Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Day Thirteen (13)

Reading today: Genesis 31, Psalm 13, Matt 5:33-48, Acts 8:1-25

Genesis 31
Why did Rachel steal the household gods? Was she trying to teach her dad a lesson or did she worship them? Laban and Jacob get in a big spat and then all of a sudden are sharing a meal and making a peace treat in the name of Yahweh. All very curious really!

Psalm 13
A well-known Psalm of lament. Such a turn-around in verses 5 and 6. David knows that God listens, will respond and rescue him in the midst of anguish and sorrow.

Matthew 5:33-48
Jesus teaches about vows, revenge and love for enemies, once again teaching with incredible authority. I love these teachings. Why do we need to swear by something other than our own word? It indeed demonstrates that something is wrong. I've always found it ironic that our justice system has people swear on a Bible, when the Bible itself says not to swear by anything but your own word. There is great accountability and responsibility in being trustworthy in the words you speak - no wonder so much of the Bible says we must be slow to speak!

The Law of Moses was essentially "tit-for-tat", but the reality of our human nature is never tit-for-tat, but more like tit-for-TATTATTATTATAT. We only need to examine human history to see this - a couple of thousand people die in 9/11 and how many have died in Afghanistan now? Jesus knew we needed a very different ethic and so revealed the true nature of the Kingdom to us.

Interestingly, when Jesus says that the people have heard to love their enemies, this is not a biblical mandate at all. Leviticus 19:18 says, "Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." The Jewish teachers had interpreted this and added in the hating their enemies part as far as I can tell.

When Jesus speaks of perfection, he is not talking about the narcissistic perfectionism of the West, but rather wholeness and completeness. Luke uses the word merciful or compassionate in his text. To be whole or complete as God is whole or complete is to love with limitless compassion (in the words of Brennan Manning, A Glimpse of Jesus, page 70).

Acts 8:1-25
The crowds listened intently to Philip because of the miracles he performed (v. 6). Why do/would people listen to us intently today? I don't have the gift of healing and unfortunately this gift has been used and abused by many Christian leaders for their own glory and benefit. I believe people will listen to us today when we exhibit a heart for mission, for humankind in our lives and actions.

This passage contains a controversial understanding about baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. Here are some thoughts from my Systematic Theology class:

Acts 19 → the Ephesians
• Paul thought they were believers, but then he noticed that they seemed to possess none of the marks of the Spirit’s indwelling
• So, he put a question to them: “Have you believed and received the Holy Spirit?”
• Passage of Acts 19 makes it clear that these people were not Christians
• They were followers of John the Baptist and they had been baptized by him
• But they had clearly not been in touch with John’s later testimony concerning Jesus because they had to be informed by Paul that John had spoken of Jesus
• In fact, Acts 19 says they hadn’t heard of Jesus, believed in name, been baptized into the name of him, or informed of the Holy Spirit
o “We have not even heard if the Holy Spirit is available”
• Paul tells them of Christ, they believe and are baptized in the name of Jesus
• This is a fairly straight-forward situation
• They had not heard the Gospel, repented, believed, attested the Holy Spirit
• Paul preaches the Gospel to them from the start
• They repent, believe, are baptized and exemplify the Holy Spirit

Acts 8 → The Samaritans
• A different situation than Acts 19
• Phillip preached the Gospel to them and there were many dramatic accompaniments to his preaching
• Peter and John come from Jerusalem to see what is happening Samaria
• They pray that the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit because they had been baptized merely into the name of the Lord Jesus
• Shepherd’s understanding: This one incidence has to do with the centuries-old stand-off between Jews and Samaritans
• If the Holy Spirit had been given upon profession of faith and baptism in Samaria, there would have been two churches out of fellowship with one another
o Jerusalem claiming to be ‘mother’ church and Samarian church the same
o The two churches would have reflected the stand-off that was centuries deep
• Had the Holy Spirit fallen on the Samaritan Christians in response to the preaching of Phillip, then they would have claimed that was Pentecost and two hostile communities would have been created
• Only when representatives came from Jerusalem to express solidarity did they receive repeated manifestations of the Spirit (note: repeated receiving)
• Acts 8 is one of a kind in the book of Acts
• It highlights the abnormality of a baptism not connected with the Holy Spirit
• In this way, the schism between the churches in Jerusalem and Samaria was avoided
• Acts 8 looms large in the charismatic movement
• Shepherd not saying yea or nay, but it does not support Pentecostal theology in this place
• It is one-of-a-kind, atypical and shouldn’t be expected to be repeated in the church today
• This should not be taken as a normative pattern
• It is an exception because of the exception of the Samaritans


