Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thoughts on Holy Saturday, Day 40, Lent 2013

Today is the last day of waiting, after forty days of preparation. Part of my preparation for Resurrection Day has been reading through the entire Bible. This afternoon I finished Peter's epistles and John's and Jude's as well as John's mind blowing vision at the end of the end, the Apocalypse.
16th century Russian icon of the Descent into ...
16th century Russian icon of the Descent into Hades of Jesus Christ, which is the icon for Holy and Great Saturday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holy Saturday is the quiet, in between time, when Christ is hidden. I think most of my life has felt like Holy Saturday. Sometimes there is tragic pain, that Christ accompanies me in, a Good Friday, and sometimes there is a euphoric encounter with the risen Christ, but a lot of life is melancholic for me. I don't think I'm unusual in living life with a knapsack of pain slung over my shoulder. I've been through the slough of despair, the valley of the shadow of death, and I've been to the mountaintop. Resurrection day reminds me that my life will ultimately end on the mountaintop.

Holy Saturday falls on the Sabbath, when God rested from working on his creation. This day is a time for rest.  I admit, I'm tired of my Lenten fast. I'm starting to cheat on it. I'm eager for the feast tomorrow. I'm also eager for the heavenly feast John describes as the marriage supper of the lamb, when Christ, the groom and the sacrificed lamb, is united with his church, the bride purchased with his blood, in heaven. And this is the day that reminds me to wait. Waiting sucks, but it makes the thing waited for even better. Peter encourages the church in its time of waiting, even today in his second letter.

2 Peter 3:3,4 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

2 Peter 3:8, 9 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Jesus seeks to reconcile with as many as possible. The waiting will make the party even better.

Thanks for joining me on my Bible journey this Lent,

Looking forward to the resurrection,

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Thoughts on Good Friday, Day 39, Lent 2013

Today's Lenten reading started in 1 Timothy and ended in James. Good Friday has narrowed my focus. There's this bloody passage in Hebrews 9:11-15
Icon of the Crucifixion, 16th century, by Theo...
Icon of the Crucifixion, 16th century, by Theophanes the Cretan (Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
11 So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. 12 With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. 13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. 14 Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. 15 That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.
I attended a worship service this afternoon and used the hymnal as a guide for meditation. One hymn, by William Cowper in the 1700's, stands out to me in light of this passage.

1. There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
 and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
 and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
 2. The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
 and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.
 Wash all my sins away, wash all my sins away;
 and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.
 3. Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood shall never lose its power
 till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.
 Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more;
 till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.
 4. E'er since, by faith, I saw the stream thy flowing wounds supply,
 redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
 And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
 redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
 5. Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I'll sing thy power to save,
 when this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
 Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave;
 when this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thoughts on Paul's epistles, Day 38, Lent 2013

Today's Lenten Bible reading covered 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians. Since it is Holy Week, my eyes and ears are tuned into the topic of the cross. Theological topics abound in the dense writing of Paul, so I am picking one topic, Good Friday and Resurrection Day. Here are some clips on that topic.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
I can see how people who are universalists find support for their theological position in this section. Here is what I've been taught. Jesus did die for the sins of the world. Everything has been forgiven. There is only one thing to do, believe in Jesus. By analogy, a check has been made out to everyone to get into heaven for free, you just need to sign your name to it.
Galatians 1:3-5 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.  Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.  All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.
Who did Jesus give his life to, for our sins? Hebrews tells us that he offered himself to God his father for us. According to Mark 10:45 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6, he ransomed himself. The ransom theory of the atonement is an interesting one.

Ephesians 2:4-7 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much,  that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)  For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.
Our resurrection hope is tied up with Jesus' resurrection fact.
Philippians 2:5-11 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is, more than likely, an early church hymn with heavy duty Christology. Jesus is God, yet he took on flesh, "incarnate" in Latin, so he could die.
Colossians 1:19-22 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.
There's another one of those universalist verses. In the context of other passages, hell seems pretty real. The previous explanation still holds water for me.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.
This does not make a universalist happy. Nevertheless, being rescued by Jesus from the coming judgment makes me happy.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 As for us, we can’t help but thank God for you, dear brothers and sisters loved by the Lord. We are always thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth. He called you to salvation when we told you the Good News; now you can share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I looked in vain for a reference to the cross in 2 Thess. I settled for a trinity passage instead.
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thoughts on Romans and 1 Corinthians, Day 37, Lent 2013

Today's Lenten reading covers Romans and 1 Corinthians. Since Good Friday and Resurrection Day are fast approaching, these two passages from the letter to the church in Corinth caught my ear.
Christ icon in Taizé
Christ icon in Taizé (Photo credit: lgambett)
The first passage is from the beginning of the letter. God's ways do not make any sense of all. His victory comes through his death. The king gives himself up. Why would anyone be attracted to a man, wrongfully convicted, able to stop his execution at an time, writhing on a cross, suffocating to death? In what world does this make sense?

