BIBLE IN ONE YEAR – Week 34-36

What do most pastors long for the most, is it money? No, wrong profession. It is for people to return to the Lord.  Beginning in chapter 40 of Ezekiel, during the 25th year of their exile, and continuing to the end of his book, God gives Ezekiel a vision. In that vision, Ezekiel is taken back to Israel and placed on top of a hill. Once there, he views the gates, courts, and the Temple. He also offers the reader significant amounts of detail about the rooms, sizes and dimensions of assorted items, to the point it nearly bores us 21st century readers to tears. The question is, why all the detail? What is its purpose?

The answer is that this is a vision of hope. One day they will return, and, when they do, the re-establishment of a place to worship needs to be at the top of the list. The need to reconnect and reestablish their covenant relationship with God, and with each other, is paramount. It is what nearly every pastor, priest and prophet hopes to see – people faithfully connecting with God. Such detailed description reminds his original audience of their glory days with God, and what is now lost can, but  will be reborn.  What might seem to us as mind numbing detail, is a source of hope that God has not forgotten them, and is planning with great care and intentionality what the new Israel and new relationship will be like. For a people who thought they were forgotten by God, what a source of hope and joy it is to know that they are remembered, and that God has it all planned out about what it will be like when they return to their homeland!

Our readings in Hosea, Joel and Amos take us on similar journeys from judgement, and call us to repentance, and to the reconnection with God. Our readings also remind us of the power of God to put things back together, things that people believe to be hopelessly gone forever, just like the story of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37.

Do you feel at times that God may have forgotten you? Have your past sins and failures made you feel exiled and alone from God and the Church? In what ways is your soul thirsty? Do you believe God can forgive you and has a desire to connect with you? Apart from Daniel, the theme of our readings over the next few weeks is that, despite the great depths of depravity that humankind continues to sink to, God has not washed His hands of us. God’s desire to reconnect with the lost, the forgotten, the exiled, and the powerless, remains, no matter what century it is.

Pastor Kent

 

BIBLE IN ONE YEAR, Week 31-33

In the past, these readings have been the most difficult for me.  Each time I read the Bible from beginning to end, I hit the wall around Jeremiah and Lamentations, and I wonder if there will be any good news coming soon.  The messages contained in these scriptures always seem dark and hopeless, but understandable when you know the context.

As I get older, I appreciate the book of Lamentations more than I did in college.  It is the only poetic book of the Bible that contains key insights into the feelings of grief from beginning to end.  And, as we age, grief seems to come to us on a more frequent basis.  Knowing how to navigate grief becomes an important life lesson.

The author of Lamentations is grieving about the destruction of Jerusalem, and struggles with God as to the meaning of it all.  But he captured beautifully the feelings of abandonment and isolation, as well as raising the unanswerable question of why, and, is this a result of God’s rejection of them?  As the city crumbles and the author’s faith is challenged, he wonders if God will remember them and restore them.  In the end, he can do none other but praise God and continue the conversation with God in hope and faith, because the author realizes that one of the greatest tragedies in life is losing God.  With the loss of God, there is a loss of hope.  Lamentations reminds us that God is the rock in whom we can turn.  So keep reading, because good news is on the way!

Kent

Bible in One Year, Weeks 28 to 30

On the day of my writing, the state of Illinois is still without a budget. Hopefully by the time you have a chance to read this, that will not be the case. I awoke this morning to find that, overnight, there had been two shootings in Springfield; the President has issued a warning to Syria; concerns over the healthcare bills are on every news channel; the verbal rhetoric regarding North Korea had ratcheted up again. It is hard not to get discouraged when you hear such news, and easy to make comparisons to biblical history repeating itself, especially as we read the passages for weeks 28 through 30.

