June 1, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

2 Samuel 18-19:10

     David organized the men with him into three groups. One each under Joab and Abishai, his cousins, and one under Ittai, the man from Gath. David’s initial plan was to go out with these three groups and command them from the field. His men objected, since the whole object of Absalom’s army would be to kill David. If David’s men were victorious on the battlefield but David was killed, they would lose the war. On the other hand, no matter how badly they were defeated on the battlefield, as long as David was alive, they had not lost the war. David accedes to their request that he remain in the city. When the battle begins, it is scattered throughout a forested area where more men died from the terrain than from enemy action. Absalom himself becomes a victim of the terrain. At one point Absalom comes upon some of David’s men. He attempts to flee on his mule but his hair, which an earlier passage noted as one of his sources of pride, gets caught in a tree and he gets hung up from it. One of David’s men sees this and takes word to Joab. Joab asks him why he did not kill Absalom and tells him that he, Joab, would have rewarded him for it. The soldier replies that he would not have killed Absalom for 100 times the reward that Joab said he would have given because he heard David request that the leaders spare Absalom and if he had killed Absalom David would have found out. The soldier is clearly familiar with what David had done to the messenger who reported that he had killed King Saul and the men who killed Ishbosheth. Joab then goes and kills Absalom himself.
     After the death of Absalom ends the battle, Ahimaaz, one of the spies who brought news of Absalom’s plans to David, asks Joab for the honor of bringing news of the victory to David. Joab tells him that David will not honor the one who brings this news and sends an Ethiopian with the message. Ahimaaz continues to beg Joab for the privilege of taking the news to David. Joab finally consents. Ahimaaz takes a less direct, but also less arduous, route to where David is waiting and arrives minutes ahead of the Ethiopian. Ahimaaz tells David that the battle is won. When David asks about Absalom, Ahimaaz tells him that there was a commotion when he set out, but he did not know what it was about. When the Ehtiopian arrives, he tells David that Absalom is dead. Upon hearing this news, David goes into mourning. When word gets out that David is mourning, the returning soldiers stopped celebrating their victory and started behaving as if they had deserted the battlefield. Joab goes in and rebukes David warning him that if he continues like this his troops will desert him in truth. David heeds Joabs rebuke and goes out and takes up a position in the town gate.
     Absalom dies because of his pride and his vanity. The first issue is his pride. Absalom was leading his forces against David’s forces, despite having no previous combat experience, in part because of his pride. When Ahithphel advised him to send out troops immediately after David, part of what convinced Absalom to follow Hushai’s advice to wait for more troops was that Hushai also advised Absalom to lead the troops himself. So, here we have Absalom out on the battlefield. The second issue is his vanity. In an earlier passage we are told that he only cut his hair once a year when it became too heavy. In the same passage it tells us that Absalom was a handsome man. It is clear from that passage that Absalom took a lot of pride in his appearance, in particular his long hair. On this occasion, his pride in his long hair causes him trouble because his hair gets tangled in a tree and he cannot flee from David’s men.

John 20:1-31

     John records that the first person to witness Jesus’ resurrection is a woman and that Jesus sends her with a message to the disciples. This is in a culture where women are considered unreliable witnesses. You would think that if the disciples were making up the story about Jesus’ resurrection, they would have chosen to make the first witnesses more credible. In addition, even after receiving the news, Jesus finds the disciples cowering in fear of the Jewish leaders behind closed doors.
     When Jesus does appear to the disciples, He shows them the wounds in his hands and in his side. John recounts an interesting teaching here. Jesus tells the disciples that if they forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven, but if they do not forgive anyone’s sins, they are not forgiven. I am not quite sure what He meant by that. What if Peter forgave someone’s sins, but Andrew did not? I think that it emphasizes the importance of us forgiving others. I, also, think that Jesus was telling the disciples, and us, that we had the authority to do as He had done during His ministry where He had told someone that their sins were forgiven. We, also, have the authority to tell someone that their sins are forgiven. This is also in the context of John’s relating of the Great Commissioning where Jesus is sending the disciples, and, by proxy, us, into the world to preach the Gospel. Jesus sends them into the world in the same manner that He was sent.
     Then we have the story of Thomas who was not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time. He expresses that seeing is not enough, he needs to be able to touch the wounds to believe they are real. Thomas represents those who stoutly aver that they will only believe that which they can experience with their five senses. I have heard it said that when someone asks you for proof that God exists the first thing you need to do is ask them what they will accept as proof. Here Thomas says what he will accept as proof of Jesus’ resurrection. When Jesus appears to Thomas, He immediately offers him that proof. It is interesting to note that in the end, Thomas did not require the proof that he had said was necessary before he would believe. When Jesus appeared to Thomas and offered the proof, Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God,” without actually putting his finger in the nail wounds or his hand in the spear wound. I think this is important, once someone has acknowledged that there is something that could prove to them that God exists, the exposure to the Divine is often enough to convince them, even if it is less than what they had said before hand would be necessary. Of course, if Thomas had still required that proof, it was available to him. I believe that once we are willing to accept something as proof of God’s existence, God will provide us with that proof. Sometimes He will do so even when we are not really willing to accept that proof. I heard a story some time back that illustrates this:

A philosophy professor was talking to his class about his belief that there was no God. He said that he would illustrate his point. He got up on his desk and called out to the ceiling, “God, if you exist, knock me off of this desk.” (Now take note that he did not specify how God should knock him off the desk). After a few moments, he start to say, “See, there is no God.” But before he can finish, one of his students gets up and knocks him off the desk. The professor asks the student, “Why did you do that?”

There was more to the story as I first heard it because the person telling it was making another point. My point here is that the professor in this story laid out what he would accept as proof that God existed. That proof was that he be knocked off of his desk. But when he was knocked off of his desk, he did not accept it as proof of God’s existence. He wanted to know why the student acted as he did. This is all too often how we see things in this life. We ask God for something. Then when it happens by means of something that can be explained by natural causes we dismiss it as not being the hand of God.

