Tuesday, September 25, 2012

No Pressure

This might be my first time ever reading the book of Ezekiel, at least that I can remember. Some crazy stuff happens.

Ezekiel received his call to prophecy at age 30, the same year that he expected to be entering into the priesthood. He had a very interesting vision, that parallels John's vision in Revelation in many ways. You can read all this in the first two chapters. In chapter three, God tells Ezekiel to eat a scroll, on which the words he is to deliver to the people are written. After that, he left "in bitterness and in an angry spirit" (Ez. 3:14), and sat stunned for seven days, in what my footnotes suggest was "hardened resistance." (3:27, HCSB footnote p. 1358).

Then, God holds Ezekiel responsible as a watchman for the people of Israel, which we will discuss in greater detail, and then makes it so that Ezekiel is unable to speak for seven years, except to deliver God's message to Israel.

Here is what God says:

Now at the end of seven days the Lord came to me: "Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked person, 'You will surely die,' but you do not warn him--you don't speak out to warn him about his wicked way in order to save his life--that wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person and he does not turn from his wickedness or his wicked way, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life. Now if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and practices iniquity, and I put a stumbling block in front of him, he will die. If you did not warn him, he will die because of his sin and the righteous acts he did will not be remembered. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn the righteous person that he should not sin, and he does not sin, he will indeed live because he listened to your warning, and you will have saved your life."

Ezekiel 3:16-21

God also tells Ezekiel not to socialize with the Israelites during this time. So his only task, the only thing he is really able to do, is warn the people not to sin, and if he doesn't do that, they will die, and it will be his fault. Raise your hand if you envy Ezekiel...nobody?

This reminds me of Cain, who, after killing his brother, asked God, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

When I was in grade school, some kids bullied my younger stepbrother on the school bus. I got in trouble at home for not being a good older sister and standing up for him. My excuse was that I didn't even know it was happening--which was true, I was oblivious to it--but even if I had known, would I have done anything? Not because I didn't care, but because I was so shy, I wouldn't have had the courage to stand up to anyone.

A prouder moment (sort of) was a few years later in junior high. Some kids in the back of the class threw several spitballs into the hair of the guy sitting in front of me. I hadn't talked to him much, and I was still very shy, but he was kind of nerdy like me, and I felt like I couldn't just sit there and allow this to continue. After much agonizing, worrying, and deliberation, I very carefully picked all of the spitballs out of his hair--with my pencil. He didn't seem to notice it, or if he did, did not acknowledge it, which I was thankful for.

My husband teaches a class called Race, Gender, and Human Identity. There is an article in the textbook called "Why We Are Responsible for Being Born," which, he explained to me, says that racism is everyone's fault, because we allowed it to happen. We may not have started it, but but we haven't stopped it, and unless we speak out and stand up for equality for everyone, we responsible for it.

I have a hard time with this, because I like to avoid conflict--getting yelled at by someone, or just sternly confronted, is right up there on my list with eating beets and getting in a car wreck. I'd almost prefer bodily harm to verbal infractions. 

But sometimes you have to stand up for justice, truth, and love. And even if you aren't comfortable telling people they're doing something wrong, you can at least nudge them gently in the right direction. I'm not a fan of telling people, "You're doing wrong. This is sinful. You're going to hell." Unless it's my husband, in which case, I will tell him..."I don't know if this is the best way to deal with things." 

Being a manager at my workplace, I have had to become more assertive, especially when people break the rules or do something that is really not kosher. I can still be caring and nice, but firm.

I don't know that we all have to warn people not to sin--maybe that is some people's job. But we need to hold our fellow believers accountable--to help them on their path, and to help them love others as Jesus commanded us to do.

Who or what do you need to stand up for? How can you stand up for the things that Jesus represents?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Remember Me?

Ever see someone in the grocery store, or your workplace, or at the mall that you used to go to school with or you used to be somewhat acquainted with, but so much time has passed you're not sure if they're going to remember you?

This actually happens at my workplace quite a bit. I work at a place that sells frozen yogurt and see a lot of people that I used to go to high school with, or used to work with but was in a different department. Now, despite my fabulous outgoing online persona, I am not usually that way in "the real world." In high school, I was extremely shy and quiet, but I knew who pretty much everybody was. My sister was the more popular one, and people sometimes just referred to me not by name, but as her sister. So now when I see any of them, I will say hi to them if we had some significant amount of interaction, but otherwise, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't remember me, so I just don't bring it up. When you ask someone you haven't seen in years if they remember you, it's a humbling experience. If they don't, it can be embarrassing.

The reason I bring this up is that we will be examining this word "remember" as it is used in the Bible, starting with my not-so-favorite book right now, Lamentations.

Yahweh, remember what has happened to us. Look, and see our disgrace!

