Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bible Reading: Matthew, Ch. 4

Today I read Matthew, chapter 4, in my NIV Life Application Study Bible, which describes Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert as well as the beginning of Jesus’ ministries in Galilee.

Matthew 4:1-11 is all about Satan tempting Jesus, who had been fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus was tired and hungry, and Satan tempts Jesus to use his divine powers and turn stones into bread. Jesus says no, that God will sustain him. Then Satan tempts Jesus to prove who he is by jumping from the highest point in the temple. Satan said if Jesus really is the Son of God, he won't be hurt. God will save him. Jesus says no, that we are not to put God to the test. Satan’s final temptation was telling Jesus that if Jesus would only follow him, Satan would make him rich and give him land. Jesus again says no, that we are to worship only God.

Matthew 4:12-22 describes Jesus calling his first disciples, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew, and two more brothers, James and John, to follow him. All four men had known Jesus previously from his time in Galilee. They had heard him preach and knew who he was and what he wanted. They followed immediately.

The end of this chapter, Matthew 4:23-25 describes Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He taught, he preached to, and he healed the people who came to see him—some of whom came from very far away.

Lots of little things struck me in this chapter. First of all, Satan didn’t come to Jesus when he was well and well fed and strong. Satan came to Jesus when he was tired and weak and hungry—that’s when he tempted Jesus. That struck a chord in me. Of course Satan would choose that time. It reminded me that I have to be strong even when I feel as though I can’t be—God is with me then too.

Another thing that resonated with me was the way that Satan quoted Scripture during his attempts to tempt Jesus. I didn’t include that in my summary above, but Satan knows his Old Testament, and he used part of it in a way to try to convince Jesus that giving in to the temptation would actually be following God’s word in the Bible. I’ve definitely dealt with this in my own life: I’ve known people, and heard people in the public eye, quote the Bible to suit their purposes. They twist Scripture, or they take it out of context to support what they want you to believe or to do. It makes me doubly glad that I’m reading the Bible now for myself.

And finally, the other thing that struck me was the way the first four disciples dropped what they were doing—their daily jobs—to follow Jesus. They didn’t hem haw around. They just followed. Imagine that: leaving your job to follow Christ because he asked you too, putting all your faith in him like that. I’m trying to follow him in my daily life, but I question every single day if I’m doing it right.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him (Matt. 4:18-20).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bible Reading: Matthew, Ch. 3

Today’s Bible reading was Matthew, chapter 3, which focuses almost completely on John the Baptist. Although I don’t see it actually written in the Scripture, the life application, study part of my Bible explains that 30 years have passed since the end of chapter 2, which means Jesus is about 32 years old.

John the Baptist was a prophet who preached about repentance and about preparing the way for the Lord. He lived outside Jerusalem, wore clothes made of camel hair, ate locusts and honey (his clothes and his food choices separating him from other religious figures), and baptized people in the Jordan River. He said that his baptism was an outward sign of repentance, but he also said that Jesus, who he said was much greater than himself, would come later and baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John said that Jesus would winnow the people, judging and separating the good from the bad.

At the end of the chapter, Jesus comes to John, asking John to baptize him. At first, John tries to talk him out of it, saying he isn’t good enough to baptize Jesus, that Jesus should baptize him. Jesus convinces John though, and John baptizes Jesus. When Jesus emerges from the water, God speaks and the Holy Spirit touches Jesus; the Holy Trinity is together.

John also yells at the Pharisees and the Sadducees when they come to be baptized. The Pharisees followed the Old Testament but were more concerned with living under their own laws—and insisting others did as well—than living under God’s laws. They wanted to appear good but weren’t as concerned with being good. The Sadducees did not believe all the Old Testament, only the Mosaic law, and they were very caught up in material values, status, and influence. Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees believed Jesus was the Son of God; they were both against him. John the Baptist did not feel they were worthy of baptism as he did not believe in their repentance.

I think I probably learned the most about the Pharisees and the Sadducees from this chapter. I couldn’t have told you anything about either group before this reading, and now I feel I have a basic understanding of who they were.

The two things that stuck out for me from this chapter were the concepts of repentance and of preparing the way for God. Repentance means telling God about your sins and asking for forgiveness for those sins. God will forgive you (for which I’m so grateful). But it goes on from there to also mean that you must then, after confessing your sins, try to live free from those sins going forward. It doesn’t do any good to get baptized and have the outward sign of repentance if inside you’re still the same person.

John also talked about “productive trees” and about God cutting down unproductive trees. John said we need to be productive trees—we need to produce fruit for God. Once we repent, we go forward trying to live better lives. If people see through our actions that we are trying to live a life God would want us to live, then we take a step toward bearing fruit for God. Being generous and helping others bears fruit for God. What’s on the inside has to match what’s on the outside. People should be able to tell from our actions what kind of people we are inside.

