Saturday, February 28, 2009

I will not fear

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea. Psalm 46:1-2 NRSV

I am beginning to wonder if there are not two different meanings for the word fear. I haven't been able to find this online. I wonder if any Hebrew scholars out there could share some light on the word fear.

I say this because this psalm really changes what I have been thinking about fear, specifically fearing God. Psalm 46 suggests that God actually removes our fear. In this instance, it is fear of natural disasters. This scripture reminds us that God provides our place of safety, even when it seems like the world is falling apart. Physically, we may be in danger, but God provides true protection and we should not be afraid.

Does this mean if I hear the sirens announcing an approaching tornado that I should fall on my knees in prayer rather than go find the nearest shelter? Should I video the coming storm rather than seek protection? Should I assume God will protect me from harm and not worry about doing anything to safeguard my life because I am a believer?

The words "Don't be stupid" come to mind here. Not that God would say that to us but I have heard of people doing exactly what I asked about above. The psalm tells us not to fear; it says nothing about not being sensible. It reminds me of the joke about a Christian who waited for God to save him as a boat, a helicopter and a life preserver went by. When he got to heaven, he asked God why didn't God save him and God responds: I sent you those three things to save you, what more did you want me to do?

God provides for us - often in quite tangible and human ways - so that we are not to be afraid, no matter what our life circumstances.

God, you are my refuge and my strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore I will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea. In Christ's name I pray. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, February 27, 2009

I Should Fear God

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1 NRSV

I suppose these are rhetorical questions. It is God who gives light. It is God who gives me salvation. Why should I be afraid of anyone else? No one else can give me either of these things. It is God who is the strength of my life - God protects, gives me courage, has showered me with gifts of the Spirit and holds my hand through every event in life. No one else on earth can do these things. So, I should not be afraid of anyone because they are truly powerless.

But the suggested answer is really: God. If God is my light and salvation, I should fear God. If God is the stronghold of my life, then I should be afraid of God.

As I have said before, I don't like those answers. I don't want to be afraid of God. I want God to be my friend. Is that too personal? Should God be personified in that way? I love the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis where God is walking in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening. God wants to spend time with God's creation. Maybe God would tell them a story or would want to hear about their day. I like that view of God. But, of course, Adam and Eve do something wrong and God throws them out of the garden and into a life of stress and worry. God's punishment has changed their relationship from one of friendliness to one of fear. God is not a benevolent parent but now a strict disciplinarian. However, this isn't some schizophrenic God but the result of humanity's behavior. Is my behavior a barrier to a personal relationship with God? Hasn't Jesus changed all that? God hasn't stopped being my light, my salvation, my stronghold. But without Jesus, fear is really the only appropriate response.

God, thank you so much for Jesus! Without him, where would our relationship with You be? Thank you in his name! Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Greatest Fear

Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Psalm 33:18 NRSV

What do you fear? I mean, truly fear. I am not talking about a bad hair day but your deepest darkest fears. I sat down one day and wrote on all my fears. I listed three top fears and journaled about what they had in common. The common denominator of my fears? Complete and total loss of control.

Interesting that I have been told again and again to give God control over my life, to surrender all, to give up my will for God's will. Hmmm...wonder why I resist this? Could it be that I don't want to give up control to God because the total loss of control is my greatest fear?

Maybe this is also a clue for me about the fear of God in the Bible. This verse of Psalm 33 reminds us of the hope, deliverance and life offered by the one that we are to fear. If I give myself completely to God, I will be giving into my fears. This is fearing God, I think. But the Psalm reminds me that God offers me things so that I don't really have to fear: hope, deliverance and life. I would like to have those things. But I'm still trying to keep control.

If you listed your greatest fears, what would be the absolute fear for you?

