Monday, March 29, 2010

John 1-3: The Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

I love this verse. The parallel to Genesis 1:1 is beautiful and connects the Old and New Testaments.

More than that, I love words. I love the power of words. And I love that Jesus is known as "The Word."

Words are symbols or signs representing ideas or thoughts.
And Jesus is the representation of all that is true.
He is the foundation.
He is.

Words are the way we demonstrate understanding.
And knowing Jesus sheds light on all kinds of situations.
Jesus is the "true light that gives light to every person" (1:9)

We hear words.
We see words.
We know--because of words.

We know because of Jesus.

And once again, I return to the words of Paul in Philippians, who said, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus my Lord, for whose said I have lost all things" (3:7.

I want to know Jesus.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mark 15-16: From Hosanna to Crucify Him

When I was little, Palm Sunday was sort of a big deal. We cut out construction paper palm leaves and waved them around our Sunday School classes, calling out Hosanna. We were all so excited. Jesus on a donkey, walking into Jerusalem. We were kids. We weren't thinking about what would happen next. (Except for Easter and coloring eggs and green grass and chocolate rabbits.)

Ah, nostalgia.

Seriously, though. In one week, the people went from laying palm fronds and coats in the road for Jesus, calling out Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord--a direct reference to the Messiah--to yelling, "Crucify him" and calling out for the release of a murderer.

I used to wonder how the people could change their minds so quickly, and now I don't even question it. We see it all the time. Two weeks ago Obama had his lowest polls ever, and now he's pretty popular. Next week? Who knows?!

Too often we base our opinions on circumstances or on what other people think.

The people hoped Jesus would solve their problems, heal all the sick, and deliver them from the Romans. Jesus had plans that didn't include any of that, and the people turned on him. The result was the crucifixion.
And the resurrection.

We can place our hope in the ways Jesus can make our lives easier.
Or we can place our hope in who Jesus is.
And what he did for us on the cross.

One Last Thought

This conference paper has been a difficult to process for me.
I don't know why I'm so fearful.
Maybe it's the unknown.

Maybe it's the sense that I don't quite measure up to some nebulous academic standards that I have created, but remain undefined.

I have wanted to quit, and friends and family have believed in me and encouraged me and prayed for me. I have felt their prayers.

God has stepped in and helped me.

A friend from school, Laura Wilson, found a journal article in some of her own research and said she felt prompted to send it to me. I saved it to my hard drive, intending to get to it later. I forgot about it until Thursday. It turned out to be an essential source in figuring out how to proceed.

Columbia extended the deadline for the paper from Thursday to Friday, giving me a little extra time, which I totally needed.

Even when I wanted to quit, I knew quitting wasn't an option.

I don't know what God has in store for me at this conference. I don't know what he is doing in my life right now or what he is preparing me for in the future.

I do know he is God. He loves me.
In my own very flawed, very imperfect way, I am a part of his story.

And I am grateful.

Mark 13-14: Are You Asleep?

This last week has been a blur.
Read thirty student papers.
Finish the conference paper.
Purchase a ticket to New York (finally).

When I finished at 2:00 on Friday afternoon, I basically shut down. Watched T.V. A lot of it. I didn't want to do anything.

It occurred to me that I could clean my office, which is pretty chaotic right now.
I could clean my room.
Work on some School of Ministry stuff.
Contact some students.
Read the Bible.

Instead, I watched more television. And ate an entire bag of peanut M&Ms.

On the one hand, I think it's appropriate to rest.
On the other hand, I wonder . . .

I read the passage in Mark 13 where Jesus says, "No one knows the day or the hour when the Son will return . . . so watch!"

And I read Jesus' words to Peter in Mark 14 when Peter can't keep his eyes open. He says, "Simon, are you asleep? Watch and pray so that you don't fall into temptation."

I need an appropriate theology of rest, but I am sorely lacking. My pattern is this: I go-go-go until I am completely exhausted, and then I vegetate.

I am trying to figure out how to build margins into my life, but so far I'm not doing so well. And I feel guilty when I check out.

I know Jesus understands. He tells Peter, "The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

Even now, it's 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, and I still need to shower. I'm still worn out, and I'm thinking of needed revisions for the paper. I want to be focused on my King, the one who loves me. I want to follow him, now, today, tomorrow, when I go to New York. I want to reflect his presence in the way I live my life.

That's what I really want, and yet, I'm still sort of checked out.

Father, I can't do this on my own. I'm weak, and I'm tired, and I can't muscle up the strength to be who I want to be. I can only do this by your power. Help me, Lord.

Mark 11-12: Pray . . . and believe for answers

For some reason, and I'm not sure exactly why, I don't always believe my prayers will change anything.

That's not entirely true. I really do believe that prayer, time spent talking to God and listening for his voice, changes me, the way I think, the way I respond to the world around me.

But I am hesitant to pray for anything specific.

And so I struggle with passages like John 15:7, where Jesus says, "If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you can ask whatever you will, and it will be given you." I have seen people abuse passages like this and pray for Cadillacs. (As far as I know they haven't received Cadillacs.)

Or this one in Mark 11, where Jesus talks about moving mountains into the sea. First, I can't imagine why anyone would want to move a mountain into the ocean, but I have always assumed that was symbolic. Just an example of a seemingly impossible situation.

And then, if we don't doubt, whatever we ask for in prayer, if we believe that we have received it, then it will be ours.

It really goes with those other verses that promise nothing is impossible with God, with faith in God.

Most of the time, though, I don't even know what to ask for.

I woke up early Friday morning and read this section before starting work on my conference paper, and I paused when I came to this section. Besides finishing the paper, what do I want to ask for with regard to this conference?

What does God want to do during my time in New York?
What "divine appointments"?

I don't know.

I did finish the paper. Sent it off on Friday at 1:55 p.m., which is basically 5:00 in New York. Now I need to tweak it for an oral presentation.