All of this can help prepare the way for God. If there is anything that we can do to help others find their way to God, we should try to do that. We should be willing to talk about God, about what we are learning and what we know about God from the Bible and share that with others.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11-12).

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bible Reading: Matthew, Ch. 2

Today’s reading of my NIV Life Application Study Bible was Matthew, chapter 2, which begins with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It goes on to describe the Magi (the wise men) who travel thousands of miles to visit Jesus, and then it describes King Herod’s attempts to find and kill Jesus.

Something new that I learned in this reading was that Jesus was about two years old by the time the Magi found him. This is quite different from my childhood recollections of stories about the Magi finding him in a manger right after his birth. However, it makes sense. They were walking, and they were traveling from very far away.

King Herod was not a kind ruler, and he was fearful of losing his throne to the child that people were saying was the prophesied king of the Jews. When the Magi told him they had come to find Jesus, he told them to report back to him after they found him so that he could worship Jesus too. They agreed to do that, but once they found Jesus, God told them not to tell Herod, so they left Bethlehem without delivering the message to the king, who didn’t want to worship Jesus—he wanted to kill him.

Joseph then received his second message from God, who told him to take Mary and Jesus out of Bethlehem and go to Egypt. Once again, Joseph followed God’s command, and he moved his family to Egypt. Frustrated that the Magi hadn’t done as they’d promised, King Herod ordered all the boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas who were two years old and younger to be killed in the hopes that one of them would be Jesus and he would secure his throne through these murders. His evil plan failed; Jesus escaped with his earthly family. When Herod died, God spoke to Joseph in another dream and told him to return to Israel. Joseph obeyed and moved his family to Nazareth.

Two lessons stuck with me from this chapter. The first is that the Magi made a long and likely difficult journey to find Jesus, the Son of God, and they brought valuable gifts to give to him.

They sought him.

They brought him gifts.

They didn’t sit around and wait for Jesus to find them. They didn’t sit around and wait to see what gifts or blessings he would bestow on them. They searched for—and found—him. And because he is the Son of God, he is worthy of their gifts. This served to remind me that God wants us to seek him. He wants to know that we actively want him in our lives, and he wants us to be willing to offer our valuables to him (and I don’t think valuables have to be tangible treasures, although I do think giving to worthwhile causes, incredibly small ones and bigger ones, is good and pleases God).

The second lesson I took from this chapter is that in order to follow God, sometimes we have to change directions in our lives, just as the Magi did when they chose not to return to Herod to tell him where Jesus was. We have to trust him.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matt. 2:1-2).

Monday, July 6, 2015

Bible Reading: Matthew, Ch. 1

I decided recently to start reading my Bible again. I’ve missed it, and I definitely have much to learn. After some consideration as to where to start, I opted for The New Testament and opened it to Matthew, chapter 1. (I’m reading the New International Version that is an application study Bible, and I really like it.)

Matthew is writing to the Jews in his letter, so it’s important to him to establish Jesus’ genealogy and show that Jesus is a descendant of both Abraham and King David. (The Jews knew a king was coming to save them, so Matthew wanted to establish that Jesus was indeed that king—born of a king.) So, the first seventeen verses are simply that, Jesus’ lineage.

The rest of the first chapter focuses on Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. And this was the part that resonated with me. Matthew explained that Joseph and Mary were pledged to each other (the families had agreed on the marriage and announced it publicly—they were engaged). It was after this official, public announcement that Mary told Joseph she was pregnant—she was still a virgin, but she was pregnant. This was a potentially incredibly shameful situation for Joseph.

Under Jewish law, Joseph would have been well within his rights to divorce Mary. He would have had to explain why he wanted to divorce her, and once he had done so, Mary could have been stoned to death. Joseph wanted to spare Mary humiliation, so he decided to divorce her quietly.

Having made that decision, Joseph had a dream in which an angel came to him and told him that Mary was carrying the Son of God, that she was indeed still a virgin, and that God wanted Joseph to marry her and to raise her child as his own. Joseph had an incredible choice to make: to do what everyone would expect of him and divorce Mary for carrying a child that wasn’t his or to follow God’s will and accept her and her child.

Can you imagine, for just a moment, being Joseph in that time and place? Imagine the faith, and the integrity, and the strength he had to have to follow God, marry Mary, and raise Jesus as his own. That really struck me.

When I think about choices I have to make in my life, choices to try to follow what God would want me to do versus what might be easier or more accepted, I’m going to remember Joseph. I may not always do it right (I know I won’t always do it right), but I’ll remember Joseph nonetheless.

But after he had considered this [divorcing Mary], an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Fathers in My Life

It’s Father’s Day, so it’s natural to think about the fathers in my life, and what they have meant to my life.

