Friday, July 30, 2010

July 31

OT: 2 Chron. 29:1-36

Today's was another cheery reading. The kings of Judah are really on as much of a roll as I've seen them. In today's passage, Hezekiah, the priests, and the Levites get the country back on track by cleansing, repairing, and rededicating the temple. I liked reading about their dedication to the task and how "they were careful to follow all the Lord's instructions in their work (15).

All in all, it seems that everything went smoothly, except for the minor hiccup that their weren't enough purified priests to burn all of the people's offerings. Thankfully, the Levites stepped in and picked up the slack.

Of course, I did not compare any of this passage to Kings. That's because I am trying to respect the literary integrity of the individual books and to read them solely on their own terms.

Oh, okay. It's really b/c I'm lazy.

NT: Romans 14: 1-23

Oh. my. heavens. Romans 14 is AMAZING! I have always loved it. In fact, I have a very specific memory of "discovering" it as a teenager while reading through Romans. Even then, it blew me away, and I could not believe that I had never heard of it before. To me, Romans 14 is soooo useful, and it answers so many questions about how we are to view right and wrong, and how we are to treat each other when we disagree.

And I also have to say that this passage just single-handedly brought me around to the NLT. You know how old people sometimes are with the KJV? Well, that's how I am with the NIV. I am quite stubborn about my love for the NIV, and to me, it is the only translation that will do. It's silly, I know. But I like to know the Bible in one translation. However, the NLT did such a good job with this passage in terms of making it simple and clear. I love so much of its wording.

Perhaps my favorite part of this chapter is the way in which Paul espouses a kind of Christian postmodernism. In certain matters, he says, "right" and "wrong" is relative to the individual. Now, I like how he doesn't negate absolute truth here; using the "authority of the Lord Jesus," he firmly asserts that, for example, "no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat" (14). However, he continues, if someone believes that it is wrong, then it is wrong for them. Thus, sin and righteousness in these cases are relative to the individual (14, 22-23).

Even though Paul's example of eating meat sacrificed to idols is not especially pertinent to me, the example of the view of holy days actually is. Paul says, "some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike" (5). This is probably crazy to someone outside of my faith tradition, but we kind of have a history of shunning religious holidays that are not in the Bible (and of course, none of them are in the Bible, so you see where that leaves us). So while most of us do celebrate Christmas or Easter in our homes, we mysteriously ignore them at church. It's a little strange. Anyway, this passage reminds me that I can celebrate Christ's resurrection at Easter to God's glory, while my more conservative friends can completely ignore the holiday to God's glory. The only problem is when we start judging each other for our individual decisions.

This is such a great concept. I looooove Romans 14. So many applications, and not just to eating meat and observing holy days. I am continually amazed by the myriad of things that Bible-respecting Christians can disagree about. Truly, the key to unity is found in this passage. We don't have to perfectly agree on everything, but we do have to love and respect each other.

Okay, some favorite verses:

"For we don't live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it's to honor the Lord. If we die, it's to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord" (7-8). Of course I would love that one.

"For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up" (17-19). wonderful and refreshing. I love talk about the kingdom of God, and I love how Paul paints such a great picture here.

Psalm 24:1-10

Riding the high of our OT and NT readings, I was able to soak up and enjoy the psalm today. I especially loved the opening verses:

"The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him.
For he laid the earth's foundation on the seas
and built it on the ocean depths" (1-2).

Okay, I still love the first verse, but actually typing out verse 2 made me realize that it makes no sense to me. God laid the earth's foundations on the ocean? Ummm...

Poetic license, people. Poetic license:).

Proverbs 20:12

"Ears to hear and eyes to see--
both are gifts from the Lord."

As we have learned from both Jesus and Paul, these words are true not only on a literal level, but also on a metaphorical level. It is a gift not only to be able to see and hear, but also to perceive and understand.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 30

OT: 2 Chron. 26:1-28:27

Wow, yesterday was something of a low point in terms of the usefulness of this blog. I'm glad I let my exhaustion be known beforehand, so hopefully my three readers just dismissed my entire section on the OT, where I conflated Joash with Josiah. Sorry guys--the later kings meld together in my mind, especially when I am loopy with fatigue.

I wish I could assure you that I am back on track today, but the truth is, the later kings still all mush together in my brain, and it is subsequently hard for me to engage in the readings. Their names, their similar, so repetitive...

And yet, I did enjoy today's reading. Things made pretty good sense to me, and there were no new questions about God's character to grapple with. Uzziah was king, and he was as good as his father, which meant that he was okay. (Didn't his dad "serve the Lord, but not with his whole heart," or something like that? On second thought, don't answer that.) Anyway, Uzziah as good king was generally successful, and then he got too proud and got leprosy. Next, Jotham was king, and he was also pretty good.

The streak ends with Ahaz, who is quite terrible, what with his idol worship and sacrificing kids in the fire and all that (shudder). As a result, God allows Israel to defeat Judah, but then He sends a prophet to chastise Judah for being too hard on Israel. See? This is the stuff I like to hear. God's prophet tells them that they have gone too far, and that they need to be merciful to their prisoners and set them free. So...they do! In fact, they "give clothes from the plunder to the prisoners who were naked" (28:15). Furthermore, they "provided clothing and sandals to wear, gave them enough food and drink, and dressed their wounds with olive oil. They put those who were weak on donkeys and took all the prisoners back to their own people in Jericho, the city of palms. Then they returned to Samaria." In short, they acted like...wait for it...good Samaritans! Yay!

Yes, I'm cheesy. And yes, I very much enjoyed that story.

NT: Romans 13:1-14

The Romans 13 passage on government seems really important b/c it is probably the most expansive statement on what a Christian's attitude should be toward his or her government. And yet, it is also really confusing. So...all authority is instituted by God, and we shouldn't rebel against it? Well, what about Hitler? Should the Germans not have tried to stop Hitler? What about the American Revolution? Hellooo! Talk about your rebellion against authority! Heck, what about the civil rights movement? You cannot tell me that Martin Luther King Jr. was wrong!

So...what does this passage mean? My instinct to societal withdrawal tells me that Paul is telling us that changing government is not a big priority. It makes me think that this passage goes well with those passages where Paul tells slaves to obey their masters. He tells people to do this, not b/c slavery is acceptable, but b/c personal freedom is not one of his biggest priorities. It seems that to Paul, the number one goal of Christians should be to further God's kingdom, and that it would be a distraction, not to mention a sin, to waste your time rebelling against secular authorities, no matter how wrong they might be.

Instead, Paul admonishes Christ's disciples to LOVE (8-10). Again, the withdrawer in me senses an underlying theme of separation. Paul starts out verse 8 by saying, "Owe nothing to anyone." In verse 10, he says, "Love does no wrong to others." Basically, it seems that Paul is saying that if you live a life of love, the government will leave you alone.

Except that they don't. And they didn't even to Paul. And what happens when "loving your neighbors" involves freeing them from an oppressive regime?

It gets confusing.

Now, a "loose" model of inspiration might take into account the fact that the Roman government had not gotten super-bad by this point in their persecution of Christians. Or that Paul seems to clearly think the end is verrrry near, way too near to be worrying about such things as governmental authorities (11-12). OR that Paul had no concept of a democratic republic, or of the responsibility that such a government gives to its citizens to be involved.

Anyway, I still don't fully understand Romans 13. And I have approximately a billion more thoughts, but for the life of me, I can't get any of them to make enough sense to actually type out. I have actually read a ton on Romans 13, both from pacifists and from "just war" theorists. I am just not having great recall right now...

(Should I tell you that this is another late night blog, or have you already gathered that? It's going to be like this for another couple of days, folks. Sorry 'bout your luck:).)

Psalm 23:1-6

It's a shame, a crying shame, when mind-bending passages ruin the passage that comes after them. Yesterday, my Joash/Josiah debacle mixed-up my mind so much that I couldn't fully enjoy Romans 12. And today, my circular musings on government are still swirling in my brain, preventing me from soaking up the beauty of this Psalm.

But it is comforting to read, as always.

Proverbs 20:11

"Even children are known by the way they act..."

So true.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July 29

I'm posting this early b/c I'm on a different computer, and I have learned the hard way that not all computers are great at posting blogs at their scheduled times. So to avoid the potential hassle, I'm just going to post it the night before.

And full disclosure: I am exhausted tonight after a day of traveling, and this entry is going to be cursory at best. Consider yourself warned:).

OT: 2 Chron. 24:1-25:18

Okay, first of all, how did I not pick up yesterday that the chronicler refers to Josiah as Joash?? Today, I saw the subtitle that said, "Joash repairs the temple," and my first thought was, "Who is Joash?" Oh well, it's clearly the same guy.

