Archives for December 2014

Psalm 148; 1 Chronicles 1:1-37; Acts 8:1-8

Psalm 148: This marvelous psalm of praise begins in heaven itself, as all heavenly beings extol God’s greatness: “Praise Him, all His messengers, /praise Him, all His armies.” (2) and then to the heavenly bodies: “Praise Him, sun and moon, / praise Him, all you stars of light.” (3) The verses then descend from heaven to earth to the creatures of the earth–“wild beasts and all the cattle, 10 crawling things and wingèd birds,” (10)–and then finally, to mankind itself–essentially a reprise of Genesis 1.

But where Genesis 1 spoke only of Adam, here the psalmist includes everyone from the king on down: “princes and all leaders of earth, / young men and also maidens, / elders together with lads. (11,12) This is also a reminder to us that God is the God of everyone–and we are equal in his eyes. And our responsibility whether prince or lad is to praise and worship God for his goodness and greatness: “Let them praise the LORD’s name, / for His name alone is exalted.” (13) for the God whose “grandeur is over earth and the heavens.”

1 Chronicles 1:1-37: While 1 and 2 Kings reflects history written during the time of the exile, we are told that 1 and 2 Chronicles was written long after Israel had returned to Jerusalem following the exile. Jewish tradition says that Jeremiah wrote Kings, while Ezra who came much later, wrote Chronicles. Because of the different time of writing by different authors, they have different theological emphases  and cover many of the same events with a very different perspective–not unlike the different viewpoints about the same events expressed by today’s media.

One thing is clear: the Chronicles author intends to write a comprehensive history, opening his work with a genealogy that traces back to Adam. Perhaps most fascinating is that we learn which tribes descended form which of Noah’s sons, Ham, Shem and Japeth. However, it is a selective genealogy, tracing the important lineage that led eventually to Abraham. (37) out of the root of Shem.

Once we have Abraham, we have Jacob, who is named Israel here. I’m not sure if the author intended, but what stands out here for me is that all humankind has common roots. But internecine warfare and hatreds trace all the way back to Cain and Abel. And alas, thus it has ever been.

Acts 8:1-8: Immediately Stephen’s martyrdom, Luke tells us that “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.” (1) After Stephen pointed out what in their hearts they knew to be true, the church authorities were now fiercely committed to stamping out this growing sect.  Saul emerges as the fiercest antagonist of the new church and “was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.” (3) I assume he was doing this on the authority of the church leaders.

But in their efforts to stamp out “The Way” in Jerusalem, and scattering its leaders the authorities became the agents of causing the church to sprout up all over as “those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.” (4) This is why I have no fear for Christianity going forward. The comfortable institutional church of the US may be shrinking, and in our increasingly secular society we may feel like Saul is pounding on its door. But the Holy Spirit is at work all over the world with thousands of Philips proclaiming the word everywhere.

This first attempt to stamp out the early church is also a reminder that it is under oppression and persecution that the church truly grows and flourishes: A stark reminder to those of us who tend to prefer cultural acceptance and comfortable pews.

Psalm 147:15-20; 2 Kings 25; Acts 7:44-60

Psalm 147:15-20: The final verses of this psalm extol God’s mastery of nature, as he speaks not just to us, but to all creation: “He sends down His utterance to earth, / quickly His word races.” And God’s word has real and immediate power, as the next few verses reveal:

He pours forth snow like fleece,
scatters frost like ash.
He flings His ice like bread crumbs.
In the face of His cold who can endure? (16,17)

Inasmuch as I am writing this from Madison, Wisconsin in December, these verses have special resonance. But God brings springtime and warmth as well: “He sends out His word and melts them, /He lets His breath blow—the waters flow.” (18). As usual, the psalmist reminds us that God does not do these things by mental telpathy or even by waving his arms, but by speaking, even though he would be perfectly capable of interacting with nature in that way. In contrast to the mute small-g gods of others, our God speaks and things happen. And of course at this time of year we remember God’s greatest speech, when he sent his Word into our space and our time in the form of a tiny human baby.