And pray for _________________

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mark 9-10: Reading the Same Things Over and Over

It's 6:44 a.m., and I'm sitting in Starbucks at SDSU, drinking coffee, and hoping to be fully awake by the time my class starts at 8:00. I'm teaching, and it's always good to be alert in front of a group of 30 18-year-olds. I dropped Duane and Cait off at the airport at 5:40 and arrived at State at 6:00. Starbucks wasn't even open yet, but it's not too cold, and so I sat on a bench and read Mark 9-10. (San Diego is one of the best places in the world for those of us who like warm weather.)

As I read, I remembered one of the things I really love about reading big chunks of Scripture. I start to notice patterns that I would never see if I were only reading individual stories.

I believe all Scripture is inspired by God. If I'm reading the same things over and over, I probably need to be pay attention.

Here's a few of the things I saw. You can probably find others.

Jesus tells his disciples he is going to die, and that he will rise again from the dead--over and over again. Even at the end, when he actually dies, they don't quite get it, which gives me a lot of hope when I don't get things for a long time.
Mark 8:31-32
Mark 9:31
Mark 10:33-34

Incidentally, the disciples do ask each other what it means, but Mark tells us that they didn't understand what it meant and were afraid to ask Jesus. Note to self--ask God when I don't understand.

All things are possible with God! I really want to remember this when I start to lose heart.
Mark 9:23
Mark 1027

Welcome and value children.
Mark 9:37
Mark 10:14

Serve and love. Don't worry about being first; instead be a servant.
Mark 8:34-36 Lose your life
Mark 10:21 Sell everything you have and follow me.
Mark 10:31 Many who are first will be last.
Mark 10:35 If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last and the servant of all.
Mark 10:43-45 Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all.

"Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for all."

I know all these things tie together, but I'm really tired, and it's hard to connect them right this minute. Seriously, I wrote all these passages in my journal while I was sitting outside, but when I sat down to type this post, I couldn't find the writing in my journal. I'm that distracted this morning.

At any rate, it gives me something to think about as I write my paper this afternoon. I like distractions.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mark 7-8: What? You don't get it yet?

Crazy. I can't imagine being one of the disciples. Every code you've lived by, every authority you've submitted to, everything you've believed in. It's all challenged by a revolutionary man who calls God his Father, who works on the Sabbath, who actually heals people every day. He tells parables, and just when you think you've figured them out, he turns the metaphors inside out, and you just kind of ask, hunh? And then asks, "You don't get it yet?"

No. You don't.

And if that weren't revolutionary enough, this man chose you to follow him. (You know you aren't really all that, so why did he pick you?)

Honestly, you can't not follow him--he's that kind of man. And yet, if you think about it, following him is crazy.

I wish I felt like that every day. I wish I could see Jesus with my eyes and hear his voice with my ears and then just do what he said--not matter what.

Maybe. I would totally have to make some pretty serious choices about what to do, how to spend my time, etc.

Would I follow Jesus? The radical transformer? Or would I cling to the status quo and live my life the way i want to live it. I don't know.

And it's not just cool stuff like telling the Pharisees, those persecutors of the ordinary man, that they're wrong.

He calls his followers to lives of perpetual sacrifice: If any of you want to follow me, you need to be ready to pick up your cross and follow me. If you want to save your life, you'll lose it--and in losing your life for the good news of God's love, you'll actually save your life.

I don't know what I would do.

I mean, the man walks on water. He visibly loves the people, which is more than any of the religious leaders. Who is he?

If he's God, he's worth dying for.
Jesus asks his disciples: Who do you think I am?
They're not sure.

When someone asks us the question, we answer quickly. Maybe we grew up believing Jesus was the Son of God, or maybe we chose to believe in him years ago.

Regardless, our quick answers to a fairly obvious question may keep us from really listening to the question:

Who do YOU say that I am?

I don't need words to answer the question. My actions are the true answer. And if I really believe Jesus is the Lord, if I truly want to follow him, I will give him my whole life. I will lose my life to follow him. I will surrender my fears, my struggles, my expectations, my goals . . . everything.

Incidentally, I have an introduction to my paper, and God showed me how to use some of the writing I've already done to introduce my research. I think I'm going to finish just in time.

Stuck and Tempted to Quit

I am sitting at my computer, trying to come up with a cohesive outline for the paper I am writing for the conference at Columbia, and I literally have nothing to say.

I've bought a ticket. I've spent money. I've told everyone I know that I'm going.
But I just want to quit.

I don't care if I lose all that money.
I don't care if people think I failed.

What's that about?
Why does this always happen to me?

Why do I step out, attempt to move forward, and then get stuck?

I won't quit, but I want to.
I'm tired of being stuck.
I'm tired of being limited by my fears. Even the fears I can't define.

I just really need something to say.

Mark 5-6: Healed and Fed

The book of Mark is pretty dense. I mean, Mark covers a lot of territory really fast. We don't read a lot of what Jesus SAYS, but he sure DOES a lot. In this section, Jesus frees a guy from being filled with demons, he raises a little girl from the dead, he heals a woman with a chronic condition just because she touches his coat, and he feeds five thousand hungry people who followed him to a mountainside.

And as I drove to school yesterday morning, I started thinking about what happened to those people after Jesus healed them, especially the demoniac (Pastor Mike likes to use that word) who wanted to travel with Jesus and his disciples. Jesus told him to go home to his family and tell them what had happened, which he did. And everyone was amazed. But eventually he would have told his whole family, and eventually they would get tired of his story, and get used to him acting normal and he might even forget what it was like to live in the tombs and to cut himself with rocks.

What was he like in a few years, after Jesus died, after he had a wife and family? And what about the little girl who was raised from the dead? Or the woman? How about the five thousand people who wouldn't have had lunch if Jesus hadn't turned a few snacks into a feast? Did life sweep them up, and did they start getting stressed about ordinary things so that they forgot the reality of Jesus and what he did for them?

I've been pretty anxious lately. Lots of things to finish in a very short amount of time, not enough time to do it, and the reason I'm rushed is because I was too scared to get started.

Am I forgetting the reality of Jesus? Am I forgetting what he does for me?

