Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 36

Daniel 8:15-27--Vision interpreted
The messenger that interprets this vision for Daniel is Gabriel, which is kind of interesting. I guess Daniel really needs some help understanding this vision, and I don't understand why he goes into a trance. Have you noticed there's a lot I don't understand about Daniel? This is why I think it's important for us to study scripture together, and why I think commentaries and scholarship matter. Prayer and the Holy Spirit are important, too. Daniel needed someone else to interpret the vision for him, though, and he was supposed to be one of the people most connected with God in the whole kingdom.

Verse 17 shows that people have been predicting specifics of the end of times for a long time, but then verse 26 says it is "for days far in the future," so maybe it's not really that specific.

Even with Gabriel's help, though, Daniel doesn't feel that he understands the vision completely. He is sick for days and still feels very confused and worried about the vision. Is he worried because he doesn't understand? Is he worried because he doesn't want to have to tell the king? I am just not sure.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 35 (I think)

This is not gonna be very interesting...but here's all I have to say for today...Easter is coming...Easter is coming...

Daniel 8:1-12--Vision of a ram and a goat
Daniel describes this vision as taking place in a very specific place, and neither the name of the city nor the name of the river mean anything to me. My study Bible suggests the city of Susa wasn't actually big until after Belshazzar's reign, but its use could be symbolic here. Rivers are also symbolic in apocalyptic visions, apparently.

The vision starts out with a ram with 2 horns--so far, so good. It's a little weird that as he watches the ram, its horns grow and one is bigger than the other, but I can deal with that. I would think that a ram whose horns do that would be pretty powerful and just do what it wants. And then a really angry he-goat with one horn comes along and tramples the powerful ram.

...and then it gets weird...when more horns grow on the he-goat and the horns start causing all kinds of trouble. Have I mentioned that these are not my favorite parts of scripture to read??

Now, when verse 11 says the he-goat in the vision was "taking the daily sacrifice away from him and overturning his holy place," I do know enough about history to know that sounds like Antiochus IV Ephipanes, who desecrated the temple with unclean offerings to pagan gods. That's the only part of this vision that makes much sense to me, without the help of my study Bible.

Daniel 8:13-14--How long?
OK, I get that the two holy ones in the vision want to know why God lets this all happen. The one's response to the other, of 2,300 evenings and mornings seem pretty randomly specific.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 34

Daniel 7:9-14--Throne of fire and the human figure
Verse 9 describes God as the "ancient one" with "white hair," so maybe this is why there are so many pictures of God as some old white man with long white hair and a beard (a la the cover of Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God Workbook). I don't think that's quite what Daniel saw, though! I mean, there's lots of fire and lots of people there to serve him. It's a really impressive scene, not just some old guy sitting on a throne somewhere.

As for the other creatures, the bragging horn just sounds strange to me. I guess I've watched enough cartoons with my three-year-old that I've seen just about any object depicted with eyes and a mouth, so this shouldn't be that hard for me. It just sounds weird.

I wonder why Daniel doesn't tell us how the beast was destroyed. That seems like an important detail, but maybe we only need to know that it happened. It's interesting that the other beasts get to live, at least for a while, and the one beast is destroyed.

In case you're not going to go read these verses on your own, here's Daniel 7:13-14:
13 As I continued to watch this night vision of mine, I suddenly saw one like a human being coming with the heavenly clouds. He came to the ancient one and was presented before him.
 14 Rule, glory, and kingship were given to him; all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him. His rule is an everlasting one-- it will never pass away!-- his kingship is indestructible.
I think these verses are really fitting for this weekend, as we begin Holy Week tomorrow, with Palm and Passion Sunday. I can't imagine Christians interpreting this "human one" as anything other than Christ. I guess Daniel and the people of his day would see him as the messiah they were waiting for, which we say is Jesus, but of course Jews believe is still yet to come. How well do we live like we believe Jesus' reign is like this?

Daniel 7:15-28--Beasts interpreted
Daniel needs this vision interpreted for him, which is something new. It seems kind of strange to me that he is seeing a vision but he is actually in it in a way that he is able to ask one of the servants to interpret for him. My study Bible points out that he can interpret things to some degree, but as he gets deeper into the mysteries of God, he needs help understanding. I guess we can all relate to that!

The king discussed in this passage sounds like a really, really bad man. It's no wonder he's interpreted as Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He was apparently pretty rough on the Jews...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 32 and 33

I didn't post yesterday, so here are some thoughts for yesterday and today.

Daniel 6:10-15--Daniel prays
I like that it tells us Daniel had an upper room. I mean, it may not be terribly important, but it does make me think of next week, when we'll talk about another upper room, anyway.

What do we think of the suggestion that Daniel prays three times a day toward Jerusalem? In his time and context, that would seem appropriate, but don't we get suspicious of people who pray multiple times a day, facing toward a particular place? Maybe we need to rethink that...

It tells us in verse 11 that the men all saw him praying, and I wonder if they just broke into his house, or what. Did they sneak up on him and leave quietly, or did they confront him so he knew they were going to the king? I'm sure he knew the situation well enough to know they were plotting against him by getting this edict made, anyway, but I'm still wondering about some of the details here.

Is it really a surprise that the king gets trapped by his own edict? I mean, he's also trapped by his own pride and vanity--how shocking! When you say, "Worship me, or else..." someone's gonna get stuck with the "or else," ya know? Maybe when you have the power of a king it's easy to forget that.

Daniel 6:16-24--Daniel in the lions' pit
OK, not that I didn't already know this story, but it continues to make the king look like a total jerk. On sort of a side note, why do they seal the lions' pit? Wouldn't that cause the oxygen to become depleted? Maybe that's irrelevant.

Anyway, the king admits that Daniel's God will save Daniel--even though the king wanted to be the only god--but then he worries and stews about Daniel all night and rushes to check out if he's OK the next morning--not very brave and kingly of him! Then, when Daniel is OK, he puts the bad guys and their wives and kids in there and they all die. I mean, it does prove that Daniel's being untouched by the lions wasn't just a fluke, but good grief! ...then the king won the award for most despotic ruler of the year...

