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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Ezra = “Check the Archives” – You (Plural) Are the Temple

Ezra 4:24-6:22

Kent’s question yesterday was a good one. Would the people stop building just because they ran into some opposition? If the breakdown of our reading plan hadn’t stopped where it did…you wouldn’t have had to have waited this long to get an answer. The work stops for quite a while till a new king is in place.

There was no argument really about whether or not they were rebellious. There is a bit of an argument about who they were rebellious again. Yesterday we read that they were commanded to stop building because they have a history of being a rebellious city and will cause problems for the king. They even through in that it would hurt the kingdom financially. The word Ezra in Hebrew loosely translated must mean, “Search the archives” because that seems to be a theme throughout this book.

They admit to being a rebellious people, but it was their rebellion against God that led to the temple being destroyed and the people being carried off into exile. The king then looks into the archives and sees that not only are they allowed to rebuild but it was decreed by the king, who also agreed to pay for it. What is even crazier is that if you got in the way of the rebuilding of the temple then you will be impaled on a pike taken from your house and the house be made into a pile of rubble.

1 Corinthians 3:5-23

We are all servants of God. Why would you desire to align yourself with one servant over another when God has stepped down to where we are to die on the cross for us in order that we can align ourselves with Him? Who is Apollos? Who is Paul? It doesn’t matter because they aren’t God! Even more so…aligning yourself with one person or another is not a sign of spiritual maturity. It is a sign of spiritual immaturity. They are fighting over who has the better group when they are all within the Family of God! Talk about missing the forest…

There are two verses that scare me in todays reading. Paul is addressing a church that is being divided based on which preacher they liked better. I look around the Kingdom and I see a lot of churches who have split over similar issues…and some who have split over far dumber things. Paul is quick to remind them in verse 16 that they are the temple where God’s Spirit dwells. Individuals are not the temple, but the church (people not building) is God’s temple. Paul then follows up his question in verse 16 with “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” If Christ died to bring this temple together, then the wrath of God will come on anyone who breaks it apart. So proceed forward, not with the wisdom of the world but with the wisdom of God.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Bible in One Year

 

When Building is Hard and Drinking Milk

First of all, happy birthday to my wonderful son. He is two years old today and in the next several weeks will become a big brother. I continue to be amazed how much joy (and at times frustration) he brings to my life.

Ezra 3-4

Israel begins rebuilding the Temple with the blessing of the Assyrian King. Many of the people who have been transported into this area come to Israel and ask to be included in the rebuilding of the Temple. These are enemies of Israel. However, most people at this time and place in history believed that God’s were local. If you lived in Egypt, you would want to worship the gods of Egypt. If you moved to Jerusalem, you would worship Yahweh. When Yahweh’s people came back you would ask to worship with them, because you want to win the favor of the local god. When they say no and tell you that you can worship God but you have to do it far away on a different mountain, you start trying to destroy them.

When Artaxerxes learns of the history of rebellion out of Israel and specifically Jerusalem, he commands the building of the Temple and the city cease. It’s interesting that Israel went from slaves to a threat to the king so quickly. And yet, when the pressure is applied Israel stops building. Of course, the story continues, but not until tomorrow. The question that Israel has to ask, and that we all have to ask today, is “Are you willing to build when it’s hard?” Most of us are willing to do what God wants and expects of us when it’s easy, like Israel was when they had the blessing of the king. But when that changes, when enemies rise up and leaders threaten you and it becomes clear that building this Temple might come at a high cost for you and your family, are you still willing to build? I always hope that I am willing to follow and obey God, even when the cost could be high.

1 Corinthians 2-3

Paul is being very direct with the Corinthians here. He seems to be disappointed and frustrated that they are bickering and disputing, rather than putting their faith in the Gospel and loving one another. While it seems much of this division has been introduced by bad teachings, Paul wants the Corinthians to know that their immaturity opened the door to these things. Here are a few of the pointed comments Paul makes:

I spoke plainly to you. I often speak with wisdom and complex teachings, but with you I thought I needed to speak more simply and not overwhelm you with mature teachings.

Nobody knows a person’s thoughts except that spirit and nobody knows God’s thoughts except God’s spirit. Since God’s spirit lives in those who believe and follow him, we can have God’s will revealed in us and through us. However, I can see why you are struggling to understand God.

