The Response of Celebrating Holy Days

In recent conversations, it came out that my family and I were going to observe biblical feasts this year.  We were going to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, etc.

Some people’s response: “You aren’t Jewish.”  I nod and say, “Yes, but Jesus was and to draw closer to him, to understand God better, we are decidedly observing the day.”  Then the day continues, conversations waxing and waning about miscellaneous events and details.  These encounters caused me to pause.  We don’t say this in regards to seemingly Christian holidays.  We would say it to someone who chooses to observe Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist traditions, but not traditionally recognized Christian holy days.  Why?

Atheists participate in Christmas and Easter every year without a bat of the eye from most folks.  Yet, if you state that you are partaking in a Jew’s holy observances or any other religion’s holy days, you are ultimately questioned.  This might not be universally true, but what I have personally experienced and witnessed.

I ask myself, why?  Why does reflecting on Christ’s birth and resurrection not give others pause?  Why do atheists and even individuals from other faith traditions willingly participate in celebratory practices on a Christian’s holiday and questions are not asked as to their motives and reasons?  This perplexes me.  Is it because the history is indeed pagan in nature and sadly, Christians go through motions rather than true conviction and dedication?  I have been guilty of this myself; please, understand this question is not asked in judgement but rather curiosity.

How are we awed more about the mystery of a mystical figure who gives us presents rather than a complex God who challenges us?  I’ve heard it said that it is fun to watch a child’s excitement over the magic of Santa’s surprise gifts left under a tree?  Why does materialism and greed cause us to find more joy than the birth of a radical Savior?  Shouldn’t Emmanuel stir more wonder in our hearts and soul than a jolly man who breaks and enters?  Are we only okay with Santa’s crime because he satisfies our wants with wrapped illusions of gratification?  Do we not know that St. Nicholas was a real figure who bestowed gifts to the poor IN THE NAME OF CHRIST?

Christ compels us to a higher standard.  He charges us to love our neighbors, to give even when we are inclined to hate.  This is the reason St. Nicholas gifted presents to those around him.  He didn’t do it so children would have the latest fad on their wish list.  Have we become so numb to the miracles of God that we can’t convince others the significance of observing a holy day in honor of a divine Creator as Jews have?  Their traditions are preserved for their religion typically.  Even when marketing ploys bank on purchasing practices, the Jews and other faiths still solely draw an audience that recognizes and acknowledges some authenticity to that faith alone.

I guess this is another reason why I want to look for the prophecies that foretold Emmanuel; to celebrate the holy days that dig deeper into God, his word, and ultimately the Savior.  I am searching for a richer, more authentic, more wondrous devotion to God through festivals and fellowship.  I want to be awed more by Christ than the “American dream”, or a “genie God”.

I don’t want a God who blesses me with my desires.  We need a God who transforms us to his image, not our greed.  Our passions are fickle and self-centered.  God demands being other-centered and devoted to him.  His ways are NOT our ways and I want that because his ways, albeit difficult, have always resulted in a more satisfying peace.

I want to hunger and thirst for righteousness, praying my family will do the same.  This isn’t about legalism.  We don’t coerce or force others to follow us.  We can share the good news and our excitement in finding ways for applicable, tangible ways of experiencing it, but in the end, the Spirit calls, convicts, and converts.  After all, God saves and transforms us.  Our good deeds do not.  That is another facet of these observations I like.  Rosh Hashanah, as with other biblical feasts, center on the reading of Scripture, prayers, and recognizing God as holier than humanity.  To that end, I praise him and pray that these pursuits are more for his glory than mine.

Advertisements

A New Year: Hebrew Style

Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the New Year.  It isn’t a sleep deprived party into the wee hours of the morning.  Rather, it is a feast that incorporates music and fellowship.

A friend of mine from college set up a Biblical Feasts group a while back.  While I am not wanting to wade waters of legalism and become ensnared by those waves, I do want a more Christ-centered, devotion-oriented life.  I want to be intentional.

Christmas and Easter are actually pagan in root.  I still observe them but try to teach my kids about Christ rather than Santa, a bunny, and gifts galore.  However, I still feel the season lacking.  It is as if American consumerism has eclipsed the joy I am supposed to feel during the season.  Try as I might, I get swept up in that whirlwind too.

Jewish holidays are not exempt from the hallmarks of marketing, but they do have years of history, all of it linking back to God, YWHW, not Roman and Greek gods.  Hoping to reignite my faith’s passion, which I have sensed an urgency to do even more since the beginning of the Julian calendar when my friend Dominic died, aged 17, I decided to start incorporating these feast observances into mine and my family’s routine.

[Aside: I am pretty sure I perplex my husband dearly.  I am much more charismatic and festival oriented than he is.  He knew this, in part, prior to our union.  I am sure he spends most of the day shaking his head though.  He loves me, but I completely baffle him as well.  I think he deserves a shout-out and moment of gratitude for me insisting on these manners.  I can only hope and pray that he is growing closer to the Lord as I do through these rituals.  Liturgy always encouraged and lifted my spirit more than it has for him though.]

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated through feasting, prayers, and a blowing of a shofar.  I know my daughters will enjoy the shofar immensly.  My gracious husband agreed that we could buy some kid shofars.  I can’t contain my excitement enough!

As we prepare for this feast, and invite friends into our home to join us, please pray for us.  Pray we would meditate and reflect on our sin of this past year, repent, and that we might press into Christ deeper and more abundantly this next year.

We breathe because he first breathed into us.  May every sigh that breaks our lips be a song of praise to him.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.” Ps. 139:24

Autumn’s Salvation

A splash of red dotted the tree lines this morning.

The air was cool, morning mist drying with the rising sun.

Cinnamon aromas fill coffee shops.  Apple orchards blossom with plump, juicy fruit.  Pumpkin spice dashes across dishes with autumnal flair.

Cider bubbles in cups by a fire or on moonlit patios, benches with a blanket spread.

Soon it will come, branches will shake and the leaves will tumble,

crunching beneath boots and thrown into peels of children’s laughter.

