Thursday, September 30, 2010
Today's prophecies seemed uniformly cheery. I'm not sure in what way they were fulfilled in Isaiah's day, but a lot of the imagery also seems to point to "end of time" type stuff. I remember Randy Alcorn referencing this section in his book, Heaven. I particularly remember how he supported his idea that this passage gives a picture of heaven by citing verse 19, which says,
"The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory."
Alcorn pictured heaven literally being a "new earth," and apparently one in which we don't have a sun or a moon. Clearly, his theories of heaven are just that--theories. But I did enjoy reading his book.
I have to say, the NT adds such a larger dimension to the book of Isaiah. I've mentioned before that I would be more hesitant to take the long view of a lot of these prophecies if the NT did not explicitly interpret them in that way. For instance, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2a when he first "goes public" in the Temple:
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Apparently, his scroll was a slightly different version, but it is clearly the same passage (Luke 4:18). After he reads it, he announces, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Wow!
My question of the day is, given that Jesus cited that passage as referring to himself, is he also implicitly citing the context of that passage? Or was it just those particular words that were applicable to Him?
NT: Philippians 1:27-2:18
So many gems are in today's reading:
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (1:27). This verse reminds me a lot of Ephesians, where Paul urges his readers "to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (4:1). I liked that one, too, if you recall:).
Verse 27 also emphasizes the importance of "stand[ing] firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel." So much of Isaiah today (and every day) refers to God's people as a corporate body, a nation. And obviously, Paul's letters are also written to corporate bodies, to churches. It occurred to me today how much emphasis the Bible places on God's people as a group. Really, the individual isn't that important. I mean, the individual is important like an arm is important, but what's an arm, away from the body? I think that corporate emphasis is interesting b/c I tend to view my relationship with God as private and individual. Yes, I am a part of the body of Christ, and my church is a wonderful community. But at the end of the day, it's between me and God, if that makes sense. I value private time with God, I question what God wants from me as an individual, and I picture me as an individual standing before Him one day. And while I do believe that the Bible teaches that we will be judged individually, I'm beginning to think that I am overemphasizing the role of the individual in relating to God and in fulfilling His purpose. It gets fuzzy in my head, b/c I really love my personal relationship with God, but I also see how God tends to act through a body, not just a body part. Does that make sense?
Oh, dear. I haven't even gotten to one of the greatest passages ever, but thankfully, it kind of goes with my current thoughts. In 2:1-4, Paul places a huge emphasis on the importance of group unity among Christians. And the only way to achieve cohesion, according to verses 3-4, is through the selflessness of the individual members of the body. We are to give up our own rights and preferences for the good of the group. And as verses 5-11. Paul holds up Christ as our model for this selflessness.
Verses 12-13 admonishes the Philippians to "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." There is so much to write here, but I have to wrap this up. Thus, I will only note two quick things. One, verse 13 reminds me of Ephesians 2:10. And two, ponder the meaning of the word, "for." It led me down an interesting thought path and maybe even to a new understanding of the "fear and trembling" bit.
Lastly, as a teenager, my favorite Bible verses were 2:14-15: "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe." I'm not sure why I loved these verses so much, as I'm sure my parents could testify that I did my fair share of arguing and complaining. I think that I just loved the image of being a shining star in universe. And I desired to be blameless and pure, and I loved that God gave us a path to be those pure and blameless shining stars.
Psalm 72: 1-20
A lengthy blessing for a king.
Oddly, these verses remind me of the Holocaust. I guess that's the clearest picture I have of people "being led away to death" and "staggering toward slaughter," surrounded by a mixture of people trying to help and people choosing to bury their heads in the sand.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Whoa. Whoa. I got to chapter 58 and was just knocked out of my chair. Well, I wasn't actually in a chair. Really, "riveted" is the better description here. I was riveted. Probably my mouth hung open the whole time, but I can't be sure, b/c I was so wrapped up in the words that were pouring out to me in this chapter.
In fact, I think I'm just going to type the first eleven verses. After all, maybe you missed them. Probably not--I don't see how that would be possible--but it can't hurt to read them again.
Prepare to be wowed, humbled, and inspired:
"Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
'Why have we fasted,' they say,
'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?'
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail" (58:1-11).
Again, wow. As I read verses 2-3, my thoughts were, "Can that scenario really exist? Can a person or church be seeking God, wanting to know Him, asking Him for just decisions, desirous of seeking His face, and participating in spiritual disciplines without being right with Him???" That question made me take a long, hard look in the mirror. I mean, (full disclosure), it's been months since I fasted, but I have been studying my Bible and writing about it, in an effort to better understand God's word. I view that as a discipline, like fasting. And I have done many other "acts of service" for the church, which I view as disciplines. And I want to know God, and I think I'm seeking God's face, and I have been asking Him for just decisions. So...am I right with God?
Now, I do know that God pours His grace on us and covers our imperfections...but I can also remember days where I was typing about the Bible while my kids were begging for my attention, and I was annoyed at them because for goodness sake, could I just type this last paragraph and be done with it?? (Heavens, that is ugly. Not fun to confess at all.) And I can remember days where I was "doing" a lot for God, but I was not filled with the fruit of His Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23. And I would say that it is fair to compare my actions and my heart in those times to the people who quarrel and fight during their fasts. I mean, what's the point???
And also, Isaiah hits helping the poor pretty hard here, doesn't he? And the thing is, God help me if I'm wrong, but I just don't believe that I am exploiting anyone like verse 3 mentions. And I do try to help the poor. I don't want to seem like I'm tooting my own horn, but there are plenty of things I do to help the poor and hungry. But reading this, I have to ask myself, "Are those just token efforts? Am I truly spending myself in behalf of the hungry, like verse 10 says? What does that look like exactly?" I truly want to be with God. I want to commune with Him, to know His ways and seek His face. So...I want to do what it takes to get there. And I guess the question I have to ask myself after reading this is, "What is the next step?" If loving and serving others, especially the "least of these," is the path to God, then what is the next step down that path?
That's a question to pray about, for sure.
NT: Philippians 1:1-26
Well, I said that I liked Ephesians the best, but it might be Philippians. Hard to say. There is definitely a lot to love here.
For one, I love verse 6. I don't love that it starts in the middle of a sentence, but it is that part of the sentence that stands out to me. It says, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Now, when I was in high school, I loved this verse, but I massively misinterpreted it. I thought that the "he" was an individual, like it could be replaced with the word, "whoever." And so I thought that Paul was expressing his confidence in the people of the church at Philippi to finish what they started. I am a big believer in finishing what I start, so I was all about that verse. It was very inspiring to me. However, it seems obvious now that the "he" is God, not a person. And what Paul is saying is that he knows that God will finish the good work that He started in the church. I have to say, when that first clicked with me, I was pretty disappointed. I was quite attached to my first interpretation, you see. But now, I've come to understand that the verse is so much more inspiring and comforting when you realize that it is God working through us, not us working by our own efforts. It kind of reminds me of the feeling I get from Ephesians 2:10, which says that God prepared in advance the works for us to do. I can do nothing without God's help, and it is only through His power that the good works He starts in our church will be completed.
And of course, I am always drawn to Paul's prayers, and in Philippians, he prays another beautiful one, asking for love, knowledge, insight, and discernment for the Philippians:
"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God" (9-11).
One thing I love about this prayer is the way that knowledge, depth of insight, and discernment are linked with love and righteousness. In fact, Paul does not talk about those three on their own; he speaks of them as characteristics accompanying a deep, Spirit-filled love, a love that bears "the fruit of righteousness." It kind of goes back to the Isaiah passage. The study, the discipline, the pursuit of the knowledge of God are useless without love and righteous actions.
The way I read the rest of the chapter is that Paul just builds and builds up this passion that crescendos in verse 21. Seriously, read it out loud. I think you will see the build-up to the summit, which is Paul's passionate declaration, "to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." I sooo hope that those will be my last words.