When I spoke to you, I taught you as people of the world and not people of faith. I recognized your spiritual weakness and now I see my assumptions proven by your actions. Faithful people don’t divide themselves. They unite with one another. Your divisions show me you still aren’t ready for meaningful and mature teachings.

And yet, Paul is going to proceed with some important teachings in this book with hopes that some of his statements above will cause the people to seek growth and wisdom and maturity and that his teachings might take root in their lives and in their church.

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

 

Return from Exile and Timid Preaching

Ezra 1-2

Ezra tells the story of Israel’s return from exile, back to Jerusalem and their homes throughout Israel. My favorite passage that describes the significance of Israel’s return and what that means for their relationship with God is found in Isaiah 40. What’s interesting, is that this passage about God helping Israel return home is also used to apply to John the Baptist. In fact, many of the prophecies regarding Israel’s return have a double prophetic message that applies to the Messiah. So much of who the Messiah is, and who he is expected to be, evolves out of this period of history.

Have you ever looked at your life and felt like Jesus needed to bring you out of exile and back to the place where God is? Can you see the similarities between exile and sin, return and redemption?

1 Corinthians 1-2

I want to begin by saying that Paul isn’t being anti-science, anti-education, anti-scholarship. So often the worlds of scholarship and science trust in their own understanding rather than putting faith in God. However, that does not give the church license to be anti-science or anti-education. In fact, modern science developed today because of a belief that God created man to understand and rule over the universe and that we should do our best to understand it. Many of the most respected universities and colleges in our country began as Christian schools with strong theology departments. The church supported education in many ways and could benefit from a stronger relationship with education today.

Paul is saying two things here. First is something like, “Think about the smartest people you know. God is so much smarter and wiser that he makes those people look foolish.” Secondly, Paul is recognizing that often the wealthiest, most educated, and most powerful are so reliant on themselves and the things of this world that they are unwilling or unable to accept Jesus. However, those who are humble often are willing to look up and acknowledge their need for a savior. Both of these are still completely true today.

Paul then goes back to a point he made yesterday in chapter one, that people weren’t converted because of his lofty words or fancy arguments, but rather by his simply presentation of the Gospel. This is odd to me, because I cannot imagine Paul speaking plainly or timidly. This is the Paul who preached in Acts 17 and the one who wrote Romans. He’s a very eloquent writer and speaker. However, others are using their public speaking and preaching abilities to manipulate the Gospel and introduce divisive teachings into the church. Paul wants the people to realize that it wasn’t his speaking style that brought them to Jesus, but the truths behind the words. Paul relied not on his abilities (which were substantial), but trusted in the Gospel, the truth of who Jesus is, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t let anybody else do differently.

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

 

No One Likes a Prophet – A Call to Unity

2 Chronicles 35:1-36:23

After an entire list of evil that is done in the land, the text says that Nebuchadnezzar came in, at God’s command, and carried off His people into exile after killing many of them and destroying Jerusalem. The land then enjoyed its Sabbath rests for the next seventy years were completed. Things had gotten so bad that they only way the land would have any kind of rest (Sabbath) in it was if the people were taken away. How did things come to this? The people mocked, despised, and ignored God’s spoken word till there was no remedy for God’s wrath.

Prophets were typically those who people didn’t want to have around. They never brought news that God’s people wanted to hear. Often when a Word of God comes around, He is calling for change. Typically as people, we don’t like change too much. Often if a sermon makes me feel uncomfortable, I ask myself if I needed to hear it.

1 Corinthians 1:1-17

From the beginning of Corinthians, we see that Paul is calling the church to unity. He’s heard that there are problems in the church from Chloe’s household. He says that there are divisions between those who follow him, Apollos, and others who follow Cephas (Peter). Looking at the history in Corinth, it doesn’t seem as though Peter ever had any influence in Corinth so it appears that Paul is focused on the divide between those who have aligned themselves with himself and those who have followed Apollos. In introducing this argument, Paul quickly focuses on the unity in Christ that is found in the cross. Verse 17, Paul says that he wasn’t sent to “baptize but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Who baptized you doesn’t matter. It is the cross that has power. In his preaching, Paul doesn’t try to be “wise or eloquent” but sets out to present the cross as it is. The power is not in his presentation but in the cross itself. Could the problem be that Apollos was a better speaker than Paul and has gained more followers accordingly?