Only, the chronicler's version is way different than my memory of Kings. First of all, my theory that the chronicler is partial to the kingship of Israel went out the window today. Yes, his focus is Israel, and yes, he was partial to David and Solomon, but he is not such a big fan of these latter kings. He doesn't mention anything about Joash finding the book of the Law or celebrating the Passover or the feast of Booths, or any of that. His Joash just repairs the temple and then falls away from God. This Joash even kills Jehoida's son for speaking the word of God to him! Not cool, Joash! In the chronicler's version, the story isn't about how Joash did so well but how it was "too little, too late" for Judah. No, no. God never says that here, nor does He talk about how He will spare Joash's life before the captivity. No, here, God kills Joash in order to punish him for his wickedness!

I mean, this is the same guy, right? Those were very different accounts!

Next came Ahaziah, who did some good stuff, and some bad stuff. I honestly don't remember too much, though I do remember that one of them threw 10,000 men off a cliff. Good lands! That is awful.

Okay, no more to say about today.

NT: Romans 12: 1-21

Mmmmmm....Romans 12. This might be my favorite chapter in Romans, and yet, not even its wonderfulness could penetrate my exhaustion, nor could it help dispel the cloud that came from the OT reading today. But I did love it.

I love the talk of living sacrifices, which of course, plays into my fascination with the idea of dying to self. I also love the idea of not conforming to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of your mind. Awesome.

Also, "one body, many parts" is good. I love that picture of the body of Christ.

Really, every single verse is good. Towards the end, it seems that it should really be written in list form:

Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with God's people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
Do not be conceited.

All great stuff.

Psalm 22:19-31

David begs for his life. and expresses hope for the afflicted and the poor.

Proverbs 20:8-10

One about kings; one about the universal nature of sin; one about dishonest scales.

July 28

OT: 2 Chron. 21:1-23:21

Today, Jehoshaphat dies, and is succeeded by his son, Jehoram, who promptly kills his brothers and is apparently an all-around jerk. Regardless, the chronicler is not a fan. And neither is God, for that matter. Because of Jehoram's actions, God arranges for his whole family to be killed and for Jehoram to suffer and die from some "disease of the bowels" that ultimately causes his "bowels" to come out. Good lands! That is a disgusting and terrible way to die! Apparently, though, no one was really feeling the sympathy. As the chronicler notes, "He passed away, to no one's regret" (21:20). Yikes! Plus, "his people made no fire to his honor, as they had for his fathers" (19). Wow. I guess it was like, "Good riddance."

Next came Ahaziah, the one brother to survive Jehoram's little family purge. Ahaziah wasn't great, either, and Jehu eventually put him to death.

And then his mother, Athaliah reigned, and, like her son, she seemed like a real peach. She destroyed her own family in order to gain the throne, and only the infant Josiah survived. He ultimately became king in today's reading, and Athaliah was put to death. I know we have already read all this before, but I am trying to give better recaps.

Besides the gory facts, I also gleaned some possible insight into the Chronicler's intentions. My interest was first peaked by 21:7, which says, "Nevertheless, because of the covenant the Lord had made with David, the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever." I love that last image, and I imagine that it would be especially pertinent to exiles and post-exiles. It seems that the chronicler is trying to show them that lamp, to make them aware of God's ultimate plan for them. It's not that he is trying to show them where the plan will lead, but instead to assure them that there has been a plan all along. And that's why he is so quick to point out God's hand in almost everything that happens in this book. And I guess the book was written to explain all this to Judah (btw, I meant Judah a few days ago when describing the author's partiality, but I kept saying Israel. If you read that and were confused, I'm sorry), b/c it is definitely Judah that takes center stage. So in short, my non-researched theory is that the author is writing this to the remnant of Judah in order to assure them that God has a plan for them and has been intervening in their lives. The lamp is still burning.

NT: Romans 11:13-36

Whew! I have to admit that Paul's acrobatics kind of lose me today, but I also have to admit that I didn't have much time to ponder.

He is still on the topic of the Jews, but he clarifies in verse 13 that he is talking to the Gentiles. He informs them that b/c of the Jews' rejection of the Christ, they have had the opportunity to be grafted in to the tree of salvation (I guess that's what the tree is), and he warns them not to get arrogant about their inclusion.

Instead, he admonishes them to learn from the Jews, rather than to look down on them. If anything, the sad story of the Jews' reaction to Christ (or at least, some of their reactions) should make the Gentiles acknowledge "the kindness and sternness of God" (22). The Gentiles should understand that if God could cut off the Jews, then He could cut off the Gentiles.

All in all, this was not a cheery reading. I think that Paul can be quite harsh in his delivery sometimes; it probably has to do with his confrontational personality. I think that most Bible-reading Christians have had a time when they have taken offense at Paul. I know that I have, especially when he gets to talking about women. Sheesh! And I've also heard many charges leveled at Paul from unbelievers. My grad school professor once told me that Paul was misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. And okay, I can honestly see why a non-believer going by today's standards of political correctness would consider some of Paul's writings to be misogynistic and homophobic. But anti-Semitic? Are you kidding me? If anything, he is anti-Gentile! I mean, did you hear him today? He is all for the Jews, and he keeps lecturing the Gentiles to know their place and to marvel at the idea that God decided to save them in the first place. He even goes so far as to proclaim that "all Israel will be saved"! He's spent, like, three chapters now agonizing over the Jews' salvation. The man is a Jew, for pete's sake!

Okay, end rant. I realize that I am probably preaching to the choir, but apparently, I had to get that off my chest:).

But my original point was, yeah, Paul can be harsh.

Psalm 22:1-18

A psalm in which David is in agony, and which God uses to foretell the life of the Christ.

Proverbs 20:7

"The righteous man lead a blameless life; blessed are his children after him." I hope my children are blessed b/c of the life that Greg and I lead.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27

OT: 2 Chron. 19:1-20:37

Well, I finally got some confirmation that Jehoshaphat was not making good choices in his alliance with Ahab and in his decision to go off into battle. In today's reading, a prophet confirms that Jehoshaphat was wrong to ally with Ahab: "Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?" (19:2). Exactly. I also thought it was interesting that God seemed to put Jehoshaphat's actions on the scales and take the balance. Though the king had made a bad alliance, the prophet does acknowledge that "there is...some good in you, for you have rid the land of the Asherah poles and have set your heart on seeking God" (3). In the past, God has punished men like David for mistakes without seeming to use this "scale" approach. I do think God's actions have a lot to do with the heart of the person with whom He is interacting. Since we don't know the heart of Jehoshaphat (or Saul, or David, or Ahab), we can't see why God chooses to treat them certain ways.

Regardless, before the reading is over, Jehoshaphat is already making another ill-conceived alliance (20:35-37). Some people just don't learn, I guess.

But between the bad alliances comes one of my favorite stories in the OT. In chapter 20, Jehoshaphat gets horrible news that a vast army is coming to attack him and his people. I love so much about this story, but I will specifically highlight my favorite parts:

--20:3--"Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord." I love how prayer was Jehoshaphat's first response. Too often, prayer is what I fall back on when all my efforts fail. And I especially love that he gathered the whole nation to pray together.

--20:12--"...For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you." I love the complete dependence on God here. I have been in this position many times before, where I am totally powerless in the face of my concerns, and where I wouldn't know what to do even if I had the power. Faced with his lack of might and knowledge, Jehoshaphat doesn't panic; rather, he takes the opportunity to give the situation completely to God.

--20:21--"After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: 'Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.'" Because the people had faith in God's subsequent promise to deliver them, they were able to sing and praise God as they went out to battle. Rather than cower in terror, they could rejoice. Now, that is faith. And I love the picture that as they were singing, God was delivering them, unbeknownst to them. Only when they viewed the battlefield and saw their completely defeated enemies did they see that God had protected them. Until that point, they treated something that was not as though it was, and the object of their faith became reality.

NT: Romans 10:14-11:12

Paul is still on the question of the Jews and their salvation. In verses 14-21, he first notes that in order to respond to the Good News, you have to hear it (which they did), and you have to understand it (which, apparently they didn't). Then in chapter 11, Paul launches a discussion on what has come to be called "remnant theology." I don't know much about remnant theology, but if I had to guess, the basic gist is that, by saving remnants, God never breaks His promises. I think that included in there is the idea that God loves the remnants, the weak and the oppressed. He loves the poor in spirit and the pure in heart and all those beatitudy people, and He will always be there to save them. So...God did save a remnant of Jews, and Paul is a part of that remnant.