In that verse and the following ones, I see a man who has his priorities straight. If life is what the Bible says it is, if it is a vapor and a mist before the light of eternal Day, then why should we cling to it? The only value to be found is the good that we do to others, the love that we show them, the way that we point them to God. For Christians, living just for the sake of living just shouldn't hold that much appeal, according to the message of the Bible (well, particularly the NT. David, Hezekiah, and others in the OT very much appreciated being alive just for the sake of it).
Psalm 71: 1-24
In asking for God's protection, David emphasizes his total reliance on Him.
Verse 10 is interesting:
"If you falter in times of trouble,
how small is your strength."
That is kind of harsh, but true. Anyone can be "strong" in the good times...
And it's not the same message, but this verse always reminds me of the second part of Isaiah 7:9, which says, "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all."
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Wow, there is a lot of good stuff in today's reading. I've decided that the end of Isaiah is my favorite part. The "fifties" have been fantastic so far.
In 54:1-8, the author sets forth a metaphor about a barren, widowed woman. Rather than weep, he says that she should rejoice b/c even though she is barren, she will somehow have a lot of children and many descendants. This progeny will not come because she gets a husband or becomes fertile. It seems that it will come solely from the Lord. The text tells the widow, "Your Maker is your husband" (5). It goes on to assure the widow, although God briefly hid his face face from her, He will do so no more. Instead, he will comfort her and show her compassion (7-8).
The text then compares God's treatment of the widow to His actions with the flood. The flood corresponds to the widow's barrenness and shame, and the promise that God is making about her descendants corresponds to His promise to never flood the earth again (9).
As I read, I was wondering who the widow was, and it seems to be Jerusalem. Verse 11 begins a section specifically talking to the "afflicted city," in the same way that God talked to the widow at the beginning of the chapter. His assurances to the city mirror His assurances to the widow. He promises some amazing restoration projects involving precious jewels, as well as peace and prosperity.
Sidenote: I thought verse 15 was interesting. It says,
"If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you."
One issue that comes up a lot with Christians (or at least the ones I hang out with) is the relationship between God and suffering. Does God cause suffering, or does He allow it, or does it vary based on the situation? Though it is a problematic interpretation, my reading of the Bible this year has pushed me toward the idea that God is in control of everything that happens. So...even though I don't believe that God causes someone to rape or kill another, for example, I have been seeing more and more how God is in control of all things. This verse kind of tempers the direction I've been going in, however, because it seems to state that there are some things that are not God's doing. The verse assures us that He can and will work through such things, but He did not cause them.
Anyway, moving on...
The beginning of chapter 55 continues the theme of comfort and provision that characterized chapter 54. This chapter begins with a beautiful invitation to,
"Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost" (1).
The next verse urges the hearer not to waste his money on food and drink that is not authentic and that does not satisfy. Instead, it urges him to come to God to have his needs met. When he does, his "soul will delight in the richest of fare" (2b). To me, this invitation is a beautiful rendition of the invitation that God extends to all men. He wants man to come to Him because only He can meet their his needs. Only He can give him the salvation and satisfaction for which he longs.
It is in this context that I find one of my favorite passages, in which God declares that, "my thoughts are not your thoughts," and "neither are your ways my ways" (8). What is interesting to me is that I use that verse to help me with all the things I don't understand about God. These verses usually help me with negative aspects, like suffering or theological conundrums that test my faith. The context, however, is not negative at all. Rather, the reference to God being so different than us seems to be talking more about His goodness and His mercy. It's like, these words of comfort and forgiveness and mercy are what should blow our minds, not the idea of suffering. I don't know if I'm making sense, but I'm trying to convey how different the context in which I think about these verses is from the actual context of the verses themselves.
After that, God commands that man be just and righteous. If they are, they will be His people, even if they are eunuchs and foreigners. All men who follow His ways will be accepted. That was probably a radical message to Isaiah's audience, though honestly, the Law said the same thing. I guess it was something that they tended to forget.
Following yesterday's marriage passage, this passage both reinforces the social hierarchy while bringing all relationships under the ultimate authority of Christ, and not societal norms. Thus, much like wives are to submit to husbands, children are to obey their parents, and slaves are to obey their earthly masters. At the same time, wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters, are all under the authority of God, and so they are all bound by God's commands to love one another and treat one another as they would want to be treated. Regarding the slavery issue, I've heard many people say that slavery in that time was nothing like the slavery present in our country, the latter being far more inhumane and barbaric and thus, unjustifiable. Perhaps that is true; I have no idea. I do know that I believe that slavery as I have heard about it in this country (and for that matter, the slavery that still persists around the world) was, and is, evil. So I guess that does make Paul's statements about slaves and masters a bit disconcerting. I have more I could say about all that, and how I understand the truth of that passage in light of my strong disagreement with the concept of slavery, but the words are not flowing right now. Honestly, it's not what I focused on today, so I'm going to move on.
In verses 10-18, Paul speaks of our struggles in this world using the terminology of warfare. He emphasizes the fact that we do not fight against other people, but against dark, spiritual forces. Specifically, he says, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (12). I'm going to just go ahead and say that I don't know exactly what that means, but the bottom line is that there is darkness in this world, and we fight the darkness itself, and not the people. In fighting that darkness, we are to put on what Paul calls, "the armor of God," which consists of truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and God's word (14-17). Along with prayer, these are the tools we can use in this life so that we will remain standing at the end (13).
David prays for God to come quickly and save him.
People who blot evil will gain a bad reputation.
Monday, September 27, 2010
"Do you understand what you are reading?"
"How can I, unless someone explains it to me?"
This exact exchange happened in Acts, concerning this section. And even before I got to the passage which Philip and the Ethiopian discussed, their words popped into my mind. As I have mentioned several times already, I feel ill-equipped to comment on Isaiah, b/c I just don't really understand the background. Thus, I don't get what it is saying. It goes around and around on the issue of God's wrath v. God's restoration, and I wish I knew exactly what it was talking about. Is it always talking about the same situation? Or are these prophecies about several different occurrences? Is it just the Assyrian threat and then the Babylonian threat and exile? If so, why go around and around like that? One thing I remember from my Isaiah class is that my professor had written a book on Isaiah, and I wanted to get it. I'm thinking I need to...
And I've got to say, we owe a debt of thanks to Philip, who explicitly connected Isaiah's suffering servant prophecies to Christ. I think it is his connection, using chapter 53, that empowers me, for better or worse, to project Isaiah's prophecies far into the future. Depending on the prophecy, I can read it as referring to Isaiah's immediate historical context, referring to the coming of Christ and the advent of Christianity, referring to the end times and the fullness of the kingdom of God, or some combination of those. Philip's interpretation (along with several other NT allusions to Isaiah) really widen the scope of the implications of the book.
And, of course, I love Isaiah 53, which has long been my favorite Lord's Supper reading.
A couple other little things that I liked today involved the reaction to threats and suffering. In Isaiah 51: 12-13, God says,
"I, even I, am he who comforts you.
who are you that you fear mortal men,
the sons of men, who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction?
For where is the wrath of the oppressor?"
These verses talk about the skewed perspective that causes us to fear. If I believe that I serve an all-powerful God who loves me and wants the best for me, if I believe that my life is but a vapor and a prelude to eternity with Him, then why am I scared of things on this earth??? Why do I worry and stress??? More and more, I realize how faithless I am when I let my circumstances freak me out. Talk about a lack of perspective!
I also like the interaction between 51:9, 51:17, and 52:1. The first part of the first one says,
"Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of the Lord."
And the first part of the second one says,
"Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath."
And the first part of the third one says,
"Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourselves with strength."
