"Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever." -Paul

29 August 2006

Prosperity Gospel Shmosperity Shmospel

By Matt

I read: Hosea 9-10

If you don't know, I hate the idea of "Prosperity Gospel." If you're not familiar with PG, it's the idea that your bank account is a determiner of how much God is blessing you. So, if you are poor and have nothing, it's because you either haven't asked for money or you do not have God's favor. While there is some biblical basis for asking in faith and receiving, PGers miss the concept of what we should be asking for. So, it makes me mad because of the missing-the-point and also because the implication here is that poor Christians across the world are just not praying correctly.

Why am I harping on PG in the middle of Hosea, a book that up to this point focused much more on our relationship with God than anything else? Because of a choice set of verses in chapter 10 that I discovered that speak directly to PGers, at least in my mind:

The more lavish the harvest,
the more promiscuous the worship.
The more money they got,
the more they squandered on gods-in-their-own-image.
Their sweet smiles are sheer lies.
They're as guilty as sin.
God will smash their worship shrines,
puliverize their God images. (10:1-2)

Money isn't evil, nor are Christians who have money. It's money becoming a god that's dangerous, money being the goal, the be-all and end-all. And there is an inverse relationship that is very clear between having money and controlling money. The more you have, the more it controls you. I see this in my own life, not because I have a lot of money, I still am in youth ministry after all, but because I have expendable income, I have more coming in than necessities that I have to pay for. Trying to control my spending to what I need and not what I want is a very difficult thing for me and the more expendable income you have, the harder it is to control, or at least spend in unselfish ways. And when you buy expensive stuff, expensive accessories go along with it. It's an unending circle in that respect.

That's why I think this verse speaks to the PG. It makes a clear connection between having a lot of stuff and slipping in your devotion to God. This is God saying it, not anyone else. And when he speaks, it's generally a good idea to listen. But this passage also speaks hope to the distortions of Christianity, not just PG, that abound and that are present within all of us, including and especially me: God wins in the end. The useless stuff will be brought to light and burned. And it's going to hurt, but God puts the tools in front of us that we need to determine the truth, it's our own fault if we don't know it.

28 August 2006

I Think You Made Him Mad . . .

By Matt

I read: Hosea 5-8

These four chapters of Hosea could be summarized with one statement: our God who is slow to anger is pissed. Israel has sinned mightily: jumping in bed with false gods and carven idols, totally neglecting the one who brought them out of Egpyt and protects them to this day. Basically, it's four chapters of that kind of rant. It's kind of a weird section because there's not a lot to gain since it's just God outlining very clearly and with much detail how unfaithful Israel (and Judah too) have been. Maybe the lesson is this: God can and will get mad if you're not faithful. And if that's the case, expect consequences. But, and I'm interested to see how this will pan out in Hosea, he will be the first to welcome you back with open arms when you realize and proclaim how stupid you've been.

Unrelated to this set of chapters, but completely related to 1-3, check out the song "Beloved" by the band Tenth Avenue North. I am absolutely loving this song and it's a great, great adaptation of the ideas from Hosea and even some from Song of Songs that complete the analogy of husband:wife::God:us. You can probably hear it on their MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/tenthavenuenorth

25 August 2006

Oh, I know What You Did

By Matt

I read: Hosea 1-4

Well, we're now done with the first four chapters of Hosea as we delve into this entry to examine the fourth chapter. And here's the very interesting thing: it speaks a lot to the question Ben asked a couple of days ago about why Eli was punished for the sins of his son. Verses 4-10 actually paint a scathing criticism of the priests of Israel and Judah and cites punishment for the abdication of their responsibilities. Pretty glad I'm not a priest from that time!

I think it comes down to God taking very seriously who he puts in positions of authority, whether as kings or judges of Israel, or the priests of his house. The selection process for rulers has always been very detailed, you can see that with Saul and David. Priests? Hmm, I dunno about that. Aaron was the first High Priest and he was the overseer of that whole golden calf debacle. However, Paul's and Peter's letters in the New Testament are chock full of instructions for leaders of the Church.