2 Kings 25: The story of the capture of Judah by Babylon is recent history to our historian and he writes with increasing detail–both in dates [“in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem,” (1)] and names [“chief priest Seraiah, the second priest Zephaniah”(18)]. Following a two-year siege of Jerusalem, King Zedekiah is captured, forced to watch his sons slain, blinded and carried off in fetters.

We can feel the historian’s despair as he describes the destruction of Solomon’s temple and all the enormous amount of gold, silver and bronze that was carried back to Babylon. A governor, Gedaliah, is appointed to rule over the few people remaining in Judah, and even that goes awry as a certain Ismael rebels, killing him and the other Chaldeans there. Ismael and his band escape to Egypt, and the desolation of Judah is complete. The scattering of the descendants of the twelve tribes that came up out of Egypt with Moses is complete–their punishment for failing to heed what Moses had told their ancestors so many years ago.

The book ends on a somber but hopeful note as the historian tells us that King Jehoiachin of Judah is brought out of prison by Nebuchanezzar’s successor and given a place of honor and a pension. Perhaps all is not lost.

Acts 7:44-60: Stephen does not mince words and makes it clear that God no longer dwells in the Temple, but quotes the prophet, “Heaven is my throne,/ and the earth is my footstool.” (51). Probably knowing hehas nothing to lose, Stephen gets personal, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.” (51) And then the greatest accusation of all: “You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” (53) Stephen has become Isaiah, the prophet forthtelling what those in power definitely do not want to hear.

The officials drag Stephen out and stone him. Why is their anger so immense? Why do they grind their teeth?After all, it’s just some unwashed convert from some crazy new sect. I think that deep in their hearts they knew Stephen had identified exactly what they knew to be true. But anger trumps rational thought—and Stephen certainly did himself no favors by his accusation. There could be no other outcome.

Luke, in his brilliance as an author brings this first phase of the early church to a close with Stephen’s martyrdom. He adds the seemingly insignificant detail, “the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” The spotlight is about to shift, but not before we hear Stephen’s final words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (60)

Unfortunately, the Christian church did indeed hold these things against the Jews, and its witness has been deeply marred for what happened over the next two millennia.

Psalm 147:7-14; 2 Kings 23:21-24:20; Acts 7:30-43

Psalm 147:1-14: This psalm of praise reminds us not only of God’s power, but of his attention to creative detail: “He counts the number of the stars,/ to all of them gives names.” (4) and “Who covers the heavens with clouds, /readies rain for the earth, /makes mountains flourish with grass.” (8) But above all, he cares for–and brings justice to– the lowliest members of his greatest creation: “The LORD sustains the lowly, / casts the wicked to the ground.” (6)

God is not interested in power or even our idea of beauty, “Not the might of the horse He desires, / not by a man’s thighs is He pleased.” (10). Rather, “The LORD is pleased by those who fear Him, / those who long for His kindness.” God desires the worship he deserves, which is why the psalmist calls all Israel–and us–to “Extol, O Jerusalem, the LORD, / praise your God, O Zion.” (12) Of course this requires us to make God rather than ourselves the center of our lives. Which is always more difficult than we think…

2 Kings 23:21-24:20: King Josiah has cleansed both Judah and Samaria of the idolatrous “high places” that had so offended God. The priests of those places met a grisly end, slaughtered and their bones burned on their deposed altars. Josiah returns to Jerusalem and celebrates Passover, which remarkably had not been “kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, even during all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah.” (23) Josiah receives the highest possible praise from our historian: “ Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.” (25) Alas, Josiah’s efforts to not satisfy God’s anger, who announces, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel; and I will reject this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” (27)