God, you want us to surrender. You want us to give up our greatest fear. You want to give us hope, deliverance and live. Help us, Lord! In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Free from Captivity

Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Psalm 33:18 NRSV

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.... O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. Psalm 34:7, 9 NRSV

I suppose that the fear of God was deeply instilled in those who were freed from captivity in Egypt. Just think of what happened as they escaped! First (well, after all the other strange happenings) there was the death of the first born, then God parted the waters for the Israelites but the army and chariots of Pharaoh were destroyed in the same waters. This was a powerful God that had given them deliverance. They were delivered from death and are being kept alive in the desert - even when there is nothing out there to eat. And the angel of God surrounds them and makes sure they have what they need - protection, food and water. This was an incredibly powerful God that could truly bring destruction on whomever was against this God. Fear seems a pretty logical emotion in this circumstance and many of the psalms give voice to this fear.

What kinds of things has God done in your life? Has God freed you in any way from anything that was holding you captive? What remarkable circumstances have kept you safe in your life? Can you truly say God was not a part of any of them? Do any of God's actions in and around your life make you fear God? Or do you find yourself feeling some other emotion toward God?

God, you free us from captivity of all kinds. You encamp around us even when we least realize it. You provide for us in our greatest need. Thank you, God! In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In Awe

Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. Psalm 33:8 NRSV

One thing that I love about the Psalms is that they are often repetitive. If you don't understand something in one verse, often the next verse repeats that idea. This is called parallelism. It might not say the same thing but it does say something very similar.

I find this verse helpful in wrestling with the idea of fear of God. The first part of the verse uses the word fear. The second part uses the words "stand in awe of [God]." So, this psalm gives the word fear the meaning of standing in awe. I like that much better. I am more comfortable with standing in awe of God.

Or am I? My realization of the awesome power of God usually occurs when God has done something in my life or I have received a blessing of some sort. I am not going around spontaneously being in awe of God. It is almost as if I won't be in awe unless God does something first. Fear does not have similar connotations. In fact, fear would be more likely to be what I feel when something bad happens. So, should I be in awe or be in fear? I think I am more comfortable with one than the other but it isn't very permanent.

God, how come scripture sometimes gives us more questions than answers? Help us as we struggle with how we should be in relationship with You. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fair Judgments

Now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care what you do for there is no perversion of justice with the Lord our God or partiality or taking of bribes. 2 Chronicles 19:7 NRSV

King Jehoshaphat is trying to bring the people of Judah back to God. Part of his reforms involved the justice system. This verse is part of his instruction to the judges that he is setting up in all the cities of Judah. He has just told them that they will be deciding cases not for their own good or even the people's good but on God's behalf. He is explicitly instructing them to be in fear of the One whom they are representing. If they were to take money to decide cases, they would not be judging fairly. That would definitely be against God! But King Jehoshaphat does not just tell them not to accept bribes - he instructs them to judge from the standpoint of those who fear God. Only from the perspective of the fear of God can these judges truly be instruments of justice. If they fear God, not only will they not accept bribes, the judges won't even be partial to their friends or special causes.

So, in this verse, fear becomes the real equalizer. Fear of God inspires fair judgment. Fear of God brings true justice.

Are you in the position in your job, your church, your neighborhood or your family to make fair decisions? Would it help if you did so with the fear of God in your heart?

God, sometimes we need to make good and fair decisions. Help us to be your instruments of justice and mercy. In Christ's name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fear: Not just an emotion but an action

If you will fear the Lord and serve him and heed his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well....only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. I Samuel 12:14, 24 NRSV

In Samuel's final address, he reminds the people to fear God. But he isn't asking for an emotional commitment. He is asking for action. Did you hear these action words: serve, heed, not rebel, follow and consider? For the prophet and judge Samuel, fear has more to do with doing than being. I suppose true fear could make you powerless and inclined to do nothing but cower in a corner. However, Samuel wants the people to do more. Samuel is asking them to follow God, to learn and do what God asks them to do, and to do their actions for God and God's glory.

The reason he gives for all this activity is not to avoid punishment. It is quite the opposite. God wants them to remember all the things that God has done for them. The people's fear should be based on the wonderful and saving activity of their God. Not the terrible things about God but the good things about God which God has obviously done.

So, fearing God is not being afraid of God but fearing God means to act out of commitment and gratitude.

