June 22, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

2 Kings 3-4:17

     After the death of his brother, Ahaziah, Ahab’s son, Joram takes the throne of Israel. We are told that while he did evil in the sight of the Lord, he was not as bad as his father and mother. Joram tore down the sacred pillar of Baal that Ahab had constructed. The king of Moab had given a tribute each year to King Ahab. When Ahab died the king of Moab stopped giving this tribute. When Joram took the throne, he went to war against Moab to enforce this tribute. Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom joined him in his war against Moab. Joram chose to launch his attack against Moab by a roundabout route through the wilderness. Unfortunately, Joram chose a route that did not have any water along it (at least at this time). After seven days, Joram is desperate and asks the other two kings what he should do. Jehoshaphat asks if there is a prophet of the Lord with them, they can ask him what to do. One of Joram’s officers says that Elisha was with the army and he used to be Elijah’s servant. The three kings go to Elisha. Elisha asks Joram why he has come, he should have gone to the pagan prophets of his parents. Joram replies that no, it was God that called the three kings to this place, so God was the one for them to consult. Elisha then says that he is only talking to them because of Jehoshaphat. He tells the three kings that the valley there will be no rain, but the valley they are in will fill with water. Elisha further tells them that they will utterly defeat Moab. The next morning water started flowing into the valley. The sun shining on the water made it appear to be blood to the Moabite army. This led the Moabites to believe that the three armies had fought among themselves and killed each other. The Moabites rushed in to plunder what they thought was an abandoned camp, when they got there the Israelite army came out to meet them and defeated them decisively.
     Sometime later, a widow of one of the group of prophets came to Elisha to request help because a creditor was threatening to take her sons to sell them into slavery to pay off her debt. Elisha asks her what she has in the house. She replies that she has nothing of any value except for a flask of olive oil. Elisha tells her to borrow as many empty jars from her neighbors as she can. Then she should go into her house with her sons and close the doors. When she has done this she should start filling the containers. She followed these instructions and there continued to be more olive oil in her flask until all of the jars was filled. She then sold the olive oil and paid her debt with money left over for her and her sons to live on.
     Still later a wealthy woman invited Elisha to come eat at her house. Whenever he passed that way he would stop for a meal. After a little bit the woman tells her husband that they should furnish a room for him to stay in as he passes by because he is a man of God. After a while Elisha has his servant ask her what they can do to repay her for her kindness. She replies that she is well cared for by her family. When she has left, Elisha asks his servant what they can do for her. The servant replies that she does not have a son and her husband is elderly. Elisha has his servant call her back. When she comes back, Elisha tells her that by next year at this time she will be holding a son in her arms. The woman is afraid to get her hopes up, but nevertheless by the following year she has born a son.
     These two women had something in common. They both chose to serve the Lord. The one, when she was in need, turned to the community of God (Elisha was the leader of the group of prophets of which her husband had been a member). Elisha gives her instruction on what she should do. She acts on faith and God provides for her. Notice that Elisha does not give her money, he provides her a means to generate the income she needs. She still has to fill the jars with olive oil and sell them. The second has plenty and out of her plenty she shows hospitality. When Elisha asks her what her needs are, she replies that she is well cared for. Elisha then inquires of others what needs she might have. When he discovers that she does not have a son to care for her when her husband will no longer be able to, he asks God to provide her one.

Acts 14:8-28

     While Paul was preaching in Lystra, there was a man who had been crippled since birth listening to him. Paul looks at the man and sees that he has the faith to be healed. So Paul calls out to him to stand up. The man does so and begins walking. The people of Lystra begin talking among themselves that Paul and Barnabas must be gods. They conclude that Paul is Hermes and Barnabas is Zeus. This discussion goes on in the local dialect, so Paul and Barnabas do not know what they are talking about until they see the priests begin the preparations for a sacrifice. Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and emphatically told the people that they were not gods. They were barely able to restrain the people from offering a sacrifice to them. Shortly after this some Jews came from the last two towns Paul and Barnabas had been at and convinced the crowds to stone Paul and leave him for dead. When the believers gathered around Paul, he got up and went back into town. The next day Paul and Barnabas went to Derbe and preached there. It is interesting how fickle the crown was. When Paul and Barnabas refused to allow the people of Lystra to worship them, they quickly turned on them.
     After spending some time in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps through Asia Minor appointing elders in the local churches. They then sailed back to Antioch of Syria and reported on their trip.

Psalm 140:1-13

     The psalmist here asks God to protect him from those trying to trap him and destroy him with violence. He asks God to not let the wicked become successful in their plots against the innocent. He asks God to destroy them by catching them in the traps they had set for others. The psalmist concludes that God will give justice to the poor and the righteous praise His name.

Proverbs 17:22

     Those who are cheerful always seem to be in better health than those who complain about every little thing. I have noticed that when I am happy pain bothers me less. Admittedly, it is hard to stay cheerful and upbeat when you are in pain, but it is worth trying because it seems to make things better.