Josiah is killed in battle; his son Jehoahaz takes the throne, but reverts to evil ways. He is rpelaced by his brother Jehoiakim by the Pharaoh who conquered Josiah. Things go from bad to worse for Judah. Jehokiam becomes the vassal of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for three years, rebels and is promptly attacked by all the neighboring tribes.  The historian speculates, “Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, for all that he had committed.” Which would be the unforgivable sin of “the innocent blood that he had shed; for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to pardon.”(24:4)

Judah begins to meet its ignominious end with Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion, who carries off the “men of valor” and the artisans, leaving only a vassal king, “Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.” The reading ends on an ominous note, “Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.” (24:20)

Acts 7:30-43: Stephen’s great speech to the Council is a great recounts the history of Israel and how God intervened with Israel again and again–in front of men who surely knew the story. Here, he tells how Moses rescued Israel from Egypt, but the Israelites reject their leader. Stephen also reminds the leaders that “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.’” (37).

We can see where this is going as Stephen is transformed from a mere apostle to a prophet not unlike Isaiah or Jeremiah, telling people what they assuredly do not want to hear.

Psalm 145:1-7; 2 Kings 18; Acts 5:17-40

Psalm 145:1-7: Something I had not noticed before is that this psalm extols God, [“Let me exalt You, my God the king” (1)], but it also extol’s the name of God: “…let me bless Your name forevermore” (1) and “let me praise Your name forever more.” (2). For the Jews, of course, the very name of God is sacred and cannot be uttered. Even today, Jews indicate the scared nature of God’s name by writing “G-d.”

We Christians tend to be completely casual about God’s name, both in conversation and exclamation. “Oh, my God” is used so frequently that it has become an acronym, OMG. In our casual and profane use of God’s name we demean not only God, but ourselves as well. Would I casually toss off “OMG” after reading “Great is the LORD and highly praised, / and His greatness cannot be fathomed,” or reflecting on the true meaning of ” the grandeur of Your glorious majesty,” or singing “And the power of Your awesome deeds let them say, / and Your greatness let me recount?”

I think the answer is obvious and this psalm reminds me that God is not a mere concept or something to be trivialized in conversation.

2 Kings 18: At last! Righteous king Hezekiah, who “did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done.” As we know form the previous chapter, there is no higher praise from the historian than that. In fact, there can be no higher praise than this: “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him.: And as we would expect, Hezekiah and all of Judah enjoys the fruits of the kings failth–and his example, “The Lord was with him; wherever he went, he prospered.” (7). Faith also brings great courage: “He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him.” (7b).

Compare Hezekiah to Israel: “The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria… because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God but transgressed his covenant” (11)

Nevertheless, the might of Assyria attacks Judah and there are significant losses; Hezekiah strips the Temple to pay ransom, but the army led y the Rabshakeh, arrives at the walls of Jerusalem, who says something that has modern resonance, “Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?” (20). He then speaks in Hebrew so all in the city could understand, saying, “Do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, The Lord will deliver us.” (32) The Assyrian brags that everyone he has met in battle he has conquered. But Hezekiah had ordered the people not to speak a word in response. And they do not.

Remaining silent is sometimes the very best strategy. What will happen at Jerusalem with the Assyrian army arrayed against it?

Acts 5:17-40: The authorities have had enough of the Apostles and their impact on the lives of the hoi polloi and imprison them. But an angel opens the prison doors and says, “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” And the apostles respond as we might expect, “When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.” (20, 21)

The leaders are now apoplectic, and drag the Apostles before them and Peter–with enormous courage– tells them,“We must obey God rather than any human authority” and speaks the Kerygma of Jesus Christ. “When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.”

But Gamaliel points out these sorts of people have come and gone and their movements died out of their own accord. He wisely advises the leaders to let the Apostles go because “if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (38, 39).

The ensuing 2000 years suggests that Gamaliel was a wise man indeed. Luke makes his point to his readers and us as well: this movement begun by Jesus Christ is something that has never been seen before on earth.