 

 

Even with the Fall there is a redemption.

Conflict Resolution

I’m almost certain I have discussed this topic before, but lately I have fallen into the sin of gossip again.  I need to repent and I need accountability.  Sometimes, I use blogging for personal accountability and hopefully, my audience will act as another buffer against perpetual sin.

“If another member of the church sins against you,  go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.  But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:15-20 NRSV).

Lately I have been feeding a social media addiction.  I’m not quite sure why it brewed again, but it has.  Sadly, whenever the hours drone on and I scroll, the unnecessary anger boils.  I read biased, uneducated opinions being thrashed out, questioning the validity of other people’s opinions.  I see pride puff up egos, even that of fellow Christian brethren.  These posts rile me into defense.  Why?  What am I defending?  Am I so afraid that their pride is a reflection of my own sin I need to confront?

[“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matt. 7:3-5 NRSV).]

Sometimes the anger is justified because arrogance has no space in the body of Christ.  Yet, when we don’t approach the individual with whom we have issue with, are we not also acting in arrogance?  Are we bold enough to ask ourselves if our perception is off?  If we are being too sensitive?  The friend who I have become increasingly frustrated with over seemingly arrogant gym posts would probably think so.  He is inclined to think that I take offense too easily.  At times I can.  Other times, he just needs to pause long enough to hear me.  However, unless I address him, the vicious cycle of perceived offense and anger won’t stop.

Confronting individuals who wound our sensitivities is difficult.  I don’t like it.  I never have.  See, I struggle with this little sin called approval addiction.  [Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10 NRSV).]  I want God’s approval.  Gaining God’s approval results from a devoted, faithful commitment to Christ.  Following Christ isn’t easy and anyone who teaches differently is selling a false gospel.  

“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8 NRSV).  Let’s read that again.  “While we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  Christ didn’t wait until we were the way he wanted us in order to redeem us.  That type of love is incredibly radical.  We can show devoted and faithful commitment to Christ when we demonstrate such radical love to those with whom we disagree, especially with those whom we might even be tempted to hate!  Christ told us to love our enemies because even pagans love those who agree with them.  True love radiates when it seems impossible.  The world will know we are Christians by our love, a love that defies human rationality.

When we are tempted to be defensive, we need to remember “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1 NRSV).  We are to answer gently because we should “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3 NRSV).  Perhaps when we try to reposition perspective and seek to understand, rather than be understood, we will find the ability to remain calm and collected, answering politely rather than cruelly and defensively.

When we seek out others to vent, we run the risk of gossip.  Gossip asserts that we are somehow superior to the offender.  In reality, we become that which we speak of. It is “out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45 NRSV).  If we speak vile words about another, we become vile ourselves.  Scripture commands that we “let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29 NRSV).  That means we should only speak well of another person when others are listening.  If we are inclined to speak maliciously, we need to assess our own condition.  Through prayer, the Holy Spirit will guide the words we need to speak to those we are in conflict with.  If we are heard, then we praise God for reconciliation.  If we are not, then at least we know we tried and we can let the matter drop, or bring others into the conversation in the presence of the offender.  

While this structure is difficult, it does seem to wind up with the most fruitful results.  It isn’t surprising that this method seems to work best, even if it is hard.  After all, God instituted this design for conflict resolution.  Unfortunately, humanity is becoming increasingly inclined to use social media as a platform for asserting how we have been offended.  

It seems everyone is offended these days rather than trying to understand another person’s position.  Sometimes people will deliver their intended message in a seemingly hurtful manner.  I know the friend with whom I’ve been inclined to vent about really just wants to encourage others. He has seen his dedication pay dividends for himself.  His delivery of this message appears arrogant, but that isn’t his intent.  When I realize this, I am able to extend the grace and mercy I didn’t think it possible to grant him.  

Writing out these reminders is less of a rebuke for you, my readers.  Rather, it is a journal tool I am using to process my emotions.  I have to remind myself to think logically and biblically.  Human emotions are fickle and change too quickly.  Thankfully, as I digitally transcribe events, Scripture verses, and teaching, I am able to reorient my thinking and transform by behaviors.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2 NRSV).  God’s will is for everyone to live peaceably as it depends on them.  (Rom. 12:18 NRSV).

We will begin to live peaceably in so far as it depends on us when we express true love (agape).  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8 NRSV).  Christ’s mercies are new each morning and by his example, we can extend new mercies to “enemies” every day.  

Let us begin today.  “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24 NRSV).  

May I remember to do perform God’s method of conflict resolution before I divert to social media, blogging, or even another friend in person.  I need to address concerns with the person with whom I have “issue” with prior to these other outlets.

 

The Optional Journal Entry: God’s character

OPTIONAL:  1Tim 1-3 and 6:3-16

 

 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission” (1Tim. 2:11 NRSV).  Why must a woman learn in complete silence?  Christ elevated the status of women so why does Paul seem to be demoting them here?

 

“Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty” (1Tim. 2:15 NRSV).  How are women saved through childbearing?  What is the infertile woman supposed to make of this?  Salvation is in Christ alone, no?  Is this meant to mean saved through the birth of Christ which was through Mary?  Is this how Catholics arrive at the Assumption of Mary doctrine?  Paul recommends singlehood if basal desires can be controlled.  Why would he seemingly contradict himself?  Surely the literal text here is not what it seems to be.

 

“…if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1Tim. 3:5 NRSV). The word he is used here for bishops but not deacons.  Can women be deacons but not bishops?

 

While in Baltimore on August 19, 2017, I had an encounter with a cult group where one of the individuals wore a t-shirt that said real Jews are black.  I was naïve.  When I first walked by, I only saw Bibles so I tried to hand them a dollar for sharing the gospel.  They wouldn’t take it from me and instead called me an Edomite and that I couldn’t be saved.  If I had memorized Scripture as I should, I would have shared 1Tim. 6:3-5 with them.  Oh well, I guess I didn’t cast my pearls to swine further than I had already.  Ah racism seems to be acceptable if it is against white people…*sigh* There is no master or slave, female or male in Christ Jesus, thankfully.  At least God’s word is eternal and God loves everyone regardless of their race/ethnicity.

