365 Challenge – Revelation

Standard

Dear 365 Readers –

The end is near!  How fantastic that we are scheduled to start reading the book of Revelation on Christmas Day.  Revelation is a book of HOPE, a strong word of encouragement for its original recipients and for us today.  Revelation is a reminder that, no matter how things look, God is in charge of history and good will ultimately triumph!

The apostle John wrote Revelation approximately 60 years after Jesus left the earth.  Many questions troubled the church – Was Jesus coming back? Where had He gone? To do what? Why didn’t He return immediately?  After the fall of Jerusalem Christians were scattered throughout the Roman empire and many were persecuted and distressed.  Revelation gives them (and us) hope.

The symbolism in Revelation is complex, so much so that people today can rarely agree what it all means.  Readers tend to fall into two categories:  Some people think that many of the predictions in Revelation have not yet been fulfilled, and will be fulfilled sometime in the future.  (The Left Behind series interprets Revelation in this way.)  Others explain Revelation in terms of the first century, concluding that many events prophesied have already taken place during the time of the Roman empire.  In either case, the end of the story is the same – Jesus Christ will return triumphant over all the evil in the universe!  For this reason we have hope.

Merry Christmas to you all!  As we approach the new year I’ll send out our reading plan for 2017.

Cheers!  Mindy

365 Challenge – Epistles

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

As you have finished the book of Acts, you now have a historical framework for the spread of the gospel and the birth of churches throughout the Roman empire.  The remaining books of the New Testament are letters from various apostles and church leaders to these young, growing churches who needed encouragement and guidance on theology, congregation management, social issues, and a variety of other topics.  We start reading in Romans on Thanksgiving day (11/24).

Many of these letters to the churches, also called epistles, were written by Paul (Romans through Philemon).  Paul’s letters are typically split into two halves: the first is primarily doctrinal and often clarifies a theological misunderstanding a congregation was struggling with, the second half is usually very practical guidance on how to live like a Jesus follower in the first century environment.

Other epistles were written by James, Peter, and John and they each have their own writing style and favorite topics.  I will not be writing an introduction for you to each epistle… Instead, I would encourage you to pause for a moment at each new letter and figure out who is writing, who is the audience, and what is the historical context of this church (you can always check back in Acts for background information).

I will write again as we start Revelation on Christmas Eve!  Stay strong and in the Word, the end is in sight!

365 Challenge – Acts

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

The New Testament divides neatly into two nearly equal sections.  The first consists of four gospels that tell about Jesus’ life on earth.  The second, beginning with Romans, concerns the churches that sprang up after Jesus left.  In between stands the book of Acts. If you are reading the 365 Bible challenge with us, you started Acts this past weekend.

Acts gives us the transition from the life of Christ to the new church.  It introduces Paul and explains how a minority religion crossed the sea to Rome, the capital of the ruling empire.  The reader of Acts will visit key cities sprinkled throughout the Mediterranean, meet the principle leaders of a new movement, and get a taste of the types of problems the will preoccupy early churches.

The book opens in Jerusalem, during the Pentecost holiday.  Jesus’ last recorded words on earth are in Acts 1:8 “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts faithfully follows this outline:  The first seven chapters show the church in Jerusalem, the next five chapters are in Judea and Samaria, and the remainder of the book follows the spread of the gospel to the outposts of the Roman empire.  mapcitiesinacts

In Acts you will meet Peter and Paul, read a series of 18 speeches, and encounter all kinds of exciting events like riots, prison breaks, and shipwrecks.  It reads like a novel, wherever the disciples went the action swirled.  If you can, try to link visits to each city with later letters written to the church in that city.  It’s interesting!

365 Challenge – John

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

Tomorrow (11/1) we start in the book of John.  John’s gospel is entirely different than the other three we have read so far.  Remember this, John is not primarily interested in relating the events of Jesus’s life.  He presumes his readers are already familiar with Jesus.  John tells us nothing of the birth of Christ or his youth.  He is introduced as the adult Son of God.

Instead of narrating events, John is focused on explaining the profound meaning of what Jesus’ teachings and actions. John selected stories from approximately twenty days in Jesus’ life, and arranged them to reveal to us a Messiah with a mission.  John chose seven signs (or miracles) and built his story around them, explaining clearly the meaning and significance of each event.

As you read John, consider carefully who Jesus is talking to in each instance.  He treats each audience differently and it is worth noting if He’s talking to the disciples, his opponents, or a large crowd.  It’s best to read John in sections – follow the sectional headings in your Bible and read both the event and the commentary on the event as a unit.  John is telling each story for a reason.

Enjoy!

365 Challenge – Luke

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

There are four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and frequently we lump them all together.  I am certainly guilty of this!  However, it is fascinating to consider how each author chose a different style and emphasis for a different audience.  We start reading Luke tomorrow (10/21).

Luke probably did not know Jesus personally as he was not one of the twelve disciples, but he was a dedicated early convert and he accompanied the apostle Paul on missionary trips.  As Luke mentions in his opening paragraph, he felt the need to research eyewitness accounts and to write an orderly documentation of the life of Christ.  His book shows thoroughness and detail, starting with before Jesus’ birth and ending after His ascension into heaven.

If Matthew was focused on tying together key points and sermons as they related to Jewish audiences and history, and Mark was a gospel of action for non-Jewish readers, then Luke could be considered the gospel of relationships.  Luke notes many different ethnic, religious, and social groups and how they respond to Jesus, and he provides excellent character descriptions.  Additionally, there are two large sections in Luke not found in other gospels:  Chapters 1-2 on the birth of Jesus, and chapters 10-19 containing some of the most famous parables and teachings of Jesus.

Enjoy!

365 Challenge – Mark

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

As you may know, there are four gospels and each tells the story of Jesus’ life – but in a  different style, for different audience, with differing focal points.  Matthew was written for Jews, and served to tie the New Testament to the story and promises of the Old Testament.  Mark’s gospel is entirely different.

Mark was written to a non-Jewish audience (maybe the Romans?) and was probably a missionary style book for people who were not acquainted with Jesus or Christianity.  Mark doesn’t quote the Old Testament much, never mentions the Law, and doesn’t record many speeches or parables.  Mark is more like a concisely edited documentary film script… It is full of action verbs like “at once” and “immediately” (42 times)… Characters rush from place to place and action sequences are spliced together in a way that almost defies organizational structure.  Mark’s characters are “amazed”, “astonished”, and “terrified”… He would have written in all caps with lots of exclamation points today!

You will not need special instructions for reading Mark, it is loosely chronological and reads easily like a newspaper.  Enjoy!

365 Challenge – Matthew

Standard

Dear 365 Readers,

Congratulations, today (9/28) we start reading in the New Testament!

Matthew, one of the four gospels we will read, is the first book of the New Testament because it serves as a bridge from the Old to New Testament.  From the very first sentence Matthew makes it clear, he is connecting Jesus’ arrival with the Old Testament story line… a story that begins back with Abraham, Moses, the people of Israel, and a line of kings.

Matthew was a Jew himself, a tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus.  He writes to a Jewish audience using metaphors and references they would be familiar with.  In fact, Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament author.

The Jews had been waiting thousands of years for a Messiah, a King – but Jesus and His kingdom were completely different from what the Jews expected.  We learn more about the King (Jesus) and the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s collection of Jesus’ teachings including the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), Jesus’ interaction with people, and the majority of the parables (Mt 13-25).  If you’re curious about the Kingdom of God, highlight the word “kingdom” as you read through Matthew!