Furthermore (and this is Paul's best argument yet, if you ask me), Paul decides that one of the reasons that Israel was "hardened" was to allow the Gentiles into the deal. Drawing from his own experience of being frustrated with the Jews and moving to the Gentiles, Paul notes that "because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles" (11:11b). And he is very hopeful that the Gentiles' response will "make Israel envious" and ultimately bring them back into the fold. After all, Paul concludes, they have not "fall[en] beyond recovery" (11a). On the contrary, "If their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!" (12). Paul thus ends today's reading on a hopeful note in regards to his countrymen.

Psalm 21:1-13

David writes a psalm to God from the perspective of a king. He thanks God and praises His might.

Proverbs 20:4-6

All three of these proverbs were good. Incredibly varied, but good.

The first gives an inadvertent synopsis of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper: "A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing."

The second was my favorite: "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out." I especially want to be that [wo]man of understanding with my children. I want to be able to draw out the purposes of their hearts and to know them as fully as possible.

The third was a little less cheery: "Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?" For some reason, I still liked it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 26

OT: 2 Chron. 17:1-18:34

Today, we read about Jehoshaphat's reign. The main story is of his alliance with Ahab and of the battle that ultimately caused Ahab's death. It seems that the chronicler is using Kings as his source, b/c this account is remarkably similar (though I didn't look it up. I guess that I should say it is remarkably similar to my memory of the account in Kings). I didn't have any new insight today, just the same old questions:

--Why did Micaiah first tell the kings a lie, when he had just said that he could only say what was from God? (18: 13-14).

--What did Micaiah mean when he answered Zedekiah, "You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room" (24)?

--And why did Jehoshaphat agree to attack anyway? What was the point of calling God's prophet if you weren't going to listen to his advice?

NT: Romans 9:22-10:13

Paul continues to grapple with the fact that his new faith tells him that many of his countrymen aren't saved. Needless to say, this troubles him deeply, and he just doesn't quite know what to make of it. And I could be totally wrong here, but I still have my theory from yesterday that God has not revealed the full knowledge of the situation to him. The Bible is inspired by God, yes, but that does not mean that its writers knew everything. There are some mysteries of God's will that I think we are just not meant to know, and that includes Paul. After all, in speaking of God's sovereignty and of God's control of his own life, David himself concedes that "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain" (Psalm 139:6). I have a good feeling that such knowledge is too wonderful for Paul, too.

But he can definitely theorize. He gives one of his theories in verses 22-23. I believe that it is a theory b/c Paul couches it as a question. He doesn't state it authoritatively; instead, he seems to be pondering and puzzling. His theory in those verses seems to essentially be that perhaps God is showing His love for His true chosen people by displaying patience for those who are not chosen. Hmmmm. Maybe Paul is totally right here. But still...that explanation just doesn't work for me. (Not that I think it has to "work" for me; I'm just describing my reaction to it.)

My working theory is still that, to an omnipotent being, foreknowledge ultimately means choice. God knows everything; He knows our every decision before we even make it. And when He chooses not to change our wrong decisions, He is making a choice. He could choose to force people to be saved, but He doesn't. And so, to foreknow of someone's destruction and to choose not to alter it even though it is in your power to do so, is ultimately to choose their destruction. Make sense?

Oddly, it does to me. And those gymnastics help me to reconcile the idea that we are chosen by God to the idea that we also have free choice.

Whew! Thankfully, Paul seems to be moving on from the predestination talk, though he is still on the topic of why his countrymen aren't saved. Like me, Paul seems to be absolutely baffled at how someone could be zealous for God's word and yet completely miss the truth. Predestination is one idea he puts forth. Now, he will add another one: motives.

Maybe those Jews missed the truth b/c "they pursued [the law] not by faith but as if it were by works" (32). Maybe they lacked the faith. Maybe they were too prideful. Maybe they thought that they were earning their own salvation. Thus, when someone came to freely give it to them, they balked. Maybe they were offended by a man who claimed to be able to forgive their sins. In their minds, they earned forgiveness when they offered sacrifices and followed the Law. No one could give it to them. They worked for it.

So maybe their motivation was off.

Paul ends on a hopeful note. In talking about the accessibility of salvation, Paul claims that it is not far from each of us. We don't have to go chase it down (10:6-7). Instead, God's truth is planted in each of us. According to Paul, "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart" (8). I don't know if he is talking about people who have scripture or if this is somehow true for everyone, but I take comfort in the overall theme that salvation does not consist in a bunch of hurdles through which we must jump. It simply consists in a true, transformative faith in Christ.

Psalm 20:1-9

A kind of blessing psalm in which David wishes good things for the readers/singers of the psalm. At least, that's how I took it.

Proverbs 20:2-3

The first is a statement about the power of kings, and the second is an admonition to avoid strife and quarreling. Hear, hear! (Or is it, "here, here?")

Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 25

OT: 2 Chron. 14:1-16:14

Abijah dies, and Asa takes over. He has some great military victories that are from God. A prophet named Azariah tells him to stick with God. Asa does a capital, but not complete, job of getting rid of the country's idols. All the people gather to sacrifice idols to the Lord. Asa makes a treaty with Ben-Hadad (Yay! The smack talker is back.) God is not pleased. Asa appears to have a total change of heart and dies from a foot disease.

I don't have too much commentary today, but I did find a few lines that I liked/thought were interesting:

"The Lord is with you when you are with him" (15:2). I really liked Azariah's words here. They are kind of a shorthand description of God's covenant relationship with Israel. And yes, I know that God is always "with" them in that He is present and He is not going to give up on His people. However, I think this "with" means, not against. God's hand has definitely been known to turn against His people sometimes. Anyhow, I like it more without all the analysis. It is just a cool sentence.

"Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa's heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life" (17). Okay, reading that again, I see that it is even more confusing than I initially thought. The author clearly knows that Asa was not committed to the Lord his whole life; he is about to tell us about his rebellion from God. This seems like another one of those weird Hebrew sentences that seem to state a truth with really big, really obvious exceptions. Like that verse that said, "And no one escaped, except 400 men on horseback" or whatever. It's one of those times when the author quickly and obviously contradicts his own fact, and yet seems totally aware of and cool with it. Again, I guess it was just a different style of writing?

Anyway, that's not what struck me about that verse initially. What struck me was how Asa's heart could be fully committed to God, despite the fact that he didn't do everything he was supposed to. At first, that seemed like a contradiction also. But then I realized that people are not perfect. And as such, I do believe that our hearts can be fully committed to something even when we don't show that commitment perfectly. I believe I am fully committed to God, and yet I still fall short of His standards on a daily basis. Likewise, I am fully committed to Greg and to my children, and yet I definitely don't treat them perfectly. So I can see how Asa could be fully committed to God and yet not do everything he was supposed to do. And besides, that was a sin of omission, and they are soooo much easier to commit.

Later in the reading, Asa has a sin of commission, and that appears to be a reflection that his heart is not fully committed to God any longer. And as we read, it all goes downhill from there.

NT: Romans 9:1-21

Uh-oh. We are now entering into the hardest part of Romans, and really, the hardest part of the NT, if you ask me. Paul starts to address the idea of predestination in not-fun ways. He ventures into this territory, it seems, almost as a way to explain to himself why his Jewish brethren aren't buying the Messiah thing. It kills him, just kills him, that his people might not be saved. In fact, it appears that he would rather forfeit his own salvation than have his brothers lose theirs: "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race" (3). Apparently, Paul is also struggling with the many promises of God to never forsake his people. I guess he is wondering (and is seeking to explain) how those promises can square with the masses of Jews who do not believe in God's Messiah.

His explanation is less than comforting.

First, he has to affirm that God's word did not fail (6). Then, he explains that apparently not all of physical Israel were included in the promise. But is that fair, he seems to wonder. (I'm beginning to think that Paul thinks like I do, in question and answer format, which is why he is explaining things this way.) Well, he reasons, we know from Scripture that God picks and chooses who will be His people. He picked Jacob, after all, and excluded Esau.

Hmmm. He has to stop and evaluate that for a minute. He then asks the natural question, "What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (14-15). Thus, Paul questions, and then once again turns to his knowledge of Scripture for answers. And Moses puts him on another trail: Didn't God also harden Pharoah's heart? Come to think of it, God has a track record of this kind of thing!

Again, Paul sees that this trail isn't leading to a happy place, and he anticipates other objections: "One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" (19). Those are good questions, aren't they? And honestly, I don't think that Paul has been given the answer. Like I have had to do on so many occasions, he has to fall back on the idea that God is God, and we are not: "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? 'Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" (20-21).