1 Corinthians 1:18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.” 20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. 23 So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.
Jesus has introduced a new world order. His resurrection validated everything he taught.
Shroud of Turin
Shroud of Turin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1 Corinthians 15 Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. 2 It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. 3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. 9 For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.
12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. 20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

The Resurrection from Grünewald's Isenheim Alt...
The Resurrection from Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece was a direct influence on Three Studies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His victory over death means all who believe in him will have this victory as well. The King was crowned, not with a golden headpiece, but with woven thorns. He overcame violence with peace. He won by losing. It still doesn't make sense.
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thoughts on the Acts of the Apostles, Day 36, Lent 2013

I listened to all of the Acts of the Apostles today in today's Lenten reading. I did not read a word. Nevertheless, it's a great aural experience. Luke tells a good story. He flashes back a little before the end of his gospel. Before Jesus departs to heaven, he tells the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. While worshiping, the Holy Spirit comes on the community and crazy stuff happens. They worship God in new languages. Flames flicker over their heads. It's wild and it draws a crowd, to whom Peter preaches. Thousands are converted to following Jesus after this sermon and they start living communally like a bunch of hippies. But the religious establishment that tried to kill Jesus doesn't like it at all. So they commence the beatings and jailings. One of their chief Capos is a Pharisee named Saul. He presides over a spontaneous stoning of a Christian deacon named Stephen. But Jesus personally intervenes and confronts Saul on his way to Damascus. He also temporarily blinds Saul to emphasize his point. Saul converts, changes his name to Paul, and starts spreading the good news around the Mediterranean. Acts ends with him under house arrest in Rome, waiting for a trial.

Peter does several miracles that are Christ-like in their wow factor. Later on, Paul does several of the same miracles. They both heal crippled guys. Demons are cast out, healings happen at a distance, without a touch, angels spring them from jails, and dead people are resuscitated supernaturally. Later on in the book, Luke switches from 3rd person to 1st person plural. He joins Paul on his travels. My Greek teacher suggested to us that Luke wanted to validate Paul's ministry bu showing that he could do everything Peter could do.

I grabbed this chart from the Blue Letter Bible website.
MiraclesWhere WroughtRecorded In
Peter heals a lame manJerusalem3:1-11
Ananias and Sapphira struck deadJerusalem5:1-10
Apostles perform many wondersJerusalem5:12-16
Peter and John communicate the Holy SpiritSamaria8:14-17
Peter heals Eneas of a palsyLydda9:33-34
Peter raises Tabitha, or Dorcas, to lifeJoppa9:36-41
Peter delivered out of prison by an angelJerusalem12:7-17
God smites Herod, so that he diesJerusalem12:21-23
Elymas, the sorcerer, smitten with blindnessPaphos13:6-11
Paul convertedRoad to Damascus9:1-9
Paul heals a crippleLystra14:8-10
Paul casts out a spirit of divinationPhilippi16:16-18
Paul and Silas's prison doors opened by an earthquakePhilippi16:25-26
Paul communicates the Holy SpiritCorinth19:1-6
Paul heals multitudesCorinth19:11-12
Paul restores Eutychus to lifeTroas20:9-12
Paul shakes off a viperMalta28:3-6
Paul heals the father of Publius and othersMalta28:7-9

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Thoughts on the Gospel of John , Day 35, Lent 2013

Maybe ten years ago I remember myself saying out loud that I couldn't stand John's gospel. It was too obtuse. I didn't get it. Now it is my favorite. Today's Lenten reading included all of John's gospel. I listened to most of it as I was working in the lab today.

