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2 Peter 3: Encouragement During Stress

We looked at Peter’s response to Passover and Easter the past two weeks. I wanted to continue the Peter theme, so I opened the letters he wrote for inspiration. I was surprised to find several passages that I didn’t remember. Peter recognized the struggles we face in this broken world and gives some wise advice. Let’s turn to 2 Peter 3 for some encouragement during stress.

The Passage: 2 Peter 3

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:3-9 NIV

Encouragement during Stress from 2 Peter 3

First off, I want to recognize that between the original authors and modern-day translators, Biblical text sure can get muddy. (Peter even addresses this in 2 Peter 3:15-16 because people misinterpreted Paul’s letters!) So let’s break down exactly what Peter means when he repeats “water” and “words.”

Water

Peter’s rather confusing “of water and by water” refers all the way back to Genesis when God created the earth. In Genesis 1:6-10, we see God separate the sky from the earth, which the Bible explains using the term “water.” On the next day, He grouped all the literal water on the earth into “seas” so that dry ground appeared. Peter then references the flood account from Genesis 6:9-22. God punished the water-formed earth by sending a flood to kill everything. Only the faithful Noah and a select group of animals survived the flood in an ark God taught Noah to build.

Words

Peter’s first reference to “word” points to Genesis 1 where God spoke the world into being. (I haven’t met an English major who doesn’t love the power of words in this account, regardless of their belief in its scientific accuracy.) Peter goes on to connect God’s word with His mercy and judgement. Because justice characterizes God, He ultimately must judge evil as He did in the flood account. However, in His mercy, His word holds back the judgement we deserve until the time He decides.

Peter reminds us of God’s power by showing us how God created, judged, and maintained Earth. Yet, Peter doesn’t leave us with this image of an almighty, wrathful God. Instead, Peter points us to God’ loving patience. He reminds us that God holds back His judgement for our benefit.

In Light of A Virus

2 Peter 3 shows us that God holds ultimate control over the happenings of Earth. We very well may not understand God’s permissions or His timing. Instead, we remember God’s goodness and faithfulness. The early church did not know why Jesus still waited in Heaven. They expected His arrival yesterday. That same tension hits us today as we continue to face a complete upheaval of life as we expected it. Thankfully, the same powerful God of the early church draws us to Himself today.

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Review: “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob and Brooke Carlisle

It’s birthday month for my family. In the span of three weeks, we celebrate four birthdays, one anniversary, any graduations, and whatever else pops up that deserves cake. This week, we start off by celebrating my dad. In honor of his birthday, I wanted to review my dad’s and my special book, Butterfly Kisses by Bob and Brooke Carlisle. So, let’s all pretend we are four again, curl up next to our dads with our favorite blanket, and listen to the story.

Butterfly Kisses

First off, if you were a little girl whose daddy read Butterfly Kisses to you, try reading it as an adult without crying. I dare you. Even if the tears don’t fall, I guarantee you’ll feel a lump in your throat. And honestly, I think that’s the beauty of books like these. The book itself evokes so much love, and the added memory of that time together makes the message even more powerful.

For instance, I always remembered the page where the little girl stands on her Daddy’s toes and twirls around the room like a ballerina. That picture came to my mind first whenever I thought of this book. I remembered that part so well because I loved dancing with my own Daddy. He held my little hands and spun me in circles, and I’d giggle like there was no tomorrow. We created our own memories based on the ones in the book. As I got older, I remember random dance parties with my parents doing jazzy twirls while my brother threw his hands in the air and I did the Peanuts bop. This one page in a “Little Golden Book” now brings with it a slew of happy, laugh-filled memories.

God Our Father

I imagine all of us realized at some point in our lives that our daddys were not perfect. Maybe they snapped sometimes, maybe they didn’t always understand feelings, maybe they worked a little too hard. Some people may have endured much worse situations with their fathers than that. That’s why I love this book so much. Butterfly Kisses portrays the unconditional love we all long for and need. While the book shows idealized human love, it also reflects the perfection of God’s love for us.

Whether or not you had a relationship with your earthly father like the one portrayed in Butterfly Kisses, we can all experience that depth of love through Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus cared deeply for little children, and the Bible often talks about salvation as adoption into the family of God (Matt. 19:14, Eph. 1:3-8). All in all, I highly recommend reading Butterfly Kisses both to strengthen your own relationships and to remember how purely God loves us.