Depending on your view of God, this response could be an epic cop-out, or an affirmation of faith. For me, it is an affirmation of faith. Sooner or later, every Christian has to ask why God lets things be so unequal in this world, so "unfair." Why are some people born with every advantage, and others born into suffering? If God is God, couldn't He do something about that if He wanted to? And if we believe in an omniscient, all-powerful God, we have to acknowledge that God knew how these people would be born, and to an omnipotent being, doesn't knowledge equal choice? I think that's what Paul thinks, which is why he is defending God's choice. Like me, he has to admit that he doesn't understand why God does what He does. But if God is good, if He is all-powerful and all-knowing, then He has the right to do what He wants, and our role is to accept that we are just too limited in our knowledge and our perspective to understand.

Psalm 19:1-14

After such a troubling reading, I was grateful to have this wonderful psalm. We were driving home over the big bridge this evening, and had the blessing of seeing a magnificent sunset. It was so peaceful to marvel at God's beauty. And that's the thing about creation: it is soooo beautiful. It seems crazy to think of such beauty as an accident. I kept asking myself, Why would it be so beautiful to us? Why would it give us such peace and comfort to look at? To me, of course, it is so beautiful and so comforting because God designed it that way.

I also love, love, love verse 14: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." This verse has been one of my pet verses ever since I read and journaled through the psalms a few years back.

Proverbs 20:1

An anti-alcohol proverb. Or perhaps an anti-drunk proverb, depending on your view of alcohol:).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

July 24

OT: 2 Chron. 11:1-13:22

Okay, now I'm going into this blind, but just from reading Chronicles with no introductory background, I am coming to believe that the chronicler is partial to Judah over Israel.

[Pause: I just took a break and skimmed the intro to Chronicles in my study Bible. It didn't mention the author's partiality to Judah, but it did discuss his idealization of David and Solomon. According to my intro material, it is thought that the author seeks to shape the David-Solomon narrative to mirror the Moses-Joshua narrative. Make of that what you will.]

Anyway, the chronicler continues his theme today by speaking highly of the beginning of Rehoboam's reign. For the first three years, Rehoboam walks "in the ways of David and Solomon" (11:17). Furthermore, the text says that Rehoboam "acted wisely" by "dispersing some of his sons throughout the districts of Judah and Benjamin" (23). Among his apparent "wise" decisions, Rehoboam takes many wives for these men. Hmmm. Can I just say that I am not a big fan of the OT picture of marriage? I'm becoming ever more confused about the concept of "biblical marriage." Someone please help me, if you know the answer to this. Where does it say that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman? I mean, I get that whole "leave your father and mother thing," but no one seems to interpret that as a one-time thing. Apparently, men can do that with many women. It seems like you don't really see the emphasis on monogamy until the NT. That kind of bothers me.

Back to Rehoboam. After portraying him so positively, the author finally has to throw him under the bus. He makes it very clear in chapter 12 that Rehoboam is unfaithful to God...and yet, even then, to his credit, he repents when told about his impending punishment. And furthermore, his son and successor, Abishai, acts as his apologist in his speech to Judah. Abishai totally interprets Judah's rebellion as wrong, wrong, wrong, even though Rehoboam really drove them to it and even though the text makes clear that the whole thing was from God. I would write off Abishai's self-serving interpretation of events more easily, though, if it were not for the fact that God seems to support him by providing a great military victory.

All I have to say is that God's will is definitely confusing to me. I think it has to do with how big it is. There definitely seems to be a level in which God's will encompasses everything that happens, from Jeroboam's rebellion to Abishai's victory. So what side is God on? I guess He's on both sides...

NT: Romans 8:22-39 we are in the good part of Romans 8. I mean, it's all good, but this is the wonderful, comforting part, whereas yesterday's reading was the kick-you-in-the-pants part.

Today, Paul makes clear that all of the sorrows, pains, and discomforts of the world will one day be relieved. He tells us to take hope, and to use the pain of the world to draw us to God and to cultivate patience and perseverance. At least, that's what I got from verses 22-25.

Next, we get the comforting picture that God's Spirit intercedes for us when we pray, using "groans that words cannot express" (26). That is definitely a passage that I remember reading for the first time as a teenager. I loved it then, and I love it now.

And then of course, we get the famous Romans 8:28, which declares that "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." I have seen the truth of those words over and over in my life and in the lives of Christians around me. It is truly amazing that God can bring good out of even the worst situations.

Lastly, verses 31-39 crescendos into some of the most powerful and comforting pronouncements about God's love for us and about the confidence that we can have as Christians. I truly have nothing intelligent to add to such beautiful words of comfort and hope.

Psalm 18:37-50

David continues to praise God for his victories over his enemies.

Proverbs 19:27-28

Three proverbs against various types of foolish behavior.

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 23

OT: 2 Chron. 8:11-10:19

Today, the Queen of Sheba visits and is, of course, very impressed.

We also ended Solomon's reign today, and I must say, the stubborn refusal of the chronicler to say anything negative about the kings renders his narrative somewhat disjointed. Because he quite characteristically ignores the fact that Solomon turned from God, the abrupt shattering of Rehoboam's reign comes out of nowhere. The only explanation that the chronicler can muster is, "So [Rehoboam] did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from God, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite" (10:15). Without understanding Solomon's fall from grace, that explanation makes no sense. After all, didn't God repeatedly promise that if Solomon followed His ways, his lineage would last forever?

Thankfully, we have the messy Samuel/Kings to make sense of all this. Oh, the irony.

It is a good reminder, though, that the Bible is meant to be read in its full context. You can't pull out a particular verse without the chapter, or a chapter without the book, or--as today's case proves--a book without the other books. In fact, even to read the OT apart from the NT, or vice versa, would also be theologically disastrous. Context is everything.

Romans 8: 9-21

You know, I always think of Romans 8 as such a wonderful passage, and yet it really kicked me in the pants today. The very first verse of our reading started things off on an intense note: "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (9). Yikes. To paraphrase, if your actions are not controlled by the Holy Spirit, then you are not a Christian.

Wow. So, what I have to ask myself is, "Are my actions controlled by the Holy Spirit?" I do feel the Spirit in my life, but I still fall so short. I hardly feel that I am under the Spirit's complete control. There is still too much of me left. I haven't learned yet how to fully die to myself on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis.

Verse 17 is also incredibly challenging: "Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." Wow. Do I share in Christ's sufferings? I think not. I have a wonderful life, in fact. I am not hated, or mocked, or beaten, or really, persecuted in any way. Does that mean I am not an heir of God or a co-heir of Christ? I don't know....

As challenging as all of those verses were, I did get inspiration and comfort from verse 15, where Paul said, "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Sprit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father." While I believe firmly that we should have a healthy fear of God (it's the beginning of wisdom, after all), I also think that it is His desire for us to have an intimate relationship with Him that is ultimately based on love, not fear. And if I am seeking Him with all of my heart, and dedicating each day of my life to Him as best I know how, I do believe that I can rest on His promises, and rest in His mercy. And I pray that He will lead me down the path to a life fully controlled by His Spirit. And if persecution lays at the end of that path, then so be it.

Psalm 18:16-36

David continues to rejoice in God's salvation.

Proverbs 19:26

Today's proverb was a statement of the obvious:

"He who robs his father and drives out his mother
is a son who brings shame and disgrace."


Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 22

OT: 2 Chron. 6:12-8:10

Solomon's speech today sounds a lot like the one we heard in 1 Kings. I love the recurring theme of man's repentance and God's forgiveness. Solomon repeatedly beseeches God to take the people back when they stray, and after he asks all this, God confirms that He will.

Like Solomon, I am also blown away by the fact that the God of the universe chooses to dwell among men. It amazed Solomon that God would choose to put His Spirit in the temple (6:18). How much more amazing is it that God chooses to dwell in human bodies, these "jars of clay" (2 Cor. 4:7).

NT: Romans 7:14-8:8

Ah, the famous "do-do" passage, as my brother always called it. It is a pain to read out loud, but the message is profound. And yet, what is the message?

As a teenager, when I read this passage, I immediately fell in love. It really seemed that in verses 14-25, Paul "got" what I was going through as a human. Like Paul, I did not understand the things I did. For what I wanted to do, I did not do, and I instead did the things that I hated. As a teenage Christian, my life seemed like a constant war between my own desires and God's teachings. And I took great solace in the fact that Paul understood that feeling. Furthermore, I took solace in the fact that that feeling was normal.

