Entries tagged with “Bible”.


What is your deepest fear? We all fear something, tripping while on stage, having food in your teeth, or appearing over eager.  Fear is a normal part of life, but how we react to that fear says much about who we are.  In his newest book, Fearless, Max Lucado has this to say about how we handle fear (pg 5):

Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into prison and slams the doors.

Wouldn’t it be great to walk out?

Yes.  It would be great not to be imprisoned by fear.  This book actually came at a pretty good time – we are in the final stages of buying a house and it has been a nightmare.  Our fears are that we would end up homeless for a short period of time or lose the house and have to find a place to move into mid-month.  Yes, I still am anxious about this problem, but Fearless helped me regain some perspective.

This is another great Lucado book that provides direct application to your life and provides lasting value.  He doesn’t resort to simple platitudes but embraces his own fears while providing opportunities for growth.  Ok, he does throw in a few one-liners that we all probably know, but they felt genuine and thoughtful.  Lucado talks about a variety of different fears that we might be facing.  He develops a case for why we shouldn’t be afraid of those things or how we can see God’s provision through them.

Many people think Christians and Christianity mean a perfect life with nothing bad ever happening.  He quickly puts that to rest with this quote on page 8:

Christ-followers contract malaria, bury children, and battle addictions, and, as a result, face fears. It’s not the absence of storms that sets us apart. It’s whom we discover in the storm: an unstirred Christ.

We face storms in our life.

Like most of his other books, Fearless, provides a section in the back for small group discussion or personal reflection.  My copy of the book from Thomas Nelson also included a shorter version of the book called, Imagine Your Life Without Fear, which also happens to be the subtitle of the book.

I’ll end with this great quote (pg 177):

There’s a stampede of fear out there. Let’s not get caught in it. Let’s be among those who stay calm. Let’s recognize danger but not be overwhelmed. Acknowledge threats but refuse to be defined by them. Let others breathe the polluted air of anxiety, not us. Let’s be numbered among those who hear a different voice, God’s. Enough of these shouts of despair, wails of doom. Why pay heed to the doomsdayer on Wall Street or the purveyor of gloom in the newspaper? We will incline our ears elsewhere: upward. We will turn to our Maker, and because we do, we will fear less.

Do not fear.

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Hosea the prophet, Russian icon from first qua...
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As Seward Church continues its journey through the 66 books of the Bible we found ourselves learning about the interesting life of Hosea.  If you aren’t familiar with this story, it is quite intriguing as Hosea is told by God to marry a woman who would cheat on him, multiple times.

Usually with this story you hear that Hosea was told to marry a prostitute.  But Tim tried to clarify that Gomer isn’t a prostitute at the beginning of the story.   Hosea 1:2 says:

the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.”

So she was probably born out of wedlock herself and had some issues that made it likely she would be unfaithful.   Her name does make you laugh though.  Who would name their kid Gomer? The language in chapter 1 clearly indicates that only 1 of the 3 children actually came from Hosea.

In Chapter 3 God tells Hosea that he needs to go find his wife, who now is a slave prostitute and buy her back.  Can you imagine having to go pay a pimp to purchase your own wife back?  God says that this is a depiction of His love for us.   2:5 gives us a little insight into what Gomer was after – she was after material things that became so important to her that she would do anything to get them.

She placed those things above everything else and was willing to sell out to get them.  Does that sound familar? She began to idolize those things and then slowly that idolatry overcame her.  Often our sin begins as love, which can be healthy, but as it turns into idolatry we begin to displace God from His throne and worship the wrong thing.

Part of the problem is that we begin to define what it is that is loving for us instead of letting God define love. We don’t accept God’s love because it isn’t what we want. This leads us to create rules that will enable us to deserve that love and try to hide or change who we are.  We decide that if God (or another person) loves us they will provide this or that.  It would be like saying, “if you love me you’ll give me $1,000.” But maybe I want to express my love for you by strolling down the beach together.

As we begin to idolize things in our life, we start to lose perspective and slowly become enslaved to that which we idolize.  We become enslaved to our desires.  It becomes a slave-master relationship (2:12).