First, there is the plea to God, a plea that is essentially answered with, "Why are you afraid?" Those verses I just discussed, about not fearing mortal men, fall in this section. Then with the second command to "awake," it almost seems like God gives them reason to be afraid, b/c he talks about how they are about to suffer from His wrath. In the last repetition of the command, He essentially tells them to "man up" b/c He is going to save them. I think this progression is supposed to be comforting b/c it takes external fears and threats out of the equation. There is literally no one to fear but God Himself. He is the One in control. And though He might bring suffering, He ultimately brings salvation to those who seek Him. Thus, even though the road might be rough, we can take comfort that it was made by a Being who loves us and wants the best for us.
NT: Ephesians 5:1-33
Holy moly! I just talked about verses 1-2 today in Sunday school, in reference to my dad. These verses always make me think of my parents, and specifically of my brother and dad. My brother and I were dearly loved children, and the natural response of one dearly loved is to imitate the one who loves them. My brother did so to my dad to a comical degree, always wanting to look like him and even talk like him. But what their relationship showed me is that love is a very powerful motivator. And the more aware we are of the love God has for us, the easier it should become to imitate Him and live lives of love ourselves.
In Isaiah today, we read a command to God's people (and apparently to the priests and Levites specifically), which said,
"Depart, depart, go out from there!
Touch no unclean thing!
Come out from it and be pure,
you who carry the vessels of the Lord" (52:11).
There is a lot that has changed with the coming of Christ and with the grace that now covers us, but one thing that hasn't changed is the need for God's people to be holy, to be "set apart." If anything, that need has intensified, b/c now, we not only carry the vessels of the Lord, we are the vessels of the Lord (2 Cor. 4:7). Thus, today, Paul tells the followers of God in Ephesus to avoid "even a hint of sexual immorality," as well as obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, impurity, greed, and drunkenness (3-5, 18). In fact, we are to "have nothing to do" with such things (11).
I also take very much to heart the idea that we must "be very careful, then, how [we] live--not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (15-16). I am trying more and more to use every day as a gift, to use it fully and not to waste any part of it. Every day is an opportunity, and I want to make the most of it.
In verses 21-33, we have probably the most famous instructions on marriage in the Bible. My main impression from reading it is that a marriage that truly followed these guidelines would be amazing. After all, a man who truly loved his wife just as much as he loved his own body, a man who loved his wife as Christ loved the church, would be a wonderful man to be married to. And it wouldn't be very hard for a godly woman to respect and submit to such a man. I know I say it a lot, but I really do think my husband fits this bill about as well as I've ever seen a man fit it. I feel so loved and respected by him that it is easy to love and respect him in return. I submit to him, yes, but in the bigger picture, we both "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (21).
Psalm 69: 19-36
David continues to cry out to God, sometimes with bitter wishes against his enemies. After one particularly harsh request, in which he wishes strongly and with surprising eloquence that his enemies be damned (26-28), he gives what I view as an explanation for his vitriol:
"I am in pain and distress" (29a).
One thing I learned in psychology classes is that "Pain leads to Attack." To demonstrate this principle, my professor asked us to picture a cat hanging from a tree branch, tied to it by its tail. If you were to go and try to help that cat, what would be the cat's immediate response? It would be to swipe at you, to claw or bite you. When an animal is in pain, its instinct is to attack. That's what I think David is doing here. He is in a great amount of pain, and he is thus lashing out bitterly against his enemies. He is being very honest before God.
"Wisdom is too high for a fool;
in the assembly at the gate he has nothing to say."
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Here are the verses that stood out to me today:
This is what the LORD says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
"I am the LORD your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go.
If only you had paid attention to my commands,
your peace would have been like a river,
your righteousness like the waves of the sea."
I like this description of God as a teacher who wants what is best for us. I also love the images of peace like a river and righteousness like the waves of the sea. I thought that Martin Luther King Jr. alluded to these images, but maybe I'm wrong...
In these verses, it seems like Isaiah is having some struggles with his purpose, to the point where he declares, "I have labored to no purpose;/ I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing" (4a). Though he doesn't turn from God at all, he is still quite discouraged. I love God's response to him, where He tells him that He has an even greater purpose for Isaiah than even Isaiah understands. God tells him that not only will he help restore the tribes of Israel, but he will also be "a light for the Gentiles,/that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth" (6). And today I read all the way through verse 24 in the light of that context. Perhaps all of that is in reference to Christ and the inclusion of the Gentiles. For example, in verses 19-21 when Israel asks where all these children have come from, maybe those children are the Gentiles. I don't know. I am really, really tired right now, but I keep having the urge to read Isaiah in the light of the coming of Christ and its aftermath.
Plus, in that section, I have always loved verses 15-16, in which God tells the people that He would never forget them, that He has them engraved on His hand.
NT: Ephesians 4:17-32
I've realized that it is harder to write about the parts that I really, really love, b/c I tend to just gush.
That said, I really, really love the image of putting off our old selves, being "made new in the attitude of [our] minds," and putting "on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (22-23). I think these images fit in nicely with the idea of dying to oneself. In a way, they show the positive side of that idea. Dying to one's self does not create a vacuum; instead our old self is replaced with our new self, which is who we were actually created to be.
I like that idea of replacing the bad with the good, and it is continued through the rest of the passage. Paul tells us to "put off falsehood and speak truthfully," a command that replaces a negative with a positive (25). He tells us to stop stealing and to do something useful with our hands, to stop saying bad stuff and start saying things that encourage and edify (28-29). He tells us to "get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger," and instead to "be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (31-32). I like that Paul doesn't just tell us what not to do; he gives us positive things to do in their place. I personally don't like to define myself or my religion by what I don't do, or by what I oppose. Rather, I tend to define my faith by what I do. If nothing else, my active love for others should define me. And so I like how Paul follows up the negative commands with positive commands here.
Psalm 69: 1-18
David prays to God to save him from a severe trial.
Proverbs 24: 5-6
Praises wise men and stress the need for guidance during wartime.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
One thing about the One Year Bible is that you can sometimes get whiplash from jumping from the OT to the New like that. Even though the two testaments ultimately form one coherent narrative, it is sometimes jarring to transition so quickly from, say, man-as-instrument-of-God's-wrath in Isaiah to man-as-instrument-of-God's-love in Ephesians.
For example, in Isaiah, God prophecies that,
"The products of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush,
and those tall Sabeans--
they will come over to you
and will be yours;
they will trudge behind you,
coming over to you in chains.
They will bow down before you, saying,
'Surely God is with you, and there is no other;
there is no other god'" (45:14).
And for that matter, today's psalm declares that:
"The Lord says, 'I will bring [my enemies] from Bashan;
I will bring them from the depths of the sea,
that you may plunge your feet in the blood of your foes,
while the tongues of your dogs have their share" (68:23).
When you contrast that with verses in Ephesians telling us to be completely humble, gentle, patient, and loving (4:2), it gets a little crazy. And I'll be the first to admit that I see all this through a glass darkly, and that I am painting with some really broad strokes here, but to me, the difference between the two roles of man in the OT and NT is Jesus. It's not that God changed, b/c the OT does contain many examples of mercy, and the NT has its fair share of wrath. Rather, it seems that with the advent of Jesus and His teachings, the role of God's people evolved. They went from dragging their enemies behind them in chains (in Isaiah) and bathing in their blood (Psalms) to turning the other cheek and going the extra mile. (Actually, rereading the verse, I'm not sure what the image in Isaiah is. It doesn't really say that they dragged their enemies behind them in chains, but definitely that God handed over their enemies to them.)
And you know? Isaiah definitely pictures a transition from punishment to restoration, from wrath to forgiveness. It occurs to me that perhaps that transition has been occurring throughout history, as God's people move from thinking of themselves as agents of His wrath to seeing themselves as agents of His love. I don't know. I can see how I'm not doing great exegesis right now. But I have gone around and around with this idea of the OT/NT divide, and I've prayed about it, and these are the thoughts I ended up with, so I'm writing them down.