Then I went to college and took a Greek class, and something that my professor said there rocked my world. He said that Romans 7 was meant to describe a pre-Christian life. It described life under the law--that same law that Paul has clearly said no longer applies to his audience. Romans 7 is meant to contrast with Romans 8, which tells us that we are set free from all that struggling and guilt. And honestly, I think my professor was right. I think that that is what the text is saying. In fact, I think that it is quite obvious that the text is saying that.

And yet, that's not what my life looks like. I can still relate to Romans 7. Is that bad? That's bad, right? I'm supposed to be free from all that law stuff, right?

The way I have come to reconcile my Romans 7 existence with my Romans 8 dreams is by understanding transformation as a two-level process. Hebrews 10:14 describes it very clearly to me: " one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Note the verb tenses. That verse is helpful to read alongside Romans 8:3-4, which tells us that God sent his son "in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." The way I take the concept of transformation is that Christ's blood covers us and makes us "perfect" before God. In other words, his blood fully meets "the righteous requirement of the law." However, learning to live according to the Spirit takes time. It is a process. As the Hebrew writer says, we are being made holy. And I must say that I feel less Romans-7-ish than I did as a teenager. I do believe that God has been refining me and purifying me. I still have so far to go ( far....), but seeing where I've come from makes me very hopeful.

Psalm 18:1-15

A psalm in which David praises God for His deliverance.

Proverbs 19: 24-25

The first proverb blasts laziness, while the second contrasts the discipline needed for a foolish man and wise man.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 21

OT: 2 Chron. 4:1-6:11

Today, we read about all the furnishings that were made for the temple (I realized that it is not capitalized in the Bible, so I'm going to stop. I wasn't being incredibly consistent anyway.) When the temple was finished, all the Israelites gathered together, and the ark was brought in. Everyone praised God, and Solomon gave a dedication speech. I have nothing intelligent to say, so instead, I will record the conversation that ran through my head as I was reading (in detail) about all the things that were made for the temple. For the sake of clarity, I will even label the perspectives in my head as 1 and 2. Please, nobody call a mental institution:

1: Why is he telling us all of this? It is so boring. And does it even matter?

2: Well, it's something that was done for the Lord, and it was important to the Israelites.

1: But it is so...external. Do gold lampstands and sprinkling bowls really bring you closer to God?

2: But that's how they related to God back then. That is how God interacted with them.

1: But why? If what matters is love and what goes on in the heart, then why bother with these externals?

2: Well, maybe they weren't just externals. Maybe the existence of those physical things brought people closer to God. After all, you do things for God that seem "external." You draw up lesson plans and make games for VBS and shop for craft supplies for Sunday school. Those all seem like external, surface things, but aren't they ultimately for spiritual purposes?

1: I guess so...but they would still be boring to read about.

2: Fair enough. Just thank the Lord we are at the NT....

NT: Romans 7: 1-13

Reading Romans in these bite-sized bits, and with fresh eyes, has been good for me. It has made me delve more deeply into the meaning.

The question my "fresh eyes" had today is, "Why did God introduce the law only to tell people about sin?" Introducing the law made people guilty, so why do it? Paul claims that "I would not have known what sin was except through the law...for apart from the law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died" (7-9ish). again, why?

I guess the answer is that the law brought the knowledge that brings us to God. We have got to know what sin is before we can enter a true relationship with God. The law doesn't cause sin; it just identifies it. And by making a person aware of the fact that they are a sinner, the law brings guilt. Sin comes even without the law. Death comes even without the law. What the law brings is knowledge and awareness, which leads to guilt.

Okay, I still have a conundrum though. Why, then, did God judge other nations who did not have the law?

Well, again, just because they did not have the law, it did not mean that they were not sinners. It did not free them from the penalty of death.

And yet, perhaps it freed them from the guilt of their sin. In other words, just because God killed those people doesn't mean that they went to hell. Hmmm...

Yet, it does seem like "pagans" can be considered guilty (sorry, I am full-out talking to myself again). Like Paul said earlier, their conscience can be a law to them. And so, I guess that law=awareness. Whether it is by the written rule or by your own moral compass, when you are aware that you are doing bad, then you are guilty. Without awareness, there is no guilt.

That little theory actually could go a long way to pardon young children and the mentally handicapped, among others. I've always thought that God would not hold such a person's sin against him. Now, I might have some scriptural evidence. I definitely don't think that I have solved this puzzle, but my multiple personalities have definitely helped me make some sense out of it:). (Actually, I am seeing more and more that the way I learn things is through a discussion format, particularly question and answer. That's why I always did so well in classroom settings that were discussion-based, or where you were free to ask questions. However, I don't always have another person to talk to, and so I apparently have learned to have conversations in my head. Excellent.)

Psalm 17:1-15

David calls on God, asking Him for protection. He also wants to see God, to remain in God's love, and for God to punish his enemies.

Prov. 19:22-23

Wow, depending on whether the footnote is right or not, the first proverb could be amazing. And at the same time, very disjointed.

My translation says,
"What a man desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar."

The footnote then says that that first phrase might also read, "A man's greed is to his shame." Which, of course, sounds nothing like what we have, but definitely makes more sense. But I like the first one better, so I am going to go with it. "What a man desires is unfailing love." That is sooooo true. That is what we all want. And of course, as a Christian, I believe that true unfailing love can only come from God, and that our desire for unfailing love is actually a desire for God. In a practical way, it also tells me what people need. It is so important to love people the way Christ loves them. We can never live up to that standard, but that's why we are supposed to be willing to lay down our lives for others. We are to show agape love to this world by serving and sacrificing for them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 20

OT: 2 Chron. 1:1-3:17

Wow, we are in 2 Chronicles! The chronicler is so nice and neat in his divisions. I Chronicles is about David. 2 Chronicles seems to be about Solomon. Very crisp and simple.

Today, Solomon addresses the people, asks for and receives wisdom from God, amasses wealth, and builds the temple. The chronicler, of course, seems to have no problem with all this.

I, on the other hand, have a few questions.

Okay, so Solomon is blessed with wisdom from God, and also "wealth, riches, and honor" from Him. The fact that God decided to give him wealth and riches clears him from the charge that he disobeyed God's law that told kings not to amass great wealth (Deut. 17:16-17). Answer to question 1, I guess.

However, what about Solomon's treatment of the aliens? In 2: 17-18, Solomon takes a census of all the aliens and then presses them into forced labor. That seemed wrong to me, so I looked it up in the law to be sure:

"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt" (Ex. 22:21).
"Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens because you were aliens in Egypt" (Ex. 23:9).
"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Lev. 19:33-34).

Also, other laws made clear that the same laws should apply both the the alien and to the native-born (e.g. Ex. 12:49).

So here is my question. Solomon was blessed with wisdom from God. Solomon built God's holy temple. And yet, to build God's holy temple, he broke God's rules in a big way. So...was that acceptable?

I am not the only one who has questions about ol' Sol. Rob Bell addressed this issue of Solomon's character in one of his books, Jesus Wants to Save Christians. In his (very surface) analysis of OT history, he marked the time of the kings as where it all started to go wrong. And Solomon featured prominently on Bell's list of baddies. Among many other charges, Bell claims that by importing so much wealth and military resources from Egypt, "Jerusalem [has become] the new Egypt. There's a new Pharoah on the scene, and his name is Solomon, the son of David" (41). Regarding 2 Chron. 1:17, Bell says, "Solomon is buying horses and chariots, but he's also selling them. Solomon has become an arms dealer. He's now making money from violence. He's discovered that war is profitable." And like I said, Bell goes on at length, detailing Solomon's sins.

I share all that to note that there is a lot to question about Solomon's decisions while king. For me, it all boils down to this question: how could this guy be celebrated as having wisdom from God? I can't write Solomon off like I do other kings b/c Scripture seems to clearly endorse him as one of the good guys. Doesn't it?

NT: Rom. 6:1-23

Woo-hoo! We are now entering the part of Romans that I thoroughly "get," and not only do I get it, I love it. Anyone who has talked with me for any length of time in the past three years has probably discovered that the idea of "dying to self" resonates in my soul with particular strength. The heart of the concept is found in Jesus' teachings, especially in his "take up your cross" talk. However, in this passage, Paul fleshes out the concept with satisfying thoroughness.

Here's the deal: Christ physically died for us. As in, He stopped breathing in order to conquer the sin which has enslaved humanity since Adam. Then, He rose from the dead...and told us to copy Him. Thus, when we become His follower, we die to ourselves and then raise to a new life in Christ. The way we physically do this is through baptism, which is the symbol of a much more radical transformation (3-4). When I got baptized, I gave my life to God. That means that, now, my life is no longer about Kim. Kim's hopes, dreams, and personal comfort are only of marginal importance when compared to the importance of the kingdom of God in my life. And ironically, that death--to my desires, my wants, my dreams--is what sets me free.

