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Category Archives: Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups

Matthew 26:36-46

The above image is title “Christ on the Mount of Olives” and was created by Ernst Barlach. It is picture here as part of Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard.

36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away[f] unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Matthew 26:36-46

Dear God, since I just came from a marriage conference this weekend and I came across this image this morning, I can’t help but go to Ephesians 5:25

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.

This picture embodies what I am supposed to do for my wife. Everyone focuses on the other verses in Ephesians 5 and freaks out over the instructions for wives (which are probably misinterpreted to some extent), but they don’t think about this image. I should love my wife so much that I’m willing to be put in this position for her. Jesus gave no excuse. I have no excuse. No matter what, this is what you call me to do. Who you call me to be. This is my duty regardless of what my emotions tell me. In fact, for husbands, this might be the most important image in this book.

As I look closely at the image I see vague images of people strewn through it. They are probably intended to be the disciples sleeping while Jesus is in anguish. I thought they could also represent the people of the world for whom he is submitting to this pain, anguish and torment. He will literally be separated from his consubstantiality with you at some point. His physical human body will not longer be part of the divine. For that moment, he will be giving it all for me. For his church. For his bride.

And what if my wife doesn’t get it? What if she is like the disciples who are sleeping in the background, completely unappreciative of what Jesus is doing? Not that my wife is any of these things, because she really is the best. But what if? Am I called to be any less than Jesus was in this moment?

Father, it was a really good conference. I pray now that your Holy Spirit will move in our community through it. Move from the bottom up. It’s obvious not many of the pastors or spiritual leaders in our community were interested in this. So this movement will depend upon those whom you led to come. Help them to carry you into their hearts, minds, souls, and bodies today. Help them to carry you and what we learned into their marriages and give them new insights into not only their own lives, but also the lives of friends and loved ones. Let the older women teach the younger. The older men teach the younger men as well. And may the man my daughter ultimately marries be Jesus for her. Let that be her standard for the man who is good enough for her. The man she deserves. And may my son learn to be Jesus for his eventual wife. And, oh yeah, let’s not forget about me. Help me to be exactly who you need me to be for my wife as well.

I offer all of this under the power and authority granted to me by the grace of Jesus,

Amen

 

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Daniel 4:24-32

“The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar” by Matthew Clark. From Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard

24 “‘This is what the dream means, Your Majesty, and what the Most High has declared will happen to my lord the king. 25 You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses. 26 But the stump and roots of the tree were left in the ground. This means that you will receive your kingdom back again when you have learned that heaven rules.

27 “‘King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.’

28 “But all these things did happen to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. 30 As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’

31 “While these words were still in his mouth, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. 32 You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’

Daniel 4:24-32

Dear God, this story convicts me this morning. I found myself jokingly talking like Nebuchadnezzar this morning. I have a tricky issue I’m trying to think through, and I knew I wanted to spend some time with you in earnest prayer about it this morning, but I also had some ideas of my own. So as I talked to my wife about it, I jokingly said that I had come up with some ideas, but I would check in with the Holy Spirit to see if He had any thoughts on the matter, as if it would be an automatic ratification of what I had come up with. As if I could do any of this on my own.

Daniel’s words are for me this morning: “Stop sinning and do what is right.” In this case, it’s just hubris. But the truth is, the ideas I came up with overnight, while they were good, I do think they came from you and you speaking to me and not from me. No, I’m a fool. I’m vain. I want to be respected. I want to be liked. But you are the author of everything good, not only in my life but in me as well. If I have any good thoughts, they are from you. If I have any good decisions or counsel to provide someone else, it is from you. You are my only hope. You are the only thing that keeps me from making a complete disaster of my life. You and you alone.

As I look at this image created by Matthew Clark it can be a little hard to see what all he is putting in there. I see what I think is a snake coming around Nebuchadnezzar’s neck and under his beard. It’s almost like he’s wearing a helmet with oxen horns and ears. It looks like his mouth is hanging open. This is what it looks like when we descend into ourselves.