Yet, I'd be willing to take this moment to remind all of us that, at least within the Presbyterian tradition, we are a congregation of priests. Christ is our High Priest now, we're all lesser priests who serve him and don't need other religious authorities to intercede for us. That doesn't mean we don't need pastors, they fill the important role of shepherding a flock and leading us in worship, it just means that we can go to God directly. So, if you read verses 4-10, let them serve as a reminder to you as your responsibilities as priests and the failings of those who went before you.

24 August 2006

Voice of Truth

by Ben

I read 1 Samuel 4-7.

My oh my...the Philistines defeated the Israelites twice! And took the Ark of the Covenant! That's huge! The Ark basically represented God to the Israelites. The Philistines had it for seven months before they returned it.

Why did they return it you might ask? It caused plagues of rats and tumors in every city they moved it to. When it was placed next to the image of their god, their god fell down from its stand face down in front of the Ark. The Philistines took it as a pretty serious message: don't mess with the God of Israel.

I can only imagine what the Israelite leaders were thinking! They must have been so discouraged. Maybe even thinking that they'd backed the wrong god.

Sometimes I feel like God has been hijacked. Like all of the competing gods of modern day, in fighting for rank, have taken God away from his people. Sunday isn't a Sabbath for most people. Church is a secondary or last-minute thought as opposed to the first relationship in our lives (our marriage to God). When we do finances, do we figure our tithe first or last? When we turn on the radio, do we turn to 95.5 or 92.5? When we get up, do we read the Bible or the Repository?

You may be thinking, "but those are little things." And yes, you may be right, but it's the combination of those little things that makes us who we are. Are we God's people? If I were to ask myself that question at various times of the day, would I be able to answer a resounding "YES!"? Not likely.

Our God has been hijacked. What's worse is we've let Him go. But not to worry, He's taking care of Himself in their hands. But He desperately wants to be back with us. We have to work to reconnect with Him.

In Chapter 7, Samuel tells the people of Israel that they must "get rid of [their] foreign gods" and that they must "determine to obey only the Lord."

Can we be the people of God and want to sing along with "Loosen up my buttons" on MTV?

She'll be back. She'll be back.

I read: Hosea 1-4

I'm not quite sure how the guy who figured out the chapters and verses of the Bible decided to do that 'cause chapters 2 and 4 of Hosea are huge with lots of stuff and then you get three paragraphs for chapter 3. And if you look at how Peterson breaks up the chapters, they never seem to coordinate. Very weird. I have a feeling that Peterson wishes he could re-number the Bible!

In chapter 2 God told Israel he was going to start re-courting them. He's been humiliated and shown his jealousy towards his jealous lover, but he's ready to take "her" back. In this chapter he begins to make good on that promise. God commands Hosea to take back Gomer and he does. Hosea reports that it cost him "the price of a slave."

The price of a slave? It cost Hosea something hefty to get her back. But the key is that it cost him. He couldn't just snap his fingers, he had to go and find her and find her pimp and pay for her again. If this is a book of prophecy (which it is) and I've interpreted the book correctly so far (I hope I have), God's re-courting of Israel takes place through Christ and then the "price of a slave" here can refer to Christ's own life, given up freely on the cross to buy us back. What does this all mean? Hosea is one heck of an awesome trailer for the New Testament, that's what ;)

23 August 2006

Eli's Coming

by Ben

I read 1 Samuel 1-3. We read about Samuel a young boy who comes to be through the prayer of his infertile mother, Hannah. In thanksgiving for her answered prayer, she gives Samuel to God - literally. Samuel become the apprentice to Eli, the priest in Shiloh. Eli's sons are sinful boys who take the meats from sacrifices before the people's sins can be atoned and they are rumored to be seducing the young women who assist at the entrance to the Tabernacle. This makes God upset...at Eli and his children. He tells Eli that he will end his family line and will rise up another to be the faithful priest. (Bummer for Eli) When Eli finds out through Samuel's famous mix-up of bosses, he takes it really well. Eli shows his dedication to God's Will, even though it really is bad news for him.