Psalm 119:153-176

     Today we come to the final three stanzas of this psalm. The psalmist continues to speak of the joy and satisfaction in following God’s laws and commands. The psalmist again and again says things like:

“I have obeyed your laws,
for I love them very much.”

Yet in the end he admits that for all of his love for God’s commands he has fallen short and needs God’s help to fulfill them:
“I have wandered away like a lost sheep;
come and find me,…”

That is also my prayer for I know that much as I try to follow God’s commands I fall short. As Paul says in Romans 7, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Come and find me Lord, for I am a lost sheep. I know that only through Your power can I be freed from my slavery to sin.

Proverbs 16:14-15

     Today’s proverb relates the importance of staying on the good side of those with political authority. We, as Christians, may answer to a Higher Authority than those with political power, yet they still have the ability to make our lives miserable or more pleasant. We should respect political authorities and obey their instructions, unless those instructions go against the will of God.

May 31, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

2 Samuel 17:1-29

     After Absalom occupies Jerusalem and has sex with the concubines which David, his father, had left behind, Ahithophel urges him to immediately send troops out after David and his men under the command of Ahithophel. However, Hushai, whom David had encouraged to stay behind and give Absalom bad advice, convinces Absalom to delay until he had gathered more troops and for Absalom to lead them himself. Hushai uses two time honored techniques to get Absalom to follow his advice. He plays on Absalom’s fears of David and his men and he plays to his vanity of being seen as a great war leader. Absalom decides to follow Hushai’s advice. This allows Hushai time to warn David and allows David and his men time to get to a defensive location among supporters. Interestingly, David chooses as his base the same city that Abner had chosen to base the kingship of Saul’s son Ishbosheth. Ahithophel recognizes how disastrous following Hushai’s advice will be for Absalom, and thus for himself, and goes home,sets his affairs in order and kills himself.

John 19:23-42

     In this crucifixion account John references Psalm 22:18 when he says that the soldiers that crucified Jesus divided His clothes and diced over His robe. Matthew and Mark reference Psalm 22:1 when they write that Jesus last words were “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” In both cases the writers are applying the whole of Psalm 22 to this situation. In Psalm 22 the psalmist is crying out in despair, yet nevertheless praising God and declaring His righteousness. Later in this account John references Psalm 34:20 when he says that the soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs to fulfill the scripture that “Not one of His bones will be broken.” The verse before that in the psalm says, “The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.” That is very similar to the theme of Psalm 22. I think it is significant that three of the four Gospel writers reference this. I believe that they are each saying that despite appearances God was with Jesus to the very end and came to His rescue. In a way they are foreshadowing the resurrection and they are saying that Jesus knew that the resurrection was coming to follow passing through this time of torment. Even in the despair and torment of His crucifixion and death Jesus continued to praise God. We should do the same in whatever hardships and troubles we face.

Psalm 119:129-152

     Throughout this psalm the psalmist has expressed his joy in following God’s commands and the judgement that will fall on those who do not do so. In today’s reading, he expresses his sadness for those who do not follow God’s commands:

“Rivers of tears gush from my eyes
because people disobey your instructions.”

This should be our feeling as well for those who do not choose to serve God, deep sadness. This passage emphasizes the burden on my heart to pray for my friends who have not yet come to know the Lord. As has been true since I started reading Psalm 119, today this psalm truly touches me.
“Your laws are wonderful.
No wonder I obey them!”

I definitely see this as true. The more I obey God’s will for my life, the more joy I have and the more I want to find more of His will to follow.
“Your laws are always right;
help me to understand them so I may live.”

There are those who wish to throw away those of God’s laws that they do not like, thinking that they understand how humans work better than our Maker. I once thought there was something to their arguments, until I experienced the pain (and inflicted pain on others) of not following those rules. I learned that biblical instructions are not just for those who lived many years ago. God’s laws are always right.
“I have known from my earliest days
that your laws will last forever.”

I have no excuse for the mistakes I made, my parents taught me this from a young age. I wanted it to be true, so I allowed those I should not have trusted to convince me that it was. I have learned that what I learned as a child is more reliable than the “more mature” perspective I came to later.

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Proverbs 16:12-13

     When those with political authority follow these proverbs a country will be blessed. The further those with political authority are from the standard of these proverbs, the more oppression and suffering will be found in the country. In addition the further those with political authority are from the standard of these proverbs the less stable will be their authority.

May 30, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

2 Samuel 15:23-16:23

     Despite David’s failings as a father, he demonstrates his skill as a general and a politician as he makes plans while he flees Jerusalem. He sends the priests back into the city with the Ark of the Covenant with instructions to send him information about Absalom’s plans. David then instructs his adviser, Hushai, to stay in the city and tells him how to convince Absalom that he has switched loyalty. David is counting on Hushai giving Absalom advice that will counter the advice he receives from Ahithophel, a former adviser to David who has switched loyalty to Absalom. As David is fled Jerusalem, Shimei, a member of the clan that King Saul came from, came out and cursed David. When Joab’s brother, and David’s cousin, Abishai wants to go kill Shimei for his actions, David tells him not to. David’s response, referring to “you sons of Zeruiah”, suggests that Joab and Abishai often had impulses that David felt a need to restrain. My reading is that Joab and Abishai were fiercely loyal to David, but their loyalty was to their cousin and clan leader, not to the king of Israel. David, on the other hand, recognized that as king of Israel there were actions he needed to take, or not take, that as leader of just his clan he would do differently. I think perhaps this situation is one of those. As leader of just one clan, in this situation, where someone is cursing you and celebrating your misfortune, it might be in your interest and that of your clan to show that doing so is not safe and have that person killed. But as king of all Israel, there is a certain amount of benefit from allowing people to express their dissatisfaction with your rule, especially when that dissatisfaction is not directed as support for your political enemies. Shimei did not express support for Absalom, merely satisfaction in seeing David forced to flee.