I want to reprint here what Bustard shares about this piece:

Verse 33 continues with, “Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” [Matthew Clark] writes, “the ‘horns of divinity’ appear in many ancient Sumerian and Babylonian idols. Also, the ancient peoples often thought of crazy people as touched by divinity. So, ironically, Nebuchadnezzar achieved what he desired to accomplish in chapter three when he commissioned the golden statue of himself–but not exactly the way he wanted!” Ultimately the king recovered his sanity and could “praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Father, I am humble before you right now. I am an arrogant fool, and I am sorry. I experience success and I count is as credit to me. It is not. It is you. It is all about you. I pray that my life today might be about worshipping you and carrying you into the world. I pray that those who encounter me might experience a piece of you and your Holy Spirit today. My utmost for your highest. All that I am for all that you are. Take my life, Lord, and let it be consecrated unto you.

I pray all of this in the name of the Lord of Lords, the King of King, and my God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Amen

 

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Matthew 2:7-15

“Rest on the Flight to Egypt” by Tanja Butler from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups y Ned Bustard

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

Matthew 2:87-15

Dear God, I figured that, on Father’s Day, I would spend some time with you and my favorite father of the Bible. If you were to ask most Christians who their favorite father of the Bible is, it would probably be Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father. I mean, really, there isn’t much competition here. Frankly, it’s hard to think of another good one. You have to do some deep cuts and maybe consider Samson’s dad, Manoah. He was simple, but seemingly good. And it’s hard to find anything wrong with John the Baptist’s dad, Zechariah, but we don’t get to see him in action as much. But Joseph…well, Joseph is worth of his own book, in my opinion.

This story is just one of several we get of Joseph being obedient to you. But perhaps my favorite story about him is the first time we see him in Matthew 1:18-19.

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

Since this isn’t a story about him being a father, I didn’t start here, but it’s remarkable. In the midst of pain, hurt, and betrayal–in the midst of having his reputation destroyed–he “did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.” Wow. That’s a special man.

But back to him as a father. This is a remarkable story because he believed the dream and didn’t wait until morning to act on it. I wonder if Mary protested. I wonder if Jesus fussed. I don’t know what kind of life he had built in Bethlehem at that point, but he threw it all away to keep this boy–God’s son–safe.

As I look at this picture by Tanja Butler, I notice that it is made completely of lines and shadows. Frankly, the lines make me think of straw (almost like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz). That makes me think of the manger in which Jesus was laid. The shadows give the impression that it’s dark and the white are the scant reflections of just enough light to give us the picture. Jesus is in Mary’s arms, sucking his thumb. Mary has her head against Joseph’s shoulder. Perhaps she’s resting. Perhaps he’s comforting her. Maybe both. I cannot tell if her eyes are open or not. The one line on her left eye makes me think they are closed. And Joseph is there. The design of his coat is almost a more modern look with lapels. Perhaps Butler is trying to make me think of his as a professional who has given up his business for this journey. Perhaps she is trying to communicate that the weather demands a coat. But Jesus appears to be barefoot, so maybe I’m wrong about all of that. The depiction of Joseph’s face actually makes him look a little like Abraham Lincoln to me. I wonder if that was intentional as well.

Looking at Bustard’s commentary on this piece, he says:

There is no violin-playing angel in this piece as in Caravaggio’s “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” or a gaggle of cherubic playmates as in “Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Instead in this piece there is only Joseph, Mary, and the young Jesus–just a poor family, afraid and huddled in the dark. Butler says that the peasant figures buddled against the cold [maybe I was right about the coat] recall the frantic flight of my father’s family across the European continent during the last months of the world war.” Christmas carols such as “Away in a Manger” and “The Little Drummer Boy” tend to romanticize the Nativity and gloss over the fear, danger, and isolation that the poor family experienced during the early years in the life of Jesus.