God, thank you for all the things that you have done in my life and the things you continue to do in my life. I pray that I will follow, serve, and heed your voice and your commandments wholly and faithfully. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fear Belongs to All

Assemble the people- men, women and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns - so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to posses. Deuteronomy 31: 12-13 NRSV

"Okay, son, sit down here and let's go over a few ground rules. I will let you live in this place rent-free for as long as you follow my rules and not someone else's rules or regulations. And every seven years I need you to read these out loud to whomever is either living with you or just visiting - men, women, children, non-English speaking friends - so that they can learn like you to be afraid of me. And when you have children, do the same for them so that they also can learn to fear me as long as they live here for free."

That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But that is basically what God is telling the people through Moses. The message is: Read the law so that everyone living among you may also fear the Lord your God.

I call this equal-opportunity fear.

But I don't believe for a minute that God wants us to be fearful as much as God wants our complete respect, reverence and awesome wonder. It is like I talked about when we looked at Psalm 139 - there are things about God that are beyond our comprehension. Because of this we need to show appropriate honor to God.

And we need to pass along this reverence to all those who live with us. This is not a personal faith or a personal reverence. This is fear/respect of a community. this is not for one generation but for all generations. This is not for one race but for all races.

God, help me to be fully respectful of You. And may I pass this reverence to all who worship with me and those who will follow after me. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, February 20, 2009

Love or Fear?

The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. Deuteronomy 6:13 NRSV

I find it interesting that this verse actually comes after the Shema - the verse faithful Jews have recited twice daily for thousands of years. The Shema is a prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and says:
Hear O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (NRSV).

Many Christians would probably automatically add: "And your neighbor as yourself," which would be jumping ahead to what Jesus said in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

In any case, the Shema speaks of putting God first above all things and loving God with everything one has. There is no fear involved.

When I think about it, I think that it is far easier to fear than to love.

Love requires courage, intentionality, vulnerability, and openness. Fear is a natural response to an outside stimulus. Love is positive but is also something we have to work at as though it is a seldom used muscle. Fear is negative but easier to feel. Love changes the way we see others, God and ourselves. Fear proves that we were right to withhold ourselves from others, God and our true selves.

No wonder God's people were asked to recite the verse on love twice a day - it would take a lifetime of twice daily repetition to let it sink in. With fear, that isn't necessary.

God - I love you. I love you with all that I have: body, soul and strength. Help me to love You more. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What does the Lord require of you?

So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well being. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 NRSV

Have you ever wondered what God really wants from you? Often I tend to quote Micah: do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. But that is not the answer given in Deuteronomy. This book of the law gives a long list:
-fear God
-walk in all of God's ways
-love God
-serve God with all your heart and soul
-keep God's commandments and decrees

Why is fear first and love third? Does fear make people feel more awe or reverence? Maybe fear keeps people in line. Fear, I suppose, would help a person stick to following/walking in Godly ways. However, I think fearing someone guarantees that the person will eventually run away! If you first fear, then follow, maybe love would eventually happen but that sounds very unnatural. Living in a state of true fear all the time is unhealthy for your whole body.

I think if you love first, walk in God's ways, then serve, then keep the commandments and see what the rewards are from all of those things then your reverence would be beyond understanding. But I am not sure about fear being the best motivator for these other things.

God, you want us to love, to follow, to serve, and to keep your commandments. Do you ask for our fear as well? Give us discernment, God, and help us to truly place you first in our lives. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fear but don't be afraid

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:4-7 NRSV

In these three verses, Jesus tells us two seemingly contradictory things: fear God but don't be afraid.

Fear God

For the early persecuted church, I think these were powerful words that were helpful for them and necessary to keep them as confessing believers of The Way. They were not to be afraid of those who can physically harm them. Jesus tells them not to be afraid of pain, loss, torture or death. They were not to let any of those things lead them to reject Christ, to confess in front of witnesses that they really did not believe in Jesus as their savior. Rather, they were to be afraid of the One who can guarantee pain and torment for all eternity.