I want to remember. I want to rejoice in everything, big and small, that God is has done and is doing in my life. And so, as I drove to school, I began to thank God for the opportunity to go to New York, to teach writing at SDSU, to get to encourage these students, to continue my own studies. And I thanked God for Duane, who has gone from UPS driver to pastor. I see God at work in his life everyday, and when I get anxious, he prays for me. And I thanked God for my children. I really love them--they are such a blessing. And I thanked God for the opportunity to be involved in Newbreak's SOM.

You get the idea.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mark 3-4: Seed Sowers

When I grew up and was in youth group, we talked about "witnessing," that is, sharing our faith with the lost. Sometimes, in random conversations, the topic of God would come up and, with my heart beating rapidly, I would lay out the gospel, our need for God, our the plan of salvation.

When I was 16, I went to an Evangelism Explosion conference. We wore blue buttons that said, "I found it." The idea was that random people on the street would ask, What did you find? And then we could tell them we found Jesus. I think I wore the button. No one ever asked.

Overall, I felt like a failure as a witness. First of all, I didn't "witness" very often. Most of my friends went to the same church I did.

Second, I never carried the proper equipment with me. Four Spiritual Laws book. Bible.

Third, I never, ever prayed with anyone to receive Christ.

Later on I spiritualized the whole thing. Evangelism isn't my spiritual gift.

A few years ago I realized that all of us are called to be witnesses--all of us called to share the story of our faith journey with people who may not yet know Jesus. I also realized I didn't really know very many non-Christians. That's one of the reasons I headed back to school.

The parable in Mark 4 was a huge part of that realization.
The farmer goes out to sow seed. In this story he seems to throw it out pretty randomly. Now, I don't know much about agriculture, and I don't know if this yields a big crop if we're growing, say, wheat, but it's a parable and we really don't have to think about those things. But anyway, the farmer's out there, scattering seeds everywhere he goes. He doesn't say, "I'm going to avoid the rocky soil, or the area where the sun is so hot it will scorch the new plants." He doesn't confine his seeds to optimal planting territory.

Some seeds fail to take root; others die. But some seeds grow, and the farmer yields a large crop.

We scatter seeds. We share the Word. A little here. A little there.

And I love this part in verses 26-29. "Night and day, whether [the farmer] sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he doesn't know how. all by itself the soil produces grain . . ."

Right now I am scattering seed. I've stopped worrying about whether or not it will grow. That's God's part. My part is to scatter seed. To share my story, God's story in my life. My need for God. I've learned to really love the people God has placed in my life, these people who don't yet know that they need God. I hope I get to see them take steps toward him. But only God can cause a seed to grow.

One other thing. Love.
Somebody, I think John Maxwell, said, "People don't really care how much you know, until they know how much you care."

The saying is trite, but true. Love matters. Jesus came because of love. Jesus died because of love.


Over the last few years God has asked me to surrender, to release control of a lot of things in my life.

For me, in recent years, surrender has meant letting go of things.
My women's small group.
Two babies lost to miscarriage.
Involvement in creative arts.
Involvement in drama.
Involvement in sermon research.
Involvement in worship ministry.

I have been learning to hold things loosely, to remember that everything belongs to God--not to me.

As we sang yesterday, "All to you I surrender . . .", I asked myself, "Am I willing to surrender my writing? Am I willing to surrender teaching? Am I willing to surrender my schooling?"

To me the question meant: Am I willing to let go of these things that mean so much to me and walk away?

As we sang, God showed me that sometimes surrender means letting go of fear and moving ahead boldly. Stepping out of hiding and into the open, doing things that involve some risk.

Surrender is about releasing control of my life and allowing God to be Lord. About following him wherever he leads.

Sometimes it means letting go of things.
And sometimes it means forging ahead--by the power of God.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mark 1-2: The Image of the Invisible God

Colossians tells us about Jesus, that he is the image of the invisible God. In other words, when we look at Jesus, listen to what he says and the way he says it, watch what he does and the way he does it, observe his love and compassion, then we see what God, the almighty God, is truly like.


Here we see Jesus, baptized not because of sin, but to set an example for us.
He speaks with authority.
He heals all who come to him.
He feels compassion for the leper.
He forgives sins.
He knows what men are thinking.

And he gets up in the morning, while it is still dark, to spend time alone with his father.

He moves with power, the power of the Holy Spirit.
The people sense it, but most of them never ask, What is different about this man?

Instead, they are asking, What can he do for me? It's the wrong question.

Knowing Jesus is everything. In Philippians 3, Paul says firmly that nothing matters compared to knowing Jesus.

He says, "I want to know Christ. I want to know the power of his resurrection. I want to to know the fellowship of sharing in his suffering. I want to be like him, even in his death."

I want to ask the right question. I want to know Jesus.

Lamentations: Hope in the midst of sorrow

I just read Lamentations. I think this may have been the first time ever. Beyond all the symbolism and the poetic language, I think to myself, haven't we all felt like this at some point?

The author says, "My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord." (3:18)

Yeah. Everything good has faded away, and along with it any hope I had of life getting better.

In the midst of this, the author remembers two things. The first thing doesn't help much. He remembers the hopelessness of his situation, and he is consumed by bitterness and depression.

And then he remembers something else that gives him hope.
"Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning . . ."

He remembers that God is good to those who hope in him, who seek him, who wait for him.

And I think we've all been there.
The thing we hoped for is lost. We feel abandoned by God, whether because of our own brokenness or the brokenness of the world. And we get lost in your sorrow--until we remember that God hasn't completely destroyed us, and he loves us, and he is faithful.

We give God glory, because at our core, we know he is God. We say, "You, O Lord, reign forever . . ."

And then the glimmer of hope is lost again, and we say, like the author in the last few verses of chapter five: "Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us for so long? Restore us, God, so that we may return--unless you have utterly rejected us."

There will be days like this. When hope is lost, when we cling to God's truth, hoping for hope. But God is still good.

Jeremiah 50-52: Created Images

I'm not sorry we're done with the book of Jeremiah. Yeah, we already had that conversation where I outed my frustration with prophecy books. Nevertheless, I love that God speaks to me through this book, despite my limited understanding.

These people in the book of Jeremiah, the people of Israel and Judah, they pretty much hear what they want to hear. They choose the prophets they want to believe. They interpret the world according to their own preconceived ideas.