Psalm 144:9-15; 2 Kings 17:7-41; Acts 5:12-16

Psalm 144:9-15: Verse nine is one of the more familiar one in all the psalms: “God, a new song I would sing to You, / on a ten-stringed lute I would hymn to You.” But I have never really stopped to think exactly what a “new song” means. Yes, we can certainly enjoy new compositions of old verses with new music. But when I think about the years that I have professed to walk with God, I think it means something deeper: that God gives me fresh insights and new understanding each time I return to his word.

Unlike every other book, I can can come back to the same Bible passage I read months or years earlier and see something fresh–a “new song”–that the Holy Spirit delivers to my heart. Even as I re-read the book of Psalms through each year, each time I encounter even very familiar verses, there is a new facet glinting in the sun, a fresh understanding, a word or turn of phrase that I had not seen or read in exactly the same way before. For me, that’s what “inspired Scripture” is all about. We know the words are inspired because we can gain fresh inspiration each time we come to them. Which is also why I prefer Bible study to “book studies.”  With renewed enthusiasm I can say with the psalmist at verse 15, “Happy are the people to whom such blessings fall;/ happy are the people whose God is the Lord.”

2 Kings 17:7-41: The historian tells us why Israel has been captured by the Assyrians and there distinct identity has melted away: “This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God” (7) and “The people of Israel secretly did things that were not right against the Lord their God.” (9) and “They did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger;” (11).

It wasn’t like they weren’t warned, “Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the law that I commanded your ancestors and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” (13). The root cause of this behavior is clear: “They would not listen but were stubborn.” (14) Stubbornness became rejection: “They rejected all the commandments of the Lord their God …and served Baal.” (16) And that was that: “Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone.” (18). A clear lesson here: stubbornness leads ultimately to rejection. If we persist in sin, it will eventually consume us, but we won;t even notice because we have rejected the promise of God.

Like Israel, Judah was sinful and “did not keep the commandments of the Lord,” but thy live on because Judah “walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. ” (19) 

The king of Assyria, having removed all of Israel from Samaria replaces them with people from all over the empire. But it seems that the land of Israel itself is sacred and these newcomers, who “did not worship the Lord” suffered fates such as being eaten by lions.” The Assyrian king commands, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there; let him[d] go and live there, and teach them the law of the god of the land.” (27). Things improve, but not surprisingly, “every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made.” (29) And the people “would not listen, however, but they continued to practice their former custom.” (41)

Acts 5:12-16: Just months after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit works miracles in Jerusalem. Even Peter’s shadow seems to have curative effect on “both the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits–and they were all cured.”

There’s no question that these spectacular acts had a profound impact on the growth of the early church, but it’s also worth noting “ None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” (13) Is the source of their hesitancy due to the power the Apostles were displaying that made them kind of scary, albeit respected? Or was it because people knew that further displays of this sort of power would doubtless get the Apostles in further trouble with both the secular and priestly authorities. I suspect the latter.

Psalm 144:5-8; 2 Kings 16:1-17:6; Acts 5:1-11

Psalm 144:5-8: This David song of praise covers familiar territory, reminding us of God’s spectacular greatness –a “greatness that cannot be fathomed.” (4) It is the honor and duty of the elder generation to tell the younger one about God’s greatness: “Let one generation to the next extol Your deeds and tell of Your mighty acts.” (4). And to tell the younger generation so that “The fame of Your great goodness they utter, and of Your bounty they joyously sing.” (7).

Which raises the question: how faithfully do we as the older generation tell of God’s greatness and raise our children such that they become God-fearers? My dad made our entire family go to church every Sunday. As a teenager I resented it but never resisted until I went away to college. In one sense I had to abandon my father’s faith in order to find my own. But there’s no question that the habit of church and Bible study had been inculcated in me. And that habit, that desire to come closer to God has served me well over the years.

So Susan and I made our kids come to church, too. Elisabeth is an active Christian and worships faithfully. And even though Geoff has rejected many of the tenets of the Christian faith, his family goes to church most Sundays. I think this is a good thing to pass sown the generations.

