Christian living- dealing with one 'oops' at a time…

Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

What Was Jesus Like?

A tree with the sun rising above it
Photo by Matija Barrett

Who Is Jesus?

Jesus is God, on earth.

He is man, showing us how to live as a human in a fallen world.

He came as a child, to a poor family. His method of coming left a stigma on him and his family as his legitimacy was questioned. He did not come as the long-awaited child of a righteous high priest and his wife, in a manner similar to many of the patriarchs (barren wife who miraculously gives birth) like John the Baptist did, though he could have. Instead, he arrived in a manger to an unknown couple with no status but good hearts that also wanted to follow God faithfully.

His childhood is largely unknown, but we do know that at 12 years old he stayed behind at the Temple, discussing scripture with the elite scholars of the time. His parents came to look for him and he tells them that he is doing the work of his father. His parents do not understand, and he bows to their earthly authority and leaves with them even though he has just made it clear that his true father is God. While he is God on earth, he respects the rules and authority He/ God put in place in scripture even though technically, as God, they do not apply to him as He has authority over man. As a child, he obeys his parents, even when he is right, and those in authority (his parents) do not understand.  

His first miracle mirrors this fact. His mother comes to him about a problem at a wedding that will embarrass the couple; there is not enough wine. He tells her that it is not his time, indicating that although he can help, it would not be appropriate to do so now. His mother ignores this and trusts that he will remedy the situation, and he does. He obeys his mother, giving her the desire of her heart even though it is not the perfect time to do so, and the only problem it solves is merely one of embarrassment to a young couple. This incident shows Jesus as an adult, not yet completely out from under his mother’s authority. It also shows us that God cares about the “little” things in our lives, that often seem very “big” to us in the moment.

He does not however obey his mother later when he is active in ministry. His mother arrives with his brothers and wants him to come home, where it is safe, as people are becoming upset with his teachings. Things have changed. He is an adult, no longer living at home, and he is involved in active ministry. He does not disrespect her but is no longer under the obligation to obey. God, as Jesus, shows us what it means to grow into an adult and leave your parent’s household.

Jesus’ ministry shows us not to fear doing the right thing even if it is counter cultural. He does not study under another rabbi. (He is God, so this is likely not a lesson for mere humans.) He calls his disciples instead of having disciples come to him. This is also different from the way things are typically done, and shows us how God relates to us, always calling, not waiting for us, but actively seeking a relationship. Still, we must choose to follow.

Jesus addresses the issues of the time, clarifying what in society is right and what is wrong. He is not afraid to behave in a manner that goes against the norm when the norm is too restrictive and adds extra burdens to following God’s laws, such as not picking grain on the sabbath when you are hungry.

Jesus also rests. He has mercy on people and does many great things, but he also takes time to be with God. He takes care of His needs and his relationship with His Father.

Jesus teaches by asking questions and leading people to the right conclusions. Jesus is not overly authoritative. Instead, he allows his disciples to think and gives them the information they need to come to the proper conclusions.

Jesus also does not set up a hierarchy in his group. He refuses to say who is the top disciple, and the place of honor, sitting at his feet, is left open. Ironically the one time someone does sit there, it is Mary, and Jesus defends her choice. He also includes women in his ministry in a way that was not done in this culture. Women follow him, listen to his teachings, along with the children, and support his ministry financially. It is a woman who will be the first to tell people that he had risen.

Jesus feels pain and sadness. He does not wish to suffer yet does so for our sakes to the point of suffering both physical pain and humiliation on the cross. Then He rises from the dead, proving that he was not at the mercy of humans when he suffered but did so for us.

Jesus forgives both Peter’ and Thomas’ moments of denial/ disbelief. He understands our weaknesses and is greatly invested in the continuing relationship. He does not focus on the past issue but instead on the current state of the relationship.

There are many more points to consider about the character of Jesus, but these are a few to think about today.

Why was Jesus Angered? Mark 1

Mark 1:40-43 And a leper came to him, begging him, and saying to him, “If you desire to, you can purify me.” Angered, (Jesus) stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I desire, be pure!” And immediately the leper left him, and he was purified. And growling at him, (Jesus) immediately cast him away, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priests, and offer your purification what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Instead, (the former leper) went out and began to talk about it, and to spread the news, with the result that (Jesus) was not longer able to enter into a town openly, but stayed outside in deserted places.

This passage in Mark is more correctly translated with the word angered, but some translations do choose a more obscure translation of “with compassion” as they do not feel “angered” fits Jesus’ nature. Considering the fact that the people did not feel that they could go to the priests, following the laws of Moses, and that they needed to instead go to Jesus, likely angered Jesus. It was not so much the leper, as the situation. And, after instructing the man not to tell anyone, he told everyone, which caused Jesus issues, further confirms that Jesus had a right to be angry. When someone does not do his job, or follow the rules, to the point where another needs to step in, the system breaks down! This may seem like a minor point, as the priests likely did not believe they were neglectful or unapproachable, and the man likely thought he was helping everyone out by telling them where to go to be healed, but it caused a major change in Jesus’ ability to minister to the people.

Application for today: Think about: How often do you skirt your responsibilities, thinking someone else will handle it?

Example: One of the places I see this happening is in the raising of children, particularly in their education. We can use an example I observed of my granddaughters. One was homeschooled and the other was online in public school. My son was sitting in between them. The homeschooled child was learning to write a letter, while the public-school child was getting yet another lecture about basic behavior, including instructions on how to speak nicely to our friends. (She was not the source of the problem fortunately! Similar instructions are also repeated in every college class that uses a discussion format unfortunately….)

What I see today is that both teachers and parents are often not receptive to communication making them effectively unapproachable. Additionally, parents are often not checking homework, or correcting behavior, and/or making excuses for their child’s performance and they assume that the teacher should be responsible for much more than is reasonable. If the teacher has to teach any child in the class basic behavior that should have been taught at home, then there is not much time left for math and English! (There are teachers who are less than stellar. I understand. That is a problem that needs to be brought to the administration and not the scenario we are discussing here….)

