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Speaking into the Culture

32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus briefly makes reference to his view on divorce. In two short snappy sentences, Jesus tells us that divorce is not a simple no-cost outcome that can be entered into casually. The marriage covenant is serious; so divorce is serious. So serious in fact that Jesus notes whoever divorces his wife causes her to become “a victim of adultery” (Gk. to be debauched / Hb. figuratively, to apostatize). The phrasing is interesting in Greek, Hebrew and English. In Jesus day, all of the power of divorce was with the man. He could decide on this path for almost any reason and, surprisingly to us as we usually consider the first century to be very conservative, divorce was very easy and very prevalent. In fact, as hard as it might be for us to grasp today, women were considered more like property than partners in a marriage.

Jesus speaks into this larger debate in Matthew 19:1-4. He is asked by a group called the Pharisees, whether a woman can be divorced by a man for “any and every reason”. While we might hear this as an isolated question, the first century BC was a”‘high context culture”. This means you could make a reference to the Old Testament scriptures and almost everybody listening would catch that reference. When Jesus is asked. “for any and every reason”, he is being asked to make judgment on a current debate on Deuteronomy 24:1-4. In this passage we read:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

This passage was originally written as a case study on the subject of divorce. In an agrarian culture in which she would have no ability to earn her own income, a divorced woman would face a difficult choice: either to return to her fathers house (which was not always possible), or to turn to prostitution to survive. This teaching prevented that circumstance by allowing her to remarry. Unfortunately, it was taken by later generations to mean two things: first, that only a man could choose divorce, and two, it became a debate on what exactly the text meant by “something indecent about her”.

In the generation before Jesus, two rabbis dominated the teaching landscape: Hillel and Shammai both founded rabbinical schools that carried great weight, and they argued back and forth on many points in Torah. Shammai understood “anything indecent” to mean only “marital unfaithfulness”, whereas, Hillel believed the offense could be almost anything. He even mentioned that “burning a meal” could be included as a basis for divorce!! By Jesus’ day, Hillel’s opinion had become the dominant one, causing in part, the easy divorce culture of first century Judaism. By siding with Shammai, Jesus makes sure that women could not be cast aside casually. He tightens the principles around divorce and creates a better future for women, who found themselves on the margins. Noting what Paul begins to teach later Christians, we see how strict the Christian view of divorce would become — a great shift for the age.

So, how else have you seen Jesus speaking for those who found themselves on the margins?

How do you respond to Jesus’ ethics around divorce?

What questions does this teaching raise for you?

Note. To access scripture links that don’t appear in the email version, read the web version in your browser.

Speaking into the Culture2023-10-30T20:37:07-06:00

Action Required

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26

Beginning in Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus extends the boundaries of the law of Moses. He elucidates individual laws with elements and nuances that catch us off guard. In this *pericope, he couples anger with murder. When Jesus does this, I find myself deeply frustrated! “Do not murder” (Exodus 20:14) was one of the few commands I have thankfully kept! It was my fallback, my way of showing I wasn’t as hopeless as I might appear.

* An extract from a text, especially a passage from the Bible.

Jesus’ tie-in to anger implicates me deeply, even though I am not prone to fits of rage. This is because Jesus chooses to use the Greek word orge for “anger”. It means a lasting grudge or a consistent opposition. It’s the long lasting anger that eventually compels somebody to pick up a weapon and commit the act of murder or to do what we read about yesterday: to slander somebody, to destroy them with words (Matthew 5:22). Both physical murder and the “murder of the tongue” entail first, dehumanizing the other person in our minds. They involve contempt — a way of thinking about another person as subhuman. RT France says “ordinary insults may betray an attitude of contempt which God takes extremely seriously”.

Editor’s Note. See also Genesis 6:11, 13, hamas in the Hebrew OT:  חָמָס châmâç (noun) “violence”; חָמַס châmaç  (verb) “do violence to”.

After revealing to us that we are closer to committing murder than we may first have thought, Jesus begins to offer some imaginary scenarios in verses 23-26. These scenarios teach us what we must do to avoid the path to mental, verbal and physical assassination.