 2 Kings 16:1-17:6:  It’s always so depressing to read about the ascent of a new king, in this case Ahaz of Judah, and then immediately read at the second verse, “He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done,” including making his son walk through fire “according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” (3).

Ahaz aligns himself wit Tiglath-pileser, the Assyrian king, right down to building a copy of the altar at Damascus, including the blasphemy of putting this altar in a higher place of honor that the altar to the Lord. He dismantles other Temple furnishings such as the bronze sea “because of the king of Assyria.” (16:18) The king’s fear of the power to the north is palpable. Judah has essentially become a vassal state of Assyria. The fate of states where leaders that become subject to leaders of other states is never pretty.

Things are even worse in Israel, where Hoshea becomes king. He seems to be only an intermediately bad king as “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, yet not like the kings of Israel who were before him.” (17:2). But the damage has been done over the years. Israel is even more subject to the whims of the Assyrians than Judah, “Hoshea became his vassal, and paid him tribute.” but “the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea” (17: 3,4)

Israel’s end as a nation comes when “the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria.” and in Hoshea’s ninth and final year of reign, Israel falls and the king “carried the Israelites away to Assyria.” Israel, land of such promise, is simply no more; its people, who have intermarried and worshipped false gods are scattered and lost forever.

This historian’s message is clear: As Israel–and Judah to a lesser extent–have fallen away from God and assimilate their more powerful neighbor’s culture that is an abomination to God, those more powerful neighbors simply swallow them up.  God is merciful but He is not infinitely patient in the face of hundreds of years of rebellion.

Acts 5:1-11: At one level the cautionary tale of Ananias and Sapphira seems arbitrarily cruel. So what if they didn’t give the entire proceeds of the land sale to the communal church? But of course the lesson is that lying to the Holy Spirit is the real offense. And what happened to the couple electrified everyone: “And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.” (11)

I suspect that the real impact of the story was to shake out the would-be followers who were attracted to the church because it was a growing popular movement that looked like it would be fun to jump on the bandwagon.  After all, it was exciting and energetic–and may even have had cool music. But the couple’s death made it abundantly clear that being part of this new church was deadly serious business. You were either all in or all out. You cannot be only halfway in. Halfway in means that you have placed yourself above God.  Jesus is asking, nay demanding, 100% participation.

Had the early church become filled with halfway in people like A & S, it would have died out in just a few years. The real question is, how full is the church today of halfway in people? And the bigger question: am I one of them?

Psalm 143:7-12; 2 Kings 14; Acts 4:13-22

Psalm 143:7-12: Regardless of our circumstances–and they need not be as desperate as our psalmists, we can pray each morning, “Let me hear Your kindness in the morning, / for in You I trust. /Let me know the way I should go, /for to You I lift up my being.” (8)

“Hearing kindness” is a fresh way of thinking about God because we tend to think of “doing kindness.” But to “hear kindness” is to listen carefully for God’s gentle voice, the voice in the Garden. The psalmist is not seeking just to hear gentle words of love, but he is also seeking instruction: “Let me know the way I should go.” God is far more than someone who assuages our fear, but who guides us if we only listen carefully enough.

This psalm weaves anxiety with God’s kindness as the psalmist then asks, “Save me from my enemies, Lord” (9) and then again for God’s leading, “Let Your goodly spirit guide me on level ground.” (11). There is constant tension here as the psalmist asks for “level ground” and then the terror emerges once again, “For the sake of Your name, LORD, give me life,” (11).

But at the end kindness is juxtaposed directly against devastation, ending the psalm on a disturbing, discordant note, “And in Your kindness devastate my enemies /and destroy all my bitter foes,” Does God’s kindness include destruction? It would seem so. Should we pray for our enemies to be destroyed? No, I don’t think so because I think this is the tit-for-tat economy that Jesus turned on its head.