NT: Ephesians 4:1-16
Wow. There is so much here. I'll take it from the top and see how much I can cover. First of all, I have always loved verse 1, where Paul tells the Ephesians to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received." That is a phrase that has stuck with me through the years. I have often asked myself if I am living a life worthy of my calling, and I have sometimes wondered what such a life would look like. Part of me thinks that I could never live a life worthy of the calling I have received. I'm reminded of the end of Saving Private Ryan where the saved Private Ryan frets over whether he has "earned" the sacrifice of the men who saved him. Clearly, he has felt a lifelong burden of acting in such a way that would be worthy of the price paid for his life. In some ways, I can relate to that burden, and yet, I also know that I have God's Spirit in me, through which I can do all things, including living a life worthy of my calling.
And apparently Paul anticipated my questions about what a worthy life looks like b/c he seems to lay it out pretty clearly in the next few verses: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Good stuff. There are some verses that I can read and cannot help but be changed by them. Whenever I am annoyed or feeling impatient, I can read these verses (or Col. 3:12-14), and it becomes so hard to justify my behavior and feelings that I usually have to let them go. Now, that's what I call powerful Scripture!
Verses 4-5 are some great unity verses.
I get a little lost in verses 7-10.
But verse 11 brings me back, talking again about unity. I like the picture of the church, the body of Christ in 11-16. Much like 1 Cor. 12, these verses state that God gives us different gifts and that the purpose of those gifts is to bless the church as a whole, to motivate them to serve, and to encourage them. The end goal, according to verses 13-16 is complete unity, spiritual maturity, steadfastness, understanding, and transformation into the likeness of Christ, who is our head.
Psalm 68: 19-35
A continuation of yesterday's psalm.
Ooooh, I love this one:
"By wisdom a house is built,
and through understanding it is established;
through knowledge its rooms are filled
with rare and beautiful treasures."
If I cross-stitched, I would stitch that verse and hang it on my wall:).
Friday, September 24, 2010
Two things I have noticed in the last few chapters are 1) a lot of "streams in the desert" imagery, and 2) a heavy emphasis on reconciliation and restoration. I like both of these things. The imagery is powerful, and the idea of God reconciling His people to Him is wonderful.
I also love God's words at the end of 44:8: "Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one." I had, "There is no other Rock; I know not one," written in the front of one of my Bibles.
There is also a long section on the folly of idolatry in 44: 9-20. One of the things that the author finds so ridiculous about idolatry is that idols were made out of common materials by average people. He highlights the fact that wood from the same block from which the idol is carved is used to build a fire to feed and warm the man who carves it (16-17). He also emphasizes that the man, the creator of the idol, is one who, like all others, "gets hungry and loses his strength," one who, "drinks no water and grows faint" (12).
Reading this section makes me think about the heart of idolatry. The great offense of idolatry is that man would presume to worship his own creation. It also seems offensive that man would elevate himself to the position of Creator. There is something so prideful in imbuing the works of one's hands with such power and meaning.
NT: Ephesians 3:1-21
Paul starts off chapter three in a way that coherently flows from chapter two, and then abruptly cuts himself off to marvel at the revelation that has come upon the world at this time. The idea that the Gentiles were part of God's master plan, "that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body" just boggles the mind (6). We take it for granted today, but this was big news to Jews like Paul.
One verse that I did not understand was verse 10. I have read Ephesians a hundred times; I even have developed curriculum based on it for the teen girls; and yet, this verse has never jumped out at me. But tonight, I read it and thought, "Huh?" The verse says, "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (10-11, actually). Okay, so through Jesus, the church made known God's wisdom to "the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms"?? What does that mean? Who are those rulers and authorities? Are they angels? How did the church make something known to them? I have some swirling thoughts, but I'm going to ponder it some more.
Verses 16-19 has another amazing prayer, which I must now type in full:
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
Of course, I love the ideas of being able to grasp and to know the love of Christ. And I love the concept of God's Spirit strengthening us so that Christ can live in our hearts. As I typed, though, what stood out to me was the last phrase. The culmination of Christ living in our hearts, of our comprehension of His love for us, is that we would "be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." What an amazing thought!
I also love the idea, found in verse 20, that the power of Christ at work in us can "do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine." Plus, I love verses 20-21 together, which gives all glory to Christ. Clearly, I love a lot in this passage. Ephesians is a favorite of mine.
A psalm praising God by telling of His great works. Like last time, my favorite part was that "God sets the lonely in families," and that "he leads forth the prisoners with singing" (6).
Why we shouldn't envy wicked men.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I'm really tired tonight, so I'm going to be doing well to get the basic gist of this passage:
41:17-20--God tells of how He will provide the thirsty with water in order to reveal Himself to His people.
41:21-24--God talks about the uselessness of idols.
41: 25-42:9--God prophecies a time when He will send a powerful servant. Much of this prophecy has been applied to Jesus:
"A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice" (3).
I've heard this verse used to describe Jesus' nature. Also, verses 6-7 seem particularly applicable:
""I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness."
As I mentioned yesterday, I'm not an expert at OT verse application, but that does really seem to describe Jesus to me.
42:10-13--Praise for God.
42:14-25--Bad news for those who wouldn't turn to God.
43:1-7--Good news for those who do turn to God.
43: 8-13--Seems to center around the sovereignty of God.
That's a really rough outline, but just writing it helped me to focus what little energy I had on the actual words of the passage.
It appears from today's reading that Paul is talking to at least a partially Gentile audience, whereas in Galatians, he was talking primarily to Jews. There were several references to Gentiles being brought to God through Jesus (11-13, 17-21). My favorite verse along those lines is verse 19: "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household." I love that image of reconciliation, and I love the idea, stated earlier, that Christ "himself is our peace" (14).
My favorite verse in this section, though, is Ephesians 2:10, which says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." I still remember the first time that this verse was drawn to my attention. I was a teenager in an all-student Bible study, and a boy about five years younger than me pointed this verse out and noted that God even prepares our good works for us. His point was that we could not take credit for anything we do; it's all from God. Since then, I have grown to love the snapshot of our identity that is found in this verse. Who are we? God's workmanship. What is our purpose? To do good works. What good works? The ones that God prepared in advance for us. There is something so comforting about that passage to me. I guess I love to see my life as part of a divine plan, and in my heart, I long to give myself over to something bigger than me. And so I especially love the idea that all the good that I do is in fulfillment of God's plan for me, that He, in fact, prepared those good works in advance for me.
A short and simple praise song.
Whoa! That's a lot of proverbs for this reading plan! They all center around drunkenness, which is probably why they are all grouped together.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
If I recall correctly, chapter 40 marks a major shift in the book of Isaiah, so much so that some scholars believe it is written by a different author. I personally have no idea, of course, and even though I did notice a tonal shift, I wouldn't exactly say that the tone thus far has been consistent. Thus, in my simplistic reading of the book, I would not have picked up enough difference to indicate a change in author at this point. I did, however, think that 40:1-2 was pretty confusing. It declared:
"Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for her sins."
See, that's weird to me, b/c I hadn't picked up that anything had happened to Judah. All the prophecies to this point said that something would happen to Judah. And then the prose section tells of how the Assyrian threat was averted by God. So...how has Judah paid for her sins (and also, why would she have to pay double)? Maybe that's why people think that this passage was written later. Maybe they assume it was written after some disaster had befallen Judah. If I remember correctly, though, it was the Babylonian invasion that destroyed Judah (temporarily). So...has that happened? So many timeline questions.
Another question is, why did the One Year Bible highlight the above section, and not the mucho-famous 40:30-31:
"Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."
Now, another pretty famous verse is 41:10, which says,
"So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
Hmmmm. Okay, so bear with me. I'm still working on understanding how to apply OT verses. It seems to me, though that 41:8-10 are referring directly and specifically to Israel. After all, verse 8-9 say,
"But you, O Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
you descendants of Abraham my friend,
I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, 'You are my servant';
I have chosen you and have not rejected you."
