Holy Father. All praise, nothing but worship, to Your precious name. Your fullness is all around us, tangible and intangible, in pleasure and in pain. You offer the wholeness we crave, the meaning for our limited amount of time. You offer boundaries and freedom in perfect balance. You offer love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and companionship overflowing. You don’t expect us to be perfect or uniform or anything else, but instead You hope and yearn for us in all things to turn to You. You are always near, waiting for us to turn and come closer to You. We come to You with all that we have, our joys and our pain, our gratitude and our requests, our fears and our hopes, our lament and our praise. And You are with us in all of them. You know them intimately. You listen as we share them. You occupy the space that creates relationship. You make us full of awe as we think that the Eternal Creator and Sustainer of all is here to listen, to guide, to fill us up, to reconcile with us so that we can be in relationship. You are King of my days and all that is in them. I will worship You forever. Please help me live by faith. I love You. All in Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
When I lose something, there are two kinds of lost. The first is the roll of film left on a plane in Florida type of lost. The item is never coming back. The second is not being able to find any of the eight chapstick tubes I have simply because I don’t have a clue where they are. It’s not quite lost, I just don’t know where they are at the moment. I am very aware of the distinction between these two types of lost whenever I am driving. I’m never truly lost when I’m driving, I just don’t know where I am at the moment. It’s like a principle of the universe that I can never be truly lost in terms of my location in space. It will always be possible to go back to where I started or end up where I want to go.
I would like to think that this same universal principle applies to my identity, my existential thoughts and my spiritual explorations. I’d like to think that I can never be truly lost, that any questioning just leads me down a temporary path where I don’t know where I am for a time, but then I can always find my way back to where I started or to where I want to go. I don’t know yet if that’s how it works.
So many things that I “knew” all my life are rather suddenly in the “I’m not sure” category. But there are still a few things that I know, and in an attempt to get my self less lost, I want to sort them out on paper.
(In relation to God) If we reach out to God, He will reach out and bring us in. Always. Ask, Seek, Knock.
(In relation to others) Do to others what you wish they would do to you. The goal is to continue Christ’s work of restoring, healing and providing rest to humanity.
(In relation to ourselves) Wait on the Lord, He gives you strength. What do we have to fear? Abandon everything else and depend fully on God. If an idea involves self-reliance or an absence or lessening of grace, it is not truth. Grace is truth. Dependence on God is truth.
So this is all that I truly know. And for right now, it is all I need to know.
“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” (v.14)
I think those words sum up the story of the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, reaching a climax in the story of Jesus. How beautiful. Especially in light of the context of this story. These words were spoken to King David by a wise woman pretending to have a situation that mirrored what was happening with David’s son. Absalom had killed his brother for raping his sister and had been away from David for 3 years. The wise woman spoke these words to spur David to call for Absalom to come back. In light of David’s actions with Bathsheba and Uriah a few chapters back, these words must have been especially humbling to him. To us, thousands of years and miles away, these words are still an accurate picture of what God did through Jesus and what he continues to do in our present lives, thus creating the source for our humility, devotion and love towards him.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
The relationship between fear and love is a theme in many stories, for example, someone hiding something because they are afraid they won’t be loved if they show it. In these stories, the tension between fear and love is explored to reveal what true love is.
In his letter, John is combating gnosticism and is trying to help believers see what truth is. It doesn’t take long to see that John’s emphasis in this letter is love. Why? Because love is truth. God is love and love comes from God. If it is love from God, then it is truth. And what kind of love is this? What kind of love has God shown to us? He loved us while we were imperfect. He spared no cost to heal us. We do not have to be afraid because we are not perfect.
I have to admit, I have a hard time loving myself unconditionally or believing that others love me because I know that I am not perfect. I don’t really see it as an issue with self-esteem or self-confidence, it is an issue with fear. I am afraid that since I am not perfect, that I am not worthy of love. To put it another way, I am doubting that God’s love or other people’s love is strong enough to look beyond my imperfections. I know this is ridiculous, I love others even though they are not perfect and I know that they love me even though I am not perfect. But knowing something cognitively and feeling it are entirely different. I don’t know how exactly I hope to go about feeling love for myself and others’ love for me, but I can begin by trusting that in God’s perfect love, the love that saved me and saves me while I am still a sinner, I have no need to fear. I’m not trying to be a better person so that God (or others or myself) will love me more, but instead because the more I become like Christ, the more I will know God.