John leaves golden eggs of the deity of Jesus throughout his gospel. He leaves them in every chapter. As I listened to chapter 5, I noticed something new to me. It's a minor assertion overshadowed by the mountains of theology all around it, but it's still important, especially when chatting with the Jehovah's Witnesses who come by, denying the deity of Jesus.
John 5:22-23 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
My question is can there be a way to honor God the Father that does not include worship? And isn't the only worship allowed by God is the kind directed towards Him? Later on in chapter 14, the apostle Philip asks to see God. Jesus tells him, "you're looking at him." Read it for yourself.

John 14:8-11 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”  Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
The Mormon missionaries who come to my door believe in tri-theism, three gods, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The secret to the orthodox understanding of the trinity is three persons, but one substance, or three who's and one what. The three are God, not gods, but they are distinct persons. There are no good analogies. It's unique to the universe, just like God.

This gospel has my favorite verse of the entire Bible in it, John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.It's my favorite because eternal life and knowledge are intertwined. I like learning. I'm old enough now to know that I'll need eternity to learn everything.
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Sunday, March 24, 2013

book response: The Rocks Don't Lie by Montgomery (2012)

David Montgomery is a geomorphologist at the University of Washington and has written a great historical explanation that any honest young earth creationists should read. Angry atheists should read this as well since Montgomery is a great model of irenic persuasion.

He surveys throughout the book several flood myths, and notes their connections to historical events. He also notes how the myths change depending on the location around the world. For example, China does not have a world flooding story with a character like Noah who saves the animals. China's floods come from it's great rivers in deep valleys, not like Mesopotamia's great rivers through broad plains. Nor did China experience a great sea rising like the Black Sea's. He also goes into the development of the science of geology. It's an historical development that developed in the West alongside the influence of the rising Protestant church. As different hypotheses formed about how rocks formed while keeping Noah's worldwide flood in context, Noah's flood kept falling to the wayside.

Early on in the church's history, the age of the earth and the extent of Noah's flood, were not issues to worry about. The church's creeds had nothing to say about these topics. The creeds, Apostles', Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian, were focused on the Trinity, Jesus, the resurrection, and salvation. But by the 20th century, a subset of the Christian fundamentalists insisted on the young earth and Noah's worldwide flood contrary to physical evidence and church history. Their influence has been tremendous in the United States even to this date. Montgomery's hope in this book is to point out that even those who were even from the young earth fundamentalists have realized their arguments, both scientifically and biblically, were bad, false, or wrong. And contrary to young earth creationist assertions, believers have believed in an old earth and in evolution without losing their faith.

Here are some of my favorite quotes mentioning some of those believers
In 1954, influential Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm critiqued creationism from an evangelical perspective in The Christian View of Science and Scripture. Ramm argued against a recent global flood...To set science against religion was to set creation against creator. "If the author of Nature and of Scripture are the same God, then the two books of God must eventually recite the same story." Ramm advised evangelical Christians not to confuse interpretation with revelation. Just because the Bible was the infallible Word of God did not mean that it was always obvious as to what it meant regarding scientific matters. Confidence that one understood the clear meaning of scripture did not necessarily mean one did. pp. 197-8

Pointing out discrepancies in the genealogical listings presented in different books of the Bible, [Davis A.] Young maintained that the obvious interpretation may not always be the correct one. He held that a careful reading of the Bible revealed no fundamental conflict between science and Christianity...Young also complained that Christians who defend traditional ideas of the Flood were too quick to appeal to miracles to help them evade scientific difficulties. It was telling how those seeking to support a global deluge consistently claimed as much scientific support as they could marshal and then invoked miracles when their own explanations broke down. pp. 237-8

In fact, the founding fundamentalists did not want to choose between science and religion. One, they believed, leads to greater understanding and knowledge about the way the world works, and the other provides moral and spiritual guidance in navigating the complexities of life, culture, and society. Seen in this light, the varying interpretations of the biblical flood story are part of an ongoing battle for the soul of Christianity.  Will it remain a dynamic faith that helps people navigate modern times and understand the world and our place in it? Or will Christianity become locked in a senseless war against reason, as St. Augustine feared? Only time will tell. pp. 250-1
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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thoughts on Luke, Day 34, Lent 2013

In my edition of The Message, a Bible paraphrased by Eugene Peterson, he gives an introduction to each book. I don't normally read them, but today his introduction to Luke caught my eye. Luke, he notes, is the only non-Jewish writer of an entire book (two, including Acts) to the Bible. He's also the biggest contributor to the New Testament. Luke's concerns include the outcasts, the marginalized, and the lost causes. I read only the first couple chapters, then put on my headphones and listened to the rest of it while puttering around the yard and house. Only one more week to finish the entire Bible during Lent.