June 21, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

2 Kings 1-2:25

     After King Ahab’s death, his son King Ahaziah takes the throne. At some point, King Ahaziah falls through some latticework on an upper floor of his palace and is seriously injured. He wants to know if he will recover, so he sends messengers to the temple of the god of Ekron to inquire. While they are en route, Elijah intercepts them and tells them that because he sent to consult an idol rather than God, Ahaziah will die from his injuries. When the messengers gave Ahaziah this message, he sent fifty men to arrest Elijah. When they found Elijah, their leader called Elijah a man of God and told him that the king had commanded that he come with them. Elijah replied that if he was a man of God fire would come down from heaven and destroy those fifty men. This happened. King Ahaziah sends another fifty men. The same thing happens. King Ahaziah sends a third group of fifty men. The leader of the third group of fifty men recognizes that he has no ability to force Elijah to do anything and begs Elijah to spare the life of himself and his men. God tells Elijah to go with this group and he does. The first two groups of men believed that they had the ability and right to compel Elijah’s compliance to the King’s will despite acknowledging that Elijah was a man of God. They felt that their strength and the King’s authority carried more weight than the will of God as expressed through Elijah. The commander of the third group recognized that they would be unable to compel Elijah to do anything that God did not allow to happen. That Elijah was only subject to the secular authorities if God chose to allow it.
     Some time after this, Elijah and Elisha were traveling together. Elijah tells Elisha to stay where he is while Elijah goes on ahead. Elisha tells Elijah that he will never leave him. When they arrive at the destination, a group of prophets came to Elisha and asked him if he knew that God was about to take Elijah. Elisha replies that of course he knows. Again Elijah tells Elisha to stay where he is while Elijah goes on ahead. And again Elisha tells Elijah that he will never leave him. When they arrive at their next destination, another group of prophets ask Elisha if he knows that God is about to take Elijah and again Elijah tells them that he knows. A third time Elijah tells Elisha to stay behind while he goes on ahead and again Elisha says that he will not leave him. This time fifty of the prophets followed them at a distance. When Elijah and Elisha come to the Jordan river, Elijah uses his cloak to cause the Jordan river to part for them and they cross. Elijah asks Elisha what he wants before Elijah is taken away. Elisha asks for a double share of Elijah’s spirit and to be his successor. Elijah tells him the if he sees Elijah taken, he will get his desire. As they continued to walk and talk, a chariot of fire pulled by fiery horses drives between them. While they are thus separated, a whirlwind carries Elijah into heaven. Elisha witnesses this and is distressed, even though he knew it was coming. Elisha picks up Elijah’s cloak and returns the way they had come (including parting the Jordan).
     After Elijah is taken up, Elisha spends some time in Jericho. The elders of the town approach Elisha because their water supply is tainted. Elisha pours a bowl of salt into the spring where they got their water purifying it. Shortly after this Elisha leaves Jericho and travels to Bethel. As he is walking a gang of young men comes out and start harassing him. They tell him to go away and insult him. There is an element in their choice of words that suggests that when they told him to go away they were telling him to die. This was a large group of people approaching a single individual who was a stranger to them in a somewhat isolated area. It reminds me of stories that have been in the news recently about gangs of young people who have surrounded strangers and beaten them up. In this case, they chose the wrong target. Elisha turns to them and curses them. At which point two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them to death. Think about that, the bears mauled forty-two of them, but not all of them. That means there were more than forty-two of them in the mob that harassed Elisha. Again, Elisha was in a rather isolated area and a large group of boys or young men start following him, taunting him and insulting him. The language is ambiguous about their ages, but think about it, even if they are only 10-12 years old there are more than 42 of them and Elisha is alone. This was a dangerous group of people, whose parents had failed to teach any kind of discipline. Sooner or later they were going to seriously hurt someone, if they had not already done so.

Acts 13:42-14:7

     After Paul’s speech in the synagogue, the people begged them to come back the following week and tell them more about the Gospel. The following week we are told that most of the city came out to hear them speak. Some of the Jews were jealous of Paul and Barnabas and began slandering them and arguing against everything they said. When the Jews rejected the Gospel message, Paul and Barnabas began preaching to the Gentiles. We are told that many became believers and the Gospel spread throughout the region. The Jews stirred up the leaders of the city and got a mob to run Paul and Barnabas out of town.
     From there, Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium where a similar thing happened. Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue and preached, many believed. But a small group of Jews became jealous and stirred up trouble for them. We are told that Paul and Barnabas stayed there a long time and performed miraculous signs, bringing many to the faith. At some point a mob is stirred up and decides to stone Paul and Barnabas. However, Paul and Barnabas learn of the plan and travel to another region.

Psalm 139:1-24

     This psalm has so much to say to us. God knows everything about us, more than we know ourselves. This psalm has been used as part of the anti-abortion argument and I certainly see why. But it is so much more than that. I am anti-abortion, but so often, we Christians have allowed others to frame the argument. Whether abortion is legal, or illegal, is irrelevant. What matters is that it is wrong. We as Christians are not called to see to it that the laws punish sinners.
      We are called to see to it that the sinners know that they have the opportunity to be saved from their sins. That we too are sinners to whom God has shown another way. As we read this psalm, the psalmist says that he cannot escape God’s eye, no matter what he does. That no matter where he goes, God can see what he does. And that is not a cause for fear and cowering, but a cause of rejoicing. There is no method we can devise, no place we can go, to hide our sins from God…and this is more wonderful than we can imagine. We need,…I need to pray the psalmist’s final lines in this psalm:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

Proverbs 17:19-21

     Those who love fights, disputes quarrels is a lover of sin. Those who think that they can find safety through defensive measures and military might will suffer disaster. No matter how powerful the armaments or imposing the defensive structures, those who lie and are deceitful will come to sorrow.

June 20, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

1 Kings 22:1-53

     After defeating Ben-hadad’s attacks, Ahab was at peace with Aram for three years. At this point, King Jehoshophat of Judah allies with King Ahab of Israel. This leads King Ahab to decide to go to war for a border town. Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to help him in this endeavor. Jehoshaphat says that they should find out the Lord’s will first. The passage says that Ahab summoned the prophets, who numbered 400. These prophets tell Ahab that he should go right ahead and attack. Jehoshaphat asks for a prophet of the Lord. This suggests to me that the 400 prophets that Ahab first summoned were prophets of Baal since the number is the same as the number of prophets of Baal that Elijah defeated at Mt Carmel. The next exchange I find interesting. When Jehoshaphat asks Ahab if there is a prophet of the Lord they can consult, Ahab replies that there is one, but that he hates him because he doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear. Jehoshaphat tells Ahab that kings should not talk like that. This reminds me of what I noticed yesterday, that King Ahab behaves like a spoiled child. Jehoshaphat insists that they hear from the prophet of God. So, King Ahab summons Micaiah.
     There are a couple of things about this exchange that I want to comment on. The first is that when Jehoshaphat asks to what the Lord thinks of their plan, Ahab summons 400 prophets who tell them that the Lord will give him victory. Jehoshaphat is not satisfied with these prophets and asks if there isn’t a prophet of the Lord they can consult. Even though the passage seems to say that these 400 prophets are prophets of God, Jehoshaphat does not accept them as such. The second is the exchange between Jehoshaphat and Ahab about summoning Micaiah. When Ahab says that he hates Micaiah because Micaiah always prophesies bad things for Ahab, Jehoshaphat tells Ahab that kings should not talk that way. Part of that may have been that Jehoshaphat was telling Ahab that kings should not behave like spoiled children. But part of it was Jehoshaphat telling Ahab that kings should not discourage their courtiers from telling them things that they do not want to hear. This is something that anyone who is in charge needs to keep in mind. If you are in charge, you want your subordinates to tell you what they really think about your plans, not just what they think you want to hear. If you discourage your subordinates from telling you things you do not want to hear, you will make bad decisions because they will not tell you things you need to know to make a good decision.
     When the messengers arrive to deliver the summons to Micaiah they tell him that all of the prophets are telling Ahab that he will be victorious and that he should be sure to do the same. When Micaiah arrives before Ahab and Jehoshaphat he tells them, “Yeah, sure, go ahead, the Lord will give you victory.” Bet he says it in such a tone of voice that Ahab knows that he does not mean it. Ahab demands that Micaiah tell him what the Lord really says. Micaiah then tells Ahab that if he goes to war against Aram, he will be killed. Ahab orders Micaiah jailed until his return. Micaiah tells him, and everyone there, that if Ahab returns then God has not spoken through him (Micaiah). Ahab goes to war against Aram despite Micaiah’s prediction. But Ahab devises what he thinks is a clever plan to avoid the fate prophesied by Micaiah. Ahab decides to disguise himself so that he will not be recognized, but tells Jehoshaphat to dress as a king. When battle is joined, Ahab’s plan seems to work. The Aramean commanders initially pursue Jehoshaphat, until he cries out and they realize that he is not Ahab. Unfortunately for Ahab, one of the Aramean soldiers happened to fire an arrow at him at random and hit him. Ahab dies from his wounds.

