out a few:

Juicy detail #1: "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days" (5-6).

A simplistic view of God and of love says, "If God loved us, He would not let bad things happen to us." The Christian view is a little deeper than that, and it is informed by passages such as these. The Christian view says, "Love is not always shown by bringing happiness. Love is shown by doing what is best. And what is best does not always bring happiness, especially in the short term." Honestly, that summation is a little simplistic, too, but it is still much truer than, "Love never causes pain."

Juicy detail #2: "Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, 'Let us also go, that we may die with him'" (16).

Poor Thomas. He really gets a bad rap. We all know him as Doubting Thomas, when we could just as soon know him as "Dedicated Thomas." (I just thought that one up all by myself:).) After all, here he is willing to follow Jesus to what he views as pretty certain death.

Juicy detail #3: "When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home" (20).

I always think of Martha as the practical one, who spends her time cleaning and doing what needs to be done, while Mary is the more...emotional (?) one, who would rather idly sit at Jesus' feet and listen to His stories. Clearly, I'm not sold on the word emotional, but I don't have a better substitute right now. Regardless, this little glimpse into their characters confirms my opinions. Martha does what needs to be done. Jesus is here. Jesus is her friend. She will go out and greet Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, is hurt and perhaps angry. She chooses to ignore Jesus' arrival. I also love Martha's exchange with Jesus, which to me seems guardedly hopeful.
Also, though I do believe that Mary was very hurt by Jesus' unexplained delay, she still "quickly" got up and went to him when she heard he was asking for her (29).

Juicy detail #5: "Jesus wept" (35).

This one is truly mind-blowing. Jesus is very much in-the-know right now. He knew that Lazarus would die. He knew when he did die. And He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet, he still weeps when confronted with the sorrow of His friends. My practical self says, "Don't just sit there and cry; heal the man!" And yet, I am so glad that Jesus did sit there and cry. That picture helps me to wrap my mind around a God who feels my pain even when He is not actively taking it away from me in the manner that I would like.

Psalm 117:1-2

Wow, that's a short psalm.

Proverbs 15:22-23

"Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed" (22). Yes, but also, "Too many cooks spoil the broth."

Okay, I think I'll go with the real proverb:).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19

OT: I Sam. 24:1-25:44

In his psalms, David often entertains vengeful fantasies...but he is also sure to specify that he wants God, not him, to carry them out. From those psalms, one can conclude that David's system of morality does not necessarily include love for one's enemies, but it does understand that "Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord. Today, we get to see two scenarios showing how that morality plays out in David's life.

In the first, David has a prime chance to kill Saul when Saul stops to take a leak without realizing that David is hiding in the same cave (my 5th-6th grade boys especially loved that urine featured prominently in this story). Indeed, David's own men urge him to kill Saul, and yet, something holds him back. He ends up just cutting off a corner of Saul's robe, and then becomes ashamed even of that. He does use the corner of the robe as a jumping off point for a long speech to Saul, which culminates in Saul having a tearful change of heart. Saul's reaction again raises the idea of bipolarity: just before, Saul was angrily killing innocent men and their families (and towns) because of his paranoid delusions; now, he is sobbing while telling David that surely he will be king.

In contrast, David next gets offended by the obnoxious Nabal and is totally set on exterminating him and all the males in his house. To me, that is just crazy, especially after David was so merciful to Saul. Nabal's wife, Abigail, saves the day with a long and submissive speech to David, and then David gives us a little insight into his view of his actions. Among other things, he tells Abigail, "May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands" (25:33). These words seem to indicate that David understands that his planned actions were wrong. When God strikes Nabal dead, David's reaction further supports this view: "Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal...He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal's wrongdoing down on his own head" (39). Clearly, David knew that in avenging himself on Nabal, he would have been "doing wrong." And yet, he does rejoice in Nabal's death. It's an interesting outlook. On the one hand, David's belief that vengeance is God's seems a bit forward-thinking for his own day. On the other hand, Jesus' teachings do a lot to push an even stronger morality, one that would not rejoice over the death (and eternal damnation) of an unrighteous man.