In his first scenario, we read that a man is preparing to make his offering at the altar. This in itself requires some action. There was only one altar in Judaism in the first century. It was in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Jesus is speaking in Galilee. We envision the man making the 80 mile trek to Jerusalem from Galilee to make his offering at the temple; and yet, God finds this issue of right relationship so important that his justice requires that the man should leave his sacrifice and return all the way home to make amends. A journey of five days, and five days back! Speed is key. Speed in settling disputes stops the wounds from festering. Jesus tells us to be diligent in our relationships to ensure that they don’t head down pathways that lead to anger and possibly to murder.

In scenario two, Jesus imagines that we find ourselves on the way to the judge to settle a dispute. Jesus doesn’t spend time discussing who in the scenario is right or wrong. He simply reminds us that it is possible that we may end up in prison. In the first century, as at many other times, there were debtors’ prisons. If you were found to have failed to repay a debt, you were thrown into jail until you could repay — a circumstance that certainly hindered your ability to repay! Imagine the deep frustration and hopelessness and, guilty or not, the time spent to imagine all the ways you might get even with your enemy.

Both Jesus’ scenarios have the same point. Try to mend relationships. Don’t leave them in tatters. See the other person as a human being and reach out, even if you are not at fault. You may not be ready to do that now, but you can begin to bring your deep emotion to God and ask that he so work in your heart that there might be a beautiful, Jesus-centered reconciliation. When that happens in our lives, we shine brightly to those around us.

  • What relationships have come to mind as you read this?
  • How might you bring those relationships to God in prayer?
  • What brave steps do you believe God is asking you to take?

Note. To access scripture links that don’t appear in the email version, read the web version in your browser.

Action Required2023-10-18T08:14:28-06:00

The Lectionary for Ordinary Times, July 27

Introduction: For hundreds of years many Christian traditions have read passages of scripture using a tool called a lectionary. During this ordinary season, our devotional team decided to resource you with selections from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Source: the Revised Common Lectionary Year A

(Note. If you desire to read these passages in a different version of the Bible, this link will provide all the readings for week 5 in ESV in Bible Gateway where you may also choose other versions of these passages.)

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
13:24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;

13:25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.

13:26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.

13:27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’

13:28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’

13:29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.

13:30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

13:36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”

13:37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;

13:38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,

13:39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.

13:40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.

13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,

13:42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Spend some time enjoying this picture of the parable of the wheat and the tares. It begins on the left with the farmer, who is good and sows good seeds. If you garden you understand this emotion: it is easy to get deeply attached to the things you are growing, and deeply frustrated with the weeds that shoot up amongst them.

In the right side of the scene we watch the moment of the harvest when wheat and tares are separated. Our tendency might be to worry as to which we might be. Are we wheat or tares — good or bad? But that does not seem to be the heart of the parable.

At its heart, the parable encourages us:  to refuse the temptation in this life to judge others, to resist our tendency to make assumptions about those around us. It appears to be an encouragement that we should allow God to be the judge of all, in his good timing.

How do you see yourself in this parable? Which part of it do you identify with?

How are you tempted to judge those around you? What do you think the motivation for that is?

The Lectionary for Ordinary Times, July 272023-06-16T10:37:25-06:00

The Lectionary for Ordinary Times, July 26

Introduction: For hundreds of years many Christian traditions have read passages of scripture using a tool called a lectionary. During this ordinary season, our devotional team decided to resource you with selections from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Source: the Revised Common Lectionary Year A

(Note. If you desire to read these passages in a different version of the Bible, this link will provide all the readings for week 5 in ESV in Bible Gateway where you may also choose other versions of these passages.)

Romans 8:12-25
8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh —

8:13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

8:18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;

8:20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope

8:21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;

8:23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

8:24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?

8:25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

The Lectionary for Ordinary Times, July 262023-07-15T13:03:09-06:00

The Lectionary for Ordinary Times, July 25

Introduction: For hundreds of years many Christian traditions have read passages of scripture using a tool called a lectionary. During this ordinary season, our devotional team decided to resource you with selections from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Source: the Revised Common Lectionary Year A

(Note. If you desire to read these passages in a different version of the Bible, this link will provide all the readings for week 5 in ESV in Bible Gateway where you may also choose other versions of these passages.)