Acts 13:16-41

     After Paul’s confrontation with the Jewish sorcerer on the island of Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas sailed to what is now Turkey and began their missionary work there. At the first city they stop at they attend the synagogue, where they are invited to share. Paul stands up and speaks. He presents a basic background of God’s work with Israel. Then he points out that John the Baptist explicitly said that he was not the Messiah, but that the Messiah was coming soon. Paul tells them that Jesus was the Messiah and talks about some of the Old Testament scripture that was fulfilled by Jesus. Paul tells them that Jesus was crucified and then raised from the dead and that there were people who had seen Him after His resurrection. Paul concludes his sermon by quoting the Septuagint translation of Habakuk. The book of Habakuk starts out with the prophet crying out to God because he is surrounded by those doing evil deeds and the courts fail to deliver justice, complaining that God has not acted. The passage Paul quotes is God’s reply. Paul quotes Habakuk saying that God has indeed acted to address the evil in the world and to correct the injustice in the courts. I think there are two elements to what Paul is saying with this quote. The first is that there are mockers who will not believe what God is doing even when they are told about it, even when it is right in their face. The other part though is that Paul is saying that Jesus is God’s answer and solution to the evil that surrounds us and to a society that accepts injustice.

Psalm 138:1-8

     All the earth will praise the Lord.

“The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.”

No matter what things look like, God has a plan for us that He will bring to fruition. God’s love endures and His plan is to bring us joy, if we will accept that joy.

Proverbs 17:17-18

     A friend will always be loyal. If you are someone’s friend you will stand beside them, no matter who stands against them. Your siblings are those you can turn to in time of need and know they will help out. You should only cosign for someone if you are willing to pay the debt off yourself.

June 19, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

1 Kings 20-21:29

     The king of Aram, Ben-hadad, mobilized his army against Israel. He demanded tribute from King Ahab in exchange for not attacking Samaria. King Ahab agrees to pay the tribute demanded. Ben-hadad then demands the right to search the city for any valuables. This is too far for King Ahab and the Israelites, they refuse this demand. Ben-hadad and his allied commanders were so confident of their victory over Ahab that while they were making demands of Ahab they were drinking heavily. A prophet of God went to Ahab and told him that God was going to give him victory over Ben-hadad. Ahab asks him what strategy he should use and then follows it. Ahab launches the attack while Ben-hadad and his allied commanders are drunk. After the battle, the prophet of God warns Ahab that Ben-hadad will attack him again the following spring.
     Ben-hadad’s advisers tell him that they lost to Ahab because the God of Israel is a god of the hills, that if they attacked on the plains they would be victorious. Ben-hadad follows their advice and attacks again, just as the prophet had told King Ahab. The prophet of God tells King Ahab that because the Arameans thought that God could not fight for Israel on the plains, He was going to defeat them again. After the complete defeat of the Aramean army the second time, King Ahab captures Ben-hadad. Ahab makes a treaty with Ben-hadad and releases him. God sends a prophet to tell Ahab that Israel will suffer because he released Ben-hadad.
     At some point after this, King Ahab decides that he wants to turn a vineyard into a vegetable garden. There is only one problem, somebody else owns it. Ahab goes to the owner, Naboth, and offers to trade another vineyard for it, or buy it outright if Naboth prefers. Naboth refuses because the vineyard has been in his family for generations. Ahab throws a temper tantrum and refuses to eat. When Jezebel, his wife, asks him why he won’t eat, he tells her that it is because Naboth will not let him have Naboth’s vineyard. Reading this passage, King Ahab sounds to me like a spoiled child crying to his mommy because another child will not do what he wants. And Jezebel acts like that mommy, telling Ahab not to worry about it, she will get him what he wants. Jezebel sends out letters in Ahab’s name to the leaders of the town where Naboth lived commanding them to bring false accusations against Naboth and execute him.
     God sends Elijah to confront King Ahab for having Naboth killed so that he could take his vineyard. Elijah tells Ahab that because of his actions regarding Naboth, his entire family will die horrible deaths. When Ahab hears God’s judgement, he fasts and dresses in sackcloth. God tells Elijah that because of Ahab’s expression of remorse, He will withhold His judgement on Ahab’s family until after Ahab’s death.

Acts 12:24-13:15

     While Barnabas and Saul are praying with other Church leaders in Antioch, the Holy Spirit inspires one or more of the leaders to propose sending them out on a missions trip. After further fasting and praying, the leaders do just that. The passage does not tell us who initially proposed the missionary journey, but it tells us that after it was first brought up the men fasted and prayed to be sure that it was indeed God’s guidance. Barnabas and Saul set sail for Salamis on the island of Cyprus. When they landed in Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the Gospel. They traveled across the island going from town to town preaching the Gospel until they reached Paphos. In Paphos, the governor invited Barnabas and Saul to visit him. The governor had a Jewish sorcerer (unlike in the case of Simon the sorcerer in Samaria, the passage makes no mention of any powers that this man had) as one of his attendants. This Jewish sorcerer, named Elymas, attempts to convince the governor to not pay any attention to the message from Barnabas and Saul. Saul looks the sorcerer in the eye and calls him a son of the devil and tells him that he will be struck blind. Elymas is immediately struck blind. This encounter is the first time that Luke mentions that Saul is also called Paul and after this he refers to him exclusively as Paul. I think this is interesting because the name Paul means “small”, or “humble”. It had never occurred to me before, but I think that Luke mentions that Saul was called Paul here to point out that he was not physically intimidating, that he was instead a small man that others often believed they could intimidate. So, this was Paul standing up to what was probably a physically larger man and with the power of the Holy Spirit forcing him to back down. It is also worth noting that up until this point Luke has said “Barnabas and Saul”, from this point forward it is Paul who is listed first.

