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Part of the FBCS 2010 Read Through the Bible Project: Enter the Story. Join the Song.

Archive for January, 2010

But I Trust In You, O Lord

Luke 22:39-71    Genesis 40    Psalm 31

Today’s texts brought to mind the words of a hymn, “Friends may fail me, foes assail me, he, my Savior, makes me whole . . . Saving, helping, keeping, loving, he is with me to the end” (J. Wilbur Chapman). As all three story lines remind us, friends do fall short, and foes can be harsh: “The chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23) . . . “they plot to take my life” (Psalm 31:13) . . . “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” (Luke 22:48) . . . and “the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him” (Luke 22:63). What’s more, Joseph, Jesus, and the psalm writer are innocent of any wrongdoing (Gen. 40:15; Lk.23:13-15; Psalm 31:6). In fact, Joseph and Jesus engage in helping and healing through it all!

How did they do it? I certainly want to know! I find the key in Jesus’ example and counsel, and in Psalm 31. Having instructed his disciples to pray, he does exactly that, honestly and fervently: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk.22:42). Can’t you hear in this echoes of the psalmist’s cry, “take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit . . .” (Psalm 31:4,5)? These are prayers of trust. Deep trust. Relational trust. Pure, honest, and humble trust: “Here is my desire, now I place myself in your care . . .”

How about us? Where do we place our trust? In the people around us? In our ability to take care of ourselves? Or in God, who creates us, saves us, helps us, keeps us, loves us, and promises to be with us to the end? Friends will fail us, foes may assail us, but God is forever faithful! May we follow the examples before us this day and join with the psalmist in declaring:

I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand!
— Psalm 31:14,15

Reality Therapy

Luke 22:1-38    Genesis 39    Psalm 30

As I read the three texts for this day, I find myself asking a question: Where, exactly, do we get the idea that life should go smoothly for those who believe? It certainly doesn’t find its source in the story we’re reading!

Consider the facts. Joseph, who has been sold into slavery by his own brothers, is now the victim of an unjust jailing. As Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his followers, they jostle for position, his enemies look for a way to kill him, and one of his own moves to betray him. And the psalmist, having lived through both prosperity and grave illness, declares: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

There is reality therapy in these readings. The promise we receive upon entering the story of God is not that it will be smooth sailing from here, on out. Injustice . . . Suffering . . . Tears . . . they are all still part of the story; as are joy and dancing. And hope.  But this hope is not escapism.  Symbolized by bread broken and wine poured out, the promise which offers true hope is found in the juxtaposition of these words: “he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:20,21). God with Joseph. And Jesus. And the psalm writer. And also with us.  No matter the circumstances.

May we hear and receive the Gospel truth this day: In every situation, God is with us. And may this reality lead us to sing out in hope:

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
You have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you
and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give
thanks to you forever.
— Psalm 30:11,12

Be Alert

Luke 21    Genesis 38    Psalm 29

Two women play significant roles in today’s readings: Tamar (Genesis 38) and a poor widow (Luke 21:1-4). In differing ways, each woman proves to be a key contributor in the story of Jesus. It is Tamar, of course, who proves the more puzzling to us, for she lives under a set of customs that we find quite foreign (particularly that of the leverite marriage as spelled out in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, which was also the basis for the question posed by the Sadducees in yesterday’s reading).

While it may be tempting to see no value at all in Tamar’s story, two important details say otherwise. The first is Judah’s statement in v.26, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son, Shelah,” and the second is the reality that she and her firstborn son by Judah, Perez, are part of the lineage of David and, therefore, ancestors of Jesus (Mt.1:1-14). All this is to say that Tamar was a woman who, given the rules of the patriarchal society in which she lived, was alert to Judah’s insincerity and acted boldly to achieve justice. In the process, she became part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.

As for the poor widow, she is offered as an example of faithfulness and spiritual leadership in contrast to the religious leaders of the day (see the sentences that precede the widow’s story, remembering that chapters are a later addition). Here is a woman who is truly ready to stand before the Son of Man (Lk.21:36)!

May we read the stories of these two women today with a new awareness of their contributions to THE story, and may we heed the word of Jesus: “So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36, The Message). Amen.

Hearing God

Luke 20:27-47    Genesis 37    Psalm 28

Am I hearing God? That is the question I must keep continually before me — as I read the daily texts, AND as I move through each day — if I am ever going to learn to pray . . . I find today’s texts addressing this challenge of remaining open and teachable . . .

The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection (Luke 20:27. “That is why they were sad, you see,” as the memory clue goes).  And Joseph was a pain in the neck (Genesis 37). Just observe him at 17 year of age, tattling on his brothers, useless in the field wearing his special long-sleeved robe, and detailing his every dream of future leadership over his kin . . .  These are key details, for they exert influence over openness and teachability. Consider the Sadducees, “those who say there is no resurrection.” Are they open to learning something from Jesus when they ask their question about resurrection? It is doubtful. The goal is to paint their opponent into a corner and demonstrate just how ridiculous the concept is. And it is highly unlikely that Jesus’ answer changed a single mind (sad, isn’t it?). As for Joseph, while it is true that God was, indeed, speaking to and through the young man, his brothers were so angry and jealous (and he was so obnoxious) that they were absolutely incapable of hearing God in any of it. Only his father “kept the matter in his mind” (Gen.37:11) upon hearing one of these dreams.