Father, I don’t know what is coming for my children. I don’t know what plans Satan has. I don’t know what plans he has for me. But I know that I love you, I worship you, and I want to be everything you need me to be for them regardless of what it costs me. Oh, help me to be the man my children need me to be.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Acts 5:1-11

From Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. Image is “Ananias and Sapphira” by Micah Bloom.

But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”

As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”

“Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”

And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.”

10 Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.

Acts 5:1-11

Dear God, this can be any act of duplicity, not just money. Decrying pornography, but secretly looking at it. Decrying single-parent homes, but secretly fathering several children out of wedlock. Coming out against abortion while paying for abortions for women you got pregnant. Admonishing people to not drink or do drugs while secretly indulging your own vices. As I sit here this morning, I want to be cognizant of my own sin in this area, and not just sit in judgment over these two duplicitous people.

The image by Micah Bloom is interesting. Sapphira is obviously the center of it. She is seen with simple dress, earrings, and no shoes. In fact, everyone pictured is barefoot. I’m not sure why Bloom chose to not put sandals or something on them. She had money in both hands–the right for Peter, the left presumably for herself. Peter has his hand out for the money in the right, but your angel of death is grabbing her left wrist and her death is exposing the money hidden in her left hand. Looking out the door, we presumably see the bare feet of Ananias, who is already dead. Someone is attending to his body.

Bustard quotes C.H. Spurgeon in his commentary on the left:

“The nearer we come to God the more truly shall we find that he is a jealous God who will not wink at sin. It was not Peter’s word, but the judgement of God, which slew Ananias. [Sapphira] had time for reflection, yet she stuck to the falsehood. It is a sad thing when husband and wife go hand in hand to hell, and most of all so when they make a profession of religion…The chaff was driven out, and kept out, but the true saints were all the more ready to join the church. Holy discipline does not diminish the church, it is the sure means of increasing it with the right people.”

Reading this made me think of an article I read about the “Road to Majority” conference happening in Nashville right now. This is billed as a conservative Christian political conference in Nashville, US Senator Rick Scott said, “It is time to rescue America. God favors those who are bold.” The mixing of my faith in you and the desire for political power makes me really uncomfortable. There is a difference between saying, “I want to have the majority of our country as Christians because that means more people are worshipping God,” and “I want the majority of the country to be Christians so we can impose our will on the rest of the country.” Jesus did not seem to care that Caesar and Rome were in charge of Israel, but he did care about what the Pharisees were teaching. He didn’t want to make Israel great again, but he did want to shed light on sin and invite repentance.

Father, it can be tempting to point fingers in all of this, but I have to start with myself. I am truly sorry for my sin. For my hypocrisy and duplicitousness. I acknowledge it before you. I do truly love you. I do truly want to do better. I do truly want to be the man you need me to be. Help me to bring you and your presence into the world with the highest integrity so that I might not cause anyone else to stumble and allow any cancers to grow in my own soul.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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John 19:23-30 — “The Crucifixion” by Eric Gill

The above image called “The Crucifixion” and was created by Eric Gill. It is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard.

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 So they said, “Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says, “They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.” So that is what they did.

25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.

28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:23-30 (NLT)

Dear God, as I sat down to look at this image this morning, even before reading the passage from John, I noticed something interesting. I noticed the circles around some of the characters’ heads–indicating they were saints, sanctified, or holy. One was Jesus. Two were obviously women (bottom of cross to the right). One was a man. At first I thought this might be the thief whom Jesus assured would be in paradise, but the face is clean and looking up–not dying. No, this is apparently John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. There is a fifth circle for the person on their knees to the left of the cross. It kind of looks like a woman, but I cannot be sure. Again, after reading the passage, I assume it is one of the other two Mary’s or Jesus’s mother Mary’s sister.