John 18:25-19:22

     When the Jewish religious leaders, who were also the Jewish political leaders, brought Jesus to Pilate they would not go into Pilate because that would have made them ceremonially unclean. So Pilate had to come out to them. When Pilate asked them what the charge was against Jesus, they don’t actually give him an answer. All they say is that they would not have brought Him to Pilate if He wasn’t a criminal. Pilate’s response was basically, “If you aren’t going to tell me what crime you are accusing Him of, you can take Him and punish Him according to your laws.” The Jewish leaders response was that they were not allowed to execute Him. Pilate returns to his palace and begins to question Jesus to see if He is an insurrectionist. When Pilate asks Jesus if He is a king, Jesus answers that His kingdom is not of this world. That if it was, His followers would have fought to keep Him from being arrested. I think there is no clearer teaching on the Christian approach to politics than this. Jesus did not come to institute God’s political system on this earth and His followers are not called to do so either. Jesus came to change the hearts and minds of individuals. We are not called to pass laws or build government programs. We are called to reach out as individuals to those individuals in need around us and show them God’s love, so that they may also come to understand His will for their lives. When Jesus says that He has come into the world to testify to the truth, Pilate asks Him, “What is truth?” There are many people today who ask the same question, who do not believe that truth is knowable. I believe that here and elsewhere Jesus and the Bible teaches us that truth is knowable and can be found through seeking God.
     After this Pilate brings Jesus out before the Jews and tells them that He can find no basis for executing Jesus. The Jewish leaders insist that Pilate crucify Jesus. Pilate attempts to release Jesus, but the Jewish leaders threaten to accuse him of fomenting insurrection if he does so. As part of that, the Jewish leaders declare that they have no king but Caesar. By doing so they declare that their first loyalty is not to God but to the state. This is the other side from “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is our choice. Either “We have no King but Caesar” or we worship the One who said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Either we count on God to make things right in this world, or we count on the state to do the same. When Pilate has Jesus crucified he has the soldiers post a sign that makes the decision of the religious leaders clear. The sign read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Pilate is telling everyone who sees the crucifixion that the Jewish leaders have chosen Rome over an independent Jewish state.

Psalm 119:113-128

     The psalmist continues his theme of the importance of following God’s decrees. I read this psalm and it touches my heart, both to impart joy for the opportunity to study the Bible and to challenge me to do a better job of avoiding sins that God has convicted me of. It, also, challenges me to begin a program of memorization. Today. I will make an effort to come up with a plan of memorization. I had the conviction of doing this blog as my daily devotional for a long time before I mustered the discipline to actually do it. I have been blessed by the process of reading the scripture and writing my thoughts down on this blog. I regret not starting this sooner. I will not put off another blessing because I am too lazy to move forward. Today, I will strive to begin taking the actions that reflect my belief in what the psalmist writes here:

“You are my refuge and my shield;
your word is my source of hope.”

Proverbs 16:10-11

     The two proverbs today speak of God’s will for behavior in the world. The first says that those with governmental authority should judge fairly and with honesty. The second says that our dealings in the marketplace should be the same to all and they should be honest and fair. At one time, the standard in the market was that people priced what they were selling at a particular price, but everyone knew that you could get it for less than that. It was just a question of how much less. You had to haggle to get the best price. Those selling were able to make more profit from those who were less able to haggle and/or who were less well informed as the actual costs involved in obtaining the item in question. At some point, a group of merchants decided that the right thing to do was to price their goods at what they considered a fair price for the cost they expended and the effort they put out to bring the goods to market. My understanding is that these merchants were Quakers. My understanding is that it was not exactly a decision they reached as a group, but rather a decision that they reached from their study of the scripture. These merchants were more successful than other merchants, which meant that those who wished to be successful in the market needed to emulate their practices. It is my belief that this approach to selling goods and services led to the explosion of trade which led to our modern strong economies and may have played a significant role in the rise of the industrial revolution. In recent years, those who study marketing have made the “discovery” that different people are willing to pay different amounts for many goods and services. This has led them to encourage companies to set up their pricing structure to attempt to capture additional revenue from those who are willing to pay more. This sounds like good business until you consider that now rather than basing your price on a reasonable profit over and above the costs to deliver the good or service to market, you have to spend the time to discover how much different market segments are willing to pay for your good or service. In addition, as those who supply you with goods or services adopt the same practice, you must spend time and effort to determine how much they might be willing to lower the price they charge you. Now instead of just being good at delivering a particular good or service, you must also be good at negotiating prices for goods and services in order to be successful. I believe that, despite the apparent advantages of adjusting your price according to what you believe that a particular customer is willing to pay, those who follow this proverb will find greater success in the marketplace.

May 29, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

2 Samuel 14-15:22

     Joab convinces David to go against his better judgement and bring Absalom back from exile. When Absalom returns from exile David refuses to see him until Absalom finally convinces Joab to convince David to see him. This appears to have been a set up on Absalom’s part to begin his attempt to usurp David’s throne, because no sooner does David meet with Absalom than Absalom begins the process of convincing the people of Israel that they would be better off with him as king than with his father on the throne. When Absalom decides that the time is right, he declares himself king and raises an army. As soon as David hears of Absalom’s usurpation, he gathers his men and flees Jerusalem. A group of men from Gath, which probably means Philistines, join David as he leaves Jerusalem. David tries to convince them to return to Gath rather than join him, but they refuse.
     I do not see a lot of lessons in this particular passage today. However, I see two things. First is continued evidence of how David had failed to teach Absalom to behave in a godly manner. The second is that Absalom gains power by using his good looks and charisma and by promising people what they want to hear. The people did not consider whether what Absalom said made good sense or reflected the thoughts of a good leader for the people. Instead, they were flattered by his apparent concern for their wants and needs and thus gave him their support for shallow reasons.