So here’s the challenge: Am I open to hearing God? Even (gulp) in the voice of an opponent or someone who is truly obnoxious?  Am I willing to remain open and teachable — even expectant — as I move through this day?

The psalm writer again lights the path, crying out to God in distress and, at the same time, thanking God for help provided: “To you, O Lord, I call: my rock, do not refuse to hear me (Psalm 28:1) . . . Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings (v.6). There it is: Even while surrounded by enemies, an expectation that God will act . . . Such is the nature of openness and teachability.

May we be open and teachable this day, and may we hear God whenever, wherever, and through whomever God chooses to speak. Amen.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
— Psalm 28:7

Take Courage!

Luke 20:1-26    Genesis 35-36    Psalm 27

It Takes Courage. . . to march into Jerusalem, speak good news in the temple daily (with authority), and tell stories that call out an opposition that is constantly watching, listening, and plotting against you (Luke 20). It takes courage to put away the idols and talismans that you have counted upon for protection, and travel through hostile territory with the goal of declaring personal loyalty to one God and a promise (Genesis 35). Yes, it takes courage to do the next right thing in the midst of  opposition . . .

What Is the Source of Such Courage? Or, as Jesus’ opponents demand: Who gives such authority (Lk.20:2)?  Psalm 27 declares the answer: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1). Make no mistake, Jesus and Jacob find their courage in God (and please don’t diminish Jesus’ courage — or the possibility of your own — with the “Well, he’s the son of God, of course he’s courageous” approach). In the case of  Jacob, it is also clear that he bases his present boldness on the experience of God’s faithfulness in the past (see Gen.35:3). In other words, courage and authority belong to those who trust God enough to step out and into the next chapter of the story.

Take Courage today. Living under the authority of God, do the next right thing!

Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
— Psalm 27:14

Missing . . .

Luke 19:28-48    Genesis 34    Psalm 26

“Something is Missing.” It slowly dawned on me this time, upon reflection. Oh, I’ve read the story of Dinah’s violation and her brothers’ violent acts of vindication many times, but I’ve never “gotten anything out of it.” But this time I noted an omission and read it again just to be certain. Do you see it? Or, rather, miss it? Where is God in this story??? Completely missing from the entirity of Genesis 34. God is not sought, nor mentioned. Everybody simply does what seems right in their own eyes. . . No wonder the story is so bleak.

Something was missing in the temple, too (Luke 19:45ff), on the day Jesus drove out the merchants. Prayer. Or, if not absent, it was certainly overshadowed by the sounds of the marketplace . . . Jesus explained his actions succinctly, “My house shall be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Prayer — the primary purpose for the temple and the key spiritual practice by which we become part of what God is doing — was missing. Again, people were simply doing what they thought was right in their own eyes. . .

Contrast the prayer that is Psalm 26: “Vindicate me, O Lord” (v.1). There are, as with the story of Dinah, enemies here; but there is also prayer. And trust. And a desire to do the right thing. And a willingness to seek — and wait upon — God. God will do the vindicating. . . my part is to enter into the story that God is writing.

How about us? Pause to reflect upon the past 24 hours. Is God at the center of our stories? Or is there something — someone — missing?  May we, each one, learn to pray. First. Often. Unceasingly. And may God guide our actions and reactions today. Amen.

The God of My Salvation

Luke 19:1-27    Genesis 32-33    Psalm 25

The theme of today’s texts is grounded in the psalmist’s cry, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust” (Psalm 25:1,2). First there is Jacob, the hyper-confident and cunning supplanter who, when confronted by the prospect of seeing Esau’s face again, comes before God in humility and undergoes a struggle which reshapes his relationship with God and his brother (Genesis 32 and 33). Then there is Zacchaeus, tax collector and swindler, shunned as a sinner, who, upon receiving Jesus into his home, vows to completely reorient his life; salvation and belonging are his! And thirdly, there is the story of a servant who, paralyzed by fear, wastes his moment of opportunity and loses everything (Luke 19).

Read Psalm 25 with Jacob and Zacchaeus in mind: “O my God, in you I trust . . . Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!” (Psalm 25:2,7). How similar are the words of Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 32:9-12! And can’t you hear it in Zacchaeus’ vow? Humility. Recognition. Repentance. Trust. Radical Reformation. . .

At center is a transformed relationship with God. Jacob illustrates this most dramatically. Up to this point, Jacob has bargained with his father’s God; now, renamed “Israel,” he buys a plot of land and erects an altar to El-Elohe-Israel, which means “God, the God of Israel.” Significance? God is now his God. He has personally struggled with God; come face-to-face with God; he has entered into a trusting relationship with God. So different is this man once known as Jacob, that he even sees in Esau the face of God! Truly salvation has come to his house! Contrast the servant who fears his master, but does not trust him at all. He takes no risk; he makes no personal investment; and the result is great loss. . .

How is it with us? — With me and my God? — With you and your God? How does the journey of Jacob speak into your journey and mine?  May we, each one, own the psalm writer’s prayer: “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Psalm 25:5).

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