Every July, I remember my favorite meal,
eaten with my grandmother,
in her kitchen,
at The Farm.
When the summer isn’t so young that it feels harsh on your skin,
But it isn’t so old that the heat has sunk into your marrow.
I remember my favorite meal—
Garden squash fried in homemade cornmeal,
Tomato slices from a fruit that tastes like the joy of Oklahoma summers,
Cool and comforting cottage cheese and
A tender, fragrant peach.
Eaten with my grandmother—
How can you describe a grandmother?
Except through hugs, smiles and favorite meals.
How can you describe the loss of a grandmother?
Except through the sight of your own mother holding her hand while watching her mom struggle to live,
And hearing her whisper, “Go home, momma.”
In her kitchen—
Now occupied by a stranger who is unaware of the rhubarb pies, pineapple upside down cakes and poached eggs it is so skilled at producing.
Occupied by a stranger who I hope hasn’t replaced the white Formica countertop with golden specks that bring in the July sun through the window.
at The Farm—
Where new life, growth and death are a part of each season,
Part of the symphony of the wind and the dust and the cows,
Part of the work that makes a family so strong.
Every July, I remember my favorite meal,
eaten with my grandmother,
in her kitchen,
at The Farm.
Reading these genealogies, I thought about what they may have meant to their original audience. Maybe they made the original readers/hearers feel like they were part of a larger community, a larger family. Imagine seeing your grandfather’s name in the list of names and knowing that the history about to be recorded is your own. Each time God responds to His people in this history, He is responding to your ancestors. In the same way, He will respond to you. How thrilling it must have been for the original audience to realize their close connection to God through a specific family member.
For us today, maybe these genealogies can spur us to unity. Here we see the origins of the “tribes”, Israel and Judah, and also smaller subdivisions such as the Midionites and Tirathites. However, we also see they all came from Adam. We’re all the same tribe. We know not all of the original audience members realized this, as we read about many battles in their history, one tribe against another. Sometimes God used their enmity to bring about His will. No matter what we see happening around us today, we can know that 1. We’re all the same tribe and can love each other as family and 2. There are ugly battles with incomprehensible consequences, but ultimately God is in control. While He is not the cause of the evil that produces the ugliness and pain, we do know that His perfect rule will overcome all of it.
Father, You are love. You made us in Your image, creative and able to love. Father, help us choose love. As we search for balance in the tension of all other areas of life, help us realize love never fails, is always in season, is always the correct response. Love is pure, love is truth. It does not shame or blame. It believes the best in people. It does not hide in the face of fear, but it casts out fear. Love is light and love is life. Love is a meaningful purpose for being. Love is the good news. That You, ruler of the universes, looked on us, Your creation, and said “you are my children”. You sent Yourself to save us, You give of Yourself to guide us. We can never understand this love. Our earthly version of love is so powerful already that we give our whole lives in pursuit of it. And this is just a glimpse of how You love us. Thank You. I love You. All in Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Everything will pass away, but souls are eternal.
Souls are unique and to be treasured.
People are important.
You allow us to make our own choices.
You don’t force us, although you could.
Help us let others make their own choices.
Help us stop trying to force.
You loved Israel even when they were narrow-minded.
You loved us too.
Help us love those who seem narrow-minded.
Help us realize our own humanity.
Instead of condemning us straight to hell,
You said, “I’ll go to hell for you.”
Help us follow Moses, Paul, Jesus,
In this type of love, not swift condemnation.
Help us learn the kind of love from you,
that allows us to echo your words
and love so strongly that the hearer will know we mean them.
And through our love, they will more easily believe that you meant those words too.
That you did them.
That us going to hell for someone won’t really work, because none of us are perfect.
But it doesn’t need to work because it’s already been done.
For all of us.
