Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Laws of Festivals, Judges, Trials, and Appointed Kings in Deuteronomy

Today's Reading:
  • Deuteronomy 16:1 - 17:20
  • Proverbs 12:8 - 9
Read Bible Passages Online

Deuteronomy 16:1 - 17:20
 Moses told the people which festivals they were to celebrate each year.  These festivals were to be celebrated at the single place God chose for his sanctuary -- the people would have to travel there.  These festivals were: Passover, Festival of Harvest, and the Festival of Shelters.

Moses also informed the people of God's instructions for dealing with idol worship, disagreements, lawsuits and more.  The people were to appoint local judges and officials to hear cases.  Should these people be unable to decide, the case was to be brought to the Levitical priests to decide.  Should a person be found guilty, their punishment must be carried out exactly as stated by the judge's sentence. 

People who worship idols or natural elements (sun, moon, etc) were to be put to death, but only if at least two witnesses saw them.  Those witnesses had to throw the first stones before the rest of the community could join in.

The people were also told requirements for a king, if they were to appoint one.  First of all, the people must make sure that the Lord has chosen the king.  The king must be an Israelite and must live humbly as a king.  He shouldn't build himself a fortune, and he should keep the instructions written on a scroll to read daily so that he would stay true and humble to both the citizens and to the Lord.

It's interesting to see the parallels between our democratic society today and the society the Israelites were to be a part of.  It's always reassuring that the Lord insists on fairness out of the leaders and the judges, and that there must be multiple witnesses if someone was going to be convicted of a crime with a death penalty.  No one said that the Lord our creator had to attempt to be fair to us.  Yes, I know life isn't fair -- but the Lord lays basic rules in attempt so that people be treated fairly.  The Lord created us all -- what if He wasn't concerned with our treatment, with how we treat others?  I am truly thankful that we have a Lord who is concerned with our fair treatment.

Proverbs 12:8 - 9
8  A sensible person wins admiration, but a warped mind is despised.
9  Better to be an ordinary person with a servant than to be a self-important but have no food.
 It is better to be a sensible, ordinary person than a pompous, poor person with a warped mind!  Whenever you might think you're too ordinary, just remember the things that make you beautiful to God -- because those are the only things that truly matter.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Healing Power of Jesus is Still Relevant Today

Today's Reading:
  • Luke 8:40 - 9:6
  • Psalm 71:1 - 24
Read Bible Passages Online

Luke 8:40 - 9:6
Jesus traveled to the other side of the lake where he was met by a large crowd.  A man named Jairus met Jesus at the shore and begged him to come heal his daughter, who was dying.  Jesus and his disciples headed out to the home of Jairus.

Along the way, a woman who had bled for twelve years straight touched the robe of Jesus, because she knew if she could but touch it, she would be healed.  When she touched the robe she was instantly healed -- and Jesus felt the healing power go into her.  He praised her extreme faith, saying that it had made her well.

Jairus was met by a messenger that told him it was too late -- the daughter had died.  Jesus told Jairus to have faith, and she would be healed.  Jesus walked into the house and told the girl to get up, and miraculously she did.

Those two miraculous healings took place within a short time of each other.  Although they were two entirely different problems -- one woman who couldn't stop bleeding, and a girl who had already died -- the result was the same.  They were both healed by faith in Jesus.

I am a firm believer that miracles and healing can be achieved to this very day through the power of Jesus Christ.  And I'm not just talking about healing while the person is still alive -- I believe that people can be raised from the dead.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think that happens often, but I think in extreme cases it is possible -- especially when a child dies.

Take for instance this very recent case, where a 26 week old baby was stillborn.  A baby born at 26 weeks has a small chance of survival as it is, but this one was declared dead by multiple doctors.  Twelve hours after the baby died, the mother insisted on seeing the baby in the refrigerated morgue.  There she found that her 26 week old, premature, freezing baby was still alive.  Her response was: "I'm a believer. All of this was a miracle from God."  Indeed it was truly a miracle from the Lord.

If faith alone can (on very very rare occasion) raise a person from the dead, healing from ordinary diseases should be easy.  Healing from terminal illnesses isn't much of a stretch beyond that.  Miracles are still very much occurring today.  We don't need to see Jesus in person for a miracle to occur.  We don't need to touch his robe.  Faith is what is needed.  These people (the woman and Jairus) came to Jesus because they had faith in him before they ever met him.  So have faith and study the word of God.  That's my plan anyway, so that if anything ever comes against my family, I will be equipped with all the bible has to say about that situation.  