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Peter’s Response to Jesus’ Resurrection

Last week, we looked at Peter’s perspective of the Passover when Jesus was crucified. Thankfully, the story didn’t end with Jesus in a grave. Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to repent after His resurrection. It completely changed Peter’s life. Let’s look at Peter’s response to Jesus’ resurrection.

The Passage

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told [of Jesus’ resurrection] to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Luke 24:10-12 NIV

The third time [Jesus] said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do no want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

John 21:17-19 NIV

Confusion and Bewilderment

Peter’s denial of Jesus left him crushed, confused, and bewildered. He did not understand how the events of Easter would take place. So when the women return with news of an empty tomb, Peter ran to see it for himself. As it does for us, Jesus’ crucifixion showed Peter the weight of his sins and failures. Peter’s love for Jesus left him wishing he could change his choices at Passover. The remorse would forever alter the trajectory of Peter’s life.

Peter’s Response to Jesus’ Resurrection

As the Gospel of John shows us, Jesus lovingly gave Peter an opportunity to redeem his Passover denial. Next time, when the threat of death goaded Peter into denying Jesus, Peter remembered the lesson he learned. He no longer denied Jesus. Instead, Peter went to jail and ultimately endured martyrdom. Peter led the early church bravely, if imperfectly. Fear occasionally overtakes him regarding the church’s theology, but Peter refuses to deny his Jesus anymore.

Thankfully, Peter’s example gives us hope that Jesus restores us even when we fail. Like Peter, our story does not have to end when we mess up. Jesus extends His pierced hands to redeem us and use our struggles for good. As time pulls us away from this year’s Easter celebration, may we remember that Jesus’ offer of forgiveness does not.

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Review: “This Book Is Gray” by Lindsay Ward

When This Book Is Gray popped up as an Amazon First Reads option, I had to download it. I learned about the hilarious Crayon books from my brother, and I hoped Lindsay Ward’s book would be just as an entertaining. How does This Book Is Gray stack up in this colorful genre?

The Color Wheel in This Book Is Gray

As a non-artist, the explanations of the different types of colors immediately struck me. I loved that Ward included a “Color Glossary” in the first pages of the book. Even before the title page, Ward showed us the personalities of the characters and introduced the central conflict. And she did all this with only a handful of speech bubbles!

I also loved the layered aspect of the story. Gray wrote a book himself that we saw in the background. Yet, the majority of the action happened in the foreground as all the rainbow and achromatic colors argued. As a writer, I couldn’t help but relate to Gray as he responded to the critiques of his peers. Nobody listened to him and ran off with their own assumptions of the story before he could finish it. Yet, Ward created hilarity in the chaos. Even as the characters resolved their conflict, the humor returned. The background story started yelling at the foreground story for Gray to finish the book. I truly admired Ward’s ability to use a rather complex structure in such a smooth and humorous way.

Can We Find Faith in Colorful Conflict?

First, by basing her book on the color wheel, Ward reminded us of the beautiful world God created. She pulled out the unique qualities of each color. Ward showed how colors work together to create a complete picture. Truly, Ward’s knowledge of the complexity of color reflected on the vast creativity of God.

Second, Ward acknowledged our prejudices by centering her book on the oft-forgotten color gray. By showing how the colors grew in their understanding of Gray, we learned that there is often more to others than we realized. The colors’ learned empathy for Gray showed us that we should embrace the complexity of others. This again acknowledged the beautiful creativity in God’s creation.

Overall, This Book Is Gray reminded readers to notice complexity and beauty in even the mundane, overlooked aspects of life. Even without the hilarious exchanges and comical misunderstandings, I have to recommend the book for its message. All together, it’s a pretty great little package.

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Passover Prophecy: Peter’s Denial

As we approach a rather unusual Easter Sunday, I keep thinking of my favorite early church leader, Peter. He possesses that feisty, fighting faith. He also screws up just as badly as all the rest of us normal humans. In honor of Passover today, let’s look at Jesus’ Passover prophecy of Peter’s Denial.

The Passage

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Luke 22:31-34 NIV

Passover Prophecy

Jesus warned of multiple betrayals at the Passover meal. He foretold that Judas would hand Him over to the chief priests. He explained to the confused disciples that the Kingdom of God was coming. Most surprisingly, He also prophesied Peter’s denial.