Lamentations 5:1

The footnote in the HCSB says, "To remember in Scripture is never just calling something to mind. It involves a corresponding action" (p. 1347). It refers to a couple scriptures from Psalms, where the author calls on God to protect the people from their enemies.

The scripture that immediately came to my mind, however, is from the New Testament.

Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.

Luke 23:42

These are the words from the man who was crucified next to Jesus. Without knowing this context that "remember" is a request for action, you would just think he was asking Jesus to light a candle for him up in Heaven and think of him fondly, when he thinks of His good times on earth.... Actually, he was asking Jesus to take him to the kingdom of Heaven.

So back to Lamentations. This request to remember can be seen as asking God to have mercy on Israel. Not just to look at the desolation, but have compassion.

What ties all this together is that both of these requests to "remembrance" were for things they knew they didn't deserve. It indicated a certain audacity.

 Look what we did and how desolate we are because we're paying for our sins. Remember us!

I'm dying on a cross because I have committed a serious crime! Remember me!

But it also shows some humility. Begging for mercy. In either case, a faith in the goodness and the power of God.

The NASB has a clearer translation of this verse in Lamentations.

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; Look, and see our reproach!

Lamentations 5:1

Jesus also asked us to remember--when we drink the bread and wine that represent His body and blood given for us. He asks us to remember--but He gives the grace.

What do you want God to remember? What requests for mercy and grace and God's goodness are on your heart today?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Growing Pains

Today I read two chapters of Lamentations because the first one was so depressing that I wanted some shred of hope, which I found in the next chapter.

Here is how bad things got:

Lord, look and consider what you have done this to. Should women eat their own children, the infants they have nurtured? Should priests and prophets be killed in the Lord's sanctuary?

Lamentations 2:20

That's really disturbing. It was so desolate in Israel there that people fought over whose child they would eat next. Who knew there was cannibalism in the Bible? And surely God didn't intend for things to get that bad, right?

After you try to wrap your head around that, here is what Jeremiah says in the next chapter:

Remember my affliction and my homelessness, the wormwood and the poison. I continually remember them and have become depressed. Yet I call this to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord's faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! I say the Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.

Lamentations 3:19-24

Jeremiah is understandably deeply depressed because of all he sees. But then, he says he has hope? After all this, who would? Only him, probably. 

You might recognize that next passage, because it is the basis for the hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness." I had no idea that it came out of Lamentations, of all places.

But I'm still upset about the cannibalism. Reading this verse offers some consolation:

For He does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind.

Lamentations 3:33

Why did that never occur to me? That God didn't enjoy doing this? For a long time, I kind of imagined God up in Heaven like Zeus, holding a bag of lightning bolts, zapping them at people like a game of Angry Birds (except with lightning bolts instead of birds), laughing maniacally all the while. But here Jeremiah says he doesn't enjoy it.

It brings to mind that phrase, "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." Ever hear that one? Ever believe it? Do you enjoy disciplining your own children? And just like our parents didn't like disciplining us (or so we hope), God hated to punish the Israelites so harshly. It broke his heart. But they needed it. To help them grow. And sometimes growth is painful. Just like when you first start to run--it doesn't always feel good, especially at the beginning. When you work out, you're literally damaging your muscles, tearing them and breaking them down. But afterwards, your body repairs itself to make you stronger. God had to make sure that Israel was so devastated and torn down that they would learn from their mistakes. They were His special people and He wanted them to thrive and grow. Even a fertile field needs to lie fallow every so often. What was to come next would be a miracle.

Here is the promise God had for Israel (and us) in Isaiah:

For this is like the days of Noah to Me: when I swore that the waters of Noah would never flood the earth again, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you. Though the mountains move and the hills shake, My love will not be removed from you and My covenant of peace will not be shaken, says your compassionate Lord.

Isaiah 54:4, 7, 9-10.

Here is a promise from God in the Old Testament that He will no longer release His anger and wrath on us, even if we get it as wrong as the Israelites did in those days. We don't have to be afraid of God's judgment or live in fear that we might be struck down by lightning every time we mess up. We don't have to worry that a natural disaster is God's punishment for sins of the people. Because of His grace. Because of His faithfulness.

Here is the first verse of that hymn:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

He will never forsake or desert us. He is a faithful and loving God.

How have you experienced growing pains in your life? How has God shown you His faithfulness? How will you show your faithfulness to God?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Corner Time

I finished Isaiah and skipped over Jeremiah, going right into Lamentations. Although it's quite gloomy, I think a lot can be learned from it. It is believed that Jeremiah wrote it while grieving for Israel after its fall the the burning of the temple. It is a set of poems written to God about pain and suffering.

This is the verse that stood out for me in the first chapter:

Lamentations 1:18 The Lord is just, for I have rebelled against his command.

It occurred to me while reading this, that Israel deserved to be punished. They didn't screw up just once, or even twice. They did it over and over and over again.