It's interesting that Daniel still speaks with deference to the king after that. Wouldn't it be difficult to find a way to be even polite, let alone act like he's a great person? Maybe you just do that when you are talking to a king, especially a king like this.

Note that God is at work in a way that's not really surprising here, but is impressive. Just like this story sounds like what we've seen earlier in the book, so God again sends a holy messenger into the space of punishment to protect one of God's own people. That's pretty cool.

Daniel 6:25-28--A new decree
King Darius says, "I wish you much peace," in his edict for the whole kingdom. Really, Darius? You don't seem much like the peaceful type!

He kind of understands God, I think, but does he really believe what he says about God? It's hard to say.

Today I read Daniel 7:1-8, "Daniel's vision: four beasts." I don't really know what to say about this. With my study Bible's explanation of what everything in the vision stands for, I feel like I kind of know what was going on in this passage. It bears some resemblance to the book of Revelation. I've never been a huge fan of apocalyptic writing or of fantasy/science fiction literature, which is kind of what this seems like to me. I am tempted to switch to something else, at least until Easter, but I guess I'll stick with Daniel and see what comes of it for me. I think it is interesting that the people of Daniel's time would have understood the four beasts as four particular kingdoms that they already knew about, but we tend to take apocalyptic writing and assume it's about things today or things to come. I guess that goes back to one of those debates about scripture--does context matter, or not? I think it does, but that's just my opinion. Maybe having studied literature makes me biased. If we take Daniel and the prophets (and Revelation) as speaking more about the situations they found themselves in than about something that will happen at some "future" time, how does that change our interpretation? Just something to think about...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 31

Daniel 5:17-30--Daniel interprets the writing
Daniel was fairly polite to Nebuchadnezzar, but he really gives Belshazzar the what-for here! Isn't it interesting that the prophets almost always had to confront pride, in one form or another, from one person or group or another? I guess that tells us something about humanity, not just people in the ancient near east.

I never realized that the saying, "You've been weighed and found lacking," or however you might say verse 27, is actually from the Bible (or I had forgotten that). I guess it does sound like a serious statement, but I didn't know how serious it was.

It seems very odd that Belshazzar gets told that he is going to lose his kingdom, and he still gives Daniel stuff and status. You would think if he knew anything about Nebuchadnezzar's story, he would have learned a lesson from that and would have repented and given honor to God. Instead, he doesn't really have time to figure it out after Daniel tells him what will happen because it does happen, that night! Talk about your quick consequences!

Daniel 6:1-9--Plot against Daniel
I'm confused about why Darius and Cyrus are conflated in the book of Daniel--my study Bible says that they are, at least. I thought that Cyrus was supposed to be a good king, but maybe I'm thinking of the wrong Cyrus. Maybe I need to refresh some of my Old Testament history...

This plot against Daniel seems pretty familiar--other people in the king's court get jealous of Daniel and they plot to get him killed. Religion is the only thing they can use to get him in trouble, which is pretty sad. Well, I guess it's not the only thing. They exploit the king's vanity and get him to sign an edict that will eventually get Daniel in trouble. It sounds a lot like the book of Esther. Actually, thus far, Daniel and Esther have several similarities. Why does someone in the foreign king's court always have it out for the Jewish person at court? It makes for some pretty interesting and intriguing stories, at least. What exciting thing will happen next?? Oh, yeah--the lion's den!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 30

Well, I was just about to sit down and watch some TV before going to bed, and then I remembered that I hadn't written a blog post for today yet! Argh! I don't forget to read and to take notes...I just forget to type it all here! Anyway, here's what I have for today...

Daniel 5:1-16--Belshazzar's party and Writing on the Wall
I don't know much about this Belshazzar guy, and it's kind of weird that he just shows up after we have these stories about Nebuchadnezzar, but you'd think that any guy who knows anything about any "gods" would know that something bad is going to happen when you take the stuff from one god's temple and use it to party. Of course, when that god happens to be THE God of the universe, you're kind of a little more in trouble than other gods. But then, he's had a lot to drink, so we could just give him a pass, right? Ha! Silly, silly people--partying with God's stuff!

But then, a random hand appears and writes on the wall. The king sounds a lot like Nebuchadnezzar then, when he just wants anyone to interpret the writing. He says, "If anyone can figure this out, I'll give them stuff." Then he gets really scared--scared sober, I guess! ;)

It seems weird that the queen shows up after that, but my study Bible says maybe she's the king's mother or grandmother. I guess it makes sense that she wouldn't be partying with the king and all his wives, etc. I kind of like that she's sort of the voice of reason here. All kinds of people in the royal court are all kinds of not very smart, but the old woman comes in and knows what's up.

Finally, Daniel comes in and he can interpret the dream, just like the queen said he could, and it sounds just like with Nebuchadnezzar. I wonder if Daniel got tired of all of this ridiculousness. I wonder if he ever played pranks on them...probably not. He seems like a straight-laced kind of guy, which is probably a better way to represent God, but still...

Monday, March 23, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 29

I almost forgot to blog!! Here are some thoughts for today...

It's impressive in Daniel 4:28-33 that Nebuchadnezzar not only shows how vain and ridiculous he is again, but that the consequences of his actions, directly from God, come so suddenly and with such depth. What happens definitely doesn't leave one wondering who was in control in this situation.

In verse 34, we suddenly hear from Nebuchadnezzar himself. He tells of what seems like a conversion story, when he finally learned his lesson that God is greater than he is. We would wonder if he really believes that, or if he'll forget it again, based on past experience.

This story makes me wonder what we can really believe about Nebuchadnezzar. Though my study Bible pointed out early on that the timing mentioned at the beginning of Daniel signals to us that it is a folktale, that is someone's interpretation, of course. We wonder how much of this is what Nebuchadnezzar was like, and how much might have been interpreted or added, to make a point for the people reading this years later. I studied literature for a long time, and I guess that's why it's never bothered me to think of the Bible as stories, to appreciate it for its literary value, and not to parse out fact versus fiction. We Christians debate the inerrancy of scripture. We make claims like, "The Bible clearly says..." Some have put so much time and energy into turning the book of Genesis into a science book to explain the beginning of creation. It seems as though in some ways, we prefer knowing the Bible to knowing God. We want to avoid remembering that the person or persons who translated our Bibles were not there when the scriptures were actually written, that we don't have any kind of "original draft" for the vast majority of scripture, and that every translation is also an interpretation.