Don't be Afraid

Jesus uses the example of sparrows to give courage. God doesn't forget even one of the many sparrows who were sold to be sacrificed to God - they became a pleasing offering to God! Therefore God will not forget Jesus' followers, all of them, down to the smallest atom. So, they should not be afraid because they were more valuable than those birds.

Of course, the birds were being sacrificed and it may be that they would be, too. Is that not the underlying meaning here? Stand up for your beliefs, show no fear - in fact, don't be afraid because God will take care of you. Not, however, to keep you alive. God will make sure you don't end up in hell!

The point seems to be to have fear for the correct one: God not other people. With this kind of fear, you can hold fast to your faith and your eternal life.

God, what am I to do with this idea that I must fear you? I am really struggling with this concept, God. Show me what to do with this. Thank you - Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What is Jesus to you?

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Matthew 16: 13-16 NRSV

We have been looking at Jesus as a prophet from his point of view, from the viewpoint of the people around him, from the opinions of the religious authorities and what his disciples say about him. Now I want to turn our focus inward to our own hearts and have us answer the question: Who do you say Jesus is?

I know you may have the pat answer that you are "expected" to say. Maybe you could quote a creed or a Bible verse. It would sound really good, anyway. But who is Jesus really to you? Some people say that he is their savior. What does that mean, really? Some people call him their close is he? Do you see him as a prophet? The Son of Man? A great Judge? Maybe he is someone who sees you as you really are and it scares you.

What is Jesus to you?

God, you know who Jesus is to me. I confess how I really feel about Jesus to You. Guide me in how you want me to see Jesus. In his name. Amen.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Seeing Who Jesus Is

Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him?" It was your eyes he opened. He said, "He is a prophet".... Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshipped him. John 9:16-17, 35-38 NRSV

The beggar that Jesus healed physically "sees" but does not "see" who Jesus really is. He identifies Jesus as a prophet when interrogated by the Pharisees. But it is noticeable in the text that he is still identified as a blind man! It isn't until Jesus approaches him later that the healed man sees who Jesus is and worships him.

Although many identify Jesus as a prophet, it is clear in the Gospel of John that Jesus is more than that. In this gospel, Jesus identifies himself as the Vine, the Light, God's Son, the One who came from heaven, the Bread of Heaven and the Living Water just to name a few. However, even with his frequent soliloquies on who he is, many still don't "see" him. It isn't just the Pharisees who have this problem, either. Even the disciples take a long time to see who he is. In fact, Thomas (the so-called doubter) ends up being the one who claims that Jesus is "My Lord and My God" in John 20:28 after the Resurrection.

Jesus is obviously more than a prophet but do we really see him for who he is? Or are we still blind as well?

God, sometimes we stumble about, unable to see and to understand. Our eyes are open but we are still blind. We ask for your healing power in our lives so that we can truly see. In Jesus' Holy Name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What a Prophet Knows

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him - that she is a sinner." Jesus spoke up and said to him ... "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Luke 7: 39-40a, 47-49 NRSV

What does a prophet know? A prophet knows what God has revealed to the prophet. And, although some prophets did do miracles, I don't know of a prophet who could forgive sins. Simon, the pharisee in this story, is of the opinion that prophets know who is a sinner or a bad person and who is not. In other words, if Jesus is really sent by God then he knows who the good people are and should not be around bad persons. Prophets want to make sure folks are following God's laws and sinners are disobeying God's laws.

Simon is right. Jesus does know that the woman is a sinner and that she has disobeyed God. But Jesus knows even more than that. Jesus sees not only into the sinner's heart (repentance, acceptance and love) but into the "righteous" person's heart as well (selfishness, holier-than-thou, contempt). And then Jesus shows that he not only knows but he has authority: he can proclaim someone's sins as forgiven. This isn't just about the letter of the law but the heart of the law.

With this, Jesus proves that he is more than a prophet. He is the Messiah, the Savior, Emmanuel: God with us. Jesus knows more than prophetic knowledge. Jesus knows our hearts and forgives us our sins when we ask for forgiveness and repent.