And that leads us right up to the famous verse 10. So wouldn't you say, given the context, that that verse refers specifically to Israel? I mean, we wouldn't quote verse 11 as applicable to us:
"All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish."
I don't think of that verse as universally applicable, so why would I think of verse 10 as such?
Now, that said, I do see how my "youths growing weary" verses could be applicable. After all, they are in a section about the general nature of God, a section that began way back at the beginning of the chapter. Given the context, I would say that a great majority, if not all, of the verses leading up to the famous verse 30 are still true about God and man. For example, take verse 28:
"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom."
Yep. Still true.
So, in conclusion, based on my cursory exegesis here, I would assert that 40:30-31 is totally applicable to us today. 41:10? Not so much.
NT: Ephesians 1:1-23
Yep, I love Ephesians. It is no exaggeration to say that I love just about every verse of today's reading, and could talk about them all separately. Instead, though, I am just going to focus on my favorite part, which is Paul's prayer for the Ephesians in verses 16-21. It's pretty self-explanatory, so I won't add much, if any commentary. I will, however, italicize my favorite parts:
"I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far about all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come."
Ahhh, a prayer for the knowledge of God. Let me tell you, those words thrill a Christian nerd's heart:). There is sooo much I want to know about God, and I think that Paul's requests here are just wonderful.
An anonymously written praise psalm that glorifies God, while acknowledging the struggles of the people.
Advice about avoiding prostitutes and wayward women, from a father to a son.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
From what I can tell, this section is almost a word-for-word repeat of 2 Kings 19-20. There are very minor variations in the story of Hezekiah's healing, but there is only one addition that could be considered a major variation. That addition is Hezekiah's writing "after his illness and recovery" (38:9).
In this writing, Hezekiah recounts his sorrow at the news of his impending death (38:10-12), and his eventual breakdown under the burden of it (13-14). He then tells of God's delivery and surmises, "Surely it was for my benefit/that I suffered such anguish" (17). Perhaps he views his anguish as beneficial because it helped him to fully rely on God?
Regardless, I continue to be interested in the evolving view of heaven that we see in the Bible. As I've said before, it seems to me that the OT'ers had, at best, a very foggy view of the afterlife, and at worst, no view of the afterlife. Take Hezekiah's assessment in verses 18-19:
"For the grave cannot praise you,
death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
cannot hope for your faithfulness.
the living, the living--they praise you,
as I am doing today;
fathers tell their children
about your faithfulness."
Is it just me, or do these words seem to indicate a lack of belief of an afterlife?
And yet, these people had the example of Enoch, who was taken up to God, even before death. Where do they think he went???
NT: Galatians 6:1-18
Paul wraps up his letter to the Galatians in today's reading. There are several quotable verses in this passage, and as a way to organize my thoughts, I will now rank them in order from least quotable (but still really good) to most quotable. I am open to alternative lists, but here is mine:
5. "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation" (15). This sentence structure is very effective, and Paul used it extremely well in 5:6. I love how it first discounts the superfluous, and then highlights the essential. What bumps it down on the list of quotables, though, is the circumcision reference. It is very specific to that time period, and not as applicable today.
4. "If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (3). Boom! Again, it is concise, it is simple, it is powerful. In no uncertain terms, Paul conveys the importance of humility. Unlike the next three quotable verses, however, this verse asserts a negative principle, and not a positive one. Thus, it is something I repeat to myself, but it is not a popular one for the pulpits or Christian books.
3. "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (2). It doesn't have as much punch, but it is simple, and it is positive. Also, it is one of those "summing up" verses, which condenses our job as Christians into a convenient nutshell. I have always thought it interesting, though, that three verses later, Paul exhorts each of his readers to "carry his own load" (5). That's one of the drawbacks of figurative language, I guess. Even though the imagery contrasts, the principles do not, in my opinion. Verse 2 describes our need to help each other, specifically in times of temptation and sin (from verse 1). Verse 5 relates to the way we need to measure our actions against Scripture and not against other people. The ideas can both easily be true at the same time, even though the imagery contrasts.
2. "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (9-10). That seems a bit too lengthy to be deemed quotable, but the fact is, I have heard these verses quoted far more than any of the previous ones. If nothing else, I have heard the first phrase, "Let us not become weary in doing good," but more often than not, it's the whole verse, plus the next one. And I can see why. These verses are a great reminder to us as we start to get burnt out or discouraged as we serve others.
1. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." I mean, c'mon. How many times have we heard this? The last sentence, especially, has a firm place in the cultural lexicon. As a Christian, though, I think it is especially powerful in light of the first two sentences.
Well, those are my top 5 for this section. If anyone has any others that they think should make the list, or any different orders, feel free to share!
Psalm 65: 1-13
A praise psalm that focuses primarily on the power and goodness of God as seen through His creation.
On the joy brought by a righteous son.
Monday, September 20, 2010
I'm going to start this post with a phrase I have been studiously avoiding since we begun this book:
"In my Isaiah class at college..."
Yes, I took a class on Isaiah at college. No, I guess I didn't learn much. I must say, I have had many memories of class discussions come back as I have read, but they are always specific to a certain verse or section. I have no memories of anything I learned about the bigger, historical picture of Isaiah, the "who, what, when, where" of the prophecies and their fulfillment. Thus, none of the place names mean anything to me as I read, and I have been unable to put the prophecies together in my head to form some sort of clear, coherent picture of what Isaiah says is going to happen. Like I have said before, it's all a hodge-podge in my woefully ill-informed head.
That said, in my Isaiah class at college, I do remember learning about a concept called "sensus plenior." I've mentioned it before in this blog, but it is a term regarding prophecy, which indicates a deeper meaning intended by God that was not understood by the human author. Now, the only specific time I remember my professor applying it was in Isaiah 9, during the famous, "unto us a child is born" passage. If I remember correctly, my professor believed that the prophecy did have some kind of specific fulfillment in Isaiah's time. The deeper fulfillment, however, came with the birth of Christ.
Even though I don't remember my professor mentioning them, there have been so many other passages I've read in Isaiah that seem like candidates for sensus plenior interpretation. Specifically, many passages seem more applicable to the end times, or to the fullness of God's kingdom. The images of the lion laying down with the lamb and all the animals living in harmony would be one example, but I see sections in almost every day's reading.
Here is one of the candidates from today's reading:
"Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow" (35: 5-7).
The text then goes on to describe a large highway called, "the Way of Holiness," on which only the righteous will walk. Am I wrong, or do these verses seem ripe for symbolic interpretation? Although, come to think of it, symbolic interpretation is not the same as sensus plenior. Hmmm. Either way, I am very open to both sensus plenior or symbolic interpretation when dealing with the prophecies in Isaiah. In doing so, I'm not trying to dilute the message of the text, but rather to acknowledge that we cannot pigeon-hole truth. In our modern era (I know that it's really post-modern, but the church in America has as much modernism as post-modernism still in it--not that that's bad), we tend to view truth as being one way: literal. And yes, literal truth is important, and so much of the Bible is literal truth. But we have to be careful, I think, not to apply standards of truth to the Bible that the Bible does not apply to itself. God is not just God of our modern era. He is not limited to our ways of defining truth.
Or it could be all totally literal. I certainly don't want to rule anything out.
Today's reading closes with a prose section that seems lifted straight out of 2 Kings 18. If I remember the end of this story correctly, God keeps Assyria from conquering the people at this time.
NT: Galatians 5:13-26
This is a great section! I could seriously single out every single verse for specific discussion. Instead, I'll try to be a little selective--mainly for time purposes:
13--"You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." Like 5:6, this is such a simple, classic verse. I love basic, all-encompassing instructions, and "serve one another in love," is a great one. An even more famous example is found in the next verse, when Paul sums up the law by saying, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Wow. After regularly being confused by the complexity of the Bible, it is so refreshing to hear that our ultimate instructions are distinctly easy to understand.