What does this have to do with the story of Nebuchadnezzar? Well, I don't know that there was such an absolutely ridiculous king. It seems entirely implausible for a king to go wander out in some pasture somewhere for seven years, then return to his throne. Yes, I believe that everything is possible with God. I also believe that we learn a lot from Nebuchadnezzar's story, regardless of its factual truth. As Christians, we retell our story every year, through the cycles of the church year. In the retelling, new truth is revealed, new understanding given, and new calling received, among other things. Whether or not every detail is reported and is factual, we learn about who God is and who we are from scripture. We learn about the people who have known that God through the ages and about their cultures. We learn how to keep becoming the people God wants us to be. That seems more important to me than determining where the ark landed...but that's just me...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 28

My daily devotional, Alive Now, directed me to the psalter reading for this week, which is Psalm 51:1-12. I decided to read the whole thing, and that gave me inspiration for a different kind of post than the ones I've been doing recently. I was feeling that my posts had gotten, um, not-so-inspirational and more like a book report every day, so this should be a good change. And maybe I'll take tomorrow off from posting, since it's Sunday...I mean, I will be preaching on John 12:20-33 and teaching on Joel 3:1-16, plus whatever I'm teaching for the youth Sunday School class, which I've temporarily forgotten at the moment. But then, Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the Old Testament lection for tomorrow, and maybe I'll post a little something about that...while I watch basketball. So many decisions to make...

Anyway, without further ado, some thoughts on Psalm 51.

You don’t want sacrifices.
    If I gave an entirely burned offering,
    you wouldn't be pleased.
17 A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
    You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.

                                                                     ~Psalm 51:16-17

I've read these verses lots of times. We read this psalm for Ash Wednesday every year (well, when the weather lets us have an Ash Wednesday service!). It's a good one to kick off the season of Lent. It reminds us that even those whom God calls "friend" can still do terrible things to others through their decisions and actions. As Christians, we know the truth of David's words about sacrifices. We know that physical sacrifices can't change our hearts to the righteousness God desires for/of us. Well, we say we believe that, at least. Living into that truth is far more difficult than confessing it with our lips, for me, at least. How much of my life do I spend pursuing works righteousness, cloaked in terms of "good works" and "loving my neighbor"? Both of those are ways that we show fruit of God's grace, and I don't want to look askance at either of them. I believe they are very important to growth in grace. What seldom occurs to me, though, is how often I might be offering those things to God in place of, not in addition to, a broken and contrite (or crushed, as the CEB says it) heart. Am I getting by without really turning to God with my broken heart and relying on God's healing in my life? When I preach about repentance, especially during Lent, how well am I doing at practicing what I'm preaching?

Well, the answers to these questions require a significant amount of introspection, which is something I'm not bad at, really. I tend to be fairly self-aware...but that doesn't mean I'm always honest with God, even if I am honest with other people. At my current appointment, I've realized the need for recovery ministry in the community. In this particular town, there are few churches that host opportunities for those affected by the rampant drug problem to come and experience healing. As I consider how my community (with my church) may be able to change that, I've been attending services at a recovery ministry 30 miles down the road, Recovery at Lebanon. While I've never experienced chemical dependency, I've experienced brokenness just like everyone else. And like most of us, I've learned to cope with it and keep it pretty well out of sight, except for when it's convenient. By attending worship services focused on recovery, though, I've been challenged to heal instead of cover up. I've been challenged to live even more into the belief that God really does love me and want me to be my best, not just to try to do the best I can on my own. I've been challenged to let God into my broken places more than I have before, and to rely on God for healing.

If you have any familiarity with AA, you know that the first of the 12 Steps is "We admitted we were powerless over our addiction--that our lives had become unmanageable." Recovery ministry adds "and compulsive behaviors" to "addiction" for this step, since many of us may not experience addiction, but we do experience behaviors that are harmful to ourselves and others. To bring this post back to Psalm 51, though, I think this is where David was, when he wrote verse 17. I think it's where we all find ourselves at times, when we are willing to admit that God is God and we are not. I don't mean this to say that everyone experiences addiction, but that part of our human condition is that we can't piece back together our broken parts on our own, no matter how hard we try. (Believe me, I've tried!) Today, can I stop trying to make all my other sacrifices enough and really offer to God my heart, as it is, and let God heal it? It's worth a try, eh?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 27

Hey, Easter will be here in just over two weeks! Yay! I will take a break from blogging for a bit after Easter, but until then, here's my daily post...

Daniel 4:1-27 is what I looked at this morning.

1-8--Nebuchadnezzar's testimony
It looks like even after the three men survive the fiery furnace and Nebuchadnezzar decides their God is a really great god, he still doesn't get who God is! We're back to his dreams and Daniel, with this chapter, and he's so glad Daniel interpreted his dream, but he doesn't get that the one true God did it--he talks about "the gods" still.

9-18--Nebuchadnezzar's dream
This sounds like a pretty impressive dream. I don't know if it's really any more impressive than the first one, about the statue, but a huge tree would make for an impressive dream. You'd think the theme of destruction in his dreams might give him a clue about himself! My study Bible talks about Nebuchadnezzar's tree being "the world tree" that was a common idea in those cultures, and how arrogant someone would be to dream that he is the world tree.

19-27--Daniel interprets the vision
It tells us Daniel was shocked--I'm sure he was! How much did he probably hate having to tell Nebuchadnezzar that he actually was the tree in this dream, if he knew the idea of the world tree? But maybe it wasn't too bad, since he also got to tell him what was coming to him, symbolized by the tree being cut down. Nebuchadnezzar will be humbled, and according to that dream, it will take a lot to humble him. I don't think that's very surprising, considering what we've read so far!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lenten Daily Post, Day 26

Daniel 2:36-45--The dream's meaning
For some reason, I find it hard to find the meaning of the dream that worrisome. The thought of four different kings to come doesn't sound like that big of a deal, but I think that's because I'm out of touch with what it's like to be a dictator, maybe. I mean, we're used to frequent changes of heads of state in our country, of course...