Another amazing thing about becoming more like Christ and being around others who are becoming more like Christ is found in verse 12, “No one as ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” As the footnotes in my NIV version say, “Thus the God whom ‘no one has ever seen’ is seen in those who love, because God lives in them.” I want to be around people who see my imperfections and love me anyway, because they help me know God’s love. I want to be around people who aren’t perfect (including myself) and love them anyway, because this is an opportunity for God’s love to be made complete in me and for me to learn more about God.
There are three things Paul wants the Ephesians to know that he lists in Chapter 1, verses 15-23. I think these three things (hope, inheritance and God’s power) can shape the reading of the entire letter.But before we get to the list, we need to know how the Gentiles are to gain this knowledge. Verse 17 lets us know that their knowledge of these things will come from God himself. From other scripture, we know that if we ask, seek, and knock, God will provide. Therefore, if we seek after these things, God will reveal them.
The first of the three things is that the Gentiles “may know what is the hope to which He has called you” (v.18, ESV). Verses 11-13 of chapter 2 remind us that Paul is writing to Gentiles, who were previously without Christ, “having no hope and without God in the world (NKJV)”. With Christ, (as beautifully described throughout chapter 2) the Gentiles now have hope– the same promises, the same covenant with God– that the Jews had.Knowing this hope consists of two things: knowing what the promises are and trusting that God will fulfill these promises. The following two things Paul lists include something God has promised and something that encourages trust in Him.
The second in Paul’s list is “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints”. In verses 3-10, Paul describes the Gentile’s adoption as sons by Jesus’s sacrifice and God’s grace. Paul wants them to know what this adoption means, that they are “holy and blameless before him” (vs. 4). How great is God’s grace to the Gentiles and to us! What an incredible promise, that we can be holy and blameless before God, that we can be God’s children.
The third thing Paul lists is “the immeasurable greatness of His power towards us who believe” (vs. 19). In verse 20, Paul reminds us that this immeasurable power is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and placed all authority beneath His feet. Other scripture reminds us it is the same power that created the world and gave us life and breath. It is the same power that performed the miracles of the Old and New Testaments. And this power is directed towards us who believe. This is the power that lets us trust in God. In my daily experiences and Bible reading, I want to constantly be looking for the hope and inheritance we have through Jesus and looking for examples of God’s immeasurable power. Chapter 3 describes how these things have changed Paul’s life and chapters 4-6 describe a lifestyle that encourages the pursuit of knowing our hope, inheritance and trusting in God’s power, rather than the pursuit of things that really just distract us.
God speaks to those coming to worship him (v.2). He lays out how they can reenter covenant with him (v.3-8) . He illustrates the irrationality of letting them continue how they are and not having any terms of the covenant (8-11). He states that he will use destruction and punishment because they do not follow him. V.19 shows it is ultimately to their own shame. V.28 shows discipline is meant to be accepted by the people to turn them back to God. V.12-15 reinforces this idea, as God cites the destruction of another place to try to motivate his people to turn to him. He reminds them of the covenant he made with their fathers and how it involved both religious practices (sacrifices, burnt offerings, etc.) and spiritual devotion (following God in all ways) (v.22-23). What was the demise of these people? Simply that they did not listen or pay attention to God (v.24-26). This is a violation of the spiritual side of the covenant. They then (Or maybe before? Or at the same time? We don’t really know I guess but it doesn’t really matter, we need both.) violated the religious side (v.17-19, v.21, v.30-31).
The idea that these people are beyond the help of prayer (v.16) is also illustrated in Ch.8. They are totally rejecting grace so that it is no longer possible to offer it to them (7:27-29).
The crime of not listening to or paying attention to God is frightening to me. I can easily forget or ignore just about anything and there are several things I don’t pay attention to. This can be a good thing at times, but also very dangerous. I must make God a priority and completely immerse myself in him if I want to remember, learn and pay him the attention of which he is so greatly worthy.