Oh, God, my sins are many. I am not even worthy to approach your throne of grace. But your mercy is abundant and you extend your hand of love and forgiveness. Thank you, God, thank you. I humbly pray in Jesus' name.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Prophet or Messiah? Bible or Experience?

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, "This is really the prophet." Others said, "This is the Messiah." But some asked, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?" So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why did you not arrest him?" The police answered, "Never has anyone spoken like this!" Then the Pharisees replied, "Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law - they are accursed." Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, "Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?" They replied, "Surely you are not also from Galilee are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee." John 7:40-44 NRSV

I find it very eye-opening to see that those who know the Bible and study the scripture more than anyone else in their religion do not see Jesus as even a prophet, much less the Messiah. For those who claimed scripture as their sole authority, Jesus was not the savior. The Bible said it - no prophet or Messiah is from Galilee. That settles it.


United Methodists such as myself believe in four sources of authority: scripture, tradition, reason and experience. However, I know for a fact that many of us still claim scripture above the other three. In reading this passage of scripture, it seems to me that neglecting things like reason and experience may mean that we miss out on God's will BIG TIME! [And what do we do with scripture making us question scripture, anyway?] This is exactly what happens to the religious authorities. Most of the crowds and the police seem to regard Jesus as special; whether prophet or messiah, they have never experienced anyone like him! And Nicodemus has been secretly wrestling with Jesus' message: he has been trying to use his reason.

What about you? Is scripture where you place your sole trust? Do you truly embrace tradition, reason and experience asBold well? Be careful - you just might miss out on God's will and message like the Pharisees.

God, you have given us not only the Bible but our traditions, reason and experience as well. Help us to claim all that you have given us in order to see and know all that you want to give to us without limitation or denial. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Crowds See Jesus as a Prophet

The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee." Matthew 21:11 NRSV

Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!" Luke 7: 16 NRSV

The crowds seemed to think that Jesus was a prophet - whether he enters Jerusalem on a donkey or raises the dead, he is regarded by the crowds as a prophet. Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised when unchurched people as a group (i.e. a crowd) identify Jesus as just a great prophet. From the outside he seems to be full of wisdom and good advice. he seems to be acting for God and has a message to share. He is counter-cultural and anti-establishment. His words and actions get him into trouble. He comes to a bad end (re-read the original ending of Mark). Therefore, he must have been simply a great prophet.

What the crowds miss out on is a deep and personal relationship with Jesus, his gift of renewed life and the true ending (i.e. the rest of the story). It was the disciples, namely Peter, who figured out who Jesus really was. I think this was because they knew him as a person and had a relationship with him. He gave them not just a miracle or two and some good advice. He gave them life and the Spirit. And we do know the rest of the story.

God, we pray that our relationship with Jesus is not superficial but deep, abiding and true. May we be filled with new life in the Spirit. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jesus Calls Himself a Prophet

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house." Matthew 13:57 NRSV

"Yet today, tomorrow and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem." Luke 13: 33 NRSV

Although Jesus never went around telling people that he was a prophet, many of his actions signified or repeated prophetic-type actions. Overall, however, he was very different - he ate with sinners, for instance. But there were at least two times in the gospels when Jesus seems to be referring to himself as a prophet.

In Matthew, Jesus is not having a good homecoming. The folks he grew up with just can't accept what he is doing as they know him and his family. He understands what is going on as he says that prophets just aren't accepted in their own homes. Likewise, in Luke's gospel, he is responding to the threat of King Herod by hinting at his own demise. He is going to stay away from Jerusalem until it is time for him to give up his life because he knows prophets are not killed outside of that great city.

Although it is interesting to see that Jesus does refer to himself as a prophet it is equally as interesting to see that he does not refer to himself in that manner very often. Is this a case of some scrupulous editing by the Gospel writers or simply the result of the oral history about Jesus? In either case, we Christians have been given the understanding that Jesus is NOT just a prophet. And the words we do have from Jesus support this understanding.

God, help us to listen to what Jesus says to us. Then let us go and do likewise. In His name, Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jesus as Prophet Part 2

If you tried to read Monday's post, I hope you had a good laugh. But no one made any comments so it makes me wonder...