 

Christ has immortality and unapproachable light.  Yet, we can approach the throne of God through Christ.  Interesting.

The Character of God: Entry 7 but really 8 and final

Week 8: 100% of required readings read.

Colossians:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:15-20 NRSV).

Christ is the head of the church.  What would church look like if we acted this way rather than continuing to establish human authorities?  Do we need it because humanity requires such organization in order to make sense of a seemingly chaotic world and of an infinite God?

Christ died as a human would on the cross, but he also possessed the fullness of God.  He was fully man and fully God.

“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly” (Col. 3:18-19 NRSV).  What are the practical applications of such a command?  Conduct should always be such that we are serving God and know he is watching us.  What does a godly wife or husband look like?  What do these commands say about who God is, who is neither male nor female?

Philippians:

“I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel” (Phil. 1:12 NRSV).  Suffering can actually further the spread of the gospel.  God is good, why would he intentionally use suffering as a means to spread the gospel?  What hardships has God given me that his word might spread?  He uses his discipline because he loves us.  What discipline have I incorrectly perceived as suffering?

“…who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:5-11 NRSV).  Christ took on the form of a slave but was also in the form of God.  He was obedient unto death so that humanity could be reconciled and receive life.  Jesus is Lord.  How then should we conduct ourselves knowing he is Lord?

 

Hebrews:

“He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3 NRSV).  Christ is glorious and the exact imprint of God’s very being.  My human mind wants to know what this looks like.  What does God look like?  Humans are of his image but not exactly the same.  What then, though God is spirit, does he look like?

 

Hebrews also says that Christ was the apostle and high priest of humanity (“consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1 NRSV).)  What does this mean?  That he is our mediator with God and reconciles us to him?

 

Christ is also the great high priest, a Son of God.  What would have son of God meant during Jesus time?  We struggle today with the concept.  Christ is also called just and a mediator.  Is that what Son of God would be?  He can actually commune with God because he is God and thus allows us to through his sacrifice on the cross?

 

“In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:13 NRSV).  What does it mean to make the old covenant obsolete?  Jesus says he didn’t abolish it.  What then?  Are not disappearance and abolishing similar?

 

James:

 

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom” (James 3:13 NRSV). What are works?  Are not works a dead righteousness?  Paul discussed works of Law and James discusses works.  Where exactly is the difference?

 

What is the difference between accountability and judgement?

 

What does letting our yes is yes and no be no mean exactly?  God did not swear us to oaths, correct?

 

Revelation:

 

“…and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire,  his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force” (Rev. 1:13-16 NRSV).

Is God often thought of as an old man because he has white hair?  Does this indicate age?  Is the white of Christ’s hair significant?  His radiance magnifies his glory and power.

 

The faithfulness of the churches is rewarded while disobedience is judged.  Faithfulness is rewarded so works are not completely without purpose, right?  They shouldn’t be completely abandoned.  What is the balance between faith motivated by works vs. works motivated by faith?

 

Who are the 24 elders bowing down?

 

“Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6 NRSV).  Would Christ also have seven horns and eyes?  Is this figurative or literal speech?  Again, does his appearance determine parts of his character?

 

Is the woman who bore the son in Revelation 12-13 Mary?  If not, who?

 

“This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six” (Rev. 13:8 NRSV).  What does it mean that the number of a person is 666.  Is seven perfection and thus one less is not?

 

Revelation 20-21 discusses second deaths and resurrections.  What are we to make of this since Christ said he died once for all?  He rose again on the third day to conquer sin and death.  There is a 2nd coming, but a second resurrection?  Again, is this figurative or literal speech?

 

Interesting note: picture of Jerusalem has 12 tribes and 12 apostles written on it.  Significance of 12 tribes paralleled to 12 apostles?

 

The greatest comfort comes from Rev. 21:3-4 where we are told that God dwells with us.

The Character of God: Entry 6 but really 7

100% Read

Acts—

Was Acts a letter from Paul to Theophilus?  “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning” (Acts 1:1 NRSV).  Is it even significant here who Paul is writing?

Paul commands people to be witnesses to the ends of the earth in 1:8.  How might one do this?  Is everyone called to missionary work?  Yes, then are we all, at some point, to minister to a completely different culture?  We can witness to those who are different but local.

The apostles devoted themselves to prayer with certain women.  Did they then elevate a woman’s status?  What would it have meant in that culture to have a woman praying with men?  Would they have to be married as conservative evangelical churches promote inter-sex prayer these days?

Do we still prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams or was that only for Paul’s time?

Is it good and beneficial to live communally.  It was a fact in history and not necessarily a mandate for present day conduct.  How then does a 21st century reader internalize such verses?

In a day and age where tolerance is seen as automatic agreement, it is interesting that Scripture refutes that.  Acts 4:12- There is salvation in no one else besides Jesus Christ.  Why then do Christians read such a thing and willingly accept synchronicity?

Acts 4:28—What does it mean that God predestines?  Does this change who he is?  Can a good God create some humans for destruction and hell?  Why would he do such a thing?

Portions of Acts summarize the entire OT.  Is this to refresh their memories?  Wouldn’t Jews have known this?

After Stephen’s stoning, the Christians are all scattered.  Why were all scattered except the apostles?

In 8:16, there were people who had been baptized but not received the Holy Spirit.  This jostles what I have been taught in the church.  What does baptism mean then?  Is it a command from God or merely a symbol that is good to perform?  Do not motives matter here too?  Is it a command after having trusted Jesus?  Why then did the Holy Spirit not come until afterwards?

Acts mentions a few times devout woman.  What does it mean to be a devout woman of God.  Is she permitted to preach at the altar?  To distribute the “host” as Catholics call it?

