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Friday, February 26, 2010

Samaritan Revealed

Most every Christian is familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus was asked to define "neighbor" by someone who wanted to clarify who he had to "love" in order to be justified according to God's laws. Jesus told a story about an unnamed man who was beaten and robbed and left for dead, and some very religious people declined to help the man. Then a Samaritan, a member of a neighboring people group that to the Jewish mind made him something of a pariah, came along, had compassion on the man, and helped him to medical care and safety. Christians see this parable as a lesson that we should be merciful and caring to even people who despise us, and that we should look upon people of other ethnicities, economic groups, etc. without prejudice, because those people are our "neighbor."

This morning I got a new perspective on it. I am reading a book called These Found The Way: Thirteen Converts to Protestant Christianity, and in a chapter relating the life story of Asa G. Chandler, Jr. (son of the founder of Coca-Cola) the following statement appears: "One cannot think of Christ without thinking of the Good Samaritan, for Christ himself was the Good Samaritan to us all."

That statement shocked me to the core. How could I have missed that all of this time? We are the robbed and wounded man, denied help by self-righteous religion, but rescued by One Who came from another place (Heaven) and who was looked on with suspicion by many in the world, particularly the self-righteous religious. Isaiah 53:3 says "He [the Messiah, now identified as Jesus] was despised and rejected by men..." ...just like a despised Samaritan. But He came to where we were and rescued us from the hopeless state we were in.

Is it also a parable of how we should act toward our fellow man? When we see someone who needs help, are we to be like the Good Samaritan? Was I confused before, or is that a valid interpretation of the story? Is he the character we are supposed to identify with and imitate?

Certainly he is. And, of course, so is Jesus. They are one and the same.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Moses Said So

"Behold," said Moses to the children of Israel, "you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven."

This is what I read in Deuteronomy chapter one last night as I continued in my Read the Bible in a Year program. Most of Deuteronomy is a series of long speeches Moses delivered to the Israelites just before Moses died and Israel began in earnest their conquest of the Promised Land.

When I read that sentence last night, I automatically did some quick calculations. So far I've read everything in the Bible up to that point, and my razor-sharp brain reminded me that the people of Israel were actually counted twice in the book of Numbers, or at least the number of able-bodied warriors were counted. The first time there were 603,550 warriors (a number which was also mentioned in Exodus before that), and the second time there were 601,730 warriors. Commentators estimate that if you add in women, children, and men who were unable to fight, the nation of Israel at that time must have consisted of something like two million people total.

A quick Google search reveals that modern scientists, on the other hand, estimate that there are in the neighborhood of 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone. Seems like Moses maybe estimated things a little bit short.

Then something else caught my eye. Moses was relating story points that had occurred back in Exodus, and kept referring to the people as "you". "You" were delivered from Egypt, "you" received the Law from Sinai, "you" were too frightened to enter and take the Promised Land. In fact, in one place Moses takes pains to let them know he is talking about those in his presence as he was speaking: "Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today." The only problem is that none of that had happened to the people he was addressing! All of those events had happened 40 years before, to their parents, who at this point were all dead. Again, Moses loses points for accuracy.

Or does he? Moses was giving a passionate motivational speech, alternately reminding Israel to live according to God's laws and reminding them of God's promises, and certainly Moses was alluding to God's promise to Abraham, not actually counting stars. He wanted the people he had been leading all of those years to be emotionally prepared to fearlessly do what God had called them to do: enter the land promised to them by God, and take it. Reminding them of God's promises, remembering what God had done for them as a nation, those were part of him emphasizing to them that as a nation, God had been with them. His "you" was referring to the nation of Israel. The current batch of persons had inherited the promises given to their forefathers, but they had inherited the character flaws as well, and Moses wanted to remind them of both facts.