In looking at Jesus as a prophet, I continue to find similarities between what he did and what prophets in the Old Testament did. Here are some further examples:

Jesus Performs Miracles

John 2: 7-8 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it.

1 Kings 17: 13-14 Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth."

Jesus Confronts Royalty

Luke 13: 32a He said to them, "Go and tell that fox ....'"

2 Samuel 12: 7a Nathan said to David, "You are the man!"

Jesus Raises the Dead

Mark 5: 41-42 He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years old).

2 Kings 4:35 He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, "Call the Shunammite woman." So he called her. When she came to him, he said, "Take your son."

There are more but I think you can get the idea. What this kind of comparison does for me is to make me realize all the signs of Jesus' ministry that let everyone know that he was at the very least a special God-called person. Why were the religious authorities so resistant to him? Why did they choose to ignore the signs?

I suppose for the same reasons we ignore the signs of God's breaking-in, God's calling and God's special emphases today.

God, forgive us when we ignore what you are doing this very day in the world. Help us to be more aware and to accept and believe. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why Jesus as a Prophet Part 1

Why did I want to talk about Jesus as prophet anyway? Well, I was studying the etymology of the word prophet which led me to think about the prophets in the bible. Then, I began to think about people, whether of other religions or Christian, who view Jesus as just a great prophet. In other words, these persons are either overlooking or don't accept the whole incarnational/Jesus as God's Son belief. This has bothered me in the past. But in studying the word prophet and really doing some thinking, I can really see how Jesus was seen and can still be seen as a prophet. Below are some of the prophetic traits with New Testament references followed by an Old Testament reference. This list is not exhaustive in terms of traits or references and I will continue tomorrow.

Jesus healed.

Luke 17:11-19 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean.

2 Kings 5:14
So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Jesus preached.

John 6: 38-40
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that l who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."

Isaiah 2:2-4
In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, so the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Jesus admonished.
Luke 13:5. No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

Jeremiah 5: 21
Hear this O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear. Do you not fear me? says the Lord; Do you not tremble before me?

Open our hearts and minds, Lord, to what you have to say to us today. Amen.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Prophetic Guidelines

"'I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak - that prophet shall die.' " Deuteronomy 18: 18-20 NRSV

Before we look at what Jesus said about himself as a prophet, I think we should first understand more about what a prophet was and what a prophet did. This morning in my church, we heard from the Old Testament about prophets. Specifically, we heard from the book of Deuteronomy when God is speaking to Moses as he is preparing for death.

According to this scripture, there are seven things we must remember about a prophet:
1) It is God who calls prophets.
2) Prophets, like Moses, are called from among the people.
3) A prophet speaks for God - like a messenger.
4) A prophet speaks everything that God tells them.
5) Anyone who hears the prophet but does not do as the prophet says will be held accountable to God.
6) A prophet who speaks for other gods will die.
7) A prophet who presumes to speak for God a message not given by God will die.

These points are especially important for understanding the gospel of Matthew where references to the Old Testament are many and carry special meaning. If we take them seriously, we can better understand how Jesus was seen as a prophet. Jesus was called. He was a Hebrew from the lineage of David. He spoke for God everything that God told him - many times people were astounded at the authority of what he said. Others were accountable for listening or not listening to Jesus' words (think of the rich young ruler for example).

The sticky part is the rules about death. I guess I was thinking God would strike the prophet dead rather than the prophet would be killed. In fact that makes the most sense because often prophets were killed. Something to have in our minds as we turn to what Jesus has to say about being a prophet.

God, do you still call prophets today? What would or are you saying to us through the prophets in our midst? Give us hears to hear, Lord. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Jesus: A Prophet?