Peterson's introduction primed my eyes and ears to read and listen to those prayers, songs, and examples of God's concern for the weak. There is Mary's song.
 Luke 1:51 God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds. The proud in mind and heart, God has sent away in disarray. 52 The rulers from their high positions of power, God has brought down low. And those who were humble and lowly, God has elevated with dignity. 53 The hungry—God has filled with fine food. The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
There's Zachariah's song, in reference to his own miracle child John, the future baptist.
Luke 1:67-79 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, Just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, What he swore to our father Abraham— a clean rescue from the enemy camp, So we can worship him without a care in the world, made holy before him as long as we live. And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,” will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, Present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.
In chapter 2, the announcement of Christ's birth to shepherds.
In chapter 4, Jesus reads his mission statement from Isaiah.
Luke 4:17 The synagogue attendant gave Him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus unrolled it to the place where Isaiah had written these words: 18 The Spirit of the Lord the Eternal One is on Me. Why? Because the Eternal designated Me to be His representative to the poor, to preach good news to them. He sent Me to tell those who are held captive that they can now be set free, and to tell the blind that they can now see. He sent Me to liberate those held down by oppression. 19 In short, the Spirit is upon Me to proclaim that now is the time; this is the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.
In chapter 5, Jesus recruits fishermen to be his students. He touches lepers and heals them. He eats with traitorous tax collectors and other shady characters, to the disgust of the religious elite.
Chapter 6 is Jesus' sermon on the plain, similar to Matthew's sermon on the mount, but with some modifications. His beatitudes are more earthly and coupled with some woes.
Luke 6:20  All you who are poor, you are blessed for the kingdom of God belongs to you. 21 All you who are hungry now, you are blessed for your hunger will be satisfied. All you who weep now, you are blessed for you shall laugh! 22 When people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and write you off as evil on account of the Son of Man, you are blessed. 23 When these things happen, rejoice! Jump for joy! Then you have a great reward in heaven For at that moment, you are experiencing what the ancient prophets did when they were similarly treated by the ancestors of your detractors. 24 All you who are rich now, you are in danger for you have received your comfort in full. 25 All you who are full now, you are in danger for you shall be hungry. All you who laugh now, you are in danger for you shall grieve and cry. 26 And when everyone speaks well of you, you are in danger for their ancestors spoke well of the false prophets too.
In chapter 7 Jesus heals a Roman soldiers servant. Later on, as he dines at the home of a curious religiously elite guy named Simon, he doesn't flinch when a woman of bad reputation enters and starts washing Jesus' feet with her tears. If that weren't sensual enough, she let's her hair down to dry his feet. Then she pours expensive perfume on his feet.
In chapter 8, Luke names the women who also followed Jesus and supported him. I think it's a big deal that he takes the time to acknowledge them by name and list them as his followers.
There are 16 more chapters. I don't have the time to make the exhaustive list in this blog post. I hope it intrigues you to read it for yourself though and consider if your politics aligns with Luke's and Jesus's.
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Friday, March 22, 2013

Thoughts on Mark, Day 33, Lent 2013

The gospels are my favorite part of the Bible. Last year I read them over and over again. I set a goal to read each gospel ten times. I used to like John's the least, now it's my favorite. Mark's is special to me because I learned with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship how to do manuscript study in it. My Lenten reading today is all of Mark.

Mark writes like a comic book author. I am not saying that his gospel is fanciful, but that his style prefers action over character. There are parables and dialogs, but no multi-chapter sermon on the mount as in Matthew. For both gospels, I didn't finish the reading before I left for work, so I listened to the latter half of each book. While doing that this morning, I was struck by how often I thought I was listening to Matthew again. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are called the synoptic gospels. They share lots of material. But they have different emphases. Matthew's focus is on Jesus's kingship, a fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. Mark's focus is on his humanity and servanthood. He refers to the Old Testament rarely, unlike Matthew. Unlike Matthew, Mark is not an original disciple. He shows up in Acts as a traveling companion of Paul's on missionary journeys around Asia. They had a falling out, but according to church history he ended up connecting with Peter. This gospel might be Peter's story, a fisherman's story. It's a great one, too.
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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thoughts on Matthew, Day 32, Lent 2013