Things I can't figure out:
1. Why does God punish Eli as well as his sons. I can't figure out what Eli did/didn't do.

2. Did Peninnah, Elkanah's (Samuel's dad's) other wife, have anymore children as Chapter 2, Hannah's Prayer of Praise, suggests?

Also, I found the idea of writing style really interesting in this section. Chapter 1 and 3 are very much like much of the story parts of the Bible. Chapter 2, particularly verses 1-10, are written in prayer form and reveal much of Hannah's emotion, her direct feelings toward God and those around her. It made me think of the distinction in musical styles that people spend so much time arguing about today: traditional versus contemporary. Substance-wise, traditional hymns have it all. They tell the story of our faith. Some would debate that they are all that is needed for worship, while others say that they lack emotional oomph. On the other hand, contemporary Christian music, more specifically "Praise Songs," are chock full of emotional draw and can help people feel really close to God. Some suggest that these are the only songs that qualify as worship, while others contest that they have no depth.

You may be able to tell which I prefer by what I have written, though I did my best to hide it. My preference matters little. Neither should anyone else's. No one should have a market on what songs should be sung because they like it. Life, and more specifically worship, is not about me. It isn't about what we feel. It's about praising God. Can fans of contemporary and traditional music coincide - even worship together? Let's look to 1 Samuel. Could we get David, the Psalmist, and Paul, the letter-writer, to sit down together?

When we get down to it (and maybe I've got Doug Fields on the brain), what is our purpose? Why do we gather together on Sunday mornings? Why do we have music in our services? What are we trying to accomplish?

22 August 2006

Sexual Morality

by Ben

I read the book of Ruth.

Soooo many things that can confuse in this book! Most of them deal with lust! Boaz flirts with Ruth, a noble widow who stayed with her mother-in-law, Naomi, even though she could have gone to marry another man. Boaz, a wealthy and influential landowner, allows Ruth to collect grain in his fields and is much nicer to her than he needs to be. Naomi urges Ruth to go "lie down" with Boaz, when he is clearly inebriated. Boaz doesn't do anything inappropriate, however, he is concerned in the morning and tells Ruth, "No one must know that a woman was here at the threshing floor." In chapter 4, we find out that technically, Boaz shouldn't have been flirting at all because there is someone else who has more right to marry her. Mind you, it all works out in the end: the other man passes on his opportunity to redeem Ruth's land (and Ruth) and Boaz marries her, which provides protection for both Ruth and Naomi.

Again, no commentary on whether these behaviors are accepted - except for the marriage. Everybody is pretty happy about that. I found it interesting however, that Student's Life Application Bible has a side note about Sexual Morality, but this is more connected to modern day and doesn't address the situations described in Ruth.

Hope you all are having a good day!

21 August 2006


I'm back and I read: Hosea 1-4

I think I complained about how hard it was to tell who is saying what in the book of Hosea, whether it's God speaking or Hosea himself, but I'm starting to get it down. God's quotes are in parentheses, Hosea's aren't.

Anyways, the second chapter of Hosea is pretty, well, YOWZA! God is telling Hosea all this stuff about how he is going to take his wife into court and divorce her, ruin all her lovely things, expose her for who she is, and all sorts of other not very nice stuff. I get the distinct impression that he's pissed.

But then you get to verse 14 and you get this, "And now, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to start all over again. I'm taking her back out into the wilderness where we had our first date, and I'll court her. I'll give her bouquets of roses."

So, typically when there's a divorce between humans it's a pretty nasty affair and that's where things end for a marriage. Not God! He's pissed, oh is he pissed. But all of a sudden he turns the whole thing on his head and says, "I love you. Let's give it another shot."

Honestly, reading this I see now how Hosea is a prophet. Right up until verse 14 you have the Old Testament. But when God is ready to start dating again, it's a whole new relationship built on love rather than fear. That's where Christ comes in and this is a beautiful metaphor for how his sacrifice changes everything: "'At that time"--this is God's message still--"you'll address me, 'Dear husband!' Never again will you address me, 'My slave-master!'"