The next few days, I would like to think about, write on and pray about the thought of Jesus as Prophet. Please join me and let me know if you think of any scripture that may be enlightening. I will begin with Jesus' own words. For a sneak peek, check out these scriptures:

Matthew 10:40-42
Matthew 13: 57-58
Luke 13:33

Also, here are a few of the verses where the crowds claim him as a prophet:

Matthew 21:11 and 46
John 7:40
Luke 7: 16

And the Pharisees say, if only he was a prophet:

Luke 7:39

Just a few thoughts for the evening...peace!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Psalm 139:24

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

I am not sure what to think of the words “wicked way.” This has a sexual connotation as for someone to have their “wicked way” with someone else. Wicked ways have become associated with only one form of evil that may not be as evil as other wickedness. In Psalm 139 seducing someone is not what is referred to, I don't believe. In this verse being wicked means to be evil, to be against God, or to have thoughts that go against God's will and God's way.

It is God who truly knows whether we have any “wicked ways” so to ask God to check for any is a statement of great assurance. The psalmist is saying that there are no wicked ways in them and God knows it. However, that doesn't mean there won't be any in the future. We may be following God's plan right now but who knows what will happen tomorrow or next week or even in the next few minutes. Therefore, to ask for God's guidance is to ask God to keep us away from wickedness. Often Christians pray together: lead us not to temptation but deliver us from evil. It is almost like saying lead us in the way everlasting. Help us to never have any wickedness. Make sure we stay on your path, God.

Are you confident enough right at this very moment to tell God to check for any wicked ways in you? Even if you aren't, are you willing to follow God's guidance from this moment and for all time? I encourage you to keep working on memorizing this psalm but more than that let this psalm enfold you, giving you courage and God glory. Amen.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Psalm 139:23

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

The Message paraphrase uses Law and Order television language in this verse: "investigate my life" and "cross-examine and test me." I love the imagery this produces! It says that we have nothing to hide. But we already understand that God knows all of this already. So why are we asking God to do something God already does anyway?

I think it isn't as much about what God can do but about our surrender of sorts. We now want God to investigate us thoroughly. We are willing for God to take a fine-tooth comb and a magnifying glass into every area of our lives. Our hearts, minds and souls are bared to God's perusal. We don't just know that God knows us. We want God to know us. There is a subtle but important difference.

Just knowing that God sees everything about us can be threatening and rather scary. But to want God to know all there is about us means that we trust God, we are willing to be thoroughly examined and we are working on being all that God wants us to be. We are not afraid of God's punishment but we desire a closer relationship with God. To desire God's cross-examination means that we are that much closer to the God who created and loves us.

God, we love You and we trust You. Look at our minds and hearts, see all in our thoughts and ways. We want to surrender ourselves fully and wholly to You. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Psalm 139:22

I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. Psalm 139: 22 NRSV

Perfect hatred. What is perfect hatred? I have really been struggling with this concept all week (notice that I put off writing on this as long as possible). I think I must begin by thinking of perfect hate's opposite - perfect love.

In IJohn 4:18, we are told that perfect love casts out fear. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus gives instructions to be perfect as God is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and tells a follower to go and sell all he has in order to be perfect (Matthew 19:21). I think that perfect love describes God. I think perfect love is something we must aim for in our Christian journey.

It seems to me that perfect hatred would open a person up to total fear, would place a person far from God and would not be a goal for Christians. Yet, the Psalmist is speaking to God about those who are against God and seems to rally behind God by counting God's enemies as their own. It is like saying, "Look, God, I claim your enemies as my own!"

The real danger here is not giving into hatred but in being careful of who God's enemies are. Personally, I want to claim my own enemies as God's enemies. But deep down I know that is not the case. Who are God's enemies? Am I even able to identify them? Can you?

God, we want to be on your side and have perfect hatred for your enemies. But we don't know who they are. Help us to pray for even our own "enemies" and embrace your perfect love instead. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Psalm 139: 21

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? Psalm 139:21 NRSV

One of the toys that my seven year old was given at the church fall festival was this "slap on" band with the words Jesus Loves Me printed on it. When I saw it I had to laugh. Yeah, Jesus loves you so much that I'm gonna slap you with it! Yesterday my son was playing with it and we laughed again about it and then he said, "Jesus hates me!" I immediately corrected him. I can not imagine Jesus hating anyone. Even from the cross, he forgave his enemies. I don't see any hatred in his self-sacrifice. His love for me is essential for the atonement, I believe.