The context of Isaiah’s prophecies and comments can be found in the reading of the book of Kings and Chronicles. As you recall, there were good leaders and bad leaders in alternating succession, which left the people on a spiritual and emotional rollercoaster. It also left the political and religious leaders in a quandary about where to turn, and from whom their hope should reside.
The Northern Kingdom had fallen, and it was only a matter of time before the Southern Kingdom of Judah would follow suit. However, Isaiah’s prophecies were not all doom and gloom. There are truthful messages about unfaithful alliances, but also messages of hope. The reference about making an alliance with Egypt, was tantamount to saying that our God is not sufficient, so we need Egypt’s gods to help get Judah out of their current malaise. This in part is what Isaiah was reacting to when he wrote these words. In addition to that, is the fact that the people’s religious observance were hit or miss, and, although they had the outward form of righteousness in their religious practice, Isaiah complained to God that their inward hearts were far from God. The reality was that the people were consumed by the issues of the day. And, as a result, they had lost hope!

This raises questions again for our day. With whom does our hope reside? Has idealism been relegated to the realm of naïveté? Have we lost our capacity to hope? What role has our relationship with God played in instilling hope?
As you read the last few chapters of Isaiah, it is my prayer that the hope Isaiah had in God and for His nation, will spill over into a hope for us today. With renewed faithfulness comes renewed hope, for the two have always been, and will always be, connected.

Have a hope-filled read. God is able!

Kent

Bible in One Year, Weeks 22 to 24

The next three weeks reading will conclude the direct plotline for a bit, and move the reader through different classifications of literature.  The reader will go from history, through drama, to poetry and wisdom literature.  Ezra and Nehemiah will finish telling the tale of the efforts to re-establish roots in the Promised Land, with all the challenges that go along with it.  From the rebuilding of the Temple and the wall around Jerusalem, to reconvening their worship practices, the people of God were not without opposition.  But, by the faith in God and their own perseverance, they make it.  Then, when it looks as if they’re on the road to recovery, we encounter the book of Esther.  It serves as a kind of transition work between a record of Jewish history, and the Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.

 

The Book of Esther tells the story of a young beautiful Jewish girl who becomes Queen to the King of Persia.  Haman, the villain of the story, tries to rid the kingdom of all the Jews, due to his jealousy of Mordecai, the queen’s cousin, who raised her following the death of her parents.  I will not tell the tale here because I want you to experience this drama for yourself … it is the stuff of Hollywood!  But it’s still read today, and acted out among the Jewish faithful as a drama during the Feast of Purim, since the Book of Esther explains how the festival came to be.  But it is a drama with powerful lines, like when Mordecai tells Queen Esther that she may have come to her royal position for “such a time as this!” (Esther 4:14b)

 

Once again, with things seemingly well once more, the readers jump to the poetry of Job, and find that tragedy strikes again!  Yes, the book of Job is poetry.  Beginning with this unusual scene between God and Satan, the righteous Job gets caught in the middle.  As the poem plays out, these monologs between Job and his “friends” explore the question of, do bad things happen to good people, or do bad things only happen to bad people?  So, the reader will be shifting through various forms of literature, but with one common theme, “How to stay faithful when all the world around us seems to be spiraling out of control!”   These three weeks of reading are not so much on what God may or may not be doing (so don’t focus your attention there), but on how we humans respond to what does happen.  How will Nehemiah respond when his enemies want to keep knocking down the wall?  How will Esther respond to a possible genocide of her people?  How will Job respond when all is taken from him?  How do you respond when tragedy strikes your family?  That is the struggle, when faith and life collide.  Will your faith help you come out on top?

Happy reading.

Kent

 

Week 19-21, Bible in One Year Reading

Do you ever get that gut feeling, I thought I just read that?  Well, in this particular case, the answer is, Yes.  I actually think that the next three weeks of reading will be the hardest.  First of all, 1 Chronicles begins with all those names we just cannot pronounce.  Secondly, it’s about as exciting to read as the phone book!  And, finally, it is a lot of repetition of the subject matter we just covered.  So, let’s see if we can spark some interest and excitement in this section.