Thiessen, Matthew. Jesus and the Forces of Death: The Gospels’ Portrayal of Ritual Impurity Within First-century Judaism. Baker Academic, 2020.

Jacob: From Deceiver to a Man of Truth

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Photo by Matija Barrett

The Story of Jacob is a lesson in parallels, as often occurs in Biblical texts.

Jacob flees Esau:
He meets 3 flocks of sheep by the well, Rachel arrives last, he embraces her and cries. (Supposedly because he knows he has nothing, and cannot marry. Seeing this woman, whom he is immediately drawn to, drives home his desperate situation.)

Jacob meets Esau when he is returning:
He sends 3 flocks of sheep, he arranges for Esau to meet Rachel last, he embraces Esau and cries.

Jacob has the wealth of the land and the girl. He attempted to steal the blessing from Esau, now he attempts to bless Esau (reversal of behavior- repentance, new behavioral paradigm- though not perfect since it is still based in fear, it is at least not an attempt at deception, but a straight-forward dealing with the issue.) Jacob now has married the girl and has wealth and a family of his own (a reversal of fortune). He embraces Esau, and Esau embraces him. He is returning to family, where before he was estranged, running from family.

Jacob is known in Christian circles as the deceiver, but in Jewish circles as a man of truth. Here we see the turning point where Jacob goes from being a person who sets up a deception to get what he wants, to a person who handles situations in a straight forward, much more honest manner, and lets the chips fall where they may. He is becoming a man of truth, and has apparently learned that a life of deception is just not worth it.
Where are you in your journey? When you mess up, do you face your fears head on or do you make excuses and try to deceive people into thinking the situation is other than it is? How does this look in our lives today? When you forget to call someone, do you say that you did and they just must not have gotten it, or that you must have misdialed? When you drop the ball, do you admit to your mistake and do everything in your power to go above and beyond to try to fix it, or do you make excuses and blame other things, stating it was not your fault, spending more time and energy on deception than on actually fixing the problem? When we examine our lives, we often find that in the little things, we may be more like Jacob the deceiver, than the Jacob, who faces a brother who can kill him, head on. And, when we realize that most people just do not waste their energy confronting small lies, but do know they are being lied to, we begin to realize that the small lies are ruining our reputation and hurting our relationships, and are really just not worth it in the end- a lesson Jacob learned in a much larger way!

The Awesomeness of Abraham

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We are all well aware that Abraham was a man of awesome faith, mainly because we are told so. But have you really thought about it?
Here is a man who left all he was comfortable with to go to a land where he lived in tents and traveled as the land he was promised experienced famines so severe he could not feed his people, yet he still believed. But there is more…

So what else makes Abraham so awesome?
1. He takes in his brother’s son, Lot, and raises him, not merely as his own, but as his equal. Upon the death of a brother, his son is to inherit all that his father had. This means that in adulthood, the nephew would have possessions equal to his uncles, since he would have all that his father should have had if his father had survived. Abraham moves to a new land. His brother does not have an inheritance in this land, yet Abraham ensures that Lot prospers in a way that it equal to what Abraham has, fulfilling his duty to his brother in a way that goes above and beyond what is expected.
2. Abraham raises Lot to be prosperous and a leader of many, even though Lot’s people will be competition for Abraham and his people, which eventually does occur.
3. When Lot’s people become a problem for the people of Abraham, and they need to separate, Abraham gives Lot the choice of which land is to be his, and which is left to Abraham. Abraham does not have to do this. Lot is younger, and was raised by Abraham. His prosperity is partially due to Abraham, so Abraham has a right to ‘first dibs.’ Abraham however gives Lot the choice and does not argue when Lot takes what he considers the better land by the city. (Though this land’s position near the city will later become a temptation to Lot, as he moves into the city, this is not known at the time of the choosing.)
4. When Lot and his people are captures by multiple kings, Abraham takes his people and rescues them, risking his own safety. This not only demonstrates the heart of Abraham, but his might. Abraham is a powerful man with a powerful army.
5. Abraham is able to defeat multiple kings, but does not conquer his neighbors. Instead he lives peacefully with them, and does not covet what they have.
6. Abraham keeps his commitment to Sarah, even though she is barren. Abraham could have replaced Sarah with a wife who would produce children, but he did not. His siring a son from Hagar was Sarah’s idea, and the child was to be raised as if it were Sarah’s, though this plan fell short as Hagar displeased Sarah before the child was born. Abraham remained heirless into his 90s, after he thought Sarah was well passed child-bearing age, honoring his commitment to her.
7. Abraham begs God for mercy in dealing with Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham knows Lot and his family reside there, and is likely thinking of their safety, as well as the people of the city. Ironically, after the cities are destroyed, Lot and his daughters do not seek refuge with Abraham, indicating that there may be hard feelings between the two. Abraham, despite whatever may have happened in the past, works in Lot’s best interest, even if Lot’s pride does not allow him to return to his uncle’s camp (where his daughters could have found godly husbands!) even temporarily. Instead Lot still longs for the city, and not the safety of the man who raised and blessed him, and even rescued him in his time of need. (Pride does this at times. Even though Lot is godly enough to be saved from the destruction of the city, he is not comfortable enough to seek the shelter of another godly man in his time of need who has made better choices than he has.)
8. Abraham asks Sarah to help prepare the meal for the three visitors and helps with the preparation. He does not order her, as, in this culture and with his standing, he has a right to. He respects his wife. This leads to a Jewish teaching which instructs the man to help his wife when preparing for guests lest she be overworked and not wish to provide hospitality, something that is very important in Jewish culture. Abraham also promises the visitors a small meal, and blesses them with a large one, leading to the teaching that it is better to promise little and give more, than promise more, and disappoint by providing little. It is also better to ask your wife first, before promising much! The point here is that Abraham’s actions show him to be a good husband, respectful of his wife’s time and hard work. Gen 18
9. Abraham does not rebuke his wife for listening in on the conversation he has with the visitors. When Sarah is promised a baby she laughs. Whether she laughs in her heart and the Lord knows, so her saying she did not laugh is not a complete lie, or whether it was out loud, and she did lie is up for debate. What is not up for debate was that she was hiding behind the curtain of the tent listening in (as women likely did in that day to ensure they knew what their husbands were up to). The Lord and the angels include Sarah in the conversation as if she were present without the barrier and Abraham does not rebuke her for her actions. This shows Abraham’s trust for his wife, and his inclusion of her in all aspects of his life, as he expects she is there and is not upset about it. It also shows that God does not expect her to be far from this conversation regarding her future as well. It is society that places her behind the curtain, not her husband or God and His messengers, and somehow Abraham knows her worth, even though she is barren and thus of low value in the society they live in.
10. Abraham believes God even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. Now even though we are told in Hebrews that Abraham believed that God would bring Isaac back from the dead, this is still an incredibly difficult thing for a father to do! (As a mother, it makes me shudder to even think about it!) Both Abraham and Isaac share the faith with this one. Isaac is old enough to carry the wood etc for the offering, and obviously old enough to know what is going on and overpower his father to save his life, yet he lays down willingly, trusting both God and his father with some incredible faith of his own! Heb 11: 19
There are two Jewish traditions regarding Abraham that may, or may not be true.
One is the story of a young Abraham, that worked in the shop of his father, an idol-maker. Abraham is left to watch the shop, and while his father is away, he destroys all of the idols but one, putting the implement of destruction into the hand of the remaining idol. When his father returns, he asks Abraham why he has done this. Abraham replies that it was not him, but the remaining idol that slayed the others. His father accuses Abraham of lying, as he knows the idols are wood and metal and cannot do such a thing. Abraham (Abram, since his name was not yet changed) replies, ‘Then why do we worship them if they have no power?’
The other tradition is based on the fact that Isaac and Rebekah move into Sarah’s tents after they are married. Why does Sarah have her own tents? There are many possible reasons for this, but one tradition has Sarah essentially leaving Abraham after she finds out about the almost sacrifice of her son! Another tradition has Abraham telling Isaac on his way back from the mountain that he is not to tell his mother what just happened. Both may be true, as we know the story did get told, though maybe not through Abraham and Isaac, but through servants who traveled with them, as it is recorded in scripture today. The fact remains that Abraham likely had a very tense conversation, or two, or more, regarding this event after his return! (and scripture does not tell us how Sarah took the news when she found out!)