John 18:1-24

     After Jesus concluded the teachings at what we now know as the Last Supper He led His disciples to a place where they often went to pray and meditate. A place that Judas was familiar with and had reason to expect to find them at. When Judas arrives with the troops he has been given to arrest Jesus, Jesus steps forward and confronts them. When they declare that they are looking for Him, He responds with the divine I AM. This is important because there are many people who claim that Jesus never claimed to be God. From what we know of first century Judaism, and from the reactions recorded in the Gospels, there can be little doubt that those who heard Jesus use the expression “I am” the way He does here, and at several other places in the Gospels, fully understood Him to be saying that He was God. There can be multiple explanations for the reaction of those coming to arrest Him. I believe that it is the result of two things. First, they were familiar with the miracles He had performed and were expected this to presage some kind of miraculous intervention preventing them from arresting Him. Second, they probably expected that failing that His disciples would attack them ferociously. Before they can draw themselves up again, Jesus again asks who they are looking for and when they reply surrenders Himself into their hands. Peter attempts to prevent Jesus from being arrested and attacks one of the men, but Jesus tells him to put up his sword.
     After His arrest, Jesus is taken to the house of the father-in-law of the high priest. Peter and an unnamed disciple follow along. The unnamed disciple is known to the high priest and is thus able to gain admittance to the house. He then arranges for Peter to be admitted as well. When Peter is asked if he was one of Jesus’ followers, just a short time after being willing to go to battle to protect Jesus, Peter denies that such is the case.
     Inside, the high priest asks Jesus what He has been teaching His disciples. Jesus replies by saying that He has taught openly, they should ask those who heard Him. I think there is an important point that Jesus is making here. He did not have any secret teachings. There were several religious cults in that day that had secret teachings that were only revealed to those who were initiates into the cult. In addition, by the time John wrote this Gospel, there was a rising movement that claimed they were heirs to Jesus’ secret teachings that people could only learn from them. John here was dispelling that very notion by quoting Jesus at His trial.

Psalm 119:97-112

     Today we have two more stanzas where the psalmist speaks of how following God’s commands will bring good things into our lives. The psalmist makes a claim that I desire to be able to echo when he says:

“Oh, how I love your instructions!
I think about them all day long.”

Certainly I can come closer to truthfully saying that since I have started writing this blog as my daily devotion. As I try to write my thoughts about the scripture I read each day, I find that scripture has more meaning to me than ever before. In the past there were occasions where I could echo this refrain from the psalmist:
“How sweet your words taste to me;
they are sweeter than honey.

But now I find that to be true more of the time than ever before. I am still working on determining a system whereby I resume memorizing scripture, something I have not done for years. I will close this section with this prayer from the psalm:
“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
and a light for my path.

Your laws are my treasure;
they are my heart’s delight.
I am determined to keep your decrees
to the very end.”

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Proverbs 16:8-9

     Today I can find little to add to the words of the proverbs themselves.

“Better to have little, with godliness,
than to be rich and dishonest.

We can make our plans,
but the Lord determines our steps.”

I know I said I can add little, but, as would come as no surprise to those who know me, I find I cannot leave it at that. This proverb is a reminder that no matter what we plan, the results will be what God wills. If our plans are contrary to God’s will they will come to naught, to our loss. If we seek to align our plans with God’s will, He will guide us in making our plans and as our plans align with His will they will bear fruit to our betterment and joy.

May 28, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

2 Samuel 13:1-39

     There are two examples here of David failing to discipline his sons, more importantly, both of these situations arose because David had failed to discipline his sons previously. The first part is where David’s son Amnon rapes his half-sister, Tamar. The account records that David was very angry when he heard of this, but it does not recount him disciplining Amnon in any way. Moreover, if David had taught his sons that they would suffer the consequences of their misbehavior it is unlikely that Amnon would have committed this horrible act. This first story leads to the second. Absalom was Tamar’s full brother and was infuriated at Amnon’s treatment of his sister. Because David failed to adequately discipline Amnon (and had previously failed to properly discipline Absalom, by my reading), Absalom felt that it was up to him to obtain justice for his sister. Absalom plots and arranges to have his half-brother Amnon killed. David further compounds the problem by failing to punish Absalom by forcing him to remain in exile after killing his brother. We can understand a father wishing to be reconciled with his son, even after that son had killed one of the father’s other sons, but nevertheless some sort of long term consequences were in order and David failed to levy them on his son. We will discover in later passages that this leads to further heartache. David failed to discipline his sons and to raise them to be godly men. He literally let them get away with murder.

John 17:1-26

     Here Jesus prays for the disciples, but not just for the disciples. He says that His prayer is for those who will believe in Him because of the message that the disciples will preach. In this prayer Jesus asks God to grant those who believe in His name unity. Certainly the factions that we Christians often divide into goes against God’s will. Unfortunately, too many of those who strive to avoid conflict among Christians, also, fail to hold their brothers and sisters accountable for sin. There is a fine line we are called to tread. On the one hand, we are to be united in our faith and love of God. On the other hand, we are called to confront our brothers and sisters when they sin. There is no easy resolution to this dilemma since both are things which Jesus Himself taught. Too many Christians choose between Church discipline and Church unity. When we practice Church discipline we must remember to, also, work for Church unity. But when we strive for Church unity, we must remember to maintain Church discipline. There is no easy way to point out how to do this in practice, but if we each remember that first and foremost we are to love one another and strive for God’s guidance in our actions we can find our way through this.

Psalm 119:81-96

     Today’s reading contains two more stanzas of Psalm 119. Previously when I have read Psalm 119 (either the whole thing or parts) I have been overwhelmed by the length of this psalm and missed the beauty of it. I have never before noticed its emphasis on the importance and benefits of following God’s commands, although I am sure that it has been pointed out to me. Once again, the psalm in today’s reading fills me with joy.

“Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.”

The God who was faithful to those who believed His word in New Testament times and was faithful to my father’s generation, is faithful to my generation and will be faithful to the generations which will follow me.