When we screw up, sometimes we try to avoid the punishment. I find that whenever I make a mistake, the wheels in my mind immediately start turning and trying to figure out how I'm going to cover it up and evade any consequences, or pass it off as somebody else's mistake. It's only when I decide to face the consequences that I seem to receive unexpected grace.

Case in point: A few years ago, I got pulled over for running a red light. Now I still believe that I should not have been pulled over, but the city policeman did not seem to care about that (not that I argued with him). It was raining. I had bad brakes. The light was turning yellow and I tried to stop, but realizing that I would have skidded all over the intersection and possibly had a wreck, I decided to just go through the light. It didn't turn red until I was right underneath it. I thought I was in the clear until I saw those flashing blue lights. So, in the end, I got a $186 ticket and 3 points on my license. It didn't seem fair.

A few months later, driving down a hill, I got pulled over for speeding. It was easy to do, but I always tried to be conscious of my speed (especially since I still had those bad brakes). The cop told me about it, and I admitted it, saying I really should have been paying more attention to my speed. In this case, I felt like I deserved a ticket. But he didn't give me one! I got off with a warning, and thanked God for this miracle of grace.

Isaiah and Jeremiah warned the Israelites that they would be punished if they didn't change their ways, but they didn't pay any attention. They got what was coming to them. We all need discipline--especially as we get older and don't have our parents telling us what we can and can't do. Sometimes we get an I-am-an-adult-and-nobody-tells-ME-what-to-do complex. God humbles us, and when we obey Him, we are rewarded. He wouldn't be a good parent if He didn't send us to the corner sometimes. But He always gives out grace afterwards, which is what Isaiah talked about--grace in the form of Jesus Christ, who died so that we would always be forgiven for our sins.

When have you received discipline, and when have you received grace? Do you think you deserved it?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

deciding what--and how much--to read

Do you find the Bible overwhelmingly large and difficult? I do. This huge book with over a thousand pages in it that you are not supposed to just READ like a novel and then put it down and forget about it, but read it regularly, and study it, and pick it apart like an Emily Dickinson poem. All the while, applying it to your life, memorizing verses, and underlining things with a highlighter. Oh, and making notes in the back of it or wherever the little notes sections are provided. As for reading the Bible from beginning to end, well I'm going to tell you the truth--I have tried to do that a few times and have found it excruciating. I tried participating in a Bible in 90 Days challenge with my church and...I made it to Isaiah. And then fell behind. Off the wagon. I tried to catch up, but I got so far behind that I just. Gave. Up.

But it was better than the first couple of times I had ever tried to read the Bible all the way through starting at the beginning. At least this time I made it past I Kings. I did manage to listen to the entire New Testament on CD in the car over the course of a week. That was a great experience. But then when I finished, I said...what next?

One church I used to attend gave everybody in the congregation these little books called Life Journals. You read four chapters a day and out of those four chapters, you would pick one scripture to focus on and write about in your Life Journal. It was very simple. This went well for me at the beginning. But then, of course, I got behind. I fell so far behind that I was embarrassed to even start again. That list that was so diligently checked off at first kept staring at me, mocking me, judging me. I couldn't handle it. Even four chapters of the Bible a day was too much for me to read.

It's not that I don't like to read. I love to read. I read all the time and I have read very long novels. But they have to really engage me, and frankly, the Bible wasn't doing that for me. At least not the way I was reading it.

So last Christmas, I asked my parents to buy me a study Bible. Specifically, an HSCB study Bible. I had seen one at a bookstore, flipped through it, and was fascinated. This, I thought, is the answer to my difficulties. All these footnotes of explanation, all these maps, these pictures--it's going to make it interesting for me! And it did, but I still had a problem. I had no idea what to study. Where to begin. I had already made it to Jeremiah in the OT, and had already listened to the whole NT on CD, and I wanted something new, something different, something exciting.

So I picked Isaiah. I started near the end of the book, reading the prophecies of the coming Messiah, which have always fascinated me. I'm reading only one chapter a day and working my way through slowly and intentionally. Sometimes I mix it up and read a Psalm too. I really like the Psalms. After Isaiah, I will go where the Spirit leads me. I would love your suggestions. What are you studying right now? What is your method? How do you get engaged in studying God's Word?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Name Game

"....You will be called by a new name that the Lord's mouth will anounce."

Isaiah 62:2

In this chapter of Isaiah, God tells the nation of Israel that they're going to have a new name. This name-changing thing was something He liked to do. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah--even in the New Testament Saul became Paul and Simon became Peter. In Isaiah 62:4, Israel was going to go from "Deserted and Desolate" to "My Delight and Married." In verse 12, they would become "The Holy People, The Lord's Redeemed, Cared For, a City Not Deserted." They were going to go from something sad to something special and loved and valued. When we enter into relationship with God, He has a new name for us too. I think that name is Beloved. Cherised. Treasured.