But why did Moses choose to use untruth to do so? The fact is, the Bible is truth, and Moses' speeches were also truth, but Moses wasn't speaking as a scientist... he was speaking as a passionate encourager, as a poet. "As numerous as the stars of heaven" is hyperbole meant to indicate that they were a vast nation. "You" repeated over and over in a history lesson about parents and forefathers is meant to identify them with their own history. A scientist might say that Moses' speech had elements of fiction or exaggeration in it, and so it was not entirely true. A poet would say that his speech had elements of hyperbole and identification with history in it, and thus it was transcendent and more true than plain vanilla facts would be.

Now, let's rewind a little. Okay, let's rewind a lot. Most Bible scholars believe that Moses was the author of almost every word of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. That means that Moses wrote the book of Genesis, right? Now, we've determined that Moses was predisposed to mold the historical facts a little bit to make a spiritual point. Let's think about some of the things Moses reported in the book of Genesis that seem amazing to us today:
  1. The entire universe created in six morning-to-evening days
  2. Water covering the entire surface of the world, including the highest mountain peaks
  3. People thinking they could build a building so high that they could reach God with it (and God being nervous that they would succeed)
  4. A city destroyed by a rainstorm of fire, and a woman's body changed instantly to salt
Now, I am of the opinion that things in the Bible should be taken at face value unless there is evidence that they are intended to be taken figuratively, and in my opinion, it's entirely possible that those things could have happened exactly as reported. But knowing Moses for the poet he was, I think we should also remain open to people who think that some of his writing may have a figurative element to it. That would not make the Bible any less truth; in some ways, it would add to the truth by inspiring in us the emotional reaction to God, the sense of wonder and awe, that we should have anyway. And in a story that is ultimately about God's relationship to us, that would be an even greater truth.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Last night I finished up the book of Numbers (and BOY, are there a lot of numbers in that one!) in my Read the Bible in a year plan. I spent most of this past month at least a day behind (sometimes TWO days behind!) but last night I read two day's worth so I finished Numbers on the right date. No particular reason to do that, except that it helped me catch up to where I was "supposed" to be! It's funny... I really do sense that reading a little bit of the Word every night has subtly changed the way I see the world around me. Even when I'm reading half-awake and I'm not sure I'm retaining what I'm reading. Even when the chapter is dull and repetitive and seems like just a long list of names of people who are not mentioned anywhere else, either in the Bible or in non-Bible history. Even chapters like Numbers 7, which so far is the most boring chapter I've run across! (There's so little to say about it that it may be the only page in my ESV Study Bible with no commentary notes on it!) I suspect that it's partly because of the knowledge and the content that I'm receiving from the Word, and partly because I've made a commitment to take it in every day. I think God sees and honors it when we make a commitment to Him and do our best to fulfill it, even when we get two days behind and have to catch up. :)

I got a newsletter email from Christian parody band ApologetiX; lead singer J. Jackson is a HUGE proponent of reading through the Bible, and he's done it himself many times. His daughter is doing it now as well, and she and he had an interesting discussion about King Saul in the Old Testament and Saul of Tarsus in the New Testament. It's a fun read; take a look!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jesus Christ, Stalker

Tactical maneuvers, little white lies
It's all beneath the surface and what it implies
Assuming that the end justifies the means
You hope that no one's looking behind the scenes
I think you should know, God sees everything that you do
There's never a time when He's not watching out over you

"Ooo, how creepy!"
"What do you mean?"
"Didn't you just hear that song? It makes God totally sound like a stalker. Or a peeping tom or something."
"God's not a peeping tom."
"Oh yeah? Well it's still pretty weird to think that no matter where I go or what I do, even if nobody else ever finds out about it, God will know."
You can't escape, you can't hide
When He's looking at you with His infrared eyes
Deep in the dark, but the dark is light
When He's looking at you with His infrared eyes
There is no place where they won't find you
Don't turn your back, they'll be right behind you
Can't run away, no matter how you try
God is following you with His infrared eyes