Monday, February 26, 2007

Day Twelve (12)

Reading today: Genesis 29-30, Psalm 12, Matt 5:21-32, Acts 7:39-60

Genesis 29-30
Another story that is hard to see the truth in...a baby-making competition between Leah and Rachel and Jacob's cunning methods of adding to his wealth. It is interesting that Joseph, through whom the blessing would continue most notably is the one child born to Rachel and Jacob - the original "couple"...perhaps I'm reading too much into it though.
I don't know what else to write! Once again I'm puzzled...

Psalm 12
The Lord rises up to rescue the helpless and the poor. He hears and he responds. His promises are pure - no deception, no fudging, no half-committals. Just pure promise.

Matthew 5:21-32
In verses 23-24, Jesus is linking our relationship with God to our relationship with people. The two are interconnected and affect one another - in other words, the two "greatest" commandments (love of God, love of neighbour) are really inseparable.

Here, Jesus is teaching the people, saying "you have heard...but I say". He is completely re-interpreting the law! What does this mean? Murder --> anger at someone, adultery --> lust. And clearly Jesus isn't saying to actually gouge your eye out, so what is he saying? I think I need some more time on this one...

Acts 7:39-60
I was excited to read this today and it cut off in the middle of Stephen's story. What an intense ending! Stephen essentially calls the Jewish people 'heathens' because their faith is centred around the Temple, rather than the Most High Himself. They have killed the messengers of God in their midst. And what an incredible vision he must have had seeing the ascended Christ. His death is reminiscent of Christ's in that as the end approaches, he again prays to God that He would not hold this sin against the authorities. Wow. We have a hard enough time forgiving our good friends and family, yet Stephen seems to think nothing of forgiving the very people who are unfairly stoning him to death.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Day Eleven (11)

Reading: Genesis 27-28, Psalm 11, Matt 5:13-20, Acts 7:1-38

Genesis 27-28
Lots of questions arise in this story of Jacob and Esau and blessings. Ironically, Jacob and Rebekah are working in deception what God has already foreordained (25:23)! We, as readers of the Bible, love to dichotomize all of the characters in absolute polarity. But really, neither Jacob nor Esau is "good" versus "bad" - they both have negative characteristics which God must deal with in accomplishing his purpose to form a nation in His name. There are some good thoughts at this site: http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles/jacob-esau.htm

We are often puzzled by the whole irrevocable blessing idea. One writer says, "The concept here is that a word spoken has its own existence and power, so a blessing once given was a power already implemented."

There is an interesting pattern here. God consistently uses children other than the firstborn to pass down the covenant. This was completely opposite of cultural norms. But the Kingdom of God is always a reversal of humanity's power structures. Here's a graphic of it: http://www.hope.edu/bandstra/RTOT/CH2/FIRST.JPG. Of course, the greatest example of this is Jesus Christ as the Second Adam.

Psalm 11
The theme of God as Protector has been prominent for me as I read the Psalms. I think we underestimate God's ability to shelter us and be a refuge for us in the midst of our every day (often, not always) tumultuous lives. Even when outward appearances seem otherwise, God is still protecting us. Why is this so hard to believe? Why can't we just trust in this? Too often, our five senses overrule our relationship with God.

Matthew 5:13-20
A wonderful passage. Jesus is talking to the outcasts of his society! THEY are the salt of the Earth, the light of the world. How? Because they are a part of God's Kingdom, empowered by the Holy Spirit. As Christians, our actions so often become rooted in moralism and legalism - doing the right thing because we're "supposed" to and that's what Christians should do. But our actions should always cause others to praise God (v. 16). What are we doing that causes people to praise God? Christianity in the large part is more known for what it is against than for the good deeds it does...