 

There will be the temptation to skip over or briefly scan those first few chapters with all the names. But please don’t do that.  Let me explain …  the book of Chronicles, what we call First and Second Chronicles, was previously part of just one book, along with Ezra and Nehemiah.  As a matter of fact, First Chronicles means, “history” or “things.” And Second Chronicles means, “additional things,” or “things skipped over” (in today’s vernacular) from First Chronicles.  These two books do just that, they chronicle the long history of Israel and Judah in a brief and rapid format. But why go through that history all over again?  Well, it’s vitally significant, as it was written following the Babylonian exile (1 Chronicles 9:1). The reestablishment of their people, their history and culture, and the understanding of their lineage is so very important.  So the author speeds through certain sections, giving only brief names or biographies, but then goes to great length to elaborate in other sections, which shows their connection to God, and God’s promises to them.

 

By giving the names, an important statement is being made.  Every name, and every person matters, so much so that they are listed by name and tribe.  If you read through them, you will discover a number of interesting people and events hidden within, and it will cause you to ponder how they got there.  For example, in 1 Chronicles 4:17 the name of Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh, was mentioned because she was marrying into the family. Why was she in there, and what was that all about?  And in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 we find Jabez.  Do you remember a few years ago in Christian churches when the prayer of Jabez was associated with praying for prosperity?  But the true story of Jabez is quite sad, as he was named that for causing his mother great pain during childbirth! “Jabez” means, “causing great pain.” How would you like to live with that name the rest of your life?  It’s no wonder he wanted to rid himself of the name by asking God to please lift him from his misery!  In essence, Jabez was saying, “I don’t want to live in pain, or cause anyone else pain.  I no longer want my name associated with misery, but rather blessing.  Can you do that for me, God?”

 

Thankfully, God lifted him from his misery, and the author is saying that He is doing it again for Israel and Judah as they return from exile.  It is just a verse here, and a name there, but collectively they all matter to the story, and they reflect a truly unique perspective of the author.  So, as you read, you may want to ask yourself, “What does the author choose to highlight, and why?”

 

After you get beyond the list of names, you’ll notice that certain unfavorable stories were left out of the text, especially when you get to Solomon.  Because Chronicles was written by a different author than the book of Kings, or even First and Second Samuel, you are getting a completely unique perspective.  When rebuilding a people, what stories does the author highlight or skip?  In other words, what stories is the author using to shape his people as they move forward, and what words does he mention only in passing?  Please read these stories from that unique perspective, and ask yourself, “If I were telling my family faith history, what stories would I tell?” What stories currently mold you as a family?

 

Blessings and happy reading,

Kent

 

APRIL 2017 – Bible in One Year

Stan Lee in his epic, Spider Man, made famous the quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  That certainly rings true with our Bible reading in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.  Some of the kings used their powers wisely, some others did not.  Two of the most powerful men of that time were David and Solomon.  But the question of what makes someone great is something we need to contemplate as we read these texts.

Scripture tells us that David was a man after God’s own heart.  Why?  Well, we know he was humble.  He really didn’t desire to be king.  He was righteous and had a sense of God’s justice.  Even though God wanted him to be king, he didn’t try to kill the current king, Saul, God’s anointed, to become king.  He wanted to honor God by building a Temple.  He wanted to honor a commitment to Jonathan, King Saul’s son, and went to great lengths to find a distant relative in order to honor that commitment.  He was faithful to God, and, when he made mistakes, he repented of them.  However, besides the story of Goliath, he is probably best known for his sin with Bathsheba.  Once confronted with that sin, he repented.  Even when it tore his family apart, and his beloved son, Absalom, was killed vying for power, he remained faithful to God until death.  That was the key to his greatness, his faithfulness.

Compare that to his son, Solomon, who takes the throne following David.  Here is a man who is the wisest and richest man in world at that time, but died depressed and estranged from God.  It makes us wonder how wise he really was!  He didn’t start out that way.  Once in power, he asked God for wisdom.  God was so pleased that he thought of God’s people first, instead of himself, that God gave him wealth as well.  With his wisdom, he unified a nation, brought justice to the masses, and stability and prosperity to the kingdom.  However, with his power he became selfish, arrogant and indulgent.  No matter how much he had, he wanted more.  He also liked to show off all his wealth and power.  His weakness for women leads him to acquire more wives than anyone can count, and he was led astray by the lure of their foreign gods.  Over time he becomes so consumed by all the pleasures of this world, and of the flesh, he becomes distant from God, and even tries to stop God’s judgement against him.  His life ends away from God, and his kingdom is torn apart after his death.  The kingdoms that follow will have an on-again, off-again relationship with God, much like Solomon’s.  The history of Israel and Judah’s kings becomes a mixed bag of faithfulness and unfaithfulness, with their successes tied to their faithfulness.