Other things I noticed that the artist, Eric Gill, chose to share with us (side note–I just looked up the artist for a link to share here and found that he apparently sexually abused his daughters. Completely heinous! But does it inform the art a little in that, while he allowed Jesus some modesty, he showed one of the thieves completely naked?): He portrays Jesus’s feet separately and not nailed together–I wonder why. He shows women and men who aren’t sanctified–no circles. I understand the man could represent the Pharisees, but who are the two women in front on John (in Gill’s mind). Who do they represent? It’s a reminder to me that it was likely both men and women who were glad to see Jesus die.

I confess, Father, that I know I would have been one of them had I been there at the time. I would not have believed. I don’t know that I’d have followed all of the way to the cross, but when I heard that the troublemaker, Jesus, had died I would have been happy. I am a fool, but knowing this about myself and how much I still love you gives me mercy for the non-sanctified people in the picture. I am sure you have mercy for them too. How do I know? Because Jesus asked you to. He did that so that every head in that picture would have a circle around it. So I join him in asking that you forgive me for what I am doing. Please allow for my foolishness and sinfulness in your plan.

In Jesus’s name, his wonderful, merciful, powerful, glorious name I pray,

Amen

 

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Lamentations 3:14-24

The above image is called “Lamentations: Send Your Rain” and was created by Steve Prince. It is from the book Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard and available from Square Halo Books.


14 My own people laugh at me.
    All day long they sing their mocking songs.
15 He has filled me with bitterness
    and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink.

16 He has made me chew on gravel.
    He has rolled me in the dust.
17 Peace has been stripped away,
    and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 I cry out, “My splendor is gone!
    Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”

19 The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.[a]
20 I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![b]
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

Lamentations 3:14-24

Dear God, I think I have journaled about this passage and its associated image before, but I ran across it today and it reminds me a bit of my attitude towards this Thanksgiving. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like we have much to be grateful for. Our health is a mess with the pandemic. I talked with a woman yesterday who has known 7 people who have died from COVID-19. I stopped counting a year ago at 10. Our politics are a mess. The new COVID-19 vaccine mandates are causing pain. Inflation is rising. People cannot find housing. Businesses and other employers cannot find enough employees. Other than a solid stock market that seems to be divorced from the reality on the ground, causing the rich to just get richer while the gap between the haves and have-nots grows, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of good news. Even in my personal life, there are some tragic circumstances for which I am not grateful.

Then I remembered earlier today the first U.S. Presidential Proclamation for a National Day of Thanksgiving. It was October 1863. Written by Secretary of State William Seward, Lincoln released this proclamation, establishing the last Thursday in November to be set aside for Thanksgiving:

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

It’s really quite remarkable. The proclamation above and Prince’s depiction of the passage in Lamentations bear a striking resemblance. Of the image, Bustard writes:

This image shows a couple walking through a storm, which is symbolic of the suffering, pain, and destruction documented in the book of Lamentations. The husband clings to his wife as they move in faith through the storm. In the midst of the raindrops three elongated figural forms (alluding to the Trinity/Holy Spirit) create a covering over the couple. The woman clutching her abdomen is a symbol of hope and renewal as it represents the imminent arrival of a child. The presence of the Cross is created by the subtle placement of the woman’s finger overlapping the rod of the umbrella. It is by faith they walk, and the Holy Spirit amplifies their love through the storms of life.

Father, the passage in Lamentations ends with the words that have been made into a praise chorus. I sing them in my heart now, to you: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, never every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, oh Lord. Great is thy faithfulness.” Your faithfulness is great. Thank you for being my rock and my shelter. Thank you for everything you have given to me. Thank you for your mercy.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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“The Faithfulness of God” — Lamentations 3:14-24


The above image is from
Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. The image itself is called “Lamentations: Send Your Rain” and was created by Steve Prince.