Proverbs 16:6-7

     The first proverb today has a pair of double meanings to me. It says that sin is atoned for through love and faithfulness. Primarily, my sin has been atoned for through the love and faithfulness of Jesus Christ, but there is a responsive element where God calls on us to love and be faithful to Him in order to claim that atonement. This is one of those things where it is difficult for me to express what this means to me without it sounding like somehow my actions lead to the atonement of my sin. That is not at all what I believe. I believe that my love and faithfulness comes as my response to God’s action in providing atonement for my sin. And as for my faithfulness, it is only possible for me to be faithful in as much as God provides me with the strength and grace to achieve that goal. The second half of the first proverb, like the first half, has a kind of double meaning. If we have appropriate fear of the Lord, we will avoid taking evil actions. But, in addition, if we live our lives with fear of the Lord, we will avoid entering into situations where we will experience evil.

May 27, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

2 Samuel 12:1-31

     After David sleeps with Bathsheba and arranges for her husband’s death, God sends the prophet Nathan to tell David a story that brings home to David exactly how evil his actions were. David expresses his contrition by saying that he has sinned against God. I think that at this point David realizes that everyone knows what he has done and he realizes what a terrible witness this is. He has promoted himself as a man striving to serve God. He has not only had an affair with another man’s wife, but arranged that man’s death and everybody knows it. David has set himself up as a model of godly behavior and now, through his sinful behavior, he has given people an opportunity to mock God. This is the lesson I take from this for me today. When I sin, I will be found out. When I am found out in sin, it will damage my witness to those around me. This means that it is important to avoid sin whenever possible, but it also means that it is even more important that we make sure to let people know that we do not consider ourselves better, or more righteous, than they. Of course that means that we had better not think of ourselves as more righteous than those we interact with, because we are not.
     Another lesson we can learn from this is David’s reaction when his son becomes sick and then when his son dies. After his son becomes sick, David fasts and mourns and entreats the Lord for the child. Yet after the child dies, he goes back to his normal life because he knows that the child is no longer suffering and his actions will not bring the child back. David fasted and prostrated himself while the child was sick but yet lived. When the child died, David got up and washed and dressed himself and then went and worshiped the Lord. Only then did he return and break his fast.

John 16:1-33

     Today’s passage is Jesus wrapping up what must have been very difficult teaching for both the disciples and for Jesus. He is telling them that He is about to be arrested and killed and that they will all be scattered and none of them will stand by Him. He, also, tells them that, even so, He will not be alone, and, indirectly, that when they face similar trials later, they (and we) will not be alone. He further tells them that the Holy Spirit will guide them (and us) into “all truth”. I am not entirely sure what Jesus is telling us here, but part of it is that truth is knowable. One of the biggest things we have to struggle against in our society today is the idea that we can not know the truth, that the truth is unknowable. The logical conclusion of the belief that the truth is unknowable is that striving to learn the truth is a waste of time. Jesus here is teaching us that the truth is knowable, that if we strive to learn and know the truth God will reveal it to us. Now, saying that the truth is knowable is not the same as saying that I know the truth. I believe that as Christians we should continually strive to learn the truth and ask God to reveal it to us, but we should, also, acknowledge that in our current sinful state what we believe to be the truth may not, in fact, be the truth. As the apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
     At the end of this passage, Jesus reiterates what He has said several times through preceding passages. That the disciples (and we today) will face many trials and sorrows. But He tells us to take heart because He has overcome the world. We often talk about Jesus overcoming the world in His death on the cross, and I certainly think that there is truth in that statement. But here He is, the night before His crucifixion saying that He has already overcome the world. I am not quite sure what He means here, but I think that part of what He is saying is that He has already made the decisions that will lead to His sacrificial crucifixion. That He has not used His notoriety, fame and power to raise an army to lead into open revolt against the Romans. He has not given into the world’s temptation to follow the world’s methods of dealing with injustice and oppression. Instead, He has chosen to be faithful to God’s plan, and as hopeless as that plan may appear, He has chosen to accept God’s way of challenging injustice and oppression, not with force and violence, but with self-sacrificial love.

Psalm 119:65-80

     Once again today’s psalm reaches me on an emotional level. The psalmist says;

“I used to wander off until you disciplined me;
but now I closely follow your word.”

I understand this intimately, although I am not sure I can yet say that my wandering off is in the past tense as the psalmist says. I pray to God that He helps me keep to this, so that I can truthfully say with the psalmist that I now closely follow His words. Whether or not I have yet stilled my wandering spirit, I do agree with the psalmist when he says;
“My suffering was good for me,
for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.”

And further when he asks of God;
“You made me; you created me.
Now give me the sense to follow your commands.”

I think that so sums up what I believe. If I truly have good sense, I will follow God’s commands. I know that I do not always exhibit good sense, but I strive to do better in the future. Part of that is recognizing that I can only do so through God’s grace, not through my own strength.

Proverbs 16:4-5

     This proverb says that everything, and everyone, serves God’s purposes. We can choose to strive to be godly and strive to willingly act according to God’s desires and receive joy, or we can be used by God to accomplish God’s purposes to our own loss. Those who are too proud to accept God’s guidance will suffer for it.

