October 31 - My Shepherd

Sunday, October 31, 2010

When I opened the mail after returning home, I discovered a notice of another friend's death.  I knew Bill for over twenty years.  He had sold us insurance for our business and was in and out of our office pretty regularly over the years.  He was a terrific man, well-liked in the community and loved by his friends and family.  I knew he had cancer, I knew it wasn't good, but I wasn't prepared for the news of his death.  Are we ever?

I have a friend that tells me I'm getting to the age where deaths of friends are going to come more and more often.  I don't have to like losing people I care about.  I am grateful that I trust in a God who walks with us through that shadow of death.

October 5, 2008 - Psalm 23:1-6

This is probably one of the most familiar and one of the most loved Psalms. I memorized it 35 years ago for my confirmation class, I've heard it spoken and read at numerous funerals, I've recited it during times of distress, I've sung it in varying forms of song. All I have to do is hear the first few words and the entire Psalm opens up before me: "The Lord is my shepherd."

There are three wonderful points to this Psalm.

First, the Lord walks beside us while we live on this earth. He provides for us, he brings us to rest and he offers us righteousness. Secondly, He provides for us in death. The darkness cannot overwhelm us while the rod of the Shepherd is protecting us. Finally, we find ourselves living with the Lord in eternal life. From life to eternal life, the Lord is with us.

David began his life as a shepherd. He was tending his sheep when Samuel came to Jesse's home searching for the future king of Israel. (I Samuel 16:11-13). Kings in the ancient near-East proclaimed themselves as shepherds of their kingdom and the prophecies of the Messiah signified that he would come as a shepherd-king (Isaiah 40:11).

Jesus proclaims Himself as the Shepherd in John, chapter 10 (John 10:1-30). In this beautiful passage, He tells us that 'his sheep follow because they know his voice.' (John 10:4) and that 'the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). Finally, in John 10:27-30, we are told that He knows His sheep and they can never be snatched from His hand.

The comfort from Psalm 23 and the assurance from John 10 reminds me that even though I am a strong-willed woman, there is one Shepherd that I can feel safe in allowing to guide my life.

As you go through your day, imagine the Shepherd walking before you, clearing the way, ensuring that the world knows you belong to Him.

October 30 - Praise the Lord!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This has been a rough week for me emotionally, but as I come to the end of the week I remember that I am loved by the Creator of the Universe.  My response must be to praise and worship Him.

October 31, 2008 - Psalm 150:1-6

Praise the Lord
1. Come up with at least two other descriptive names with which you can praise God!

Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.
2. Praise God ... don't just thank Him, but praise Him for where you are today, whether it's at work or on the road or at home.

Praise him for his acts of power.
3. What has He done in your life lately? Have you given Him praise?

Praise him for his surpassing greatness.
4. What do you idolize? Your God is above all of those things in your life.

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.
5. Find a time when you are alone ... all by yourself ... no one is around. Fling your arms in the air, let yourself be completely vulnerable, express yourself physically and let God know with your entire being how much you adore Him!! Dance before the Lord!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
6. Tonight as you are lying in your bed, concentrate on your breathing. As you take a breath, consider the source of all that you are and all that you have. The Lord God has created this amazing body that you inhabit ... praise Him for your life.

Praise the Lord
7. Praise is commanded and greatly desired by our God. We are nothing without Him and yet we are stingy with our praise and thanksgiving. Be mindful to constantly praise Him for all that He has offered to us ... because He loves us.