Psalm 137:1-9

     The psalmist here speaks of the sorrow which the exiles in Babylon felt. He expresses that Jerusalem is his joy. In the same way, we should view the Kingdom of God as our joy. Both the expression of it here on this earth through the functioning of the Holy Spirit and its future expression in Heaven as we sit before the throne of God. We need to live constantly aware of the dichotomy of living in a foreign land and yet in the Kingdom of God. Our first loyalty is not as citizens of any nation on this earth. Our first loyalty is as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Proverbs 17:16

     It is foolish to not desire to learn. There is no point in trying teach someone who does not want to learn.

June 18, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

1 Kings 19:1-21

     When Ahab got home, he told his wife Jezebel what Elijah had done, including how he had killed the prophets of Baal. Jezebel sends a message to Elijah promising to have him killed. When Elijah gets the message he flees for his life. He leaves his servant in Beersheba and flees into the wilderness. At the end of the day, he prays for God to take his life and lies down to sleep. I am not sure what is going on here, except that Elijah is feeling depressed. If he truly wanted to die, why did he flee Jezebel? As he sleeps, God sends him food which Elijah eats. Then he sets out and travels 40 days and 40 nights until he reaches Mt Horeb (which may be another name for Mt Sinai).
     When he gets there, he spends the night. The Lord tells Elijah to stand before Him on the mountain. As Elijah stands there a powerful wind hits the mountain and tears some of the stones loose. The passage tells us that God was not in the wind. Then there is an earthquake, but God is not in that either. The earthquake is followed by fire and God is not in that. Finally, there is a gentle whisper, when that happens Elijah covers his face and prepares to talk to God. Once more God asks Elijah why he is there. Elijah responds that he has zealously served God, but the people of Israel have turned from God and killed His prophets and now Elijah is the last one left and they are trying to kill him. God tells Elijah that he still has tasks for him, including anointing Elisha as his successor. God finishes by telling Elijah that He has preserved 7,000 others in Israel who have never worshiped Baal.
     Elijah goes and finds Elisha plowing in the field, throws his cloak across Elisha’s back and walks away. Elisha rushes after Elijah and requests permission to say goodbye to his parents before he goes with Elijah. Elijah tells him to do so, but to think about what Elijah has done to him. This sounds to me like Elijah was not particularly enthusiastic about continuing his ministry or about recruiting Elisha as his successor. Elisha on the other hand is very enthusiastic. He slaughters the oxen he was using to plow and uses the wood of the plow to build a fire to cook them. He throws a feast for the village and then goes after Elijah.

Acts 12:1-23

     This passage begins by telling us that Herod Agrippa started persecuting the believers and had James, the brother of John, killed. When he saw that this made the Jewish leaders happy, he had Peter arrested, intending to give a public trial after the Passover was over. The night before the trial, Peter was sound asleep, fastened with chains to two soldiers. There are more soldiers stationed at the gate to the prison. An angel appears to Peter, wakes him up and tells him to get dressed and follow the angel. Peter, thinking he is experiencing a vision, does as the angel instructs. They exit the prison and begin walking down the street when the angel disappears. Peter realizes that this is actually happening. Peter goes to the home of John Mark’s mother, where believers gathered for prayer. One of the servants, named Rhoda, came to the door, when she recognized Peter’s voice she was so excited she forgot to open the door for him. She went and told the others that Peter was at the door. At first they thought she was crazy, but once she convinced them of what she heard, they decide it must be Peter’s angel. They did not actually go to open the door until they heard Peter continuing to knock. When they let Peter in they were so excited that Peter had to get them to quiet down so that he could talk. He told them to tell James and the other believers what had happened and then went into hiding. How often do we do something like this? Where we believe that someone has experienced a miracle, but don’t believe the full extent of the miracle. How much of a role does that play in our not experiencing more miracles?

Christian Art

Psalm 136:1-26

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.”

     The psalmist tells us to give thanks to the Lord for all of the good things He has done for us. He goes through a litany of things that God had done for the children of Israel. As the psalmist is wrapping up, he tells us that God provides food for all living things. Throughout the psalm the psalmist reminds us that God’s love is faithful and endures forever. We should remember this and give Him thanks in all things, at all times.

Proverbs 17:14-15

     This proverb tells us that starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate. We cannot know in advance what how far the destruction will spread, but we can be sure that it will leave destruction in its wake. It is better to stop when we see a quarrel beginning than to push the issue and discover that it leads to the destruction of a relationship (whether ours or someone else’s).