May 26, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

2 Samuel 9-11:27

     This passage begins with David seeking to find anyone left of King Saul’s family in order to honor his oath with Jonathan. He receives a report that Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth is alive. Those who report this make sure to mention that Mephibosheth is crippled and therefore not a contender for the throne. David summons Mephibosheth to his court and gives him the properties that had belonged to Saul. The passage tells us that David had Mephibosheth eat at his, David’s, table. This would have been similar to how the sons of tributary kings held as hostages for their fathers’ good behavior would have been treated. However, since Mephibosheth’s father was dead, this would have been more of an honor than a hostage situation.
     At some point after this a king of the Ammonites who had treated David well died. David sent ambassadors to his son, now king of the Ammonites, to express sympathy. The Ammonite king’s advisers convinced him that David’s ambassadors were actually spies, so the king humiliated them. David was infuriated and goes to war with the Ammonites. However, instead of leading his armies himself David sends them out under the command of Joab and remains in Jerusalem. When Joab is successful in his initial encounters with the Ammonites, they ally with the Arameans. The Arameans send a large army to relieve the Ammonites. This causes David to mobilize all of the fighting men of Israel and lead them to war. David goes out and decisively defeats the Arameans.
     The passage next tells us that at the time of the year when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the army out to fight the Ammonites while David remained in Jerusalem. It is not clear if this is the same war as the previous passage, or another one. Whichever is the case, David has left himself open to temptation. While he is taking a leisurely stroll on his palace rooftop, he sees a beautiful woman taking a bath, Bathsheba. He sends to find out who she is. He discovers that she is married to one of his soldiers, in particular one of his “mighty men”, Uriah the Hittite. Even though she is the wife of one of his most loyal supporters, David sends for her and sleeps with her. When Bathsheba informs David that she is pregnant, David sends for her husband Uriah. David attempts to get Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife, but he refuses to do so since his fellow soldiers are in the field. David then writes a letter instructing Joab to send Uriah to the most dangerous part of the battle and ensure that Uriah is killed. When David learns that Uriah is dead and Bathsheba completes the period of mourning, David marries her. This passage is a perfect commentary on how sin seeps into our lives. First David sets himself up for temptation by not doing something that he ought. Next, David succumbs to temptation. Then after he sins, he compounds that sin by further sins. This often happens to us today. We set ourselves up for temptation by not doing things which we know that we should do. In the same way that if David had been doing what he should have been, leading the army in war, he would not have been tempted, we, also, would avoid most temptations in our lives if we were doing the things that we should be doing (whether that is a Church activity or just chores around the house). Additionally, one sin often leads to another in a futile attempt to cover up our initial sin. Of course the converse is true as well, as we do the things that we know God is calling us to do, we find we are less exposed to temptation and sins which were controlling our lives lose their power over us.

John 15:1-27

     Here Jesus uses the allegory of the grapevine to describe our relationship with Him. Just as the gardener will prune away from the grapevine those branches which are not fruitful, so God will prune us away from Christ if we do not produce fruit. And just as branches that are not connected to the main vine will whither and die, so we shall whither and die if we do not remain in Christ. Of course, Jesus further tells us that if we remain in Him we will be fruitful. The thumbnail I am using is a picture of some basil mint I am growing. Last summer I got a couple of varieties of mint to grow in our yard. I decided to put the pots in the ground and allow the runners that came out from the plot to root around the plant and start my mint garden. This worked well for one of the varieties, but for the basil mint it did not work so well. The basil mint I had gotten had become root bound in the pot and while it did ok last summer, it did not come up very well this spring and none of the runners rooted. So this spring I pulled the pot out of the ground and removed the basil mint from the pot and placed it in another pot with more soil. I was not sure if it was going to make it. I decided I would give it a few weeks and see how it progressed. If it had not I would have thrown it away. I am still a little disappointed in its growth, but it is coming along. This is how God often treats us. He puts us into the place that He wants us to flourish, but sometimes we are too bound up by our own issues that we cannot see how this situation will allow us to flourish. So God, as a loving gardener, will transplant us to another location where He can tend to our needs more thoroughly and bring us out to be the fruitful creation that He created us to be. Now, in the case of the basil mint, its failure to thrive in its initial location is my fault. I should have recognized that it was too root bound in the pot I got it in and addressed that, but I am an inexperienced gardener. This is not so in the case of God and His placement of us. Our failure to thrive in the place that God plants us is our fault, not His. We become caught up in other interests, or afraid to reach out and are unproductive. But God is a loving gardener and He will transplant us to a different setting giving us the opportunity to thrive. Showing us how we are letting our fears and concerns interfere with being fruitful. Like with plants, some of us thrive when we are uprooted and placed in new settings while others shrink into themselves and suffer for a time until they become fully acclimated to the new location. We need to recognize that God has placed us where He has because He knows it is a place where we can thrive.

Psalm 119:49-64

     Once again I am blessed by today’s psalm.

“The proud hold me in utter contempt,
but I do not turn away from your instructions.
I meditate on your age-old regulations;
O Lord, they comfort me.”

How true this is. Many times people will look at me as a fool or someone not very bright because I insist that the Bible means what it says and has been understood to say for thousands of years. I have been led astray by my attempts to be seen wise by people like this in the past, but I have learned to trust the Bible over my own judgement. There have been times when I have thought I understood God’s will better than those who followed the traditional understanding of biblical teaching, but every time I have been proven wrong. This does not mean that I am now right on every position I take on biblical issues where Christians agree. Some of those disagreements go back to the first century, so there are traditions interpreting scripture on each side of some of those. However, whenever an interpretation is presented as a new understanding that displaces and contradicts traditional biblical understanding, I know which side I am going to come down on. For the most part one discovers that this “new understanding” is something that was addressed and rejected by biblical writers. I am blessed by studying the Bible and find new meaning for my life daily in its age-old instruction. Today, this is my prayer:
“O Lord, your unfailing love fills the earth;
teach me your decrees.”

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Proverbs 16:1-3

     These proverbs tell us that while we are free to make our plans according to our own will, we will be more successful if we commit ourselves to taking action according to God’s will. The middle one also tells us that God knows our real motives for doing things. This is true even when we lie to ourselves and convince ourselves that we are doing something for noble motives when in fact we are doing so to satisfy our own sinful desires. The message of this proverb is more than that. I think it tells us that we need to examine ourselves closely to see if we are indeed doing things for the reasons we think we are. I know there have been times in my life where I did something for what I thought were selfless motives, even godly motives, where later I realized that my real reason for doing it was something I hid from myself, where my real reason was for my own benefit. It is important to remember that just because we are doing something for our own benefit, it does not mean that it is wrong. There are times when we do something for our own benefit where we tell ourselves, and others, that we are doing it solely for godly motives, where if we had been truthful about our motives we may have succeeded, but, because of our dishonesty, we failed. If we wish to commit our actions to the Lord, as this proverb advises, the first step is to be honest with ourselves about our motives. It is only when we admit that we wish to do something in order to satisfy our own desires that we can judge whether it truly serves God for us to do it.

May 25, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or my understanding of them, please post them.

