Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 30

OT: 2 Kings 15:1-16:20

Well, today was the day where Israel finally fell. In the ninth year of the reign of Israel's king, Hoshea, Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, conquered the country after a three year siege on Samaria. After carrying off the Israelites, he sent people from many different countries to live in the city. See, now, that is starting to ring a bell. Earlier, when I posited that the enmity between Samaria and Jerusalem had to do with the fact that they were both capitals of rival kingdoms, that made a lot of sense...and yet, it didn't sound familiar to me. I knew that I'd heard about the reasons for the hatred between the two groups, and I am now thinking that it has more to do with this new wave of foreigners who have come to live in Samaria. And I think that the fact that Shalmaneser sent priests back to teach them about God, with limited success, will only compound the problem. There's more to this story yet to come, but I can't remember all the details, so I will wait until we get there.

Oh, and I love it when I make an observation on Scripture, only to have the next day's reading totally discredit my musings. Yesterday, I mentioned that it seemed like the author(s) of Kings had given up on explaining why God did what. They only mentioned that He did it, and then they would move on. Today's reading eradicated that trend, as the text goes into great detail on exactly why God sent the Israelites into captivity. And I can see why it did--that's a pretty big deal. Total defeat and captivity would be completely devastating to a nation and would surely make them question the power of their God. It was imperative to the people's faith, then, to understand these events as logical consequences of their idolatry, dictated by their sovereign God. Thus, the author of Kings spends 17 verses articulating exactly why the people were taken captive (7-23).

One thing that is interesting to me about Israel, Judah, and even the new "Samaritans," is that they did not choose between God and idols. No, they routinely worshiped them both. Sometimes, they got waaay bad and totally neglected Yahweh, but then a righteous king would restore the worship of Yahweh to the people. Most often, however, even the righteous king would leave up the high places and various sites of idol worship. Therefore, I think it is fair to argue that the Israelites were generally polytheists in practice. Whatever they might have said about God being the only God, when they worship other idols at the same time, they are polytheistic.

Here's the application for me: We don't have Asherah poles today, nor do we give offerings to Baal. However, there are many gods in our society, many things that people choose to worship. Money, for example, often controls people's lives and decisions in a godlike fashion. One's own dreams can also become the driving course, the supreme being, in his or her life. Security, comfort, pleasure, even family can become our number one priority, the organizing factor of our existence. And when we pursue both God and comfort, or God and money, or God and security with equal passion, I do believe that we are essentially being polytheistic. It's easy to worship God. It's much harder to worship only God.

NT: Acts 20:1-38

The history nerd in me is trying to learn about Luke from these "we" passages. I believe that the first "we" passage insinuated that the group picked up Luke in Troas (I'm too lazy to look it up right now). Today's passage seems to suggest that he joined them in Philippi (6), though they do go through Troas five days later. Hmmm...I just looked on a map, and Philippi and Troas are across the sea from each other (hence the sailing mentioned in the verse). So...I didn't really glean a lot about Luke. Oh well.

I had a few more questions today. First, Paul raises Eutychus from the dead...or does he? I guess verse 9 clearly states that Eutychus "was picked up dead," which is a weird way of putting it, but oh well. However, verse 10 doesn't really make it seem like Paul healed him. It just says that he "threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him," and then he said, "Don't be alarmed. He's alive!" I could easily read that as Paul running to the man in horror and beginning to mourn him, only to realize that he was, in fact, still alive. Verse 11 makes the whole story even more confusing. It just says, "Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left." Surprisingly, Luke does not identify the "he" in this passage, but it clearly seems like Paul to me. After all, Paul was the one preaching the incredibly long sermon. Why would Eutychus suddenly pick up and start talking until daylight? Plus, verse 10 starts with, "Paul went down, " and verse 11 starts with, "Then he went upstairs again." It just seems like Paul. Verse 12 does say that "the people took the young man home alive." But if verse 11 is about Paul, then the text never really says much about Eutychus, except that he was taken home. It's almost like Paul realized he was alive, and then left him down there and went back and finished his sermon. I don't know. Maybe it was just me, but that whole scene was written really strangely. It was not Luke-like at all to me, and the thing was, Luke was there! This is one of his firsthand accounts!

Also, why did Paul send his entourage in a boat and then travel by himself on foot (13)? That was weird.

Lastly, I found several of the things that Paul said to the Ephesian elders to be pretty cool. For one, I loved verse 24: "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." Now, that is a radically Christian perspective. I think we have definitely lost that somewhere along the way. Speaking of God's grace, I also thought it was interesting that Paul-the-former-murderer was able to say, "Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men" (26). What a powerful statement. Sometimes I forget that God's forgiveness covers us so completely that we are truly made innocent. That's crazy. And lastly, I loved Paul's statement in verse 35: "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.''' What I love about that verse is that it both reinforces the need to work hard and the need to be generous. Of course those two go hand in hand, but so often in politics, I tend to see one being exalted far above the other.

Psalm 148: 1-14

Another praise psalm, citing God's natural creation.

Proverbs 18:6-7

Two verses on the dangers of foolish people's speech. Both emphasize the dangers for them, not for other people.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 29

OT: 2 Kings 15:1-16:20

Two shifts in writing today made me ponder the idea of multiple authorship of Kings. First of all, I noticed that the author no longer feels compelled to analyze why God made certain decisions; he just notes that He did. For example, in 15:5, the author mentions that God afflicted the (relatively) righteous king Amaziah with leprosy until he died. Yet, unlike in the past, there is no further explanation provided on why God might have done that. Also, in 15:27, the author states that God "began to send Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah against Judah," which was currently being ruled by the relatively righteous Jotham (15:37). Again, there was no mention of what Jotham or his father or the people did to deserve this attack. I must admit, I prefer this new style, as I have found many of the explanations for God's actions up to this point to be less than satisfying. I'm not saying that they aren't right; I'm just saying that I don't get them. I am much better with the idea that God did it, and we don't know why, and we just have to trust that God is in control of all things (a la Psalm 139).

The second shift was the abrupt change in usage of one of the king's names. The author had been calling him Azariah, right up until 15:30, when he started calling him Uzziah. In 15:27, it was Azariah. In 15:30, Uzziah. Might that abrupt change signal a new author? Or perhaps it just signals a new source. I don't know. The two shifts I've mentioned do not occur at the same time, so I don't know if the inconsistency in style and name usage comes from multiple authors or multiple sources or what. I'm sure there are other explanations, but I just can't think of any this morning.

Today was also another one of those "contrast" days, where Judah enjoyed a good run of righteous kings (Azariah and Jotham), while Israel suffered through a particularly vicious and tumultuous cycle of evil ones (Zechariah-Shallum-Menahem-Pekahiah-Pekah-Hoshea). Most of Israel's kings came to power in bloody coups, so the lineage was again ripped from family to family. And speaking of ripping, we had another horrific reference to the ripping open of pregnant women. This time, the slaughter was perpetrated by Menahem, who did so to all the women of Tiphsah because the city would not open its gates to him (15:16). I don't really want to comment on that practice except to say that it is revolting beyond my imagination. In fact, the whole concept indeed laid pleasantly beyond my imagination for the first 25 years of my life, when I had the misfortune of reading about it in a book about the Bataan death march. In the account I read, a Japanese soldier did that to a Philippine woman who was feeding the prisoners during the march. My point is, as awful and terrible as such a practice is, it is not simply a brutal relic of ancient times. Things like that make me shudder to realize that I am living in a world where people are capable of such creatively awful atrocities.

Two more quick, random things:

--Assyria comes on the scene today in a big way. I thought it was weird that Menahem made a treaty with them in 15:19, but that the support of the Assyrians was then easily bought by Ahaz in 16:8-9. It would appear that the Assyrians have no loyalty to either kingdom, and that this relationship will end very badly for Israel, in particular.

--I have begun to ponder the idea of each dead king going to "rest with his fathers." Since this descriptor is used uniformly for both good and bad kings, its usage indicates one of two things. Either the author had a seriously misguided notion of what happens when we die (I'm not sure that the wicked, in particular, get to "rest with their fathers"), or it is simply a euphemism written in deference to the kings who are still alive. Either way, it does not seem like an accurate description of life after death.

Acts 19:13-41

The emerging identity of Christianity was further refined in today's passage. First of all, the seven sons of Sceva were prevented from continuing to act falsely in the name of Jesus and Paul. Ironically, their practice was stopped by a hilariously impertinent and ultimately violent demon, who questions, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" (15). The demon then promptly beat and humiliated them (16). Furthermore, this incident prompted many in Ephesus to publicly confess their sins and to burn the scrolls that they used for sorcery.

When people began to fully catch on that Christianity involves a renouncement of all other gods, the Christians began to have a problem in Ephesus. Specifically, a man named Demetrius correctly feared that Christianity has no respect for the gods whom he makes for a living. He subsequently got the city into quite an uproar that, to me, had many comical elements. Among them were:

--Paul's desire to speak before the crazy crowd, and his having to be restrained by the other disciples. I admire that enthusiasm:). I picture a Scrappy-Doo-type, "Let me at 'em" mentality that just makes me laugh. "No, no guys. Trust me, I got this. It'll be fine...just let me talk to them..."