Lastly, I was struck by the description of Abigail as "an intelligent and beautiful woman" (25:3). The word, "intelligent," is what struck me, as I don't really hear that word much in the NIV. Out of curiosity, I looked it up on The NIV only translates the word "intelligent" four times. You could probably guess two of them if you know I Corinthians. The last reference is to the only other person besides Abigail whom the Bible describes as intelligent. Any guesses?

Sergius Paulus, the proconsul at Pathos. (Yeah, I had no idea, either.)

NT: John 10: 22-42

Today, Jesus cites one of the psalms that confused me the most. Unfortunately, it seems like he refers to it not to explain it, but simply to outsmart his opponents, as He did in the Synoptics while in Jerusalem (e.g. Matt. 22:44). But who can blame Him? After all, He spends much of today's passage just inches away from death by stoning.

Also today, I saw some scriptural support for the idea of "once saved, always saved," a teaching that usually sounds ridiculous to me. In verses 27-28, Jesus says, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." In some ways, I think the difference b/t my opinion and the "once saved, always saved" people is mainly semantics. After all, we all know people who have embraced the faith, become active Christians...and then eventually walked away from it completely. I would say that they are no longer Christians; the "once saved, always saved" camp would probably say that they never were. I disagree with that, but again, I guess it is pretty much semantics.

Lastly, I pictured this passage very cinematically, from Jesus' wandering alone to Solomon's Colonnade, to his verbal parrying with and physical escape from his accusers. I think that with the right director, this could be a very engaging scene on the big screen:).

Psalm 116:1-19

This psalmist freely admits that he loves God because of what God has done for him. Ultimately, I think that's true for all of us. As I John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us."

Also, I thought verse 15 was a bit ahead of its time: "Precious in the Lord is the death of his saints." This open-mindedness about death stands in stark contrast to David's intermittent groveling and begging of God to spare his life.

Proverbs 15:20-21

Wisdom causes one to honor one's parents and to "keep a straight course."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18

OT: I Sam. 22:1-23:29

Whew! There was a lot of stuff that hit me in today's reading. The first was in our second verse: "All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around [David], and he became their leader." At first glance, it seems odd that people rallied to him based more on their own poor circumstances than their belief in his cause, and yet, I see that as a pretty typical phenomenon. As a political moderate (really), I mean this comparison in as apolitical a way as possible, but I really do think that a lot of people voted for President Obama based more on the fact that they were so sick of the way things were than their belief in the individual merit of the candidate. Again, I'm not saying anything for or against Obama, just like I'm not saying anything for or against David. I'm just saying that people who are discontent are more open to "change." Along those lines, verse 2 also reminds me of an in depth conversation I once had with one of my grad school professors (who was an agnostic). At one point she said something like, "You have to admit that there is something about Christianity that appeals to the poor, the uneducated, the ignorant, the discouraged." Of course, I agreed. That is totally true, and, as I said at the time, I think one reason is that those people know that they need something. They are open to the idea that they can't understand everything in this life, unlike those who (like me, admittedly) tend to elevate their own brain and reasoning capabilities as the highest in the universe. And even more than that, those people are longing for something more. They know instinctively that there has to be something more. Like David, Jesus drew the poor and afflicted. In fact, Jesus kicked off his ministry in Luke by reading in the synagogue what could be considered a mission statement:
"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." (Luke 4:19, cf Is. 61:1)

So that was my first train of thought (it took me awhile to get through this reading).

Secondly, I found a metaphor for my own life in verses 3-5. Life in Judah isn't great for David, being hunted by Saul and all that. Thus, he retreats to Mizpah, and takes refuge, along with his parents, in the "stronghold." That sounds great. Nice and cozy and familial. However, a prophet tells him, "Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah" (5). The way these verses hit me was that I sometimes want nothing more than to cocoon myself in my "stronghold" with my little family. I want to create my comfortable bubble of love and safety and never to venture out into the harsh world of pain and messiness. And over and over, God's word calls me to leave the stronghold, and to venture out into a harsh and often hostile territory in order to help those who are hurting.

Next, the whole matter with Ahimelech shows just how delusional and paranoid Saul has become. That poor priest conveys his innocence pretty convincingly in verse 14, but Saul will hear none of it. Even his own officials realized how crazy he was and were unwilling to carry out his orders. Unfortunately, Doeg was apparently dying to spill some blood, and was more than willing to kill the priest and his family...and then some. Good lands.