June 17, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

1 Kings 18:1-46

     After three years of drought God sends Elijah to Ahab with word that God is about to send rain. The famine had become very severe, so Ahab summoned his palace administrator, Obadiah, and they each went out to search for water and grass to save some of Ahab’s horses and mules. Elijah approaches Obadiah and tells him to go tell Ahab that Elijah has come. Obadiah is at first afraid to do so because he thinks that God will carry Elijah off before Ahab gets there. Ahab has been searching very hard for Elijah. if Obadiah tells him that Elijah is someplace and when Ahab gets there, Elijah is gone, Ahab is likely to have Obadiah killed. Elijah swears to Obadiah that he will wait for Ahab.
     When Ahab sees Elijah he refers to him as a troublemaker. Elijah replies that it is Ahab and his family who caused the trouble by refusing to obey God and worshiping Baal. Elijah tells Ahab to summon the people to Mt Carmel along with the prophets of Baal and Ashterah that Jezebel feeds. Ahab follows Elijah’s instructions. When the people arrived, Elijah gets up before them and tells them that it is time to make up their minds. If Yahweh is God, they should follow Him, but if Baal is God, then they should follow him. Elijah’s point was that God and Baal made competing claims. If God is who His prophets say He is, then Baal must be an imposter. On the other hand if Baal is who his prophets say he is, then God must be an imposter. Those claims are such that, if they are false, the one for whom they are made is unworthy of worship. Many people today have a similar attitude to the one that Elijah was confronting. People say about what one believes, “Well, if it works for you, that is fine.” The main competing claims in our society are that of Christianity and that of secularism. Christianity makes claims, that if they are not true, mean that Christianity is a false and destructive belief system. The same is true of secularism (in all of its many variations).
     Elijah was not satisfied to leave it at that when the people failed to respond to his exhortation to choose between God and Baal. He did not allow people to remain undecided. Elijah proposes a contest, one which will substantiate some of the claims made by each faction. Each side would build an altar and put a sacrifice on it, but neither side would light the wood to burn the sacrifice. The real God would light the fire on the altar for His burnt offering. He then tells the prophets of Baal to go first. The prophets of Baal begin their worship in the morning with singing and dancing and shouting. Around lunchtime, Elijah starts to ask them what is going on, suggesting that perhaps their worship is not intense enough to get Baal’s attention. The prophets of Baal go into a frenzy, cutting themselves and shouting louder. They got no response of any kind.
     Late in the afternoon, Elijah says to the people that now it is his turn. He calls the people over while he prepares the altar. I imagine him explaining to the people what he is doing as he repairs and then prepares the altar, telling them that the twelve stones he is using represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Elijah strikes me as a great showman. Once he has the altar built and dug a trench around it, he laid the wood on the altar and placed the pieces of the sacrificial animal on the wood. Then he tells the people to fill four large jars with water and pour the water on the altar. He tells them to do this a total of three times. I can just picture him doing this.
“Go fill those jars with water and pour them over the altar.”
“Do it again.”
“Get some more water.”
     Since around lunchtime, Elijah has been putting on a show. First taunting the prophets of Baal.
“Shout louder, maybe Baal is relieving himself and can’t hear you.”
“Maybe he is away on a trip.”
“Maybe he is taking a nap and you need to wake him up.”
Then repairing the altar to God and preparing the sacrifice while explaining to the people what he is doing. Finally getting the people involved by having them pour water over the altar. During all of this he is putting on a bit of a show, but none of this is part of the worship of offering the sacrifice. Once it is all prepared and he has the attention of the people, he calmly walks up to the altar and cries out to God, “Prove to these people that you are who I have told them you are.” Contrast this with the prophets of Baal, who were dancing and shouting and cutting themselves. In response to this simple, calm request, God sends down fire that engulfs the entire altar, burning the entire structure and drying up the water that was in the trench around the altar. There was no working the people up to a frenzy. The Spirit of God provided the emotional high.
     When this was done, Elijah began praying for rain and the rain arrived in a deluge.

Acts 11:1-30

     When Peter got back to Jerusalem from visiting with Cornelius, some of the Jewish believers Criticized him for associating with gentiles. Peter explained to them the vision he had while in Joppa and of the arrival of Cornelius’ messengers. Peter further told them that as he preached to Cornelius’ household, the Holy Spirit came upon them. The passage tells us that once they heard what had happened, they stopped objecting and began praising God for extending His mercy to Gentiles.
     Meanwhile believers had been scattered as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. For the most part the believers only preached the Gospel to Jews. However, in Antioch some of the believers began preaching to Gentiles and a large number became believers. When the Church in Jerusalem heard about this, they sent Barnabas to look into it. The passage does not tell us why they sent Barnabas, but I am sure that it was in part because they knew that he would guide the young believers to good doctrine. Once again we have Barnabas playing a key role in the early Church. Barnabas was happy with what he found in Antioch and encouraged the new believers in sound doctrine. We are told that many came to the Lord under the influence of Barnabas. Nevertheless, Barnabas felt that something was missing in the teaching of the new believers. So he went to Tarsus to find Saul. Barnabas brought Saul back to Antioch to help him teach the new and growing Church there. Again, we do not know why Barnabas sought out Saul, but we can make some guesses. Up until now, all of the Church leaders we have been told about were good men, dedicated to following God, but not educated in the Law and Jewish theology. Saul on the other hand was a student of Gamaliel, a prominent Jewish teacher whose thought is influential even in today’s Judaism. It seems likely that Barnabas felt that the new Gentile believers needed a more thorough grounding in basic Jewish thought and theology than he could provide, so he went to get the believer he knew with the most thorough education in that. I often express a concern that the Church today places to great an emphasis on Church leaders having a seminary degree. I believe this to be true. There are many truths that are learned through experience in the world that a seminary education can make harder to see. However, this does not mean that I do not believe that the Church needs leaders who have received in depth training in theology and philosophy. It does, as Barnabas’ decision to go get Saul to help him in Antioch shows.

Christian Images

Psalm 135:1-21

     The psalmist here calls for us to praise the Lord because of the wonderful things He has done. He recounts the miracles God has performed for His people and calls on us to praise God for these things. Then the psalmist tells us that the idols that others worship have no power and are merely made by human hands. I was at a party recently where some of the people there were talking about how they practiced a pagan religion. This pagan religion involves some idols. At one point during the evening, while they were discussing their religion, they mentioned that they were atheists. That is, they know full well that the gods that they are worshiping have no power. I praise God that I worship a God that I know exists and has power.

Proverbs 17:12-13

     The first proverb tells us that a fool will more vociferously defend his foolishness than a mother bear will defend her cubs. The second one tells us that those who repay good done to them with evil, will never escape the consequences.