The mega-Lenten-Bible-reading-plan enters the New Testament today. The gospel of Matthew is a great transition book from the Old Testament because he references the OT constantly. He's not just referencing the OT, but tells stories of Jesus fulfilling multiple predictions and allusions in the OT. Sometimes Matthew grabs verses which have nothing to do, in context, with the Messiah. Some verse-grabs are allusions to the nation of Israel (see Matt. 2:15). This tells me that Matthew wants us to see that Jesus represents God and humanity and Israel. Matthew's gospel is directed to Jews. His background is complicated. He's a Jew who collected taxes for Rome, a traitor to his people. Yet Jesus invited him to be part of his new people. Twelve students, disciples, who represent a new beginning, just as there were twelve sons of Israel.

There's so much symbolism and cool stuff going on, more than I can condense into one blog. A couple riffs then; the sermon on the mount is some intense ethics; the "woes" towards the religious teachers is intense criticism; Jesus gets really mad sometimes; Jesus is very tender sometimes. Why was he killed? A prophet speaks to those in power as an equal. Those in power do not like their position threatened. The religious leaders in power in Jesus' time kept giving him more and more rope, hoping he would hang himself with it, but they never took him seriously and never recognized they were dealing with the hoped for Messiah, God's anointed king, the new David. So Isaiah 53 gets fulfilled. And Zechariah 11:12-13. Lots of OT things get fulfilled, see the wiki article.

Palm Sunday is coming up, the last Sunday before Resurrection Day. It's story is found in Matthew 21. The Good Friday story, when he is crucified is at Matthew 27. The resurrection story is found in Matthew 28. This chapter changes everything. If he really died, and how could anyone survive that, then he is the first person to come back to life, under his own power, after a weekend in a tomb, and everything he said and claimed is not craziness, but the way to eternal life. Resurrection changes everything.
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thoughts on the rest of the minor prophets, Day 31, Lent 2013

Today, I finished the Old Testament in this crazy Lenten reading schedule, one whole bible in 40 days.

Highlights from the end of the Bible.
Habakuk 2:4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith. [This is a big topic in the New Testament. Paul points to this verse a couple times to show that God has always judged righteousness by faith, not by activities, which is why Abram was righteous before the 10 commandments were given.] 5 Moreover, wealth is treacherous; the arrogant do not endure. They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough. They gather all nations for themselves, and collect all peoples as their own. [In this context, where righteousness is found in the contrast between faith in God and faith and wealth, I agree with Paul's use of this verse.]

I empathize with the belief to live and let live, and all faiths lead to the same God, but over and over again, he trashes idol worship and later on celestial object worship.
Habakuk 2:18 What use is an idol once its maker has shaped it— a cast image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in what has been made, though the product is only an idol that cannot speak! 19 Alas for you who say to the wood, “Wake up!” to silent stone, “Rouse yourself!” Can it teach? See, it is gold and silver plated, and there is no breath in it at all. 20 But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!

It does not seem that God considers all paths a path to him. The next prophet, Zephaniah has the same objection from God about worshipping other gods.
Zephaniah 1:4 I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests; 5 those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens; those who bow down and swear to the Lord, but also swear by Milcom; 6 those who have turned back from following the Lord, who have not sought the Lord or inquired of him.

Haggai seeks to motivates the returned exiles to finish building the temple they started. This is the story of 2 Chronicles 35-36, all of Ezra, Nehemiah, and the apocryphal book of 1 Esdras.

Zechariah is a mini-version of Ezekiel with all its craziness. There are some wild visions and gems of theology. Zechariah has an answer to the question of where God is when terrible things happen. Zech. 2:8 For thus said the Lord of hosts (after his glory sent me) regarding the nations that plundered you: Truly, one who touches you touches the apple of my eye. What a great expression! Chapter 5 has the crazy visions, among eight altogether, of a flying book and Miss Wicked in a basket. In Chapter 7, God tells his people, who are returning from exile, what religion that is from the heart looks like,8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.

Again, God is so not into idols. Zech. 13:2 The Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, promises to remove all idolatry from the land. Eternal One: On that day, I will certainly blot out the names of the detestable idols and false gods from the land. They will never again be remembered or worshiped in this place. What’s more, I will cut off from the land the disreputable prophets and the impure spirits they work for.