Makes you kinda glad you live when you do, huh? :P


by Ben

I decided to go back and finish off Judges, which I had been reading earlier in the year and was so rudely interrupted by the summer camp season.

I read Judges 17-21. There were many different stories within this section: from Micah's servant priest to the slaughter and then forgiveness of the tribe of Benjamin. The real thing that gets me with this section is that there are so many things that the Israelites do that there is no comment of whether they are good or ill. Most of which seem awful by today's mindset. Take their solution to the fact that the tribe of Benjamin may die out from not having anymore women (who, by the way, were killed by the other Israelites):

The people decide that the remaining men of Benjamin who do not have wives should wait until there is a festival in Shiloh and they should "go and hide in the vineyards. When the women of Shiloh come out for their dances, rush out from the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to be your wife!" This gets them around the promise to God that Israel made saying that none of them would give their daughters to the member of another tribe. It's not giving if the men of Benjamin just take them! Yet there is no comment on this behavior, save one line which is repeated throughout the book of Judges: "In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

Well, isn't that just lovely.

17 August 2006

Quiet Time

by Ben

I guess I'm into a kick of using for my personal Scripture time the materials that I'm going to have my youth group using. I started out today using one of the Quiet Time Journals that came in a pack that I ordered from Simply Youth Ministry. It was great!

I read just a short Scripture passage:

Isaiah 40: 29-31
He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak. Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will give up. But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint (NLT).

And then read a short thought relating to the Scripture: "Even the strongest people get tired at times, but God’s power and strength will never diminish. He is never too tired or too busy to help and listen. His strength is our source of strength. When you feel all of life crushing you and you cannot go another step, remember that you can call upon God to renew your strength."

I then thought about how tired and tense I feel all of the time and wondered where this came from. In prayer, I gave all of my stress and my stressors up to God (unfortunately, not a short list). Then, I simply took some quiet time and listened for God's voice. Sure, I got distracted a bit, but overall, I really was focused and felt God's presence. Cool.

16 August 2006

"Go Mode"

by Ben

There are some days when I get little to nothing done. No motivation...no deadlines. I do some work mind you, but overall...it's like somebody switched my coffee to decaf (but I don't drink coffee). However, today is not one of those days. Today, I am in "Go Mode" - where I feel so ADHD about what I have to do that I end up trying to do too many things at once, such to the point that I don't finish any of them.

Where to go from here? Well, I need to slow down some, yet remain focused, because I can feel myself going from one extreme ("Go Mode") to the other ("No Mode"). How do I find a happy medium?

I'm trying to remind myself that spiritual attacks can come through the means of physical distractions. I want nothing more right now than to go fall asleep on one of the couches. I've heard that power naps (about 17 minutes) help re-energize and refocus you. Yet, my list of to-do's is staring me in the face and I know that if I lay down, I may sleep longer than 17 minutes.

Well, I rested for a short bit and was awoken by the phone (a wrong number). However, I do feel refreshed and ready to get to work.

By the way, during this time of mental back and forth, I did read 1 John 5:11-13 and Matthew 7:24-27.

15 August 2006

Prayer Time

by Ben

It is Tuesday and I am taking some prayer time. So far, I've been pretty good at taking time to read and journal about Scripture, but I haven't done anywhere near as good of a job at taking time to pray. Meals, bedtime, and short prayers yes, I've kept up with. But since camp, I haven't just sat down to spend time with God. So, I'm off...I expect Satan to try to distract me. Please pray for my focus and willingness to be with God. And to fill the void of talking about Scripture, a prayer that I wrote halfway through the summer:


Help me to give of myself all that you have given me. Especially when I don't feel like it. On good days and bad days. Help me to love every individual as if they were you. God, give me patience and strength. Help me to care and pray for all of your children that you put in my path. Thank you, Father, for the opportunity to serve.

In Jesus, my Christ,

14 August 2006


by Ben

I read today's lesson in the One-Minute Bible 4 Students (OMB4S), which consisted of: 2 Samuel 11:14-17, 26-27; 2 Samuel 12:13-14; and Romans 6:23. I also read the related texts: Numbers 32:23; 2 Samuel 12:15-25; Proverbs 26:27; Matthew 1:1-6; and Hebrews 13:4.