--The idea that "most of the people [at the assembly] did not even know why they were there" (32). The immense confusion was humorous.

--That the crowd shouted, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" for two hours, simply in response to learning that a speaker was a Jew (34). Two hours!!

--The city clerk's speech. Actually the clerk's speech was quite good and sensible. It's just that his argument fully exposed the ridiculousness of the gathering: "You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess...If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls...As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today's events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it" (37-38, 40). Ahh... funny. Humans crack me up:).

Psalm 147: 1-20

A nice, harmless praise psalm.

Proverbs 18: 4-5

I don't quite get verse 4: "The words of a man's mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook." If I had to hazard a guess at what that meant, I would venture that while man's words can have depth and a measure of understanding, they are no match for the eternal and life-giving nature of ultimate wisdom, which comes from God alone.

Monday, June 28, 2010

June 28

OT: 2 Kings 13:1-14:29

Oh my heavens! Could the kings be any more confusing? Could they not think of different names?? Not only are they using names that are frustratingly similar, they are actually repeating names now. Aram gets another Ben-Hadad, and Israel gets another Jeroboam! I am thoroughly confused, and now, thanks to the fact that the kings of Israel and Judah are now related to each other, I fear that my mind will never untangle this mess. But for my own sanity, I am going to recap the lines so far:

Judah: Rehoboam-Abijah-Asa-Jehoshaphat-Jehoram-Ahaziah-Athalia-Joash-Amaziah-Azariah
Israel: Jeroboam-Nadab-Baasha-Elah-Zimri-Omri-Ahab-Ahaziah-Joram-Jehu-Jehoahaz-Jehoash-Jeroboam

Oh, good--I see that there are two Ahaziah's, too. Each kingdom had their own. Wonderful.

By this point, I can barely follow the action, which mainly centers around battles between Israel and Judah, and battles with Israel and Judah's respective enemies. God's mercy and victory are mentioned as explanations for various wins and losses. The kings are described as either bad or good, but none recently are particularly bad or particularly good; they just lean one way or the other. In short, it's all pretty hard to keep straight; by this point, it's just a blur of similar names and events.

I did have a "well, look who just caught up" moment when it finally clicked with me that the source of enmity between Samaria and Jerusalem probably had to do with the fact that for many years, they were both capitals of rival kingdoms, both of which claimed to serve the same God. Yeah, I think that would provide some tension. Why did it take me so long to grasp that simple fact?

NT: Acts 18:23-19:12

In today's passage, the events seemed to center around the nature of truth. Two stories show people on journeys from one level of truth to another level of truth. First of all, we read about Apollos, "a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures" (18:24). Apollos "had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John" (25). In other words, Apollos definitely knew truth. He knew Christ; he knew the Scriptures; he had passion for God. And yet, there were deeper levels of truth for him to reach. Particularly, he didn't understand about Christian baptism. This lack of awareness prompted Priscilla and Aquila to explain "the way of God more adequately" (26). As a result, Apollos was an even more effective and powerful force in the church.

In a completely different scenario, we read about some other disciples who, like Apollos, had only received John's baptism, and who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul soon educated them on that score, and they were promptly baptized and received the Spirit.

These stories reminded me that there are always deeper levels of truth to be reached. They reassured me that even though I may disagree with other Christians about doctrinal issues--and even though there most often is a "right" and a "wrong" side of those issues--those Christians and I are still part of the same family. Apollos and those disciples weren't heretics or enemies of the faith. They were just at a different point in their faith, and they continued to progress as God revealed the truth to them. We are all on journeys to understand "the way of God more adequately," and I am thankful both for the teachers who instruct us and the God who is gracious in the face of our ignorance.

These stories also emphasized to me the importance of baptism. Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul did not let the baptism issue go, even though Apollos and the disciples had good hearts. No--it was important enough to intervene and to preach about baptism. And not just any baptism: baptism to receive the Holy Spirit. As a member of the Church of Christ, these stories helped me to see yet again why we believe that baptism is so important.

Psalm 146:1-10

This psalm sounded David-esque to me, but apparently, it wasn't from David.

Call me morbid, but I always appreciate reminders of the brevity of life and of the pointlessness of life without God. For example, verse 4 speaks of "princes" and "mortal men," saying, "When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing" (4). I always appreciate reminders that spur me to live my life to the full by giving every moment completely to God. Thoughts about our inevitable demise helps me to do that.

Proverbs 18: 2-3

Hmmm...a fool "delights in airing his own opinions" (2). I have definitely realized that I think through discussion, and if discussion is not possible, through writing my thoughts (and shooting them out into cyberspace:)). I hope that these preferences are not the same thing as airing one's own opinions. I would hope that my "opinions" in these cases are simply thoughts in progress, and that "airing" them would lead me to understanding. I guess that all comes down to my heart and my level of humility while I write and think...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 27

OT: 2 Kings 10:32-12:21

Oh, FOR GOODNESS SAKE! Could the lineages be any more confusing? It's time to find a king chart.

Okay, that's better. Now, let's try to figure out today's reading.

First of all, the author of Kings graciously spares us the details of the carnage that Elisha predicted. Hazael overpowers Israel in today's reading, but we are spared any of the gory details of what his victory entailed.

Also in Israel, Jehu dies, and Jehoahaz succeeds in as king.

Over in Judah, Ahaziah dies, and his mother, Athaliah, goes a bit psycho. She basically kills her whole family, including many children, so that she could reign. And she did, for six years. Unfortunately for her, the one-year-old Joash was spared from the massacre which preceeded her reign, and he spent those six years hidden in the temple. When he was seven, the priest, Jehoiada, planned the child's coup. It was executed perfectly, and a child became king of Israel.

As kings go, Joash turned out to be a pretty good one. Not perfect (12:3), but good (12:2). He was plagued by some government inefficiency, however, as he could not get the priests to make the necessary repairs to the temple. Finally, he has them hire out the job. It's funny how you read about times past, and they seem so different from your own. And then, you get a little detail that shows that human nature is pretty much the same. So often, I see household projects being put off because "we are going to do it ourselves." Then, after it keeps being put off, finally the people decide to hire someone just to get it done. The priests in Joash's time were the same way.

NT: Acts 18:1-22

It's cool to see Paul go to the places to whom he later wrote letters. Today, he visits Corinth and Ephesus. I know from his letters that the Corinthians were crazy and plagued with immorality. Perhaps their struggles came partly from the fact that most of them were Gentiles. After all, in Corinth, Paul gets mad at the Jews and announces (again) that he is going to the Gentiles. From being involved in ministry, I can relate to Paul's attitude toward the Jews. On the one hand, he loves the Jews so much and wants so much for them. He talks at length about his love and desires for their salvation in Romans. On the other hand, because he cares about them so much, they frustrate the tar out of him. Twice now, he has "washed his hands" of them and turned to the Gentiles. Yet, it seems clear that though Paul does have a passion for the Gentiles, he never truly gives up on the Jews. He is simply too attached to them. And I think that, ironically, God used that love and resulting frustration to open the door for the Gentiles.

One of my favorite parts of this passage was God's reassurance to Paul in verses 9-10: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." It's that last phrase that I love: "I have many people in this city." That statement resonates with my view of the kingdom of God that has developed over the last year and a half. I see the kingdom of God as a global network of Christians in every city and country throughout the world. I see us Christians having a responsibility for the city that we are in. Our city is our territory, so to speak. As such, we have a responsibility to take care of those within our territory. And I like the image of God over this whole network, thinking of cities in terms of how many people He has there. When God said, "I have many people in this city," it was His way of assuring Paul that he was going to be taken care of. Where God has many people, He can be assured that they will protect and care well for those in their city. As a Christian, I feel more and more of a responsibility to those in my territory, both Christian and non-Christian alike.

Psalm 145: 1-21

This was an interesting praise psalm. Verses 9-17 make several statements about God being good to all people:

"The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made" (9).
"All you have made will praise you" (10).
"The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made" (13).
"The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down" (14).
"The eyes of all look to you, and you give them food at the proper time" (15).
"You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing" (16).
"The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made" (17).

Now, I can definitely see how all of those statements are true in an eternal, "big picture" sense, but at the same time, my mind is playing back many OT stories that, strictly speaking, seem to contradict those verses. Many, many people have suffered, starved, and died in ways that might cause them to take issue with such verses. You can kind of see David thinking the same thing, too, because in verse 18, he kind of course corrects:

"The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy" (18-20).

Unlike the other verses, these three contain more caveats. I thought that was interesting.

Proverbs 18:1

I'm pretty sure that my preacher used this verse in a sermon recently, and I thought, "Wow, that's a great verse." Then I promptly forgot what it said, and I was looking forward to rediscovering it when I got to it in my reading. Well, I'm here now, and this doesn't sound at all like I remembered:

"An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment."