2 Samuel 7-8:18

     When David sees that he has settled into his palace and is no longer threatened by enemies, he desires to build a Temple to God. God tells David, through the prophet Nathan, that He will establish David’s descendants on the throne, but that David is not to build a Temple. God further tells David that his son will build God a Temple. When David hears this promise from God, he prays a prayer of thanks and praise to God. Now that David knows that he will not be building a temple to God, he sets out to conquer all of the surrounding peoples and expand his kingdom.
     In David’s prayer of thanks he says, “How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you. We have never even heard of another God like you!” I would echo that, there is no other god like our God. There are those who look at other religions and say that all religions teach the same things, but this is not true. I will not go into it now, but I have looked at other religions and they teach something different than Christianity. Christianity teaches that each person is to be valued and that we should go out and teach them about God so that they may choose to become one of the people of God.

John 14:15-31

     Jesus tells His disciples that those who love Him will obey His commands. He also tells them that the Father will send them the Holy Spirit to teach them what they need to know and remind them of what Jesus said to them. Jesus tells His disciples that the world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it is not looking for Him and does not recognize Him. This is an important point. In order for someone to become saved they must be looking for God. Jesus gives the disciples, and us, his peace and tells us not to be troubled or afraid. As we love God more, we will strive harder to obey His commands. AS we strive harder to obey His commands, we will come to love Him more. And in all of this, He will send His Holy Spirit to live in us to help us understand what His commands are and to strengthen us in following them.

Psalm 119:33-48

     I started this Bible study blog because I have long felt a need to improve my daily devotions. Actually, I have felt a need for a daily devotion. I had tried daily Bible reading, but when I just read the Bible after a few days, it stopped actually meaning anything. Some time back I had realized that when I read a passage and wrote something about it that others would see the passage carried much more meaning for me. So, I finally started this blog. Now that I have started this blog and am getting something out of my scripture reading, I am feeling led to memorize more scripture and improve my prayer life. In particular, the various stanzas of this psalm that I am reading each day right now push me to start memorizing scripture again.
     Over the last few days I have been especially touched by the last verse in each stanza of the daily reading that is coming from this psalm. However today, I find that the first verse of today’s first stanza and the last verse of the second stanza are the one’s that I wish to be my prayer today.

“Teach me your decrees, O Lord;
I will keep them to the end.”
“I honor and love your commands.
I meditate on your decrees.”

The second of those is one that I do not do enough of, but I am going to try and do so going forward. The psalm I have been working through over the last several days has reminded me of how much blessing there is from memorizing scripture, a blessing that I now crave.

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Proverbs 15:33

     When we fear the Lord we learn wisdom in part because we realize how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things and how far we fall short of God’s desire for us. As we accept this realization we have no choice but to be humble because we know that no matter how successful we are, we are nothing compared to God, or even to what He intended us to be. Those who lack humility are not honored because they view all praise as their just due and all criticism as unjust. In addition, those with no humility at all attempt things that are beyond their ability to accomplish and reject assistance, leading them to fail. And since they lack humility, they blame their failure on others and thus do not learn from their failure. Those who are humble recognize their need for help to do anything of worth and thus are generally successful.

May 24, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or my understanding of them, please leave comments.

2 Samuel 4-6:23

     After the death of Abner those parts of Israel that looked to Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, as king became disheartened. Two of Ishbosheth’s captains killed him and took his head to David, thinking that David would be grateful to them for doing so. They were wrong. David had them executed for killing Ishbosheth. After the death of Ishbosheth the leaders of the tribes of Israel (besides Judah, over which David was already king) come to David and request that he become their king. I noticed reading through this time that David only made one overture to become the king of all Israel and that was after the death of Saul and before Ishbosheth was made king. After that it was others who took the initiative. Once he has control over all of Israel, David begins taking control over the surrounding peoples. He starts by taking Jerusalem from the Jebusites. As David is consolidating his power he receives a gift of friendship from the king of Tyre. During this same time the Philistines muster their armies to attack David. David defeats them twice.
     David then brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem from where it had been since its recovery from the Philistines at the beginning of Samuel’s Judgeship. David makes this a major celebration which is cut short just as they get near to Jerusalem when one of the men guiding the cart carrying the Ark is struck dead when he touches the Ark to steady it. David was angered by the death of this man. We are not told why the man was struck down. However, in the Law God gave the Israelites instructions on how the Ark should be transported. He told them that it should be carried using poles put through the rings put on it for that purpose. In this passage, David was transporting the Ark on a cart. When three months later David had the Ark taken the rest of the way into Jerusalem, that is how he had it moved. Again the Bible tells us that David made this move a great celebration. He had a sacrifice made and gave gifts of food to all of those present. The passage tells us that David danced before the Lord with all of his might. David threw himself into his worship and made no attempt to guard his dignity. When confronted by his wife Michal, King Saul’s daughter, over his lack of dignity, David expresses a willingness to look foolish even to the point of being humiliated in his own eyes in order to worship and celebrate before God. We need to have the same attitude. We must be willing to abandon our dignity in order to worship God. David did not let anything distract him from his worship of God, neither should we.

John 13:31-14:14

     Jesus tells the disciples that He is going somewhere that they cannot follow. He continues by telling them that they should love each other as He had loved them, that the world will know that they are His disciples by their love for each other. Peter wants to know why he can’t come with Jesus, since he is ready to die for Him, so he says. Jesus tells Peter that not only is he not ready to die for Him, but that Peter will deny that he even knows Him before the rooster crows the following morning. Jesus immediately follows this by telling them not to let their hearts be troubled. He tells them that He will return for them and besides that they know the way to where He is going. Thomas and then Philip ask questions which demonstrate that the disciples do not yet understand what Jesus has been teaching them. Jesus explains to Thomas that He is the way and that there is no other way to the Father. Then Jesus tells Philip that anyone who has seen Him has seen the Father. Jesus continues by telling the disciples that those who believe in Him will do the same works and even greater works than He has done.
     This is a very powerful passage. It tells us that Jesus is the only way to the Father. There are no other paths that lead to God. One cannot be a Christian and believe that people can find other ways to God. It also tells us that we can ask anything in Jesus name and He will do it. I do not fully understand this because it does not seem to actually work out that way. However, I think it is like my understanding of the passage where Jesus says that if we have faith like a mustard seed we can say tell a mountain to move and it will move. I believe that the reason that works is because if we truly believe that it is God’s will that a mountain be moved from where it is to somewhere else, we will grab a shovel and start filling a wheelbarrow. I think that is the key to understanding how prayer and faith work together. If we believe that a certain result is in God’s will for this world we will start taking action to accomplish that result, even if we know there is no way that we can accomplish the end we seek. If we ask for something in Jesus name it means that we believe that something is in service to God. If we believe that some end is in the service of God, we will take action to make that end occur, even if we are well aware that our actions are entirely insufficient to accomplish that end. I believe that as we work to accomplish Godly ends, others will join us and the power of God will move until those ends are accomplished.