I'm trying out the OMB4S because I think I'm going to use it with one of my youth small groups coming up this fall. It is really cool because it has for each day of the year a main Scriptures to read, some related Scripture verses, and a thought that relates to the passage.

In the texts for today, which were all related by the concept of sin, one of the passages was about David sending Uriah (Bathsheba's husband) to the front line of his armed forces, so he would be killed and then David could take Bathsheba as his wife. An obvious wrong from our eyes. And I'll bet David wasn't blind to the sin of it either. In the heat of the moment, I'd wager he knew exactly what he was doing, but he was just so overtaken with sin that he didn't care. He turned his back on God.

The most interesting thing about these passages though, is what we learn through the prophet Nathan. David confesses his sin to Nathan and Nathan says very simply, "Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won't die for this sin. But you have given the enemies of the Lord great opportunity to despise and blaspheme him, so your child will die."

Whoa. I started thinking about this. We look to David's words today for comfort and guidance in how to connect to God. I know that I have thought once or twice about the whole Bathsheba/Uriah incident while reading some of the Psalms and wondered why I should be paying any attention to what David had to say. I would guess that the slander against one of God's chosen would be much worse from a non-believer. And that is modern day. Think to how it could have been in David's time. And all the way through history since then. How many people's faith has been shaken by David's sin?

A little closer to home: How many people's faith will be shaken by my sins? Or yours? God forgives us, but the act is not forgotten. How does what we do today affect our children or grandchildren?

The thought for today is:
"Another way to identify sin is 'the wrong use of a right thing.'"

How easy it is for us to sit back and say that we did nothing wrong today. Sure, we aren't sending someone to die so that we can steal their wife (well, some are), but we do commit sins of our own.

I'm sorry Father.

08 August 2006

Joy and Playfulness

by Ben

I read Psalm 42. In addition to Scripture, I finished "Running on Empty" by Fil Anderson.

The Psalm spoke of pain, fear, and discouragement, yet expressed a trust in God. It even goes so far as to use the words, "I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again - my Savior and my God!"

In the last chapter of his book, Mr. Anderson discusses the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a feeling based upon the circumstances (or "happ"-enings) of life. He says it very simply, "Happiness is a good feeling I get when things go a particular way; joy is an attitude I adopt in spit of how things go. Joy is a posture, a position; it's the deep assurance I have that the God who loves me is in control.Joy does not happen to me one day and avoid me the next. Joy is the result of a choice, a choice I have to make every day. It's a choice based on the knowledge that I belong to God, who is my Refuge. And nothing, not even death, can take God away from me."

I think the Psalmist (a descendant of Korah), has this joy. They may not be in the best circumstances, yet they remain positive and in keeping with the Lord.

Fil Anderson brings up a related idea that I like, but have trouble being comfortable with on a spiritual level (which I think is true for most of us). He relates being joyful with playful. A simple idea really. Both of these are words that we easily relate to children, yet rarely do we bring these words to have any meaning for our adult selves. We think of playing as immature and certainly not godly. Mr. Anderson addresses this point: "The concept of playfulness is biblically sound. The psalmist, for example wrote, 'Be still, and know that I am God!' (Psalm 46:10). Don't overlook the fact that the Scriptures rarely contain exclamation marks! Another translation says, 'Cease striving and know that I am God' (NASB). It has been suggested that both 'be still' and 'cease striving' really mean 'have leisure'.

Most of us have trouble even being alone with God, let alone playing with Him. "Surely He's too distant/busy/omnipotent to care about spending time with me," we say. When really, it is our fear that prevents the relationship from happening. Our fear of God and our fear of ourselves. We need to really ask ourselves, "Why am I so afraid to play with God?" Ask yourself these questions: Do you imagine that when you step into a sailboat, that God stays ashore? Or that when you go into a movie, that God stays on the sidewalk? Or that when we're in the heat of a tennis match, God is waiting for us in the church pew? We play, it is lovely, and we can revel in God in the midst of our play. What thoughts or feelings do these words give rise to in your heart? Take time to write down the most meaningful and inspiring ideas that come to mind.