June 16, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

1 Kings 15:25-17:24

     This passage tells us that king after king came to the throne of Israel and did evil. God brought them, or their sons down and wiped out their entire family. We are not really told much more than that until we come to Ahab, son of Omri, who was king when God called Elijah. Ahab we are told built a temple and altar to Baal in Samaria and set up an Ashera pole there. The passage tells us that Ahab did even more to anger God than any of the kings preceding him.
     God called Elijah to go to Ahab. Elijah went to Ahab and told him that it would not rain until Elijah said otherwise. As James puts it, “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” That is a powerful testimony to the power of the prayer of faith. We are told that God told Elijah to go and hide by a stream near the Jordan river. That the ravens would bring him food there. So, Elijah goes and camps where God told him and the ravens brought him food morning and evening and he drank from the stream. Elijah stayed there until the stream dried up.
     God then sent Elijah to a village near Sidon, where a widow would feed him. When Elijah got to the village he saw a widow gathering sticks. He asked her to bring him some water and a little bread. When he asked for bread she told him that she had just enough left for one more meal for herself and her son, after which they would both starve. Elijah tells her not to worry, just bring him some bread and then prepare a meal for herself and her son. That her flour and oil will not run out until God sends rain and the crops grow again. We are told that this does indeed happen. Elijah stayed with her. Some time later, the widow’s son dies. She asks Elijah why this happened. Elijah takes the child’s body up to his room and prays to God for the child to live. The child is returned to life and Elijah gave him back to his mother.
     This passage is a primer on faith and prayer. Elijah trusted God and God sent him food by way of ravens. When his water source at the place where God had the birds feed him dried up, God sent him to a widow that was in need. Notice the timing here, the water in the stream did not dry up until Elijah would arrive at the village as the widow was preparing the last meal for herself and her son. When Elijah asked for bread, the widow gave him bread even though it was the last food she had. When she acted in faith, God provided for her and her son. When the widows son died, Elijah called out to God and God raised her son from the dead. Do we today have the faith to act as the widow did? Do we even have faith to act as Elijah did and pray for such a miracle? Or even to follow Elijah’s example and count on God to provide for our needs? Would we be willing to camp by a stream and count on birds to bring us food?

Acts 10:24-48

     When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, Cornelius attempts to worship him but Peter prevents him from doing so. Peter then enters Cornelius’ home where he explains that God has shown him that he should not think of anyone as impure or unclean. Peter began preaching to those who havdgathered at Cornelius’ house (we are told that Cornelius had called together his relatives and close friends). As he is preaching, the Holy Spirit came upon those who were listening to him. The Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were amazed that God poured out his Holy Spirit on gentiles. When Peter saw that the Holy Spirit had come upon those present, he instructed that they should be baptized.
     This passage is an important one for us as Christians to return to regularly. There are a couple of points. First, God shows no favoritism. He will pour out His Spirit on any who seek Him, no matter what state they are in when they begin seeking Him. Second, we should think of no one as impure or unclean, as someone we should not associate with. God is calling us to preach the Gospel to all who will hear. There are times when Christians think that certain groups are especially condemned of God, whether it be drunks, or drug addicts, or the wealthy or whatever group you can think of that is somehow too far away from God for Him to reach. The point of this passage is that there is no such group. No one is beyond the reach of God. We as Christians are called to pray for everyone we meet and to preach the Gospel to them. We do not know whom God will send His Spirit upon to convict of their sins. We must be prepared to minister to those whom God calls, no matter how distasteful we might find them. Beyond that, we are called to learn to not find them distasteful, but as sinners called by God to repentance, just as we are. I am a sinner called by God to repentance. I have no room to look down on others for their sins.

Christian Art

Psalm 134:1-3

     The psalmist calls on all servants of the Lord to praise God. If we are servants of God, we should be praising God. If we are praising God, we are servants of God. Even those who serve at night, when no one really notices, should praise God for the opportunity to serve Him. Whatever way we are called to serve God, we should praise God. Even if we are called to some task that no one ever notices, we should recognize that we are serving God.

Proverbs 17:9-11

     When we forgive those who have done something blameworthy to us, our love for them and their love for us gets stronger. On the other hand, when we keep thinking about something someone close has done that bothers us, it creates distance between us. The second proverb tells us that those who are wise will take even a single rebuke to heart, while those who are foolish will not learn from severe punishment. Finally, we are told that those who are looking for an opportunity to challenge authority are likely evil.

June 15, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

1 Kings 14-15:24

     Jeroboam’s son became sick. Jeroboam had his wife disguise herself and go to the prophet who had told him he would become king to find out what would happen to his son. The prophet recognized Jeroboam’s wife, even though he was now blind. The prophet told her that the boy would die and that Jeroboam’s family would be destroyed. The prophet condemned Jeroboam for his idolatry and prophesies that Israel will be scattered for its sins.
     The next section tells us that Rehoboam reintroduces the practice of pagan rituals in Judah. We are told that the people imitated the “detestable practices” of the peoples that God had driven out of the land. Among those practices that the people adopted was that of having male prostitutes as part of worship of certain idols. The passage tells us that they set up shrines, sacred pillars and Ashera poles on every high hill and under every green tree. We are told that the king of Egypt came and ransacked Jerusalem. When Rehoboam died his son Abijam succeeded him. We are told that Abijam’s mother was the daughter of Absalom and that Abijam committed the same sins as his father. Abijam reigned for three years before he died and was succeeded by his son Asa. The people of Judah stopped worshiping God and started worshiping idols and taking up pagan religious rituals. It reminds of what we see today. People have been taught that Christianity is superstitious nonsense. So, they do not follow Christian religious practices. Instead, they adopt religious practices that they imagine are those of their ancestors from various pagan religions.
     We are told that Asa, Rehoboam’s grandson did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight. He got rid of the shrine prostitutes, burned the Asherah poles and destroyed the idols his father and grandfather had made. He went so far as to depose his grandmother from the position of queen mother because of the Asherah pole she had made, which he cut down and burned. He was unable to stop the practice of worshiping at local shrines, but he appears to have mostly eliminated idol worship. The Law of Moses said that all worship of God should be at the Tabernacle and after the Temple was built at the Temple, but the people often conducted sacrifices at local shrines. Even when these sacrifices were to God, they were condemned throughout the Old Testament. It took me awhile to realize why this would be. If the people worshiped at various places, they would develop competing understandings of correct practices and what God commanded. By centralizing worship, God could more readily correct improper practices by raising up prophets to condemn them. It is the same reason that we as Christians today should gather with other Christians on a regular basis, so as to test our understanding of God against what the Spirit is saying to others.