Anyway, it probably didn't sound good to Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 2:46-48--Nebuchadnezzar honors Daniel
So, Nebuchadnezzar doesn't seem all that upset by Daniel's interpretation. He just gives Daniel stuff and honors him. Weird. That dude is goofy.

Daniel 3:1-7--Gold statue
Nebuchadnezzar is not very smart, or not a good listener, or both. Daniel tells him God will destroy all these rulers, but Nebuchadnezzar just goes and builds a big gold statue of himself. And then all the people just bow down to the statue, like they're cool with whatever. I guess they felt coerced, or they were just mindless followers. This is the problem with despotic rulers and religion! (OK, there are lots of problems with despotic rulers and religion--Nebuchadnezzar embodies most of them!)

Daniel 3:8-18--Plot against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
I have to admit, it's really difficult for me to read this story without thinking about the Veggie Tales version of it.

Anyway, jealous people tell on these three fellas, and Nebuchadnezzar gets really angry, which is not at all surprising. They say they will never bow down to his statue, even if he will kill them for it. So...

Daniel 3:19-27--Inside the furnace
I had forgotten the detail that Nebuchadnezzar's own men die when they put the three other men into the furnace, because of how hot Nebuchadnezzar wants it to be. What an idiot this king is! Of course, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego aren't harmed at all.

Daniel 3:28-30--Nebuchadnezzar praises God
And then Nebuchadnezzar praises God because he realizes that this God could save the three men...and he threatens everyone who doesn't worship his new God. Talk about someone with control issues!! I just can't wait to see what he'll do next...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 25

Daniel 1:18-21--Result of the training
The four men--referred to here by their Hebrew names, incidentally (v.19)--are found to be the best of the bunch. Who is surprised?? But we do learn that "Daniel stayed in the king's service until the first year of King Cyrus" (v.21). Does that mean all four of them were there that long, or just Daniel? And why does it matter that he stayed until King Cyrus took over? This brings several questions to mind, but they are not terribly relevant to reading on in Daniel.

Daniel 2:1-13--An impossible challenge
Let's be honest, Nebuchadnezzar sounds kind of goofy. I guess the way the scripture tells it doesn't help, when it says, "The dreams made him anxious, but he kept sleeping." Umm...duh. And then he threatens his experts with death if they can't guess his dreams--that's kind of ridiculous!

Verse 7--What else would the people say? They can't tell him his dream! And then he accuses them of stalling in verse 8. Well, duh! What else are they going to say? So they spell it out for him in 10-11--they. can't. do. what. he. wants.

Now, verse 13 ratchets up the suspense because it finally lets us know that Daniel is involved in this. He and his friends are in danger because of this decree by the king. They might be killed, too! Dunh, dunh, duhhhh!

Daniel 2:14-23--God reveals the mystery
Daniel asks one of the king's servants in verse 15 why the king's command is so unreasonable--that's a good question! After he finds out the answer to his question, he tells the guys, and they all pray about it. God answers their prayers and tell Daniel what the king's dream is. See, prayer matters! And after that, Daniel praises God--that's important, too!

Daniel 2:24-35--Daniel recounts the dream
The king's official Arioch is so proud of himself that he claims he found Daniel...what a goober.

In verse 28, Daniel just up and tells the king that God's involved in this. That took some guts!

My study Bible points out that verse 30 tells us that Daniel is more about having special knowledge of God than it is about having faith in hard times, which is what some people say Daniel is about. I think that's an interesting point. I guess that is the way that we teach the stories of Daniel to children--that you just have to be brave and have faith, no matter what. God definitely does more than that in this book, though. Daniel finds favor with the king and saves himself and all the sages in Babylon because he knows God and God gives him special knowledge.

 We'll talk about the dream and what Daniel says it means next time...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lenten Daily Post, Day 24

Instead of just continuing on to Romans, which might have made sense, except for that one seminary class I took that made me never want to read Romans again, I decided to switch to the minor prophets. I'm writing and teaching a study on Joel right now, so maybe that's why the minor prophets seemed like a good idea, or maybe it's because I'm a "random-abstract" thinker, not a "concrete-sequential" thinker, according to my older sister...Anyway without further ado, let's begin with Daniel...

Daniel 1:1-2--Jerusalem taken by the Babylonians
So, God handed the king (who was not a very good king) and "some of the equipment from God's house" over to Nebuchadnezzar. That's a weird way to say it, but I guess it gets the point across that the writer believes God is the one running the show. My study Bible says that the timing is not quite historically accurate and that the writer is signaling that this is folktale or historical fiction, not exactly fact, by making the dating not quite right. That is an interesting claim, I think.

Daniel 1:3-7--Training for royal service
It sounds like Nebuchadnezzer is being nice by offering Daniel and his friends all this stuff, but he is also trying to completely change their identities, so that's not exactly "nice." It's a bit ironic, then, that we call Daniel by his Hebrew name, but we only remember he Babylonian names of the other three men. Maybe that makes sense because the book is named after Daniel, but would we get the meaning of the story even more if we remembered that Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego are not the Hebrew names of the other characters, and if we referred to them by their Hebrew names, instead?

Daniel 1:8-17--Testing
Verse 9 tells us that God made a special understanding between Daniel and the chief official, but even God's work didn't erase the fear of Nebuchadnezzer, it appears. So, Daniel finds someone else who's game to let him try his plan not to eat the king's food and drink the king's wine. We shouldn't at all be surprised that his plan worked--God is at work in mighty ways here, even though it happens under cover and God's name isn't really used that much by Daniel (yet). This is similar to the book of Esther, in some ways, and even to Acts, in some ways--God is showing up all over!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 23?