But there is GOOD NEWS! God says there will be a time when we will no longer be enslaved to our sins and we will no longer call Him, Master – but Husband. That is a huge relational shift.  Death will no longer reign, but life (13:14).  We will find freedom through Christ’s sacrifice.  You see we are enslaved to our sinful desires, but God sent His son Jesus to pay for our sin – through His death.  And by His resurrection, we are raised up as heirs in the Kingdom of God.

This payment (redemption) and the resurrection wipe our past clean. There is nothing that we’ve done that He can’t undo.  Just as Hosea accepted back the wayward Gomer, God will take us even as bastard children.

Isn’t that exciting?

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Lamentation of the solitude
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It has been awhile since I’ve written about one of the messages from Seward Church.  This week’s message was about the tough book of Lamentations.  Tough because it deals with the topic of suffering, but we know how the story ends – with the grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Lamentations is generally thought of as a book of laments or sorrowful writings.  It tells a story of great pain and suffering.  We don’t like that because we really don’t want to suffer in our lives and if the Bible talks about it, then there is probably a good chance of it happening in our life – especially if there is a whole book devoted to it.  This should actually be reassuring to us as well though, because the Bible is willing to take on the hard issues of life that face us each and every day.

Tim offered some intriguing literary notes to about the book’s structure.  In the original Hebrew the book is written as an acrostic poem that repeats itself in each chapter.  The precision and structure took a lot of work and adds to the overall power of the book.  Wikipedia describes its structure:

The first four poems (chapters) are acrostics, like some of the Psalms (25, 34, 37, 119), i.e., each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth have each twenty-two verses, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth is not acrostic, but also has twenty-two verses.

One of the most important points to  remember about suffering is that ultimately it is not eternal.  It is only for a finite time.  Yes the time might be your entire life, but it will end.  We may suffer alone, but we don’t have to (1:12).  Suffering can be processed through the community.  We should be willing to walk through each part of the suffering process together.  We ALL suffer and we can encourage each other.  As a community we can make sure that we don’t short-circuit the process but that we genuinely take each step towards peace and wholeness together.

Lamentations 3:22-33 (The Message) is a great passage:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
in throwing roadblocks in the way:

Until you get to the last 2 verses which seemingly contradict each other.  Suffering sometimes is a result of sin. We are often rebelling against God and His “rules” or desires for our life. We often tell God that we don’t need His help in this or that area of our life.  We need to stop putting ourselves in the way (ie stop sinning) but since that isn’t ever possible we will have suffering (punishment).  Have you stopped and thought about the suffering in your life?

We often try to hide the pain in our life – saying “everything is fine” or something similar without truly embracing or accepting that things aren’t fine.  Our lives are a mess.  It is ok.  My life is a mess – just like yours.  Did you know that Jesus, when He died, experienced the worst pain/suffering imaginable?  For those 3 days he was dead, God actually turned His back on His beloved son.  Jesus accepted that responsibility so we wouldn’t have to.

At the time Lamentations was written, everything that the Israelites thought was important to God was destroyed. God never expected the Temple to last forever, from the beginning He knew about Jesus.  But think how that might mess with the minds of the Israelites.  Yet, at the end of the day “I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.” (Lamentations 3:24)

None of us (as Christians) have been infinitely abandoned by God.  Jesus alone stood abandoned, infinitely, bearing God’s wrath for us.  We are broken A-Z as deep and wide as the sea.  However, God loves us too much to be indifferent to our desire to be our own God.  He wants us to be blessed immensely, but like any good father provides discipline to help us understand the correct path.

We must rest in the promise that through Jesus’ suffering we won’t suffer forever, but will one day rejoice in the faithfulness of God and His great mercy.

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Meditation
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Friday night David shared from the Old Testament book Nehemiah at Seward Church.  His focus was again on the community found within the Biblical story.

As a community the people listened attentively to Ezra’s reading of the Law (Neh 8:1-3). As a result of hearing the Law the people were grieved for their sin and as a result are making a covenant together to focus on pleasing God – through the law. (Neh 9:38)

I had a little trouble following David this week, but even though the Israelites were very focused on works-based salvation through the law – God had already offered them His radical love and salvation.  Even before they deserved it.  9:9-11 and 9:13

One of the purposes of the law is to create a community.  Whenever one person in the community suffers – the whole community suffers.  When we have an unraveling in our lives it is because our relationship with God is unravelling.  This too can have a negative impact on the community of believers.  Hearing the Word of God stirs something within us – as it did many times throughout the Old Testament stories.  Together and with the Holy Spirit’s help we can live together in community and carry each other’s burdens.  God doesn’t forsake us (9:17) even though we are all sinners (9:27,30) God has enduring patience and mercy.