Now, it is not an all-at-once thing. Turning my life over to God did not mean that I immediately arrived at purity and perfection. No way. It is a journey, which is why Paul spends a lot of time in this passage urging his readers to keep fighting their own sinful desires. He tells them,

"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace" (11-14).

I love those verses. I also love the reminder at the end that we have God's grace helping us through the gift of His Spirit. While there is a measure of self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) involved in living a holy life, it is truly not a "dig down and try real hard" thing. You cannot work hard enough to live a life free from sin. Rather, you must rely on God's strength. And I need His strength soooo much throughout my day. If I am going to live a life of joyful freedom from my own selfish desires, then I must have His Spirit powering my every action.

I also enjoy Paul's talk about "slaves to righteousness" in verse 17 and following. It is a paradoxical metaphor, because in our slavery to righteousness, we gain true freedom. I like it, though, because to me, it contrasts with what seems to be the common American interpretation of Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence. According to the Bible, true freedom is not the right to do whatever you want as long as it doesn't overly impinge on someone else's right. Rather, true freedom comes from dying to your own desires and becoming a slave to what is right and good.

I love it.

Psalm 15:1-5

This is a good one. Like David, I love that I can take refuge in God (1); that He gives me every good thing that I have (2); that He is my delight (3); that He has assigned my a wonderful portion in this life (5-6); that He guides me and counsels me, even through the thoughts of my own heart (7); that He is always before me (8); that I can have joy and rest secure (9); that I can take hope that this life is not all there is (10); and that He has shown me what true life is (11). As one who has experienced this true life described by the Bible, I can vouch that it is amazing.

Prov. 19:20-21

Verse 20 tells us to listen to advice and instruction. And verse 21 reminds us that, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Just this morning, I was thinking of all the plans and ideas I have that I would love to implement in God's kingdom. This verse was a good reminder that just because I have an idea, that doesn't mean that it is the best thing for the kingdom. I must always seek God and trust that His plan will prevail.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 19

OT: I Chron. 28:1-29:30

Today, David gathers all the Israelite leaders together for what appears to be a parting speech. He tells them all about his plans for the Temple, how God thwarted them, and how he has nevertheless done everything short of actually building the Temple. Apparently, David is quite passionate about this little project.

He also relates to the people the part where God told him that his kingdom would reign forever. Apparently, David inferred the tacit caveat in God's guarantee, b/c in his restatement of God's declaration, he adds it in: "I [God] will establish his [Solomon's] kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws..." (7, emphasis mine). David goes on to implore Solomon to be just that (8-10). He then lays out his plans for the Temple.

Earlier, I wondered whether David's actions in preparing for the Temple should be considered positively or negatively. Were they passionate or imprudent? David clearly interprets them positively. He believes, in fact, that God's hand was with him through the process: "All this...I have in writing from the hand of the Lord upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan" (19). Okay, I can go with that.

I loved the part where David gives so much to building of the Temple, and then the people voluntarily give, as well. David is so overwhelmed with the amount that they received, and I love his little speech. He asks, "But who am I , and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand" (14). I like the rest of the speech, too, but I especially loved this verse. It inspired me to give more, with the understanding that everything I give comes from God in the first place.

By the time we ended the reading, David was dead, and Solomon was king. No mention of Absalom, or Amnon, or Adonijah was ever made. The adultery with Bathsheba was totally omitted. All in all, everything was a lot less messy in I Chronicles. And honestly, I'm okay with that. We all pick and choose what we tell about a subject. The chronicler obviously had a different purpose than Samuel, and he acknowledged that other versions existed. In fact, he even directed his readers to them, should they desire the full, messy tale: "As for the events of King David's reign, from beginning to end, they are written in the records of Samuel the seer, the records of Nathan the prophet, and records of Gad the seer" (29:29). So check there if you want the whole scoop!

NT: Romans 5:6-21

I've realized that with the early chapters of Romans, I tend to be a "big picture" girl. I get Paul's overall message, and I tend not to bother with all the details. So for example, the big picture of today's reading is that Christ died for our sins, even though we didn't deserve it. And now we are able to be reconciled with God in a way that was impossible through the Law. And the reason that we even needed reconciliation is that Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, and it has plagued us and separated us from God ever since. The Law was given to make us aware of our situation, and then Christ came to fulfill the Law and bring us back into communion with God. Got it.

Even though I get the big picture, however, I have several questions about the individual verses:

--What is the distinction between a "righteous" man, and a "good" man? What's the difference? Why are people more likely to die for a good man than a righteous man?

--And what about Paul's use of "how much more" in verses 9 and 10? He uses that phrase to make a distinction between our justification and our salvation in verse 9, and our reconciliation and our salvation in verse 10. Again, what is the distinction? To be justified before God and to be reconciled with God are to be saved, right? So what is up with the "how much more" bit?

--Also, what does it mean in verse 13 that sin is not taken into account where there is no law? Does that mean that everyone who does not have the law has not sinned? I seem to remember that earlier it said that where there was no law, there was no trespass. If that is the case, then why give the law at all? And why punish pagans who do not have the law? Yet, Paul also seems to make it clear that we all have some version of the law in our hearts (2:14-15). And so is there ever a time when there is no law? I'm confused.

I am good, however, with the death through Adam, life through Christ stuff.

So in conclusion, I'd have to say that my reaction to Paul here is this:

Big picture: Got it.
Small picture: Huh?

Psalm 15:1-5

David asks, "Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?" (1). He then goes on to give a laundry list of qualifications for such a dwelling. Thinking about the sorry state of mankind that Paul describes in Romans makes me wonder if anyone can dwell in God's sanctuary. I think the point of the law was to teach us that no one can live on God's holy hill without God Himself justifying him.

Prov. 19:18-19

As a parent of young children, I was encouraged by verse 18, which says,

"Discipline your son, for in that there is hope;
do not be a willing party to his death."

Providing consistent, loving discipline takes so much effort, and it is always good to have a reminder about how crucial it is. Good discipline brings hope and life.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18

OT: I Chron. 26:12-27:34

Today, we read more about the gatekeepers, and the Levites who were in charge of the treasury. Plus, we got lists of the different military officers in charge of the different tribes.

I thought 27:23 was interesting where it said that David did not take a census. I'm guessing that means, David did not take another census. Perhaps he learned his lesson the first time? I mean, how could you not learn your lesson the first time that your actions cause 70,000 people to die?
And what was Joab thinking to start to do a count? Wasn't he the one who told David not to do the count last time?

Lastly, we read about the men in charge of David's various possessions (vineyards, olive oil, donkeys, etc.)

NT: Romans 4:13-5:5

I found this passage to be a beautiful picture of faith. First, Paul reiterates that all who have faith are Abraham's children. My favorite parts came a few verses later.

First of all, I loved verse 17, where Paul describes the "God who...calls things that are not as though they are." I have heard that phrase before in church, but I don't know that I put together that it was lifted straight from Scripture. I love that picture. To me, it, is a great description of life in the kingdom of God. And it is good to know that that is how God operates, too. And He does--you can see it in Christ. Christ said that the poor were blessed, and that the least were the greatest. He seemed to suggest that you should turn the other cheek in this world, which we all know is not a viable option from a worldly perspective. In short, Christ spoke of ways and of behaviors that were not (not acceptable, not effective, not sensible) as though they were. And he treated people who were not (not blessed, not worthy) as though they were. It's a trippy concept.

My second favorite point about faith was made about Abraham in verse 19: "Without weakening his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead." Without weakening his faith, Abraham faced facts. I think that is important. I think sometimes we are scared of facts. We believe that by acknowledging certain facts, we are betraying our faith. There are many example of such facts that I believe scare us, but I will list two of my own:

Fact: I do not understand everything in the Bible.
Fact: I do not understand everything that happens in this world.

In the past, I have been afraid to face those facts b/c I was scared it would weaken my faith. I had to have answers, answers that explained every little question I had about God and the way He works. I have heard so many times that verse that tells us to always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you something, and I was terrified that if I didn't have all the answers, I wouldn't be a good representative of Christ.

But the fact is, I don't have all the answers. And at some point in my life, I had to be like Abraham and face that fact, without letting it weaken my faith. For me, that point came in college, after Lipscomb did not prove itself to be the Answer Wonderland that I was expecting. Instead, it (horror of horrors) mainly helped me to ask even more questions, even better ones!