Psalm 119:17-32

     God’s instructions are wonderful truths. They will encourage us when we are experiencing sorrow. If we strive to learn and obey God’s commands our wisdom and understanding will grow. Yesterday’s two stanzas each ended with thoughts that I made my prayer, today’s end with thoughts that I wish to make the center of my thinking today:

“Your laws please me;
they give me wise advice.”
“I will pursue your commands,
for you expand my understanding.”

Proverbs 15:31-32

     Listening to criticism is the only way that we can grow and become wise. Refusing to listen when others tell us that we have done something wrong, or less well than we could have, hurts no one but ourselves. When we listen to correction we can improve ourselves. These lessons in these proverbs seem obvious, yet how often do we fail to heed them?

May 23, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or my understanding of them, please leave comments.

2 Samuel 2:12-3:39

     The war between those loyal to the house of Saul and those loyal to David began with a battle of champions where twelve men were chosen to represent each side. All twelve pairs killed each other. The following day the two armies engaged. David’s army was victorious. As Abner, the commander of the house of Saul’s army, is retreating he is pursued by Asahel, the brother of Joab, commander of David’s army. Abner tells Asahel to turn aside and go against a lesser man because he does not want to kill Joab’s brother. Asahel refuses and Abner kills him. At nightfall, Abner is able to regroup his men. When Joab and his men overtake them, Abner proposes a truce and Joab accepts. Abner then withdraws with his army. The war continues for some time with the house of Saul becoming weaker and David’s forces becoming stronger. Then Ishbosheth, Saul’s son whom Abner had made king, offends Abner. In response, Abner goes over to David. Abner meets with David and agrees to call an assembly of the leaders of Israel to declare David king over all Israel. When Abner leaves David to arrange the assembly, Joab intercepts him and kills him for Abner killing Joab’s brother at the start of the war. David mourned for Abner and expressed his inability to control Joab and his remaining brother. As I studied this looking for lessons, I learned an interesting thing that I have never picked up on before. Joab is David’s nephew, which further explains David’s inability/failure to do anything about Joab acting against David’s instructions on multiple occasions.

John 13:1-30

     Today we have the account of Jesus washing the disciples feet. Many people point out that this is an example that we should serve those around us, even those we consider “beneath us.” This is absolutely true. However, I noticed something in this passage that I had never seen before. Jesus tells Peter that he must allow Jesus to wash his feet or he will not belong to Jesus. I see this as instruction that we must allow others to do for us. Yes, we should willingly serve others, but we must also graciously allow others to serve us. Elsewhere, Jesus says that in the Kingdom of heaven those who serve are greater than those who are served. This passage is both a message that we should serve others since Jesus served His disciples by washing their feet and a message that we should allow others to serve us. This passage is a message against the two ways that people set themselves up as better than others. The first, and the one that is most obvious, is when we expect others to meet our needs and refuse to lower ourselves to meet the needs of others. The second is more subtle, it is when we are always willing to do for others and actively try to help those whose needs are greater than our own, but never allow others to help us. Jesus is telling us with His rebuke of Peter that the latter is just as bad as the former.
     Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray Him. The interesting thing here is that, even after Jesus gives one of the disciples a sign as to who it will be, none of them understand what is going on. A lesson I take from this is that we should never accept without further thought that someone will act in a godly and trustworthy manner. I know that on several occasions I have dismissed behaviors that should have been warning signs because I thought that someone was a godly person. On at least one of those occasions perhaps, if I had called them on it, they would have turned from the path of sin they were following. This is a difficult subject for me to get my thoughts expressed because I believe that we should give people the benefit of the doubt in most cases. I think my real concern here is where we get led into sin when we allow another, whom we have previously judged to be godly, to influence us to actions we would otherwise consider wrong and avoid. Even this does not accurately express the idea I am trying to get across. Usually when I find myself expressing an idea so poorly, I do not post my thoughts at all, but today I am going to leave this up in the hope that someone else will read it and leave a comment that better illustrates the lesson I think I see here.

Psalm 119:1-16

     The path to joy is through integrity. If we live our lives with integrity and refuse to compromise with evil, we will find joy. Let us hide the word of God in our hearts that we might not sin. But once we have done this let us declare His laws so that all may know what we believe. I wish to make the endings of these two stanzas of this psalm my prayer:

“I will obey your decrees.
Please don’t give up on me!”…
“I will delight in your decrees
and not forget your word.”

Proverbs 15:29-30

     I have been involved in a discussion about prayer on an Internet forum. This proverb tells us much about prayer. Those who are wicked are far from God, if they wish to hear God, they will need to come closer to Him. In order for them to do so, they will need to give up their wickedness. As we pray, and genuinely attempt to hear what God has to say to us, we will move closer to Him and thus away from our wickedness. However, the key here is the willingness to give up our wickedness and the genuine desire to heat what God has to say. As we listen to God and move closer to Him, He will listen to our prayers and grant our requests as those requests become better aligned with His will.
     The second of today’s proverbs tells us that having a positive outlook on life leads to better health. There is definitely a positive feedback loop here. As we have a more optimistic, upbeat view, our health improves. As our health improves, our outlook tends to be more positive and upbeat.