Grace is no longer offered when the people refuse to turn back to God. I imagine this as if the only way to get you to take grace is to force you into it and violate your free will, then it will no longer be offered to you. The characteristics of the country of Judah in this state are: they did not turn to God (v.4-6), they did not feel guilt or question their ways (v. 6,12), they did not seek God’s ways (v. 7-8), even the religious leaders are focused on worldly gain (v.10) and make God’s gracious gifts superficial (v.11), and they did not use God’s gifts to produce fruit (v.13). Jeremiah is crushed by this (v. 18-22). Not even the best medicinal healing of the day can heal this wound. V.19 is interesting, it could be read as the Lord speaking in the latter part, saying, “Am I not still here?” in answer to Jeremiah’s reasoning that if the Lord is destroying them, then he must not be with them. It’s as if God is saying that this destructive justice is part of his nature too. Alternatively, v. 19 could be read as the people saying something like, “What can happen to us? God is with us, we are his people!” This reading is similar to the idea of sinning so that grace may abound. But that’s not how it works. Ch. 7 explains why grace doesn’t work that way and why God can be both gracious and destructive.
This passage strongly motivates me to seek to understand God’s ways and follow them, not to save myself, but to stay in covenant with him. I will still need grace when I fail, but I also need to be able to recognize when I fail so that I can seek grace. This requires me to 1. know what God’s ways are and 2. examine myself. For this, I need both religion (studying what God’s ways are) and spirituality (self-reflection and reflection on God’s ways).
God provides land for each of the tribes, except the Levites. They will live off the sacrifices the other tribes make and have “the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them”. God is certainly providing for all the other tribes, but there is something special about how he is providing for the Levites. He’s giving them himself. I’m not sure of the scholarly meaning of that phrase or how it actually played out for the Levites, but I think there is an obvious correlation to Jesus’s sacrifice and the Holy Spirit living in us today. The Levites didn’t have access to these two gifts, but God literally gives of himself in both of them. Not to mention him providing for all of our physical needs too, in addition to these spiritual needs.
How amazing it is that we share the Levites’ inheritance–the priests, the chosen elites of Jewish society–in ways they probably didn’t even imagine. It’s just as amazing to think that God has given himself to us and provides for us in ways we can’t imagine, and he will continue to exceed our imaginations for eternity.
Through various metaphors and symbols throughout Ezekiel, God expresses how He feels about Israel’s sins. While there are some details that mention what the sins are, I think the main focus is how God feels about sin and what He’s going to do about it. After reading how God feels when His people are sinning, the opportunities for redemption (see chapters 16, 18 and 20 for examples) seem even more incredible.
The multiple opportunities for repentance and renewal that Israel received in the past are spelled out in chapter 20. The repeated phrase throughout this chapter says of God’s commands and judgements, “if a man does [them], he shall live by them” (NKJV). This seemed odd to me at first. But in vs. 37, God is laying out his promise for restoration and says “…I will bring you into the bond of the covenant…” which seems to me like the covenant is a kind of protection. Protection from what? This question brought me back to the repeated phrase, “if a man does [them], he shall live by them”. A fulfilling life can be found in God’s commands and judgements. God’s covenant protects us from the emptiness of an unfulfilling life. Throughout Ezekiel, we can see how desperately God wants His people to realize that He is God and life at it’s best is only found in Him.
In my Family Studies classes in college, we talked about how the most basic emotional need of every human being is to be accepted. We do lots of crazy things to try to be accepted by other people. But this need is perfectly filled through God’s grace, which accepts and loves us exactly how we are. With this need met, we are free to live a life that is actually meaningful to us. And we can find this meaning in God’s covenant, because it is the source of the power that accepted us and loved us in the first place. We don’t have to read the Bible as a list of do’s and do not’s. We can read the Bible as a way to learn more about God and to discover the covenant He offers to us. The outcome of both of these perspectives isn’t all that different- both would lead to someone who is trying to follow God. However, the inner experience is vastly different. A list of do’s and do not’s creates anxiety, fear and complete despair when we fail, which may lead to harsh judgments of others in efforts to make us feel less bad. But reading to learn more about God creates a joyful discovery that is focused on growth, including failure as part of the process.