So, what makes someone great?  Both were powerful leaders and both were sinners.  But God’s declaration of greatness to David is tied to what?   It appears to be connected to the faithfulness of David.  These texts are trying to show us more than just a historical record of the various kings.  They show us that what makes someone great is not their wealth or their accomplishments, but their faithfulness to God.  This is the greatest thing we can aspire to … not wealth, wisdom, power or fame, but faithfulness to God.

Blessings,

Kent

 

 

MARCH 29, 2017

“The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua, and the elders, who outlived him, and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.  After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel.”

Judges 2:7, 10 NIV

 

In the next few weeks’ readings, the story of the Israelites goes through numerous twists and turns as they discern exactly how to become a unified people, and how to finally govern themselves.  They go through no less than three forms of government in that search.

As Joshua comes to the close of his life, we also come to the end of an era of the patriarchs.  With no apparent successors in place, the people move into a new form of government that is more divided and local, in the form of the judges.  Instead of just one leader, who is both an Earthly ruler as well as an intermediary between God’s people and God, they have a series of judges who are in charge over the various tribes.  Some judges were successful, others were definitely not.

Most were men, but there was one woman who you will want to pay close attention to.  During this timeframe, there is yet another issue running simultaneously with their search for leadership, and with the securing of their promised land … it is mentioned in Judges 2:10. Another generation has now grown up that knows nothing about the great things that happened before.  This further complicates matters for them and for God. And that resulted in several spectacular stories of God’s multiple contacts with various people to move the populace along.

When the era of the judges doesn’t work quite as well as they had planned, the people cry out. But then a third way is proposed … while God offers to be their king, they desire an Earthly king.  So now comes the era of the prophets and the kings.  Prophets connect the people with God, and the king is to try once again to unify a divided populace, all the while running the day-to-day operations of governing.  While this may sound practical at first, you may be wondering why this is even in the Bible. It’s there because it tells a story of the people, their rejection of God, and their desire to be like everyone else, instead of who God wants them to be. This is the tragic part of the story, and it is summed up in the small verse found in Judges 2:10. But, while it may be a small verse, it is probably one of the most powerful, because it describes the reality of their faith story during this time, a generation that didn’t know God.  Now God is trying to reconnect with the people, while at the same time trying to fulfill a promise to those who were no longer seeking Him as they had before … sounds challenging, doesn’t it?

The next few weeks’ readings will have all sorts of exciting stories.  There are military conquests, a female ruler, dramatic callings from God, and stories of the first two kings of Israel who don’t see eye-to-eye.  Underneath it all, is the story of God trying to reconnect with His people, as they try to figure out who they are, and how to navigate through their often busy and conflicted lives.  Does that sound familiar? Learning from these past stories, in what ways is God trying to reconnect with you this Lenten Season?

Blessings,

Kent

 

 

2017 March

In many respects the book of Deuteronomy serves as Moses’ last sermon before their entrance into the Promised Land, a land Moses himself is not allowed to enter.  It contains the core theology and practice of the early faith.  It also contains special admonitions Moses wants them to remember before they cross the Jordan River.

While our readings for the next few weeks contain elements that you have already reviewed, such as the Ten Commandments, they are repeated, not just because they come from a different school of authorship, but also because they emphasize and summarize their story.  Before entering into the Promised Land given to Abraham, they are to remember who they are, what they have been through, how God has remained faithful (despite their unfaithfulness), and what they are about as a people.  Their experiences in Egypt and in the wilderness, are to be formative in their hospitality, and are reminders of God’s faithfulness.  Both Moses and Joshua are concerned, however, that once they enter into the land of promise and begin setting up their households, the people will settle into ordinary life and forget the promises they made to God (in the midst of God fulfilling His promises to them).