The bottom line is, faith does not mean having all the answers. And furthermore, faith is not the enemy of fact. Fact contradicts faith all the time. Fact told Abraham that his body was as good as dead. Fact told Sarah that her womb was closed. Facts tell us a lot of things that don't always seem to be in line with faith. But...that's why it is called faith. We see facts. Faith is "being certain of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1). To use the language of Paul, it is treating things that are not as if they are.

Wow. Like I said earlier, that is all very mind-trippy to me. I like it, though.

Psalm 14:1-7

Well, well, well. Here, we have the very psalm that was recently quoted by Paul. Needless to say, it does not paint a very cheery picture of humanity.

The poor come out looking okay, though. In verse 6, David says, "You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge."

Proverbs 19:17

Our proverb today continues the theme of "God loves the poor." It claims that, "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done." I just love that. It reminds me of Matthew 25. God makes it pretty clear that serving the poor is ultimately serving God. That is a pretty profound concept.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17

OT: I Chron. 24:1-26:11

Heaven help me--I just don't have the brainpower for all this priest and and Levites talk. So many lists, so many descriptions of duties. I just need someone to lay it all out in plain and simple language. But I will make my lazy brain spit out what I did understand:

The line of priests in David's time were descended directly from David's sons, Eleazar and Ithamar. With Zadok's help, David identified the "leaders" in the descendants of the two men. They found 24 such men, 16 from Eleazar's descendants, and eight from Ithamar's (24:4). Next, they drew lots to see which of these men would serve in the tabernacle as priests.

Next, David chose several men from among the rest of the Levites, and then those men....did something, too. Were they priests? I don't know.

Next, David "set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals" (25:1). I thought that was interesting; can you just choose who is going to be a prophet? What if God chooses not to speak through them? Anyway, the three fathers were under the king's supervision, and the sons were under the fathers' supervision. And yes, I still took pleasure in reading about Asaph. I just like background info on the artists I listen to/read.

We also read a list of gatekeepers.

NT: Romans 4:1-12

Today, Paul makes the point that Abraham was justified by God even before he had received the law. Thus, it was not the law that justified him, but faith. In that way, Abraham is not only the father of faithful Jews, but of the Gentiles who have faith, as well (11-12).

I found myself getting a little confused while reading verses 4-5: "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." Actually, typing it out just now helped me. When I first read it, I was like, Is Paul advocating not working? What does he mean, "not work"? And does God justifies the wicked? Huh? And I don't get the contrast between crediting something as an obligation and crediting it as righteousness. Why did Paul use the word "credited" both times? I thought the contrast was between what was credited and what was freely given. I still don't understand my last question, but I see that Paul is saying that it is not our actions or our "work" that justifies us, but our reliance on God's love. That is pretty profound.

And for those who are wondering, yes, I have read Romans a million times. No, I have no idea why I still have to reorient myself to Paul's way of thinking every time. I guess I always know that salvation is a gift, but I forget the trail of bread crumbs down which Paul leads his readers in order to bring them to that understanding.

Psalm 13:1-6

Last time I read this psalm, I wrote about mental illness. Today, I acknowledge that it is not just the mentally ill who wrestle with their thoughts and emotions. I think we can all relate to that feeling of frustration. I have come to understand that you truly cannot help how you feel. You can only help how you act in response to your feelings. David provides a good example of how to do that. He cannot make himself happy, but he can choose to trust God, to rejoice in the blessings that God has given, and to sing to God in gratitude for what God has done. That sounds like a pretty good game plan to me.

Proverbs 19:15-16

Verse 15 says, "Laziness brings on deep sleep...." That is interesting. I guess lazy people do like to sleep more. I know that I like to sleep more when I'm being lazy.

I liked verse 16's admonition to follow instructions. I love following instructions; my main problem is when I feel that I don't understand the instructions. Just tell me what I'm supposed to do, and I'll do it!

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 16

Well, a very busy day, followed by the last night of VBS, has definitely taken its toll on me, and I fear that I am not going to do today's reading justice. But here goes...

OT: I Chron. 22:1-23:32

In today's reading, David made "extensive preparations before his death" for the building of the Temple. He also made a speech to Solomon. There was also a genealogy. And lastly, we learned about some of the priestly duties in David's time.

Here are the things that struck me while reading about all that:

--I don't really know what to think about all of David's prep work for the Temple. God specifically told him not to build it, and yet, it is like he can't help himself. He has to get involved. In his actions here, is David being imprudent, or is he being passionate for God? It could go either way. Based on my understanding of the point of Chronicles so far, I think we are supposed to interpret David's actions positively.

--I was again struck by the idea that David was not allowed to build the Temple b/c he had too much blood on his hands. That is especially fascinating b/c David's military victories are usually celebrated in the Bible as coming directly from God. And yet, the Bible has made clear that God hates bloodshed. Apparently, then, bloodshed is a necessary evil, and even "good" bloodshed, such as David's, has spiritual consequences. In forbidding David to build God's dwelling place, it seems like God was putting some distance, some spiritual restrictions, between himself and David. It is kind of ironic: David was described as a man after God's own heart, and yet his bloodshed did separate him from God.

--Also, did 2 Samuel mention David's preparations? I am too tired to look it up, but I don't remember that. However, my brain tends to delete vast quantities of information on a daily basis, so I could have very well already read about all this in detail.

NT: Romans 3: 9-31

Whoa--I am way too tired to make much sense of Romans tonight. It's weird--I love Romans. And yet, I always find the opening chapters a bit dense and complicated. And that's unfortunate for me because there are some seriously deep, foundational, core ideas contained in these chapters. In today's passage, Paul expands his description of the depravity of man from those who deny God (Rom. 1) and those who have God, but are hypocrites (Rom. 2), to everyone, including himself. According to the oft-quoted verses 10-11, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God." Verses 12-18 go on to slam all of humanity in no uncertain terms.

And then, Paul lays out atonement theology. Finally! After nary a mention of the atoning nature of Christ's sacrifice in Acts, we have it written out in detail here. And I loved all of that, of course, but what confused me tonight was still the relation between this new righteousness and the law. In verse 21, Paul proclaims, "But now a righteousness apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify." But then in verse 33, Paul says this: "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." I know that these don't contradict each other, but my sleep-deprived brain is not putting the pieces together. Instead, I just have questions about the use of the word, "law." Why is it capitalized in that one place, but not in any others? What does "apart from law" mean? Why not, "apart from the law"? Why do I not know Greek? I took a year of it. Where did that knowledge go?

Oh well. Remind me to think of this tomorrow when I'm more in my right mind.

Psalm 12:1-8

David bemoans the lack of godly people and cries for God's help.

Proverbs 19:13-14

I liked these verses on wives b/c I'm fortunate enough to have a husband who considers me a prudent wife, despite any and all evidence he has seen to the contrary:).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15

OT: I Chron. 19:1-21:30

Well, well. It would appear that the chronicler has done a bit of "cleaning up," as one of my Bible professors once put it.

First of all, and maybe I'm wrong, but isn't chapter 20 about where the David and Bathsheba story should go? 2 Samuel 11 starts pretty much the same way this chapter starts. The 2 Samuel passage goes: "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem" ( 2 Samuel 11:1). And just so we're all on the same page, here is the first verse of I Chron. 20: "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, Joab led out the armed forces. He laid waste the land of the Ammonites and went to Rabbah and besieged it, but David remained in Jerusalem. Joab attacked Rabbah and left it in ruins."

In 2 Samuel, the author follows that verse up with the sordid tale of David and Bathsheba. The chronicler, on the other hand, opts not to go that route and instead follows up with a tale of David's military victory.

That was nothing, however, compared to the first verse of the next chapter. When I got to 21:1, I was like, "WHOA! Hold the phone!" Okay, I didn't actually say that, and I don't actually know what "hold the phone" means, but I was extremely startled by the first verse: "Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census." Satan. Now, I'm sure we all remember 2 Samuel's version, but let's compare again, for the sake of accuracy: "Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go and take a census of Israel and Judah'" (2 Sam. 24:1). Again, whoa. In 2 Samuel, it is God who incites David. In Chronicles, it is Satan. What do I think about that? I don't know--what do you think about that? Does that seem like a contradiction to you? If every word of the Bible is literally true, then what do we do with these two verses? I have no answers, only questions.