2 Kings 14: The parallel history of Judah and Israel continues. Amaziah becomes king of Judah and “did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not like his ancestor David;” (3) These rulers, even as they follow God in some things, are still tainted because “the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.” (4) He enjoys a victory over the Edomites, but then wants to make war against Israel. Even though he’s warned by Israel’s King Jehoash “Amaziah would not listen” (11). Judah is promptly defeated by Israel.

Nevertheless, Amaziah outlives Jehoash, whose son, Jeroboam begins a 41-year reign over Israel. Alas, “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord;” (24) Israel eventually comes to desperate straits, and God speaks to Jeroboam via Jonah (!), but Jeroboam persists in his sins.

But God always keeps his promise: “the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam. (27). Once again we are reminded that God desperately wishes to keep the Covenant He made with Israel, even though the people and its leaders have drifted far away from God. This reality is counter to the popular image of the OT God wreaking vengeance on sinners. Mercy and love are always there. But like Israel long ago, we persist in our evil ways.

Acts 4:13-22: Peter and John are great examples of the benefits of speaking boldly, for when the priestly officials saw “the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.” (13). The officials realize that these Jesus-followers will continue to spread the “contagion” that has infected Jerusalem. Their feeble solution is to command Peter and John to stop speaking publicly. Peter and John basically laugh in their faces, but also say something incredibly profound, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (20)

In the end, it is the decision of every person to decide whether we listen to our worldly wisdom or to God. This is the same decision that faces us today in an increasingly post-Christian world where those who would pretend to be wise assert that religion, faith, belief are mere crutches for psychologically immature people. Or worse, that belief in Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s power is the source of evil in the world.

The question is, am I standing with the officials or with Peter and John?


Psalm 143:1-6; 2 Kings 12,13; Acts 4:1-12

Psalm 143:1-6: This psalm of supplication is suffused with urgency, as the first verse comes right to the point: “LORD, hear my prayer, /hearken to my pleas. /In Your faithfulness answer me, in Your bounty.” The image is an out-of-breath David attempting to elude his pursuers, who have probably been sent by Saul–maybe even Saul himself. David stops for a moment, perhaps hidden behind a bush or a big rock.

He knows he is safe for just a short time. He asks God not to judge whatever actions he has just done in order to get away, even though he knows “no living thing is acquitted before You.” (2)  He summarizes his desperate circumstances quickly, “For the enemy pursued me, / thrust my life to the ground, / made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.” Perhaps the “darkness” is the famous cave in which he could have killed the sleeping Saul.

In this moment of respite, David’s first act is to pray as “I recalled the days of old, /I recited all Your deeds,/ of Your handiwork I did speak.” (5) And in a physical act of supplication, “I stretched out my hands to you.” (6)

This psalm and its urgency, it’s sense of being pursued by and then barely escaping from evil is a perfect description so many of us feel in modern life. David could have uttered these words yesterday. Our human condition is exactly the same. Will we take the time–even on the run–to stop and pray?

2 Kings 12,13: Young ing Jeohash, having been rescued form assassination by his grandmother, reigns for forty years. Even though “Jehoash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all his days, because the priest Jehoiada instructed him…the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.” (1,2).  During previous reigns while GOd has been ignored, the temple has fallen into disrepair. Jehoash imposes a tax on the people for repairs, where the money is given directly to the preists. There are promises from the priests that they will repair the temple, but nothing happens for 23 years(!) since it’s clear they have taken the money for their own use.  Jehoash then installs a chest at the temple entrance where the money is collected publicly. The workers are paid. Lo and behold, the money starts pouring in and repairs are made.

The lesson is clear: public accountability of church finances is essential.

Meanwhile up in Israel, Jehoahaz reigns and he “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (13:2).  Israel’s descent into false gods and general depredation continues. The people “did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he caused Israel to sin, but walked in them. (13:6). Jehoahaz squanders Israel’s military strength and Aram is at its door.  The king goes to Elisha one last time, who instructs the king to shoot arrows out the window. But the king shoots only 3 arrows. Elisha tells him, ““You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Aram only three times.” (13:19) Elisha dies, but Jehoahaz is successful. But we suspect seeds of defeat have been sewn.