God’s Covenant with the Women of Israel

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Jesus called the woman whom He healed after she was bent over for eighteen years a ‘daughter of Abraham’ indicating that women have an equal place in the covenant God established with the nation of Israel (Lk 13: 16) but there are specific blessings in the Old Testament to the matriarchs which may surprise you!
Sarah and Abraham (Sarai and Abram) receive new names in Genesis 17. God is establishing His covenant with Abraham and the generations that will be produced from the union of Abraham and Sarah. Sarai becomes Sarah, which means ‘queen,’ while Abram becomes Abraham, which means ‘father of many.’ God describes Himself in scripture as both a father and a king/ ruler. Here we see the duel nature of God described in the naming of the patriarch and matriarch of the future nation of Israel. Interestingly God gives Abraham the title of father, the paternal, nurturing side of God, while He grants Sarah the title of queen, the ruling, more authoritative role. This is very counter-cultural, even for today. What this shows us is that Abraham and Sarah are a team, and that together they represent the fullness of what God has planned for Israel.
Abraham also has other children. While we all know of his child, Ishmael, by Hagar, it is sometimes missed that he has other children by concubines and his second wife, taken after the death of Sarah, Keturah. (Gen 25: 1-6, 1 Chron 1:32) There is something special about the motherhood of Sarah, and it is through the union of Abraham and Sarah, not just the descendants of Abraham alone, that God establishes the covenant. It is not good enough to be fathered by Abraham to be a son or daughter of the covenant. One must be fathered by Abraham AND his wife Sarah to receive this commission. While Abraham is an awesome man, there is something special about his wife Sarah that makes the combination exactly what God desires for the parentage of His people.
There are also blessings for the matriarchs. They mirror the covenantal blessings, so they are often overlooked. The fact that the blessings of the covenant are repeated to the women, as well as to the men, indicates that this is not a covenant that is merely passed down through the male line, but a covenant for all of Israel, male and female. The women, as well as the men, are important. We see this emphasized in the unfortunate fact that of the godly kings of Judah, of which there are few (and this is the unfortunate part), all have Jewish mothers, while the less godly kings are the result of their fathers taking pagan wives. While there are exceptions, like Bathsheba, Tamar, Ruth and Rahab, there is a pattern. These ‘exceptions’ however, while not born Jewish, are women who come to faith in God, indicating that the blessings of the covenant are not so much for those born of a certain race, but for those who have faith in the One true God as well.
The blessing of Sarah is found in Genesis 17: 16 which reads, ‘And I (God) will bless her, and give thee a son also of her, yea, I will bless her, and she shall be the mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her (KJV).’ Rebekah too is blessed by her family prophetically in Genesis 24: 60 ‘And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.’ These blessings show that the covenant is established with both the man and the woman, and, like with the men, it is renewed in each generation.
Marriage is the union of two people who become one unit. In scripture we see the importance of both the husband AND the wife in the activity of God and His people. And, just to make it interesting, God gives the queen/ ruler designation to the woman (Sarah), and the father/ parental-nurturer designation to the man (Abraham)! As the people of the time tended to follow societal traditions, ascertaining what this truly means is difficult. What we know for certain, through examples and scriptural commands, is that the woman has wisdom and a man would be a fool to ignore the counsel of his godly wife and believe that he is to shoulder all of the responsibilities of the household alone. (Think: Abigail and Nabal, Proverbs 31, Samson’s mother, etc.)