Think of the men in chapter 42—they go to Jeremiah and ask him to seek the Lord on their behalf. They say, “Please pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” They promise that they will follow God’s advice, “whether it is favorable or unfavorable,” and they will obey God so that “it will go well with us . . .”

God once again shows his compassion and says, “If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plan you and not uproot you, for I am grieved over the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, for I am with you and will save you.”

Sounds good. God will protect them. Strengthen them. They just have to trust God and stay right where they are.

But what they really want is to leave. They want to go to Egypt. And God knows exactly what they are thinking. So he adds:

“However, if you say, We will not stay in this land, and so disobey the Lord your God, and if you say, No, we will go and live in Egypt . . .” then you will die.

And these men, who promised to obey God, tell Jeremiah he is lying. And they leave for Egypt anyway.

They have their own version of the world.
They have forgotten the power of the Living God.
They have forgotten his goodness to the people.
In their version of the world, blessings come from worshipping the gods they have created.

In chapter 44, the men declare their allegiance to the “Queen of Heaven,” one of their gods. They say, “We will burn incense to her if we want to. When we did that, before we started listening to Jeremiah, we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped, we’ve had nothing but trouble.”

Hmmm. Mistaken interpretation of cause and effect.
The story they tell about their world is pretty skewed.

So I was reading Thursday morning, and something stood out to me in Jeremiah 51:17.

"Every man is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. His images are a fraud; they have no breath in them."

The word "image" caught my attention because it denotes a representation of an idea. Of course, Jeremiah is talking about idols, but those idols represent a story the people want to believe about the world. These idols, these graven images, are a way of telling a story that says they can control the world. Our sacrifices, our ceremonies, our customs can create rain, defeat armies, grow crops, bring prosperity.

I don't know about you, but I'm not bowing to any idols in my home, and I'm not burning incense to grow crops in my backyard. I'm pretty sure none of us are doing those things.

The thing is, though, we all create images that shape our understanding of the world. Those images are the stories we tell about our past, our present, and our future, that help us understand the world we live in.

And we believe what we want to believe. Whatever fits best with the story

We are senseless and without knowledge. Our understanding is limited. We create images, stories by which we understand the world. And our images have no breath in them.

I want to see Jesus.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jeremiah 40: Someone believes Jeremiah!

Finally! Someone takes Jeremiah seriously.

In Jeremiah 40, Nebuzaradan, the commander of the Babylonian army, finds Jeremiah, takes off his chains, releases him from prison, and tells him that if he wants to go to Babylon, he will protect him. Or Jeremiah is free to go anywhere he wants. He is free. When Jeremiah says, "I think I'll just go wherever God leads," the commander gives him a present and provisions. No strings attached.

Oh, and Nebuzaradan reminds Jeremiah what God has been saying. He basically repeats back everything Jeremiah has said about the destruction of Jerusalem.

Finally, someone recognizes Jeremiah is speaking for God. Someone encourages him. Someone rescues him.

It's just not someone that Jeremiah would have expected to take him seriously.

Sometimes God surprises us.
He meets our needs in ways we could never in a million years anticipate.

We serve a surprising God, whose thoughts are not our thoughts, whose ways are not our ways, whose paths are beyond tracing out.

He can do the impossible.
And he loves us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jeremiah 33, 34, 36, 37 (and probably more): Second Chances

I wish I had been counting all the second (and third and fourth) chances God gives us to his people.

"If you will do this, I will relent and deliver you."

In chapter 33, God tells the people, Call to me, and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you don't know." So the people set their slaves free, according to the law of Moses, and God has compassion on them. And then they change their minds and take back the slaves they had freed. God reinstates the punishment and makes it worse.

In chapter 36, God tells Jeremiah to write down his prophecies. He says, "Maybe when the people hear about every disaster that I plan to inflict on them, they will turn from their sin so that I can forgive them."

They don't, of course. Instead the burn the scroll and put Jeremiah (and his scribe) in jail.

God doesn't delight in the discipline.
He continually shows compassion.
His desire is to relent and restore.

And yet he cannot compromise his holiness.
Some people think this is lack of love or lack of compassion, but I don't agree.
God is holy. He is God. He does not change.

Everlasting love.
Refusal to compromise.
Willingness to forgive.
Desire to restore.

Are we like him?

Oh, and I just thought of this, too.
Sometimes I avoid God because I don't think I deserve second chances. God loves me with an everlasting love. He wants a relationship with me. He wants to give me second chances, and he wants me to take them. Wow. That's a really nice thing to remember.

Jeremiah 31: I have loved you with an everlasting love

God is holy.
He is set apart.
He is not like us.

Just as he called Israel to be a part of his story, he calls us.

He loves us with an everlasting love.
We can never earn this kind of love--it is given freely.

Nevertheless, to enter into relationship with God, we need to pursue holiness.
I don't mean perfection, following all the rules, never making mistakes.
No one can achieve that. I mean, we live for God. We set aside our individual stories, to live God's story. We seek him. We serve him. We love him.

God disciplines Israel in order to restore his relationship with them, to draw them close to him, so that they can once again be set apart to join his story. He promises that afterward, he will restore them. He says, "I will build you up again, and you will be rebuilt." (v. 4)

They mourn now, but they will not mourn forever. They will bring out those tambourines again, they will dance again and sing joyfully, they will plant vineyards and enjoy the fruit.

When our relationship with God is broken, God's discipline draws us close to him.

That's why the writer of Hebrews says, "Endure hardship as discipline . . . God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:7-11)

I don't enjoy God's discipline, but I long for God's presence, for joy, for dancing, for peace.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jeremiah 29: Seventy Years in Captivity

God told Jeremiah that Israel would spend seventy years in captivity (25:11). That's a long time. Basically, if I "choose life" and exit the city (see previous post), allowing the Babylonians to take me into captivity, if I accept God's punishment for years and years of disobedience, that discipline will extend past my lifetime. I will die in Babylon. Not great news for me.

We like to think that those famous verses from Jeremiah 29:11 (I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you . . .) means that in a few days, a few months, maybe a few years--at least in our lifetime--things will work out great. Awesome.