Isaiah 44:6-8
44:6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.

44:7 Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be.

44:8 Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.

In this passage God declares his qualities! He is the first and the last! The only God!
Then he states that those who are equal should declare it. And there is no reply. He is the one true God.

In Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he tells the religious leaders who object to his disciples’ celebrations and songs of worship, that if they were quiet the stones would cry out.

We are called to name God’s praiseworthy characteristics.

What part of God’s character are you thankful for? How would you praise Him today?
Take a walk, or sit outside and observe creation. Enjoy the macro (the sky and the ‘beyond’) and the micro (the tiniest movement). Sing praise to the God who made it all.

Psalm 86:11-17
86:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.

86:12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.

86:13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

86:14 O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.

86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

86:16 Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl.

86:17 Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I have long loved the poem “The Road Not Taken”. I have noticed key moments in my life that seem to feel like a moment of choice. In those moments my prayer has reflected the words of Psalm 86:11. To paraphrase it in my own words might look like this:

God, give me wisdom to follow your path.

The Lectionary for Ordinary Times, July 252023-06-15T09:12:03-06:00

The Lectionary for Ordinary Times, July 24

Introduction: For hundreds of years many Christian traditions have read passages of scripture using a tool called a lectionary. During this ordinary season, our devotional team decided to resource you with selections from the Revised Common Lectionary. You will encounter texts from the Psalms, the Prophets, and the New Testament as well as formal prayers.

Source: the Revised Common Lectionary Year A

(Note. If you desire to read these passages in a different version of the Bible, this link will provide all the readings for week 5 ESV in Bible Gateway where you may also choose other versions of these passages.)

Genesis 28:10-19a
28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.

28:11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.

28:12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

28:13 And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;

28:14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.

28:15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

28:16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place–and I did not know it!”

28:17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

28:18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.

28:19a He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

When Isaac and Rebecca’s twins, Jacob and Esau, are born, Jacob is born gripping hold of his brother’s heel. Jacob is known as the deceiver, a name that he lives up to. He cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright (the physical gift given to an oldest son) and his blessing (the spiritual gift to an oldest son). Esau is furious and promises judgment.

Jacob the deceiver flees from his homeland towards the land of his mother. A journey of around 500 miles. Beersheba is located down by modern day Jerusalem, while Haran is in modern day Turkey. To put in today’s perspective, it would be like journeying from Littleton to Omaha, Nebraska, on foot. Jacob is terrified of Esau and wants to get as far away as possible.

In the midst of his terror inspired encounter, Jacob has his first encounter with God. He is leaving the promised land that God has led his forefathers to and yet the God of his father and grandfather meets with him anyway.

Have you experienced God in the midst of your own questionable choices? How has God surprised you?

Offer a prayer to the God of Jacob who meets runaways and deceivers with grace.

O God of Jacob, you speak in the light of day and in the dark of night
when our sleeping is filled with dreams of heaven and earth.
May Jacob’s vision remind us to be open and watchful,
ready to discover your presence in our midst. Amen.

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.

139:2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

139:3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

139:4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.

139:5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

139:7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

139:8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

139:9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

139:10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

139:11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”

139:12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.

139:24 See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139 could be Jacob’s prayer of thanksgiving after his encounter with God in Genesis 28. It is a prayer of delight in new found revelation. A prayer that celebrates realization, the realization that you are known by God. Known and loved in spite of your flaws.

What are you glad God knows about you?
What part of your life do you need his gracious words over today?

Read the Psalm again and enjoy God’s good words over you.

The Lectionary for Ordinary Times, July 242023-06-15T09:09:17-06:00

A Particularly Revolutionary Imperative

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:25-33

Paul begins with this directive to husbands: “love your wives”. Love is such a broad term in English. It can mean so many things, and it can range from “I love my God”, to “I love my new boots”, or “I love fish and chips”! All might be true! And yet, we instinctively understand that there are very different meanings behind those statements. When Paul says “Husbands love your wives”, our instinctive reading before his later elaboration is probably along the lines of some romantic poetry – something perhaps like a sonnet by Shakespeare.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach.
(Victorian Poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Sonnet 43”)

While Paul’s world is not the one of 17th or 19th centuries romantic poets, we do have evidence that affection between couples was alive and well in the time of Paul. Pliny the Younger writes to his wife, “It is incredible how much I miss you, first of all because I love you, but then because we are not used to being apart.”