16-18--These verses describe the conflict between the Spirit and the sinful nature within us. Specifically, Paul says that "They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want" (17). In the past, I've always read the phrase "what you want" in one of two ways. Either I think of Romans 7 and think of "what you want" as the good things you want to do that the sinful nature is preventing. Or I think of it vice versa. Today, however, it occurred to me that it could be both. I mean, if we have the Spirit in us, and yet we also have some degree of our sinful nature, then couldn't you argue that as humans, we are never fully doing what we want? When I'm indulging in some kind of sin, I'm not doing what I want b/c I want to be pleasing God. And even if I am serving in some way that brings me great joy, isn't there a side of me that always wants to be selfish? Now, I know that verse 24 counters that, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires," but I would point out that crucifixion is a long, draw-out death. I still feel the pangs of that crucifixion, symbolically speaking, when my whole body yearns to just lay down and rest, for example, and yet the demands of loving and serving my family keep spurring me on.
22-23--Of course, I can't let this section pass without a shout-out to the fruit of the Spirit, especially since my kids love to sing about them:). It's such a simple list, and yet it has been a guiding force in my life.
David complains (his words, not mine) to God about the success of the evil people around him, although he consoles himself with God's imminent judgment.
I guess you could describe this proverb as general or generic, but I still like it:
"Buy the truth and do not sell it;
get wisdom, discipline, and understanding."
Sunday, September 19, 2010
I've been thinking of how you are not supposed to take verses out of context, but instead are supposed to interpret them, 1) in the light of the rest of the book, and 2) in the context of the rest of the canon. That makes Isaiah tough to me because I truly do not have a great understanding of the book. I understand the background (though only in the roughest of terms), but even so, Isaiah just seems like a mishmash of prophecies to me. There are prophecies about doom and destruction, and prophecies about eventual restoration. There are prophecies to this place, and ones to that place. The basic theme seems to be one of wrath toward the unrighteous and restoration to the righteous, but that theme is revisited with perplexing circularity. Every time Isaiah gets to a new round of prophecies, I want to know the specific context of the prophecy, how it was delivered and to whom, when and how it was (or will be?) fulfilled...basically, I want to know a lot. And I just don't know it.
And so that makes it problematic for me to pull out specific verses, as much as I love to do so. Isaiah 26:3, for example, is one of my all time favorites (though not from today's reading--sorry):
"You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast
because he trusts in you."
From today's reading, I also like,
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength" (15).
It is couched as a contrast from the people's rebellion and rejection of God's principles, but I still love it as an idea on its own.
I also love verse 32:17, which says,
"The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and trust forever."
Unfortunately, this would be one of those verses that I would be taking out of context to apply to my current life. This verse is part of a section that clearly seems to be prophesying some specific time. For example, the next verse says that,
"My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest."
Well, I know that that is not currently true for all of God's people, and that there is no guarantee that it will always be true for me. Thus, I can also surmise that the previous verse's promise of peace and quietness may not be applicable to me, either. Often, doing the right thing leads to turmoil and strife. Of course, perhaps the verse refers to internal peace and quietness, an interpretation that would be supported by the third characteristic, trust, which is internal. Hmmm...
My biggest question of applicability (Yes! That's a word! Spell check didn't shut me down!) regards chapter 30:18-21. Verse 21 has been a pet verse of mine since college, and I have banked a lot on it. It saddens me to think I might be misapplying it. The way I apply it is that when we turn to God and throw ourselves at His feet for mercy and guidance (in other words, when we dedicate our lives fully to Him), then He will guide us "whether we turn to the right or to the left" (21). That whole verse reads, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"
This verse has been my antidote to a specific mentality which I have repeatedly encountered, and one which I have sometimes been tempted to have myself. It is the mentality that says that God has ONE specific path for us, and if we make the wrong choice, if we step off that path, then we are out of His will. If we choose this college instead of that, if we choose this person to marry instead of another, if we choose career A instead of career B, then, oops! We blew it! And I just don't believe that. I do think that there is such a thing as a bad choice. But I just don't think that God's will for us works that way. And thus, I get comfort from the idea that "whether we turn to the right or to the left," we can still have God's voice in our lives, telling us how to walk.
If I'm misapplying this verse, let me know. Or on second thought, how about you don't?:) (Just kidding, though I do like my interpretation).
NT: Galatians 5:1-12
I love both verses 5 and 6. The immediate context of those verses is Paul's increasingly impassioned plea to the Galatians to stop seeking righteousness through obedience to the Law. Instead of trying to be righteous through the rigorous adherence to a specific, external code, Paul clarifies that, "by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope." I get three simple ideas from that verse. First of all, righteousness is important, which means that our actions are important. That seems obvious, but I think it can be forgotten in the heat of some of Paul's more forceful "grace alone" arguments. Secondly, our righteousness comes not from ourselves, but from God's Spirit in us. It is not the result of us "gritting our teeth and trying real hard." It does take effort and discipline, but even that needed self-control is a fruit of God's Spirit in us. And so, even when our actions are righteous and good, we are not to believe that they are from our own efforts. Rather, we are simply the jars of clay that hold God's love for the world. Third, righteousness is a gradual process. Sometimes I get confused when reading the NT and start thinking that if I really had God's Spirit in me, then I would be perfect and without sin. This verse, however, is one of several that remind me that there is some waiting and hoping involved in our pursuit of righteousness. It is definitely not an "all at once" thing.
I also love verse 6. This is one that my preacher pointed out a few years ago, and it totally shocked me and everyone around me. Specifically, he pulled out the phrase, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." My mom, me, and the teen next to me were all flabbergasted. That was in the Bible??? I mean, it sounds biblical, but I just didn't remember that phrase--and I have read Galatians. A lot! I guess it always got lost in the larger biblical conversation about circumcision. Isolating that phrase had quite an effect on us. It is just so...elegant. So simple. So profound. My mom even went home and cross-stitched it and gave it to my preacher, and she doesn't even go to my church! This verse still helps me as I try to weigh the value of my actions. If my actions are a manifestation of my faith, expressing itself through love, then I can be sure that they "count." See? Simple!
This is maybe my favorite psalm ever.
About listening to and respecting your parents.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Hmmm...I think I'm just going to take this one from top, and single out the different verses and sections that jumped out at me:
28: 14-19--What is the "covenant with death" that the people made, and why would they think a covenant with death would protect you from death?
28:20--I like the image of a bed that "is too short to stretch out on," and a blanket that is "too narrow to wrap around you." Taken in the context of the preceding verses, I picture this metaphor as applying to our human efforts to protect and secure ourselves. We can try by our own efforts to make a bed for ourselves, so to speak, but it will never be adequate for true rest.
28:23-29--Isaiah seems to apply that man's knowledge of farming, even the practical details of it, comes directly from God. This reminds me of conversations I have with my son. He knows that God made trees and mountains and clouds and all that, but he also sometimes claims that God made cars and houses and other man-made stuff. The way I explain it to him is that man made those things, but God gave him the brains to do it.
29:1-10--Isaiah delivers a grim prophecy to the city of Ariel.
29: 11-12--I thought these verses were interesting. Although I assume that Isaiah openly prophesied the earlier words to Ariel, he claims nevertheless that, "For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll," words that they are unable to read. It reminds me of the idea of being ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing, but never perceiving. Often, the simple truth can be right in front of our faces, but our hardness of heart keeps us from seeing it. Thinking of that makes me wonder about the ways that I am currently blind to those kinds of obvious truth.
29: 13-16--This passage was full of familiar imagery, all of which was borrowed from it and used in the New Testament. Jesus quoted verse 13 in Matthew 15:9 when talking about the Pharisees. Paul quotes verse 14 in I Corinthians 1 when he talks about how God frustrates man's wisdom. Paul also alludes to verse 16 in his defense of predestination, when he says, "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?" (Romans 9:20-21).