October 29 - Psalm 121

Friday, October 29, 2010

It's Friday morning and I slept well last night, knowing that I had finished my Greek midterm.  I felt good when it dropped in the mailbox.  I hate proctored exams.  Well, I hate exams.  I pressure myself into some pretty high expectations and just make myself sick trying to meet them.  I'd forgotten about that - it's been a long time! :) The midterm for my New Testament course was a paper - had to have that in by Sunday at midnight.  My Christian Formation midterm is an essay that I will do next week.  He'll give us the situations on Sunday and we have to have a 6-8 page paper written by Thursday.  It doesn't look like we really have a midterm for the Inductive Bible Study course - just more digging into scripture.  Sounds awful, doesn't it! (hehe)

I am beginning to see Greek words everywhere now.  In fact, the other day, I saw a man's name go past me.  The last name was yap.  Well, in Greek a lower case 'g' looks like a y = γ and a lower case 'r' looks like  p = ρ.  So, I saw 'gar.'  Which means 'for.'  now, that was a long explanation for the fact that I saw that last name and immediately saw the word 'for.'  It's good to have these words beginning to happen naturally in my head.

Today's passage comes from October of 2008 - Psalm 121.  It is so easy to forget that God has things in His control.  It's easy to stumble around ... off the path ... doing things alone.  He's got it.

October 24, 2008 - Psalm 121:1-8

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 119, but I figured that asking you to read that in one day would be tantamount to literary suicide, so I moved past it to Psalm 121, yet another favorite.

The Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120 – 134) were sung as pilgrims approached the city during the Festivals. Psalm 121 is an affirmation of the God who watches over Israel and shelters them from harm.

The Psalmist is looking for security and comfort. He looks to the hills – the hills that surround Jerusalem. Jesus tells us in Mark 13:14 to flee to the mountains. These are natural defenses around Jerusalem. Jesus was speaking of the end times when things would be so awful and the abomination of desolation would become obvious to the world. If you were living in Judea, flee to the hills.

Psalm 121:1 reads as a desire filled with expectation. Psalm 121:2 comes as the fulfillment of that question. In Psalm 121:3-4, we hear the Psalmist’s words as a comfort to one who would be walking and singing this Psalm. How many times does your foot slip when walking on uneven ground. There was no such thing as pavement on the dusty roads leading to Jerusalem.

I found myself walking off the sidewalk yesterday on very uneven ground. Rocks of all sizes and divots in the ground made it difficult to walk quickly. I realized that I had gotten off the sidewalk to allow a group to pass me, but I hadn’t immediately stepped back onto the pavement when they had moved on. As soon as I did, I walked confidently. God will not let your foot slip, though you are on uneven ground.

The Creator who has never been anywhere else but with us, never slumbers nor sleeps. He is constantly watching over Israel. He is constantly watching over us. I felt confident as a child, knowng that my Dad was in the house. He slept with one ear open and always knew what was happening in the house during the night. However, a God that never sleeps brings a sense of incredible safety. Nothing will be missed – even in the dark of the night. I have relied on that sensation through many a night when I've been terrorized over things that happened to me during the day or frightened of events and conversation that would have to happen the next day. God will always protect me.

Psalm 121:5-8 continues the affirmation of God’s protective nature. Thank Him for caring for you so much that He watches your every move.

October 28 - The Kingdom of Heaven

Thursday, October 28, 2010

These last couple of weeks have been intense!  I feel like I've shut down my brain for everything except classwork. I'm hoping that getting through mid-term will allow me to step back on the path of normalcy for a couple of weeks.  Today I take a proctored Greek exam and my head is filled with all sorts of strange information.

In my Inductive Bible Study class we are looking at Matthew 13 this week.  Jesus takes the entire chapter to explain the Kingdom of God in Parables.  Because he is dealing with a crowd of people that don't get it, he ends up telling his disciples that he uses parables because of that reason.  And then when he is with his disciples, he spells things out for them.  I certainly would not have wanted to be on the outside of that group, wondering what in the world he meant when he talked about a sower planting seed in rocky ground, among thorns, etc.  I probably would have thought he was a little odd.  But, then I'm not really a parable person unless I have a good foundation of information. 

In Chapter 13, though, he used very familiar analogies to tell his stories.  People listening to him knew about sowing seed ... they knew about weeds growing up in the wheat field, they used yeast in the home, they would have loved to find a hidden treasure in a field or a pearl of great price, they would have known about sorting the good fish from the bad fish after a fishing net had pulled all of them to shore.  Jesus spoke to the people in a language that they understood.