Hmm...I just checked the verse in several different versions, and I can't remember for the life of me why I liked it so much. Perhaps it was part of a bigger point about the need for community. That would make it more appealing to me, I think. Yeah, maybe that was it. Maybe my preacher was talking about how we aren't supposed to do this Christian thing alone, and how it is ultimately selfish and stupid to say that you don't need the church.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 26

OT: 2 Kings 9:14-10:31

Good lands! The wrath of God sure is bloody!

Yep, Jehu's carnage is definitely the fulfillment of God's words to Ahab in response to the Naboth incident. Jehu makes that much explicitly clear, as does the author of 2 Kings. So let's see. Here is who died during God's punishment of Ahab:

--Joram, king of Israel, and Ahaziah, king of Judah (Jehu's nephew and brother, respectively. I think. I'm having a hard time keeping the family tree in my mind.)

--Jezebel, thrown from a window by a eunuch

--70 sons of Ahab, slaughtered by their guardians

--"everyone in Jezreel who remained of the house of Ahab, as well as all his chief men, his close friends, and his priests" (10:11)

--42 men who had unwittingly come to visit Joram and Jezebel (? or is it a different queen)

--everyone in Samaria from Ahab's family

--all the prophets of Baal in the land

Wow. That is...humbling. A bit frightening, even. When He chose Jehu, God definitely chose the right attack dog. Jehu seemed to be impetuous, reckless ("he drives like a madman," 9:20), and motivated by desires other than honoring the Lord. After all, he was quite handy at mass murder, and yet not so keen on actually keeping God's laws after it was all over. That shows me that he probably enjoyed killing for its own sake a little too much.

All in all, this was quite a "shock and awe-" inspiring passage. It makes me not look forward to Judgment day.

NT: Acts 17:1-34

Today, Paul tackles philosophy as he continues his journey! Here are his stops:

---Thessalonica: In the synagogue, Paul proves that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. His proof is apparently pretty convincing, as many are converted. Ultimately, however, he is driven out of town.

--Berea: Same deal as Thessalonica, only these guys were ravenous for God's word and "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (11). In other words, the Bereans are our heroes in the church of Christ.

--Athens! When I first read this passage as a teenager, it was like my school life and my church life imploded on each other. Athens? I knew Athens! I knew all the Greek gods. I knew their mythology. I had studied Greek philosophy. And now, here was Paul interacting with material from my social studies class! It was amazing to me, and quite eye-opening. For one thing, Paul is dismayed by the Greek gods. He calls them "idols" (16). And, um, they are. I always knew that, of course, but I was always taught Greek mythology as if it were something valuable. I mean, we had to learn it, so surely it was worthwhile, right? And it is, from a historical and even a literary viewpoint. But Paul was looking at it from a realistic viewpoint, and realistically, the Greek gods were a bunch of idols keeping people from the truth.

Similarly, I have always been taught to value and appreciate Greek philosophy. And I do very much like Greek philosophy. I have always admired the Greek interest in thought and learning. Luke, on the other hand, is kind of dismissive of the culture. The way he sums it up is this: "All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas" (21). Well. What losers.

Now, let me say that I am a HUGE fan of education. Truly, the importance of a thorough and wide-ranging education cannot be understated in my mind. It is one of my deepest passions. That said, I do see how highly educated people often scoff at what they don't understand, and they tend to value their own reasoning and logic more than the average person. Thus, their interest in learning can tragically keep them from God. And that's exactly what happens in today's passage. Paul gives a beautiful sermon--truly, one of my favorites. I love how he approaches the topic of the "unknown god," and verses 26-28 are some of my favorite of all of Scripture. In short, I think this sermon was great, and as I read it for the first time, I was eager to see the effect it had. Sadly, only "a few men became followers of Paul and believed" (34).

Psalm 144:1-15

In light of our OT reading, I thought verse 1 was interesting: "Praise to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle." Sigh. I truly don't get that God, and I truly do not understand how Jesus is that God. It is simply beyond me.

Proverbs 17:27-28

Today's proverbs are great, so I will simply quote them:

"A man of knowledge uses words with restraint,
and a man of understanding is even-tempered."

"Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,
and discerning if he holds his tongue."

Friday, June 25, 2010

June 25

OT: 2 Kings 8:1-9:13

Man, the Shunnammite woman has it good. As a result of her plea to Elisha, she has now paid off her late husband's death, had a son, had the son raised from the dead, avoided a famine, and gotten all of her land and property back, including the income it produced while she was gone (8:6)! I bet she is thankful for that relationship!

And does Gehazi still have leprosy?

Like I said earlier, Elisha is a pretty powerful prophet. Yet, even he can't alter the plans of God. Case in point: when Ben-Hadad's servant, Hazael comes to Elisha, Elisha has a moment of horror when he realizes that Hazael will become king and treat Israel cruelly. He reacts by staring at Hazael for a prolonged time (in shock, apparently), and then weeping at the carnage he has just witnessed in his mind's eye. And it is pretty graphic. I shudder to think of what is in store for Israel. Maybe this is what God was talking about when He foretold punishing Ahab's sons for his sins. It is so sad that bad leadership has such horrific consequences for the citizens. Yet, that is not only true in Bible times; it is also very true today.

Also today, Jehoram succeeded his father, Jehoshaphat, as king of Judah. Unfortunately, Jehoram had married a daughter of Ahab and so was led astray. Also, Jehoram's son, Ahaziah, succeeded Joram as king of Israel. Whoa--I'm starting to get confused, now that the lines are intermingling. So let me get this straight: Jehoram is king of Judah, and his son is king of Israel. That bodes well for the relationship between to two countries...except that Ahaziah only ruled a year. He was supplanted by his uncle (?), Jehu, who was currently the commander of the army of...either Israel or Judah. The story of his ascension to the kingship was quite bizarre. First, Elisha told a servant to go, anoint him king, and then run away. The servant did this, and then Jehu returned to his men, who were curious to what the "madman" prophet had to say. They all spoke dismissively of the prophet until Jehu told them the prophet's bizarre message, at which point they immediately blew the trumpet and shouted, "Jehu is king!" (9:13). Wow--their opinions sure turned around quickly!

NT: Acts 16: 16-40

Much like Elisha's casual miracle-working, Paul chooses to heal a girl of a spirit b/c the spirit is annoying him. Unfortunately, the girls' owners are not happy, and had Paul and company arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. Paul and his friends take these trials in stride, and even sing hymns while they are chained in prison. Can you imagine how uncomfortable they are, how much pain they are in? And yet they are still singing. That is just amazing to me. Then, in the middle of the night, an earthquake quite literally breaks them out of jail. Paul's jailer fares better than Peter's did earlier, b/c incredibly, all the prisoners stay put. After their singing and their willingness to remain in prison, the jailer is convinced of the truth of their cause, and he and his family are baptized.

The next day, Paul pulls the trump card of his citizenship. It is interesting to think that Paul could have played that card before he was beaten, and yet he is much less interested in his personal rights as a citizen than he is in the kingdom of God. That's pretty amazing .

Psalm 143: 1-12

Some favorite verses today:

"I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land" (6).

"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul" (8).

Proverbs 17:26

Today's proverb is pretty self-evident: "It is not good to punish an innocent man, or to flog officials for their integrity." Ya think? It makes you wonder about the corruption of kingdoms who need to learn things like this.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 24

OT: 2 Kings 8:1-9:13

Wow, Elisha sure enough got a double portion of Elijah's spirit. He apparently has power to spare for even menial tasks like de-poisoning a pot of stew, or salvaging a sunken axhead. I don't mean to touch a hot button for anyone, but he reminds me of a wizard.

Also today, the ever-cantankerous Arameans are back on the prowl. I wonder if Naaman is among their ranks. Probably so. Regardless, Elisha keeps informing the king (and who is this elusive king? Is it still Joram? The trash-talking Ben-Hadad of I Kings 20 is still king of Aram, so it either has to be Joram or Ahab. With the reappearance of Jehoshophat recently, I'm thinking that chronology isn't the author's top priority at this point. Sorry for the long interruption to this sentence!) of Aram's whereabouts, prompting Ben-Hadad to rage, "Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?" Upon learning that his continual betrayal is Elisha's doing, he sets out to eliminate the prophet, prompting a great moment in the OT. When Elisha's servant (the leprous Gehazi, or a new guy?) sees the army, he freaks out. Elisha comforts him and then asks God to open his eyes to see God's power. God does so, and the servant sees "the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (6:17). Wow. I wish I could see the unseen sometimes. I wish I could see God's power that surrounds His followers. Or would it freak me out to see all the darkness that also abounds? I don't know. I am definitely curious, though.

I also thought it was interesting that Elisha instructed the king of Israel to have mercy on the men he captured (after I stopped laughing at the comic picture of the prophet leading blind men straight into the enemy's capital). In the past, God got angry with Ahab for having mercy on an enemy king. (Come to think of it, it was old Ben-Hadad himself in I Kings 20.) This time, however, Elisha balks at the idea that the king would kill the prisoners, asking rhetorically, "Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword and bow?" Ummm....yeah? Isn't that what God would want? Regardless, I'm not complaining. I like the mercy route. And it worked, sort of. Aram stopped raiding Israel's least until Ben-Hadad decided to starve out Samaria.