But God has a really long view of life.
God's story began way before I was born, and it will continue after my death.

So, what are the people thinking as they begin to realize that the peace and prosperity God promised isn't really for them--it's for their grandchildren?

Here's what Jeremiah tells them--and I think the advice applies to us too when we are stuck in a not entirely desirable situation, whether it's part of God's discipline or not.

First, keep doing what you are doing. Build houses and settle down. Have children. Plant gardens. Serve God now. Make plans to serve him tomorrow. In everything you do.

Seek peace and prosperity for the people around you. The boss you don't love. Your neighbors. Your country.

Remember God's perspective. All of this is for God's story. He will turn this around, and there is a blessing. There is a "hope and a future," even it doesn't look like it. Even if you don't see it personally.

And then, my favorite promise of this passage: You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity.

When I seek God, he frees my heart; I may live in captivity, because of illness, because of circumstances I had nothing to do with, or because I am living the consequences of bad choices, but when God frees my heart, I am no longer a slave.

"If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed." (John 8:36)

Jeremiah 21: Choosing Life

"This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life, and the way of death." (21:8)

This passage is specific to the people of Judah--if they get out of the city, the Babylonians will capture them and whisk them away from the promised land. If they stay in the city, trying to avoid capture by the Babylonians, trying to avoid the punishment promised by Jeremiah, they will die. They are, to use a very worn out cliche, between a rock and a hard place.

Neither choice is particularly attractive, but one will lead to life, and one will lead to death "by the sword, famine or plague" (v. 9).

Hard choices. Choose God's discipline, or try to escape it and hope it turns out okay. It's kind of like those wild car chases they show on the news, where the suspect races through residential streets, trying to avoid the 30 police cars chasing him AND the police helicopter tracking him by air. It's not like he's actually going to escape--we all know that eventually the police are going to catch up--but he (or she) is hopeful.

Sometimes we avoid God's discipline. I don't think it's a stretch to make this claim that when do do, we are only delaying the inevitable. To surrender to God is to choose life; to try and escape is to choose death.

I want to choose life. Hopefully I'll remember this lesson.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jeremiah 24-30

Yes, I am a day behind. Yesterday was a crazy day. Suffice it to say that my Bible was at PLNU in my car, and I never cracked it open. Not once.

It's not like I don't have other Bibles in the house.
It's more like I just didn't choose to read them.

I wish it were not true, but there will always be days a little like that one. Busy days. Frantic, stressful, distracted days. Days when all I can do is pray, "God, I'm anxious. I can't keep up."

The best I can do is ask for help. And sometimes I even forget to do that.

God doesn't love me less on those days.
It's not like I can ever earn God's love even on days when I do all the things I think I'm supposed to do.

Grace means that God loves me on good days and bad days.

I read chapters 27 to 30 today, which puts me one day behind the reading schedule, but I'm not worried about that. I really just want to hear from God as I go about my day. Not because it makes more acceptable to him, but because I love him and I miss him when I'm too busy to spend time with him.

I hope to blog about the chapters later today, but in the meantime I need to remember that God understands my crazy life.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jeremiah 21-23: Speaking for God

Lots of people claim to speak for God. Religious leaders from all faiths, talk show hosts, friends, family members . . .

The thing is, they don't all agree.
Either God is inconsistent, or some of them--maybe all of them--aren't really giving us a glimpse of the Almighty's thoughts. They turn a lot of people away from God's truth. In fact, for some of them, that's their goal.

This is not a new phenomenon.

In chapter 22, Jeremiah issues a warning: "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!"

Chapter 23 focuses on the prophets of Jeremiah's day, who fill the people with false hopes, speak "visions from their own minds," who claim the people will have peace.

Jeremiah, who really does speak for God, calls them out. He says, ". . . which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or hear his word?"

If they really knew God, if they truly understood his holiness, they would comprehend the danger of these actions.

But they don't. Or they think maybe God doesn't notice.

He does.

"Am I only a God nearby," declares the Lord, "and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth?"

God sees everything, and he promises "everlasting disgrace--everlasting shame" on those who pretend to speak for him, but really don't have a clue.

I talk a lot. I like to share from God's Word, to share my story and hopefully encourage people who have the same struggles as I do. But I don't ever want to do this without first "standing in the council of God." We are so blessed that God has given us the privilege of becoming his children, the honor of approaching him.

We really can stand in the council of God and listen to him first, before speaking, and we must continually do so.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jeremiah 18-20: Why was I even born?

It's a long time from the first chapter of Jeremiah to chapter twenty. Think how amazing it must have been for Jeremiah to hear from God: Before I even formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were even born, I set you apart as a prophet to speak to my people. Yes, you, Jeremiah. I chose you.

It's GOD speaking to him. Calling him. Telling him not to be afraid. God says, "I am with you--I will rescue you. I will give you words to speak. I will give you visions."

Yes, God speaks, Jeremiah obeys; he speaks, but the people reject his words. He sees visions, but those visions torment him during the day and haunt him at night. God rescues him regularly, from assassination plots, from beatings, and from prison. And so far none of his prophecies have been fulfilled.

Life hasn't worked out the way Jeremiah thought it would. It's like this--he doesn't like what his life has become, but he's seen God in all his glory; he's experienced God's presence, and there's just no way he can turn back.

In chapter 20, Jeremiah pours out his frustration, his disappointment, and his anger to God: You lied to me, and I believed you! I you overpowered me! And what do I get? All day long people make mock me and insult me. And you keep giving me things to say, and those words burn inside of me so that even if I wanted to just keep them to myself, I couldn't.

He switches gears in verse 11: God is with me. He is my mighty warrior. In the end, the plots and the beatings don't matter. God will win. Praise be to God!

And finally, despair sinks in: It's too much. I wish I had never been born.

Three things strike me about this passage.
First, it's okay to be honest with God. It's okay to tell him how we really feel. God can take it. In fact, he already knows what we're feeling. This seems like Jeremiah giving up, but it's really more like Jeremiah wrestling with God, working out his obedience.