Revelation: A Different Look

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Just finished a course from Israel Bible Center on Revelation. Dr. Ralph Corner brings up an interesting point. What if the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls are not meant to be read as sequential events, ones happening right after another, but as different aspects of the same events, described for different purposes? Since we know the gospel of John, which was written by the same author, is grouped by theme, or topic and is not written in an orderly fashion with respect to time, this is indeed a possibility. John also likes to use a chiastic structure, which involves repetition and the main points being placed in the middle of the argument rather than at the end, where we tend to like it. We see this as well in the book of Revelation, as well as the gospel of John, which makes it just that much harder for us as modern readers, not used to this style, to understand!
So let’s look at what we would expect if the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls described the same events.
First we would expect repetition of the same types of things, and this is what we do see. There is an earthquake in both the seals and the bowl sections, the sun darkens in all three, the moon turns red/ darkens in the seals and trumpets, the stars fall in the seals and trumpets, the mountains move in all sections, the islands move in the seals and the bowls, men seek to hide, mourn etc in all, war occurs in all- in Armageddon , on the great plain which is likely Armageddon and with an army of 200 million, which would only fit into a great open space, likely Armageddon. There is famine occurring in all three sections, as well as pestilence. Hail occurs in the trumpets and the bowl sections, the sea turns to blood in the trumpet and bowl sections, ships and cargo are effected in the trumpet and bowl section and God states it is finished in both the trumpet and bowl sections, which Jesus also states on the cross (something we will explore later, as these events are similar to the judgements as well!).
So there is a lot of similarity of what will happen in each section. Not complete overlap, but if the events are being related to a theme, not everything will be needed to prove each point, so we expect some things to be left out. So what are the themes?
This is actually fairly easy, as Revelations tells us. The theme of the Seals is the Jesus/ God is the owner of the world and He is coming back to reclaim His kingdom! John is therefore telling us that He has the power, authority, ability and the willingness to judge the earth and punish the wicked, but there is also a theme that He does so in a way to drive men to repentance, and that you would have to be very hard hearted to resist.
The next ‘theme’ is the trumpets, which are a Biblical call to war, or announcement, or, in this case, both. The trumpet warns you of what is to come, so we see the events in the trumpets being the cusp of further problems, warning the saints to get ready, hunker down and stand strong, it is going to get bad. There are also promises in each section though, indicating that the saints will be spared some of the worst as they will be sealed. They may not be ‘spared’ as we would like to be spared, singing and dancing unaffected, as we know a great many are martyred, but there will be some protection and great rewards in heaven, so hold fast!
The final section is the bowls. This seems to describe exactly what is going to happen and is the most detailed. There is argument as to whether some of this has already happened in history or not, as we have had wars, and famine etc, but regardless, this is a section that tells us what is to come and it gives greater detail than the first two sections regarding many of the same types of events.
These events also mirror the crucifixion when there was an earthquake, and the sun went dark. Although Jesus wishes to not drink from the cup, we know that He did, and in Revelation we see that this cup, the cup of God’s Wrath is being poured out. It also states in the section on the bowl judgements that ‘it is finished,’ a statement Jesus made on the cross. These crucifixion events appear to be a foreshadowing of the end, when Jesus takes ownership of the world. He is the rightful owner, and suffers and dies for us. Those who believe will join Him in heaven, while those who stubbornly refuse will perish. At the crucifixion, His suffering brings us to Him. In Revelation, our suffering shows us a glimpse of what life apart from our Creator will really be like and begs us not to choose it, though it is ultimately our choice.
My opinion: It is good to know about the events in the book of Revelation and study them well, looking at it from many different perspectives. It is the only book that promises blessings for those who do so. It is however bad to assume you have everything tied up and are sure you know exactly how everything will happen. This is prophecy. If you have ever studied prophecy in the Bible you know that while it is always true, the fulfillment is often not what one would expect. One of my Bible teachers (and it would be nice if I remembered which one so I could give them credit) stated that there were likely groups of disciples from other rabbis studying what the Messiah must look like, sure that they had it right, while Jesus strolled right by, unrecognized by the men. (Women would not be in such a group at this time, but likely some would have done the same if allowed!) So study, discuss, know what it actually says and not what you think it says, and don’t get too tied to any one theory because chances are on some aspect all will be wrong!

Why Do Prayers Sometimes Go Unanswered?


Ever wonder why your prayers are not answered?

In Christian circles we seem to believe ‘ask and you receive,’ yet we all know that this is not the way it happens. While God wants to bless us abundantly, there are some conditions regarding these requests. So some of our prayers go unanswered.
The book of Numbers may give us some clues as to why that is.

While wandering in the desert, the Israelites ‘asked’ for many different things. Some requests were granted, while others made God very angry and resulted in punishment.
Let’s explore what is a good thing to ask for, and what is not, and why that is.

First the Israelites complained about ‘adversity,’ or ‘hardship.’ God has organized the camps, gave people some things to carry, and then led the people visibly to the land He promised them. How did they respond? They complained. These former slaves who had just left miserable working conditions complained about the way God was personally leading them to a land of prosperity and freedom. Complaining about the work we have to do in order to get to our blessing is not the way to pray! God sent fire into the camps. He was not pleased.

Next we see them complaining because there is no meat. They are being fed miraculously with manna, for what is still supposed to be a short trip to the Promised Land. They are not satisfied with what they have, and want more. God provides them with so much they puke it out through their nostrils, and sends a plague. While it is Biblical to cry out to God when you are truly starving, it is not good to complain when He is providing you with what you need just because you think you deserve more.