David’s final point was that we should all continue to PRESS ON TOGETHER with Christ as our center.  Look at last week’s message to see more about God’s community.

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It took me awhile to get through All About Jesus, more because of my schedule than because the book is bad. Actually it is a good synthesis of the known story of Jesus.  It’s subtitle says “The Single Story from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Taking all four of the Gospel books and compiling it into one seamless story-line isn’t an easy task. The compiler, Roger Quy, did an excellent job of sticking to the texts. He used the New International Readers Version which I had never heard of as his primary text.  The NIrV has this to say about itself:

The NIrV was designed to make the Bible clear and understandable to early readers and can be read by a typical fourth grader. For this reason, it is also of value to the millions for whom English is a second language. It intends to be distinguished by five fundamental characteristics—readability, understandability, compatibility with the NIV, reliability, and trustworthiness. It serves as a natural stepping-stone to the NIV when the time is right.

This book doesn’t read like a novel. I kept wanting it to be like a John Grisham or Tom Clancy novel with smooth transitions and story-line. But I realized that the only way that would be possible is by adding to the story which would take away from the compiler’s primary goal of capturing the authentic story of Christ’s life. I’m not sure if a different version would have improved this area or not. The Message paraphrase could potentially make for an easier to follow story but as a paraphrase would lose some of the “inerrancy” of the story. I’m by no means a Biblical scholar so I assume their time line is accurate.

A few times the story repeated itself – in keeping with the original text they sacrificed smoothness to keep sections together. For example on page 200 and 201 it says this:

Herod and his soldiers laughed at him and made fun of him. They dressed him in a beautiful robe. Then they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends. Before this time they had been enemies…. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him whipped. The soldiers twisted thorns together to make a crown.  They put it on Jesus’ head. Then they put a purple robe on him.  They went up to him again and again. They kept saying, “We honor you, king of the Jews!” And they hit him in the face.

And again on page 205:

The governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the palace, which was called the Praetorium.  All the rest of the soldiers gathered around him. They took of his clothes and put a purple robe on him. Then they twisted thorns together to make a crown. They placed it on his head. They put a stick in his right hand. Then they fell on their knees in front of him and made fun of him. “We honor you, king of the Jews!” They said. They spit on him. They hit him on the head with a stick again and again. They fell on their knees and pretended to honor him.

This is actually the only book of this type that I’ve read so I appreciate their effort. At the end of the introduction is this statement of purpose:

This book is meant for those who would like to find out more about Jesus. It is ideal for someone who is new to the Bible. Readers who already know the Bible may find that it helps them learn more about the life and message of Jesus.

I’m not completely sure if he accomplished this goal or not.  Obviously there were new things that jumped out at me this time, but that is the same with every Biblical story and even great novels.  I think if I was wanting to introduce someone to Jesus I would probably recommend reading the Book of Mark in The Message paraphrase before recommending this book.

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Much was written in the Gospels about the connection between Jesus and David.  He was called the Son of David several times and the geneology says he was the son of Abraham and the son of David.  Thus David must be an important character in the Old Testament.  So it is no surprise that a lot was written about him, specifically in 2nd SamuelTim chose a section from the book that I’m sure we are all  familiar with – Chapters 11 & 12.  If you can’t recall the topic, one word will suffice to remind you – Bathsheba.

You might recall that David was enjoying the view from his rooftop when he spotted a beautiful woman bathing across the way.  He quickly sent his staff to inquire about her.  I had never realized the importance of the characters in the story:

* Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) was one of the top 37 soldiers (mercenaries) out of millions of soliders

* Eliam (Bathsheba’s dad) was another of the top 37.