Psalm 71:1 - 24
This Psalm doesn't seem to be attributed to a single person.  My study bible doesn't offer me a suggestion of who the author might have been.  I don't think it was David because the psalm doesn't have the same extreme highs and lows that I am used to reading in the psalms of David.

This Psalm is similar to the psalms of David in that the writer is begging the Lord for help, begging that he not be abandoned to his enemies.  The writer seems to be older (And now, in my old age, don't set me aside" verse 9), and he seems to have led a pretty straightforward life in God's favor until this point.

This Psalm might not have the extreme highs and lows of the psalms of David, but it is still a lovely example of true faith in the Lord.  The writer knows that the Lord has been with him his entire life.  He prays to God to be delivered from his enemies, and he praises the Lord over and over.  He tells of how he always has praised the Lord, and how he will continue to praise the Lord,  Psalms truly is a book of praise and worship to the Lord.  It's certainly the book to turn to when you're struggling to get through hard times in your life. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tithing, Debt Cancellation and Slavery in the Old Testament; Godly Advice is an Extension of Virtue

Today's Reading:
  • Deuteronomy 13:1 - 15:23
  • Proverbs 12:5 - 7
Read Bible Passages Online

Deuteronomy 13:1 - 15:23
These three chapters in Deuteronomy had many interesting topics, including tithing, debt cancellation and the release of slaves.  Rather than write a long post on just one of these topics, I think I'd like to write a little bit about each one.
Tithing, Debt Cancellation and Slavery in the Old Testament
I am always interested to learn what the bible says about tithing.  I've seen little about it so far.  Chapter 14 says that the family must take their 1/10 tithe of their crops and eat it before the Lord.  If it's too far to journey with the crops, they should be sold and then the money should be used for a great feast and celebration before the Lord.  Every third year, the money or crops should be given to the Levitites, the widows, the foreigners and the orphans.

As I've mentioned before, my tithe is a combination of donations to my church and to various Christian charities that I believe in.  I don't know enough about tithing to know if that is acceptable -- should I be giving 10% to my church, and then contribute to charities in addition to that?  This passage at least gives me reassurance that tithing can be a combination of the two, and it seems like the formula is 67% to the church, 33% to charities.  I am certain I will learn tons more about tithing, but for now I at least have something to go on!  And without looking at my budget right now, I can say that's probably close to the ratio I have going on now.  

I thought the topic on debt cancellation was interesting.  Chapter 15 tells us that debts were to be cancelled every 7th year if they were not paid back.  I think that many types of debt in the US today also have statues of limitations -- the most common being 7 years.  There are debts that are not subject to those rules, but credit cards, utility bills, etc often have limits like that imposed.  I think it's interesting how I can read about debt cancellation in Moses's time and still see a correlation to today's time.

Chapter 15 also discussed slavery.  You were to release your slaves after a period of six years, and you were supposed to send them away with a generous gift.  I hear people often refuse to even consider Christianity because the bible talks of slaves.  But I have yet to see how slavery in the bible is the same as slavery as we seem to think about it -- with an entire single population being forced into lifelong slavery.  I certainly haven't read enough of the bible to take a stance, but I can say that the things I've read so far -- such as freeing your fellow slaves with generous gifts after a six year period -- seems to fall more along the lines of indentured servants than slavery.  But please remember -- this is my opinion as of this point in time.  I am almost 1/4 through the bible -- so I still have quite a bit to read that could change my mind!

Proverbs 12:5 - 7
5  The plans of the godly are just; the advice of the wicked is treacherous.
6  The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush, but the words of the godly save lives.
7  The wicked die and disappear, but the family of the godly stands firm.
More words of wisdom to consider from Proverbs.  These words make a lot of sense -- the passages about the godly and their words and their advice makes me think of the virtue ethical theory.  In this theory (from what I remember in college), if a person was deemed to be virtuous, then by default any and all decisions that they made would automatically be considered virtuous and correct.

So I see these verses as an extension of the ethical theory of virtue -- if a person is godly, then the things they do, the plans they make, the advice they give -- is automatically just and right.  Now of course that theory has many flaws, I was just noting the similarity between these passages and that ethical theory.  It makes sense though -- if a person truly is godly, and their plans are godly, their lives are godly -- then the Lord has bestowed upon them favor, blessing and wisdom to pass along to others.  So where should you turn to when you are in need of advice or direction?  Turn to the godly person you trust!