Then we are told that Miriam and Aaron thought they deserved the position God gave Moses. Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses and explain why they believe that they, not Moses, should be the leader. Miriam is cursed with leprosy and forced to be outside the camp. In today’s society this would be like wanting to be the boss because you think you know better, so you do not follow the bosses instructions and do things your way instead. This also leads to ‘being outside the camp’ as you will not likely be promoted, but fired!

We then learn that ten of the spies come back and report that there is no way they can take the Promised Land that God has personally brought them to appearing as fire and a cloud and feeding them daily. They lose their blessing and God waits 40 years for their children to be ready. Prayer that shows a lack of faith that God will provide is not what God desires.

So what does this look like in real life:

God does not seem to like a life spent complaining about your current situation when, even though you do not seem to have all you want, if you currently have enough, God may be waiting on you to stop belly-aching to bless you! (It is okay to call out to God in scripture when you are truly suffering!). You are to be satisfied in your work, and not complain about what God has currently called you to do, so complaining about your job may keep you in it longer… You are not to go against leadership in ways that usurp their position. There are proper ways to deal with bad leadership; talking behind their backs, not respecting their authority and undermining the boss are not it. Remember, we are to do everything as if we are doing it for God, not man! Be the best employee you can and see what God does. (This is also a good way to get a promotion and be out from under your current boss…) And we are also to trust God to fulfill His promises. If you do not have a blessed life, rather than complain, make sure you are actually obeying God’s Word (because there are punishments for not doing so that you may be experiencing), make sure you are not being greedy (God may be waiting for your attitude change!) and make sure your desires are godly and not selfish. And make sure you are not missing His blessing by not recognizing the opportunity waiting for you, or by not being willing to do the hard work! (Remember, you won’t get into something like medical school without good grades and there is work to be done to get them! If God gave you the intelligence, are you using it?) Then sit back and trust God and see what He does!

So what type of prayer does God answer?

Within these passages are two requests that God is pleased with. One is the request of the people who are unclean who want to celebrate Passover. God is pleased and creates an alternate date for generations to come to celebrate Passover a month later. This group of people who have touched a dead body desire to be part of the community and to worship God corporately, but are currently unable to do so. God hears their request and grants them a way to participate, honoring their commitment. Prayers that keep you in community with God’s people, even if it not in the same way as others, are honored by God.

The second request is by the daughters of Zelophad. They wish that their father’s name not be lost in the community because he produced only daughters. God responds by saying it is right for daughters in cases like this to inherit, and again makes rules for others in similar situations. The daughters are demonstrating a few things here. One is that they trust the land will be successfully taken, something that the previous generation did not, so they are showing faith that what God said will be done, will actually be done. Secondly they are showing their willingness to be a part of the community and do the hard work of caring for the land even though they, as women, do not have to do this alone, outside a typical marital situation. They will be responsible for both the male and the female tasks of running a household and they are willing to do so for the sake of their family’s legacy, for the next generations. They also know their Bible, and are likely aware that Job’s daughters inherited land as well. As the book of Job is the oldest book of the Bible, this precedent is already in place and they are not letting Moses off the hook by ignoring God’s plan for women to have rights in Israel as well. Their request pleased God as it shows they trust that God will honor His promises, trust that God is the same God of those who came before (Job) and therefore will not change and go back on His Word, and a willingness to take on a more difficult role in order to preserve good things for their families. Trust and a willingness to do the work are a great combination. This is a selfless prayer. While they are asking for land, they are not asking for personal gain, and are trusting in God’s promises.

So, prayers that are not likely to be answered include: selfish desires/ greedy motives, complaints about hard work, desiring another’s position to the point of insubordination (not going about things the right way), and not trusting God to fulfill His promises.
Prayers that are answered: desires to be a part of God’s community, selfless desires that include a willingness to work hard to receive the promise, and desires that show you trust God to fulfill His promises and be true to His Word.

But remember, prayer is not a formula, but a relationship. We fast to draw closer to God, not to bribe Him into doing something for us- that is the way the pagans treat their gods! Satan quotes scripture, and when he tempts Jesus in the desert he uses a quote from the very scripture the people at the time believe should be repeated in order to keep him away! Vain repetition is not effective either. Just ask God for what you need with a sincere heart, be happy with what you do have, trust that He will be there for you, and obey His Word, repenting when obedience was not the option you chose… Remember, God asks us to approach Him as we would our earthly Father (a good one). Trust that He will do what is best in your life, but remember, there is typically a little work and adversity in everything too!

An ultimately, we must remember that God is in charge. He knows the beginning from the end and what is ultimately best. While some things seem to be so unfair, we must trust that there is a way and a plan and that He is ultimately in control.

