5x5x5 intro to Matthew

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If you’re on track with our 5x5x5 plan, we have just finished the book of James, and are starting Matthew.  Though we have already read one account of Jesus’ life in the book of Mark, you will find that Matthew’s story is from a different point of view.  Imagine two of your close friends – if an outsider asked each of them to tell your life story, they would probably tell it slightly differently, each highlighting things they thought were important or particularly memorable.  Your life story hasn’t changed, it is simply told from a different perspective!

Matthew was a Jew, 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 book of Matthew is the first in our New testament because it serves 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.

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 parables (Mt 13-25).

As you read and reflect on Matthew here are some ideas to help you discover the riches of this gospel:  Look up some the references to the Old Testament, highlight all of the commands Jesus gives, mark the word “kingdom” as you read, or simply ask the question, “Who is Jesus? What is he like?” and record what you discover in jour journal.

Persevere in your reading!  One chapter a day is not too much!  — Mindy

 

5x5x5 Reading Plan – James

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NT imageWelcome to the book of James!  The book of James is all about how we live as Christians – it’s about “doing”.  Sometimes this book is controversial because of its emphasis on good works, and readers wonder if it contradicts other parts of scripture.  Let me encourage you to see James through the analogy of motion – where there is life, there will be motion.  Movement does not cause life, but it does invariably follow life.  Movement is a sure sign that life is present.  The same is true in the spiritual realm.  Genuine faith in Christ always results in actions that demonstrate faith.  Actions are evidence of faith.

James is a simple preacher, perturbed that people are claiming Christ but are not living right.  His words are easy to understand, but are we doing what he says?  “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says. “ – James 1:22

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Galatians

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Dear 5x5x5 Readers,

We finished reading Hebrews earlier this week, and started reading Galatians.  If you’ve been on vacation this week and not reading regularly (like me!) do not despair, you can catch up quickly by reading the first three chapters of Galatians and then you will be back on track.

I am fascinated by the way our 5x5x5 reading plan has decided which book of the New Testament we read next.  It is not random, but very intentional.  In Acts, we discovered the birth of churches across the Roman empire, and we witnessed the apostles deciding how to best integrate and welcome gentile believers (those without a Jewish heritage and unfamiliar with Jewish cultural practices) to the community of Christians. Then in Hebrews we read Paul’s extensive arguments, directed at Jewish believers, explaining how the old system of the law was improved upon and replaced by the work of Jesus Christ.  We have a new covenant in Christ – for gentiles this was great, they were welcomed into the faith without the drama of having to keep the law; for Jews, this was very confusing, what part of their old way of life and worship should they keep and what should they discard?

And now we read Galatians – a letter from Paul to a group of young churches in the region of Galatia (modern day eastern Turkey).  In his letter to the Galatians Paul is angry and offers a short, withering blast without his usual warmth and encouragement.  Why is Paul so upset and shocked?  The churches in Galatia are not a hotbed of sexual immorality and idolatry like the city of Corinth – what have they done to earn this sharp rebuke from Paul?

The Galatians over-emphasized Jewish practices, like the keeping of festival days and circumcision. They also looked down on other people and felt superior to other cultures.  This tendency was a dangerous perversion of the gospel, where trust in human efforts to keep “the law” resulted in earning the acceptance of God.  Paul says NO – salvation is by faith alone, and it does not matter if you are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.  (Galatians was Martin Luther’s favorite book and it is called the “cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation”!  In theme, it closely parallels the book of Romans.)

God’s love is not conditional on how many rules we obey, nor on what cultural circumstances we are born into.  Hallelujah!

Consider this:  Some early Christians, like the people in Galatia, became obsessed with legalism.  Others took Christian reform and freedom too far by refusing to follow anyone’s rules.  Which is the greater danger in your current community?

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Hebrews

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Dear 5x5x5 Readers,

This week we will finish reading the book of Acts, and we will start reading Hebrews.  In Acts you discovered the historical framework for the spread of the gospel and the birth of churches throughout the Roman empire.  Also, now you know that new converts to Christianity were being thrown out of synagogues, tossed in jail, and even tortured.  Was faith in Jesus Christ worth the risk?

Hebrews was written to give those who had heard the gospel, especially Jews, a compelling reason why they should choose Christianity over the familiar and politically-safe routines of Judaism.  For the sake of Jewish readers, the author painstakingly cites Old Testament passages (more than 80 times!) to develop the case for Christ like a lawyer.  Point by point, the author of Hebrews shows how Christ improved on the traditional old-covenant Judaism.

As you read, watch for words like in the past/former and better/superior and you will see how Jesus Christ brought a new and better covenant to replace many of the laws of the old covenant.

Here is a link to a digital copy of Matthew Henry’s concise commentary, which might be helpful in Hebrews. http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/hebrews/

Keep up the good reading!  – Mindy

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Acts

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Dear 5x5x5 Readers,

Congratulations, you made it through the book of Mark!  Studies show that it takes three weeks to establish a new habit, so I hope that by now you have a regular time and place for your reading and prayer time!  Personally, I sit in a big chair in my bedroom at 6 AM every morning, sipping on my coffee and taking a moment to read and pour out my heart to the Lord.

We start the book of Acts today.  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.

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!

As you read Acts, try to create a character profile of the new church… What is it like?  What do its people do?  How are they strong?  Weak?  How are they like (or unlike) our church today?

5x5x5 Reading Plan Welcome

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[originally posted Jan 9, 2017]

Dear 5x5x5 Bible Readers,

Wow!  300+ people from our church body have committed to reading through the New Testament this year using the Discipleship Journal 5x5x5 plan.  (Also available on the You Version app.)  I am so excited to take this challenge together, you’ll have many people to talk to about what you’re reading!

Our reading plan starts in the gospel of Mark.  Mark was written to a non-Jewish audience and was a book for people who were not acquainted with Jesus or Christianity.  Mark’s goal is to introduce you to Jesus and the book is loosely chronological and reads easily like a newspaper.  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)… Mark’s characters are “amazed”, “astonished”, and “terrified”… He would have written in all caps with lots of exclamation points today!

I’d like to encourage you to Read regularly – but also to Reflect, Record, Respond, & Repeat (all the good R words from Sunday’s sermon!).

Sometimes it helps to read with a question in mind – In the book of Mark I am asking, “Who is Jesus?  What can I learn about his character, his power, his mission, and how he interacts with people?”

Five minutes a day – let the Word change your life!  Make a new habit!  Courage to you all.

 

365 Challenge – Revelation

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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