The man who took on the role of my dad, who became my dad in a way that had nothing to do with biology and everything to do with our hearts and love and family, was Bob Flora (to the world) and “Dad” to my brother and me.

He officially became my dad in 1980, but sometime in the year before that, Michael and I were already feeling that’s who he was. I remember Mom and Dad driving us somewhere and I was sitting in the backseat with Mike—I would have been about eleven and Mike would have been about eight. We put our heads together and I whispered, “I keep almost calling him ‘Dad.’” Mike nodded and grinned. “Me too,” he said. Needless to say, after that, we didn’t try too hard to resist the urge any longer. He was “Dad.”

Dad was everything a father is supposed to be. He taught us so much. We learned a strong work ethic—that I know we both grew to appreciate—working on the farm, even if we were cussing and swearing under our breath on cold winter days when we were cutting and stacking wood or on hot, sweaty, sticky days trying to get the hay baled and loaded before he got home from work. As adults, those were some of the fondest memories Mike and I shared—and we loved to laugh about them.

Dad taught us what it meant to have a man in our lives who was always there for us, in every sense of the word. When we looked up from the volleyball or basketball court or the track, we knew we could count on seeing Mom and Dad in the stands almost every time we competed. I remember going to one of Mike’s track meets after I’d graduated and moved away. It was early in the season and cold. Mom had to work, so she wasn’t there yet. But as I approached the stands, Dad came into view. He was already there, in his Carhartts, and Mike knew it.

When we struggled, whether it was difficulties in school or with friends, or later in our lives, when we struggled as adults—as grown children going through divorces or struggling as parents—Dad was there. We could talk to him. He would listen. And then he would nod his head and give us his advice.

Dad shared his love of life with us. He brought music into our lives in a big way. Whether it was his band practicing in the living room late into the night (on a school night) or whether it was his big-band days later in his life, Dad loved to play his guitar and his banjo, and he loved to sing. He grinned a lot, playing his music, and it infected our lives. Michael and I both came to deeply love playing and listening to all kinds of music. That love stayed with us and we’ve passed it on to our kids.

Dad never knew a stranger. Ever. He would—and did—talk to anyone who would talk to him. He loved to tell stories. He loved to laugh. He loved to make people happy. Those are qualities to strive to emulate. He was an inspiration. I love him deeply and forever.


My brother, Michael, loved nothing more in his life than being Ethan’s dad. When the two of them were together, there was a light in my brother’s eyes that burned only when he was with his son. Ethan was Michael’s world, and Ethan treasured his time with his dad.

Michael was so patient with Ethan. There was no story too long to listen to, nor too question too small to answer. Ethan is a smart, inquisitive boy, and Michael delighted in watching his boy grow and he wondered, I know, where life will take his son. I know that we all pray that Mike is watching Ethan from heaven, and that he is guiding his son’s footsteps still, as he did when he was with us.

We all miss Mike more than we have words for, but none of us miss him the way Ethan does. His loss is his own. We are grateful that Ethan is still such a part of our lives, that we are still able to be active in his life, and that we are able to share—all of us together—the love we have for Michael as well as the love we have for each other. Together, we will engage in the blessings of this life, and we will help Ethan become the young man, and eventually the adult, that his dad always knew his son would be.


And finally, there is the father in my life that stepped in and became a dad to my beautiful daughter, my husband and best friend, Terry.

Terry had quite a feat in front of him when he came into Tori’s and my lives. We had been “Mom and Tori” for almost nine years since her father and I divorced. We had a life together. We were very close (still are, thank God!), and we weren’t sure how this was going to work, inserting a man into our family. Because that man happened to be Terry, it worked very well.

Terry came to love Tori quickly, I think, but he respected the fact that she had a father, and he wanted to give her time to get to know him, to trust him, and to allow him into her life. He wanted the best for her always—including the best of himself—and he worked hard to ensure she knew that. I’m so happy to say that she does know it, and I believe she counts on it. That level of trust and faith that you always want your child to have in you—I believe that Tori has that with Terry. As her mom and his wife, I can’t tell you how good that feels.

He has influenced her taste in music and movies and TV shows in ways I never could have done. He brought her the Beatles. He shares her affection for Queen and Green Day. They trade Breaking Bad and Pulp Fiction quotes faster than I can keep up sometimes. When I hear them laughing together—especially if I’m not even in the room—my heart bursts with love for them both. We’ve been blessed by Terry’s presence in our lives. I’m grateful for the dad he is to Tori, as well as what he brings to me as my husband.

Father’s Day felt like a good day to honor my dad, my brother, and my husband. I love them all and am so grateful to have them—because Dad and Mike are still with me—in my life.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sons of Anarchy and Hamlet update

I thought I ought to update in case anyone wondered why I hadn't kept up with the Hamlet and Sons of Anarchy comparison posts.

