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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Jabez and Festus

1 Chronicles 4-5

Well this section of Chronicles, like much of the rest of the book, was relatively unknown until Bruce Wilkinson wrote his NY Times Bestseller, The Prayer of Jabez. The book puts forth the idea that there are several important and reproducible elements to Jabez’s prayer that we should all pray regularly. The prayer, “Oh that you would bless me and increase my territory! Please be with me in all that I do and keep me from trouble and pain.” And God granted him his request.

Good things about this book: So many people were afraid or timid about asking God to bless them and this book convincingly argued that God is glad when we ask for things. We also read about this when Jesus tells us “Ask and you shall receive,” and “Your fathers give good gives, how much more will your heavenly father give good gifts to his children.” Clearly God likes to give his children blessings.

Less good things about the book: If you write more than about five pages about Jabez then you have to start making a lot of assumptions. One of those assumptions is that Jabez was requesting that God increase his territory for the purpose of giving back to God or blessing others. I also think our Christian culture spends a lot of time praying our wish lists. We spend the entire prayer asking God to do this or fix that. Prayer should be about communicating with God in a way that asks him to change things but also allows him to work change in us as well. Prayer should be about relationship, thanksgiving, praise and communication. In a culture that focuses on what we want, we don’t need to spend too much time on a prayer asking for more blessing.

Acts 25

Paul had originally been imprisoned under Felix, but Festus has taken over Felix’s post, which means the politics of Paul’s trial have changed completely. Festus is trying to do his job well, but also wants to begin building a good relationship with the Jews. When the Jewish leaders ask to put Paul on trial in Jerusalem, Festus seems to like the idea of using this as a chance to build relationship with the Jews. Paul seems to recognize the dangerous dynamic developing here and appeals to Caesar for trial. Later Festus tells Agrippa that he would have let Paul go had he not appealed to Caesar. There seem to be three possibilities about what was really going on:

1. Festus was going to convict and sentence Paul in order to appease the Jewish leaders. Paul wisely sees a chance to escape Festus and the Jews and arrive at Rome by appealing to Caesar. Once Paul appealed to Caesar, he was fine with that as well, except that he couldn’t find a charge to place against him in the emperor’s court. He asks for Agrippa’s advice and of course, now says he would have otherwise released him because saying anything else makes him look a fool.

2. Festus really couldn’t find any real charge to place against Paul but right before Festus was able to release him Paul appeals to Caesar and Festus likes the idea of passing on this responsibility. Had Paul kept his mouth shut he would have gone free.

3. Paul knew he was about to go free but decided that with these angry Jews who had promised not to eat until Paul was dead, that he was better off traveling to Rome with a well-armed Roman guard responsible for his safe transport.

I tend to think it was number 1, but that’s just my opinion.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

Chronicling – Paul’s Eagerness and Drive

1 Chronicles 2:18-4:4

Kent and I were talking about Chronicles yesterday and how the readings and blogs will be interesting since neither of us have spent much time in Chronicles before. I joked that it is the cliff`s notes version of what we have read so far. In reality though, much of it is a different telling of stories already told in Samuel or Kings. Since I would generally consider those books to be a more interesting telling of the stories, they seem to overshadow Chronicles.

Anyhow, so far we have reviewed genealogies from Genesis-Kings. More previously told stories to come.

Acts 24:1-27

I love reading Paul’s conversations. At the end of his conversations I often wonder if I will ever be in a situation that will require me to speak the way he does. Will I ever stand before a judge and declare, “I’ve obeyed the laws of our land as closely as I possibly can. I worship God and I am a follower of Christ. I have hope in God that there will be a resurrection, so I strive to always keep my conscience clear before God and all people. They are upset because I’ve told them the truth about the resurrection and they want to bring me harm.”

Paul didn’t live his life as a rebel to the authorities around him. He lived his life taking care of others and preaching the hope of the resurrection through Jesus Christ. This is what made him unpopular with the cultures he found himself in. He was going in and changing the world around him in ways that those in charge couldn’t keep up!

I really admire Paul’s eagerness and drive to share the Good News with everyone, no matter what position they hold. We’ll see in some of his later writings that while he has a guard attached to him, he sees him as a captive audience and converts most of the guards in the prison. He openly shares his faith with Felix and Dusilla. Paul’s belief in the resurrection of the dead through Christ shaped who he was so much that he couldn’t help but share it with everyone.