Hey, maybe this was why God wanted to kill that guy. Maybe all of this didn't have to happen. Hmmmmm....

Whether or not that is true, the king of Israel didn't see it that way. According to him, "this disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?" (6:33). In his anger, he attempts to strike out at God's chief spokesperson (Elisha), who in turn foretells of God-sent deliverance the next day.

Whoa--I just got a flash. Maybe this siege and subsequent famine is the disaster is what God held off from the repentant Ahab and is now sending on his son (see I Kings 21:29). In that case, Joram is the king. And in that case, I'm beginning to understand all of this a little more.

NT: Acts 15:36-16:15

Today, Paul splits with Barnabas and continues his travels with Silas alongside him. Barnabas is really good at taking risks on people, as it turns out. He took a risk on the formerly murderous Paul, and today, he takes a risk on the formerly unreliable John Mark. I find it a little ironic that the formerly murderous Paul is not on board with that.

In the past, I have also found it absolutely baffling that Paul circumcised Timothy. Um, didn't he just fight against that in the last chapter? And didn't he rail against circumcision to the Galatians (sample comment from Gal. 5:2: "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.") Thus, in the past, Paul's circumcision of Timothy seemed bizarrely hypocritical to me. Today, though, I feel like I get it. Paul isn't circumcising Timothy as a requirement of the faith. He hates that, and that is what he rails against in Acts 15 and Galatians 5. Timothy could be a Christian whether or not he is circumcised. But if Timothy wants to reach people with weaker understanding (a la Romans 14), he is going to have to be circumcised. To Paul, such a sacrifice is worth it b/c we are to become "all things to all people" in order to save some. "To the Jews," says Paul, "I became like the Jews, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law" (I Cor. 9:20). Thinking of Timothy's circumcision in those terms keeps it in sync with Paul's character.

Lastly, we got to our first "we" passage today. From the context of the passage, I guess they picked up Luke in Troas?

Psalm 142: 1-7

Another lament and plea from David. As our highlighted verse indicates, one reassuring thing about reading these pleas is that we see that we can pour out our worries and troubles to an all-powerful and loving God.

Proverbs 17:24-25

Praise of discernment and criticism of foolish sons.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 23

OT: 2 Kings 4:18-5:27

Several of the miracles today seemed like forerunners of what was to come in the NT. First of all, Elisha's raising of the Shunnammite boy from the dead (4:18-37) seemed to be a direct forerunner of Paul healing Eutychus from the dead by laying on him in Acts 20. More generally, though, it is a forerunner of Jesus raising Jairus' daughter, the widow's son, and Lazarus from the dead. On a sidenote, I am loving Elisha's continued compassion for the Shunnammite woman. He truly is fulfilling the Law quite well with the love and compassion he has continually shown to this woman. And I also love how she has reciprocated by making him a room and all that. This really is a cool relationship.

I'm not sure how the cleansing of the stew is a forerunner for Jesus, but you know I could make something up (4:38-41). I could compare what Elisha did to the stew with what Jesus did for the Law, or even more pertinently, for our hearts. I will resist, though. The truth is, I don't see a big corollary.

I do, of course, see a corollary in the multiplication of the barley (4:42-44). In the OT miracle, Elisha gives his servant twenty loaves of barley bread to feed a hundred people. The servant balks at the possibility of the food being enough, and Elisha assures him that there will be leftovers. And that's exactly what happens. Now, that is pretty impressive, but it's not nearly impressive as feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children, with five loaves and two fishes.

Lastly, of course, Naaman's dipping in the Jordan river to be cleansed from leprosy foreshadows our dipping in the water to be cleansed from our sins. Beyond the foreshadowing, though, I find this story so interesting because of Naaman's reaction. First of all, that he even listened to his servant girl was pretty impressive--or desperate! After all, Aram and Israel were enemies. I guess I always knew that Naaman's people were Israel's adversaries, but actually reading through Kings shows me just how full of enmity the two were for each other. I have to admit, when I saw that Naaman was from Aram, I was like, Really? It was very surprising to me, with the way they've been fighting lately. So it is interesting that not only Naaman, but Naaman's king, agree to send Naaman to be healed. And of course, the king of Israel interprets the gesture pretty logically, thinking that the king of Aram is just trying to pick a fight with him. After all, remember how the king of Aram taunted him and picked at him in chapter 20? This honestly sounds like something Aram would do. They were the type to use the king's refusal to heal their man as a pretense for war.

Anyway, Naaman is sent to Elisha's house, and the following scene is so fascinating. Picture this famous warrior arriving "with his horses and chariots" at Elisha's door, and Elisha not even coming out to meet him. Naaman has come all this way. He has humbled himself by listening to a servant girl, and beseeching his enemies for help, and now he comes in person to this prophet's house, and the prophet does not even bother to come to the door. Instead, he sends a messenger telling him (essentially) to go jump into a river. Man. If I were Naaman, I would be peeved, too! Naaman's pride is hurt, and he starts thinking that this whole thing is ridiculous. In his own words, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" (11-12). In other words, "This guy didn't even bother to come out and greet me? Does he think he is too good to heal me personally? This is not what I was picturing at all. This is the dumbest thing I have ever done; I can't believe I took this chance. I am bitterly disappointed. What kind of game is he playing with me?"

Thankfully, his servants talk him into at least giving the instructions a try, and sure enough, they work. Of course, Naaman is thrilled and properly grateful and reverent. He goes on his way, and everything would have been hunky-dory, had Gehazi not sold his soul (and his health, as it turned out) to make a buck. It's amazing how humans can taint anything from God. Because of Gehazi's greed, what should have been a wonderful triumph ends up as a bittersweet cautionary tale.

NT: Acts 15:1-35

Wow, the council at Jerusalem gave us some fascinating insight into the early church. I gleaned so much from these events. For one thing, it gave a window into a serious doctrinal disagreement among the brethren. Some men were preaching that Gentiles had to be circumcised, and others (most notably Paul and Barnabas) were vehemently opposed to such teaching. As a result, the church leadership got together and had a council. First, Peter gave a little speech, and I loved what he had to say. I thought his strongest point came in verses 9-10, when he said, "He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?" As Greg would say, "That'll preach." (Apparently, "that'll preach," is Appalachian for, "Wow, what a powerful point. That would make a good sermon.") After Peter spoke, Paul and Barnabas gave their testimony, and you could have heard a pin drop in that place (12). Next, James (son of Alphaeus, I assume. The other is dead) brought it all together by quoting some scripture and proposing a solution. And the solution was this:

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals, and from blood" (19-20).

I find this response (and its implementation) noteworthy for the following reasons: 1) It showed gentleness and compassion to the Gentile converts, 2) It demonstrated a hierarchy of church leadership that the churches of Christ do not emulate, 3) The decision represented an honest yet incomplete understanding of the gospel, and 4) Paul disagreed with it.

Perhaps point 3 sounds really presumptuous of me to say, and maybe it is. After all, I am totally aware that I have no authority to pass judgment on the decisions of the early church leaders. In fact, I get point 3 almost entirely from point 4, which is that Paul disagreed. In Romans 14, Paul elaborates at length on how it is not wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols. However, in that chapter, he made it clear that our chief obligation is to do what is good for the church as a whole, which is undoubtedly why Paul went along with the decision in this chapter. Now, Paul can be pretty outspoken and disputatious (just ask Peter), so his humility in accepting and following church teaching with which he disagreed is pretty remarkable. I think it is definitely a good example for us today.

Psalm 141:1-10

To me, the high point of this plea of David is definitely found in today's highlighted verses: "Set a guard over my mouth,O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds, with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies" (3-4). That is beautiful.

Proverbs 17:23

More about the wickedness of bribes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 22

OT: 2 Kings 3:1-4:17

First of all, whoa: Jehoshophat is back.

Secondly, whoa: I had erased both these stories from my memory! How is that possible? They were both so interesting!

Elisha put two miracles into motion today, and both of them occurred in direct proportion to the people's faith. In the first miracle, Elijah tells the kings (Joram, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom) to dig the valley full of ditches, and God will magically fill them up. He didn't say how many ditches to dig; he just said to dig. I could see skeptics not being too thrilled by this ditch-digging scheme, and only wanting to dig a few. The end result was that their willingness to act on faith and dig the ditches directly affected the amount of miracle they received. If they only dug a few ditches, only a few would fill up with water. If they dug a lot, then a lot would fill up with water.

None of that would have occurred to me, though, had I not read the miracle that came directly after it. In this one, a widow comes to Elisha in distress because her dead husband's creditor is threatening to take her two sons as slaves because of the family debt. Much like Jesus with the loaves and the fishes, Elisha then takes what she already has and multiplies it according to her faith. He tells her to gather many clay pots, and then he tells her to start pouring the oil in the pots. What is most noteworthy about this miracle (and what started my thinking about faith) is that Elisha doesn't tell her that when the pots are all filled, the oil will stop. There is no going out and getting some more pots. She has to gather them all beforehand, in proportion to her faith. If she gathered only ten pots, she'd only get ten pots of oil. If she gathered 100 pots, then she'd get 100 pots of oil. I'm sure we all get that principle, but I couldn't help but wonder how that applies to faith universally. I know there is a lot of talk in the NT about receiving things "according to one's faith," but I can't remember anything specific right now. I will have to ponder this further.