Malachi is the last prophet in the Old Testament. He seems like a Leviticus kind of guy, because he has gripes about their worship on the cheap. He talks about our common humanity. Malachi 2:10 Do we not all share one father? Has not one God created us all? Why do we all act deceitfully with our brothers and sisters and soil the covenant between God and our ancestors? God has plans to judge certain offenders. Malachi 3:5 Then I will approach you for judgment, and I will be a swift witness against the constant sorcerers; the chronic adulterers; the habitual liars; those who continue cheating wages from their hired laborer, a widow, or an orphan; and those who always reject the immigrant, not fearing Me, the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies. 6 Because I am the Eternal One, I never change; as a result, you children of Jacob have not been destroyed though your blessing may have been delayed. It ends with a promise of Elijah's return, fulfilled by John the Baptist. Malachi 4:5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” See Luke 1:17.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thoughts on the minor prophets, Day 30, Lent 2013

Today's big gulp of Bible reading covers Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, and Nahum. There is plenty to like in these books. I wanted to highlight a few morsels.
Joel has this great promise from God, which was seen in Job's story and in Jesus' promise that whatever is given up for him will be returned a hundredfold (Mark 10:28-31). The quotes below are from The Voice Bible translation that lays things out like a screenplay.
Joel 2:25 Eternal One: I will compensate you for the years that the locusts have eaten—the swarming locusts, The creeping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts— My great army that I unleashed against you. 26 In that day, you will eat plenty of food and always have enough, so you will praise My name, The Eternal One, your God who is merciful to you. Never again will My people be shamed among the nations. 27 Return to Me and you will know that I live among My people Israel and that I, the Eternal One, am your God and there is no other. Never again will My people be shamed among the nations. 28 Then in those days I will pour My Spirit to all humanity; your children will boldly and prophetically speak the word of God. Your elders will dream dreams; your young warriors will see visions. 29 No one will be left out. In those days I will offer My spirit to all servants, both male and female. 30 In the heaven above and on the earth below, I will give signs of My intervention: blood, fire, and clouds of smoke. 31 The sun will become a void of darkness, and the moon will become blood just before the great and dreadful day of the Eternal One arrives. 32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Eternal One will be liberated. {Paul quotes this in Romans 10:13) Mount Zion and Jerusalem will shelter those who survive exile, Just as the Eternal says, “Among those who survived, He will call them.” (Peter quotes this big chunk in Acts 2:17-21)
Amos seems to hate on Ayn Randian economics, survival of the fittest, unrestrained capitalism. He would probably not make a popular speaker at a Republican rally.
Amos 5:10 Those of you who hold power now hate the one who judges in the courts at the gate and detest anybody who speaks the truth. 11 So because you have climbed to success on the backs of the poor and your wealth comes from taxes you impose on their harvests, You may well build mansions of expensively-cut stones, but you’ll never occupy them. You may plant beautiful vineyards, but you’ll never enjoy their delicious wine. 12 For I know the depth of evil that you’ve done, and I see the gravity of your sins: You persecute those who do the right thing, you take bribes, and you push the poor to one side in the courts at the city gates instead of helping them. 13 So the wise may decide to keep quiet just then, because truly, it is an evil time.
This makes me think of the recent mortgage crisis (too big to fail) and all those who profited and will not pay any consequence (too big to jail) while many lost their homes for a pittance of the fat cats on top. Speaking of fat cats, God is harsh on the wives of the wealthy too.
 Amos 4:1 Hear this word, you cows on the fertile pastures of Bashan, who grow fat and happy on the hillsides of Samaria, Who oppress the poor and destroy the needy while you order your husbands to do your own work. 2 The Eternal Lord has made a vow by His own holiness: Eternal One: The day will come when your enemy will drag you away with hooks like sides of beef—will subdue you with fishhooks, each and every one of you. 3 You’ll be forced to leave through breached walls, each one of you taken straight out and cast into Harmon, a place of exile.
Sometimes, oftentimes (?) our only hope for justice extends beyond this time. Will there be justice for Hitler, Mao, or Stalin? Not in this life, but I'm hoping with Amos, for justice in the next.

Russian Icon XVIII century. Prophets Amos-and-...
Russian Icon XVIII century. Prophets Amos-and-Obadiah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obadiah is one chapter. It promises justice.