One of the structural relationships we look for is recurrence.  The words "the kingdom of heaven is like ..." occur over and over in this chapter.  Another idea that continually recurs is that of listening and hearing.  I wonder if he got tired of opening his mouth and having every person that is sitting in the audience look confused as he tried to explain the concept of the kingdom of God to them!  I know there is nothing worse than standing in front of a group of people with words I've spent a great deal of time putting together and realizing that they are all thinking about being somewhere else or thinking about other things or maybe they're even sleeping. 

When Jesus arrived on earth, he brought with him the kingdom of God.  This was the beginning of its fulfillment. This is a huge deal!  More than anything, this was what people needed.  And they still couldn't be bothered to understand.

Jesus finished teaching that day and turned to his disciples to ask, "Have you understood all these things?"  They responded in the affirmative and he said, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the Kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old."

We have been instructed. When Jesus left earth, the Holy Spirit came to teach us, to instruct us.  We know about the kingdom of God.  Our job ... to bring out those treasures and share them with the world. 

October 27 - John 9:1-41

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This week we are working through John 9:1-41 in my Intro to New Testament class.  We will each put our ideas on the forum and then by the end of the week we will have compiled a paper to be turned in to the professor, using all of the information we glean out of these verses.

What a great passage!!!  Here are my thoughts on it:

Muir - John 9:1-41

In this text, Jesus encounters a man who has been blind from birth.  As he heals the man’s blindness, the stage is set for yet another encounter with the Pharisees who have been questioning his methods and had been attempting to kill him for calling God his father ‘making himself equal with God’ (John 5:18).  John shows the division between Jesus and the Pharisees as it increases until it finally climaxes at the crucifixion.

According to John’s chain of events, Jesus had just slipped away from Jews who were trying to stone him after announcing that he was ‘I am’ before Abraham had been born.  The blind man was about to enter history and find himself having to defend himself for a healing he hadn’t expected.

Jesus and his disciples were walking and they questioned him regarding the relationship between sin and blindness.  Jesus changed the question so that he could teach them about light and dark, the spiritual side of blindness and seeing.  Jesus told his disciples that he was the light of the world while he was with them.  Night was coming, but while he was there it was day (John 9:4-5).  He would come back to this spiritual teaching at the end of the chapter.  This introduction and summary seem to encompass the story of the encounters that the blind man has with the Pharisees quite well.

Quite a few questions crop up after the blind man washes the mud from his eyes and can see again.  How did his blindness change his appearance so much that his neighbors no longer recognized him as a healed man? In John 9:7, we read that he ‘came back’ from the pool of Siloam.  Where did Jesus go in that period of time that the man had no idea where he was in verse twelve?  The (formerly) blind man identified him as ‘the man called Jesus.’  How familiar were the people in this area with Jesus?  Was this the first they had heard of him, or had tales of his exploits gone before him?

The fear of the Pharisees and the Jews (by the way, who are these ‘Jews’ that John speaks of and why does everyone seem so afraid of them?) was enough to cause the neighbors to bring the blind man before them.  Was it important to have a healing confirmed?  Would something change for the man because he had been healed, other than the obvious?

The Pharisees first reaction to the man’s story is fury at Jesus. They considered him a sinner for having performed the miracle on a Sabbath.  But, the man could only profess what he knew.  He was blind, but now he saw.  The only reference he had was that Jesus must be a prophet.

Those who didn’t know this man from birth refused to believe that he had ever been blind and called upon the man’s parents.  They confirmed his blindness, but were so afraid of the Jews that they turned the responsibility for his healing back on their son.  There was such a fear of being extricated from the synagogue that they were willing to dishonor their son rather than themselves.  The pattern of shame worked on this family as they were more concerned with following the rules than they were the truth.