There have been many people in history who have brought about poor representation of the Gospel but have gathered many followers because they were eloquent in speech. The message I pull away from today’s reading is that we need to be sure and have a good understanding ourselves of the power of the Cross so we know when someone is being shallow in their eloquent speech.

 

 

 

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

 

Can You See Your Reflection? – These People Were Real

2 Chronicles 33:14-34:33

What would it be like to live life day in and day out and really have no concept of how to live as God’s people. The reality is, if you have no idea how to do that then you probably have no overwhelming desire to do it either. You simply walk around calling yourself “God’s chosen people” with a sense of entitlement but with no reality of meaning. You then stumble across a book that basically says “How to be God’s Chosen People.”

Do you get a little nervous opening it, wondering if when you look in the mirror you won’t see your reflection?

What is your reaction when you don’t see your face reflecting back?

In this instance, we see reform to what needed to be changed. Too often we read the Bible without asking any kind of reflection of ourselves. We fulfill our obligation of reading God’s Word and walk away unchanged. The greatest question you can ask every time you sit down to read the Bible is, “If I believe this is God’s Word, what needs to be changed in me based on what I read today?” Allow the transformation to take place every time you rediscover God’s Word.

 

Romans 16:10-27

Paul, in his farewell address to the church in Rome, gives a pretty massive list of people to greet. This is very beautiful to me. Paul seems to be reminiscing about his time with the church there and is very thankful for his brothers and sisters there. He’s also giving examples of people who are living out the Gospel in ways that they need to themselves. One name that I want to point out is “Erastus” in verse 23. If you go to ancient Corinth, there is a stone with his name on it. When I stood there looking down at it, the Bible became a little more real for me because this city official was a real person. Because of this experience, I stopped and thought about each thing that Paul said about these people and what they had done in the Kingdom together, what their lives were like, and thanked God for them because of their impact on the expanse of God’s Word because of their efforts.

Paul is at the end of his letter and wants to make sure they hear the importance of what he’s been saying. He urges them to watch out for people who cause divisions. These are people who are looking to their own interests and not to the interests of what is best for the Kingdom. This is a good measure for evaluating your own motivations for the things you do.

I end with part of Paul’s encouragement, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”

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

 

Greatest Battle Speeches and Farewell

2 Chronicles 32-33

In any great war or battle movie there is a great speech before the fight that inspires everybody to willing to strive for something greater than themselves. This compilation might inspire you today. I know it inspired me.

Not seen in this video is the really really good speech by King Hezekiah. The enormous army of Assyria is marching toward Israel to attack them. Hezekiah begins fortifying the city. He gathers the army. And as they meet at the gate, Hezekiah gives one of the best battle speeches in the Bible and maybe all time.

“Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!”

But they are merely men. I love that line. Hezekiah realizes that God is on his side and nothing else matters. Victory belongs to the faithful. When Assyria starts making fun of God and acting like he is simply an idol made by men, it becomes clear that a great defeat is in store for the Assyrians.

Romans 16

Paul plans to go to Jerusalem and then head to Rome. It doesn’t quite work that way for him. What’s interesting is that Paul is writing this book to the people in Rome, the capitol city of the Roman Empire, the most famous persecutor of Christians. The irony is that Paul is asking Romans to pray for him as he goes into Judea, where God’s people live, that he would be safe and protected from persecution. Paul is more afraid of persecution from Jews in Judea than Romans in Rome. His concerns prove to be founded when he appeals to Caesar in order to escape a group of Jews who take an oath to kill him. When he arrives at Rome, he is still controversial, but nobody threatens his life. He preaches in Rome peacefully until his death.

Then Paul concludes his letter with a farewell and greetings, as always.

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

 

Close Enough Worship and Final Thoughts

2 Chronicles 30-31

Israel has been defeated by the Assyrians and many of them have been taken captive. Hezekiah is king over Judah, but many who are left in the northern part of Israel have now joined Judah. When he decrees that all of Judah and Israel are invited to join in the Passover meal, he gets a much better reception in Judah, but some in Israel come as well.