“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 lots of reasons to question why a loving God would allow suffering. During my recent studies, I’ve frequently noticed the cycle of God’s judgement and how closely it is related to suffering (After I realized this trend, I found a prayer from several months ago asking to better understand God’s judgement. I don’t think it’s a coincidence). From my observations, God gives everyone an opportunity to choose him, but not wishing to violate free will, he also gives the opportunity to choose something else. In an effort to show how the something else is not what will really give the people fulfillment, he issues some kind of discipline, whether its delivering the people over to the natural consequences of their sin or an act of punishment such as defeat in war, plagues, etc. If the people repent, God restores them. If they don’t, he “hardens their heart”, which is difficult to understand. Right now, I think of it as if the people have rejected God so much that if God offered anything else to them, it would involve violating free will.
All of this to say that one reason I believe God allows suffering is to turn us back to him. But what about the suffering of someone who is already faithful? Is every time of pain some kind of punishment or call from God to repent? That idea has little to no capacity to produce comforting words for someone else during a time of suffering.
The first few verses of 2nd Corinthians helped show me another dimension of suffering. I don’t think it is necessarily an explanation for why there is suffering, but I do think it shows how God can still be a loving God despite what he allows to happen to his children. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (v. 3-5).
Beautiful. Not just the words, but the plan behind them. God is our ultimate comfort because he can relate to our suffering. He already experienced the worst kind of suffering– sacrificing your blameless Son for people who may or may not choose to accept the benefit of that sacrifice. Even if we don’t understand all the “whys”, we do know that God’s plan included being able to comfort us no matter what we experience. That is powerful, faithful, boundless love. Later in the passage, Paul provides a reason for his personal suffering “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v.9). The added emphasis, “who raises the dead” is a powerful reminder that our God can do anything and is absolutely trustworthy to rely on. To have a being much more powerful than we can understand be available and willing to comfort us during suffering, that is love. Not an imperfect, fearful love that protects us from suffering (because it is scared that we will no longer love if we do have pain) but a perfect and fulfilling love that is not only faithful to offer us a chance to turn back when we sin but abounding in comfort when there seems to be no explanation for our suffering.
I’ve heard and read this passage too many times to count. But still, two “new” things jump out at me. V. 8- knowledge will pass away and v. 12- “even as I have been fully known”. I am not at all certain about what either of these phrases mean. I will be keeping these in mind as I read other scripture and live out my daily life to search for their meaning, but I’m starting with this basic understanding:
V.8- Love is more important than knowledge, even my knowledge of these two phrases. I think of a child that loves even without knowledge of the details of Jesus’s life and teachings. I think of myself (with relief) being able to focus my efforts on love rather than seeking knowledge (maybe this blog should be called Shared Bible Love or just Shared Love?).
V. 12- With love being eternal and most important, it will remain even when perfection comes. We will get to love in heaven! Even after we know everything (is that what knowledge passing away means, it is no longer something we seek, but something we have?), we will still love others and be loved. I think of someone knowing everything about me and loving me anyway. Just as God knows me fully, one day, I will know him fully (the thought makes me tremble) and the result of that knowledge will be love. In the meantime, the result of my current, partial knowledge of God is still…love. Love to Him and love to others.
The first time I read vs. 42-47, I was amazed at the bravery of Joseph of Arimathea. It was a terrifying time for Jesus’s disciples. However, even as a prominent member of the Council, Joseph was willing to risk his position and probably his life by showing he believed Jesus was the Son of God. Then I read it again and noticed vs. 43 says that he “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body”. How did he get so bold? I think there’s a hint in the description of him as someone who was “waiting for the kingdom of God”. Isa. 40:31 also notes that waiting on/ hoping in the Lord renews strength. I envision Joseph’s boldness as “soaring on wings like eagles”.
Sometimes I get frustrated with the cyclical nature of my relationship with God. Sometimes I feel like I’m spiraling up towards Him, sometimes spiraling down away from him and sometimes stuck in a hamster wheel going nowhere. In my human mind I wonder why I can’t just be in a nice straight line moving up from point A to point B. But with the cycles going in unpredictable directions, I have to hope and trust that the Lord is in control. I have to wait for him to move me to the next stage in the cycle. I have to trust that even when I feel like I’m going nowhere or spiraling down that He is still working to bring me closer to Him as long as I am still seeking Him. Knowing that He is always seeking after me no matter what is to know a very powerful love. And I think that love is where boldness like Joseph’s comes from.