Acts 7:1-38
Stephen responds to the accusations that he had been telling people Jesus would destroy the Temple and change the customs handed down from Moses. A very tight summary of the story of the formation of the Jewish nation.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Day Ten (10)

Reading today: Genesis 25-26, Psalm 10, Matt 5:1-12, Acts 6

Genesis 25-26
There are so many stories and so many questions about them. Esau, indifferent to have given up his birthright - but why does simply swearing it to your little brother revoke it forever! Buchanan calls this "misplaced hunger" - wrong food, wrong time. And then we have a repeat of Abraham pimping Sarah with Isaac pimping Rebekah. What's the deal? What's the significance? The actions are motivated by self-preservation - worried they will be killed so the people can get to their wives. Is this lacking trust in God? Did He not tell them to go to those places? Will he not protect them (as in the Psalms!)?

Vv. 2-5 re-iterate the covenant once again, with the command not to go to Egypt. Then vv. 24 says it again with the words "Do not be afraid". Isaac must have been waning in his trust and needed re-affirmation of God's words after the conflict over water rights.

Psalm 10
Hmmm....God is silent. Those who do not believe in Him take it as a sign that He no longer sees, perceives, acts or judges and so act inhumanely. Those who do wait in patient endurance and trust, knowing that God will arise to protect the oppressed and judge with righteousness.

It's easy to think God isn't watching sometimes!! How foolish of us...

Matthew 5:1-12
The Beatitudes...We often think these are about what we need to 'do' or 'be like' in order to receiving the blessing of God. I think it is just the opposite. Jesus is teaching about the absolute reversal that happens in the Kingdom of God. The order and structure and powers of the world are flipped upside-down. All of the "for they will..." phrases Jesus says are characteristics of life in the Kingdom - justice, mercy, children of God, seeing God...Our world gives rank and authority to the powerful, the drivers, the self-motivated, the confident. In God's Kingdom, it is those who know their weakness, embrace it and accept God's gift whom are given eyes for the Kingdom. One need only look at Jesus' entire ministry to see this - it is the outcasts who come to Him and receive from Him. Because they know they need Him!

Acts 6
Where you have people, you will soon have conflict and discontent! It doesn't take long for the early church to start having problems, does it...We don't know if this problem ever worked itself out in this chapter - but of course there was pretty consistent tension between the Hebrew and Gentile Christians...

v. 10 - "None of the was able to stand against the wisdom and Spirit by which Stephen spoke". I had a prof who said the person who wins a debate is the one who can take for five minutes longer. But nobody can withstand the words of Stephen, not even those from the synagogues. I personally hate getting into debates and typically lose because the other person has more quantity to say. But we speak with authority through the Spirit. Of course, no one will ever be argued into faith. But nevertheless, there are times when we must proclaim what God speaks into certain situations and it is here we must discern what is of the Spirit rather than our own human response.

Curiously too, Stephen is transfigured in v. 15. An interesting time for it to happen!


Friday, February 23, 2007

Day Nine (9)

Reading today: Genesis 24, Psalm 9, Matthew 4:18-25, Acts 5:17-42

Genesis 24
I have a professor who loves to say that more Scripture is devoted to Isaac finding a suitable wife than to the creation of the entire world! Not that quantity says everything, but this story certainly goes into great details. Why?

I think I often question the kinds of prayers like Abraham's servant's - demanding God answer a prayer through a specific sign. But the servant isn't praying to test God, rather he asks for a specific answer in a specific situation. I would guess more than one woman would have offered to give water to the camels. Perhaps it was simply in the act of praying, God brought Rebekah to the servant while the servant was focusing on God. I find prayer is more often than not a perspective-adjuster. And was the sign a random choice - obviously the actions of a woman who gave water to the camels would have indicated a certain sign of character.

It is also interesting in v. 60, Rebekah's family blesses her with the same blessing as God upon Abraham...hmmm....then of course in v. 67 we see the OT view that having sex with someone = they are your wife. Something our society has certainly lost. Sex no longer occurs in intimate relationship but has become mere mutual pleasuring. But I digress...