How Demons Think

When I was in college a friend of mine had a satanic bible, so I read it. Unlike a Christian Bible, there are more than one version, and they are not all the same, or so I have been told. This ‘bible’ essentially explained that you do not have to do bad things to be satanic, you just have to do what you want. Essentially it encouraged you to be completely selfish and to feel good about prioritizing your desires above all else. This is the exact opposite message of the Christian Bible, where we are to be willing to lay down our lives for others, and to have a servant’s heart in every situation.
In the Christian Bible we are given glimpses of interactions between man and demons, and sometimes satan. Let’s take a look at these verses. Like the satanic bible, most of these interactions are not straight forward, but a deception, occasionally using what seems to be right to trick us into what is not good. For this reason it is good to be prepared, lest we too are deceived.
In the garden we see Eve interacting with the serpent. We are told he deceives her, and see a subtle twisting of the words of God’s commands. She is under the impression that she may not touch the fruit without consequences, which was not a part of the original command to Adam. She sees the serpent in the tree, presumably showing her that nothing is happening when he touches everything she may not. She is also told that God does not want her to be like Him, knowing the difference between good and evil. This is true, as God wants her to trust and follow Him, and not to try to be a ‘god’ unto herself, which He knows His creation will not do well when they try to be good all on their own. The serpent however makes this arrangement seem evil, as if God is depriving her of something, when God only wants to protect and provide for His creation. The serpent also implies that the eating of the fruit will not result in death. This is a half-truth, as the fruit will not immediately kill her, but it will start the process of aging and lead to an eventual death. The problems here: Overstating God’s laws so that the person believes them to be a lie when they realize the overstatement (which they do not realize is an addition to God’s actual law) is incorrect. Making God’s laws seem like they are depriving you of something good, when in actuality they are keeping you from consequences and a harder life. And, half-truths, making something seem like it is a lie because someone subtilty misrepresents it. Examine your life. Do you resort to these tactics? Do you fall for them? Demon-proof your life a little better by realizing that these things are not the way God wants us to interact with the world.
In Matthew 4 we see Jesus interacting with satan in the desert. Satan is able to quote scripture, including Psalm 91 which was believed by the people of this time to ward off demons! (Their was a reference to demons repeatedly causing the issues listed in some Greek commentary like versions of the time.) Satan quotes scripture, but he quotes it in isolation and misapplies it. Jesus counters with verses which contradict satan’s biblical references showing satan that his interpretation is in error. Quoting scripture out of context and not balancing scripture with scripture is another ploy of the devil to throw us off the right path. There are a lot of things we wish the Bible said, because they fit with a life view we currently enjoy, or may have been taught by well meaning people we love. But if your interpretation of scripture clearly contradicts passages which occur elsewhere you need to examine your views closely and be open to changing your mind. The fact that satan can quote scripture, especially one people recited to keep him away, shows us that merely quoting scripture is not good enough. Those who cast out demons are those known as servants of the Most High God. Being a believer is your protection, not recitation and repetition of words, no matter how inspired they are. Trust God, not a formula to keep the demons at bay.
In Acts 16: 16-18 we meet a demon possessed slave girl who is shouting that Paul and his companions are servants of the Most High God. What she is saying is the truth, but the timing of this revelation is not proper, and Paul drives the demon out as he becomes exasperated with her actions. In Dan 10:13 we see a fallen angel blocking the archangel Michael and holding up God’s response to Daniel’s prayer. Demons use the truth, but rush or delay God’s timing. There is a time and a place for everything. Rushing the process when it is not God’s timing is not good either. Make sure you have the patience to wait for when the timing is right, but also the courage to be ‘strong and courageous’ when God calls you to act. The devil wishes to mess up God’s timing as well as His plans. Discerning when God wishes you to go forward leads to a more rewarding life!
While demons do cause disease, throw the possessed into danger (such as a fire), make people violent or prone to sin in scripture, the tactics that we typically fall for are much more subtle. And lastly, remember, godly people are selfless not selfish. The teaching I see most twisted in this respect is where Paul states that a wife’s body is her husband’s and the husband’s body belongs to his wife. 1 Cor 7:4 What most people see in this verse is that the wife is not to say no to the husband when he desires her. This is a very selfish interpretation of this scripture. Instead it should be read as a spouse should treat the other person’s body the way they would want to be treated, making sure there is pleasure for the other and not forcing the other person into situations they are not comfortable with. While not depriving a spouse is part of this thinking of the other, like everything else in scripture both people are to have a servant’s heart type attitude, only wanting what is best for the other and not what is ‘best for themselves alone. It is not ‘your body is mine so I can do what I want with it,’ but ‘your body is precious to me as if it were my own so I will take the best care of it I can and ensure it has everything it needs and desires!’ It’s a subtle, but very profound difference that turns a marriage into something wonderful.
Pride is also a condition we all suffer from at times that makes us want to be better and have more than others in ways that are not good. 1 Timothy 3: 6 warns us not to put a novice into an exalted position as pride may cause him to eventually fall. This can occur in a Christian life when we use our Christianity to make us feel superior as well. Jesus rebuked the leaders of His time for this one, and it is an easy sin to fall into. One of my Jewish rabbis who I like to listen to once remarked that he wished the large donors would sit in the front in the seats they are given in recognition of their donation instead of sitting in the rear. They were causing more trouble in the synagogue by showing false humility, than they would have been if they had taken the seat of honor that had been assigned to them! Their false-humility was actually a source of getting more kudos and raising their status. True humility would have meant keeping anyone from knowing what they had done… Knowing our true worth is good. We cannot help others by saying we are not competent when we actually are! When we have pride however we are not open to correction and we cannot learn any further as we need to be better than everyone else. Our goal is not to help, but to lord it over others so that we look better than they are. Apollos was already a great teacher, yet he submitted to Priscilla and Aquilla and learned even more! Can you imagine a much celebrated visiting preacher going to the home of a parishioner and listening to a wife and her husband while the presumed to teach him more about scripture? (Acts 18) This is the humility we are shown in the New Testament of the early church leaders who rebuked each other, placed young Timothy over an assembly and considered him an equal, and implored people with reason rather than dictate orders even though they were leaders with authority from God. This is the humility we need to be showing as we raise up the next generation as well.
So, here we see the devil’s tactics:
1. Overstating God’s rules which makes them seem incorrect or foolish.
2. Making God’s laws seem restrictive and the cause of deprivation in our lives.
3. Half-truths that seem to be correct but are not.
4. Quoting scripture out of the context of the whole scripture to make what is not right seem correct.
5. Messing with God’s timing. Rushing into things, or delaying are both not the best for a blessed life!
6. Pride: Making us want to be better than others rather than a servant to all.


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Photo by Matija Barrett

Why does she have 2 banquets?
The king has sequestered himself in his private chamber. The law says that anyone who enters without an invitation risks their life. Esther has not been called for over a month.
Esther risks it, and he lifts his scepter, and offers her up to half the kingdom. He is pleased she came to him, and risked much to do so. She asks the king to meet him and Haman for a banquet. Why? Likely she realizes the king believes she has come to him because she yearns for his company. Dissuading him of this belief may turn his good nature to wrath. The king is likely sequestered because he needs a ‘break.’ He may be depressed, frustrated, etc, and remember, there was a plot to kill him which Mordecai uncovered. Likely, he does not trust those around him easily. We will see that he actually does not trust easily in the assumptions he makes regarding Haman later… To immediately reveal that she is Jewish, a race which has been labeled a threat to the kingdom by his most trusted advisor, and to ask for this race to be spared, without any ‘preparation’ might result in her dying along with her people.