* Bathsheba’s grandpa was actually a top advisor to David

I think the point here is that David knew the family surrounding this  “beautiful woman.”  This should have been a second opportunity for him to realize the folly of his desires.  In this chapter alone David broke at least 7 of the 10 commandments.  To finish the story recap David slept with Bathsheba, got her pregnant, brought Uriah home to try to pretend like it was his doing, and killed Uriah – who had too much honor and integrity to indulge himself while his comrades were suffering in a war.

It is a little ironic that while David, God’s chosen, was full of deciet and lies that this Hittite or foreigner, would have such high honor and integrity.

In 12:1-7 we see that David has the moral capacity has Nathan tells him a story and David is very angred.  This is a demonstration that we have the moral capacity but that we don’t neccessarily act morally. We like David often pronouce strong judgments on our immoral actions (Romans 2:1 and Genesis 3:4-5).  But it is our actions that slowly erode our moral compass.  Like Romans 1:18 says we “suppress the truth by our wickedness.”

We watch ourselves sin, know it is wrong, and then judge ourselves.  Sadly, a new moral compass won’t help.  Many today just thing we need to fix the compass or try some new programs to reteach morality – it won’t work.  It is actually also part of the problem.  We love to sin but don’t like to face the consequence – death. Fortunately we have a Savior who died so that we wouldn’t have to.

Who is most like Jesus? In this story who is most like Jesus?  Is it David? Uriah? Bathsheba? or Nathan (he confronted David about his sin)?

It is actually Uriah, he shows us the suffering side of Jesus.

  • Uriah refused to take the easy path, enjoying life while others suffered.
  • Uriah refused to have his feet washed, instead staying with the servants/body guards – Jesus washed feet as a servant
  • Jesus kissed Judas as He was being betrayed – Uriah honored David by staying with the servants/body guards.
  • Jesus was betrayed by one close to Him Uriah was betrayed by the whom he served
  • Uriah made the right decisions
  • David used someone else, war to kill Uriah.  The Jews used Roman law to have Jesus killed.

Are we willing to admit that we are morally bankrupt and in need of a Savior? It is hard to say that we are screwed up and don’t know right from wrong in the depths of our heart.  We need Jesus’ help to make sure we avoid temptations.

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A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church Sa...
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Once upon a time it was easy to think that America was almost 100% Christian.  Even with our diverse immigrant population a large majority of the country espoused some type of Christian faith.  Even if you didn’t attend church on a regular basis, you probably claimed to be a Christian.  We all know the C & E people – Christmas and Easter.

Even in politics almost everyone claims to have some Christian experience, often maybe just a grandparent who went to church.  In many parts of the country you at least attended church for the social benefits.  Well Barna recently released some new information that shouldn’t be too startling.

The study discovered that half of all adults now contend that Christianity is just one of many options that Americans choose from and that a huge majority of adults pick and choose what they believe rather than adopt a church or denomination’s slate of beliefs.

The research also indicated that more and more individuals are less-willing to accept the dictates of any one deonomination but are more likely to take an a la carte approach.

By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church. Although born again Christians were among the segments least likely to adopt the a la carte approach to beliefs, a considerable majority even of born again adults (61%) has taken that route. Leading the charge in the move to customize one’s package of beliefs are people under the age of 25, among whom more than four out of five (82%) said they develop their own combination of beliefs rather than adopt a set proposed by a church.

I would lump myself into that category. I don’t neccessarily agree with all of any one denomination’s perspectives or opinions, but attempt to find a balance of what the Bible teaches.  There are obviously some problems to this trend and Barna noted two:

Growing numbers of people now serve as their own theologian-in-residence. One consequence is that Americans are embracing an unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs. Barna pointed out, as examples, that millions of people who consider themselves to be Christian now believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the lessons it teaches at the same time that they believe Jesus Christ sinned. Millions also contend that they will experience eternal salvation because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior, but also believe that a person can do enough good works to earn eternal salvation.

Obviously attending an evangelical college and getting some training in the Bible is helpful in shaping my personal beliefs, but I am sure that at some point my beliefs will err from Biblical teaching. That is when my fellow believers can lovingly correct me.  Every believer needs to be a part of a Christian fellowship. This doesn’t mean that they have to attend church on Sunday morning/evening and Wendsday night service, but it does require some form of fellowship where you can be taught by more experienced teachers and live and explore the Bible together.

Would you agree with Barna’s research? Where are you at on this issue?

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