Acts 28:11-16--Paul makes it to Rome
This is some interesting travelogue information, which is maybe not what we expect to find in scripture. I'm more familiar with Italy than the other places Paul has been, so some of these place names have meaning to me. It's strange that Paul gets to stay somewhere by himself, when it seems like he was in custody back in Jerusalem and Caesarea. My study Bible says it's because of his status as a Roman citizen--at least that finally got him some good treatment, right?!

Acts 28:17-28--Paul meets Jewish leaders in Rome
In verses 17-20, I wonder if this is a strategic speech, or if Paul is just trying to convert people, or something else.

Again, we have Paul teaching and testifying for a long period of time, in verse 23, like he did earlier on, even though that was all night, not all day. Paul had some serious focus and stamina. As usual, some believed and some didn't, so Paul told them the Gentiles receive salvation even though Jews won't all listen. I wonder how they responded to that, but the writer doesn't say.

Verses 30-31 end the book, kind of abruptly. What's the rest of the story? Did Paul ever get to see Caesar? Nero was a pretty bad guy, so we might not expect that that went well.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 22 (A Day Late)

Yesterday was not a restful day in my life. Today wasn't, either, but it's Sunday, so that's pretty normal. Anyway, here's all I have to post from yesterday, and I will be taking today off from a new post. Back on track tomorrow...

Acts 28:1-10--On the island of Malta
I've been reading a lot about snakes in the Bible this week, oddly enough. This story fits right in with what I've read about for my sermon, since it's about snakes. It's kind of interesting and crazy how many stories of snakes there are, and this one is no exception. Paul gets bitten and doesn't get sick, so the people go from believing he must be a murderer to thinking he's a god--that's a bit much! After that, Paul heals all the people on the island that come to him. That's pretty cool. Then the people give them everything they need to finish their voyage, which I guess included a ship or a boat of some sort. That's a lot of stuff! We'll finish up the voyage next time...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Daily Lenten Post--Day 21

We're almost through Acts. Isn't that a shame? It gets really exciting sometimes!

Acts 27--Paul's voyage to Rome
Suddenly, there's a "we" in the story again. It seems odd at this point to note that "we" are with Paul, when he had seemed to be on his own through all the abuse and trials. Maybe it all works out, though, as apparently, people are allowed to accompany Paul to Rome. I'm pretty sure the police don't allow prisoners to have friends with them when they're extradited somewhere today, or to stop off and visit friends along the way. I know that prisoners had to have people bring them food and care for them, but I have a hard time envisioning what prison must have been like in that culture.

So, they get on a boat. In verse 11, I can't blame the centurion for believing the captain of the boat over Paul, can you? Was Paul being a jerk here, or are we to understand that he is led by the Spirit? I guess we should probably assume the latter, since we know that the Spirit's leading is a pretty significant theme in the book of Acts. I should also probably be a little more charitable toward Paul. I mean, he is, after all, the prime apostle that we in the Western church attribute our theology and doctrine to...

Anyway, Paul is right and the ship doesn't fare well. That was one serious storm, if they couldn't see the sun or the moon for "many days"! And then in verse 21, Paul starts talking to them all, telling them what is ultimately good news, but it doesn't sound that great, to start with. I wonder how they received this prophecy from a prisoner. They've been in this storm for untold time; they threw out the cargo and the gear; they haven't eaten for days. What did they all think of Paul??

I like verse 29: "they hurled out four anchors from the stern and began to pray for daylight"--I bet they did!!

In verse 31, Paul tells the centurion that "Unless they stay in the ship, you can't be saved." What does it mean that the soldiers have to stay in the ship in order for the centurion to be saved? Isn't that what the pronouns are saying here? That's really interesting...

We learn in verses 33-35 that they did have food. They didn't throw it all overboard until after Paul told them to eat something and then fed them. We might assume that the way they broke bread indicates that they had communion, but is that really a reasonable assumption to make, with a group of people who undoubtedly were of mixed faiths? It may be code for having communion, and it probably did remind Paul of times he had shared meals with groups of believers, but it may not have been communion, as we think of it.

So, they all manage to survive, but the soldiers want to kill the prisoners. Say what?! This is a crazy story! At least we are led to believe the centurion was a decent guy. What a long, strange trip, eh?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Daily Lenten Post--Day 20 (Half way! Half way! Woohoo!)

Acts 26--Paul's defense before Agrippa
I wonder how much of Paul's story Agrippa knew or even cared about. Paul thought he would be sympathetic, so maybe he was. His response to Paul in verse 32 makes it seem like he might be willing to listen and change his mind, but he could be sarcastic, too. It's hard to say...

In verses 9-11, we learn more about Paul's persecution of Christians, and it sounds really serious. I guess that's not really surprising. It's no wonder that some Jews/Christians didn't believe his change of heart and lots of them didn't like it.

The account of Paul's conversion in verses 12-19 has some small changes from the other accounts of it. He gets a direct commission from Jesus here, which he hasn't mentioned before (verses 16-18). Interesting...

Festus really makes himself look like a fool by calling Paul crazy in verse 24. He should really learn to keep his mouth shut.

This passage's ending doesn't sound good for Paul. If Agrippa really doesn't think there's a reason to keep Paul incarcerated, does it matter that much that he's asked to see Caesar? Caesar doesn't have to know about it...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 19

Seriously, parts of Acts read like some episode of Law & Order, or something...(well, I've never really watched Law & Order, but I have watched several detective shows that my husband likes, such as Forever and Backstrom...)

Acts 25:1-12--Paul appeals to Caesar
Here's what I thought as I read verses 1-10: "What is wrong with these people?? Why does truth not matter to either Paul's accusers or to Festus?? This must be how people feel who end up at the wrong place at the wrong time and can never prove their innocence to a system that considers them guilty by default, for whatever reason. We shouldn't be surprised that our justice system seems so messed up sometimes--it's based on the Roman system, that appears not to have worked very fairly, either--even for Paul, a Roman citizen!"

It's interesting that in verse 12 Paul is granted the opportunity to appear before Caesar because I wonder why he would want to do that. Is there any reason to think he will be treated fairly or listened to there??