Acts 10:1-23

     While Peter was staying in Joppa, God sent an angel to appear to a Roman officer named Cornelius, telling him to send to Joppa to summon Peter. We are told that Cornelius was a devout, God-fearing man along with the rest of his household. Cornelius gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. Cornelius sent three men to Joppa. As they were arriving in Joppa, Peter was praying. It was near lunchtime and Peter was hungry. While a meal is being prepared, Peter has a vision of a sheet being let down from heaven filled with all sorts of unclean animals. A voice tells him to kill and eat them. Peter replies that he has never eaten anything proscribed by Jewish Law as unclean. The voice tells him not to call anything unclean that God has declared clean. This vision repeats three times. As Peter is trying to figure out what the vision means, Cornelius’ messengers arrive. When Peter hears their message he agrees to accompany them.
     We read this passage and the message of the vision seems obvious and I think that it was. We often wish that God would give us such obvious guidance. I think that He often does if we follow the process we see in this passage. The first thing is that Peter was praying, something the context and other passages in Acts suggest he did regularly. So, the first step is regular prayer. The second is that Luke makes a point of telling us that Peter was hungry and that a meal was being prepared. Further, it was around the middle of the day. I don’t know about you, but if I spend time in prayer around lunchtime, I often fall asleep. So, Peter could have dismissed this vision as a dream that was the result of the combination of his hunger with the smells of a meal being prepared. He doesn’t. When the men from Cornelius arrive, it is immediately clear to him what message God was sending him. If we regularly spend time in prayer and worship, we too will see how the dreams and thoughts that God sends our way apply to the decisions we need to make.

Psalm 133:1-3

     The psalmist tells us that living in harmony with our brothers is a wonderful thing. We need to strive to live in harmony with those around us, especially our fellow believers. This does not mean that we should not correct them when they are wrong, but we must be humble and recognize that we might be the ones who are wrong. We must also recognize that even if we are right on one issue, we have issues where we struggle to follow righteous behavior.

Proverbs 17:7-8

     This proverb tells us that it is dangerous when a fool is eloquent and even worse is when someone in authority lies. I have seen how people begin to believe things they would otherwise see as foolish when someone presents those ideas in a manner that is eloquent and convincing. I have learned not to decide how I feel about an issue on the basis of a speech or a video, but instead wait until I can see the arguments in writing. When I can take the time to read an argument for something, I can more readily see where the weaknesses in the case being made are. I can then explore those weaknesses and discover if they truly make the position wrong, or if they turn out to be not important.

June 14, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

1 Kings 12:20-13:34

     Upon returning to Jerusalem after the bulk of Israel rejected him as king, Rehoboam mustered the fighting men of Judah and Benjamin to attempt to reclaim control over all of Israel. God sends word telling Rehoboam and the people of Judah and Benjamin not to war against the rest of Israel. They listened to this command from God and Rehoboam did not attempt to regain control of the rest of Israel by force.
     In the meantime, Jeroboam consolidates his control over Israel. He becomes concerned that if the people of Israel go to Jerusalem to the Temple to worship, they will switch their loyalty back to Rehoboam. To prevent that from happening, he had two golden calves made, one in the south of his kingdom and one in the north. He, also, built shrines in various high places and ordained priests who were not descended from the tribe of Levi. Jeroboam then compounded this by establishing a religious festival that was not one of those given by God in the Law where he himself offered the sacrifices. While Jeroboam is offering the sacrifices God sends a prophet to condemn his actions. When Jeroboam directs his men to seize the prophet, the hand he uses to point at the prophet becomes paralyzed.
     Jeroboam, in an attempt to consolidate his power, set up a new religion completely under his control. He established new holidays and ordained his own priests. Jeroboam made the same basic mistake as Saul. He made pragmatic decisions to shore up his power base but did not focus on obeying the will of God. The passage tells us that Jeroboam made anyone who wanted to be a priest a priest. It reminds me of what has happened to the Church in the U.S., or at least the denomination that I am part of. When I was very young, my denomination selected pastors by a method called the lot. When a congregation needed a new pastor, the members would nominate from among its members those they thought might make good pastors. Then they prayed for God’s guidance and used a random system to select which of those nominated should be the next pastor. In this way, the congregation called a pastor with guidance from God. There were flaws in the system and not all congregations executed it in a manner that was truly faithful to the leading of God, but the principle was there. Sometime when I was young, congregations began hiring young men who had gone to seminary as a career choice as pastors when they needed a new pastor. This became a matter of making into pastors those who wanted the job. For a while, those who entered the pastorate were those who in high school or college decided to pursue that as a career. The Church was not doing a good job of calling men to the pastorate, it was merely hiring from among those who chose that career. The system is not as bad as the way I described it makes it sound, just as the system it displaced was not as good as my description may make it sound. The current system has those who are truly called to the ministry, just as the previous system had those who ended up in the pastorate who had not been so called. I believe that there are others besides myself who have noticed the shortcoming of the current system and are working at seeking God’s guidance for calling people to the ministry.

Acts 9:26-43

     When Saul fled from Damascus he returned to Jerusalem where he tried to meet with the believers. The believers were afraid of him, not believing that he had truly converted. However, Barnabas knew the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus and his preaching there. Barnabas took Saul and introduced him to the apostles and told the story of what had happened to him in Damascus. After his introduction, Saul stayed with the apostles and traveled around Jerusalem with them preaching boldly. At one point he got into a heated argument with some Greek speaking Jews which led them to try and kill him. When the believers heard about this they got him out of Jerusalem and sent him to his home town of Tarsus.
     We do not pay as much attention to Barnabas as we should. The scriptures do not tell us a lot about him, but he was clearly a very influential man in the early Church. The first mention we have of him is when he sold some property and gave the money to the apostles to distribute to the poor among the believers. Now we have him taking Saul in hand and introducing him to the apostles. Later he goes on several missions trips. What do we know about Barnabas? He was generous. He gave people the benefit of the doubt. He listened to the direction of the Holy Spirit.
     Meanwhile, we are told that Peter traveled around Judea, in particular he visited Lydda and Joppa. In Lydda, Peter healed a man who had been paralyzed for eight years, leading to many coming to believe. Shortly thereafter, Dorcas (also known as Tabitha), a believer, died in Joppa. The believers in Joppa sent for Peter, who came and raised her from the dead. Again the news spread throughout the town leading many to believe. Dorcas was noted for doing kind things for others and for helping the poor. If we died today, would people say that we did kind things for others and that we helped the poor?

Psalm 132:1-18

“Let us go to the sanctuary of the Lord;
let us worship at the footstool of his throne.”

     This was the prayer of the psalmist. While the Temple of God is now in our hearts, there is still something to be said for gathering with the believers to worship God. It is as important today as it was in the psalmist’s day to get together with others who share our faith whenever possible. The imagery here of worshiping at the footstool of God’s throne is that of prostrating ourselves before God. Recognizing that we are unworthy to be in His presence.