Reading in this way “husbands love your wives” was not a particularly revolutionary imperative. If anything, Paul’s commands fit in perfectly with the cultural pattern of his day. Husbands would provide food and housing and security as their demonstration of love and wives would respond by submitting to their husbands in gratitude for their care. Together the two would provide each other with children, an important part of life.

However, there is more in Paul’s mind than just emphasizing normal societal expectations. Lurking under the surface of our English Bibles is Paul’s Greek word choice. He chooses to use the word Agape for love. The Greek language had at least four words for love, so if Paul wanted to ask for romantic love, he could easily use the word Eros. But he intends to ask for more – Agape is such a rare word that for many years scholars believed Christians like Paul created it. It appeared in so few other places. It was used to describe the highest form of love – sacrificial love – and certainly not used for something like “I love my new boots”! The New Testament is the only place in literature where this word is used in a household code.

In what remains of chapter 5, Paul describes the relationship between a husband and wife as being reflective of Jesus’ love for us, his church. In the same way that Jesus surrendered for our sakes, husbands are called to surrender themselves for their wives. This is revolutionary in any century, but particularly so in the first century AD. If Paul were to be consistent with his day, he would ask the wife to sacrifice for her husband, “her head”. But he turns social convention upside down by asking those with privilege “to surrender” it. In doing so, he changes the definition of what “masculinity” really was and is. In the Roman world, authority and masculinity were almost synonymous. A freeman would exercise authority over slaves, women and children, and by doing that, show his masculinity. The “way of Jesus” invites every believer to lay aside privilege, to pick up their cross and look for an eternal reward.

  • Paul tells us that Jesus modeled this love on the cross. Where else do you see Jesus model surrender of his authority? (Chapter and verse?)
  • How do you wrestle with a need to receive honor in this world? How does it affect your ability to appear as a servant?
  • In what ways do you long for authority? How do you want people to recognise your authority?
  • How can you choose to serve those whose status might place beneath you on social scales? Some examples might be: Children, employees, volunteers.
A Particularly Revolutionary Imperative2023-05-08T14:27:27-06:00

A Cord of Three Strands

But Jesus said, “Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone.  Matthew 19:11

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.  1 Corinthians 7:32-35

A wedding is this joyful moment when two people say something to the effect of, “over all others on this earth, I choose you to be with, you to be rich or poor with, you to be healthy or sick with, you to enjoy the better or the worse with.” While weddings are beautiful affairs (and often expensive), there is perhaps no more preparation for being married than a driving test is for hitting the open road!

Marriage is the complex relationship that follows the wedding! It is two people learning to live as one. As we read scripture, we see marriage is never overly romanticized. In the story of Jacob (Genesis 19), we see a man who is tricked into marrying his beloved’s sister. He marries his beloved a week later while staying married to his first wife. In the book of Job, when the famous long suffering titular character is at his lowest moment, his “helpful” wife tells him to “curse God and die”. If you know the Bible, then you noticed that I cherry picked some of the least controversial marriages for illustrations!

We live in a world where people want to embrace the ‘happily ever after’ moment but don’t always want to work hard at the relationship they have entered into. In this week’s passages, both Jesus and Paul make it clear that marriage is not the easy road. It is a path of sacrifice, and it should be entered into with that in mind. The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer includes these words in the wedding service:

“Marriage is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God. Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined”

While presenting the challenges of marriage, the Bible also presents the joys. In Ecclesiastes 4 we read these words:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

In this week’s passages, Jesus and Paul remind us that marriage was never designed to be THE central relationship. That place belongs to God alone.

Today, regardless of your relationship status, choose to thank God for his work for you, his relationship with you and his presence in you.