Priscilla and Damaris—they joined Paul.  What would joining Paul look like?  Would these women have preached?  Philip had 4 unmarried daughters with the gift of prophecy (sermon preaching).  Why then do churches today often forbid women from preaching to men?

1Thess. –

What does it mean to share of oneself?  Paul calls the Thessalonians their crown and joy.  Why?  How would they have earned such a status?  What was lacking in their faith?

Mind your own affairs and don’t get caught up in that which doesn’t concern you.  <—Oh how I need to internalize that truth!  Lord, come quickly to my aid!

If some are not destined for wrath but salvation through Jesus, does that mean there are people who were at one time, or even now, destined for wrath.  How do we reconcile such notions with God’s goodness and kindness?

Galatians-

Does the present evil age extend even into today?  How will humanity know the return of Christ and the completion of the Kingdom of God?

False gospels exist.  Am I buying into some false teachings?  Are you?  How do we know?

James is called the Lord’s brother.  What would this mean?  Spiritual?  Physical?  Do we have evidence if it was physical?  How would this affect Catholic doctrine?

Paul was sent to preach to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews.  Why then is the church (according to Catholicism) built on Peter?

The purpose of the Law was to reveal our transgressions.  We are not justified by works (as Paul discusses in Romans) but faith without works is dead (James).  How do we marry these ideas?  Do they contain a discrepancy?

Jesus was born of a woman.  Mary was his mother.  What would it mean to be born of a woman?  Would she have been sinful?

The works of the flesh include fornication.  Why was this discussed so ardently in Scripture and yet we approach it so loosely in the present age?  Those who discuss purity, especially for heterosexual purity, are touted as prude or even bigots at times.  Why?

What would a truly Spirit guided life look like in application (principles as found in Gal. 5:22-23 NRSV)?

 

Romans–

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom. 1:24-25 NRSV). Why would God give us up to our sensual desires?  Did he not die for us to be free?  Does God create some for evil and then why predestine those he made for evil to be destroyed?  Why create that in the first place?  Am I reasoning through human judgement, yes…How do I reconcile this though?

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Rom. 1:26-27 NRSV).  Here homosexuality is called an unnatural act and awarded due penalty for erroneous action.  How are our Westernized sensibilities to accept a homosexual but say that the lifestyle is wrong without being called a bigot, hateful, etc.?  Are we to simply accept it?  “They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them” (Rom. 1:32 NRSV).  This is strong language.  What would Paul say about American sensibilities to such acts?  

God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance not license to do what we want.  What does authentic repentance look like?

Are good works important to a degree because glory, honor, and peace is given to those who do good?  How do we exercise faith without slipping into a mindset that thinks we can be saved through works?

Christ died once for all (Rom. 8:10).  Can the idea of purgatory be supported with Scriptures like these?  If so, how?  Again, 8:29 discusses predestination.  “You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction” (Rom. 9:19-22 NRSV).  Would he predestine some people to be eternally separated from him?  Why?  

Rom. 11:22-God is kind and severe.  What does this mean for a God who is good and holy?

We are to overcome evil with good.  Did God create evil?  Why or why not?

1 Corinthians–

1:11—Chloe’s people.  Was Chloe an overseer of a congregation?  A preacher?

What does it mean to be called by God?

For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge?  God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you” (1Cor. 5:12-13 NRSV).  We are to hold accountable those inside the church, not outside.  How do we protect the church from false gospels and teachers properly?  What guards are we to put in place so not to ostracize the outside world needing to come in, but to preserve truth?

What does glorifying God in the body really look like?  What does it mean to destroy our bodies?  Is it nutrition, tattoos, drugs?  Or something deeper, like spiritually?

Lust was a major problem in the Corinthian church and is in the American church.  How do we address issues of sexual immorality in a compassionate way while still preserving truth?

1Cor 7:14—children aren’t holy through their parents are they?  What is the meaning of this text?

Why did the Corinthians even question Paul’s authority as an apostle?

Should we maintain traditions or do they distract us from pursuing faith?

How should Christians today observe Sabbath and partaking in the Lord’s supper?  Full meal?  Required or again getting caught up in traditions?

 

Aside: So many more questions than answers.  God really does challenge.  This is so fragmented.  My mind is so full lately.  Don’t fall for e-mail scams.  Fixing the situation will take up all your brain power…more on that and how to protect yourself later.

 

 

Human Efforts Futile

Red blotches maul her flesh and just below them, a yellowing tint that gives the illusion of jaundice.

Her eyes are sunken, black pits encircling, cradling pupils lost in despair. Hair sits mangled, tangled, heaped sloppily into a bun atop her flaky scalp.

Chapped lips suck the stick, a nose inhaling the stench of smoke.

Musty clothes squeeze her body.

Visceral words spew out of her mouth, shouting curses and insults.

Ravaged with addiction, she denies the need to escape this darkness.

 

Meanwhile, her mother sits idly by.

Black hair grays, lightened by stress.

Mother eases the malady of a wayward child through sips of alcohol and pills.

Promising moderation, she seems to forget these initial patterns are how her daughter’s struggles began too.

So it shall be when stress is relieved by human endeavors.

Christ tests to draw his loved ones near;

to see if idols will tempt and allure, or if repentance and submission will reign in a heart.

Naught be all else to us, save that thou art!

 

*I want to write a story, but character development and plot lines sometimes fail me.  Poetry has always been an outlet for grief, an avenue that satiated a writer’s passion but suited my short attentions.

**Normally my titles are more creative.  I honestly am so worn down by this week that I couldn’t think of anything better.  A friend died…I grieve and in it, can’t seem to find the right words for a title.

 

The Character of God: Entry 5

Entry 5:

I am quite glad that I decided to upload all my journal entries for class onto wordpress.  My hard drive crashed at work.  All my work has been lost.  This means all my pictures, documents, and spreadsheets were gone.  I had been working on organizing my budget since January using Excel.  Every item was color coded to the expenditure.  Each tab was a month, from January until present.  Needless to say, I was devastated that countless time had just been erased.  My disdain for technology increased.  Thankfully, God prompted, through the Holy Spirit I am sure, me to upload all my journal class work to here.  Since we don’t have to submit this until the end of the course, I would have cried and wailed had all this work been lost.  Anyways, proceeding on.  This story was probably unnecessary.