What’s interesting is that in a lot of ways, Israel and Hezekiah don’t do it right. They are taking the Passover a month late. They aren’t all clean and purified for the meal. They are doing their best on short notice, but it’s been so long since they had done this, that things just aren’t coming together and they know it and God knows it. Which leads us to the most interesting part of this passage, when Hezekiah prays that God will pardon those who come to worship him even though they haven’t followed the purification laws. And God does just that.

When it comes to the most important worship experience that Israel had with God, they knowingly did it wrong because the circumstances necessitated it. They asked God for a measure of his grace to see the desire of their hearts and not the disobedience of their hands. God welcomed their worship as it was and overlooked their shortcomings. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of how to worship, but here God is more interested in their desire to worship him and remember him than he is in their detailed obedience. Now if they were being insincere or lazy and made the same decision it would have gone badly, but God recognized their hearts and blessed them.

Romans 15

As Paul approaches the end of the book, he begins putting together his final thoughts. He includes a plea for unity that Christians might praise God with one voice. He further encourages the Jews and Gentiles to recognize that God has called both of them into his Kingdom. Paul compliments his audience and their understanding of the Gospel and then talks about the priority he has given to mission. Paul makes a distinction here that his mission has always been to go and preach in places where no church currently exists. In our church culture we often refer to any Kingdom work outside of the church as “mission work.” Paul seems to draw a distinction between a church doing outreach in their community and the role of a missionary. The church should always be reaching out, serving, and teaching those around them. That’s just being the church. Missions is when the church sends somebody where the church is very weak or non-existent. But in the end, it’s all Kingdom work. And if you are part of God’s Kingdom and not a missionary, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a job to do. It just means you don’t have to do it where nobody else is doing it. You should still be doing the work of God’s Kingdom where you live, work, play and worship.

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

 

New Beginning – The Family Room

2 Chronicles 29:1-36

“Our parents were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the LORD our God and forsook him. They turned their faces away from the LORD’s dwelling place and turned their backs on him.”

In reading today’s reading, I thought a lot about the people I’ve known over the years who’s parents were not the model of what it meant to be a Child of God. They had so many struggles to overcome in their lives and in their Christian walks. Hezekiah presents an answer to this transition of life. When faced with the question of “Do you continue to follow the ways of those who have gone before you or not?” Hezekiah says overhaul it! Completely cleanse everything and start over. Re-look at every aspect of life and worship and purify it. This isn’t a matter of legalistic living. This is a matter of a fresh start at righteousness, to be right in the presence of God.

“King Hezekiah and his officials ordered the Levites to praise the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness and bowed down and worshiped.”

After this time of cleansing they worshiped the LORD with gladness and bowed down and worshiped. The songs of David, the songs we still sing today, were the songs that brought God’s people back into relationship with Him during the time of Hezekiah. So many of the Psalms reflect a time of disconnection from God and then bring brought back into right relationship. Do we have songs that remind us of this? I wonder how these Psalms shaped their lives as they contemplated what they were communicating and where they were in their lives as the Community of God.

Romans 14:1-23

I don’t like this passage. I want everyone to come to the same faith that I have so I don’t have to adapt to people who are weaker than I am. We may not ever verbalize it this way but I have been in many conversations with people that reflect these thoughts. All too often we will get annoyed with someone for having a different view on things than we do. We accuse them of being narrow minded and judgmental but we fail to see that often become the same way when we remove ourselves from fellowshipping with them when there is a difference in practice or understanding of things that are disputable. Often we draw hard lines on things that are disputable and measure fellowship on those beliefs. Paul’s main focus here is that we will “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Paul calls us to view these things from the cross, to become sacrificial for the sake of the unity of the body of Christ. This doesn’t mean that we don’t dialogue about these things. It does mean that we don’t run people off because of how they worship God, because they want to celebrate Christmas (or not celebrate it), or because of how they view eating and drinking. In a way, I think Paul might be encouraging us to not major in the minors but to keep an atmosphere of peace and edification. In short, when we gather together with our Brothers and Sisters, we are gathering in the family room, not the courtroom.