NT: Acts 14:8-28

Greg is always amused by the crowd in this story. First of all, it's funny how they think Paul and Barnabas are Zeus and Hermes, especially because Barnabas hardly seems like a Zeus to me. If anything, Paul is the head honcho here. Paul and Barnabas are not amused, however, and they give a beautiful, eloquent response about the true God and his power. But "even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them" (18). That is just hilarious to me. Such great mental pictures. And then in the very next verse, some Jews turn the crowd completely against them, and they end up stoning Paul and leaving him for dead. Now, I know that that is not funny (and really, none of it is, I guess), but there is something comical in the sheer suddenness of the reversal. What a crazy time Paul and Barnabas had. And how did Barnabas escape stoning? Poor Paul--he always gets beaten. He is like the John Lewis of the early Christian movement (kudos to anyone who got that reference:)).

I do love Paul and Barnabas' words in verses 15-17. I especially loved their explanation of God's presence in the lives of Gentiles up to this point: "Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kingdness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy" (17). I love all of that, but especially the idea that it is God who gives all of us our joy.

Psalm 140: 1-13

Another one from David. Here, he is beseeching God to protect him from his enemies. (And while he is at it, he would really appreciate it if God would just go ahead and destroy all his enemies. That would be ideal, according to David.)

Proverbs 17:22

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." It truly is amazing what a good attitude will do for you. Just tonight, I was in a sour frame of mind, but when I decided to suck it up and be happy, things got so much better. The problem wasn't with my circumstances, but with me. Choosing a cheerful heart truly was good medicine.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 20

OT: I Kings 22:1-53

Sigh. Another day, another story I don't understand. In today's OT offering, Jehoshophat and Ahab team up for an ill-fated mission against the king of Aram. Let's run through my list of questions, shall we?

1. Why is Jehoshaphat teaming up with such an evil king in the first place?
2. Where is Elijah? Who is this Micaiah fellow?
3. Why does God employ evil spirits? He sent one evil spirit to Saul, and now, according to Micaiah, He has sent a lying spirit to Ahab.
4. Why did He then tell Ahab that He sent a lying spirit to him?
5. After Micaiah's vehement prophecy against it, why did Jehoshophat still agree to go to war?

Okay, now it is time to engage with the text and try to think through all of these questions.

1. Just because you are righteous doesn't mean that you don't sometimes work with unrighteous people. Even Paul told the Christians that they would have to associate with immoral people in the world. The only way to not associate with immoral people, according to Paul, is to leave this world (I Cor. 5:9-10).

2. Who knows where Elijah is? He and Ahab aren't exactly tight. And earlier chapters have made clear that there are many prophets. Apparently, Micaiah is just one of them who is particularly outspoken.

3. One thing Scripture is clear on is that God is able to work all things for the good (Rom. 8:28). It is also clear that God uses negative things, such as suffering, to accomplish His will. Does God like suffering? I don't think that He does. Does He employ it? Yes. Does God like evil? No. Does God employ existing evil (spirits and such) to work for His good? Apparently, yes. After all, God is in control of all things, so that would necessarily include demonic forces. Do I really get all this? No. Does it, however, give me further insight into the ever-fascinating interplay of God's intervention and free will? Yes.

4. I guess by that point, God knew it wouldn't matter. And He was right.

5. No idea.

But hey, at least God used all of these events to fulfill His words about Ahab's death. After my concerns about His follow-through yesterday, it was nice to see some of the pieces come together.

Lastly, I definitely remember more stories about Jehoshophat, but apparently, I Kings is done with him. I think Chronicles has more to say.

NT: Acts 13: 16-41

Woo-hoo! As part of my ongoing interest in the development of the gospel message, I eagerly read Paul's speech, hoping to find a moment where Jesus's death was directly linked to the forgiveness of sins. And I found it! Granted, it was hard to miss b/c it was in bold print, but here it is: "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses" (38-39). Now, granted, these words are just an intermediate step between Peter's version so far, and the fully-articulated idea of atonement through death that we find in the epistles. Peter, after all, has already made clear that when we repent, we are forgiven of our sins. Paul, however, specifically articulates that our forgiveness, our justification, comes through Jesus. That is one step away from the explanation that Jesus' very death was the sacrifice that justified us before God.

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that the gospel message changed, necessarily. I'm just saying that so far in Acts, certain central parts of it have not been conveyed by the speeches we have from Peter. And since his sermons were given at very key moments in church history (Pentecost, Cornelius' house), I would have to assume that they are fully representative of how Peter understood the gospel at the time. And I just think that it is curious that none of his speeches mention that Jesus' death was an atoning sacrifice. That makes me think that while the gospel message has always been the same, the early Christians' understanding of it was an evolving phenomenon. Right now, they are still in process of fully understanding the significance of what happened. And from a historical viewpoint, that is fascinating to me.

Psalm 138: 1-8

Another praise psalm. My two favorite verses are 6 and 7a: "Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life." I have always loved the idea that God cares for the lowly and that He is close to the broken-hearted and all that. What I found particularly fascinating about this passage was the idea that he knows the proud from a distance. I think one reason that is true is that pride drives a wedge between us and God. Ultimately, pride is idolatry; it is the worship of one's self. When we are proud, there is simply no room for God in our lives. Thus, He is distant form us. As for the first part of verse 7, I love reminders that God is with us, even the midst of trouble.

Proverbs 17:17-18

Verse 17 is famous, and rightfully so. It says, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Beautiful.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

June 21

OT: 2 Kings 1:1-2:25

So it seems like the prophets are being awfully cavalier with human life, doesn't it? In today's reading, Elijah calls down fire from God to consume fifty of the king's men...twice! You know that phrase, "Don't shoot the messenger?" Well, it seems that Elijah is doing just that. Only he is shooting a hundred of them. Thankfully, the third captain had learned enough to spare the lives of his men. Then later, Elisha calls a curse on "some youths" who were antagonizing him, and then bears came out and mauled 42 of them! (Full disclosure: my brother and I found this story hilarious growing up. I know that that has something to do with us being bad people, but it is just so comical-sounding.) The bottom line, though, is that I would kind of like the prophets to chill with the mass killings, especially when they are doing it simply to prove a point. It does make me wonder about the power of God's Spirit. I wonder if, even though the prophets are clearly empowered by God, they have some leeway on how to use that power. I've also wondered that while reading Acts. I don't get the impression, for example, that God is whispering in Peter's ear, saying, "Hey, heal that guy." It seems more like Peter sees the lame man, decides he should walk, and just goes for it. He knows he has God's power, and so he has faith that what he says will happen. Same with Paul and Bar-Jesus. I don't know that Paul was directly told by God to blind Bar-Jesus. I kind of think he might have decided on his own, "Hey, this guy is a snare, and I think it would go a long way with Sergius Paulus if I temporarily blinded him." And so he speaks and then has faith that God will come through.

If that is the case (and I have no idea whether it is), I wonder if killing the hundred men and 42 youths were more of Elijah's and Elisha's calls, respectively. I'm not just theorizing this to try and justify their deaths, or to distance God from their execution. God has already killed enough people for reasons I can't explain, for me to get hung up on 142 more. Rather, I am interested in possible applications to us today. When you think of free will v. God's will, I think it is interesting to mull the possible leeway we as Christians have with the power that God has given us. I know that a lot of people think of their lives as a path, with one direction, and one right choice at each intersection. I have typed before about how I don't really buy that, and I tend to believe that there generally are multiple ways for us to glorify God at a given time. If we are like the OT prophets and NT Christians, then perhaps we, too, have freedom in how to use the power that God gives us.

And hopefully we won't use that power to kill scores of people.

One last thing about Kings. You may have noticed the repeated references to "the book of the annals of the kings" of Israel and Judah. These books are mentioned whenever a king dies, and it clearly seems like these books are much more comprehensive histories of the reigns of the kings. So here is my question: If there are already exhaustive histories in place, why write these scatter-shot ones? Why feel the need to give your own review of what are clearly hand-picked (and yet often inexplicably chosen) incidents? In short, why write I-II Kings? What was the author trying to tell us? Why did he choose the stories that he did? Perhaps on one level, I-II Kings represents an attempt to tell the stories of both kindoms together, to interweave them. Perhaps he also chose the stories that clearly had divine intervention. Perhaps he was writing God's history more than he was writing the history of the kings. After all, God features prominently in almost every story. A few days ago, Greg and I were talking about how history is written by the winners. And it occurred to me that God was the "winner" in the Bible. And for Him to be the winner, often the Israelites had to be the "losers." The Bible is, of course, clearly written from that perspective. So perhaps I-II Kings was an attempt to take the histories from the books of the annals of the kings, and to write them in a way that God was the central figure. Which is, of course, why I-II Kings is in the Bible and the annals are not (thank the Lord). Since the Bible as a whole is the history of God's relationship with man, it would make sense that I-II Kings fits in nicely with that purpose.