Proverbs 17:6

     This proverb tells us that grandchildren are the glory of their grandparents. If you have ever met a grandparent, you probably know how true that is. It further tells us that children should be proud of their parents. There is certainly something to both aspects of that.

June 13, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here. I have found that by writing this daily blog of what I see when I read these scriptures, I get more out of them. I hope that by posting these ruminations others may get some benefit as well. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding these verses or what I have written about them, please post them.

Christian Clip Art

1 Kings 11-12:19

     As Solomon’s rule continued he took many wives from the neighboring nations. This was despite the Law saying that when Israel has a king he should not have an excessive number of wives and many of them being from nations that with whom God had commanded the Israelites not to intermarry. In addition, Solomon built worship places for the gods of these foreign wives. The passage specifically mentions Ashtoreth, Molek and Chemosh. The first of these was a fertility goddess and her rituals of worship involved sexual immorality. The worship of the latter two involved human sacrifice. The passage tells us that God became angry with Solomon and promised to take most of the kingdom from his son, leaving the kingdom while during Solomon’s life for the sake of David.
     The passage then tells us that God raised up two kings to fight against Solomon. One was from the Edomite royal line and returned to fight against Solomon with the support of Egypt. The other set himself up in Damascus and fought against Solomon. Then we learn of a prominent young man of the tribe of Ephraim, Jeroboam, whom Solomon promoted to a position of some importance. A prophet comes to him and tells him that God is going take most of Israel from the house of Solomon and give it to Jeroboam. The prophet tells Jeroboam that if he is faithful to God’s laws, God will establish a dynasty for him. Solomon learns of this, we are not told how in this passage, and attempts to have Jeroboam killed. Jeroboam flees to Egypt where he finds refuge.
     Upon Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam succeeded him on the throne. When Rehoboam went to Shechem to be crowned, the people of Israel sent for Jeroboam to lead them in their demands for Rehoboam to reduce his forced labor levies from those imposed by Solomon. Rehoboam asked for time to compose his answer. He asked for advice from his father’s advisers. They told him that he should agree to the demands and that if he did so, the people would serve him faithfully. Rehoboam did not like this advice and asked for advice from his childhood friends. They told him that he should promise to people that he would make increase his demands for forced labor and punish those who resisted even more harshly. After this response the ten tribes went into rebellion against Rehoboam. Rehoboam sent out his deputy in charge of forced labor and they stoned him to death. Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem. This passage shows Rehoboam as a spoiled son of privilege. He rejects the advice of his father’s experienced advisers and follows that of his cronies who tell him what he wants to hear.

Acts 9:1-25

     Luke tells us that Saul was persecuting the believers, continuing on after supporting for the stoning of Stephen. He obtained a letter from the high priest requesting support from the synagogues in Damascus for Saul to persecute the believers in that city. The passage tells us that Saul was struck by a light from heaven and fell to the ground. He heard a voice asking him why he was persecuting Him. Saul correctly interpreted this voice as being divine and asked who it was. The voice said that it was Jesus and that Saul should go into Damascus and wait to be told what to do. The passage tells us that the men traveling with Saul heard the sound but did not see anyone. I had always assumed that they did not actually hear what the voice said, but I realize now that the passage actually implies that they heard the actual conversation. After receiving this vision, Saul was blind and those traveling with him led him into Damascus. Saul fasted and prayed for three days upon his arrival in Damascus.
     God appeared to a believer in Damascus by the name of Ananias and told him to go to Saul and lay hands on him so that he could see again. Ananias protested that he had heard that Saul is persecuting the believers. God told Ananias that Saul was His chosen instrument. Ananias goes to Saul and tells him that Jesus has sent him to restore Saul’s sight. Saul spent a few days with the believers in Damascus and then began preaching the Gospel in the synagogues. The Jews are amazed to hear what him preaching that Jesus is the Son of God because they knew he had been persecuting the believers until recently. When they were unable to refute his arguments, some of the Jews began plotting to kill Saul. Saul became aware of the plot and some of the believers let him down through a gap in the city walls to avoid the assassins.
     When God wants to redirect our lives, He will use whatever means necessary to get our attention. In this case, He used what I call the blunt force approach. He struck Saul down and blinded him in order to get his attention. There are times when such a clear message from God would be nice. However, it appears to me that people who receive such blunt and clear messages from God are generally called to missions of hardship and deprivation. That the price for such an incontrovertible calling is a lot of suffering. I am willing to undergo suffering such as that which Saul, later known as Paul, went through if that is the service God calls me to, but I do not wish to do so just to have an experience such as his conversion. This is especially the case when you consider that even Saul’s conversion experience was rather traumatic. There are other accounts of people where God has had to use forceful means to get their attention to the message He has for them. I liken that to the story of the man who bought a mule. The story goes that a man was looking to buy a mule to haul is wagon. The merchant tells him that he has a great mule that knows many verbal commands. So, the man buys the mule and hooks it up to his wagon. The man tries every command he can think of, “Go”, “Giddyup”, “Start”, “Forward”, etc.. Finally he says to the merchant, “This mule is worthless, he won’t pull my wagon.” The merchant tells the man, “Well, you need to get his attention first,” and takes out a two by four and hits the mule right between the ears before telling it to go. The mule immediately begins pulling the wagon. I don’t want to be that mule. I want to listen when God tells me what He wants and not require Him to get my attention with a two by four.

Psalm 131:1-3

     The psalmist says that he does not fret about matters too great for him to grasp. This is a reminder that we are not going to be able to understand all of the things that God wills. The psalmist tells us to put our hope in the Lord, now and always. Even if we do not understand what God is doing, we can be sure that He has our best interests in mind. God will care for us, even when things seem to be going wrong.

Proverbs 17:4-5

     This passage tells us that wrongdoers are always ready and eager to believe the worst of others, that those who lie readily believe malicious lies about others. It is an easy way to tell something about a person, those who give others the benefit of the doubt when they hear negative stories about others are usually people that you can trust. Those who believe the worst when they hear negative stories about others are often those who would do the same if they were in that situation. This can be used to not only evaluate others, but yourself. If you believe those negative stories you hear about others, you should think about why you are so ready to believe the worst about others.

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