30:1-7--Isaiah chastises the people for forming an alliance with Egypt. I guess that this alliance is particularly insulting to God because Egypt was their former oppressor, from whom God delivered them. God makes clear that they would have been better off to form an alliance with Him, as Egypt is sure to fail them. In a particularly colorful phrase, God declares that "I call her Rahab the Do-Nothing" (7).
30:10-11--There just seems to be something universally applicable to human nature in these verses:
"They say to the seers,
'See no more visions!'
and to the prophets,
'Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel.'"
I think that there is something inherently offensive about God to us humans. As much as we long for some eternal purpose, we also long to be master of our own universe, and God shuts us down on that point. Instead, we are confronted with a force outside of ourselves, who defines our purpose for us, and commands us to lay our own lives and desires and dreams at His feet. He also gives us a demanding standard of righteousness that does not usually mesh well with our natural instincts. Thus, when confronted with the reality of a God who does all these things, our tendency is to say, "stop confronting us/ with the Holy One of Israel." Instead, we want to hear that we can basically continue doing whatever we want; in other words, we desire pleasant things and illusions.
NT: Galatians 3:23-4:31
First of all, as a Christian who firmly believes in the importance of baptism, I loved verses 26-27: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." I also found it interesting how that verse runs right into the famously egalitarian verse 28, which declares, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." In some ways, Christianity is the great leveler. It doesn't matter what your background or income or ethnicity or gender is; in Christ, we are all part of the same body. As much as I love this verse, however, and as much as I believe in the deep, central truth of it, I also see how it could be misapplied. Paul is not saying that there is no difference between Jews and Greeks, slaves or free, male nor female, and he is not denying that we all have different roles to play in the body of Christ. On the contrary, Paul repeatedly asserts in his letters that we do play different roles. He even goes so far as to instruct slaves to embrace their roles and not to let slavery bother them, which honestly sounds pretty crazy to me. And he clearly describes different roles for men and women, though I've acknowledged in earlier blogs that there is some debate over how and to what degree those instructions are currently applicable. So I don't think that Paul is contradicting those many passages. Rather, I think he is making a statement on identity and worth. As Christians, our core identity is found not in our social roles, but in Christ Jesus. And as such, we all have equal worth in Him. Different roles, but equal worth.
I've also decided that Paul is the king of metaphors. He makes two extended metaphors in this passage to describe the relationship between followers of the Law and followers of Christ. The first is to do with children before they receive their inheritance. The child who has not yet received his inheritance represents the one who follows the Law. The child who is at the age where he comes into his inheritance is the one who follows Christ. The second involves Ishmael and Isaac. I'll let you guess which boy stands for which group:).
Also, I thought Paul's allusion to his "illness" was quite interesting. I know a lot has been read into verse 15, where Paul says, "I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me." This has made many people think that Paul is saying that something was wrong with his eyes when he visited the Galatians. Support for this theory is found in the fact that Paul apparently couldn't write his own letters much of the time, and when he did write, his words were very large (Gal. 6:11). If he truly was suffering from an eye problem, I wonder if it was some kind of residual effect from being blinded by God for three days. Hmmm...
At the same time, he twice refers to his condition as an illness, and it appears to have been a passing phenomenon. Are eye conditions illnesses? Do they come and go? That doesn't sound right to me. So maybe it is something else.
This psalm is kind of in sync with our passage in Isaiah. It is all about how God alone is our refuge. We should turn to Him alone (and not Egypt, for example) in times of trouble.
Like last time, I also loved verse 9:
"Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath."
I always love these type of verses when I read them, and then when I actually type them out, I think, "I am such a weirdo! Who likes these depressing kinds of verses?" I guess I just really love "big picture" verses. I like to see the big picture of life, and these verses provide me with sweeping vistas.
Prov. 23: 19-21
I like the image in verse 19 of keeping one's heart on the right path.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Well, whereas Isaiah has previously been full of dire predictions, today's medley offers a dichotomy of sorts. One the one hand, the proud and strong will be brought low:
"You have made the city a heap of rubble,
the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners' stronghold a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt" (25:2).
On the other hand, the poor will be lifted up:
"You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in his distress
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat" (4).
Along those lines, Isaiah crescendos to a beautiful vision of hope in verses 6-8, in which he describes a huge banquet on a mountain that God will prepare for "all peoples" (6). Furthermore, on the mountain, God will destroy death itself and will then
"wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth" (8).
However, those who are not his people will not fare so well (9-12). To give you an indication of their fate, there is an apparent image of them swimming in manure (10b-11a). Yikes!
The rest of the reading similarly fluctuates between describing the deliverance of the saved and the destruction of the unsaved. Apparently, the difference between the two groups is not their circumstances. They both suffer horribly in this world. At one point, Isaiah describes some of the saved people as suffering like a woman in labor (26:17-18). The difference is in their reactions to their suffering. Those who turn to the Lord in their distress are saved by Him (26: 16-21). Those who rely on their own strength are destroyed (28:1-13). God's preference is for the former. In describing the punishment he is about to bring forth against rebellious people (it's all discussed in a weird vineyard metaphor), He pulls up short and says,
"Or else let them come to me for refuge;
let them make peace with me,
yes, let them make peace with me" (27:5).
What I got from today's reading was that, despite His clear willingness to shower His wrath upon the rebellious people, God's stronger desire is for us to be reconciled to Him and live.
NT: Galatians 3:10-22
The 7th grade girls in my cell group are supposed to be reading through Galatians this week, and the whole time I was reading this passage, I was thinking, "I'm going to have so much explaining to do!" Paul's argument is pretty intricate here, though the good thing is that his point is still pretty simple: justification is from faith, not from external obedience to the Law. Law does not equal salvation. Got it?
To make sure that we do, Paul quotes several passages from the Law and then contrasts them with one from Habakkuk and with the life of Abraham. His position is that when God made His promise to Abraham, He was planning to ultimately fulfill that promise through Christ's sacrifice (14, 16). In the meantime, the Law was added to guide people toward God. At least, that's how I read the phrase, "It was added because of transgressions" (19). In the time elapsing between Abraham and Christ, the Law was put into place to show people what sin was and to urge them not to do it. Furthermore, in verses 21-22, Paul maintains that the problem was not with the Law, but with man. The Law would have been a great way to come to God, had man not been so enslaved by sin. It's all a bit mind-boggling to me tonight, but that's basically how I read Paul's argument.
David asks God for both physical blessings (deliverance from trials, and long life) and spiritual blessings (to dwell in God's tent forever).
An admonition to follow God and not sinners.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Today's reading brought us some cool names. I liked the "Valley of Vision" (22:1), and the "Palace of the Forest" (8). And I have to admit that Isaiah's indictment of those trying to fortify the Palace of the Forest on their own could often be said of me. It seems from verses 8-11 that those around the Palace of the Forest recognize that they are in a vulnerable position. Rather than rely on God, however, they decide to try and fortify it with their own efforts. In these verses, Isaiah lists several of the steps the people take to strengthen their position, concluding with verse 11:
"You built a reservoir between the two walls
for the water of the Old Pool,
but you did not look to the One who made it,
or have regard for the One who planned it long ago."
Similarly, whenever circumstances reveal my own vulnerability, my instinct is to throw up a quick prayer to God and then to leap into action. And it is not that action is wrong; it's just that often, my actions show my "reliance" on God to be nothing more than a token gesture. Instead of pausing a second and seeking His will, instead of waiting on Him, I just plow ahead with my own measures of defense. In such times, introspection is not my forte. And though my actions appear to be practical, these type of verses remind me that everything is in God's hands. I don't ward off disaster by being a busy and dedicated worker bee. If disaster veers away from my house, it is God alone who gets the credit.
In the case of those in the Valley of Vision, God orchestrated these events to prompt them to throw themselves on His mercy. Instead, they treat the dire straits with nonchalance and jocularity:
"The Lord, the Lord Almighty,
called you on that day
to weep and to wail...
