365 Challenge – Lamentations & Ezekiel

Standard

Dear 365 readers – Wee start Lamentations tomorrow, and Ezekiel shortly thereafter!

Lamentations – A five stanza song of lament, a time of weeping and grief.  Beloved Jerusalem has been destroyed, its buildings burned to the ground, and its people carried off into exile in Babylon.  The author, presumably Jeremiah, seems astonished and stunned that God would allow His people to endure such suffering.  From Lamentations we learn that mourning is ok, there is a time and place for grief.  And yet, in the end the author clings to a quiet hope in the character of God, that “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23)

Ezekiel was a prophet who was in Jerusalem prior to its destruction, and then went into exile in Babylon in one of the early waves of people who were deported (along with the prophet Daniel).  Ezekiel becomes the messenger to captives in Babylon.  It’s a strange book – full of imagery and visions.  As you come to each prophecy, consider the dominant image (prostitute, grapevine, shaved head…) and consider what it represents.  Also watch for the repeated phrase, “Then they will know that I am the Lord”.  Ezekiel closes with hope, there will be a new Jerusalem one day and God will make His home there forever.

Courage friends, this is perhaps the darkest period of the history of Israel.  God’s punishment on them for their sin is heavy, and yet He has a plan to restore and renew.  May we be encouraged by His faithfulness and unfailing love!

365 Challenge – Jeremiah

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

I am still marveling at the content of Isaiah… chapters 40-66 might be some of my favorite in the whole Bible.  It’s incredible to think Isaiah wrote all the passages about the exile and return of Israel, the coming of Jesus Christ, and the new heaven and new earth so long before any of those things came to pass (or haven’t happened yet!).  We are also personally grateful for Isaiah 56:6-7 and 66:19-21 where Isaiah shares that the gospel will be for ALL peoples of ALL nations. So fantastic!

Jeremiah spoke (or wrote) in the time period just after Isaiah was put to death.  For more than 40 years he delivered a warning to top officials that they did not want to hear and refused to heed.  The destruction of Judah was coming, and no one wanted to listen to the truth.

For me, the interesting character is Jeremiah.  He was a reluctant prophet, insecure, unhappy, afraid of ridicule and death.  He hated standing alone against the crowd.  He was moody, and he felt unprepared and incapable of the task God called him to.  And yet Jeremiah obeyed – he is one of the best examples in the Bible of what it means to follow God in spite of everything.

You can re-read 2 Kings 23-25 to understand the period when Jeremiah was speaking.  Unfortunately his messages are not chronological, so you might need to watch for the names of kings in order to keep it all straight.  And finally, one chapter of special note – chapter 31 is God’s promise of restoration and a new covenant.

365 Challenge – Isaiah

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

Tomorrow (7/16) we start reading in Isaiah.  Isaiah was a prophet – a preacher, poet, and politician.  He was an advisor to the kings of Judah (the southern kingdom after the split) for some 60 years, outlasting four kings until finally wicked King Manasseh had him killed.  He is a giant of Jewish history, often called the Shakespeare of Hebrew literature.  The book of Isaiah is quoted more in the New Testament than all the other prophets combined, and no other Biblical author can match Isaiah for his rich vocabulary and imagery!

When Isaiah began speaking the nation of Judah seemed strong and wealthy, but Isaiah saw signs of danger.  People used their power to harass the poor.  Men went around drunk, and women cared more about their clothes than about their neighbor’s hunger.  People kept up the outward appearance of religion but did little more.  Outside of Judah’s borders other nations, like Egypt and Assyria and later Babylon, grew strong and dangerous.

Though he was an advisor to kings, Isaiah spoke the cold, hard truth and warned of disaster to come.  From chapter one on the question is asked, “Why do you persist in rebellion?!” (1:5)  As you read this collection of Isaiah’s sermons and warnings, watch for these things:

What are the sins the people have committed?  (watch for the “woes”)

What judgments are rendered?

What promises and future hopes are mentioned? (watch for prophecies of the savior to come)

Watch also for “the Spirit of the Lord” (at least 10x) and see what you discover!