On Dec. 30, my younger brother passed away quite unexpectedly. It has tilted my world--my family's world--and I'm still trying to get some semblance of a routine back.

My brother loved Sons, so I do want to get back to this, but it might take a little time.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sons of Anarchy & Hamlet, Act 1

If you’re any kind of Sons of Anarchy fan, then you know that creator Kurt Sutter (loosely) based the motorcycle-club drama on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. With all the Shakespeare I read in college as an English major, Hamlet was one drama I never read. I thought about reading it as I watched the series unfold, but it got to the point where I didn’t want to know what might happen on SOA because of what did happen in Hamlet. So I waited until now to begin reading.

I finished the first act last night, and it’s interesting to begin to see connections from the play to the show. I find myself marveling at Sutter’s imagination—how he was able to see the Sons within the play.

Within the first act, we meet King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s stepfather (and uncle) and his mother, who married only two months after the death of Hamlet’s father. Those connections are easy to draw to Clay, Gemma, and JT, with Jax, of course, in Hamlet’s role. Hamlet isn’t happy about the union of his mother and his uncle. He feels his uncle is unworthy, not the man his father was. He remembers the love his mother and father shared and doesn’t like seeing Claudius in this new position.

This is different from the way Sutter introduced us to the Tellers and the Morrows. When we first meet the family, Jax is comfortable with Clay, as both his stepdad and his mother’s husband. Maybe it’s because JT died so many years ago; he’s had much more than two months to process it and get used to it. Regardless, there seems to be genuine affection and respect between the two men when we first meet them.

When the play opens, two guards are discussing having seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and then not long after that, the ghost appears again. They talk to Hamlet’s good friend, Horatio, about it, and they convince him to come to the platform in front of the castle so that he can see it too. When the ghost appears, Horatio agrees to talk to Hamlet about the ghost, and the two wait together for it. When the ghost appears, it beckons for Hamlet to follow it. Hamlet does, and the two converse. The ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him and that Hamlet must avenge the murder—but that Hamlet must not bring Gertrude into it. Hamlet vows (while writing) that nothing else will matter except for gaining this vengeance.

For me, the ghost in Hamlet is JT’s manuscript that Jax finds early in the show and then the letters Maureen Ashby sends home with him when he leaves Ireland. They create the initial doubts he has regarding Clay’s leadership and then reveal JT’s fears that Clay (and Gemma) are plotting against him. Once Jax knows the contents of the letters, he wants revenge against Clay. The time Sutter took to build the relationship up between Clay and Jax at the beginning of the series makes the destruction of it that much better. I don’t think I’m going to get that in Hamlet between Claudius and the prince. I also liked the fact that Hamlet was writing; it connects to Jax writing in his journals.

I believe, but I’m not sure yet, that Horatio’s character is represented by Opie’s. I haven’t seen enough of Horatio to be sure of this, but I think that’s how it will turn out. I’ve seen an element of trust between Hamlet and Horatio that makes me think of Jax and Opie, but I also could see Horatio in Bobby or Chibs too. I’ll keep you posted on that.

Also introduced in Act 1, although it’s only a brief introduction, is Ophelia. Hamlet has evidently been expressing affection toward Ophelia, and she seems to be interested. However, her father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes, don’t believe his love will be long-lasting or true, and they warn her—in her father’s case, forbid her—from being with Hamlet. In the play, Hamlet is above Ophelia in social standing, which I find interesting when thinking about Sons.

Obviously, Tara plays Ophelia’s part. (Maybe I shouldn’t say “obviously.” I guess Wendy could be Ophelia, which would fit with the whole social-standing thing better than Tara. But I think it’s Tara.) I like the foreshadowing of Hamlet’s love not being stable or true for Ophelia. Although Jax did always love Tara, it certainly wasn’t a love she could trust or depend on as a wife should be able to depend on her husband. I’m thinking that the characters of Polonius and Laertes are going to be represented in Margaret Murphy and maybe Wayne Unser. I’m looking forward to seeing how these relationships evolve in the play and what further connections I can find.

Finally, there’s a potential conflict brewing in Hamlet over lands that Hamlet’s father won from Fortinbras. Fortinbras’s son wrote to Claudius demanding the land be returned. Claudius, of course, does not intend to return the land. I’m wondering if this will be related to territorial issues between the Sons and other MCs—drugs, guns, alliances, something nefarious to be sure.

I’m enjoying the play, and I’m glad I waited to read it. I’ll post again after reading farther. I miss Sons of Anarchy, so this is turning out to be a new, fun way to revisit it (before I start watching the whole thing over again). Care to read along?