Good lands, that was a lot of typing...and I never even recapped what happened today! Oh, but I must note for future reference that it appears that the kings of Israel have moved their headquarters to Samaria. That will probably be important.

NT: Acts 13:42-14:7

I will recap the NT, though: in today's reading, Paul and Barnabas follow the pattern of preaching and fleeing. They go into a town (Pisidian Antioch, Iconium) and preach, with great success. Their success then arouses envy among the religious leadership, who incites violence against them. Paul and Barnabas then flee to another town, and repeat.

Also, today, Paul got fed up with the Jewish opposition and announced he was taking his message to the Gentiles. This announcement, of course, has huge implications for the future of the church.

My favorite verse, however, came before that announcement. It was verse 13:43, which said, "When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God." I love that last phrase. I love the idea that these earnest souls, though they weren't yet Christians, were walking in the grace of God. And Paul and Barnabas weren't trying to get them to turn around, but to continue in that same direction. Because, see, they were already walking toward God. They were already seeking Him. And when people seek Him with all their heart, they find Him.

Psalm 139: 1-24

Man, I don't think I've ever fully appreciated how awesome this psalm is, and I mean that word literally. There is soooo much here, so many themes that are near and dear to my heart. For example, David uses this psalm to explore God's omniscience and how He already knows everything that we are going to do. Like me, David finds the image of an all-knowing God to be comforting rather than frightening. He doesn't feel that it is a limitation of free will just because "you hem me in--behind and before" (5). On the contrary, he seems to see that more as protection. I truly do love every verse of this psalm, and I would love to explore it at length, but this blog is already running way long. I will simply close my thoughts on this psalm by quoting verse 6, which articulates what I am coming to understand so much more fully these days: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain."

Proverbs 17:19-21

My favorite verse of this trio is verse 19: "He who loves a quarrel loves sin; he who builds a high gate invites destruction." I think proverbs that don't sting are always more appealing, and since I genuinely hate quarrels, I feel safely on the "good side" of this one:). The ones about pride or impatience are much more unpleasant.

June 19

OT: I Kings 20:1-21:29

So...turns out, I don't really understand God at all. At least, I feel that way right now. Often, as I type, I begin to work things out in my head.

But first of awesome was the smack-talk session b/t Ben-Hadad and Ahab?? I thoroughly enjoyed that, and by the end, I was definitely wanting Ahab to kick some butt. My favorite were the last three exchanges:

Ben-Hadad: "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if enough dust remains in Samaria to give each of my men a handful."

Ahab: "Tell him: 'One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.'" (Boo-yah!)

Ben-Hadad: "Prepare to attack."

I was feeling conflicted for rooting so whole-heartedly for Ahab, but it turns out that God rooted for him, too! That was the first point that confused me, b/c it has been pretty clear that God thinks Ahab is a big why is He helping this guy?? Upon a bit more reflection, though, I guess God has to pick one or the other. And as bad as he is, Ahab does seem like the lesser of two evils.

After reading this, I can now be sure that God understands what I feel like when I vote.

So God gives the Israelites the victory twice. And then Ahab is merciful to Ben-Hadad. See, I would have thought that that was a good thing. Though of course, mercy to Israel's enemies has never been God's style. David definitely seemed to understand this, as he killed a great many of Israel's enemies. And perhaps God viewed Ahab's mercy to Ben-Hadad as selling out. Maybe by associating so closely with someone so immoral (e.g. calling him "brother" in verse 32) was a sign of Ahab's own immorality. I don't know. I just thought that God's reaction was weird.

I also thought it was weird how God chose to convey His reaction. For instance, why kill the guy who refused the prophet's inexplicable request to wound him?? Can we be a little less careless with life, please? And why did the prophet pull that whole charade? His tactic struck me as a much less effective "Nathan," though Ahab got the point. I'm not sure, however, that I got the point. According to the prophet, "This is what the Lord says, 'You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, you people for his people'" (20:42). Okay, so...shouldn't Ahab die now and the people be punished? When is that going to happen?
Ahab lives long enough to take Naboth's vineyard, prompting God to tell him again that He was going to kill him. This time, Ahab mourns, and because of his mourning, God decides to spare him and to pass the punishment to his son.

And about 0% of all that makes sense to me.

Acts 12:24-13:15

Ooh, today we got to read about the only person besides Abigail that the Bible describes as "intelligent."

But before that, we get a cool picture of the church at Antioch, which is apparently quite multicultural. For one, this is the church that reached out to Greeks as well as Jews. For another, I get the feeling that both Simeon and Lucius were African. Simeon's nickname was literally, "Black," and Cyrene was located in Libya (of course, Google just told me that it was a Greek colony, so that might not mean that Lucius was of African descent). Regardless, I am digging the diversity here.

Even more, I love how active the Holy Spirit is, how He guides the church specifically and sends them on missions. There was apparently a lot of worshipping, fasting, and praying going on, so that might be one reason that they are so in tune with God.

The intelligent man is Sergius Paulus, a proconsul who is very interested in the faith. When his attendant tried to dissuade him, Paul struck him temporarily blind. Needless to say, Sergius Paulus found this display of power quite convincing.

Next, Barnabas and Saul went to Pisidian Antioch. They visited the synagogue and the men asked them to speak. Somehow, I feel like this story is going to end in trouble for them.

Psalm 137: 1-9

In his book Mere Discipleship, Lee Camp talked about this psalm in a way that made sense to me, and I really wish I could remember exactly what he said, b/c it would be helpful. I know he discussed verse three, where the Babylonians force the Isralites to sing songs of Zion. The best I can remember is that Camp elaborated at length on the sorrow and heartache of the Israelites, which explained the emotionalism of that last verse about dashing infants against the rocks. What I clearly remember was Camp's position that that was not a godly response and that it was not meant to be understood as one.

Proverbs 17:6

"Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom?" I liked that verse. It was amusing, and yet it also made a good point.

Friday, June 18, 2010

June 18

OT: I Kings 19: 1-21

I loved this story. Though it is familiar, it is always so refreshing and relatable. Elijah had been on a high from his great victory at Mt. Carmel. He was so triumphant and excited about the sacrifice and the rain coming, and we last saw him running victoriously back to Jezreel ahead of Ahab's chariot.

In today's reading, we find that his jubilation was very short lived, as he was greeted by Jezebel with a very strongly-worded death threat. This sudden reversal proves too much for Elijah, and he runs away in despair. Oddly, I can relate to the tenor of his words to God in verse 4: "I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." And then he lays down and goes to sleep. Though I can't remember any specific times that I've wanted to die, I have definitely been at the end of my rope. There have been many times where I want to say, "And...cut!!" to stop my life from going in a particular direction. And it is always disappointing when the real Director chooses to keep the cameras rolling instead of alleviating my disappointment and sorrow. What's cool, though, is that, even though he didn't let Elijah check out of a disappointing life, He did give him the strength to keep going. He did that quite literally, by twice waking him up to eat the food that God had provided. And then God strengthened Elijah's soul by revealing Himself to him.

And I love how God revealed Himself to Elijah. I tend to want and to expect God to reveal Himself in big ways. Having been raised on Bible stories like the parting of the Red Sea, the miraculously-won Israelite battles, and even the showdown on Mt. Carmel, I forget how relatively rare such miracles are in the grand scope of Israel's history. It is much more common for God to reveal Himself in a gentle whisper than in mighty winds, earthquakes, and fires. And I have heard that gentle whisper in the times I have needed it most.

I also love the practical side to God's revelation to Elijah. He comforted him with the gentle whisper, and then he gave him two other wonderful gifts: guidance and support. He guided Elijah by telling him what to do next. Even though He didn't give the whole game plan (He never does), He did reveal the next step. And knowing the next step is a very comforting feeling. It gives you purpose and confidence. It gives you a direction to take. Secondly, God realized that Elijah needed a friend. Thus, he sent him to anoint Elisha as his successor. I'm sure that that provision brought double comfort to Elijah: it gave him a supporter, and it gave him a vision of the end of his tenure as prophet. For someone as world-weary as Elijah was, it must have been a comfort to know that he had a successor ready to take over.

I did have a couple questions about the whole interchange. Why did Elijah get to anoint the king of another country (15)? Why would the country of Aram allow Israel's prophet, the prophet of a God they don't worship, to anoint their king? And secondly, what was up with the talk of killing? I don't understand why Hazael would kill so many people, and why Jehu would then kill the people he missed, and especially why Elisha would then kill the people he missed. Yet, even typing it, I begin to understand. I think God is saying that He is appointing Hazael to be His instrument of punishment to Israel (though I don't know why, b/c didn't Israel turn back to God on Mt. Carmel?). And Jehu will probably be bad, so in his subsequent persecution of his own people, God will continue His punishment? And after that, God will have Elisha finish the job? That's my read on it right now.