 

100% Read (All of Mark, Matt. 1:18-2:15; 5-7; 24-25; 28, Lk. 1:1-56; 2:1-38; 4:14-44; 15; 17:20-21; 22:1-30; 24, Jn. 1; 3:1-21; 4:1-42; 14-15; 18:28-19:42)

The twelve apostles were dedicated men that followed Jesus.  It is frequently taught that the apostles were unwed men fully devoted to God.  However, Mk. 1:30 reads “Now, Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever…”(NRSV).  In chronicling his relationships, Scripture tells readers that the apostles were men with families, wives and possibly children.  This was a stark revelation considering church doesn’t often remark on the apostles actually having families.

Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law.  This healing is one of several.  Jesus often didn’t want news of himself spread and prayed in solitary places.  Why would Jesus not want his miracles talked about?  How are we to treat miracles today?  How are we to observe festivals and the Sabbath?  Pharisees rebuked Jesus and his disciples for plucking heads of grain.  Jesus responded, “‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions'” (Mk. 2:25-26 NRSV).  Reading this, what are modern Christians to make of festival and rest observances?

It is difficult to know sometimes. “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples” (Mk. 4:33-34 NRSV).  Since Jesus only spoke in parables then, is that what he does today?  How are we to understand Christ’s guidance from this?  

Is it important to even understand the guidance or simply to know who can be saved and how?  Scripture seems to be clear in that regard.  “They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible'” (Mk. 10:26-27 NRSV).  It is only through God that we are saved.  Are our debates over details all for naught then?  How should we address problems today if it is impossible for man to do anything which might actually please God and permit us to heaven?  We know Christ saves though, not we ourselves.  

God has the power to save and to curse.  He cursed a fig tree. Why?  What purpose did rebuking the tree serve?  Was it Christ’s frustration and anger?  Is that emotion allowed and not considered sin?

Jesus died to atone for sin.  “While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God'” (Mk. 14:22-25 NRSV).  For congregations that believe the elements of communion are the blood and body of Jesus, what would it mean when Jesus says he won’t drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.  Does he drink of himself?  Are we to understand this in light of Deuteronomy which says not to drink the blood of the animal for that is where the life is?  

Matthew:

 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus” (Matt. 1:25 NRSV).  Does this mean that Joseph and Mary did, at one point, have relations?  What would this mean for Mary’s perpetual virginity in Catholicism?  What about her being regarded as conceived without sin?

The wise men gifted Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Is this a foreshadowing of the crucifixion?  Would this have been prophecy?  Does prophecy exist today?

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled to Egypt while Herod was ruling and then came out, reflective of when the Jews made the Exodus with Moses.  God alone frees his people from bondage.

Matthew uses the term kingdom of heaven because he was speaking to a Jewish audience.  The other synoptic gospels had Gentile audiences so kingdom of God was used.

Jesus did say that in the way the prophets were persecuted, followers of Christ would be persecuted.  What are we to make of suffering?  Jesus fulfills the law and prophets.  What does this mean?  How is it to be applied?  What does adherence to the ten commandments look like since Jesus has fulfilled the law?

In Matt. 24:3, Jesus discusses the present age and the age to come.  When will we know that the age to come has actually arrived.  Are we to know? Jesus assures us that he is with us to the end of the age in Matt. 28:20.  What is the end of the age?  Don’t we live with him in eternity?  Can there be an end of the age then?

Luke:

I never noticed that the book was written to a particular individual, Theophilus.

What does the spirit and power of Elijah mean?  Why did many think that John the Baptist or Jesus would have been Elijah?  Elijah wasn’t the Messiah, correct?  Why such an emphasis on him and his potential resurrection then?

Mary is referred to as the favored one in Luke’s gospel.  What are the implications of such a remark.

One of Jesus’ names is Son of the Most High.  Recounting the names of Jesus provides peace and assurance that is weathers all storms with his people.

History: Governor of Syria and Emperor Augustus.  With historical facts we know have come to pass included in the stories, why is Scripture still denied by skeptics?  Isn’t there archaeological evidence for faith?  That is unique to Christianity, no?

Joseph was from the family line of David as stated in Lk. 2:4.  Genealogy frequently passed from mother in Jewish tradition.  What is the significance that it was Joseph in Luke’s gospel?

Jesus was circumcised.  However, the apostles teach that the condition of the heart matters more than physical appearance.  What does this mean for Christians today?  Are the men to be circumcised?  Why would we do such a thing to boys and not to girls?

Anna was a prophet from the tribe of Asher who praised God and spoke of the Christ child.  “There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk. 2: 36-38 NRSV).  Here is an example of a woman with authority and revelation from God.  This helps to denounce church practices that limit women’s authority, no?

Demons acknowledged Christ’s authority.  Why do humans reject him still then?  Why would Christ want reports of his identity silenced if demons already know who he is and more people are to come to saving faith in Jesus?

Luke also tells of Jesus not eating the Passover until all is fulfilled in kingdom of God coming.   “…for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk. 22: 18 NRSV).  Was the kingdom of God inaugurated with Christ’s death or did it start before then?  Is he speaking of the age to come?

John:

Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.  Upon his baptism, heaven opened and angels ascended and descended on the Son of Man.  What would this have looked like?

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him” (Jn. 4:23 NRSV).  What is truth? Pilate asked Jesus this question in Jn. 18:38.

“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews…” (Jn. 19:38 NRSV).  Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple.  Is this permitted?  What does this mean for the evangelist?  How are we to obey the great commission if secrecy is allowed?

 

These entries are more fragmented than my previous posts.  I found out that we could write the entries in incomplete sentences.  I turned more to a stream of thought composition piece.  Hopefully the meaning and clarity are not lost in this alteration.