A couple more quick things:

How did David inquire of the Lord in chapter 23 (2, 4, 11, 12)? Did he use the ephod the first two times as he did the last two? Does anyone remember what an ephod is? I thought it was some kind of garment. Here, it seems more like a Magic 8 ball. What exactly does it do to inquire of the Lord?

Lastly, I love 23:16, which says that "Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God." What a wonderful thing to do. I love the idea of helping someone find strength in God.

NT: John 10:1-21

I love Jesus' extended shepherding metaphor for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that it always makes me laugh in verse 7. I remember so clearly reading the elaborate set-up of this metaphor for the first time, and then getting to verse 7, which says, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep." The GATE?!?! I thought Jesus was the shepherd! That declaration completely threw me for a loop as a teenager. Turns out, Jesus is both, as He clarifies in verse 11. And I like the double metaphor, especially the way Jesus explains the gate version in verse 9: "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture." And of course, verse 10 is just amazing and sums up Christianity for many: "The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." That verse speaks to my soul. I've been thinking a lot lately about reason v. instinct. In my life, I have always tended to elevate reason and to devalue instinct, but I'm seeing more and more how that is a false way of thinking about the two. Both reason and instinct are faculties given to us by God. Both can point us to Him, and both can be corrupted. I can use reason to understand God more fully...or I can use it to rationalize my sins. I can use instinct to guide me into hedonism...or I can use it to point me to God. Instinct, for example, tells me to love my children. Instinct tells me that there is something more than what I can see. Instinct causes me to seek a fuller existence. And when I read John 10:10, it resonates with my instincts. It just seems deeply true to me.

Okay, true confession. Whenever I read verse 16 ("I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen."), my mind immediately jumps to one thing: ALIENS! Um, yeah, that or Gentiles:).

Psalm 115:1-18

Here is a psalm that actually sounds like a song. It has the kind of repetition that could be easily sung. I liked it a lot. My favorite verse was the first one:

"Not to us, O Lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness."


Proverbs 15:18-19

These were good ones, and so I feel the need to just type them out.

"A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel." So true.

"The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway." I like how that one is worded, and I definitely agree with it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 17

OT: I Sam. 20:1-21:15

In today's reading, David and Jonathan further reaffirm their loyalty to each other. Jonathan's loyalty, in particular, is especially impressive when I consider the truth of Saul's words in 20:31: "As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor you kingdom will be established." C'est vrai. Of course, Saul isn't being entirely open, since God has already told him that his kingdom will come to an end, regardless of David's involvement.

I also liked the reference to David's being unclean as a potential reason for his absence at the dinner table. I like getting insights into how the unclean laws looked in that culture, since they are so foreign to me. Apparently, you didn't really need to inform everyone that you were unclean; you could just quietly excuse yourself from society, and they would come to that conclusion on their own.

After fleeing from Saul, David apparently goes rogue. He lies like a dog to Ahimelech (which will have some horrific repercussions), and then because of fear, he pretends to be insane in front of Achish. This was yet another lesson that was hard to apply to my 5th and 6th graders (though they did get into an argument about whether David was lying when he told Ahimelech that he and his men hadn't had sex with women. After all, as one of them pointed out, he was married. I mainly tried to steer the discussion away from David's sex life, but considering all of his other lies, that one could have been a lie, too). Anyway, in terms of God's direct involvement, David's moral lapses remind me more of the period of Judges and less of the early part of Saul's reign. Like David, Saul was afraid in our earlier readings, and like David, that fear led him to make bad decisions--which is why God decided to end his reign. Apparently, though, God is taking a different route with David. That is confusing, but it is not a new problem. Clearly, God reacts differently to sins, based on person and situation. As much as I would really like some kind of rubric for understanding God's responses, I guess this is another one I am going to have to chalk up to, "God is God, and I am not." (I also keep asking myself, "Isn't that convenient that you can always 'fall back' on the idea that God is too big to understand?" And then I answer myself, "No, it's actually not convenient at all. It would be much simpler to have God work in a clear way so that everyone could see clearly His purposes, and so we wouldn't have to have that pesky 'faith.'" And then I realize that I should probably stop having conversations with myself:)).