— Mindy

365 Challenge – Ecclesiastes & SOS

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

We start Ecclesiastes today – it’s a bit tricky and a potentially depressing read, so let’s consider the context:

Ecclesiastes was likely written by King Solomon – the last king of united Israel and David’s son, a ruler who had tremendous wealth, power, wisdom, and everything else he ever wanted.  In this book he details his quest for meaning in life through wealth, power, pleasure, riches, labor, and more.  He discovers that the pursuit of all these things is “meaningless” and “chasing after the wind”.  You could summarize his whole life in Jesus’ one statement, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world and yet forfeits his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

The positive message, the lesson of Ecclesiastes is found at the end of the book, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl 12:13)  As you read consider how the world we live in today encourages the pursuit of so many things that have no eternal value… What did Solomon conclude?  Consider how a relationship with God changes our priorities and perspective on things the world values.

This week we’ll also read Song of Solomon, a love song that was perhaps sung at a wedding.  Many people are surprised to find an explicit love song in the Bible, but it is a celebration of pure sensuality without shame, set in the context of a happy marriage. The song is full of metaphors that sound strange to us – “Your hair is like a flock of goats” (4:1) or “Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon” (7:4) – so you  might need to read it with a commentary in hand!

Courage to you, keep reading!  — Mindy

365 Challenge – Proverbs

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

We started Proverbs while I was on vacation, and I hope you have enjoyed reading them!  When I think of the proverbs I think of a big noisy family sitting around the dinner table and I can almost hear grandma (or grandpa) handing out pieces of advice in the form of short little witty sayings… we’re good at snappy sayings and little word pictures here in The South, and that is exactly what the book of Proverbs is all about!  There is more humor in the book of Proverbs than anywhere else in the Bible.

You see, Proverbs simply tells how life works most of the time.  It is wisdom collected over the ages.  People often quote Proverbs as if they were the absolute promises of God or rigorous rules for living, but they are not.  For example, today we read Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  That is general wisdom, good parenting generally produces good kids.  It’s not a promise, as we all know very good parents whose children have chosen other paths.

As you read watch for general principles for wise living, and imagine your grandparents leaning back in their chairs and saying,

“Watch your words and hold your tongue,  you will save yourself a lot of grief.” Proverbs 21:23

Great Book on the Parables

Standard

I’m reading John Macarthur’s new book Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed ParablesThrough the Stories Jesus Told and it’s fantastic!  He does a great job of explaining how to approach a parable so that our interpretation is correct, and then dives into various parables, all within the context of understanding the kingdom of God.  I’ve already learned many l things I did not know, and Macarthur’s mastery of the culture and the timeline of Jesus’ life is outstanding… So I’d like to recommend it to you!  Good summer reading!

365 Challenge – Psalms

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,  Tuesday, June 7th we start reading Psalms!  We’re calling this “The Psalms of Summer” in which we will cover Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon from June 7 to July 15.

If you are just joining us, the reading schedule is here http://mylhumc.net/365-bible and can also be downloaded from the sidebar.

Also we have redone our Facebook discussion group, so you can easily find “Psalms of Summer”, click to attend and then share your thoughts as we read together!  https://www.facebook.com/events/256170971405707/

How to Read the Psalms:

For nearly every mood and emotion, there is a psalm.  It is the longest book in the Bible, compiled by David and other song writers over a period of many years… it’s a bit like a hymnal compiled for temple worship.  It’s interesting to note that the New Testament writers quoted the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament.

As you read the Psalms, consider these things:

  • Do you recognize lyrics from a hymn or modern song? I like to mark a musical note in the margin.
  • What is the character of God as reflected in each song? What do we learn about who He is?  Consider using a blue or purple colored pencil to circle passages that reveal the character of God.
  • What title would you give each psalm? I like to give them my own titles, which I write in the top margin of my Bible – I seem to remember them better that way, instead of trying to remember just their number.
  • And if a psalm in particular strikes your heart, pray it out loud back to the Lord. Often the cries of our hearts are reflected in these ancient worship songs.

Enjoy this change in literature style!  And join our Facebook discussion, I’d like to hear what Psalms resonate with you!  — Mindy