 

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

Chronicles and Paul Transported

1 Chronicles 1-2
Ryan and I were talking about Chronicles today and how the readings and blogs will be interesting since neither ofus have spent much time in Chronicles before.  Ryan joked that it is the cliff`s notes version of what we have read so far.  In reality though, much of it is a different telling of stories already told in Samuel or Kings.  Since I would generally consider thosebooks to be a more interesting telling of the stoties, they seem to overshadow Chronicles.

Anyhow, so far we have reviewed geneologies from Genesis. More previously told stories to come.

Acts 23

Paul gets arrested and a group of Jews make anoath to not eat again until Paul was dead.  Since Paul lived for several more years, I cant help but wonder if those guys broke their oath and went back to eating or if they simply died waiting for him to die.  I am not sure which possibility is more amusing.

Regardless, the text is showing us that Paul is quickly progressing through the court system towards Rome.  However, much like Jesus`s trial, Paul is shown as being in control and composed.  In fact, he continues to do ministry all along the way.  At this point all roads lead to Rome.  The book is clear that both God and Paul are heading in that direction as Paul finally takes his ministry to the Gentiles to the throne of Gentile politics, culture and religion.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit – Hope of the Resurrection of the Dead

2 Kings 23:31-25:30

God has reached the point where the kids, if they will not live by the house rules and follow His ways, are getting kicked out. I won’t say I’m an expert on this since I’m not a parent, but sometimes you have to let the kids leave the house and suffer the consequences of their destructive paths before they will ever wake up to what is right. The difference here is, God’s house has now been burnt down and everything carried off.

I think one of the saddest parts of this story is who is left behind. Have you ever felt rejected? Ever looked out on the field from the bench and realized that your team is playing a man down because they feel it is better for you to be on the bench than to play in the game? Have you ever not gotten a job, not because someone better beat you out of the position, but because they decided they would rather not have that position than to have you in it? You might know one or two things about feeling rejected and neglected. I once proposed to a girl and she said no….and then committed herself to a convent. Maybe that was a lie…

When Nebuchadnezzar comes in to carry off all of Jerusalem into exile, he carries off all of the officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans. He leaves the poorest people behind. These are the people who weren’t good enough to even carry off into exile. Neb looked at them and said they really aren’t even worth the trouble of taking back.

These are the people that Jesus is talking about at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When you feel like you’ve been cast aside because you’re simply not worth even taking off into exile, God looks at you and says, “My Kingdom belongs to you!” When the world says you’re not worthy, God says, “You’re mine! My chosen possession! My blessed children!”

Acts 22:17-23:10

The way our daily reading falls it breaks the story up a bit too much and is hard to focus on one thing or another. I love the way that Paul is very selective about how he says the things he says and more importantly when he says these things. He could have gotten himself out of jail earlier on by telling them he was a Roman citizen (from birth). Instead, he gains himself some power because they assumed they knew who he was.

It is important to note that Paul still showed respect to the High Priest because you’re not to speak evil about the ruler of your people, even if he’s having you hit in the mouth. I’d consider Paul’s attitude here before badmouthing any of our leaders, not that any of us would ever do that about our government.

The final thing I want to point out is why Paul says he is on trial. He is on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead. What does the hope of the resurrection of the dead mean? What does the hope of the resurrection of the dead mean to you?

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

Under-appreciated Josiah and Paul in Jerusalem

2 Kings 22-23

Josiah Destroys Items of Idolatry

If I asked a room full of Christians who had a good knowledge of the Bible who the most faithful king of either Judah, Israel, or the United Tribes was, I doubt anybody would say Josiah. David would get most of the votes and a few rebels would argue for Solomon. Maybe Hezekiah might even get a vote.

Well when it comes to unwavering faithfulness to God and being a spiritual leader for Israel, I am ready to make an argument for Josiah. Keep in mind that when Josiah is given the book of the Law that is found in the Temple, he is surprised by what it says. He isn’t convicted or convinced it’s a better way…he is completely stunned. There were things that the law said were good that he didn’t know were good. There were things it condemned that he didn’t know were wrong. Things were that bad.

So Josiah sets about changing things. And unlike most other good kings, there isn’t a statement at the end that reads something like, “…except for the altars to the baals and asheroths in the small cities. Those he left and people continued to disobey the Lord.” Josiah was more than thorough. He completely wiped out idol worship throughout Judah, and whenever he was done destroying a place of idol worship he would make sure to defile it with the bones of the dead. His plan is to completely eradicate idol worship from Israel forever.

He then reinstitutes the Passover. It’s significant to realize that the Passover is more than a holiday, but that it is central to Israel’s identity as God’s people whom he rescued from Egypt. It’s a reminder of covenant. It’s a teaching moment for families and in the case of Josiah, for an entire nation to relearn it’s faith heritage.