But, as you will see, there will be many challenges they must face before that happens.  Their trust in God will be tested many times with each obstacle they face.  So, over the next few weeks of reading, ask yourselves these questions:  As Moses retells the story of who they are and what their core beliefs are, what are the core beliefs you hold that shape and influence your daily life?  How often do you tell and retell the stories of your faith to your family and friends, or even to yourself, so that you don’t lose sight of God during your hectic everyday life, or during the difficult times?  And just how deeply do you trust God?  Telling and retelling others how God has been active in your life will go such a long way in strengthening your faith.  You will not only feel closer to God, and be in a mindset to honor Him more frequently with your praises, but you will also find your trust in God to be more secure when you face rivers that seem impassable, like the wide Jordan River, or imposing walls that look to be  impenetrable,  like the one around Jericho.

Please keep up the faithful reading!

 

Blessings,

Pastor Kent

 

2017 FEBRUARY

Bible in One Year 2017

click on “Bible in One Year 2017” above for a printable PDF copy of the schedule.

 

Bible in One Year Reading Notes from the Pastor

For the first five weeks, readers had a steady diet of a fast-paced narrative, with many twists and turns to the story.  In weeks six through eight, however, the pace slows down quite a bit.  Readers will encounter seemingly endless rules and details, and plans that at times seem difficult to comprehend.  Readers will also encounter a census with names that are almost impossible to pronounce!  There may be a temptation to skip over some of that detail, wondering what it has to do with the story of humankind’s relationship with God.  But I want to encourage you not to do that.  You see, it wasn’t until I became a pastor that I could really appreciate all the detail that goes on behind the scenes to make sure an individual’s faith experience in worship can be all it should be.

Part of the absolute brilliance of this section is that it serves multiple purposes.  First, it forces the reader to slow down and focus on the details.  In a fast-paced life, where we often skip over the details and want to get right to the end, with little thought of what led up to it, it is good for us to stop and pay attention to the props, the costumes, and the set in the play of life … imagine also all those who worked so hard behind the scenes to make it happen!  Secondly, those details show what great care God put into the faith and worship event that the people of God would experience.  These detailed elements of ritual shape the faith of the people of God, and show exactly how they are to live out that faith, even into our modern times.  Some of the most important teachings, such as the year of Jubilee, as well as the Sabbath year, are teachings that still challenge Christians on how we can best live out these ideals, and, if we do, what it would mean for our society today!  Finally, those details not only helped shape the faith of the people of God, but also their nation and identity.  Ritual and tradition play a major role in defining a people.  Just please don’t lose heart in the details.  The plot will pick up again in another week, and it will be filled with all the juicy drama we seem to love so much!  There will be water coming out of rocks, challenges to the authority of Moses from his inner circle about his inter-racial marriage, and even a story about a bronze snake.  So keep up the faithful reading, as there is much more ahead of us.

 

Blessings

Kent

 

2017 JANUARY

Bible in One Year Reading Notes from the Pastor

Imagine, if you will, a young student asking a teacher, “What is God like?” and “How did the world get to be the way that it is?”  Rather than giving direct theological answers, the teacher replies, “Let me tell you a story,” and then begins with Genesis chapter one.

The author of Genesis tells us about God who created us out of love, has great hopes for humankind, and desires to be in relationship with us.  But humans act on their free will.  They disobey God, commit murder, fracture relationships with God and with each other, and even approach God on their own terms.  These are but a few of the stories that try to answer the student’s questions.

Our reading for week one explores all of these themes.  And in the next few weeks we will see God’s continual struggle to relate to humankind.  Starting over, building a relationship with Abraham, entering into a covenant, and finally deciding to give humans yet another chance at redemption, are but a few examples of God reaching out to us.

So, if you get stuck in the details of these early stories of Genesis, and it prompts all sorts of questions, just remember the questions asked by the student, and the reply of the teacher, “Let me tell you a story.”  If you approach life with that frame of mind, you will reconnect with the importance of the scriptures, and the record of God’s hope for you.

Blessings

Kent