"What's wrong with God knowing everything you do?"
"Well, what if He sees me doing something He doesn't like?"
"Why would you want to do something God wouldn't like?"
Out in the crowd you wear a charming facade
You're never concerned with being labeled a fraud
That friendly disposition is not the real you
But no one suspects; they haven't even a clue
I think you should know, God sees everything that you do
There's never a time when He's not watching out over you

"What about times when I want to do something a little... different? Maybe in a morally gray area. Sometimes I'd rather be anonymous; that way it doesn't matter what other people think. And sometimes, frankly, I don't want anyone to see me because I know better."
"You know better than to think that anyone can see you?"
"No, I know better than to do whatever I'm doing. I don't like to think about God always seeing me because I'm pretty sure that if He can see what I'm doing, I'm really in for it."
You can't escape, you can't hide
When He's looking at you with His x-ray eyes
Deep in your heart, but He can see inside
When He's looking at you with His x-ray eyes
There is no place where they won't find you
Don't turn your back, they'll be right behind you
Can't run away, no matter how you try
God is following you with His x-ray eyes

"But God's not looking at you to find reasons to punish you!"
"What do you mean?"
"He's looking at you because He loves you. When you're in love with someone, don't you like to look at them?"
"Well, yeah, I guess so... so that's why God's on the lookout all the time?"
"Yeah. God is on the lookout for ways to get you to come to Him. He's not looking for a reason to squish you for your sins."
"What was that part about Him seeing inside of my heart?"
"God sees your attitude and intentions before He even sees your actions. In fact, if you do the right thing for the wrong reason, He still knows that it was done with the wrong attitude."
"Ruh-roh... I don't like where this is going now!"
"No, wait a second. Here's the thing. God sent Jesus to take the punishment for anything wrong that you ever did or ever will do. If you identify yourself with Jesus, that means that you place yourself in a category with people whose sins are taken care of."
"You make it sound like someone from another table paying for your dinner!"
"Well, sort of! So when God looks at you, He doesn't see an unpaid bill... he sees a customer in good standing. Really, better than a customer in good standing. It's like... well, I have a cousin who owns a restaurant. When I go over there to eat and get ready to pay, he always says the same thing: 'Your money's no good here.'"
"Because you're family?"
"Right. because I'm family. Family always eats free there. And once you accept Jesus' sacrifice for yourself, you become God's family."
"And He can't see it any more when I do wrong?"
"Sure, God sees it when you do something wrong... but He's already forgiven you for it."
There is no place where they won't find you
Don't turn your back, they'll be right behind you
Can't run away, no matter how you try
God is following you with His infrared x-ray eyes

"So when God is watching me..."
"...It's to love you. Take care of you. Provide for you. Protect you."
"Wow! That sounds like someone I want to be stalked by!"

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
   and his ears toward their cry.

-Psalm 34:15 (ESV)

lyrics: "Infrared X-Ray Eyes"
from the Crumbacher album "Incandescent"
words & music: Stephen Crumbacher.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Month 2, Book 3

February 1 seems like a good time for an update on my read-the-Bible-in-a-year project. It's been going great! I've been behind a time or two, but never more than a day... and last night I actually read ahead one day! Denny Burk's reading plan (which, BTW, is missing the last chapter of Exodus) actually has a couple of "catch-up" days at the end of January, but I thought I would start into the February reading on January 31. So my reading for today is actually already finished! I plan to keep reading a day ahead anyway, because sometime I'm going to miss a day and need the head start.

Tell you what, though... Leviticus (where I am now) is certainly where the rubber meets the road. It's tripped me up before; to the casual reader, it seems like mostly a list of ways to slaughter cattle and birds and sheep for sacrifice to God... kind of dry. I actually expect the ESV Study Bible notes to help that; they'll break it up a little and help the modern reader get some perspective. There have been a few questions I've had in my reading so far that haven't been answered by the notes (I'm kind of surprised!) but overall I've been so glad to have been reading them!

On to February... and Leviticus!