Acts 25:13-27--King Agrippa informed about Paul
When Felix speaks to Agrippa, at least he gives a pretty fair and decent account of the situation. I wonder why Agrippa wanted to hear from Paul. It's good that Felix says he can't come up with anything good to charge Paul with, but it's pretty pathetic that he's already been treated so poorly when there is nothing to charge him with!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lenten Daily Post--Day 18

Acts 24:1-23--Paul's trial before Felix
So, it's nice to see legal proceedings like you might expect them to happen. Interesting that the Jews' lawyer Tertullus calls Paul part of "the Nazarene faction"--that's a new name. Tertullus' explanation of the prosecution's position in verses 2-8 sounds reasonable...except that it's all lies.

Paul's defense in verses 10-20 is impressively short, considering some of his other speeches. He basically says that the Jews are lying about him, and I guess there's not much more that he could say. Who is Felix going to believe?? It's a bit surprising that we read in verse 22 that Felix "had an accurate understanding of the Way." Maybe he would have been sympathetic to Paul...if he had rendered a ruling.

So, Felix doesn't make any decision--way to go there, big guy--and says he'll wait for Lysias to show up from Jerusalem. Maybe it makes sense that he's going to hear Lysias' version of the story...except that Lysias never shows up and Felix just keeps meeting with Paul, hoping Paul will give him bribe money. Really? Bribe money? Because Paul has extra cash sitting around? And I'm sure Paul appreciated that Felix brought his wife with him, whom he'd apparently stolen from some other guy. Smooth. He just didn't get it. And then, after 2 years, he was gone and some other ruler came in, and still, Paul sat in prison, for no reason. Pitiful.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lenten Daily Post--Day 17

I decided to type as I read this morning, instead of taking notes and finding time to type later...

Acts 22:30-23:11--Paul appears before the Jewish Council
Paul gets a little spicy here! I mean, if I were standing in front of a whole council of people and the high priest ordered them to hit me in the mouth, I think I'd have something to say about that, too, but he calls the high priest a name, and everything! And then he gets the whole council all riled up into a dispute and has to be taken away for his own safety. Is that what he meant to do? I don't know, but it worked!

Acts 22:12-35--A murder plot discovered
Seriously, didn't the Jewish leaders have anything better to do with their time than to plot to kill people? What's with these guys??

We learn in verse 16 that Paul has a nephew who is where he hears about this planned ambush. That's really intriguing. It's too bad we don't know anything more about Paul's family.

The Roman commander orders a whole lot of soldiers to accompany Paul to the governor, which my study Bible says is to show that he takes protecting a Roman citizen seriously. I wonder if he wanted to protect Paul that closely, or if he just felt it was his duty. He didn't hesitate to mistreat Paul before he knew he was a Roman citizen, that's for sure! There are so many interesting twists in this story! It's hard to tell who's telling the truth and who's lying! You know, they made a 14-episode mini-series about the Emperor Claudius's life...Paul's could be just about as interesting--and have more redeeming power to it, right?!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Third Sunday in Lent

Just a short little note for today...since it's Sunday...

Acts 22:1-29--Paul's defense
As Paul defends himself in front of the crowd in Jerusalem, most of what he says in verses 1-16 is recounting his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Interestingly, in verse 9 he says that the people traveling with him saw the light but didn't hear the voice, which is the opposite of what it says in Acts 9, my study Bible points out. Paul gives some new information in verses 17-21, about a vision he had in the temple, which is pretty interesting. I wonder why we haven't read about this before in Acts.

As Paul concludes, the crowd does what we read about so often--they get violent and crazy and just about take care of Paul themselves. The officials get ready to start beating Paul before asking any questions until, uh-oh, Paul points out that he's a Roman citizen (v. 25). Oops! Why does this keep happening?! I wonder what news coverage of these events would look like today...something to think about...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 16 (40 Days is a LONG time...)

Let me just say that this seemed like a much better idea before I actually had to do it. I don't mind taking notes on my reading, but blogging every day is not nearly as fun as I thought it would be...

Oh, and by the way, the section titles I use in my notes are usually what the Common English Bible uses.

Acts 21:1-17--Paul Travels to Jerusalem
At every stop Paul makes on the way to Jerusalem, people don't want him to go on because of what he's going to face there. It tells us that the Spirit lets the people know what Paul will face in Jerusalem, and the prophet Agabus even prophesies about how it will happen, but still Paul refuses to change his plans. Maybe Paul is just ready for it, but nobody else wants it to happen to him. (By the way, when Agabus uses his belt to show how he will be bound, the belt was probably more like a rope than the belts most of us wear.)

Verse 17 tells us they were welcomed warmly in Jerusalem, but we know that will change...dunh, dunh, dunnnn...

Acts 21:18-26--Meeting the Jerusalem church leaders
I don't really "get" this scene. Maybe I need to understand more about Jewish law or ritual, but it seems like they say, "Here, Paul, just do this ritual here, and that will prove to everyone that you aren't really teaching wrong things and that you are following the law." What was the big deal? Hadn't they already resolved this issue? And didn't Paul already know about the letter they mention to him in verse 25? Duh!

Acts 21:27-40--Paul seized by the people
Several things--
1. This is basically the same thing that happened so many other places. I don't know if we should expect it to happen more or less in Jerusalem.

2. In verse 29, the people assumed Paul had brought a gentile into the temple, but we all know what happens when we assume things...

3.  The Roman official arrests first and asks questions later. Good grief!

4. This passage does have some similarities to Jesus' trial, interestingly enough.

5. Is it really that difficult to tell the difference between an Egyptian and a Syrian? Maybe it is...I don't really know. But why did the Roman official assume Paul was this trouble-making Egyptian without finding out first? Giving law enforcement a bad name...geez.

I think we'll save Paul's defense in Acts 22 for another day. This is enough to ponder for today.

Daily Lenten Post, Day 15 (A Day Late)

I didn't get this typed up yesterday, but here's what I read...

Acts 20:1-6--Paul visits Macedonia and Greece
Reading about all of Paul's travel makes you wonder if they had frequent sail-er miles! I still wonder who the "we" is that he left without, but I don't think Acts ever tells us. From this passage, we know it's more than one person other than Paul, and they went somewhere different from Paul, then met back up at Troas. Very interesting...