07 August 2006

Psalms Book One

by Ben

First, some personal news. Kate and I got engaged on Saturday. WOOHOO!

Second, the entry:

I read Psalm 31-41, finishing out the first Book of the Psalms.

There were many things that came to me while reading today. I noticed my mind drifting while I read, so I began to read aloud and the Scriptures came alive to me. I really could understand where David was at while writing. In going along, I came to Psalm 35 (which I suggest you read to better understand this entry).

David is really distraught. He's asking God for help. Simple enough, yet the thought came into my head that this doesn't show David as being very trusting of God's will. I've recently been thinking a lot about predestination. Throughout my life, I've gone back and forth about whether I believe God means for everything to happen or whether He just uses the things that do happen to lead to better things. We all have examples of bad things leading to good things (whether we know it or not). The question comes when we consider if God intended the original bad thing to happen in order to setup the circumstances for the good thing to happen.

I'm starting to confuse myself. Let's get back to the Scripture. David is asking for God to take away his problems. To humiliate and disgrace his enemies (a point that we'll come back to). This leads me to question David's trust in God. It seems that in talking about the Psalms, people often reference that David calls upon God in all different situations (joy and pain) in his life, but I think what he is saying here is very important.

Another way to look at this situation is to attempt to view it from God's perspective. For this attempt, I'm going to assume that God intended for the initial pain in David's life (you'll understand as I explain). Whatever is causing David pain has certainly caused him to seek God's presence/guidance/help/etc. Had this situation not occurred, would David have sought God?

In the book Running on Empty by Fil Anderson, there is an idea that stands out to me. Mr. Anderson says, "It's essential that I understand the health of my relationship with God is ultimately God's responsibility. My responsibility is providing space for solitude and silence so that God may attend to the needs of my soul. I'm just the innkeeper making room for the Guest." Is God fulfilling his part by creating the situation by which I come to prayer? I'll let that thought sit for now. But I will leave you with a bit of related humor.

"The proper way for a man to pray," said Deacon Lemuel Keyes;
"And the only proper attitude is down upon his knees."

"Nay, I should say the way to pray," said Reverend Doctor Wise,
"Is standing straight with outstretched arms with shining upturned eyes."

"Oh, no, no, no," said Elder Snow, "such a posture is too proud.
A man should pray with eyes fast-closed and head contritely bowed."

"It seems to me his hands should be austerely clasped in front with
both thumbs pointing to the ground," said Reverend Doctor Blunt.

"Last year I fell in Hodgkin's well head-first," said layman Cyrus Brown.
"With both my heels a-stickin' up, my head a-pointin' down;
and I made a prayer right then and there; best prayer I ever said,
the prayin'est prayer I ever prayed, a-standin' on my head."

-Sam Walter Foss's "The Prayer of Cyrus Brown"

06 August 2006

My Turn for Wilderness!

Joel and I will be in the 100 Mile Wilderness until the 18th or so, so no new posts from us (still). Keep up the good work, Ben!

02 August 2006

Off for a few days

by Ben

Hey all...I'm not going to be able to post for a few days. Running sound for a funeral today, washing dishes for Hoover Band at Wakonda tomorrow and then Friday off. Probably won't get a post up until Monday. I hope you can make it without me! I look forward to reading some posts from Matt after he gets back from Montreat. See you all soon!

01 August 2006

Praise You in this Storm

by Ben

I read Psalm 26-30.

During my reading, I realized how much I wanted to be like David. More to the point, I want to have that kind of faith. To seek God, regardless of what is going on around me.

O God, you lift me up over the pain and problems of my life. Even when I feel defeated, you are there. You watch over me day and night. With every trial, you are taking me through another lesson. You speak to us in the good times. And you shout at us in the troubled times. I will praise you through the storms of my life. Whatever the wind and the rain bring, I will stand firm on my foundation, knowing that you control the fury. That with one word you could make peace of the chaos. Yet, without the struggle, there would be no growth. For that, I praise you, Father, for the storms.