Second, sometimes serving God is hard. Things don't always work out the way we think they will. Sometimes we feel like God lied to us. Sometimes we want to quit. I've never thought, "I wish I wasn't born" or "I wish I were dead," but I know people who struggle with those ideas, and I need to say--these are really amazing Christ followers who love God, who are like Jeremiah and will take risks for him at all cost. It's just that sometimes despair sinks in deep. They are continually learning that God is bigger than the despair. They learn to cling to God determinedly, and he is their source of life.

Third, God doesn't reject Jeremiah.

That's the best part.

Jeremiah 18-20: Shaped by the Potter

We like to ask little kids: What do you want to be when you grow up?

My mom kept a log of things I wanted to be. I was fairly consistent: I wanted to be a dancer, a singer, an actress, a teacher, and a writer. Never once did I put that I wanted to be a nurse. (In sixth grade, I decided I wanted to be the first woman president, but I've changed my mind about that one!)

I've done most of those things. Well, sort of. I sing all the time, but I doubt if anyone will pay me to sing. I danced in an Irish dancing troupe until I was in sixth grade. (I still can do part of the jig.) I acted in all kinds of church dramas until a few years ago. And right now I chase after writer and teacher. I had put those things on hold for a while, but it really does feel like it's God pushing me in this direction.

I guess my point is this: God makes and forms me for his own purposes, not mine. He forms me "as seems best for him." (18:4) He has a plan, but if I disobey him, turn my back on him, if the form he shapes is marred, he can change his mind and make me into something else entirely.

To Israel, he says, " . . . can I not do with you as the potter does? Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand."

Their rebellion changes God's plans.
His discipline is designed to bring Israel to repentance, to restore their shape.

My rebellion changes God's plans.
God's discipline is designed to bring me to repentance, to restore my shape.

I want God's plans--not mine--to shape my choices, my plans, my purpose.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Jeremiah 15-17: Our hope is in you!

From the very beginning, when God created the earth, when he formed the sea, when he shaped man in his own image, it was clear that God desired a unique relationship with Adam and Eve.

We know the story. God gave them one rule. He told them they could eat the fruit from any tree in the garden except one. And they disobeyed God, damaging their relationship with God.

The rest of the Old Testament tells the story of God reaching out to humanity, offering opportunity to restore the relationship, and man rejecting God's overtures. It seems we want his deliverance, but, like Adam and Eve, the desire to have our eyes opened, to "be like God" (Genesis 3:4) is just too great, and we reject him again.

Jeremiah contrasts two types of people. He says, "Cursed is the man who trust in himself, or in other men, whose heart turns away from the Lord God." (17:5) He is like a bush in the wasteland; his life is like a desert. I've seen these bushes in the canyons of San Diego. Right now, we have rain, and the canyons are green and beautiful, but as soon as the rains stop, the bushes die. The canyons turn brown.

But, ". . . blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream." What an amazing picture. When the heat comes, the tree continues to thrive; " . . . it has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." (17:8) This tree's roots go deep, extending to the river, drawing life from the river rather than external circumstances.

A dead bush in the desert or a lush fruitful tree near the river.
I know which one I want to be.

Jeremiah 11-14: Remembering

Yesterday morning at church, we took communion. Communion is all about remembering, remembering Christ's sacrifice on the cross, remembering God's love for us, remembering what God has done for us.


The problem is that we forget.
We become complacent.
Or arrogant.

When we forget God, when we forget what he has done for us, then we essentially switch deities.

The god we love most is ourselves.
And we chase after lesser gods that feed our desires.

Not unlike the people of Israel and Judah who have rejected the God who delivered them from Egypt, brought them across the desert, and established them in the Promised God. He established a conditional covenant with them.

But time passed, and they forgot.
They scorned the one true God, the God who loved them, who delivered them, who had promised to protect them if they would only worship him.

And they chased after gods that met their needs in new ways.

Jeremiah calls them to repentance. He says, "Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the Lord has spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings the darkness, before your feet stumble." (13:15)

The people reject Jeremiah's call to repentance, and turn to prophets who promise peace and prosperity, who tell them, "You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed [God] will give you lasting peace . . ." (14:13)

I wonder . . .
What have I forgotten?
Where am I complacent?
What gods replace my devotion to the Lord?

Who am I listening to?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Jeremiah 7-10: Why I avoid reading the prophecy books

At the risk of sounding unspiritual, I will admit that I like some books of the Bible better than others. I love the Gospels and am particularly partial to the book of John. These books let me see Jesus, who is the exact image of God. I see his love and his compassion, and he shows me how to follow him.

I also love the book of Psalms. The psalmists live conflicted lives. They struggle with God, understanding his justice, living in his truth, and at the same time they rejoice in his power and his majesty. The Psalms teach me how to pray.

The rest of the New Testament (except Revelation), especially the Pauline epistles, show me how to live, how to seek God as an individual, and how to seek God in community. They remind me who I am in Christ.

Okay, those are my favorites. I also like all those narrative texts in the first half of the Old Testament. Numbers and Leviticus get a little dry in places, but I can skim past all the genealogies and don't feel bad about that.

I avoid reading the prophets.
They're hard to understand.
They are written to a specific audience, now dead, and most of the things predicted have already happened. Cool. Still hard to understand.

Sometimes we take passages out of context and try to make them apply to us personally.

For example, Jeremiah 1:5-6 says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born i set you apart; I appointed you to as a prophet . . ." These words are written specifically to Jeremiah; they do not apply to me.

I know that all scripture is inspired by God, and all of it is valuable, but I tend to have a hard time seeing the value of books like Jeremiah.

A few years ago I started reading the prophets anyway. Mainly out of obedience. And I began to get little nuggets of truth.

In reading Jeremiah, I see God's love for his people.
I see his desire for communion with them.
I see his holiness.
I see him planning deliverance for the people even before their discipline.
I see his compassion.

I get to see God's character, and in conjunction with other passages from Scripture, I learn his heart not only for his people Israel, but also for his new bride, the Church of Jesus Christ.

I may not be called to be a prophet, but God knew me before I was born, and he had a plan for me. Psalm 139 says the same thing.