My own people laugh at me. All day long they sing their mocking songs. He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink. He has made me chew on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust. Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!” The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
Lamentations 3:14-24

Dear God, yesterday, over lunch with a friend, I talked about how I’ve been disappointed with you in the past. I felt like you let me down when I had done my best to be faithful to you. My path got harder and more painful than I thought I deserved. What a beautiful portrait of that kind of pain this passage from Lamentations is! It expresses exactly what I was describing to my friend yesterday. I was filled with bitterness and felt you had given me a bitter cup to swallow. My peace (which I treasure from my relationship with you more than anything) was gone. “Everything I had hoped for from the Lord [was] lost!” But you used that experience to help me enter into a completely new place. I haven’t arrived. I’m not perfect. And I still can revel in self-pity with the best of them. Yet you taught me through that time to still “dare to hope.” You taught me to turn loose of what I thought I deserved at every level. Marriage. Children. Work. Money. Okay, like I said, I still fall into the traps of feeling like I deserve those things, but I can feel the progress I’ve made, and I’m grateful.

As for this image by Steve Prince, let me spend some time with it and see what be noticed and put into it.

  • It appears to be a tribals-type woman who is not fully clothed.
  • There is something ominous behind her. I originally thought she held the umbrella, but it is the mysterious figure behind her that holds the umbrella for her.
  • She has her right hand around her abdomen. Is she pregnant?
  • The train is not only falling, but it is blowing in from an angle. This isn’t just a shower. It’s a storm that requires the umbrella to be held against it.
  • It looks like umbrella is made of some time of leaves or thatch.
  • The man holding the umbrella has his left hand (with pretty gnarled fingers) around the woman’s waist.
  • The man is under the umbrella with her.
  • The man’s clothes cover more of him than her clothes cover of her. He even has a head covering while she has none.
  • Her scarf is blowing in the wind to support the idea of a storm.
  • It looks like she is trying to help with the umbrella, but it’s obvious that he is the one with control over it.
  • Her eyes are closed and she looks like she is just surviving, while the man looks confident and sure. His left arm around her indicates care.
  • The more I look at the picture the less ominous the man looks. He is becoming more noble in my eyes.
  • The piece is titled “Send Your Rain.” Is this storm from you for my good? Is this a rain that actually nurtures while it challenges? I like that thought.

Here is what Bustard says about the image:

This print is from the same series as Exodus: Bread from Heaven and therefore is intended to be a look at an Old Testament passage through the lens of a love story. This image shows a couple walking through a storm, which is symbolic of the suffering, pain, and destruction documented in the book of Lamentations. The husband clings to his wife as they move in faith through the storm. In the midst of the raindrops three elongated figures forms (alluding to the Trinity/Holy Spirit) create a covering over the couple. The woman clutching her abdomen is a symbol of hope and renewal as it represents the imminent arrival of a child. The presence of the Cross is created by the subtle placement of the woman’s finger overlapping the rod of the umbrella. It is by faith they walk, and the Holy Spirit amplifies their love through the storms of life.

So, I never thought of them as being a couple. I was thinking more of the woman representing your people and the man representing you. We are your bride. But you are in the umbrella? Hmm. That’s interesting. I have to admit, I really like the idea of this depicting my wife and me going through this together. Over the last 10 years, we’ve really needed each other in ways we never imagined. And we’ve needed you.

Father, help me to hold on to you. You don’t have to take away the storm for me to have faith in you. I’m slowly learning that. And help me to really believe and have faith in the fact that your steadfast love never ceases and your mercies never come to an end. You renew me every morning through your faithfulness to me. Great is your faithfulness, oh Lord. You are my portion, and I will hope in you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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The Fiery Furnace – Daniel 3:14-23

The above image is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. The image is called “Even If” and was created by Ned Bustard.

Daniel 3:13-23
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ” Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

Dear God, before I get into the artwork that accompanies this story, I want to spend a little time with a revelation that I had. Christians/Jews in the Bible who were living in exile or under the rule of a non-Jewish/Christian king didn’t seem to complain about persecution. Whether it was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in this story or Paul, Peter, or any of the other martyrs in the New Testament, they seem to take it in stride. Now, I’m sure they were scared and frustrated, but they seemingly dealt with that internally and with you. Externally, however, they just worshipped you through it.