Haman accuses the Jews, inciting the king’s wrath. He reports they are scattered throughout the empire, they obey their own laws and they do not obey the king’s laws. Haman shows that the Jewish people are everywhere, and therefore are a threat to the entire kingdom. They are not intermarrying and intermingling, as captives are supposed to do. The strategy of intermixing people is to make their loyalty to the kingdom and not to their previous people group, as they become friends, business partners and spouses of people from other places. This is not occurring in the Jewish communities.
Haman is also an example of why God’s people should follow God’s commands. Saul did not immediately kill king Agag. Samuel was quite upset about this. (1 Sam 15) Jewish tradition states that the king escaped, slept with his concubine who conceived, and then was recaptured during this time. Haman is an Agagite, a descendent of this king who has been taught to hate the Jewish people. Mordecai adds salt to his wounds by not bowing down to him and giving him the honor he believes he is due, especially from a conquered people, who Haman despises.

The misunderstanding that results in Haman’s death.
Haman is invited to the feast Esther gives for her husband twice. The king must wonder why the invitation is not just for him, since Esther is his wife, whose sole purpose centers around the king’s pleasure. When Esther reveals that she is scared for her life, and the life of her people Haman is caught throwing himself at Esther, hoping for mercy. He realizes that the king will not take kindly to threats against his queen. Part of this is a custom of the time where a new king, or a challenger to someone’s rule, shows off their prowess over the current ruler by demonstrating that the current ruler cannot protect his women (so how can he protect you, his subjects?). By throwing himself at Esther, Haman confirms the king’s fear, and supports Esther’s assertion that Haman is trying to do her harm. We are told that the king says, “Will he even assault the queen with me in the house?” (Esther 7: 8) This is a serious crime at this time. Absalom does this by sleeping with David’s concubines on the palace roof (2 Sam 16: 22), as does Reuben when Jacob is depressed over Rachel’s death (Gen 35:22) likely showing that he is now the head of the household as the elder. (Remember, concubines are inherited in this culture and the ownership and care of them passes from father to son. There are reasons Reuben, the oldest, is replaced by Judah as head of the family… Judah not touching Tamar, even though she is now one of his ‘wives’ out of a sense of morality likely shows Jacob that he is nothing like his brother.)

The 180 day feast: Vashti is called to show her beauty off to his new regional rulers. Vashti does not obey his command. Why is this such a large problem?
The king is trying to show his new leadership that this kingdom of which they are now an integral part is awesome, and that he is better than any king they have ever had, and that they should be happy to be a part of his kingdom. He throws an elaborate feast, showing the wealth and prosperity they can expect if they are loyal to him. These are men who are part of the captured nations, who are now holding high level jobs in the new kingdom. He cannot lose face in front of them and have the ‘big thing’ they go back and share with their people being the fact that he cannot even control his own wife. While his command may be impetuous and short sited, he is the king. He represents something larger then himself as a husband. He must be obeyed by his subjects and especially by his wife. Remember, the status of women in this society is not that of an equal partnership as it is today. If he cannot get his wife to obey him, why should the strong, powerful men he has put into power listen to his commands? She is seriously undermining all he has done by throwing the 180 day feast in one act of refusal. And it is at the end of the feast, at a time when the people will most certainly remember it. This is big. He loves Vashti, but this is a precedent that cannot be allowed to stand. He approaches the men wisely, not as a king, but as a fellow husband, with the air of ‘what are we going to do with theses women?’ The men become co-sufferers, and share in the fear that their wives are capable of doing the same if this is allowed to go unanswered. Vashti is this displaced as a queen. (Likely put away, guarded so no one else may claim her, or sleep with her, and banished from the king’s presence as Michael was in King David’s time, but very likely not killed.)

Queen Esther and women’s rights.
Queen Esther actually does much to advance the rights of women in the kingdom. We see previously that Vashti had no rights, and when she refused a request she found demeaning, she lost everything. (How much of everything is up for debate…) Queen Esther however finds herself in a different position. In Esther 9 we see the king asking her opinion regarding what will happen to those who opposed the Jews, specifically Haman’s sons, and she writes the decree regarding Purim, which is distributed throughout the kingdom. Esther’s role has been elevated from a Queen who is called for the king’s pleasure every once in a while, to a women whose opinion the king respects. Although it takes time for the couple to get to this point, it is an example of how a marriage with a bad start, slowly becomes a more godly one

Lessons from Joseph

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Lessons from Joseph (Gen 37)

The account of Joseph’s life is the story about how a family became a nation. The lesson: any time the family ‘fights’ is a loss for the nation of Israel. Jealousy and favoritism have dire consequences.
There are many ‘doublets’:
-Joseph has 2 dreams.
-Joseph is flung into a pit, and later is flung into prison
-The brothers make 2 trips to Egypt
-The youngest brother is at risk (first Joseph, then Benjamin)
-Two coats cause trouble (first the coat of many colors, then the coat Potiphar’s wife grabs to ‘prove’ Joseph’s guilt)
-The merchants Joseph was sold to had similar items to what the brothers brought to buy food with
-The 2 dreams of the baker and the cupbearer
-Joseph has 2 sons
-Joseph is younger and is put over his older brothers; Jacob puts Joseph’s younger son over the older when he blesses them
-Joseph is given new clothes in jail, and then when he is to be brought before Pharaoh
-Jacob being deceived by his sons/ Jacob deceiving his father