Jeremiah 29:11 says God's plans for his people are good, that ultimately his plan is not to harm, but to prosper. It follows that even if I struggle, suffer, experience defeat, or die, his ultimate plan is victory. Hebrews 11 reminds us that God has a really long view of life, not focused on me, but looking ahead to all people.

It would be better if I had a third example, but I can't think of one. It's late, and I'm tired.

I am learning to approach Jeremiah and other prophecy books with prayer, asking God to teach me, to show me who he is, to show me how to love him and follow him through His Word.

Jeremiah 4-6: If only we would listen . . .

God calls Jeremiah to speak truth to the people, to urge them to repent, to warn them about the disaster that will overtake them if they do not repent. Jeremiah doesn't argue with God's punishment; he knows the people's rebellion has brought this punishment about, but he can barely stand to see what will happen. "Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain . . . How long must I see the battle . . ."

Jeremiah's love for the people, combined with his desire to follow God, compel him to speak, even when he knows they won't listen. His sorrow overwhelms him, he weeps, and he mourns.

His heart for the people reminds me of Jesus after Palm Sunday. Luke 19 describes Jesus riding into Jerusalem, and as he sees the city, he weeps over it. "Oh Jerusalem, if only you had known what would really bring peace, you would have accepted me, but you just don't see it!" He sees the destruction coming in AD 70, when the enemy will circle the city. Speaking to the city he loves, he says, "The days will come when your enemies will . . . encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."

In AD 70, the Romans invade the city and even though General Titus orders that the temple be saved--he wants to dedicate the temple to the Emperor of Rome--his soldiers, frustrated by Jewish resistance, torch the temple and it is destroyed. The historian Josephus says that more than a million men, women, and children died in the battle, and more than one hundred thousand were taken into slavery. Titus reportedly refused a wreath of victory because he said there was no honor in "vanquishing people forsaken by their own God."

Just as the people ignored the warnings of prophets that came before, the people of God ignored the warnings of Jeremiah, and they ignored the warnings of Jesus.

And even though they don't don't listen, he loves them and offers them a way of escape.

Jeremiah prophesies, "The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely." (4:27) In chapter 6, Jeremiah prophesies, offering a chance for redemption. He says, "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it . . . we will not listen.'" (6:16-17).

How often do we reject God's word, his instruction, his love? How often to we choose our plans over his?

God's mercy and his love for these people are completely without merit. They don't deserve either one. Neither do we.

And yet he loves us too and wants to offer us a way of escape.
Jeremiah can only weep and mourn the destruction of the people, but Jesus can do more. Romans 5:8 tells us, "God shows us love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jeremiah 1-3: The Bride

We saw it all through the book of Job, and we'll see it in Jeremiah too. God's ways are beyond our ways, his thoughts are beyond our thoughts. We will never fully understand him, and any claim that we do is foolishness on our part.

He does give us glimpses of his character through the Bible though, through prayers written by the psalmists and in the epistles, through narratives in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and Acts, and through the use of metaphors.

God is the good shepherd.
He is our father.
He is the way, the truth, and the light.
He is a vine, and we are the branches.
He is our husband, and we are the bride.

That is one of my favorite metaphors, probably because I love being married. I love giving myself to Duane and find enormous freedom in our relationship. He loves me even when I am unlovable.

I have been known to be a little melancholy, and he lets me whine until I'm done. I have been known to arbitrary. (You can ask him about the argument on whether or not to use a sponge or a dishcloth to wash dishes.) I have been known to snap at him, and he forgives me.

Sometimes I am plagued with self-doubt, and he believes in me and encourages me to take risks.

He loves me and does things I could do on my own, but he just wants to serve me. He filled up my gas tank last Thursday before he left for San Jose. He lets me order pizza when I am tired. He makes coffee almost every morning.

I trust him, and I find enormous freedom in loving him.

This is the relationship God desired to have with his people, beginning with Abraham. He blessed them and prospered them, rescued them from slavery, brought them into the Promised Land, gave them success over their enemies. As long as they honored him, as long as they loved him with heart, soul, and mind, as long they obeyed him and worshiped only him, he protected them and cherished them. Even when they began to stray, he was merciful.

Until they broke all ties with him.
In Jeremiah, we read, "Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, 'I will not serve you!'"

They wholeheartedly pursued other gods and betrayed their commitment to the One True God. Metaphorically, they committed adultery of the worst kind.

I can't imagine doing that to Duane, betraying him by loving another man.
We protect our relationship by spending time together, by talking to each other, sending emails through the day, honoring each other through mutual acts of service. I don't want to flirt with other men or send them signals that I might be available.

I can't imagine doing that to God.
I want to protect that relationship by spending time with him, talking to him, worshiping him--regularly.

And yet, whenever I exclude him, whenever I put something or someone ahead of him, that is exactly what I am doing. Maybe I'm just flirting with ultimate betrayal, but this is a dangerous flirtation. I want to keep my eyes set on him alone.

God is merciful. When I am distracted, he calls my name. He loves me. He wants to keep me as his own.

God is merciful. Even when his people have turned their backs on him, even when they deny his guilt, he calls to them, "Return for I am merciful. Return for I am your husband. I chose you, and I love you. I want to bless you."

God allows Jeremiah a glimpse of the intense love he has for his people, and Jeremiah weeps because knows the people aren't ready to return just yet.

Do I mourn when I am unfaithful? When I have turned my back on God?
Do I embrace God's mercy and grace? Do I reflect those qualities as I minister to others?
Do I weep as Jeremiah does when I see people walk away from serving God?

The Weeping Prophet

About seven years ago, a really godly mentor in my life told me she was praying for me and God had showed her that I was like the prophet Jeremiah.

We were at church when she told me this, and we got interrupted so I never got to hear why she thought I was like him. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet, and I am fairly emotional, so I figured that was the point. That's the whole story, really. Her comment was significant enough that I remember it, but not significant enough to have meaning.

I would have been a little more worried if I had actually read the NIV Study Bible's notes on the prophet Jeremiah.

He's given to self-analysis and self-criticism. Yeah. That's me.
He's timid and continually needs God's reassurance that he's doing the right things. Yeah. That's me.

