Archive for May, 2009

May 29, 2009

questioning our dreams : james 4:13-17

by Bethany

 

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Last night, I saw my friend Steph Shaw sing with her husband Kevin at Googie’s Lounge. Although Steph and Kevin have performed together as part of a band , this was the first gig that they have done with just the two of them. They performed newly written songs and were refreshingly raw in the performance. While introducing one of the songs, Steph said,

Those of us who come to New York – we all have dreams.
And sometimes we question them.

Although I didn’t ask Steph what she meant by her observation (she can comment on this post, if I’m wrong), I am guessing that she meant that pursuing dreams can be hard and, when it is, we question how much we really want that dream. But, then we remember, “If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere.”

But, Steph’s statement could just have easily meant that we question our dreams because we should always question where we are, what we’re doing, and what we’re running after. After all, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” In fact, to question our future is not only a worthwhile thing, it is a godly thing. In James 4, we read,

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow … Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag.

We should have a healthy amount of questioning in our minds and our hearts about what God has in store for our lives. For we belong to him, and he can do what he wills with us – even if it means that our dreams never come to fruition or he takes us far beyond what we have asked for or imagined. So, let us pray for open hearts and open minds – not bragging or boasting about what tomorrow holds, bur rather surrendering our dreams to the gracious and loving will of the Lord.

May 28, 2009

riches to rags : john 1:43-51

by Bethany

Who doesn’t love a good rags to riches story? The rising to prominence of a person who had everything stacked against them – economic status, ethnic background, familial problems, etc. This is one reason that we love the story of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Her father died when she was 9, she was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 8, and she was raised in the projects in the Bronx. Yet, she managed to attend Princeton University and Yale Law School and then become a judge in the Federal court system – eventually nominated for SCOTUS.

In Jesus, rather than a rags to riches story, we find a riches to rags story. While enjoying fellowship with his Father in heaven, Jesus was rich. He had everything desirable – except a relationship with us. In love, he voluntarily became a man. But, rather than coming as a wealthy king, he came as a poor carpenter from Nazareth – a town of less than two thousand people.  Because of his background, he faced prejudices – even from his own disciples.

After Philip enthusiastically accepted Jesus’ invitation to become a disciple, he went to Nathaneal to tell him about Jesus being “the one Moses wrote about.” Nathaneal responded,

Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?

Did you notice that he did not say, “Can the Messiah come from there”? but rather, “Can anything good come from there?” Can you hear the prejudice seeping out?

Having been raised in the South and now living in New York City, I hear geographically prejudicial statements all the time. Many New Yorkers think that Southerners are ignorant, unintelligent, fundamental, and lazy. Most Southerners think that New Yorkers are rude, pretentious, and morally corrupt. Were the Messiah to come today to either the South or to New York, each side would say, “Can anything good come from there?”

Although the rags to riches stories are amazing, the riches to rags stories are even more unique and astounding. For who voluntarily chooses to suffer the prejudice when they have another choice? Jesus not only chose to suffer the prejudice and humiliation, he did it out of his love for us. These truths should leave us speechless with thankfulness and overflowing with joy!

May 27, 2009

split the baby : 1 kings 3

by Bethany

As everyone knows by now, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court of the United States (aka “SCOTUS”). No professional experience – not even serving as a judge in the Southern District of New York nor on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals – can fully prepare a person to be one of the nine people in our country who “say what the law is.” So, how does one fully prepare?

Soon after assuming the throne, King Solomon had a dream in which the Lord appeared to him and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Rather than asking for wealth or a long life, Solomon asked for a “discerning heart to govern [the Lord's] people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” He then said, “For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord graciously granted his request.

As his first exercise, Solomon confronted a difficult task. Two prostitutes from the same brothel brought a baby before him – each claiming to be the baby’s mother. King Solomon found a wise solution:

Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.” When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they say that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

Solomon was able to judge wisely because God was his resource for wisdom. The answer to his rhetorical question (“For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”) is clear: the governing of the Lord’s people must be done by God alone. So, let us pray for Judge Sotomayor – that she, like Solomon, would desire a discerning heart to govern over the people and to distinguish between right and wrong.

May 26, 2009

fear of losing the love : isaiah 8:12-14

by Bethany

We’ve been talking about what it means to “fear” the Lord. So far, we know …  

  • Its importance: it is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
  • Its purpose: to keep us from sinning (Exodus 20:20).

Today we consider what the fear of the Lord is by meditating on Isaiah 8:12-14.

Do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts . . . Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary.