We think of Peter as the gutsy, often rash, unofficial leader of the disciples. He was that kid in school who had an answer for every question. Peter boldly brandishes his position, but he doesn’t realize that Passover will completely flip his life upside down.

Peter’s Denial

The Passover celebration harkened back to the Israelites escape from Egypt. The Israelites painted their doors with the blood of lambs, and their sons were spared from God’s judgement. (See Exodus 12.) To commemorate God’s mighty act, the Jews sacrificed a Passover lamb (see Luke 22:7-8). God doesn’t slack when it comes to fulfilling prophecies, so the chief priests capture and procure the death of His Son Jesus on that very day.

Of course, Peter doesn’t see this big plan. He only knows that he is devoted to his friend Jesus. I think Peter truly believes he will defend Jesus to the death. After all, the Bible reports only Peter following Jesus to his trial. However, as Jesus said in His Passover Prophecy, fear overcomes Peter when the bystanders recognized him. Peter denies Jesus three times, then he flees in shame. (See Luke 22:54-62).

This week, let’s sit with Peter in recognition of our sinful behavior. Peter failed to live up to his own expectations of himself. It crushed him, just as it would crush any one of us. Unlike Peter, though, we know that Jesus rose from the dead three days later. We know that Jesus’ resurrection gives us victory over sin and death, so we don’t have to live in shame like Peter. Next week, when we have celebrated the gift of Easter, we’ll see how Peter’s life changed because of this miraculous Passover.

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Review: “A Year Down Yonder” by Richard Peck

I can’t tell you how many time my family and I have read this book. Somewhere around second grade, my mom tried to read the book out loud to my brother and me. I say “tried” because we all wound up laughing so hard we couldn’t even make it to the punch line! I laughed just as hard reading the book to myself. Needless to say, in researching middle grade books for writing inspiration, I had to reread A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck.

Humor in Trials

A Year Down Yonder always encouraged me to persevere and find humor in the little things. This week, the book rings especially true. A Year Down Yonder occurs during the Great Depression. Peck addresses the scarcity, creativity, and generosity that came with living in the period. (Grandma’s no slouch at making do with what she has, even if that means taking some produce from a neighbor’s field. Yet, she always uses it to take care of her less fortunate neighbors.) Peck also delves into the aftermath of World War I during the Veteran’s Day chapter. The war may have ended, but Peck shows how the soldiers’ and families’ lives forever changed because of horrific war tactics. Further, while I didn’t understand at seven years old, Peck gracefully addresses teenage pregnancy in the Christmas chapter. As an adult, I realized the difficult choice the young mom had to make for her child. In other chapters of the book, Peck addresses complex family relationships and turns snooty pedigree on its head.

While Grandma’s outrageous tactics made me laugh out loud (I mean, a woman ran through town wearing nothing but a snake…) they all addressed deeper issues. The conflict shows the townspeople’s (and therefore our) common humanity. We learn compassion for those who think or look different from us. Grandma illuminates the hidden struggles everyone faces.

Faith in A Year Down Yonder

Faith isn’t expressly addressed in A Year Down Yonder, but the school does present the manger scene in the local church for Christmas. Peck uses religion to illuminate history rather than to preach at his readership. Consequently, I love how faith and story blend together. In fact, we learn more about Jesus’ generous compassion, active love, and discerning discipline from Grandma than we do from the church. We see Jesus’ teachings put in action by Grandma (albeit imperfectly.) It’s seamless and realistic. I think that’s why we all wind up loving the eccentric Grandma Dowdel so much by the end of the book.

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Power-Hungry Sons: Gideon and David

To paraphrase the well-known quote, we have all heard that history is destined to repeat itself. The Bible certainly holds a multitude of examples of this as we repeatedly forget God’s power and goodness. As I read the story of Gideon’s son Abimelech, it struck me as similar to the later story of David’s son Absalom. Let’s compare the stories of the power-hungry sons of Gideon and David.

Power-Hungry Sons

Gideon’s son Abimelech killed his seventy brothers and took control of Israel (Judges 9). In contrast to his father, Abimelech did not hold the same view that God ruled Israel. Instead, he led the people of Shechem to take over leadership. His reign caused controversy. Within three years, the people in Abimelech’s territory divided into civil war. Abimelech finally died so that the chaos could stop. Abimelech exemplifies how a power-hungry son can divide a nation.