He expresses his deep struggles transparently and sometimes says shocking things about his feelings toward God. Yeah. That's me too.

He ultimately surrenders and is obedient to God's call on his life even if it costs him. That's me too. Most of the time.

God tells him to be careful about ambition and to be content with his role in life. Hmmm. I suppose that's good advice. Contentment is hard though.

God commands him not to marry because he's going to go through significant hardship. Too late. And I'm not a fan of significant hardship.

The Bible doesn't tell us how he died, but Jewish tradition says he was stoned to death in Egypt. Not the way I want to go.

I'm not sure I even want to be Jeremiah.

Okay. I'm not sure any of that is relevant, but it is important to know something about the author of a book before I start reading, and the book of Jeremiah is the next book on the reading list.

Basically, Jeremiah is a gutsy guy living in tumultuous times, times of rebellion against the Lord. He writes gutsy, honest, soulful things, about himself, about God, and about the world. He wouldn't have chosen this role, and in fact he struggles with this role, but God pushes him forward, and in the end he must obey. Jeremiah isn't not perfect, but his doubts and his wrestling with what is true only strengthen his relationship with his Lord.

God's Presence Changes Everything

God comes near and Job, who basically can't stop talking up until now, can say nothing.
His friends, who claimed to know God, his purposes, and his thoughts, are silent.

God comes near, and the men stop.
This is the holy, magnificent, awesome God who set the world in place, who judges and rewards men for their acts, whose acts are untraceable, whose ways cannot be understood.

Suddenly the men recognize that everything that has been said to this point is meaningless. They have spoken for God, put words in his mouth, and those words were wrong.

The Lord asks, "Would you discredit my justice?"
"Do you think you can do better? Go ahead. Unleash the fury of your wrath, Job . . .
If you can."

Confronted by the power of God, Job surrenders his soul to the One who made him, formed him, loved him.

He submits his life to God, and says, "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours will fail. I thought I knew you, but I didn't know anything. I'm sorry. I didn't know."

None of us do, really.
Why do we suffer?
Why do we experience pain?
Why do we lose jobs and struggle with finances?
Why do we lose people we love?

I don't know.
But in this passage, we see that God's presence brings peace and clarity. It brings change of perspective.

When we recognize who God is, not the God we create out of our own wisdom, but the God we see in the Old and New Testament, when we experience his presence, then we willingly surrender our lives to Him. Just as Job did.

On to Jeremiah.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Job 37-39: Listen! God is speaking . . .

Elihu finishes his monologue dramatically, as raises his voice to be heard over the storm.

"At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place. Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice!"

I picture him speaking over the storm. He raises his voice. His face turns red. He's waving his arms wildly. Of course I don't actually know any of that, but I'm pretty sure about the storm. (See 38:1)

God's voice thunders . . .
He does great things beyond our understanding.
He orders the rain and the snow and the rain.
His breath produces ice.

Listen to this Job, you don't know anything about God.
But we do.
Who are you to say you want to talk to God?

He's beyond our reach.

It's not that Elihu has said anything terribly wrong, but at the same time he declares the glory of God, his unknowable nature, he also declares that he knows exactly what God's thinking--Like Job's other friends, he speaks for God and God's character when he says, "God punishes the sinful. That fact that Job is experiencing tragedy proves he's being punished, which proves that he is sinful. And I know."

And suddenly everything changes. God shows up and declarations of God's power and his unknowable nature pale. He answers Job out of the storm and says, "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me."

Who are you to question me? To speak for me?
Where were you when I made the world? Go ahead, tell me.
And who marked off its dimensions. Go ahead and explain if you can.

Have you figured out life and death?
Go ahead, explain it all to me.

Of course they can't.
None of us can.

But like Job's friends, who see tragedy and point to Job's sin, we also conclude that natural disasters must be due to sin.

Those tragedies must be God's punishment for grievous sin.
And yet, no natural disasters befell Nazi Germany or Southern Americans who sold African children into slavery, separated mothers and children, and no diseases afflicted pastors who supported the cause of slavery using Scripture or supported Jim Crow laws and shielded KKK members from prosecution.

God is beyond understanding.
His ways are beyond tracing out. (See Romans 11)

And like Job, who complains that God has unjustly afflicted him, we demand protection from illness, accidents, and death. We demand success and prosperity. Just because we serve him.

We suffer from so much confusion.
What we really need to is to set our eyes on him and focus on his greatness.

Face to face with God, Job recognizes his error, and falls before God. "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer--twice, but I will say no more." (Job 40:4-5)

What can Job say? Face to face with God, with his holiness, with his unspeakable glory, none of the rest matters.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Beyond our Understanding

Like I said before, the book of Job is very repetitive. Job complains and justifies himself, and then a friend accuses him of hiding his sin or being angry at God and urges him to repent. And then we repeat the process.

If we look closely at the tirades of these four men, we can find nuggets of truth that give us glimpses of the character of God.

In today's reading, Job 34-36, it's Elihu's turn to berate Job for his sin. (Elihu's ran actually started back in Job 31.) It's interesting to me that not one of Job's three friends can identify the sin; they just know it's there. Why else would God punish him so severely?

Here's a nugget of truth from Elihu (Job 36:22-23,26):

God is exalted in his power.
Who is a teacher like him?
Who has prescribed his ways for him,
or said to him, "You have done wrong?" . . .
How great is God--beyond our understanding!
The number of his years is past finding out.

God is amazing. His ways are complex. His power, his thoughts, his plans are beyond our understanding.

And so often, like Job and his friends, we claim to have figured him out; we claim to understand what he is doing, what his intentions are.

Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't seek Scripture or understanding. I'm also not saying that God doesn't reveal himself to us and give us glimpses of what is going on.

I'm just saying that sometimes it's hard to separate our thoughts from God's thoughts, our expectations from God's expectations, our plans from his plans. And sometimes the ideas we ascribe to God? They're ours--or part ours and part God's.

Case in point, Job and his friends. They are all so sure they know God, that they speak directly for him, and they have no idea what is going on, what he is up to.

And I'm just saying that a little humility goes a long way. Let's seek God. And let us love one another, the way God loves.