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

 

I Relate to Uzziah and Right Living

2 Chronicles 26-28

I can really relate to King Uzziah. Generally speaking, my life hasn’t unfolded exactly like a prodigal son story. As a teenager I got excited about Bible Bowl (I am also a nerd). In college I studied Bible. And while I have made mistakes (aplenty), I haven’t squandered my inheritance in wild living and found myself living with pigs. If I am not at home I can usually be found working or playing at the church I grew up in. That’s just my story. My struggle often looks more like Uzziah’s.

Uzziah’s reign as King of Judah got off to a good start. The Meunites paid him tribute. He sought the Lord. He rebuilt cities and fortifications. He strengthened the kingdom. He had a strong, organized army. Things were going well. It looked like he would be one of the kings who’s story would end with, “And he followed the ways of his father David and was buried with the kings in Jerusalem.” But it didn’t…because things were going well.

You see, when things are going well, it’s easy to get arrogant and proud. In my life, that usually looks like relying too much on myself and refusing to admit I need God or others. In Uzziah’s life, his pride took him right into the Holy of Holies. He knew that only the descendants of Aaron, the priests were to offer the sacrifices and burn the incense. But when you’re the guy with all the success, you know the best way. The best way is your way. You don’t need eighty priests or Almighty God to tell you that you’re wrong.

But arrogance has a price. For Uzziah it was a leprosy that started on his face and ruined his life. He died and was buried far from the place of honor, because he was a leper, because he was proud. Too bad his success led to pride instead of praise.

Romans 13

This book was written to a new religion that was about to be persecuted by governments who were in power (Rome) and governments who wished they were (Sanhedrin). Paul’s advice: “Don’t pick fights with the government.” In case you missed the irony, Paul is suggesting that we not be in conflict with the authorities. This is the Paul who went to jail and was on trial and get stoned and was beaten and….you get the idea. He didn’t usually get along well with the authorities.

So what’s he saying? I think he is trying to emphasize that Christians aren’t anarchists and they aren’t supposed to be at war with governments. He is encouraging Christians to be model citizens, not troublemakers. Does that mean that every ruler was appointed by God…no. Does it mean that God desires society to be orderly and have leaders…yes. Should Christians do their best to live as good citizens in these societies…yes.

He follows this conversation about being good citizens by emphasizing that Christians should love others and treat them with respect and they will easily live by God’s laws in doing so. On the contrary, don’t look like out of control, partying, lust-filled drunks or addicts. God’s people are to be respected by the communities they live in by looking like Jesus and not like wild people.

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

 

Living Sacrifices and Paul’s Wisdom

Romans 12

Offer your bodies as living sacrifices. Whether you were Roman or Jewish, the new Christian religion without sacrifices is a very foreign idea. In fact, its so foreign that one of the early problems facing the church is where to find meat to eat that hasn’t been offered to false gods. Israel has been offering animal sacrifices to God ever since God disapproved of Cain’s firstfruits. They have entire festivals and traditions built around some of these sacrifices. So when the question comes up, “Hey Paul, what do Christians to about sacrificing stuff?” Paul has a great response. Clearly Christians don’t need animals any more because Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice and there is no need for more. So Paul answers, “offer your body as a living sacrifice.” The word “living” is very important because it could otherwise be interpreted to mean you should kill yourself on an altar.

Paul really does want us to be a sacrifice though. He wants our lives to look as if we had died on the altar and that Christ was now living in us and through us. Because Jesus did give his life as a sacrifice for us, we should willingly live our lives as sacrifices for him. How should we do this? Well Paul explains that God has gifted each one of us uniquely, just as every part of the body has a unique function. If your gifted at giving, then give whole-heatedly. If gifted at preaching and teaching, then do it. If your gift is hospitality, then open your home to others. Regardless, find ways God has gifted you and then give freely and sacrificially of that gift to others. (On a side note, don’t use giftedness as an excuse. God gave you what gifts you have. God calls you where he needs you. So when you get called, don’t tell God what gifts you don’t have to get out of the calling you do have.) Instead, just be a living sacrifice.

Paul then gives several paragraphs of really good advice. If you skimmed over it, go back and read it again. This stuff could be straight out of Proverbs. My personal favorite out of the section is the last bit that reads, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is exactly the lesson we should learn from the cross where Jesus refused to allow all of the evil in the world to discourage or defeat him, but instead overcame all of the evil in this world with good. Now that’s a great example of overcoming evil with good.

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