Belief in God

Then Yeshua began to denounce the towns in which he had done most of his miracles, because the people had not turned from their sins to God.
Matthew 11:20 (CJB)

If you read the preceding chapters, you see how time and time again, Jesus says that faith made people well. The people in these towns believed in His power to heal, His authority over demons, His ability to do amazing things, and then they experienced His miracles because of their belief.

If you read the verses immediately following the one quoted above, you see that the people in these towns — the very people who had such faith as to inspire God to work miracles — are consigned to a hotter hell, as it were, than Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. (These are wicked cities in the Old Testament, which are excellent reference points for extreme evil.)

This is a hard message. They had faith — and lots of it — but they had no repentance. It seems that this is a recipe for absolutely nothing good, if we are to believe Jesus about their final destination.

According to this passage, one can have great faith in God, and they can have a personal and miraculous encounter with Him that brings wholeness and healing and is an obvious testament to His power and mercy, yet still not be true followers. Yet still not receive eternal salvation. Yet still wake from death to find themselves on fire.

This is not popular or pleasant, so maybe this is why we pretend it’s not in the Bible.

I don’t have anything great to say about this; I feel that the Scripture is powerful and convicting enough. Still, I couldn’t NOT share it. I couldn’t NOT see if it hits you the way it hits me.

I’d love to read your comments either way.


Broken Nets and Not-so-blind Faith

Matthew 4:18-22 (CJB)

As Yeshua walked by Lake Kinneret, he saw two brothers who were fishermen — Shim‘on, known as Kefa, and his brother Andrew — throwing their net into the lake. Yeshua said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men!” At once they left their nets and went with him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers — Ya’akov Ben-Zavdai and Yochanan his brother — in the boat with their father Zavdai, repairing their nets; and he called them. At once they left the boat and their father and went with Yeshua.

It helped me a lot to read Luke’s account of this same story, because now I understand the four 100_3217fishermen better. In Matthew’s account, it seemed like Jesus just yelled from the shore at Peter (Kefa) and Andrew as they were fishing to abandon their livelihood and start following Him immediately, and so with James and John (Ya’akov and Yochanan) as well. It was as if these four men didn’t know Jesus from Adam, yet blindly and suddenly decided to devote their lives to Him. Luke gives different details that almost seem to conflict with Matthew’s telling at first glance, but it seems like you can put the stories together and see a fuller, more complete account of what transpired:

  1. Jesus was walking around the lake and saw Peter and Andrew throwing their net into the lake (Matthew 4:18).
  2. [Time passes] and He’s teaching, and crowds are pressing in. He sees 2 boats on the edge of the lake, but the fishermen were washing out their nets. He gets into Peter’s boat and asks him to row out a bit. He teaches from the boat. When He’s done, He tells them to put out their nets. Peter says they did already (see #1), but caught nothing. They obey anyway and their nets begin breaking because of all the fish. They get help from their partners in the other boat. Everyone was amazed including the partners, who happen to be James and John (Luke 5:1-10a).
  3. Jesus invites Peter and Andrew to to follow Him (Matthew 4:19 & Luke 5:10b).
  4. Peter and Andrew leave everything to follow Him (Matthew 4:20; Luke 5:11).
  5. Jesus [and Peter and Andrew] go on together and come upon James and John again. They were repairing their nets with their father. (They were witnesses to Jesus’ teaching and miracles, as Luke tells us, and I infer that their nets are broken because of what happened in Luke 5:6-7.) Jesus calls to them, and they also leave everything (Matthew 4:21-22).

So they witnessed His teaching, experienced His miracles, and got to know Him personally a little before committing their lives to Him. That makes more sense. No blind, dumb idiots here. Also note that Jesus witnessed their long, frustrating, and fruitless day on the water as he preached on land. He let them live it. Unexpectedly, after they’d given up, He met their needs. Their experiences made His miracle that much more meaningful and amazing simply because He (lovingly) allowed them to suffer. If He’d jumped in the boat early in the morning and brought in the fish, it wouldn’t have been the same. He never allows suffering without a reason.


So Hard to Bear

Matthew 2, CJB (click the link for the full text)

100_3216This is a very thought-provoking passage, although I don’t think I’ve ever viewed it that way — it’s such a familiar story that I guess I never slow down. Writing it out longhand forces me to do just that, and to ponder every word. It’s a series of events presented so factually and succinctly, yet it is a profound picture of God’s sovereignty in politics, in human suffering, and in people’s personal lives. I’ve known this story for as long as I can remember, yet I don’t recall ever being personally affected by it. We’re afforded an omniscient point of view here, yet none of the characters were.

Herod is in great fear of a political threat, and he seeks not God, but His prophecies, and that only enough to take measures to protect himself. He tries to use the Magi as spies, but has to take a different approach when he realizes he’s been deceived. He’s so desperate that he takes a desperate stand.