Decades later, we find conflict from a power-hungry son repeated in David’s family. For two years, David’s son Absalom plotted to kill his brother Amnon for raping Absalom’s sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Honestly, the whole thing gets pretty messy from there. Absalom flees to Geshur, where he lives for three years. David mourns Absalom’s loss when he finishes grieving Amnon’s death. So, the army commander Joab convinces the king to bring Absalom back. David agrees but refuses to see Absalom for two years (2 Samuel 14). Once Absalom sees his father again, he begins manipulating all of Israel into rebelling against David (2 Samuel 15). This turns into a massive battle dividing all of Israel (2 Samuel 16-20). A large number of people died from both sides because of the power-hungry son’s actions.

Anxious Fathers

Both Gideon and David seemed to have struggled with anxiety in their lifetimes. Yet, God uses them to fulfill his purposes and bring peace to Israel. So, what went wrong with their sons? First and foremost, the Bible never lays blame for the power-hungry sons’ actions on the fathers. We only know that Gideon created an ephod that became a stumbling block, and David had an affair leading to the death of an innocent man. However, the Bible does not connect these sins to the sins of their children. At least in David’s case, Absalom’s rebellion seems to test David again and stretch his faith in the Lord. I imagine that if Gideon lived to see Abimelek’s actions, he would feel tested just like David.

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Similarities Between Gideon and Moses: The Midianites

As we wrap up our series on Gideon, I wanted to note two other figures Gideon reminded me of. We first looked at the parallels between Gideon and Moses in their tests of God. However, their stories connect in many more ways. Let’s look at the similarities between Gideon and Moses, particularly around the Midianites.

The Midianites

It intrigues me that Moses’ family by marriage later becomes Israel’s overwhelming enemy. Way back when Egypt held Israel captive, Moses lived among the Midianites and married the priest’s daughter (Exodus 2:15-22). Moses’ wife saved him from death by circumcising their son on their journey back to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-25). Later, Jethro advised Moses to delegate his mediating tasks to other Israelites so Moses had energy to fulfill his purpose (Exodus 18). It seems that the Israelites and the Midianites enjoyed a peaceful relationship due to Moses’ marriage. So, what changed in the time of the Judges?

Based on the NIV translation of the texts, it seems to me that Jethro knew and possibly worshipped God as the Israelites did. Otherwise, I don’t believe his daughter would have known to save Moses by the Abrahamic covenant. Regardless of Jethro’s original beliefs, he definitely believed in Exodus 18 when he heard of God’s miracles. However, by the time of the Judges, everyone had turned to worshipping idols (Judges 6). Neither the Midianites nor the Israelites respected the LORD who created them. Thus, both groups act out God’s punishment on the other for neglecting His authority.

Similarities between Gideon and Moses

Both Gideon and Moses struggled with confidence to fulfill God’s call on their life. Moses told God that he couldn’t talk well enough, so maybe he should send someone else to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:10-13). Gideon told God that he came from the least of the smallest tribe so he had no qualifications to lead a revolt (Judges 6:15). Despite Moses’ and Gideon’s insecurities, God used them both to free the Israelites from their bondage. God gave both men the ability to spiritually lead the Israelites. Moses gave the Israelites God’s commandments, and Gideon steered the Israelites back from idol worship.

The similarities between Gideon and Moses show us that God can use us despite our insecurities and anxieties. In fact, rather than slow us down, our weaknesses encourage others that God can use them, too.

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Review: “The…Whangdoodles,” Pt. 3, Miracles and Genetics

Just in time for us all to spend a lot more time indoors, we’ve been analyzing Julie Andrew Edwards’ imaginative The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. “Part three: Conquest” contains two main elements. First, let’s take a look at how the story addresses miracles and genetics. Then, we’ll wrap up this series by returning to how faith plays into The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles.

Miracles

Early in part three, the professor and the children discuss the difference in miracles and opportunities. Lindy mentions that their reunion on Halloween night seemed to be a miracle. The professor responds,

“Well, I’d call it more of an opportunity,” said the professor. “Miracles, contrary to popular belief, do not just happen. A miracle is the achievement of the impossible, and it is only when we put aside our greed, anger, pride and prejudice so that our minds are open and ready to accept it, that a miracle can occur.”

*Edwards 166

I love how Edwards defines miracles. As a Christian, I believe that only God can perform miracles. They simply aren’t possible by human constraints. Secondly, I appreciate that she mentions the need to set aside our distracting, selfish concerns for a miracle to occur. Truly, when we focus on ourselves, we don’t recognize miracles when they do occur.