Acts 4:1-12: As far as the religious officials and power structure in Jerusalem is concerned this pentecost thing with some 5000 of these new Jesus followers has gotten completely out of hand, especially the Sadducees who were offended by the idea of resurrection form the dead. So they arrest Peter and John, who are brought before Annas, Caiaphas and “all who were of the high-priestly family.”

Luke does not miss this opportunity to put forward the key theological point that drives the entire book of Acts. The accusers ask, “by what power or by what name did you do this?” (7). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, tells them that whatever healings they’ve seen have occurred through “the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”

He then makes what can only be an inflammatory statement, quoting scripture and telling the priests that have rejected the very cornerstone of their faith. And just to make sure they get the point, Peter adds, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (12) This is Luke’s version of John 14:6: Christ alone is the way to salvation.



Psalm 139:17-24; 2 Kings 5:15-6:23; Acts 1:15-26

Psalm 139:17-24: The psalmist reflects on the impossibility of knowing, much less understanding, God’s thoughts: “As for me, how weighty are Your thoughts, /O God, how numerous their sum.” Even if he could understand them, there are so many that comprehension remains impossible: “Should I count them, they would be more than the sand.” (18)

So, what are God’s thoughts, anyway?  I think this is the only place in the Psalms where the idea of perceiving God’s thoughts arises. We know that God is love, so his thoughts must be lovely. We also know that God is justice, so that must occupy much of his thinking as well. We know that God is Creator, so the universe and all that is within it is also very much on his mind.

Perhaps Jesus gives us the best idea of the infinitude of God’s thoughts when he tells us that God knows the number of hairs on our head and when a robin falls from the tree. Even though we think we have great knowledge and that we are learning more each day, it is still infinitesimal compared to God.

The psalmist does not merely accept the idea that God is infinite and we are not, he asks God to act. “Search me, God, and know my heart,/ probe me and know my mind.” (23) This is a request to become completely aligned with God and His thoughts. For if God knows our innermost being and our motivations and we are willing to listen and to be led by God, then we are indeed led “on the eternal way.” (24)

Of course, as Christians we know there is an even better way that praying to be aligned with God’s thoughts and that is the saving power of Jesus Christ.

2 Kings 5:15-6:23: Namaan attempts to express his gratitude to Elisha for being healed, but the “Man of God,” as he is called, sends him on his way. Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, sees and opportunity for personal gain and runs after Namaan, who gives him two talents of gold. Elisha asks where he’s been; Gehazi lies but Elisha says, “Did I not go with you in spirit when someone left his chariot to meet you?” (5:26) For his greed, Gehazi–and all his descendants–inherit Namaan’s leprosy. Lesson learned.

The Arameans want to invade Israel and surround the city of Dothan. Elisha’s servant sees the vast army and cries, “what shall we do.” Elisha prays to God, “Strike this people, please, with blindness.” (I like the “please.”) God obliges and Elisha leads them back into Samaria, right to the king of Israel, and after Elisha prays, God opens their eyes. The king asks if he should kill them, but Elisha points out tht the king did not capture them. Instead, the king “prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way,…And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.” (6:23). The lesson here is that sometimes prayer and providing a feast rather than a war how to win the peace. A lesson we could bear remembering on several fronts today.

Acts 1:15-26: Peter assumes the leadership role with the disciples, who Luke tells us, number 120 persons), quoting from the Psalms regarding Judas’ rather gruesome fate of falling headlong on his newly-acquired property such that “he burst open in the middle and his bowels gushed out” (18), saying “the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas.” (16). Peter then quotes a different psalm to cause the election of a disciple to replace Judas. There are two candidates: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. The lot falls to Matthias.