Psalm 9
The Psalms are just an awesome way to know the character of God. He reigns forever, judges with justice, rules with fairness, protects the oppressed, never abandons those who search for Him...No wonder David wants to sing publicly all day long! Why do we have such a hard time trusting in God's character? The presence of evil in this world is obvious and terrible, yet it does not change who God is.

Matthew 4:18-25
Simon, Andrew, James and John all leave at once in response to the call of Jesus. What was so attractive in Jesus' call? Was it the opportunity for a different life? Did Jesus have this incredible aura of charisma surrounding him? Most importantly, they listened and obeyed the Word of God (think Abe/Isaac Genesis 22).

Jesus' message: the good news of the Kingdom!!

Acts 5:17-42
Another incredible story. The leading priests "wonder where it will all end" (v. 24). We see the continuing theme that the Jewish leadership was afraid of the people (26) and so didn't act out against Jesus or the apostles (until, in the case of Jesus, he had divided the crowds so that many were against him). Why did God resurrect Jesus? To give the people of Israel an opportunity to turn to Him! (31)

I love this account of Gamaliel - if this thing has to do with God, we are wasting our time trying to stop it!! (38-39)

And then, after being flogged, the disciples rejoice because God considers them worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus. Wow! What an almost perverse way of thinking most of us would say. But we see in Jesus suffering is the path to glory in a sense. And Jesus had warned them of the upcoming persecution, so in a sense God is affirming their ministry in the face of all this opposition.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Day Eight (8)

Today's readings: Genesis 21-23, Psalm 8, Matthew 4:12-17, Acts 5:1-16

Genesis 21-23
God's Word is His will which will never change and so we see "the Lord did exactly what he had promised" in giving a child to Sarah. But I'm puzzled that God would let Sarah shoo Hagar and Ishmael away - is He letting her off of the consequences of her and Abraham's mistrust and sin? We know God will care for Hagar and Ishmael because he has already promised to, but still...

Chapter 22 is the powerful story of Abraham's testing. This is always difficult - what is the nature of God's testing? God in no way uses evil here and Abraham makes a clear, and intentional choice to obey Yahweh. Sometimes we think 'testing' is the difficult involuntary circumstances we face in life. This story shows us otherwise.

Why is Genesis 23 in the Bible? What is its significance? Why does it matter where Abraham buried Sarah? I don't know.

Psalm 8
We as humankind always need a good perspective shift. "What are mortals that you should think of us, mere humans that you should care for us?" (v. 4) Indeed! There is no rational answer, except to be amazed at the mysterious love of Yahweh.

David acknowledges that God has put us in charge of all the created order. How we have neglected this calling! What does good leadership of the earth look like? Should we be dominant over it or good stewards of it?

Matthew 4:12-17
Matthew continues to emphasize Jesus as the fulfillment of OT prophecy. I like the NLT's translation of repent: "turn from your sins and turn to God". It is an ambiguous verb that refers to "near" or "has come" or "is coming soon". It means to approach but is in a perfect tense - which typically refers to a completed action (e.g. "It is written..."). The Kingdom is here!

Acts 4:32-5:16
In 4:32-27, we see the fulfillment of the OT vision of the Kingdom, part of which is in Deuteronomy 15:1-11. An interesting connection I had never noticed before. The link is in verse 34, which says there was no poverty among them, and this is because they are living out the Kingdom generosity commanded by God in Deuteronomy 15.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is...hmmm...startling to say the least. What a horrible reason to die! Why is God's judgment so harsh here? Does God need to "teach the early church a lesson"? The heart of the issue lies in the deception - as Peter says, they could have done whatever they wanted with the money, it was theirs. What motivates them to be deceptive? Why are we always so concerned about how we appear to others? We are constantly monitoring how we are perceived by others, rather than just honestly being who we are. I think Peter (and God!) would have rather they just be openly selfish and not give all the money to the believing community.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Day Seven (7)

Genesis 18-20
Another sequence of stories loaded with interesting stuff. We have the mysterious appearing of Yahweh and two angels in the form of humans. Abraham intercedes on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah - we often view God as reluctant in this story and Abraham sort of twists God's arm. But I think it is just the opposite. Abraham's prayer is about God's utmost willingness to save the city. In fact, God spares the sole innocent person, Lot, from destruction because He had heard Abraham and was merciful (19:16, 29). God goes further than Abraham's request in a sense (Abraham asked to spare for 10, God spared the 1, although he did not spare the whole city because of its stench).