But here is the Psalmist saying that he/she hates those who hate God. The psalmist loathes those who rise up against God. This is in such a juxtaposition to Jesus asking us to love our neighbor - even those we greatly dislike - and pray for our enemies. What do we do with this verse?

One of the hot topics recently is so-called atheists protesting and bringing cases against those who pray in Jesus' name. I don't even want to get into the issue of why someone who doesn't believe in God or gods would protest against anyone who is praying (as in, wouldn't it just be meaningless words to them?). However, I am thinking maybe the psalmist has these folks in mind. Should we hate these people? Loathe them?

I think such people have never really been loved by someone who believes in God, never felt the love of Christ in their heart and who only receive loathing and hatred. Perhaps if we didn't hate them, didn't loathe them but showed them love instead we would be following God's will.

I am struggling with these verses of this Psalm. I hope that you will too!

God, sometimes scripture makes us uncomfortable. Help us, Lord! Show us your will and your way at all times and in all places. Thank you for your love for us. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Psalm 139:19-20

O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me- those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! Psalm 139:19-20 NRSV

Although on the surface, this verse is my least favorite of the whole psalm, I know that I am a person of explosive temper and I have been known to say things in the heat of the moment that I later regretted. These words are like that - something that was said in the heat of the moment. These are words spoken in anger, something said that attacks, lashes out, hurts and destroys.

The psalmist begins by saying they wish God would get rid of the wicked - really to get rid of those who are attacking the psalmist. Why else would the words "and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me" be used?

It is almost a complete change of attitude and personality. We have been examining God and praising God for what God knows and does compared to humans. Then suddenly we get this angry outburst. Perhaps it was there all along, just under the surface waiting to interrupt. It is kind of like communicating with one's spouse. Sometimes even in the calmest of discussions, something can trigger memories or feelings one has kept hidden and not dealt with. Of course, this often leads couples into arguments that are probably the least helpful.

in the psalm, there is a change from "these people are attacking me" to "you need to take care of these people because they are really attacking you, God!" It is like the psalmist is saying that they are really angry on God's behalf! The psalmist seems to realize that asking God to lash out to those who are hurting the individual is probably not going to work - one needs to bring God into the equation (for those who know the Bowen theory, I would label this Triangulation!).

When have you lashed out in anger - to others, to yourself, or to God? Take time today to examine things in your life that are making you angry - but don't bring God or even self-judgment into the argument yet! We'll save that part for tomorrow.

God, help me to see where I have let anger lead in my thoughts, words and deeds. Give me discernment without judgment. Thank you. Amen.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Psalm 139: 17-18

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them - they are more than the sand; I come to the end - I am still with you. Psalm 139:17-18 NRSV

How often we forget that the Bible actually contains humor! Here is one of those verses that says something about the nature of God but also makes us laugh.

How weighty and vast are God's thoughts. This reminds me of a scene in the movie, Bruce Almighty, in which God gives Bruce the right to answer prayers. Bruce is completely overwhelmed - whether he is hearing these requests or sets them up in files or even tries to use post-it notes. He cannot keep up; in fact, his apartment becomes filled with any one of these. Eventually he resorts to emails which means his inbox becomes completely filled. Later he discovers that he is actually only receiving prayers from his hometown - not the entire world! Just trying to grasp all the things that God is aware of, knows, thinks of, and hears is almost impossible.

Could we count them? Here is where we all have to laugh. In fact, some translations say: "I try to count your thoughts, they are as many as there are grains of sand... when I wake up, you are still here!" Counting God's thoughts is like counting sheep - eventually we fall asleep. But, don't worry, God will remain with us, awake and aware! God doesn't sleep nor does God leave us in our attempt to grasp the whole of God's awesome power and knowledge. God's thoughts are truly vast and weighty.

God, we cannot comprehend how much you know. If we try to count all the things you are capable of or think about we would fall asleep! But we are assured of your continued presence and your care for us. Thank you. In Jesus' name. Amen.