Contrast that with how a lot of Christians respond to what they call “persecution of Christians” in our country today. First, I hardly think it can be called persecution in light of what real persecution looks like. But I hear a lot of whining about Christians being persecuted. Outside of the enforcement of the separation between church and state rules that have been set up, I’m not even totally sure what they’ve been referring to. And maybe I have only a limited picture because I live in the South where there are still large parts of the community that honor faith, but even so, whining is not how to be a witness for you. In this case, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego influenced the king by their faith in action, not by complaining to him that he was being unfair. Paul and Peter were the same way. Letting our faith shine in the midst of trials is what changes hearts. Complaining only makes others tune us out.

Okay, with that being said, let me take a look at this image created by Bustard and see what I see before I read his description.

  • You are overlooking Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with your arms out wide and your hands open. Everything about you is outstretched and present.
  • Your eyes are focused on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
  • The flames are very present. They have not been removed. The three of them had to go into the fire.
  • The three men are certainly given distinct looks and hair styles.
  • The one on the right with the curly hair seems to have a rye smile.
  • All three of the men are looking at us while you are focused on them.
  • The guard is dead and the fire had already skeletonized him.
  • The guard is holding a bellows, indicating that he was part of making the fire as hot as possible and he paid a priced for it.
    • He sacrificed his life out of obedience to a king/god that couldn’t save him from the fire that you saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from.
  • I just noticed a triangle behind your head. Is that a reference to the Trinity? If so, that’s a nice touch.

With that said, here is what Bustard said about his piece “Even If.”

The title for this piece comes from a different translation of the “But if not” protest against Nebuchadnezzar made by these three young men in this passage. And at the end of the passage above it looks like God will not save them. The poor Persian soldier on furnace duty that day lies on the ground, burned hallway to the bones by the incredible heat, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are doomed to be burned to death. But then the king was astonished to see four men unbound, walking  unhurt in the fire. God had chosen to save them. He protected them from the king, from the heat, and from death. The appearance of the fourth man in the fire represents a theophany–God revealing himself in human form before the incarnation. Other such appearances include Genesis 32:24-30 and Joshua 5:13-15.

Father, I will follow you “even if” you choose not to save me from earthly situations. I will follow you “even if” I am disappointed with how things that I for which I’m praying turn out. I will follow you “even if” I am angry with you. I will follow you “even if” the road is hard. Let “even if” be my mantra today. I have nothing to prove to anyone else. I am following you “even if” they can’t understand why. But with that said, let my life be an example to others of why, and draw others to yourself through what they see of you in me.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Interpretation of Dream — Genesis 41:1-13


The image above is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. The image is called “Joseph and the Dreams” and was created by Wayne Forte.

After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.”
Genesis 41:1-13

Dear God, it feels like it’s been a while since I really dug in and spent some time with one of the images from the Bustard book Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups. There is so much in this image, I might need to break my observations into categories.

Chief Cup Bearer:

  • The original dream had three branches on the vines and I see three clusters of grapes.
  • The cup bearer is small combed hair and clean shaven.
  • The cup bearer is dressed.
  • The cub bearer is obviously bearing a cup for Pharaoh.

Chief Baker:

  • The baker is hanging (some translations say he was impaled, but the artist went with the hanging translation).
  • The baker is naked.
  • The birds are literally eating his flesh while he is still hanging.
  • There is a basked by his feet to represent the basket that had been on his head in the dream.
  • In death, his face is turned towards Pharaoh.

General:

  • Pharaoh is seen as being much larger than the cup bearer.
  • His headpiece has a cobra snake on it.
  • He has the traditional eye make-up to make it obvious to us that this is Pharaoh.
  • There is a fence as a backdrop in the image. I’m not sure what that is about. Could that represent the wall that Joseph is behind, still in prison. It’s interesting that Joseph is not represented in this image.

I’ve made these observations before reading what Bustard had to say about this piece and this story.