Acts 20:7-12--Meeting with believers in Troas
This story is just crazy. Seriously. What on earth is going on here?? First of all, Paul could stay up and teach all night? And only one guy fell asleep? Wow! And then the one guy who does fall asleep (and my study Bible says something about deep sleep as a "perilous sign of inattentiveness"...hmm...) falls out the window and dies!! Paul doesn't get upset, though; he just goes outside and gets down on top the guy, says he's alive, and then goes back up and eats and talks until daybreak--no big deal. And people say the Bible isn't interesting! Wow.

Acts 20:13-36--Farewell to the Ephesian leaders
I like that this passage gives us insight into Paul's interaction with others and tells us his heart for following Christ. Even though his writing can get sort of irritating because he seems to have a very healthy ego, here in Acts we get a sense that he really does mean it when he says that he's not the center, Christ is. Would I have gone to Jerusalem, if I had the same sense of foreboding? How many of us would go through what Paul went through?

Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesian leaders is a really serious speech, and I bet the leaders weren't too terribly happy to have all of the warnings about what they might go through for their faith (verses 28-31). That their emotional leave-taking is recorded is kind of cool.

Verse 35 is very interesting: "In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak." This is not what a lot of people believe scripture says, I think. Isn't this the opposite of the old saying, "God helps those who help themselves"? It seems to me that a lot of people would much rather that saying were in the Bible, which it's not, than the other, which is directly from Paul. (And we get a lot of our theology from Paul, not from Jesus, as I guess we might realize from the fact that so many know the statement, "It's better to give than to receive," which Paul tells us Jesus said, even though it's not in the gospels.) What do we think about working hard, to help the weak? In some ways, we are willing to do that, but I think we qualify who is "weak" and why, before we'll work to help them. I guess I don't know for sure what Paul meant by the statement, but it's worth considering further.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 14

Acts 19:23-41--Riot in Ephesus
Don't you just feel sorry for those poor silversmiths? They thought Paul's preaching was going to ruin their souvenir business because no one would worship Artemis any more...and isn't that strange to think about? It seems difficult to imagine Christianity (The Way, as it was called then) being that big of a threat to just about any kind of business. I mean, Christianity, at least in the U.S., has participated in the commodification of our common life, to the point that there is a "Christian version" of just about every kind of entertainment and "thing" out there! (I mean, we'll draw a line at pornography, I'd say, but we've got music, movies, books--even romance novels--shirts, jewelry, and all kinds of other stuff.) Surely, Christianity is not now a threat to many consumer good-producing businesses, at least in this country. Perhaps it should be...

Anyway, as one of my readers notes, Acts 19:32 might characterize many of the meetings we have in the church today. It's interesting that one upset silversmith could get the people worked up to the extent that they came and rioted, but many of them had no idea why!

Verses 35-40 are a nice change from previous stories in Acts. For once, a local official stops the crowd and calms them down, instead of just doing what they want and arresting Paul. The magistrate pretty much says, "Let's be sensible and do this the legal way, guys." My study Bible makes this note: "The Jewish historian Josephus reports that Jewish custom didn't permit slandering other gods or defiling their temples." The people of Ephesus could rest assured, then, that Paul wasn't really trying to preach against Artemis. I guess they probably didn't know much about Jewish customs, though, so they wouldn't have known that.

What would it be like if Christians actually preached and followed the gospel, to the extent that it would threaten the livelihoods of those whose wealth comes at the expense of others' well-being? How many of us and those who are active in our churches would have to make changes in the ways we use our money, what we buy, and how we treat others?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 13

Just under the wire, here's today's post...(not necessarily well proofread...)

First, I want to share a quote from an article in the current issue of Alive Now, discussing Sabbath, which I mentioned yesterday. This is by Lynne M. Baab, in an article called "A Sabbath from Brokenness":
"In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is a day for prayers of thanks but not for prayers of intercession. I find this deeply thought-provoking. On the six work days of each week, we are called to partner with God in ministry to our hurting, broken world. This partnership includes praying for the enormous needs we see each day all around us in our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, as well as the needs we hear about in the news...On the Sabbath, however, we are invited to set aside those prayers for that day, to let go of our awareness of our own brokenness and the brokenness that affects the physical creation and all who dwell in it. We are invited into the abundance of God, who made a world so extravagantly provisioned that even the Creator and Sustainer could rest for a day after creating it. We are invited to enjoy a flower, a tree, a cloud, a cup of tea, the smile on the face of a loved one. We are invited to thank God for the good things in our lives. We are invited to rest in God's goodness."

Acts 18:25-28--Apollos
So, the scripture tells us that Apollos was good guy--a good speaker and teacher--but he needed further instruction, so Priscilla and Aquila took him in, taught him more about Jesus, and then sent him on. They didn't kick him out and call him a heretic, which seems to be one way we deal with those who teach what we think is incorrect or incomplete. On the other hand, though, I've had people decide to teach me what I'm supposed to believe because I was "wrong," and I didn't really appreciate that, so I guess it can go both ways.

Acts 19:1-22--Paul in Ephesus
I wonder if verses 1-7 are where people make an argument for re-baptizing, though the two baptisms are entirely different, I think. It seems odd that Paul finds this group of believers who just weren't taught everything and had no idea about being baptized in Jesus' name and receiving the Holy Spirit. Are we to assume that Apollos taught them, or maybe that Apollos had been one of them? I don't really know. I also wonder if this is where people get the "Jesus only" baptism theology. I don't know much about that, though.

In verse 10, Paul starts the pattern of teaching as he has before, but he stays there for two years, which is really a long time, so I guess it makes sense that "everyone...heard the Lord's word," in that time. Wow!

I'm really intrigued by verses 11-12, where Paul does many miracles. I wonder if it didn't seem just like magic or sorcery to the people, though. It's interesting that it doesn't mention the Holy Spirit this time, but does say that this is from God.

Verses 13-17 are really cool, in not the most wholesome of ways. I mean, talk about getting what's coming to you! That is impressive and entertaining that the evil spirit would take on fake healers like that. Don't mess with evil spirits if you're not really casting them out in Jesus' name, eh??!