Jonah is not about justice but mercy. With God, mercy is always available.
Jonah 4:1 The mercy God extended toward Nineveh upset Jonah terribly. The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. 2 So he prayed to the Eternal. Jonah: Eternal One, isn’t this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? This is exactly the reason I ran away to Tarshish in the first place. I know how You are! I know that You are not like other gods, that You are full of grace and compassion, that it takes a lot to make You angry, and that Your loyal love is so great that You are always ready to relent from inflicting misery.
Micah also does not sound like Republican material. He also has a gripe with religious teachers who are in it for personal gain.
Micah 3:1 Listen to what I say, you leaders of Jacob who judge, you rulers of the people of Israel who sit in the city gates. Shouldn’t you know what justice is? 2 Yet you hate what is good and love evil; you skin the people alive and tear the meat from their bones. 3 These selfish judges eat the flesh of my people, strip off their skin, break their bones into splinters, And chop them up like stew meat for the kettle, like meat for the pot. 4 In that time something dire will happen, and they will call on the Eternal, but He will not answer them. He will hide His face from them then because they have acted so wickedly. 5 This is my message for the false prophets who have led my people so far from the truth, Who preach peace when someone pays them with food and declare war against those who don’t: 6 “It will be a dark night, too dark for you who lack vision, and it will be darkness for you who cannot divine.” The sun will go down on these so-called prophets, and the day will be black all around them. 7 The seers will be in disgrace, and those who predict the future ashamed. They will keep their mouths shut because there will be no word from God.
Nahum has a warning for Nineveh, the same empire Jonah went to.
Nahum 1:7 The Eternal One is good, a safe shelter in times of trouble. He cares for those who search for protection in Him. 8 But with an overwhelming flood, He will make a complete end to his enemies. He will chase His foes into oblivion.
Things did turn out this way, but God's patience spans generations. God outlasted Stalin, and now it is a freer country, and the oppressed church has significant authority again. God outlasted Mao, and China might have as many Christians in its population as the United States now.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the minor prophets tomorrow.
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Monday, March 18, 2013

Thoughts on Daniel and Hosea, Day 29, Lent 2013

Today's reading plan is relatively easy compared to the recent trip though the major prophets. Daniel is the story of Jews in exile, not unlike Esther.In the latter book, God hides in the background, but in the former heaven spills onto earth repeatedly. The first chapter is about God's protection of Daniel and his friends in their attempt to remain kosher in Babylon's court. They ask to only have vegetables and water for 10 days, Daniel 1:12. I'm actually trying this as a vegan fast for Lent (except for Sundays which are feast days). In Daniel 2, he gets a revelation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream and an interpretation of it, which leads to a big promotion for him. Daniel 3 does not involve Daniel but his three friends. They get busted for not worshiping an idol. Where's Daniel? Did he go along? Probably not. But this Daniel-less story makes the book seem like   a collection of Jewish hero stories, which brings up the two apocyrphal stories, not found in the Protestant Bibles I grew up with, Susanna and Bel and the Dragon. Susanna foreshadows John 8 and the story of the men caught throwing rocks and Peter's investigation of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 7. The story of the idol Bel is very similar to Daniel 3, but Daniel is the hero in it. He also kills a dragon with poison that the pagan king worshipped. That got him thrown into another lion's den, which he also survived, with the help of angels and a teleporting prophet Habbakuk (a foreshadow of the teleporting apostle Philip in Acts 8:39). In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar has another dream, Daniel has the interpretation, then Neb. fulfills it by going crazy for 7 years, after which he becomes a one God believer. The weird thing is how a king could maintain his regency while insane for that long is a stretch of story telling, unless the seven years is symbolic. The wiki article lists a couple theories about this. Daniel 5 jumps forward many years to the end of Belshazzar's reign. Belshazzar physically sees the "writing on the wall" and Daniel has to come in and interpret it - "your time is up." In Daniel 6, he's working for king Darius now, and he gets tossed in the Lion's Den for praying to the God of the Jews. But he is helped by angels, who keep the lions' mouths shut. The next morning, the relieved king frees Daniel and tosses his enemies to the hungry lions. In Daniel 7, he tells his dreams about the future. One important figure is the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13) who will reign over the entire earth. Jesus refers to himself with this highly charged title throughout the gospels. In Daniel 8, there are more symbolic dreams of the future, and an encounter with the angel Gabriel. In Daniel 9, while praying for Israel he is visited again by Gabriel. In Daniel 10-12, he has a daytime vision of an angelic being telling him about the future, more prophecy, and an appearance of Michael the archangel.
Hosea is a rough story. Just as Ezekiel was full of graphic metaphors comparing the nation of Israel to a prostitute, Hosea is about a prophet instructed by God to marry one, who had a difficult time with the concept of fidelity. It's a brutal story. Just as God remains faithful to his adulterous nation, so Hosea has to keep bringing his wife back to stay with him. The book ends with God's promise to continue to take the initiative.
Hosea 14:4 I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon. 6 His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
7 They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your faithfulness comes from me.
9 Those who are wise understand these things; those who are discerning know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.
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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Thoughts on Ezekiel, Day 28, Lent 2013