Names are so important in the Bible. Proverbs 22:1 says "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches...". When I first read that, of course I was excited to look up the meaning of my name and see how great and wonderful my name had always been, especially since it came out of the Bible. I was mighty disappointed to discover that Leah in Hebrew is thought to mean "weary" or possibly "wild cow." Neither of these definitions are very flattering. My Mom told me the story of how she named me. I was already born, and I didn't have a name for a half a day, or maybe an entire day. She was flipping through the Bible later on, and read, "Leah was fair of face." So she says. Unfortunately, she must have still been under the influence of pain medicine after giving birth to me, because the Bible I am familiar doesn't say that. Her sister Rachel was fair of face; Leah wasn't even the one Jacob was in love with! The only thing she really had going for her were her "tender eyes," but even they were "clouded!" Maybe Mom just didn't like the name Rachel as much but didn't want to tell me that Leah was the uglier one.

I do like my name, and think it sounds pretty, even though people mis-pronounce it, misspell it, or confuse it with some other name that starts with L (Lola is my favorite one so far). I'm happy to know, however, that God has given me a name that doesn't mean tired cow.

Whatever name you were born with, you are not bound to it and all its baggage. You were made by God, and he calls you Beloved. Furthermore, the emotional baggage you carry doesn't bind you either because He can carry your load. He can handle it, and He loves you, whatever your name is or used to be...even if it's an unpronounceable symbol or has a dollar sign in it.

What does your name mean? What name does God know you by?

pre-training materials

If you are looking for in-depth information on training for a 5k, 10k, half-marathon, marathon, ultramarathon, triathlon, or any other type of -thon, then you've probably come here by mistake. But it's ok. You still might find something useful.

If you were hoping for a fresh, quirky, and often humorous look at the Bible and how it relates to life, then it's possible that you might find it. I'll do my best anyway.

I've been studying the Bible a lot recently, more in-depth than I ever have, and inspired by my friend Bree, who writes College Vespers, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts as I do these studies. I kept search websites and apps looking for something that would help me study, but I couldn't find anything (at least nothing that was free) that really fit what I was looking for. And what was I really looking for? So I decided to just study as the Spirit moved me, hoping and praying (yes, actually praying), that I would recognize the Spirit moving...me. And because you're curious, or, because it might be useful to someone out there, I will share exactly how I do these studies.

1. Collect my Bible, pen, highlighter, a notebook, a well-lit area, and a clean space. Turn off distractions and allow for enough time (at least 30 minutes).
2. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open up the scriptures to me and help me understand, as well as apply the text to my life.
3. Turn to the passage that I am studying.
4. Read once through a chapter or section without stopping.
5. Read again, this time trying to make sense of what was said.
6. Read again more slowly, reading the footnotes that give background and sometimes explanation (I have a HCSB Bible, which is a really nifty study Bible with lots of footnotes, maps, and definitions of Hebrew words).
7. Read all the way through one last time, with a better combined understanding of what I think it means, what the Spirit is telling me, and what the footnotes say (and the 3 aren't mutually exclusive).
8. Refer to any passages that are related if led to do so.
9. Underline or highlight anything that stood out or that I want to remember.
10. Think about how this scripture applies to My life (and not anyone else's in particular, unless it's really pressing on me).
10. Write down the passage and thoughts in my notebook or journal.
11. Pray again, in thanks for the scriptures and asking God to help me use what I have learned. Sometimes this turns into daily prayer time too, but not always. Note that because of an erratic work schedule, I don't always study the same time each day--but it is usually afternoon or early evening, so that I'm alert enough to see it through.

This has definitely been the best method of Bible study for me, because I keep doing it and don't feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed by it. You may of course adopt it as your own if you'd like. Or maybe you have your own method--which you may share for us all to read so we can have more ideas.

I hear a lot of people say, "I don't read the Bible as much as I should." And I think that statement is part of the problem. It's looking at Bible study as a chore, something we should do every day but really don't want to. I've found that the closer I get to God, the more I want to read the Bible to get to know Him better, and the more I read the Bible, the closer I get to God. But that's just me. I find joy in the study, and the idea of writing these thoughts down and sharing them with people just makes it even better. This is not a soapbox though. I'm not going to prescribe to you how often or how much you should read. I have a kind of short attention span, so a chapter or two a day is really all I can handle. That's also why I read the chapter so many times. I want it to really sink in and mean something in life. I hope that by sharing the fruit of my study, you may be encouraged to study for yourself and produce fruit of your own.

Which brings us to the title of the blog -- Training for the Big Race. I actually have started training for a race - a 5k, running along with the Couch 2 5k podcast. I look at studying the Bible partially as training for life. And then there's that play of words with "by grace."  Not very deep, but kind of nifty.

Without further rhetoric, let the training begin...and go!