And then, we read about these sorcerers burning all of their stuff, which would have been worth a lot of money. That's a really impressive show of "changing their hearts and lives," as the Common English Bible usually translates the word "repent." What do we have to show for our repenting?

Finally, Paul decides to leave, and things seem fine...but we'll see about that later...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Daily Lenten Post, Day 12

I did read Acts 18:1-23 today, but I also read the Old Testament lection for Sunday, and I'm going to write about that today.

Exodus 20:1-17--The Ten Commandments
So, maybe we don't think of the Ten Commandments as anything that interesting to write about, but I actually think they are. For all the hoopla people make about them, I wonder how many could actually list them all. How many of us actually follow them, too? They may seem like basic rules, but they're not really all easy to follow. You can let me know if you disagree.

We convince ourselves that we're doing the first two pretty well--having no other gods and worshiping no idols--but I'm not always convinced of that, in my own life, at least. There are always lots of things that distract us from God, and I believe that we sometimes just worship them, in one way or another. I mean, I went to Duke Divinity School. When people crack the old "Duke Chapel isn't the only place people worship at Duke" joke, it's not entirely a joke...

So, we move on to the third commandment: don't use God's name frivolously. I'm sometime surprised at how I let this one slip. I never used to, when I was younger, but my habits have changed as I've found myself living and working around different people. I'd really like to break myself of this again, and reading this scripture makes that sound like a really good idea!

Ah, the fourth commandment--keep the Sabbath day holy. I probably shouldn't even get started on how much contemporary culture's disregard for this bothers me. Honestly, it's not even so much that so many people don't go to church that gets to me. What concerns me so much is the inability we have to ever stop and rest. I'm not exempt from the temptation to work, work, work, all the time, but I try to guard some time for rest and re-connection with God. Isn't there value in stopping everything for a day or so, every now and then? Do we really need stores that are open 24 hours a day, or stores that are open 365 days a year? Couldn't we all take a breather??

Moving on, we have the command to "honor your father and mother," which my study Bible says actually means to take care of parents in their old age. If that's the case, we have completely misrepresented this commandment for centuries. Also, if that's the case, there are a lot of people not following this one. I get frustrated when older members of a church are not being cared for by children who are capable of doing so. I won't preach about that here, though.

We might think that "do not kill" is pretty cut and dried, but some of your translations say "do not murder," instead, and that's where there's some debate.

"Do not commit adultery...Do not steal." Well, you get the point there.

I was always raised to believe that "do not bear false witness" just meant do not lie. It really is more of an injunction against slander, though, right? Don't drag someone's name through the mud and abuse it. Earlier, we were told not to do that with God's name. It makes sense that we shouldn't do that with others, too. I wonder if this means that I need to learn to speak more positively about people, even when I disagree with them. Probably so.

Finally, we're told not to desire what's not ours. My study Bible notes that this was meant for people who have wealth not to take advantage of people who don't. That's not really the way we boil it down for our kids, though, and it has a lot more implications for all of us who "have," if we look at it that way. The end game is not to amass wealth, and especially not at the cost of others.

Well, that's probably a closer look at the Ten Commandments than I've taken for a long time. I know of preachers who do whole sermon series on these, one at a time, though, so maybe this is something to keep in mind...

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lenten Daily Post, Day 11 (I think)

This whole keeping track of what day of Lent we're in AND not counting the Sundays might make my head explode, by the time Easter gets here!! So, whatever day of Lent it actually is, here's my post for today:

Acts 17:16-34--Paul in Athens
I like the story of Paul in Athens, at least in part because I've been to Athens and I know some things about Greek culture. I've seen the agora, the Acropolis, and the Areopagus (which the Common English Bible translates as "Mars Hill"), which are all mentioned in this passage. So, unlike other days when I said that all the place names are meaningless to me, these mean something to me, and that does make the story more interesting to me, I think. Maybe I need to do some more traveling!

Anyway, I laugh when I read verse 21, where the writer says that all the people in Athens did nothing but talk about the newest thing all the time. That is so how we picture philosophers, isn't it? And it's how we might imagine theologians doing their "work," too, for that matter. Of course, Paul knows that is not the only way we "do" faith, but when in Rome, as they say, right? ;)

So Paul adapts really well to his audience here, to try to get the point across to some of these Athenians. He succeeds, too! Now, maybe he would have hoped for more converts, but at least he got some, right? Despite how annoyed we might get with Paul, I think his strategy here is really impressive--he is so learned and culturally aware, and he's very knowledgeable and clever. It's interesting that the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in this story, and that Paul does not mention Jesus' name, but I wonder if that's not a literary device. The identity of God is hidden, in order to appeal more to the Greeks, but God is at work so very plainly to see. It's like the story of Esther--Esther can't speak about God, but God is very much at work in her story, we believe.

What do you think about Paul's trip to Athens? Does he just try to blend in with the culture, or does he employ a good strategy for reaching people "where they are," as they say? I think the comments feature is enabled, so you can comment below. If not, you can email me at betzy.elifrits.warren@gmail.com and I'll see if I can fix it. I'd love to read your feedback!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Second Sunday in Lent

For today, we're back to Acts. This one is short, but hey, Sunday posts are bonus posts, right?

Acts 17:1-15
After reading verses 5-9, I have some serious misgivings about law and order in that society! The Jews found some thugs, and when they couldn't find Paul and Silas at the house where they'd been staying, they just made trouble for the homeowner and his family and got them arrested. What??!

So Paul and Silas headed on to Beroea, and at least things went slightly better there...until some jerks from Thessalonica showed up and stirred up trouble all over again. I really think they should have had something better to do.

That's a question I have a lot in the book of Acts. It seems like the "bad guys" spend a lot of time just following Paul and his companions around and trying to get rid of them. I guess that shouldn't be too surprising, though. After all, that's pretty much what Paul was up to when he was still called Saul, wasn't it? He spent so much time and energy searching for and persecuting people who were followers of The Way, that he was really well known for it. It's ironic how the tables have turned, eh?