How can God be our fear and sanctuary – after all, when you fear one person, don’t you hope another person rescues you? Similarly, as we discussed on Friday, how could Moses tell the Israelites not to be afraid while also telling them to have the fear of God in their hearts?

To illustrate. Although my 2-year-old niece Isabelle loves to obey her parents, she disobeyed her dad on Saturday. While searching for a missing shoe, she systematically looked inside each of the drawers in her kiddie kitchen. Upon discovering that the shoe was not in each drawer, she promptly threw the drawer.  Her dad gently said, “Now, Isabelle, don’t throw those drawers. If you throw another one, you’ll go to time out.” Sure enough, she threw a drawer and then went to time out. She screamed the entire ten seconds of time out. When her dad picked her up, she laid her head on his shoulder, grasped his arms, and refused to be held by anyone else.

The fear that Isabelle experienced in time out is similar to the fear of the Lord that the Psalmist and Moses discuss – namely, a fear of losing the love and favor of the Father. Isabelle feared being out of favor with her dad forever – even though he himself knew that he loved her unconditionally and completely. How much less torment and fear would she have had to experience had she simply obeyed him and not thrown that drawer?

Like Isabelle, we have a Father who loves us unconditionally – even though we may question it. Although he lovingly disciplines us, he would rather us not disobey him at all so that we never wonder whether his love is unconditional. Accordingly, we’re told to put the fear of the Lord in our hearts now so that we will keep from disobeying and, thereby, getting ourselves in time out. So, let us strive to fear losing the favor and love of the Father because there is no better sanctuary in all of creation than that of the Father’s arms.

Cross-reference passages: To fear the Lord means to be blessed by him (Psalm 25:44, Psalm 31:19, Psalm 34:7, Psalm 103:11, 13, Psalm 145:19). God makes incomparable promises to those who fear him (Psalm 33:18, Psalm 147:11).

May 22, 2009

the fear of the lord : exodus 20:18-20

by Bethany

If we want to be wise, we must “fear” the Lord (see here). But, what does this mean?

The best way to answer this is to let the Bible interpret itself. So, let’s turn to the book of Exodus, where we find an instance when the people of Israel “feared” the Lord. Immediately after the Lord gave Moses the Ten Commandments, we read, 

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (emphasis mine).

Here, we get a clue of what it means to “fear” the Lord because we discover that its purpose is to keep us from sinning. But, how does it do this? Are we to obey him because our lives are in the hands of this schizophrenic game show host type of god, who has hidden treasures to give us only if we pass the “test” and choose the right door?

The answer to this question is complicated because Moses tells them to “not be afraid” even though he also says that the Lord wants “the fear of God” to be in them. How can they not be afraid of something that they fear? Is Moses being coy and confusing?

Sorry to leave you hanging again today, but the answer to these two questions is too much for one posting. So, I leave you with more questions to think about over the weekend: What does it mean to fear the Lord? Does it mean that we are at the mercy of a whimsical unmerciful God who “tests” us? How can Moses say that we should not be afraid of him while at the same time say that the fear of God should be in our hearts?

Developing …

May 21, 2009

what i didn’t learn in law school : proverbs 9:10

by Bethany

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Although the diplomas were officially conferred on Wednesday, the law school graduation is today. So, this reflection is a bit short since I’m “gone graduating.”

Although Columbia Law School is an institution committed to the dissemination of knowledge and its creation, it is not a place at which you gain wisdom. Indeed, law school teaches you a new way to think and to see the world, but it does not teach you how to rightly live your life. If it did, we wouldn’t see so many lawyers running around making poor decisions (e.g., Eliot Spizer, Bernie Madoff).

But, how do we get wisdom? We fear God. As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs,

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

But, what does it mean to “fear” God?

I’ll write about this tomorrow. Until then, feel free to make comments and discuss.

May 20, 2009

spiritual but not religious : acts 17:22-28

by Bethany

Many post-modern city dwellers like to think of themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Generally, they mean that they care about spiritual things, but they don’t like going to church. This is one reason that $46 million was tithed at the box office over the weekend for Angels & Demons while The Da Vinci Code brought in $77 million at its opening.

This widespread interest in spiritual things suggests that people may be interested in the idea of a god, but they’re not really sure who he (or she) is or how to figure that out. Interestingly, we are not the first generation with this problem.

Just after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles traveled throughout the world to proclaim the good news of Christ. In Athens, the apostle Paul stood in court, proclaiming,  

I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:

TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.

Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being … 

Since our God is known and knowable – revealed in the Bible and in the person Jesus Christ – let us put down the blockbuster hits or the bestselling novels and pick up the Word. Let’s not be overly concerned with titling ourselves “spiritual” or “religious,” but rather let’s follow, know, and love Christ – in whom we live, move, and have our being.

May 19, 2009

a case study : numbers 28 and psalm 72

by Bethany

A Case Study: How to Use the Word to Pray About Your Day.

First. As most of us do, I wake up with a “to do list” in my head. Today, for example, I have a lot on the list because my parents arrive from Florida for my graduation on Thursday.

Second. Before I open my Bible, I pray: Lord, open my eyes to see wonderful things in your law (Psalm 119:18).

Third. Since I follow the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan*, I open my Bible to Numbers 28 and Psalm 72. As I read, I try to pick (at least) one thing that stands out from each passage. Today, the following does: 

  • Numbers. I notice that a theme emerges: give God your first fruits early and pure. I get this from 28:3 (“This is the offering … that you are to present to the Lord: two lambs a year old without defect as a regular burnt offering each day), 28:11 (On the first of every month, present to the Lord a burnt offering of two young bulls), and 28:26 (On the day of first fruits, when you present to the Lord an offering of new grain during the Feast of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work).
  • Psalm. May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed (72:17).  

Fourth. I use the passages to pray about the list in my head. Rather than focusing on the details of the day, I use the details to focus on my character. For example.

Lord, I wake up this morning with many things to do. I know that busy days present unique challenges that tempt me to be impatient, anxious, and annoyed. Those traits are not of you. Rather, I want to be peaceful, thankful, and joyful – knowing that all these things will come and go but you will endure forever, longer than the sun (Psalm 72). In order to have this perspective, I want to give you my first fruits (Numbers 28) as a praise and an offering to you. So, on this busy day, I give you my first moments. My schedule and my life are yours. Guide me through today. Amen.

You can do this with whatever passage you read in your own reading plan. The Bible is accessible to us since the Lord longs to bless us through knowing his Word.

*Note. If you are interested in checking out the M’Cheyne plan, there are various PDF versions online. The two easiest to print appear to be here and here. Note that I prefer reading only 2 chapters – rather than 4 – each day, so this year I am doing the “family” readings since I did the “secret” readings last year.

May 18, 2009

finders keepers : matthew 18:12-13

by Bethany

There are two ways to find things.

First, The Wow Way. This is when you find something that you were not looking for. For example, on Friday night, I was walking in the West Village and found a dollar bill on the sidewalk. Since I wasn’t expecting to find this recession treasure, I promptly snatched it up. Wow! Since The Wow Way depends on an element of surprise, God never experiences it. He knows all, including whether there is a dollar bill around the corner.

Second, The Finally Way. This is when you find something that you were looking for after you’ve been searching awhile. For example, I recently dropped my tiny earring back under my bed. It is so tiny that I thought that I would not find it. But, after a 30-minute search, I did. Finally! Unlike The Wow Way, God does experience The Finally Way. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us, 

If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

We know how it feels to be the shepherd because we have lost things, searched for those things, and found them. But, we don’t know what it is like to lay down our lives in pursuit of finding those things – like God did by sending Jesus. And, now that he has found you, he will keep you. If you are ever lost, he will seek you out. Recognize how precious you are in the sight of the searcher-finder-keeper God!

top: the tiny earring back / bottom: the West Village dollar bill
top: the tiny earring back / bottom: the West Village dollar bill
May 15, 2009

speechless in thankfulness: 1 thes. 5:18

by Bethany

If you know me, then you know that I am rarely speechless. Today is an exception. I am immeasurably thankful today because I had an amazing day. I finished law school. I arrived home to a free iPod waiting for me (a gift from WestLaw Rewards program). I hung out with my favorite neighbors – had spicy margaritas with extra jalapeno (my favorite) and vegged out in front of the television.

Before finals, this night may have seemed like a normal night for some. Tonight, it was different. I’ve been distanced and hyper-intellectual for the past few weeks. In fact, there were multiple times that I cried for no apparent reason. But, now it is over. And I sit here feeling loved, speechless, and thankful. As Paul wrote,

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I hope that you can remember one of these moments in your life today. Even if you are not in this moment now, you have had one of these. Remember it. Thank God for it. And look at where you are today to see how that moment made a difference in where you are today. And, even if you have never had a speechless moment of thanks, what can you thank God for today? There are so many things … First, you have eyesight to read this. Second, you are literate to read this … That’s just a start … You continue …

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