The Character of God: Entries 2-4

I’m lagging in the posting.  I did write the journal entries for class, but haven’t gotten around to posting them here for feedback.  I’ve simply posted all of the entries for the past three weeks into one entry on the blog.  Enjoy.

Entry 2: 100% read

When Moses had set out to conquer Canaan, he sent spies.  All of the spies, except two, Caleb and Joshua, were afraid of the surrounding nations.  The spies did not trust God to protect them against the other occupants in the land.  After Moses death, God places Joshua in charge.  It is under Joshua that Canaan is conquered.  God reminds Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1: 6, 7, 9 NRSV) and to also honor humanity’s agreement to the covenant.

One of the cities to be taken was Jericho.  Rahab, a prostitute, shows kindness to the spies Joshua sent to inspect Jericho.  The hospitality code was an extremely important code of conduct during their time.  Rahab asks for protection, a mutuality of kindness, when the Israelites attack Jericho.  She is granted this protection.

As the Israelites prepare to invade Jericho, they cross the Jordan.  God cuts off the waters of the Arabah Sea, reminiscent of the Red Sea waters being lifted up when the Israelites exited Egypt.  Our God is consistently faithful to take people from bondage and into freedom.  He uses miracles and memories to remind us of his steadfast love and protection.

Sadly, we consistently rebel against God.  We trust that our way and other gods will serve us better.  “Therefore the Israelites are unable to stand before their enemies; they turn their backs to their enemies, because they have become a thing devoted for destruction themselves.  I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12 NRSV).  It is difficult to think of our God as one who will destroy his people for a lack of faithfulness.  Christians might find this especially hard because we have been forever pardoned for our sin through Christ.  However, we, myself included, must remember that our God wants uninterrupted fellowship with us.  Much like a marriage covenant, if we breach that contract with adultery, God will leave us.  The covenant is not a license to sin and we must maintain our portion of our agreement.

“…I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you.  For your part, do not make a covenant with the inhabitants of this land; tear down their altars. But you have not obeyed my command.  See what you have done!’” (Judges 2:1-2 NRSV)  God reminds us that when we don’t honor the covenant, there will be consequences.  Our God is holy and we must reverently worship him as such.

During the time of Judges, the Israelites consistently pursued evil.  However, in God’s faithfulness, he delivered them from oppressors.  God also honored people in society that the culture rejected.  Deborah was a female judge.  Together with Barak, they win the battle against Sisera.  Prior to the battle, Deborah tells Barak to go and fight.  He tells her he can’t do it without her.  She tells him that if he does this, that the honor will go to her, a woman, rather than him.  This is an interesting point considering how women are frequently viewed in the church today.  When we look at Scripture, we can see that God places women in authority and grants them honor even when patriarchal societies would deny women respect.

Patriarchal societies can even go so far as to degrade women and abuse them.  In Judges 20, a concubine is raped.  Men came to have sex with the angel who visited the man and his concubine.  Wanting to honor the hospitality code so the men wouldn’t have sex with the angel, the man gave his concubine to be raped.  She winds up dead and her body is cut up and sent to the twelve tribes to remind them that sexual immorality is a sin.  It is a reminder to the tribes that they have adopted the practices of the surrounding nations; practices they were told explicitly not to adopt by God.  However, I struggle with this passage.  The man did not admit his wrongdoing.  Why is the hospitality code a higher standard of proper behavior than a denial of rape and protection of women?  Through this heinous act, Israel unites itself briefly.  Does the wickedness of others justify our response?  Does an evil act justify the end result?  Why does God permit such things?  I’m still baffled.

“‘…Far be it from me; for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt’” (1Sam. 2:30 NRSV).  Eli’s sons, heirs to priesthood, did not accept their responsibilities with reverence.  They treated God’s holiness casually.  God says that he will not regard those who hate him with favor.  What do we make of those who are wicked and do well today?  Will we only look to earthly measures?  Sometimes it is difficult to remember the covenant and eternal rewards of devotion to God when we see wickedness prosper in this tangible, physical life.

“Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him” (1Sam. 3:7 NRSV).  Samuel was called in by God in preceding verses.  Can we be called by God before we know him?  What does this mean for goodness and wickedness?  Also, Eli failed to restrain the sins of his sons.  Are we responsible for other people’s wickedness, especially our family’s?  Why?

Samuel, however, was a righteous man.  He was a prophet used by God.  Saul was anointed by Samuel.  Initially, Saul pursued God, but he started to seek evil.  Under Saul, the people started to break the covenant.  God tells us “If you will fear the LORD and serve him and heed his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well; but if you will not heed the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king” (1Sam. 12:14-15 NRSV).  We will be punished for disobedience to the covenant.  As a Christian, living under a new covenant, are we still punished?  It isn’t a license to sin.  How are we to pursue righteousness under this new covenant then?

David was a man who, despite his sin, was considered a righteous man.  What characterizes a righteous man?  There are aspects of David’s life that left me curious?  In 1Samuel 18:1, we learn that David was one in Spirit with Jonathan, Saul’s son.  What does it mean to be one in Spirit?  How would it have been understood in that culture compared to today?  When David learns that Saul wants to kill him, Jonathan sends David away.  Before they part, they kissed each other and wept.  How are we to read this text as it would have been for the audience then?  David was married to women, Jonathan’s sister being one of them.  We don’t see text saying David was married or anything with Jonathan.  It was an intimate friendship.  What does that mean through our cultural lens today?

Often in our cultural lens, especially the church, we are told that women are to have men be the spiritual leader of the home.  Abigail was called a beautiful and intelligent woman.  However, Abigail did not inform her husband Nabal about her plans to meet with David and convince him not to harm them.  Would she have been rebuked by our churches today?

Churches have taught that calling on spirits of the dead is part of pagan worship and we are told not to perform such acts.  However in 1Samuel 28:15, Samuel appears to Saul.  Since it was Saul who called on the dead, would this have been an evil act?  Is it important to note who is performing the act?  Is an evil deed dependent on the character of the one doing it?