Anyway, moving on. I also liked Elisha. I don't know how he already knew Elijah, but it seems that he did. I thought it was interesting that he asked Elijah to let him go back and kiss his parents goodbye. It reminded me of Jesus' negative response to the guy who wanted to go back and bury his father, and it also reminded my of Jesus' statement that, "anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for service in the kingdom" (paraphrase). So anyway, I kind of expected Elijah to get mad at that request, but instead, he was cool with it. I will say that Elisha then did a pretty good job of expressing how hard core he was by killing his oxen and sacrificing them on his burning plowing equipment. That was a pretty intense gesture (though I still don't understand how it didn't break the Law. Remember, you can only sacrifice in the places appointed by God).

NT: Acts 12:1-23

In the early verses of today's reading, the apostle, James, is killed by Herod. That must have been quite a blow to the church. I'm pretty sure that he was the first martyr of the Twelve. I'm sure that everyone was pretty shaken by it. That must have made it all the more disturbing when Herod seized Peter next. I've heard lessons on how little faith the early church had that they were surprised that God answered their prayer. Whenever I hear that, I have to think, "Well, didn't they pray for James, too? And look what happened to him!" I've got to give the early church a break on this one.

It's funny how God often takes similar situations and works in completely different ways. It's the same today. One child with cancer lives. Another with the same cancer dies. People prayed for both children, and there were different outcomes. In one troubled marriage, the spouse stays. In one, he leaves. People prayed for both marriages, but different things happened. Regardless of the outcome, however, God is still God, and He is still good. He was a good God when James died, and He was a good God when He saved Peter. The early church understood that, which is how they maintained their faith, even in the face of harsh persecution.

Another example of God working differently than you would think is in His killing of Herod. According to verse 23, Herod was struck down by an angel of the Lord because he did not give praise to God when people were calling him a god. Um, did God want such a man to publicly link himself to Him? And if God was going to kill Herod, why not kill him for murdering James? That was all kind of weird to me.

Psalm 136:1-26

A corporate praise psalm. I think I've actually done this one in church before, with the leader reading the main lines, and the church saying, "His love endures forever."

Proverbs 17:4-5

I like verse 4: "Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out." I think that is an interesting proverb. We definitely need to be able to "drop" things more quickly than we often do...but there really are times when issues need to be addressed. Still, though, I think that you can address things without letting it lead to a quarrel.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

June 17

OT: I Kings 18:1-46

Coincidentaly, my preacher played a recording of this entire chapter before his sermon on Sunday, in preparation for our Elijah-themed VBS. Again, I am just so surprised that these iconic stories are truly our first introduction to this prophet. And like most of the famous stories, I find that I don't have much to say about this one. I guess that after hearing it so much, the applications are obvious, and I feel like there is nothing to say that hasn't been said a thousand times before. So instead, I'll focus on some peripheral details.

I'm kind of curious as to how one becomes a prophet. I generally think of there only being a couple of prophets in the land, but as it turns out, there are tons of them. Even in the midst of Jezebel's purge of God's prophets, there are still one hundred whom Obadiah hides in caves. That's a lot! Why does God have so many? Why are some more famous than others? Does He tell a bunch of them the same things? Are they simply more spiritually aware people, or did God choose them outright? What is their role? Are they like modern day preachers who go around calling people to repentance? I am quite interested in this prophet subculture.

I also thought that Obadiah was a little weird in his distrust of Elijah. For a prophet, he sure seems uncertain of God. He is afraid that he will go tell Ahab about Elijah and then capricious God will just carry him off somewhere. And I can't really blame him for being wary of a God he doesn't understand. But still...he's a prophet. least, I assumed he was a prophet. But now, I'm reading more closely, and I see that he is actually the official in charge of Ahab's palace (3). Wow. How crazy that Ahab would unknowingly have a "devout believer" in charge of his whole palace!

As for the Mt. Carmel showdown, I am always drawn to the dialogue. I love all of Elijah's words, from his opening ultimatum, to his humorous taunting of the prophets of Baal.

I also think that the part at the end about the rain is interesting. It's cool that Elijah said, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of heavy rain," completely on faith (41). At the time, there was no such sound of rain. In fact, Elijah then had to pray quite hard and send a messenger to check for rain seven times before it actually came. One thing my preacher pointed out was that Elijah's "head between the knees" position was actually an Israelite birthing position. I don't know exactly what to make of that (my preacher suggested that he was symbolically "birthing" the rain through his faith), but at the very least, it shows some hard-core praying!

NT: Acts 11:1-30

I'm not a huge fan of opposition, so I was a little annoyed that the church wasn't immediately on board with God's plan for the Gentiles. Thankfully, Peter did a good job explaining the situation to them, and then they were good to go. I also like that apparently, some of the scattered church had begun to teach Gentiles (Greeks) on their own (20). At least, that is the impression that I got from verses 19-20. I'm having a bit of a hard time with the timeline. Let's see: Cornelius is converted. The brothers throughout Judea hear about it (1). Peter goes back to Jerusalem and has to explain himself (2-18). Some of the scattered church preaches only to Jews, but some in Antioch preach to Gentiles, and the Gentiles respond well. News reaches back to Jerusalem, and they send Barnabas (who seems like such a great guy). So either, the scattered church has not yet heard, and those teaching Gentiles are just very insightful and progressive, or they have heard, and those not teaching Gentiles are stubbornly behind-the-times. Have I confused everyone yet with my ramblings? It is this kind of silly detail that interests me. I just really want to monitor closely how the early church develops.

One result of the work in Antioch is that it gave us our name: "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch" (26).

Lastly, I was reminded of the beauty of cell phones when Barnabas had to go to Tarsus, look for Saul, and bring him back to Antioch (25-6). You really had to track people down to get in touch with them, didn't you? I'm kind of shocked that the scattered church was able to keep any semblance of communication.

Psalm 135:1-21

More exhortations for priests, coupled by a review of the wonderful things God has done.

Proverbs 17: 12-13

I love the imagery in verse 12: "Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly." That is a vivid picture!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June 16

OT: I Kings 15:25-17:24

Whew! Today, we went through a slew of kings in Israel: Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab. Here were my observations on the kings:

--Due to the wickedness of the kings, there is no royal line established for any length of time. Jeroboam's lineage lasted only through his son, Nadab. Baasha was unrelated, and killed off Jeroboam's family. Then Baasha's son, Elah, became king, only to be murdered two years later by the unrelated Zimri. Zimri's reign only lasted seven days, when he was attacked by Omri and thus burnt down the palace around himself. That was quite dramatic. Omri proved to be the worst king of all, surpassed only by his son, Ahab. So far, no royal line in Israel has lasted past two generations.

--I thought it was cool to read how Asa's reign continued through all of these falling dominoes of Israelite kings. Each time a new king of Israel is introduced, the text dates the reign by noting in which year of Asa's reign it happened. Thus, this passage definitely paints a dramatic picture of the righteous standing firm while the wicked topple.

--I also noted that Samaria was founded in today's passage. It was built by Omri on a hill he bought. I hope we get some more of this city's fascinating history as the Old Testament unfolds. At one point, for example, did the Samaritans become outcasts? I hope the Bible tells us!

--Of all the stories in today's reading, I was most familiar with Elijah's. Indeed, the strongest images I have of Elijah are of him being fed by ravens in the Kerith Ravine and then living with the widow of Zarephath and her son. What I found odd about reading the story is what little introduction we actually get to Elijah before these stories. In my foggy mental history of Elijah, I pictured these stories somewhere in the middle of his tenure as a prophet. But no, we just hear that he is "Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishba in Gilead," and that he tells Ahab that there will be no rain. How old is Elijah? How long has he been a prophet? How does he know Ahab? How long has he been prophesying to Ahab? I really feel like I need more background!

NT: Acts 10: 23B-48

I liked Peter's response to Cornelius' bowing: "Stand up, I am only a man myself" (26). On the one hand, I could see Peter delivering that line brusquely. I'm still not sure how sold he is emotionally on entering a Gentile's house, and perhaps he found Cornelius' gesture awkward and offensive. At the same time, I love the idea of being sure to give all glory to God and to avoid any semblance of others worshiping you. As John the Baptist said, "He must become greater; I must become less." Like John and Peter, we Christians are always supposed to point away from ourselves and toward God.

I also liked Peter's words in our highlighted verses for the day: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right" (34-35). I found myself drawn to the phrase, "I now realize how true it is..." There are so many things that I "know" in my head, but it is not until something happens that I really know them, if that makes sense. Like, I have always "known" that God is faithful. But then when He specifically provides for me in profound ways, I know it. I've always "known" that God intervenes in the lives of men, but it was not until He intervened in my own life in powerful ways that I really knew it. I think that Peter has always "known" in his head that God does not show favoritism, but it was not until this powerful experience that he truly knew it.