What’s interesting here is that we see a new side of Peter: he knows his Scripture, and this will be important right after Pentecost. The other thing we learn is that there is really quite a clear organizational structure: the are 120 followers, 12 of whom are the disciples, and there is urgency that the full contingent of 12 be preserved. We often think of the followers of Jesus being a disorganized crowd, but Luke makes it clear here that there is discipline, process and structure. This will also become important as the story of the early church unfolds.


Psalm 139:8-16; 2 Kings 4:38-5:14; Acts 1:1-14

Psalm 139:8-16: The psalmist soars through all creation reminding us that God is everywhere in the universe. God is marvelously inescapable: “If I soar to the heavens, You are there, if I bed down in Sheol—there You are.” (8) Whether in the east at the dawn or to the farthest ends of the seas, “there, too, Your hand leads me,/ and Your right hand seizes me.” (10) Notice that God is intertwined with our very being. The psalmist is not just observing God as creator, he is experiencing God as creator.

As we are reminded frequently in the Gospels, God is light, even in the darkest night: “Darkness itself will not darken for You, / and the night will light up like the day, / the dark and the light will be one.” What a promise to remember when we are traveling though dark and difficult times! God will help us not to notice the night.

From the grandeur of the nighttime sky, the psalmist dives down to the molecular, the very DNA of our being in that most famous line: “For You created my innermost parts, / wove me in my mother’s womb.” (13) Again, it’s all about our connectedness with God. How can we escape God if He is so intimately involved with our very creation, “when [we were] made in a secret place,/ knitted in the utmost depths?” (16) These verses are also a reminder that when God seems very far away perhaps we have not looked closely enough into our very being.

2 Kings 4:38-5:14: These chapters catalog Elisha’s miracles. Unlike his predecessor Elijah, who focused on thinks like bringing fire down form heaven to consume the Baal priests, Elisha’s miracles are refreshingly domestic. He provides an endless supply of oil to the widow; he returns the favor of hospitality of the wealthy woman by healing son of the Shunammite woman. He purifies a pot of stew, and in a remarkable precursor of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000, he feeds 100 men.

It’s the healing of Naaman for which he is most famous. “A great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram,” Naaman suffers the most humiliating of all diseases in that time, leprosy, proof that disease is no respecter of status. The king of Aram sends Naaman to the King of Israel, who tears his clothes and complains that the king of Aram is trying to “pick a quarrel with me.”

Here’s a clear message relevant to our time that just because someone has great political power or someone has great wealth, wealth and power are not necessarily where we should look for healing or succor.

Instead, Elisha hears of Naaman and sends a message that the commander should simply wash himself seven times in the Jordan. Naaman is not pleased, noting that there are lots of alternative rivers more preferable to him, saying “Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.” His more sensible servants say, “if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?” (5:13). Naaman, accepting their logic, does so and he becomes clean.

There are numerous lessons here. First, God’s healing power is extended beyond the Jews to all people. Second, we tend to look first to money and prestige for healing, when all we have to do is look to God. Third, as Naaman resisted being baptized because it was too easy and direct, so we, too, look for our  own complicated way to salvation when God’s simple act of baptism is all we need.

Acts 1:1-14: Luke opens volume two of his writings–this one about the birth of the Church–with another introduction to our beloved Theophilus, telling him that this book will be about the ministry of the Holy Spirit using jesus’ own words: “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (5).

Jesus then departs up to heaven. To underscore the transition from the “Acts of Jesus” to the “Acts of the Church” two angels ask, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” In other words, our focus must be here on earth because our work is here on earth. Jesus will come back, but in the meantime there is much to do right here.

This is the practical side of the church. Sometimes we’d like to stand around looking toward heaven with soaring theology and beautiful music and gorgeous cathedrals. But the nitty gritty work of the Church here on earth, ministering to the lost, the lonely, the prisoners, and the sick is an equally crucial aspect of what the Church is all about.

And before any of that work begins, and even before the Holy Spirit arrives, we can follow the example of the disciples, devoting ourselves to prayer.