Ezekiel is one of the weirdest and raunchiest books in the Bible. In the mega-Lenten-Bible-reading-plan, I
Vision of Ezekiel
Vision of Ezekiel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
started Ezekiel yesterday and finished it today. I listened to most of it. His visions are trippy and barely comprehensible. Ezekiel seems to reflect on Numbers, like Jeremiah reflects on Deuteronomy. In the New Testament John's Revelation reflects on Ezekiel and Hebrews reflects on Leviticus. The book of Ezekiel ends with a prophecy of a new temple and a new division of the land between the tribes, that will never be fulfilled materially. Interestingly, the dimensions of the temple, equal on every side, a perfect cube, shows up again in John's Revelation enlarged by an order of magnitude or two. Both books also have a river flowing out of the temple that brings life. There's tons of symbolism in this book. I don't think the end times Bible prophecy aficianados (think Left Behind) who see Russia and Syria in chapters 37 and 38 might have less interesting lives if they appreciated symbolism more.

One metaphor that gets used too often is the young whore named Israel. It's not just that Israel is compared to a whore repeatedly, but the behavior is described graphically. Song of Songs gets a bad rap for being sexually graphic, but it doesn't hold a candle to Ezekiel. I'm surprised Mark Driscoll hasn't preached from this book yet.

There is anger and frustration, redemption and forgiveness, despondency and hope in the story. But it's such a foreign story.
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Friday, March 15, 2013

Thoughts on Lamentations 3, Day 27, Lent 2013

Today's mega-Lenten-Bible-reading-plan included all of Lamentations and 20 chapters of Ezekiel. I read Lamentations and listened to Ezekiel. As the NET translation below indicates, Lamentations is a massive acrostic based on the Hebrew alphabet. This section is the center of the six chapter poem. It is terribly sad and despondent before and after this section, but this is the center. In the midst of "why God?" faith still remains.

ז (Zayin)

19 Remember my impoverished and homeless condition,
which is a bitter poison.
20 I continually think about this,
and I am depressed.
21 But this I call to mind;
therefore I have hope:

ח (Khet)

22 The Lord’s loyal kindness never ceases;
his compassions never end.
23 They are fresh every morning;
your faithfulness is abundant!
24 “My portion is the Lord,” I have said to myself,
so I will put my hope in him.

ט (Tet)

25 The Lord is good to those who trust in him,
to the one who seeks him.
26 It is good to wait patiently
for deliverance from the Lord.
27 It is good for a man
to bear the yoke while he is young.

י (Yod)

28 Let a person sit alone in silence,
when the Lord is disciplining him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust;
perhaps there is hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to the one who hits him;
let him have his fill of insults.

כ (Kaf)

31 For the Lord will not
reject us forever.
32 Though he causes us grief, he then has compassion on us
according to the abundance of his loyal kindness.
33 For he is not predisposed to afflict
or to grieve people.

ל (Lamed)

34 To crush underfoot
all the earth’s prisoners,
35 to deprive a person of his rights
in the presence of the Most High,
36 to defraud a person in a lawsuit—
the Lord does not approve of such things!

מ (Mem)

37 Whose command was ever fulfilled
unless the Lord decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that everything comes—
both calamity and blessing?
39 Why should any living person complain
when punished for his sins?

נ (Nun)

40 Let us carefully examine our ways,
and let us return to the Lord.
41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
to God in heaven:
42 “We have blatantly rebelled;
you have not forgiven.”
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