And lastly, two small details:

--When David states, "The men's things are holy even on missions that are not holy," does that seem like a cop out to you or a good argument for the maintenance of one's Christianity while in the armed services? (21:5). I am torn. (Not that I'm a pacifist, b/c I'm not. It's just that I can see how this concept could apply to killing one's enemies while following Christ...or how it could be applied to justify atrocities.)

--I love Achish's response to David's madman act: "Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?" That made me laugh. "Am I so short of madmen...?" Oh, Achish:).

NT: John 9:1-41

As Christians seek in vain to figure out how to interpret misfortune (is it divine retribution? is it part of God's plan for the greater good? or do some things just happen?), this story influences many of our thoughts. Here is a clear cut case where Jesus says that personal misfortune did not come as a result of sin, as commonly assumed, but instead came to be ultimately used for God's glory (a la Rom. 8:28). While blindness from birth wasn't "good" in itself, God caused it to happen in order to be used for good. I appreciate these little windows into God's will, as they are often lacking in Scripture. I'm glad that Jesus spelled out that reality for His disciples instead of being coy or obtuse about it.

I always enjoy reading about the man's evolution throughout the story. At first, he simply states the facts to the Pharisees: "He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see" (15). After the Pharisees question his parents and then bring him back in, he responds to their description of Jesus as a sinner by saying, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (25). He definitely seems more emboldened the second time, and more sure of what he knows. It almost seems like the continued opposition of the Pharisees is radicalizing him, pushing him more firmly into Jesus' camp. Under their repeated questions, He even becomes disrespectful to their authority: "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it gain? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" I laughed at that response, but the Pharisees were not as amused. When the Pharisees continue to disparage Jesus, the man finally takes a firm stand: "We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing" (31-32). And then, the Pharisees kick him out of the synagogue.

I forgot to give an intro to the book of John this time, but one of the theories is that John was writing to a church that was being persecuted by a nearby synagogue. That is one reason that his Jesus is so divisive: John uses Him to clearly delineate "us" and "them" to his possibly fearful audience, and to reaffirm that "us" is right, and "them" is wrong. John also includes stories like this, the theories go, to reassure audience members who were also being kicked out of the synagogue for their belief in Christianity.

Psalms 113:1-114:8

A cheerful little ditty.

Since I have the idea in my head of "the upside-down kingdom," I am always drawn to verses that portray such reversals. Verses 7-9 describe the reversals from poor to rich and from barren to happy and fruitful.

Proverbs 15:15-17

Each of these proverbs have the theme of contentment, and they each maintain that being content with a little is better than being unhappy with a lot. So true. Attitude is everything!:)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16

OT: I Sam. 18:5-19:24

Okay, let's brainstorm together. Name people whom God made sin. Go! Um, Pharoah...those people who didn't let the Israelites pass through on the way to the promised land...Eli's sons whom God kept from repentance...Judas (right?)...and now Saul. (Am I missing anymore? I'd really like to know all of them.) Saul seems kind of bipolar anyway (and I don't use that term lightly), and he seems all the more so b/c of that evil spirit God keeps sending him. Today, the God-sent evil spirit causes him to try to pin David to a wall with a spear...twice! Clearly, this is a mildly problematic trend for those valuing the idea of free will.

And yet, I am becoming more and more jaded about our decision-making capabilities anyway. My church was born during a time when Enlightenment ideals about reason and rationality were being applied to religion. If we all just put aside our preconceived notions and read the Bible with fresh eyes, the reasoning went, then we would all come to the same conclusions. Well, over two hundred years later, and we can all see that that's not exactly what happened, even within our relatively small sect of believers. See, I don't think that people can put aside their preconceived notions and prejudices. Yes, we can grow and evolve...but sometimes it doesn't seem that we can grow and evolve that much. Does this seem pessimistic? Maybe. But I also think it is biblical. Throughout Scripture, there is the idea that we cannot come to God unless He draws us to Him. I tend to believe the reasoning that at one time or another, God draws everyone to Him. According to Acts 17:27, God gave us each our exact circumstances for just that purpose. He put us in the places we are so that we might reach out to Him and find Him. So with that line of reasoning, the only way that anyone ever comes to God is through Him drawing us through the circumstances He arranged for us. There is free will there, but there is also a lot of divine "interference." Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily...until you start getting in to times when God seems to be keeping people from Him. Is that fair? Does He hold that against people for eternity, or does He just do it to fulfill His earthly purposes? Who knows?