The blind man’s mockery of the Jews when he asked if they wanted to become his disciples because they kept pressuring him for more information brought out an accusation meant to shame him into proper behavior.  Being a disciple of Jesus was not honorable in this community.  He was under penalty of death and his teachings were not welcome.  They considered themselves good Jews – they knew Moses was of God, but were unwilling to accept that Jesus might be the Son of God.

Full understanding comes from the most unexpected mouths.  The blind man became the teacher as he proclaimed that sinners would not be able to petition God.  The healing of a blind man was a gift from God and no one but a person who was actually from God could do this great miracle.  The Jews heard his message but refused to acknowledge it and drove him out.

Jesus’ great mercy is shown as he finds the man after he had been driven out of the synagogue.  For all intents and purposes, this man had lost his community.  Jesus presented himself to the man as the Son of Man who believed and worshiped.

John wraps up this story as Jesus continues his teaching regarding spiritual sight and blindness. The arrogance of the Pharisees was a greater sin than healing on a Sabbath.  They refused to believe that they were blind and remained in their sin.  Jesus came to heal blindness – whether physical or spiritual – and he also came to show that those who thought they could see were actually quite blind to the truth he brought.

October 26 - The words of my mouth

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I am madly trying to memorize Greek for a mid-term this week.  I'm fairly certain that this might kill me.  Ok, that's probably overstated, but good heavens, this is a lot of stress for an old lady! :)  And, to top it off, I have to do a close-reading (interpretation with no outside helps) of John 9 for my Intro to New Testament course and a Segment Survey of Matthew 13.  So, my little head might explode by midweek. 

Sometimes I get so caught up in the work that I have to remember why I'm doing this.  My Matthew course professor always reminds us to begin with prayer.  Every assignment list he hands us asks us to remember that.  So, I'll ask you to pray for me this week.  I really am stressing over the Greek.  Pray that I can move the memorization into context.  I know the words, but I'm not putting it all together to make a translation happen smoothly yet.  Pray for my brain to be agile and fresh as I'm working through this.

Psalm 19 is my focus for today - Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight for you are my rock and my redeemer!!!

October 4, 2008 - Psalm 19:1-14

Do you have things in your memory that have no context? I hate it when people quote lines from movies. I recognize the line, but for the life of me, I can't think of what movie it has come from.

My father always opened his sermon with the words, "Let the words of my mouth..." at which point the congregation would respond with, "and the meditations of my heart..." followed by the joint recitation of "be acceptable in your heart, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."

These words were simply a part of my existence each week. It never occurred to me that I might find them in scripture. Ok, I probably thought my father was incredibly creative. Imagine my surprise, when reading the Bible, I discovered the source of that call and response. This Psalm has been special to me ever since.

The entire Psalm is glorious. What an affirmation of the awareness of God in the world. All creation sees His glory. People don't need to wait to be told of the Creator, the heavens declare, the skies proclaim, their voice goes out into all the world. God doesn't need a language to tell of His glory, all creation sings of it. (Read what Paul says about this in Romans 1:18-20.)

The second witness (after creation) to God's power and perfection is the Law. Psalm 19:7-11 lifts up 6 different concepts of the Law: Law/perfect, statutes/trustworthy, precepts/right, commands/radiant, fear of the Lord/pure, ordinances/sure. This highlights more of the beauty of Hebrew poetry in its use of repetition. The Psalmist doesn't want us to have any doubt as to the qualities of God's word, so his use of repetition reinforces over and over what he is saying.

In this Psalm, we find 3 very different ways that God proclaims His presence to the world: in the silent witness of Creation, in the Word of God found through the Law, and finally in the life that is lived by a man walking with God. So unassuming, so natural, yet so very profound.

There's more to these Psalms than you ever realized, isn't there!

Today, focus on how your life is part of the testimony that tells the world about our Creator.

May the words of our mouths,
and the meditations of our hearts
be acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer!