John Piper writes: “Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph…is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.” It is often difficult to see the point of the evil circumstances in our lives, but examples like the life of Joseph serve as reminders that God is actively working for our benefit. The sometimes circuitous paths he sets us on are to keep us loving him and depending on him. They are for our good and his glory.

I like the line “…examples like the life of Joseph serve as reminders…” because the structure of the Bible is such an interesting way for you to have communicated with us and laid out the bread crumbs for us to find our way to you. I was thinking about this recently. How else would I have done it? If I were God, would I have just laid out a manual with a bunch of rules or would I just give example after example of how I have interacted with my people over thousands of years? Obviously, you picked the latter, and while that certainly gives impacts the way we develop as individuals and corporately as the church it also gives us greater insight into you. In storytelling parlance, you show more than you tell.

Father, help me to remember that you are sovereign and that there is a plan. Let that faith in something I cannot always see sustain me in my pursuit of you and the peace I experience in you. Be glorified in me so that others might be drawn to you as well.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups — The Threshing Floor (Ruth 3:6-13)


The above image is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. The image itself is called “Ruth and Boaz (after Ben Zion)” and was created by Ned Bustard. 

So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed the instructions of her mother-in-law. After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.” “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman. But while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you. But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.”
Ruth 3:6-13

Dear God, I’ve spent some time looking at Ruth and Boaz, but I don’t know remember spending too much time thinking about Boaz himself. You know, trying to get into his skin. To do that, we have to go back to his introduction in chapter 2. Here are some verses in chapter 2 that are striking me about him and his character:

Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9)

Not only did Boaz provide food for her, but he also cast a net of physical protection over her. I have been reminded over and over again how vulnerable women are to physical harm. I was talking with a friend yesterday morning about our daughters and wishing we could protect them better. My wife and I have talked about her uneasiness walking in crowds and fear of being groped by an anonymous man walking by. These just aren’t fears that I have, but they are real and legitimate fears for women. In fact, until this morning, I don’t think I’ve ever given much thought to the physical danger Ruth was in by going out to glean in the fields. But Boaz thought about it.  Why did he care so much? What was it about Ruth that got his attention?

“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12)

I think that speaks for itself. So I guess my question is, were Ruth and Naomi manipulating Boaz in chapter 3? At the end of the day, I suppose this was part of the culture at the time. In fact, I don’t know that I’ll ever fully understand this story because I don’t understand the culture of that time and place enough. But I do know that this ended up being part of your plan because these two people became David’s great-grandparents. Boaz did a lot of wonderful things, but he never knew he had done this. He was faithful in what you had given to him to steward, and the results would have been beyond anything he ever would have dreamed.

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t go back to this image by Bustard and at least say what he had to say about it in his book:

Ben-Zion Weinman (1897-1987) was a sculptor, painter, and printmaker. An emigrant from Ukraine, he came to the United States in 1920 and was a founding member of a 1930’s avant-garde group called “The Ten.” Curing the 1950s he completed several portfolios of expressionistic etchings/aquatints. This print is a reworking of one of those pieces from The Books of Ruth, Job, and Song of Songs portfolio. The Bible is ambiguous about what may or may not have happened that night on the threshing floor: Weinman leaves the way open for either reading of the passage in his visualization of the famous night. He depicts both people asleep under the starlight, the future great-grandmother of King David under a blanket at the feed of Boaz, who snores against a heap of grain.

I looked for the original, and I couldn’t be sure which image was the one that Bustard used as the inspiration, but it’s interesting to consider that the author of Ruth left the events of that night vague. I’d never considered that before. I just took it for what was written on the page. Perhaps I’m naïve.

Father, help me to be faithful this day. Help me to not look to my legacy or my future because I have zero idea how you might be using me. The author Gary Thomas said in one of his books (it might have been Sacred Parenting) that our role in history is to be born, possibly procreate, and then get out of the way. What you do with our lives after that is up to you. Help me to embrace that simplicity and to offer you this one life that I get on earth to further your kingdom and your glory.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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