My, my...we've gotten away from the actual OT content, haven't we? These ideas come powerfully into play in the NT, so I decided to go ahead and start fleshing them out using Saul. Before I move on, however, I will give a few other random observations and questions:

--Why doesn't David want to marry Saul's daughters? False modesty? Does he realize Saul's nefarious intentions? I think it is b/c he genuinely feels unworthy...which is why he jumps on the chance to prove himself and to "earn" marriage to Michal. Unfortunately, that means...

--Killing two hundred enemy combatants and circumcising the bodies! DISGUSTING! Next!

--I was greatly amused by Michal's "fake David" made out of the idol and the goat hair. Which, just occurred to me that she has an idol in her house. Um, why?? And as David's wife, does that mean that David has an idol in his house? Point to ponder....

NT: John 8:31-59

The dialogue between Jesus and the crowd encapsulates everything I despise about talking to other people:). See, Jesus is speaking clearly. I don't think He is stuttering or slurring His words. And yet, nothing is getting through. He is beating His head against a brick wall. You could argue that their obstinance (is that not a word? My spell check keeps shooting it down) is His fault (b/c of His harshness), or even that it is His intention. After all, in the Synoptics, Jesus claims to use parables specifically to keep certain people from understanding. In Mark 4:12, He references Isaiah 6:9 by saying, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!" Thus, this is another possible instance, along with Pharoah, Saul, and co., where God is "interfering" with man's salvation.

However, here's what I was talking about earlier: this cantankerous conversation sounds completely realistic even without the idea of Jesus purposefully putting the people off. I hear dialogue like this all the time when people start talking about politics and such (actually, that's not entirely true, as I generally turn the channel when things start getting combative:)). And the problem is that when people have their mind made up about something, there is generally just no changing it. Again, that sounds so negative and fatalistic, but I just think it is true. It is a rare person I have met that has seriously changed their core belief system once they pass the age of 21. So...if I have a problem with God interfering with our decisions, I should also have a problem with how He made us in the first place. Why are we so stubborn? So hard-headed?

I even see it in myself. I can talk about these questions all day and not lose faith in God. I feel pretty rock-solid these days, actually, even as I confront all the ten million things that I don't understand about the Bible. So...maybe our stubbornness can be a good thing sometimes. Maybe what makes us hard-headed also makes us love others persistently, beyond all reason. Maybe it's what makes us believe in God in the first place!

Whew...I just think I talked myself around one big circle. I truly have no aim with this line of thought. I'm just trying to figure out God's role in everything. Clearly, my "understanding" is a work in progress:).

But oh yeah--the text, the text. Of course I love the legendary verse 32: "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." It's always good to remember that the "then" refers to the phrase in the previous verse, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples." That concept makes the feel-good words of verse 32 a bit more challenging. But I do love the idea of truth setting you free. My mind has been working on a coherent theology of Jesus, and right now, it is centering on the idea of dying to oneself. See, to me, biblical freedom means freedom from self. Our selfish desires enslave us, which is exactly what Jesus goes on to say in verses 34-36. When you take these concepts in conjunction with Jesus' repeated admonitions to lay down our lives and to die to ourselves, I think you get close to the radical message of Jesus. Only when we lay "ourselves" down can we love the way Jesus called us to.

Psalm 112:1-10

Lots of good verses in today's psalm. Among my favorites are:

4--"Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man." I love elemental imagery: light, dark, life, death, water, bread. And of those, light and dark might just be my favorites.

5--"Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice." My parents are definitely a testimony to that.

7-8--"He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes." I always need a more steadfast heart, and verses like these help strengthen it.

Proverbs 15:12-14

"The discerning heart seeks knowledge..." (14a). To me, that is total justification for being a nerd:)!