October 25 - Be Still

Monday, October 25, 2010

One of the things I've found while spending time at the cabin is my increasing desire for silence when I study and read and write.  I remember being quite proud of myself in high school when I could watch television and work on homework at the same time.  I always did well on my work, so I was confident that the multi-tasking involved was simply training my brain to accept a great deal of random information all at the same time.  

That was fine for then ... and I don't believe that my brain has gotten any less agile (hush - don't pop my bubble), but I do believe that it is more important to me now to be able to build the information into my brain in such a way that it will be there forever.  Most of the stuff I learned in high school is long since gone. 

I can do some things while watching a television show, but I've also discovered that when I'm listening to music, it has to be a top priority in my mind.  I can't set music aside and do other things that require concentration because my mind insists that the songs I'm hearing are a priority - no matter what style, no matter what song.  Consequently I don't listen to music as much as I'd like because I get way too involved in it and can't get studying done.

Last week, I woke early one morning at the cabin.  The only electrical things that really run up there are the refrigerator and my computer.  Both were quiet at the moment.  I heard silence!  There was nothing going past me on the road, the world was still.  Silence.  I simply reveled in the moment.  

October 11, 2008 - Psalm 46: 1-11

This Psalm has a very familiar verse in it - Psalm 46:10. But, I encourage you to learn the rest of the Psalm - it's beautiful.

You will find the word 'alamoth' in this inscription. While my Bible tosses it aside as 'probably a musical term,' it is generally believed to mean 'sung by virgins' or young girls. I find all sorts of interesting information in these inscriptions!

This Psalm, while the foundation for many hymns and songs of praise was also the inspiration for Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."

Because of the incredible amount of time I put into studying the book of Revelation, I can't help but notice the similarity between this Psalm and the destruction found in John's vision.

This Psalm probably follows the death of Sennacherib's army (2 Kings 19:35) during the reign of Hezekiah (the entire story is also found in Isaiah 37).

As you read the words of this Psalm, I'd like you to absorb the wildness of the scene that the Psalmist is seeing. The battering of war gives him images of earthquakes and mountains falling into the sea. The waters rise with wild waves, the mountains seem as if they are moving and quaking.

He stops to show us that all of these things are occuring around the dwelling - the tabernacle of God in the holy city - Jerusalem.

Then, he returns to the sight before him (Psalm 46:6). In Psalm 46:8-9, we see more of this extraordinary battle. The Lord has brought desolation to the earth, we see shattered battle weapons and fire.

Before you move on, try to picture this incredible battlefield. The sounds, the smells of fire and death, nothing is alive before you.

And then, we come to verse 10. "Be still and know that I am God."

In the midst of all of that chaos, God calls - no, he whispers those words, "Be still and know that I am God."

I'm certain that you don't need me to translate this into your daily lives. We all have chaos that occurs around us moment by moment. But within the Holy City ... within the temple of yourself, God's dwelling place, He has erected a fortress ... a refuge. He will be exalted.

Be still and know that I am God.

October 24 - Nature

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This year has been a lot of fun for me ... again!  The weather has been gorgeous this fall and traveling through Iowa has been a real treat.  I've watched harvest happen another year and have been really thankful that they were able to get the crops out more than a month earlier than last year!

Trees are dropping their leaves, the grass has quit growing, everything is preparing for winter.  Nature is preparing herself for some down time and we'll see her return in the spring.  It is incredible to me that the flow of the earth is so smooth.  We look at hurricanes, tornadoes, earth quakes and other massive weather events and call them natural disasters.  But, the reality of it all is that nature will do what nature will do.  If man is in the way, we find it to be disastrous.  The flow of nature remains - whether we are in its path or not. 

God set these things into motion long before you or I even existed and they will still occur long after we are gone.  Sometimes the how and the why are mysteries, but it is awesome to watch God's creation move!

November 27,2009 - Nature's Mysteries

It's interesting to realize that some of the things the scripture writers believed to be mysteries and secrets unrevealed, have been made known by science. However, there are still so many things that we don't fully understand and that only serves to make me believe more strongly in God as Creator!