Genetics

As the children meet the Whangdoodle and learn of his loneliness, the issue of genetics and cloning arises. (Again, Edwards really packs a punch with the complex issues she addresses in her book!) Without spoiling the ending, the Whangdoodle tasks the professor with making him a companion Whangdoodle. This challenge reinforces the children’s earlier lesson that the act of creation requires a great deal of ethical thinking because we don’t have the perfect mind that God does. Ben explains this to his father at the end of the book.

“Well, whether we like it or not, I think genetics is here to stay, Dad, and it could be the answer to a lot of things.” He spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully. “We will have a tremendous responsibility on our hands. If we’re going to play God we must try to do it with honor and decency.”

*Edwards 277

Faith

As we finish up this series, I want to return to our discussion of how The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles marries faith, science, and imagination. I think Professor Savant, though human and imperfect, exemplifies the father-ness of God when he reprimands the children. In one instance, Tom and Ben wreaked havoc by getting caught on minibike-like creatures who wouldn’t let them get off. The professor gives the boys a rousing reprimand. Lindy questions the professor as to whether he overreacted. The professor responds,

“Yes, Lindy, I felt exactly that way when I was a boy, and I did many things that were foolish. But occasionally an angry, sensible adult showed me the error of my ways. Tom and Ben were foolish and irresponsible. Their actions put us all in great danger and, as a sensible adult, I think I had a perfect right to get angry and, thereby, teach them an important lesson.”

*Edwards 190-191

The Bible is full of examples of God reprimanding His children to better them. Here, in combining these complex issues of the wrath of God, His wisdom, and the act of creation, Edwards teaches us a great deal about the character of God. She reminds us that He lovingly guides us forward and that He ultimately has power over creation. We may have learned “the secret of life,” but our knowledge and abilities to change it pale in comparison to the giver of life Himself (Edwards 240).

*Edwards, Julie Andrews. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. New York: Harper Trophy, 1974.

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Depression and Disappointment in Ezra

I still have a few more observations to make about Gideon’s story. However, I read Mrs. Brenda’s excellent post on expectation versus reality this afternoon. It reminded me so much of my Bible reading in Ezra yesterday that I wanted to take a quick break from Gideon to discuss depression and disappointment.

The Passage

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD:

“He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:10-13 NIV

Some Context

The last four kings of Judah rejected God and refused to listen to any of His prophets. Thus, God allowed King Nebuchadnezzar to take over the Israelites and destroy Jerusalem. The last of the Israelites entered exile in Babylon for 70 years (2 Chronicles 36:21). Then, in God’s grace, He caused King Cyrus to send the Israelites back to Judah to rebuild the temple.

Now, the oldest Israelites mentioned in Ezra 3 remembered the temple designed by David and built by Solomon. That original temple signified the glory days of Israel. The temple glittered with mementos of God-given victories and wealth. Clearly, the temple was a sight to behold even after the Israelites had desecrated it. The Israelites who remembered the original temple felt bittersweet as they laid the new foundation. Sure, King Cyrus allowed them to rebuild God’ temple, but the new temple didn’t display the same power and wealth. The Israelites no longer controlled the building of their own temple to God. They depended entirely on a foreign king’s goodwill.

The Difference in Depression and Disappointment

This article on Psychology Today explains that while disappointments fade with time, depression does not. Perhaps the mournful Israelites merely grieved the loss of the original temple as they built the new one. However, I imagine some of the Israelites did struggle with depression triggered by exile. God did not restore Israel’s political status as they probably hoped. Instead, God started where the Israelites struggled most. He gave them back the temple, the central point of Israel’s existence.

The book of Ezra does not condemn the Israelites who mourned as they laid the temple’s foundations. In fact, Ezra seems to support the idea of feeling all of the emotions involved in the situation. God knew Israel’s hopes for political restoration, yet He also knew that they needed religious restoration first. I imagine God felt compassion for the Israelites who remembered the glory days. He just knew that they needed Him more.

Just as God understood the Israelites, He understands our conflicted emotions during this COVID-19 time. He feels compassion for the disappointed hearts. God does not fear or shy away from the darker sides of ourselves that we are facing. Instead, He knows we need to return to Him. He’s going to start by rebuilding us where we each need it most.