David, as mentioned previously, was a righteous man.  One of his most grievous offenses was the adulterous act with Bathsheeba and the murder of her husband, Uriah.  God tells David that because of this, the sword will never depart from his house.  Is this why Christians endure persecution to this day?

David’s house most certainly endured the sword.  His sons Absalom and Amnon were at odds for Amnon raping Tamar.  Amnon loved Tamar, but after he raped her, he hated her.  Why do we despise someone when it was our sin that wrecked the relationship?  When David found out about Amnon’s death, he mourned for him.  While it would be nice to assume David mourned over Tamar’s rape, the text does not say this.  How are we to reconcile this?  David was also told to stop mourning for Absalom, who killed Amnon to avenge his sister’s rape.  He was told that if he did not stop mourning than his loyalty to the Israelite people would be questioned.  Will we be called to loyalty to God and his people above our friends and family that pursue foolishness?  When we are, how do we come to peace with such a call?

How do we compare people’s righteousness?  OT violence is often justified by comparing it with the surrounding nations.  Ahaz was a king that did evil, even sacrificing his son to Molech.  Is it presumptuous to assume we are not as bad?  Growing up in a relative truth society, it is hard to think we are humble and good when we say we need to stop idolatry and heinous acts.  Yes, we need to stop murder.  However, am I anymore justified in self-defense than a terrorist?  Do they not think they are acting for their god?  Our society today teaches that each person can have their own god.  Are we to sit idly and accept this, even if it means their god requires things like child sacrifice?

If we practice these acts, can we provoke God enough to be cast from him?  God destroyed Samaria through the Assyrian invasion and exiled his people.  What do we make of that?  God gives chances for repentance.  Kings Hezekiah and Josiah did not do evil in God’s eyes as their predecessors had and the land experienced peace.  Yet, Josiah’s successors Johoiachim and Johoiachin started to pursue evil and led their people to do the same.  In 587BC, Jerusalem fell.  The Southern Kingdom experienced the Babylonian exile.  Where is the threshold of evil?  At what point is God provoked enough to send people away from him?  The anger of God is difficult to comprehend.  In true justice, he can’t overlook sin.  If he does, we will not adhere to the covenant.  Thankfully, even in our sin God is merciful.  He brought the Israelites out of exile.  Today, he delivers us continuously from temptations that ensnare.

Entry 3: 100% read

God in his great mercy brought the people back to the Promised Land.  Zerubbabel leads the people back to rebuild the Temple.  Although rebuilt, it was not the same grandeur as Solomon’s.  Solomon’s choices caused the kingdom to be divided.  God gave the instructions for how the Tabernacle should look.  The scope of its beauty was quite expensive for that day.  Why would God instruct a dwelling place to be built that would force the tribes to become divided?

Zerubbabel builds another Temple but the people who remembered Solomon’s temple were saddened.  “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy” (Ezra 3: 12 NRSV).  Why was their sadness over the aesthetics of the building?  Does God not deserve a building of beauty?  Is this simply a human desire?  God leads us regardless of the building we meet him in.

After Zerubbabel rebuilt the Temple, Ezra and Nehemiah lead other expeditions that result in the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  They observed the Festival of booths, Passover, and the other Festivals as commanded by God.  Why do we not observe these today?  Are we forsaking parts of the covenant by not observing these festivals?  God always upholds his portion of the covenant.  “Now therefore, our God- the great and mighty and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love…you have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly” (Neh. 9:32-33 NRSV).

When we act wickedly, God will punish us.  He cannot neglect sin.  Punishment is not to be thought of like dictator and subject.  It is more palatable to westernized sensitivities to think of God’s punishment like that of a parent gently correcting a child.  Nehemiah witnesses the merchants selling on the Sabbath day.  He warned them about these practices and said, “…If you do so again, I will lay hands on you” (Neh.  13:21 NRSV).  Is abuse sanctioned by God here?  Nehemiah asks God to look on him with favor in this regard.  It is most likely a misinterpretation of the text to read abuse here.

In Neh. 13:25 though, Nehemiah says, “And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God…” (NRSV)  Why was Nehemiah not punished for abusing these individuals, regardless of their sin?  Western ideals can’t grasp this as being remotely permissible.  Viewing these texts through a modern lens, there also arises the problem with a denouncing of inter-racial marriage.

During those days, when the Israelites married non-Jews, they started to take their spouses gods as their own.  Ahab married Jezebel and wound up worshipping her god, Baal.  The foreign women caused the Israelite men to sin against God.  God highlights the problem of idolatry and Israel’s adultery by calling Hosea to be a prophet.

Hosea, as a vassal to God, was commanded to marry Gomer, a prostitute.  The imagery of their marriage was used as a tool to highlight Israel’s affairs with other gods.  Hosea keeps chasing Gomer.  They love each other, but she has children with other men and keeps engaging in adulterous relationships, despite how dearly loved she is.  “In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there, Israel is defiled” (Hosea 6:10 NRSV).  Israel defiled herself like Gomer defiled herself.  They engaged in extramarital relations.

God is gracious regardless.  He desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6 NRSV).  Even though Israel kept sacrificing to Baal and walking away from God, God healed Israel.  “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.  I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.  I bent down to them and fed them” (Hos. 11:4 NRSV).  God will discipline us for our sins, but he is quick to be compassionate.  He is intimate with his creation, even when his creation forgets who the Creator is.

God adheres to covenant loyalty.  As God promised to give land and multiply the house of Abraham and his heirs, God remembers his covenant in Amos 9:8 “The eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth-except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob” (NRSV).  God is faithful to maintain his portion of the covenant, even going so far as to plant the house of David and never pluck them from the land he has given them again as is told in Amos 9:15 (NRSV).  Our God reigns forever and ever.  While we sin and experience discipline for that sin, God will draw us to himself and be gracious.  We do not endure the wrath our sins deserve because our God is a God of chesed love.