Psalm 139:15, "My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place."

We understand the miracle of birth and the creation of the human body so much more than the Psalmist possibly could, but we still consider it an amazing miracle! That simple cells could develop into a human being will always be a mystery.

"As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things." Ecclesiastes 11:5

Meteorology has to be one of the most frustrating jobs. Predicting the path of a storm, or the coming weather changes, while considered a science, is still a mystery to most - and relatively unsuccessful. I suspect that with time, the mysteries of the climate will be revealed to us and we will be able to fully predict the coming weather ... but, God has left us much to learn.

"Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." Mark 4:27

I have been traveling through Iowa and have thoroughly enjoyed watching this year's harvest occur. There are massive grain storage facilities on my route and Cargill Seed Company has facilities that I pass regularly. These people know about grain. They know how it works, they understand the science of it. I wonder if they still see the miracle in the growing of a crop.

John 3:8, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

The mysteries of nature, the mysteries of man ... we can not know, we can not always predict. That is the way it is with the Spirit. But, we can know that God has all of this in His hands. That is where I rest comfortably.

October 23 - Matthew 5:48a

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I spent time this week in my Inductive Bible Study class looking at one phrase in one verse.  And I ended up with eight pages of information about a single word.

The verse is "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."  (Matthew 5:48)

So, what do you think about this verse?  Is it a command for us to eliminate all sin from our lives and live perfectly?  Well ... maybe.  But, there is so much more to it than this.

The verse comes at the end of Jesus' teaching about the law.  Through Matthew 5:17-48, Jesus is transforming the way people look at the Law.  Remember ... for a Jew, they were required to follow all sorts of rules so that they would be right with God.  By this point, the only thing they were doing was following rules ... it didn't mean much to them.  It was definitely not about a relationship with God - but ensuring that they did just enough to get by.  Jesus wanted them to know that it was what was in their heart that was important - not that they made a show of following the rules.

The preceding segment of the Sermon on the Mount is filled with Jesus beginning a teaching by saying "You have heard it said ..."  Then, He turns everything around when He says to them, "But I say to you ..."  He teaches on murder, lust ... and by the time he gets to Matthew 46-47, He reminds them that extravagant love and hospitality is important.  It isn't enough to love only those who love you ... that makes you no better than the tax collector.  It isn't enough to say hello and be hospitable to your brothers ... even the pagans do that.

Then ..."Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."

This word - perfect - (Greek - teleios) is found throughout the New Testament.  Paul uses it in his letters to talk about maturity.  It's translated as completeness, fullness.  The word is used in the Old Testament - shalem (not shalom - peace).  It is often used to describe a person loving God or following God with their whole heart.  It doesn't actually mean sinlessness.  David followed God with his whole heart, but we know that he sinned. In 2 Chronicles 15:17, Asa is credited with following God with his whole heart, even as the high places remained in the land (a symbol of idol worship - and which got other kings in a LOT of trouble).

2 Chronicles 25:2 tells us that Amaziah did what was right with the Lord, but he didn't actually follow the Lord with a blameless heart.

So ... sin is not the measure of perfection.  Submission to God is the measure.  Growing in maturity.  Loving God with your whole heart.

Paul knew that we were on a journey.  If we actually achieved perfection, why, we'd be God!  No, it's a journey that we can all be on and if Jesus commanded us to do it, he knew that we would be able to move towards perfection.  He wouldn't ask us to do the impossible.

Be perfect - love the Lord with your whole heart, submit to His will, continue to grow in Him.  Be perfect.

October 22: Themes in Luke

Friday, October 22, 2010

Right now we are flying through the New Testament in my Intro to New Testament class.  We've been talking a lot about how to look at these books in context and now we are just diving into them.  Let me tell you - a Gospel each week is kind of intense, but it's going to get more intense as we do all of Paul's pastoral epistles in a week and some other conglomerations of books.  Wow ... lots of reading for me!  (surprise, surprise)

Today's question was: "Of the major and distinctive themes of Luke's gospel, which is the most poignant for our time? The first-century church? Jesus' audiences?"