I'm also intrigued by Lot here. He is so resistant to leave! The angels tell him to run to the mountains, but he persists on staying in Zoar, a small village. And then, ironically, Lot leaves Zoar in fear and heads to the mountains with his daughters. God allows us to have our own way when we will it, yet it seems God knew what would happen in Zoar.

19:30 - 20:18 are curious stories. Many people assume, "It's in the Bible! It must be what God wants." Well, the Bible is VERY clear that incest is absolutely wrong and so the actions of Lot's daughters are certainly not to be perceived as 'correct' or 'right'.

Psalm 7
We have a hard time with God's justice in our incredible tolerant culture. Tolerance is many respects is a wonderful thing, but nevertheless, we do face the judgment of God. And it is absolutely fair (11) and just (17). For this we can be thankful.

Matthew 4:1-11
The temptations of Jesus...I don't know if there is any value in trying to categorize each temptation as "archetypal" of a kind of temptation we face. We see here how Scriptures can be used for both good and evil!

Acts 4:23-37
Peter and John report back to the rest of the group what happened [yesterday]. I have been curious about how the New Testament uses the Old as of late - from a historical/grammatical perspective many scholars would say it is "bad hermeneutics" (bad interpretation). But since it is in the NT we 'let it go'. But perhaps we are missing something in how we interpret the Bible? Nevertheless, the believers affirm the Scriptures to be inspired by the Holy Spirit (v. 25). Their prayer is not for safety from the authorities, but rather more boldness to preach the Gospel!!


Monday, February 19, 2007

Day Six (6)

Genesis 15 - 17
God's covenant with Abram, the birth of Ishmael, name changes and circumcision (ouch!).
I've read this story so many times, but it is always engaging. 15:6 - Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord declared him righteous because of his faith. We often think the Old Testament is about law, but here it is...justification by faith in the OT!

The character of Sarai here is like us in so many ways. Even though God has promised Abram a child from Sarai (15:4), she tells Abram to sleep with Hagar because "The Lord has kept me from having any children" (16:2). Then, once Hagar is pregnant and mistreats Sarai, she says to Abram, "The Lord will make you pay for doing this to me!" (16:5). How often we invoke the name of God and His actions when He has absolutely nothing to do with causing the circumstances in which we find ourselves!

Chapter 17 is all about the covenant - it is forever (7,8), and our responsibility is obedience (9).
In verse 1, the Lord says to Abram, "I am God Almighty; serve me faithfully and live a blameless life." Do we understand God's nature and call upon our lives, so that our response is to serve Him and honour Him in our life?

Psalm 6
David's simultaneous agony and trust seem also contradictory. He weeps, begs for the Lord's return and yet know the Lord has heard him and will answer. I wish I could have such faith when faced with dire situations!

Acts 4:1-22
What an awesome story! We see the power of the Holy Spirit and that in Jesus alone we have salvation. Too often we put Jesus IN the way of salvation when he is really ON the way to salvation...anyhow...we can all see how the Holy Spirit transforms ordinary uneducated fishermen into bold orators (v. 13). But two other things stand out: "We cannot stop telling about the wonderful tings we have seen and heard". For Peter and John, it is just a natural outpouring of the work of God to tell others about Him. So many of us struggle to share our faith with those around us? Do we not have a story to tell? Are we afraid of what people will think? Do we not think we will have the right words? It's not up to us - it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

It's also important to note that the work of the Holy Spirit leads everyone to praise God (21), not Peter, not John or any other person, but God alone


What's this for...

If you're reading this (and you're not Kate), that's great. But really, this is an effort on my behalf, for my behalf, to more effectively practice the discipline of reading Scripture. I seem to have a mind like a sieve when it comes to remembering the things I read, and hopefully this will help me stop, reflect and listen to what God is saying through the Bible.