It’s a shame he doesn’t get more credit. Josiah…a man who tried to build a nation after God’s own heart. Perhaps the fact that the name Josiah has been on the top 100 names for boys for the last three years means that he if finally getting the respect he is due. (It is very randomly the tenth most popular boy name in New Mexico this year. Those New Mexicans know a good Judean king when they see one.)

Acts 21

Luke and Acts have many similarities. In Luke, Jesus heads to Jerusalem and looks like he will be crowned King as he is led to the Temple, where things go terribly wrong and events quickly lead to his death. In Acts, Paul heads to Jerusalem and is ushering in the Kingdom, where Jew and Gentile may worship God together and finally the dividing wall in the Temple will be torn down, but at the very rumor Paul was bringing Gentiles into the Temple they slam shut the doors and turn their back on God’s Kingdom.

A riot ensues and Paul’s life is very clearly in danger. So Paul, a man who is all things to all people speaks Greek and connects with the Roman guard and then speaks to the crowd in Aramaic. Suddenly he owns the crowd that is rioting on account of him. He knows the crowd hates what he says about Messiah and what Israel should be and that Gentiles can worship God. So he begins his defense…with very Jewish credentials. He is a Jew among Jews who loved all the ways of the Jews. Until Jesus appeared to him and changed everything. So he began to preach but God told him that Jews, especially those in Jerusalem wouldn’t believe so he should go to Gentiles and invite them to the Kingdom.

And the riot starts again.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

Will Changing Prayer – Paul’s Actions

2 Kings 20:1-22:2

There is a view of God that He has wound up this world like a clock, set it on the shelf, and has set back to watch everything unwind. Sometimes our prayers seem to lend themselves to that kind of God. We have an example in our reading today where Hezekiah is not only going to die, but this reality has been told to him by a Prophet from God! If Isaiah came in and told me that I was going to die, I would probably believe him and go ahead and get everything in order like he said. Instead, Hezekiah cries out to God and weeps bitterly. God hears his cries and changes His will. God’s will originally was that Hezekiah would not get better but Hezekiah was able to change the will of God with his prayers and his tears. God responded to him. I want to have the faith to pray those kinds of prayers. Prayers that have God respond!

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD. In short…his name in Hebrew means, “Poster Child For How to Be a Horrible King.” It’s a loose translation but it fits.

While we’re on meanings of names…Amon means “Son of the Poster Child For How to Be a Horrible King”

Acts 21:18-36

Paul is in an interesting position as he enters into Jerusalem. While on one hand, he says that the Gentiles do not have to keep the Law, he also recognizes that the Jews do need to keep up with their ancestral tradition. Later, in 1 Corinthians, Paul will say that circumcision or uncircumcision means nothing…and then will also say that to the Jews he became a Jew to win the Jews. Is he being contradictory? No! Paul is hitting on something here that we need to see and apply. Do not do, or refrain from doing, anything that will hinder people hearing the Gospel when you present it to them. This becomes very vague but is incredibly important, and is heavily addressed in 1 Corinthians. If there is something about the way you live that hinders people hearing the Gospel when you tell it to them, then what you are doing is wrong.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

Hezekiah

An Angel Defeats the Assyrians

2 Kings 18-19

I am a big fan of Hezekiah. Unlike most of his contemporaries, when great trials come his way he knows exactly where to turn. He turns to the Lord. And when it comes to great trials, not much compares to having Assyrian King Sennacherib marching towards you with a huge army. So Hezekiah starts be taking the approach of many kings in this situation: he tries to bribe his way to peace. Assyria initially accepts the peace offering and then continues towards battle anyhow.

This is the first huge insult Assyria gives Israel. This is the equivalent of a bully threatening to destroy you unless you give him all your money and you are completely embarrassed and humiliated but give him your money and then he goes on to pound you anyways. It’s cruel. Then Sennacherib goes on to send an insulting and disheartening letter. The letter is followed by a group shouting outside the walls about how badly they will destroy all of the people. It is intended to intimidate and embarrass. He even questions God and the peoples’ faith in Him.

That’s when Israel finds their courage. This is a nation who had every intention of paying the bully and walking away embarrassed. But when Assyria keeps pushing, keeps insulting God, keeps attacking their faith, and backs them into a corner…Israel finds their fight. Hezekiah wisely goes to Isaiah and receives God’s blessing to move forward with plans to defeat Assyria.

We saw this with David and Goliath, and we see it again here. When somebody insults God and there are Israelites willing to step up and fight, God has a great victory in store for his people.