Mary and Joseph are tending to their infant when unexpected visitors come to worship him. Jesus’ parents had no idea the danger they were in should the Magi obey Herod.

The Magi themselves, Gentile philosophers, never seem to commit to Herod’s plan, and certainly decide to renege when they (all?) receive a warning in a dream. They may have suspected evil, but had no idea what was at stake.

The ones who have my heart, though, are the families of Bethlehem whose homes were invaded and whose infant sons were murdered by Roman soldiers. Surely all they were told was that it was by order of King Herod — how many tried desperately to shush and hide crying babies? How many lied, swearing it was a baby girl, only to have the soldier push them aside, tear back the cloths to reveal the gender, and pierce the baby’s bare chest? Blood and cries and screams. Desperate weeping and angry laments, asking Yahweh, “Why?” Yet it was prophesied.

These little ones murdered for a reason.

A reason I still don’t understand — couldn’t we still have done the whole Messiah thing without this? Yet I overstep — God intended it so. Suffering — the most intense sort of suffering I can imagine as a mother of a one-year-old boy — ordained by God for a purpose I can only begin to reason through. I quickly come to a point where I must say that I do not understand why God would let all these babies die. And then I think of abortion in our day. All these babies are dying, because the supreme liar goes on lying. Why does God allow this? Why don’t these babies get a chance? Yet there must be a purpose.

I wonder how Mary reacted when they found out what happened in Bethlehem after they escaped. Joseph’s dream told them Jesus’ life was in danger, but could she have ever imagined so many little ones would die in His place? Would she have comprehended the devastating irony? And how could she help but feel a sense of guilt that her Son was spared — that they had been warned to escape — just days or perhaps hours before other baby sons were ripped from their mothers’ arms, only to be taken up again lifeless and slick with blood? What a heavy image of horror for Mary to hold in her heart. Yet this is still just the beginning for this young mother.

And what of the young soldiers in Bethlehem following orders? Sure, these Romans often looked at the Hebrews with disdain and disgust, but what horrifying orders to receive! It is one thing to kill a man, even if he is a private citizen, but to silence a screaming infant with the tip of your sword as other soldiers hold back his clawing and terrified parents looking on? Perhaps some disobeyed, showed mercy, passed on, whispered warnings such as Joseph received from God. Sweet stories of survival in the face of certain annihilation. I hope.

Lord, the evil is so hard to bear.


Legal Rights and Righteousness

Matthew 1:19 (CJB)

Her husband-to-be, Yosef, was a man who did what was right; so he made plans to break the engagement quietly, rather than put her to public shame.

100_3215Joseph is a man who does what is right, so says this verse. How then is righteousness defined? By law — Deut 22:20-24 — the right thing to do is to have Mary, the supposed “harlot” who apparently got herself pregnant by someone else, stoned in her father’s doorway by the men of the city! Yet here, Joseph seeks discretion, intending to extend mercy to the one who had wronged him so profoundly. And this intention, despite his legal rights, is what is truly called “right.” And so he sets the stage for his Son, who will continue to upset the community’s sense of righteousness, pointing to yet a better way. Lord, transform my legalistic and merciless heart. Teach me to be like You.


A Scribe’s Adventure

A dear friend of mine, Amanda, recently shared with me what she calls her “Hand Copying the Bible Adventure.” And I totally ripped off her idea and changed the name.

It was through Good Morning Girls about a year ago that I really gave copying Scripture a try. I loved the approach of writing a few verses in my journal and then writing a response to it. This approach slowed me down, helped me focus, and revealed things to me I’d easily overlooked in the past. Since I’d had such success and enjoyment with this Bible study approach, why not jump in with both feet? I’m gonna be a scribe!

Amanda started in Genesis, which completely makes sense, but I’m starting in Matthew, which maybe doesn’t make sense. The truth is that whenever I choose a book to study, I never, EVER choose a Gospel. I don’t know if that’s because I just think I 100_3214already know it or what, but the fact is that I don’t know it well enough. Because I want to get to know my Savior better, I have chosen the Gospel According to Matthew. I don’t know if I will continue in order from there or jump around, but I’m here for a while!

I am telling you about this in case you’re interested in something similar — I’ll tell you my method in a moment — and also because I want to give you a heads up that I will occasionally be posting some of my thoughts and commentary as I journey through this Scribe’s Adventure!

Here are my materials and methods:

  • Complete Jewish Bible, chosen because of its unfamiliar translation and Jewish (not Anglicized) proper nouns. This helps keep my brain from going on auto-pilot.
  • A composition book. I only write on the front of the pages because it looks prettier.
  • I write in cursive, because it’s nicer-looking.
  • I use a blue, ball-point pen, because it is my favorite.
  • I do as much as I want every day. It seems to be about half a chapter or less so far, because I often have so much I want to journal about from just a short section that moving on would take too much time.

That’s it! Hope you enjoy my thoughts as I journey along.