But see, there is joy and revelry,
slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep,
eating of meat and drinking of wine!
'Let us eat and drink,' you say,
'for tomorrow we die!'" (12-13).
While this devil-may-care attitude might strike some as almost courageous, God is not amused. And He makes His thoughts clear to Shebna, the man "in charge of the palace" (15). In a prophecy specifically directed at him, God clarifies that Shebna will not even retain the small modicum of control that he thinks he has over his life. Though Shebna seems to realize that his death is eminent, he apparently comforts himself my creating a magnificent grave. God has other plans:
"What are you doing here and who gave you permission
to cut out a grave for yourself here,
hewing you grave on the height
and chiseling your resting place in the rock?
Beware, the Lord is about to take firm hold of you
and hurl you away, O you mighty man.
He will roll you up tightly like a ball
and throw you into a large country.
There you will die
and there your splendid chariots will remain--
you disgrace to your master's house" (16-18).
I can't say for certain, but I get the feeling that God is saying that Shebna's bones are not going to rest in his magnificent grave. It seems to me that the point God is trying to make here is that there is no independence from Him, there is no real power apart from him. You can delude yourself into thinking you control certain aspects of your life, however small, but the fact is, it is all from God.
NT: Galatians 2:17-3:9
Today Paul emphasizes that our actions are not what saves us, but salvation comes instead from our belief. As such, it absolutely baffles him that the Galatians are returning to obedience to the Law as a means of salvation. Now, I understand his frustration, but I can also see how it is a complex situation. Like, I understand that it is not obedience to the Law of Moses that saves me. But doesn't Christianity require some outward action? I guess the way I've always heard it explained is that we don't do good things to be saved; we do good things because we are saved. And that the good things we do aren't on our own at all; we are simply bearing fruit from the Spirit within us. So...if you aren't bearing fruit, then there is reason to question the Spirit's presence. Okay, I think I just explained all of that adequately to myself. Moving on.
I love verse 20: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." That verse is so good that we even have a song about it, one that quotes it verbatim. And come to think of it, this one verse goes a long way to explain the conundrum of faith versus works that I was just talking about. Our works come from faith in Christ, who lives within us.
By the way, I know that the authorship of some of the Pauline epistles are in dispute, but I bet no one is questioning this one! The whole argument today is straight Paul--it sounds sooo much like the stuff he said in Romans!
David calls to God for salvation.
Prov. 23: 15-16
A father delights int he wisdom and righteousness of his son.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Today, Egypt gets bad news, though it ends up good for them. After describing the trials and tribulations that they will face, the prophecy ends with Egypt pledging "allegiance to the Lord Almighty" (19:18). In the ensuing verses, Isaiah explains that God brought trials on the people in order to turn them to Him. I thought Isaiah's words here were extremely interesting:
"The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance'" (22-25).
Now, I've mentioned before that I am no prophecy expert, and I have no idea what scholars think about this passage. I haven't brushed up on my Egypt and Assyrian history in awhile, so I can't speak for the historic implications here. What I can say is that this passage seemed to give some kind of insight into God's plan for the nations and the people of the world. This prophecy was written to lands in turmoil. They were all fighting each other and causing so much suffering and destruction. And here, God gives a rough blueprint, a method to the madness. The ultimate goal, it would seem from this passage, would be for all of the nations in question (Egypt, Assyria, Israel) to turn to God. The master plan was not the Israelites would be separate forever from the doomed pagans, but that God would reach out and save them all. Now, like I said, I don't know if there is any historical record of these three nations having a big revival together (somehow I doubt it), but it seems to me that the larger message of this prophecy is that God's plan and goal is to bring all nations, all people to Him.
NT: Galatians 2:1-16
Paul continues to give some personal background designed to prove that his gospel does not come from men. Because he has that goal in mind, he takes almost comical pains to distance himself from the popular church leaders of the day. In today's narrative, he lets fourteen years pass before journeying back to Jerusalem, and even then, he only goes because he has received a direct, personal revelation from God (2). In other words, it's not because Peter, or anyone else, told him to. In fact, he refers to such people as "those who seemed to be leaders" (2). A few verses later, he refers to that same group of leaders as "those who seemed to be important--whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance," and he adds, "those men added nothing to my message" (6). (By the way, if I had to guess, I'd say he was describing the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15.) Lastly, he refers to the fact that "James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me the right hand of fellowship" (9). Do you see how he is undercutting them? They seem to be leaders, they are reputed to be pillars, and Paul personally doesn't care either way--it "makes no difference" to him. He finishes up his distancing by giving a vivid example of him opposing Peter "to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong" (11).
Now, again, I don't think that Paul is doing this b/c he has a beef with the church leadership. Rather, I think his point is to make clear that he is not a puppet, and that the gospel he preached was not something that he got from "higher ups." God gave him his message. That is his point. He is not wowed by earthly authority or leadership; he is only doing the duty given to him by God Himself. To demonstrate my point, let me add this: if he is truly referring to the council at Jerusalem, then that alone provides a good example of his relationship with the other leaders. Even though (as I wrote at the time) I don't think that Paul agreed 100% with the outcome of that council, he did agree to go along with it, probably out of some mixture of respect for his brothers and a desire for church unity. So Paul did know how to play ball. He thus makes his current point not out of disrespect for his brothers in the faith, but out of his zeal for the purity of the gospel.
At least, that's my analysis:).
David prays again for deliverance from enemies.
Since I am now mostly writing a one line synopsis for each psalm, I have been able to see how so many of David's psalms are essentially the same. I kind of like that. It shows that he went to God over and over again when he was facing trouble. He poured out his heart before God regularly, and he did not hide his desires from Him.
On the value of discipline.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Doom and gloom, doom and gloom. We are in a series of oracles against various nations. None of them contain good news. And I have no background info on them, such as why Isaiah is talking about all these nations, when these events are believed to have come to pass, or how all the nations relate to each other politically. Thus, I feel quite limited on what to say about them.
I did think it was interesting that Isaiah sympathized so much with Moab (16:7, 9, 11). Aren't they, like, enemies of Judah? I don't know. All I remember is that Ruth was a Moabitess, right?
Anyhow, for the sake of recording what happened in the reading, today Moab and Damascus receive bad news.
Oh, and lastly, who are the tall and smooth-skinned people he keeps talking about (18:2,7)? And why am I even asking that when I have about three hundred other questions about the bigger picture of these messages?
NT: Galatians 1:1-24
Yay, a new book! In my head, I have a list of the churches that Paul was unhappy with. Actually, it is a pretty short list: Corinth and Galatia. (At least, I think that's it.) And I'm also pretty sure that Paul's letter to the Galatians is unique in that he totally dispenses with the opening niceties and just lays right into them. Today's reading does not record what Paul's specific beef is, only that the Galatians are "deserting the one who called [them] by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--which is really no gospel at all" (6-7a). We will hear tomorrow more about what their digression from the gospel looks like.
Paul spends the rest of today's reading establishing the credentials of the gospel he preaches. It is especially important to him that he relays that his gospel is from God, and not from men. To reinforce that point, he gives a little bit of his personal testimony, taking pains to highlight that his conversion and ministry were the result of God's intervention, and God's intervention only (13-23). One verse that encompasses Paul's stance here is verse 10: "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." This verse particularly resonated with me as a teenager, when I was most definitely trying to get the approval of others--mainly my peers. And even though I have definitely been freed from those high-school-level shackles, I know that I am still susceptible to caring too much about what others think of me. It is always a good reminder to remember that pleasing God is by far our most important goal.
Reading this psalm made me remember several points I brought up last time. I won't bring them up again, but this was one of the few times so far that I remembered specifically what jumped out at me earlier this year.
"Apply your heart to instruction
and your ears to words of knowledge."
As a perpetual student, I love this line. I love to be taught:). I guess the caution is in who to take as one's teachers.