Entry 4: 100% Read

Those who seek the Lord are wise to do so.  What is wisdom though?  Is there variance in true wisdom?  What some consider folly would God consider wise?  God uses the wise to confound the foolish.  God’s ways are not our ways.  As such, can what appears to be foolish actually be wise?  How will we discern the difference?

Job was a righteous man before God.  However, he becomes tested.  Satan asks God to test the authenticity of Job’s faith.  ‘“But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face’” (Job 1:11 NRSV).  Why does God permit Satan to do such things?  Is this permission a characteristic of a truly good God?  If God is good, and are consistently reminded that he is, why would he allow such afflictions from Satan?  Does our faith need such testing in order to be proved?  Why does faith need to be proved?  Are we not saved by trust, not works?  Is the testing of trust necessary for admittance to heaven?  Is that coercion then or free will?

Have we ever been wrongly comforted by a friend as Job was?  I know I have.  Sadly, the church has offended believers too.  Too often, church can be like Bildad saying, ‘“See, God will not reject a blameless person, nor take the hand of evildoers’” (Job 8:20 NRSV).  Church, and consequently friends in the church, at times even myself, will counsel people.  They state that if an individual was actively pursuing God, that calamity would not strike.  At times it can feel that way.  Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer through?  Can a person, like a Pharisee, be truly wicked and seemingly prosper?  I know it to be false, but if we increased our faith, would our sufferings lessen?  Bildad seems to be stating that here.  Where is that evidence in life when it feels like the righteous prosper?  Although, how do we know a truly devoted person from a façade?  Is it only through God’s testing that we are proven?  Again, how is that free will in love?

The Psalms are beautiful compositions that wrestle with these very questions.  That is why it is my favorite book in the Bible.  Also, I love writing and poetry so I am instantly drawn to the book.  Although the Psalms authors question God and wrestle with the struggles of life, God is always held reverently, as he should be.  His power and might is acknowledged.  After all, God is the one who created the heavens and the earth.  “The heavens are telling the glory of God’ and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19: 1 NRSV).  It is good to recognize God as the creator and abide in his covenant.  “…Happy are all who take refuge in him” (Ps. 2:11 NRSV).  He is the God of our salvation and he will come to our aid.  While we can question that, we must acknowledge that God is Lord and he upholds covenantal loyalty.

When humanity commits to the covenant as well, wisdom is gained.  The book of Proverbs contains short teachings that instruct the reader how to gain wisdom for application in this life.    “For learning wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity;” (Prov. 1:2 NRSV).  Sometimes, the wisdom doesn’t make sense.  Since God is higher than us, his inspiration can be confusing.  “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked” (Prov. 10: 3).  At times during this life, it feels like the righteous do go hungry and the wicked prosper. Perhaps these verses speak of eternity’s hope when God will reign and his kingdom will appear on earth as it is in heaven.

“Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?” (Ecc. 3:21 NRSV).  Humanity’s fate is the same as the animals.  We all will die.  The great equalizer is death.  What is hope then?  Can animals place trust in God and gain entrance to heaven?  This verse from Ecclesiastes says we don’t know.  What is hope then?  Is the pursuit of this knowledge as the author of Ecclesiastes asserts?  Why do we try to search the Scriptures for truth and right living then?  It is good and prudent, but can it also be meaningless as the Ecclesiastes author drones on about?

The imagery in Song of Solomon found in chapter 4 is cultural.  If my husband told me my breasts were like twin gazelles, I would be confused.  Deer pranced and were light-footed.  They searched for water in the desert and leaped to find sustenance.  Since we don’t have that imagery used in our writing today, we don’t understand the literary uses to draw a reader closer to God.  It is a book about sex, used to teach Israel about marital fidelity so they would stop pursuing sexual idols like their neighbors and return to God.  Our current culture is also highly sexualized, albeit in different manners, and the temptations for sex outside of God’s mandates have often led people to abandon God.  Song of Solomon is a relevant text to show people that God’s mandates do a society well to obey.  The text is intense and highlights the abundance available in God alone.

Daniel is apocalyptic literature.  Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon.  He appointed Daniel to his court for the ability to interpret dreams.  Daniel asks that he does not have the diet of the royals.  Even while just eating vegetables, he becomes stronger than the others in the court.  Would it be testing God today if we refrained from eating cultural grub in order to show God as supreme?  How would a diet change today speak to God’s glory?  Can it?  Has our obsession with dieting simply turned into idolatry and we wouldn’t have the same outcome as Daniel?

Daniel’s three friends refuse to bow down to the statues Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  They had to face the fiery furnace as a result.  Thankfully, they were not burned up, but their executioners were.  Is this miracle possible today?  Do we not have enough faith and that is why we haven’t seen something occur on that grandeur?  What statues have I bowed down to because I am a people pleaser?  God sent Nebuchadnezzar out to be like an animal so he would learn that God is the Lord of lords.  How does God send us out from his presence today so that we might remember he is King?  Is it possible for the Christian existing in the post-cross world?  Are only non-Christians ever sent to learn such lessons?

The formatting of 1 Maccabees is unlike other texts in the Protestant cannon.  All of Scripture is inspired.  However, while God’s law is mentioned, he himself isn’t talked about often.  There is history of Jerusalem being besieged and Judas’ fight to prevent desecration of Judah.  “You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people” (1Maccabees 2:67 NRSV).  Other canon does not seem to permit avenging death.  The motive seems off.  Understanding all Scripture is inspired and from God, what sense are we to make of books that are held in lesser esteem?  Why include them?  These texts seemed misaligned with the representation of God’s character in other texts.  There was much discussion about Gentile kings in authority and the battles that ensued.  It was a dark and bloody period in history.  God seemed largely silent in the text.  There is some discussion with God, but decisions seemed to be made of their own accord.  Is this why there isn’t much information about the Intertestamental period other than fighting? What does this say about God’s involvement during that period of history?  Is he ever more silent in some eras than others?  Also, did God command then avenging?  I don’t see evidence for it.  If he did, what would that say about God and humanity as vassals for retribution?