You might:

Take a walk and notice Jesus walking alongside you.
Write a note of thankfulness and gratitude.
Open your hands and surrender each relationship, and recognise it is second
to your relationship with your Heavenly Father.

A Cord of Three Strands2023-04-19T13:38:18-06:00

Disaster is Coming – Lament Will Begin

“The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the Lord. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. 31 They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire — something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. 32 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. 33 Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 34 I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.”

8:1 “At that time, declares the Lord, the bones of the kings and officials of Judah, the bones of the priests and prophets, and the bones of the people of Jerusalem will be removed from their graves. 2 They will be exposed to the sun and the moon and all the stars of the heavens, which they have loved and served and which they have followed and consulted and worshiped. They will not be gathered up or buried, but will be like dung lying on the ground. 3 Wherever I banish them, all the survivors of this evil nation will prefer death to life, declares the Lord Almighty.” Jeremiah 7:30-8:3

In chapters 7 and 8 of Jeremiah, we begin to see the first signs of the fate that awaits the nation of Judah. Convinced of their own special connection to Yahweh [YAH-veh], they do not see their fate coming. In chapter 7, we see Jeremiah at his fiery best, as he calls out the nation that has continued to sacrifice in the temple but has failed to live out the way of Yahweh [YAH-veh] in practice. Even their repentance has been hollow. He predicts that the fate of Judah will be the same as Israel’s. He tells us of an “end to the sounds of joy and gladness”.

Disaster is coming. Lament will begin.

And the city once full of the sounds of joy and gladness will be left desolate.  Jeremiah 7:34

At the end of the seventh century BC, the Chaldean Empire would sweep across the area we know today as the Middle East. While we might have some sense of what would take place, our information is limited. Kathleen O’Conner notes that the writing of history usually omits mention of human suffering. The brutal practices are often lost in the simple narratives of Jeremiah, and we are left to imagine as best we can: the displaced families left with nothing, the stench of a city under siege, and above all, the loss of life and dignity.

It is perhaps Lamentations rather than Jeremiah that best provides us a window into this suffering.

Our ancestors sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us, and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is hot as an oven, feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in Zion, and virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hung up by their hands; elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones; boys stagger under loads of wood.
The elders are gone from the city gate; the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!   Lamentations 5:7-13

As we enter a week of contemplating and participating in ”lament”, begin by placing yourself in the midst of the people of Jerusalem. What are your emotions? What actions follow? Where is God in the midst of it all?

Disaster is Coming – Lament Will Begin2023-03-18T23:26:46-06:00

The Living Word Working In Us

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 2 Tim 3:16

Where scripture describes itself, it does it in a surprising way. While we might use words like authority or inerrant – words which portray truth but are not necessarily how scripture describes itself – scripture describes itself as ‘God-breathed’. On the surface scripture is made up of a wide range of books, by different writers, in all sorts of locations, covering all sorts of genres, spread over more than one thousand years.

On the surface the writers are writing their thoughts about God. Somewhere in the midst of all of that humanness something incredible happens. God breathes on that work, and it becomes alive in a way no other book is alive. We discover in the midst of reading man’s thoughts about God that we are also reading God’s thoughts about man! As we read, we become alive in new ways, and God speaks through it to us!

Some years ago I spent lots of time reading scripture. I wanted to keep pace with a friend who read through the bible five times a year. (For those of you doing the math, that’s 16 chapters a day!) It was pure competitiveness on my part (and perhaps an unhealthy trait). But in the midst of that season, people would ask me, “what is different about you?” I had not noticed, but I was learning more (doctrine) and growing more like Jesus (in righteousness). God’s ‘breathed on and alive word’ was doing its work in me.

When we get engrossed in debating what scripture is, rather than encountering it, we might be missing out. We are invited to encounter God through and in His story in scripture.

Here are some ways to engage with scripture this week.

Pick a book of the Bible, and read it through in one sitting.
Grab a commentary, and do a deep dive on one verse that means something special to you.
Each time you read, ask God, “how are you speaking to me through this passage”.
Take some space to listen.

The Living Word Working In Us2023-02-12T17:22:52-07:00
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