Acts 21

Paul traveled and did missionary stuff.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

Prodigal Israel – Paul’s Farewell

2 Kings 17:1-18:12

Israel has so turned away from God that they are taken away and Judah is the one who is left. The chapter ends with, “To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.”

God has continued to show grace, even through the oppression He has brought on them. Now, Israel has been taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there. If I am reading this right, these are the Samaritans who will later be despised by the Jews. Can you see why there would be such a hatred for them? These are the people who continued to turn away from God and worship other gods. These are the people who refused to recognize who God really is and respond to Him in worship. This is like the brother in the family who refused to welcome home the brother who neglected his family and walked away.

Could this be the group that Jesus is referring to in his parable of the Prodigal?

Acts 20:1-38

Paul’s farewell to the Elders in Ephesus is one of the more beautiful scenes painted in Acts. Paul’s focus and understanding of the suffering that he is headed into is something that I don’t think many of us in the Western world understand. We have it pretty easy because we don’t have to worry too much about real persecution.

“22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

Have you ever taken on a task that requires this kind of focus on life? How do we shape the way we live into a walk of faith that requires this kind of language?

 

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

Setting Up Tomorrow

2 Kings 15-16

This is going to surprise you, but there were more kings. Some of them worshiped God like their ancestor David. Some committed the sins of Jeroboam. None of them were particularly significant. That is, until the very end of today’s reading where we are introduced to Hezekiah. He is important, but only for reasons you will find out later. So today’s reading simply prepares us for something better tomorrow.

Acts 19

“I know Jesus and I know Paul but you I know nothing about.” I laugh every time I read that verse. This is one more example of how many desired to have the “power” of early Christianity without the relationship with God. God isn’t a magical guy in the sky who gives you whatever you want if you recite something a certain way or offer the right prayers or sacrifices. When people try to manipulate God this way it usually ends very badly for them. In this case, God simply allows a demon to beat their bare butts. That’s a fun story right there. Thank you Luke.

“So what’s the big deal about Artemis of the Ephesians?” you might be asking yourself as you read today. Well, if you have heard of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple to Artemis at Ephesus is the third oldest on the list. It was kind of a big deal. It’s important to your city for tourism, influence, and religious reasons. If you are one of the men who makes the idols or stonework for or around the Temple, you don’t want anybody messing with Artemis. Artemis is good for business. And as Demetrius put it, “This is bad for business…oh…and…uh…and we should be faithful to our god Artemis.” So a riot ensues.

What will Paul do? Turns out, today’s reading is only setting up tomorrow’s.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

God’s Grace – Have You Received the Holy Spirit?

2 Kings 13:1-14:29

The books of Kings seems to be more and more interesting (for lack of better word) with each passing day. We have a Judges-like cycle of “evil in the eyes of the LORD” happening over and over and over again. We do have a small break in the dark sky where some sunshine is ripping it way through today! For the first time since Solomon’s prayer at the dedicated the Temple, we have a reference to God’s grace. We see that God’s action is an expression of God’s compassion.

God, full of mercy, looks upon the people He has brought oppression to and brings them relief from their suffering. This isn’t because Jehoahaz has been righteous or that anyone else has been righteous. We might infer what God was thinking, that maybe showing them mercy will win their repentance, win them to turn away from their godless leaders ruling them and come back to the LORD properly. In short…it didn’t happen.

God made a covenant with Israel. Not a bargain. A covenant. He acts within this covenant, these promises to Israel, despite their lack of faithfulness. God can’t get out of being faithful to that covenant and its promises simply because Israel doesn’t keep its side of the bargain.

When I look at the church in the West, more specifically in America, and I see it in great decline, I am reminded that God is still faithful when we are not. He will still act on our behalf when we fail to act on His. I pray that our response is different from Israel’s and we see what God is doing in this World and we join Him in it rather than continuing on our godless path as Israel chose to do.

Acts 18:23-19:12

Aquila and Pricilla

Apollos, a well learned man who teaches with great fervor, only knew of the baptism of John. Pricilla and Aquila brought him in and taught him the way of God more adequately. This teaching would have been about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Paul meets some disciples while traveling and his first question is one I’ve never asked any Brother or Sister I’ve met. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” When they said that they have only had John’s baptism (baptism of repentance) Paul baptized them into the name of the Lord Jesus and placed his hands on them so they would receive the Holy Spirit.

Growing up, I seem to remember being taught that baptism was for repentance and I don’t really remember hearing anything about receiving the Holy Spirit. The receiving of the Holy Spirit is one of the major focal points of Acts. Should we be spending more time talking about it and figuring out what it means to have God dwelling inside of us?

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Bible in One Year