-Joseph is a Christ-like figure who is ‘sacrificed’ into slavery to save the family, Judah’s story, which interrupt Joseph’s tells of Judah having only one son left, whom he does not wish to risk sacrificing for the sake of his family line by having him marry Tamar, whose marriage to the elder two sons resulted in their death (remember superstition is strong in this culture). Judah later offers to lay down his life to save Benjamin’s, showing he has changed.
-Tamar uses the same phrase ‘please examine’ when showing Judah the objects he left with her as the brothers use when showing Jacob Joseph’s bloody cloak
-Brothers killing brothers is reminiscent of Cain and Abel
-Adam is put in charge of the Garden of Eden except for one tree, which he may not eat of. He failed the test. Joseph is put in charge of all of Pharaoh’s household, except his food (and of course his wife). Joseph passes his ‘test’ and is put in charge of all the food in Egypt.
-Joseph is put in charge, dressed in splendor and led around the city with a herald telling people he is to be honored, same as Mordecai in the book of Esther.
The same phrase used to describe Joseph being ‘flung’ into the well is used to describe Hagar flinging (or ‘left’ in some translations) (Gen 21: 15) Ishmael under a bush when she believes they are to die, perhaps indicating that Hagar blames Ishmael for her current situation (which is somewhat his fault as he was the one making fun of Isaac at his weaning party, triggering Sarah’s wrath… Gen 21: 9-10)
A few lessons/ application/ things to think about:
The brothers eat while Joseph is in the cistern. They fellowship while one of their own is hurting… (Oh the sermons write themselves here!)
God is with us regardless of our status: He is with Joseph when he is a slave, a prisoner, and when he is second in command of a country.
God is with us regardless of where we are. He is with Jacob while he is traveling in the wilderness (stairway to heaven), with Joseph in Egypt etc.

Irony: Joseph is trusted with everything in Potiphar’s house EXCEPT his food; Joseph is later put in charge of all the food in Egypt.
Why does the cup bearer not immediately tell Pharaoh about Joseph? In Egypt there are people trained in ‘houses of light’ to interpret dreams etc. The cup bearer is already on shaky ground as he was put into jail due to questions concerning his loyalty. To recommend a Hebrew slave to pharaoh would be to say that a non-Egyptian may be better than an Egyptian, something that may be seen as disloyal/ treasonous. It is not until the Pharaoh is desperate, and those trained in Egypt have failed that the cup bearer is brave enough to speak.
Joseph’s Family: His wife is a priestess of On. It is likely she is given to Joseph by Pharaoh in the hope that their children will be even more powerful in dream interpretation etc. It is normal for this culture to have more than one god, and a wife would be primarily loyal to her husband’s god, so his wife’s conversion into Joseph’s faith is not unusual. Her giving up her other gods is. There are many non-Jewish wives in the Bible. (Moses’ wife, Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba, Tamar) These are women who converted to Judaism. Marrying a convert is Biblically okay.
Their sons’ names:
Manasseh: God has made me forget the past. (Notice that Joseph does not actually ‘forget’ his past, or his brothers would have had an easier time when they arrived. Instead he is saying that the past hurts are behind him and are not currently a factor in his present life. He is relieved of the burden of his past memories.)
Ephraim: God has made me fertile. This can refer to both having a second son, and to the prosperity God has blessed him with.
Joseph in Jail: Potiphar likely doubts his wife’s account of what Joseph may or may not have done. If a man as highly ranked as Potiphar believed that a non-Egyptian slave had attempted to rape his wife, that man would be dead. Likely Joseph is in Pharaoh’s prison to protect him from the wife, and any further punishment, as well as to protect his wife’s reputation. Potiphar cannot fail to punish Joseph or his standing in the community will suffer, but it is likely he understands the failings of the woman he married.

Joseph’s dealings with his brothers: While Joseph names his oldest son ‘one who makes me forget the past,’ when he is faced with his brothers he does not immediately trust them. Instead he puts them through multiple tests over the course of a significant period of time. (Remember, they go back home and do not return until the food they were given has run out.) It is clear from Joseph’s weeping that he desperately wishes to be reconciled with his family, but he does not rush into the reunion filled with hope until he is sure that they have changed and a non-abusive relationship has a chance to be formed. (Remember, they were going to kill him/ leave him to die, and then they did sell him into slavery. They then lied to their father, eliminating all hope that their father would find and rescue him. This is an abusive relationship!) After the first encounter Joseph could have followed them home and revealed himself earlier. In relationships that are this strained it is important to be sure before reestablishing a connection with those who abused you.

Judah and Tamar: Judah too leaves the family and returns. During this time he has a family of his own. His oldest son marries Tamar, then dies without having a son. As is the custom (Levirate marriage) Tamar is married to his next oldest son, in order to produce a boy who will inherit the oldest, now deceased, son’s inheritance. The second son spills his seed on the floor rather than risking getting Tamar pregnant. Why? First, he pretends to sleep with her because the marriage custom of the time likely has them in a tent with the wedding party just outside ‘witnessing’ the consummation. While he consummates the marriage in part, he makes sure there is no chance of actual conception. God ends his life over this deception, showing us how much God cares for women. At this time, without a son, Tamar would be an outcast, reliant on charity in her old age, assuming she lived longer than her husband. Further, a man is not able to divorce a levirate wife, but must care for her and her son in his brother’s stead. The inheritance of the older brother will be cared for by the younger brother until the son is old enough to care for it himself. This places an additional burden on the second son, without reward, as that portion of the family land will soon not be his to control. The second son therefore has more responsibility for a short period of time (his brother’s land and wife), but less inheritance in the end if the widow conceives. This system keeps large portions of land from amassing under one person’s rule if there is a plague or famine, as well as ensures that women are taken care of despite being widowed. The second son is thinking of himself alone. He is greedy and does not care if Tamar suffers. A good father does not mind sacrificing for his son (even though technically this child would be considered his brother’s son…). The child however would eventually become a co-heir, an equal, to the father, which lesser men like this son also have difficulty handling….

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