Though I will say this: I like the Chronicles version better. It's easier, you know? 2 Samuel is hard. It is complex. You have good guys (David, God) doing bad things, and it might make you wonder if they are still good guys. Chronicles smooths all that out for us. The good guys do good things. (Well, okay, David forces his prisoners into labor, and God does kill 70,000 Israelites, both of which kind of sound abhorrent to a modern unbeliever, I'm sure. After all, I'm not sure what do with them as a modern believer. But I'm getting off track. Focus, Kim.) My point is, I like life simple, and I like truth simple. And apparently, the chronicler is with me on that one. And yet, from my experience, life and truth don't work that way. They are knotty and complicated. They are hard to work out sometimes. And over and over this year, I have had to ask myself, "What do you do with things that you don't 'get'? What do you do with the things you can't work out in your head?" And honestly, in most areas besides faith, my answer is to throw in the towel. I will openly say that I don't 'get' politics. I just don't feel that I have enough information to intelligently assess what is going on in our government and our economy, and there is so much "noise" around the issue, that my reaction is to slough the whole thing off. I don't want to hear about it, I don't want to read about it. Same with "drama." When big, thorny conflicts come up in my community, I know that I usually can't understand all the motivations and factors involved, so I'd rather not hear about it at all.

And yet, I can't do that with my faith. When I read something I don't understand in the Bible, I can't walk away from it. I have to dig in there and work through it. And often, I do have to simply fall back on, "God is bigger than I am." Often, I do have to revert to a position of humility and, ultimately, ignorance. As a finite human, after all, I am largely ignorant of God's plans and His ways, other than the ones He chooses to share with me. I'm starting to ramble, but the point is, I'm beginning to understand that it is good for me to be confused by the Bible sometimes. My confusion teaches me not to walk away just because I don't understand something. It trains me to hang in there and dig and not to give up just because something is complicated. It makes me use my brain in ways that I don't want to, b/c my brain wants to be lazy.

That said, I still don't know what to make of the God/Satan discrepancy. Any thoughts?

NT: Romans 2:25-3:8

Well, I'm glad that this passage was short b/c it was thorny and knotted and complicated to me, just like I was talking about in the OT section. Nothing seems contradictory or anything, but I had to take a moment to wrap my head about what Paul is talking about with the "law."

Now, we all remember the Law. It was that long lists of regulations in the Pentateuch. Off the top of my head, the Law told the people...oh...not to eat shellfish, not to wear clothing of various types of material, and for women to isolate themselves from society during their periods. I know there were tons of other, more universal-sounding laws, but those are the type that stick with me when I think of "law." Okay, with that in mind, let's revisit a few verses from yesterday's reading:

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)" (Romans 2: 13-15).

I LOVE these verses b/c they open a door to the universal nature of God's law, as well as to the possibility of salvation for those who have never heard the gospel. And yet, when I think about those verses in terms of the law that I read in the OT, I get confused. I mean, were there people out there whose consciences told them not to eat shellfish, and not to wear "mixed" clothing, and not to be around people during their periods? Does your conscience really tell you things like that?

Depending on your perspective, today's passage either furthers your confusion or gives you a key to interpretation. For me, it did the latter. In today's passage, Paul starts talking about true righteousness and its relation to the law. True righteousness seems very much related to the law, he has not yet said one thing against the law, and yet, Paul maintains that it can come apart from the law. Verse 27 articulates all this better than I just did: "The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker."

Now, that all sounds good, but think about it for a second: How can you not be circumcised and still obey the law? The law says to BE circumcised! It's as simple as that!

I know I might sound obtuse right now, but bear with me...I'm gaining a lot of insight into the law through this train of thought. Paul seems to be clearly saying here that you can obey the law, even without obeying all of its external regulations, like circumcision, dietary restraints, clothing regulations, and rules on uncleanness. And in light of the entire OT, that's a pretty crazy concept! I don't think that the Israelites understood those regulations as symbolic. They were physical rules that you had to follow.

All of this correlates to my theory of God's evolving relationship with man. God doesn't change, and His purposes don't change...but man does change and grow. And God relates to man on man's level. He starts off on a very physical level with man, but the physical stuff is meant to point to deeper spiritual stuff. And ultimately, a lot of the physical stuff falls away, and God reveals that the heart of His law can be followed even by people who have never heard of His law. Because God's law is more than what food you eat, or what clothes you wear, or even (heaven help me) the specific way you worship or the sign in front of your church building. God's law is so much deeper than those external markers. It is something that can be understood by everyone, of every tribe and tongue, b/c it is ultimately written on everyone's heart. It is perhaps similar to what Enlightenment thinkers called, natural law.

Hmmm...I must think further on this, but my brain is feeling quite empty now, and as my friend Courtney would say, "If the Spirit isn't giving you anything to say, then that's your sign to shut up":).

Psalm 11: 1-7

A psalm in which David takes refuge in God, who takes vengeance on the wicked.

Proverbs 19:10-12

I liked verse 11, and I'm pretty sure it was used in our Sunday night study on "offense":

"A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 14

OT: I Chron. 16:37-18:17

We really do get to see a lot of Asaph in here, considering that we didn't see him at all in Samuel and Kings. I like reading about him, since I have read his psalms.

Today, David determines that he wants to build a temple for God, and God basically answers back with, "Um, that's not your call. And no thanks." I find God's response very interesting; it humbles me. So often I think that God is pleased with whatever comes into my little head as an idea to serve Him. Or I get to thinking that what I do is important or irreplaceable in the Kingdom. Ha! My job is not to think of things to do for God and then to do them. My job is to allow God to lead me in whatever way fulfills His plan. This might lead to many missteps, as I often get myself confused for God:), but I know that ultimately, His will will still be done, regardless of my missteps or my successes. That is because I am not irreplaceable. No one is. And some jobs that I think I should do, maybe God has someone else in mind to do them. At least, those are the thoughts that I got from God's response to David today.

At least God softened any rejection David might have felt with some really sunny predictions of his future. God told him that He would give Israel a place of their own and that he would "plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed" (17:9). He goes on to assure David that his lineage will last forever, b/c God will "never take [his] love away from [Solomon] as [He] did from [Saul]" (13). The thing is, though, Israel was disturbed many times after this by many different enemies. And Solomon did fall from God's grace when he took all those wives and was led astray. So clearly, if we are to take these passages literally, we have to assume that there are some tacit caveats in these guarantees. God's promises, in other words, are always contingent on man's obedience.

You could also argue that God did establish David's line forever with Christ, the "King of kings," who rules eternally.

Anyway, the rest of the passage talks about David's many victories, all granted by the Lord. The most interesting detail that stood out to me was that Solomon used David's plunder to make articles in the temple. Specifically, he used "a great quantity of bronze," which David took from Tebah and Cun, "to make the bronze Sea, the pillars and various bronze articles" (18:8). interesting to me. I'm not sure what I think about that, but I found it to be a striking detail.

NT: Romans 2:1-24

This is a great passage that further delineates man's role from God's role. Elsewhere, we have heard that man is not to take vengeance, because vengeance is God's job. In this passage, we also read that judgment is God's job. Man is simply not equipped to judge others. Paul explains it like this: "Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?" (2-3). Now, I've noted before that in I Cor. 5, Paul does say that we should judge those within the church. And yet, any such judgment should definitely be made with fear, reverence, and humility. See, we are sinners, and when we pass judgment on others' sin, while we ourselves sin, we basically heap up our sins before God. Thus, we should definitely hesitate and tremble before we dare to judge our brother. And we should make sure our own hands are clean. do you do that? Are our hands ever clean? How do we follow these rules against judging and yet uphold some sort of standard of righteousness among believers? In other words, how do we stand up for truth and live lives of love at the same time? I personally have a really hard time understanding where that balance is. Lately, for example, the subject of modesty has come up among the women at church. And one issue that we face is how do you address immodesty without being legalistic and judgmental? Can you even do that? I just don't know sometimes.

At the very least, Paul says in this passage, don't be a hypocrite. His words in verses 17-24 provide a harsh indictment of those teachers who do the things they teach against. I like that his main reasoning against such behavior does not have to do with punishment (though he has definitely hit that one already). Rather, the main reason not to be a hypocrite is that it causes God's name to be blasphemed among outsiders (24). As Christians, our main concern is supposed to be the kingdom of God. And when we act hypocritically, we misrepresent that kingdom. We damage it in the eyes of outsiders. And that truly is a horrible crime.

Lastly, Paul seemed very pro-law in this passage, from verse 12, all the way to the end of the chapter. He talks all about righteousness through the law, and his warnings in verses 17 and following are to Jewish teachers of the law. I found that weird, since elsewhere, Paul makes it very clear that our righteousness comes apart from the law. In fact, I think he is going to do just that in the next couple of chapters. So maybe this chapter is simply laying the foundation for what is about to come.

Psalm 10:16-18

I loved our highlighted verses today:

"You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more."

I loved every word of that.

Proverbs 19:8-9

One proverb on the benefits of wisdom to the soul, and one on the impending punishment of liars.