Also, I am now reading with interest the renditions of the gospel given by the early evangelists. I want to see specifically when Christ's atoning sacrifice begins being relayed. Today, the core message of the gospel is that "Jesus Christ died for our sins." And yet, we haven't heard that so far. Even today, when Peter relays the gospel to the Gentiles he only mentions the following: 1) Jesus was a powerful and Spirit-filled man anointed by God, who did good and healed people, 2) He died on a cross, 3) He was rose from the dead, and 4) He commanded his followers to preach that "he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead" (32). Verse 43 says, "All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name," but that verse still does not say that our forgiveness comes from his death or the sacrifice that He made. It just says that forgiveness comes through Jesus' name. And I guess that that is not a new idea. Jesus did explicitly forgive sins when he was alive, and Peter has preached that repenting and being baptized in Jesus' name will bring forgiveness of sins. But he has still not said that it was Jesus' death that did that. I find that omission so interesting, and I really hope that we see the shift when it happens. I am guessing that it comes with Paul, b/c I remember most of that theology in Paul's letters.

Lastly, as a member of a church that believes in the importance of baptism and that teaches that Christians receive the Holy Spirit when we are baptized, I have heard the case of this Gentile audience cited as an example of people who received the Spirit without being baptized. Now, I don't claim to have all the answers regarding God's Spirit and baptism, but it does seem clear to me that this is a special case, a landmark event. The Spirit's presence among these Gentiles made it clear that they should be baptized, which then opened the door for other Gentiles to become Christians without first converting to Judaism.

Psalm 134:1-3

A short and sweet poem, exhorting the priests to praise.

Proverbs 17: 9-11

I love, love, love verse 17: "He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." If that is not a powerful indictment of gossip, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June 15

OT: I Kings 14:1-15:24

Okay, far in Israel, we have Jeroboam-Nadab.

In Judah, we have Rehoboam-Abijah-Asa-Jehoshaphat.

To complicate matters, Jeroboam also had a son named Abijah, whose illness and death is the subject of our first story today. To me, the most interesting part of this story was the prophet, Ahijah's, words regarding Abijah (and could all their names sound the same, please?): "When you set foot in your city, the boy will die. All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good" (12b-13). Oddly, the prophet describes Abijah's death as a kind of reward for his relative goodness. While that idea is bizarre to a worldly perspective, it makes much more sense from a Biblical perspective. The Bible ultimately teaches that death is not the enemy, an idea that is so profound to our life-loving selves that even the great majority of OT'ers totally did not get it. By the NT, Christians are beginning to catch on, which is why they face death so fearlessly, and why Paul can say, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). From the Biblical perspective of death, the idea that God would give the one good son a proper death and burial makes more sense. Though death is often used by God as punishment (and this one, too, did have an element of punishment), there is definitely a deeper layer to the meaning of death. That is why I am ultimately okay with the seemingly arbitrary deaths of Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah. I realize that death is only a beginning and that it does not equal eternal punishment.

Like Jeroboam, Rehoboam was a loser, and in the fifth year of his reign, he even lost much of the treasures of the temple and royal palace (14:25-26). In a move that had unfortunate symbolic undertones, Rehoboam was forced to replace his father's gold shields with bronze ones. Like those shields, his kingdom, of course, had also seriously degraded even from the reign of imperfect Solomon.

Luckily, he was replaced by Asa who was a good guy.

Lastly, whenever I read the references to "the annals of the kings" (14:19, 29, 15:7, 23), I am reminded of my mom's reaction the first time we read through the Bible. She said, "Aren't you glad we don't have to read those books, too?" That's still funny to me:).

NT: Acts 10: 1-23A

First of all, how weird is it that they split a verse today?

Today we meet Cornelius, the Jackie Robinson of the early church. Cornelius was the first Gentile member to be allowed into the church, which is absolutely huge, considering that the vast majority of Christians today are Gentiles. In fact, it is always a bit disorienting when I realize (yet again) that the history I have read up to this point does not include me. Until Cornelius' conversion, I would not have been allowed into the church without first converting to Judaism. That is so crazy to me, especially because I still consider the Israelites to be my brothers, or more accurately, my fathers in the faith. As a Christian, their history is my history; it is the history of the God I serve and the people He loves.

Anyway, like most famous "firsts," Cornelius was an exceptional person. He was the overachiever who opened the door for the rest of us. First of all, he was a centurion, a man of high military rank. Not that that part mattered to the Jews--they tended to hate Roman officials. Secondly, though, Cornelius "and his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly" (2). I find it interesting that Cornelius was already a very spiritual person who pleased God, even though he wasn't a Christian. That idea comforts me, and it shows me a specific example of a person from a different background seeking God with all his heart. When he did that, Cornelius found Him.

I always love laughing at Peter's intransigence in his dream, yet honestly, I can understand his stubbornness. He probably thought God was just testing him, like when Jesus asked him three times, "Do you love me?" He answered the same thing every time then, too. I can see Peter thinking, "Even though I'm really hungry, I'm NOT going to fall into this trap! God will be so proud of me for standing firm!" Poor Peter. His worldview was about to receive a major shift.

Psalm 133:1-3

I LOVE verses 1-2:

"How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down upon the collar of his robe."

Even though I don't exactly understand the imagery, I think it is pretty profound. Aaron was the first priest, and wasn't the oil supposed to, like, consecrate him as priest? To take that idea in conjunction with this verse, and to wed them both to Jesus' prayer for unity, is our unity what consecrates us as Christians? Jesus says that the world will know Him by our love for each other. And so when we live together in unity, there is that idea of us being consecrated as priests, taking God's message to the world.

I have no idea if any of those musings are accurate, but if nothing else, I like the imagery of abundance here, of overflowing. Simply put, brothers living in unity is an overflowing blessing, like oil being liberally poured on the head.

Proverbs 17:7-8

Verse 7 condemns arrogant and lying lips, but verse 8 seems to praise bribes. Weird.

Monday, June 14, 2010

June 14

OT: I Kings 12:20-13:34

Wow, so many questions.

First of all, why was Jeroboam so quick to turn away from God? I mean, I could see his hesitation in letting the people go up to Jerusalem, but did he have to then make golden calves? God had already told him that He was giving him the ten tribes. After such a direct word from God, why would he then turn away so easily? I guess that when it came down to it, Jeroboam must not have really believed that his fate was from God, or else He would have trusted Him a little more. As dumb as Jeroboam was, I can definitely see the application for myself. After all, I view everything as coming from God, and yet I still worry about losing things that are important to me. And sometimes, my desire for self-preservation causes me to compromise my beliefs, just like Jeroboam's desire to preserve his kingship caused him to compromise his beliefs on idolatry. By using that same reasoning, I might not buy as much for the food pantry, for example, because I'm worried about my budget for this month. Or I might not invite people over who really need love, b/c I'm worried that their kids will destroy my house. I might not get involved with people who desperately need some intervention, b/c I want to preserve my own peaceful existence. And I guess when I put my money, my possessions, or my peace ahead of what I feel God would want me to do, I am denying the fact that God gave me all of those things and am instead making idols out of them.

So I guess my question isn't so much about why Jeroboam is so dumb, as it is about why people are so dumb.

I had even more trouble with the man of God story. This guy obeys God, stands up to Jeroboam, intercedes for him to repair his withered hand, takes another big risk by refusing his invitation to eat and drink, and then is killed b/c another prophet lied to him???? And what was that other prophet thinking? Why did he lie? Why wasn't he punished? I just don't get it at all. The only shred of anything that I can take away is that getting intimately involved with God is dangerous business. In the OT, the slightest misstep could get you killed. In the NT, you were more likely to be killed by other people for being a Christian. Either way, being close to God in the Bible meant being a step away from death.

I guess it is a good thing that God teaches us to view death differently than the world does!

NT: Acts 9: 26-43

Case in point: After Paul debated with the Grecian Jews, they tried to kill him (29)! Paul basically spent his entire Christian life a step away from death, and in that sense, his life was just as perilous as the man of God's was in the OT. And it is not just that man of God. Being an OT prophet was dangerous business, as most of them could attest.

I was proud of Barnabas for taking a chance on a known murderer. Now, that's faith. And it doesn't even say that he had received a vision, like Ananias had in Damascus. Nope, it seems that Barnabas just went for it! I'm impressed.

And I always love the story of Dorcas, b/c it reminds me that we can share Christ's love with others by doing simple things. I can't work miracles (and frankly, I can't even sew, like Dorcas did), but I can cook meals for people. I can give them my time and resources. And so I can make an impact even without apostolic power. It's always a good reminder.

Psalm 132: 1-18

I honestly didn't "get" a lot of this psalm. And I'm okay with that. I'm just going to let it be about David and not worry too much about it:).

Proverbs 17:6

I loved part b of this proverb: "parents are the pride of their children." That is the reverse of what you usually here, but it is so true in my case. I am bursting with pride for my parents. Reading the story of Dorcas today reminded me of my mom. I don't mean to brag or compare, but I bet that by the time she dies, she will have sewed and quilted more things for other people than Dorcas did:). Hundreds of people could probably show diaper bags, quilts, baby clothes, and so on that she has made for them. And my dad is just as generous, always helping people and giving of his time and money. They are both such amazing servants, and I am definitely so incredibly proud of them.