Here's my short response.

Today’s world needs to hear the same things as the first century Christians and those that heard Jesus for the first time.  God wants to redeem and save His world and He has a plan to do that.

Luke began the story of Jesus’ public ministry with Jesus reading from Isaiah. I think that this proclamation in Luke 4:18 clearly defines the themes that Luke is about to present.  These words offered hope to people who were looking for a Messiah to bring freedom, then among the first century Christians they found hope in a Savior that would release them from the oppression and persecution so often visited on them and today while we need to know those things, we are called more than ever to grow into discipleship as we bring good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, healing / recovery of sight to the blind and release for the oppressed.

Redemption and salvation are themes that desperately need to be heard in our world today, as they have since the moment Jesus entered this world.  In Luke 24:47, Jesus said when with his disciples after the Resurrection, “and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his (Christ’s) name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  Redemption through repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  This is what mankind continually needs to hear.

October 21 - The Word

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I promise - I really am going to write new information one of these days.  Thank heavens, though, that I have nearly two years of written material to help me when I'm buried.  I wrote two papers today, read two books and worked through a bunch of stuff.  Tomorrow I will watch a Greek lecture and then begin putting together the notes for a major paper in my NT class.  I have a proctored Greek exam next week (midterm) and that has me shaking in my boots! 

The main reason I'm doing this is because God has given me such a passion for His Word.  This post helps me remember why.

August 18, 2009 - John 1:1-18 - The Word Made Flesh

I've told you that Isaiah 55 is one of my top favorite passages. Well, John 1 is probably the passage that explains the entire Bible to me. It was while reading these words that I finally got it. I finally understood the connection between the Old and New Testament. I saw how Jesus Christ moved throughout the pages of the Bible drawing everything together.

In Revelation 1:8, God says "I am the Alpha and the Omega." Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and Omega is the final letter. He identified Himself with letters, the beginning and the end (and everything in between) of the alphabet. Words are made using these letters. The Word of God, the Alpha and Omega. God is using imagery that we understand.

I love words. My mother loved words. I can remember Dad and Mom sitting around in the evening debating word usage. Mom loved learning new words, she loved playing with words to see how they sounded and how they might fit with other words to create sentences. She loved to write. Both she and Dad taught us kids that reading was one of the most important things we would ever learn to do. I was reading at a very early age and I still read everything I can get my hands on. Mom always used to say that if there were words in front of me, I would stop everything to read them. My curiosity was always satisfied by reading things.

Words, spoken and read, were used to transmit the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God knew what He was doing when He used the imagery of the Word. Language was the thing that brought everyone together in Genesis 11:1-9 to create the Tower of Babel. At that point, God scattered the people and confused the single universal language and many languages were developed.

When God created the earth, He spoke it into being. Words were used to create the universe. All communication is done through words.

So, when God needed to make Himself understood to the people that He had created, the one way to do that was through the Word. Jesus Christ was the Word, the Word made flesh. The communication from the Father, the Creator of the World is Jesus Christ.

When the Word came to mankind in a form that we could communicate with and understand, He began to teach us the ways of the Father. The Gospels tell us of the words that Jesus spoke as He attempted over and over to translate the hopes and desires that God had for a relationship with His children.

God had given the Law to Moses, but that wasn't enough. John tells us that Jesus Christ brought grace and truth (John 1:17). He is the Word made flesh, come to earth to make the Father known to His people. This is how God communicates with us. The Word.

October 20 - God Reveals mysteries

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

By tomorrow I will have 8-10 pages written about a single phrase in a single verse of Matthew.  Oh yah ... the brain is a hurting unit tonight!  We are doing an interpretative study of Matthew 5:48a.  "Therefore, be perfect."

Yup, stop right there - don't finish the sentence (because then I might have to punch you), don't go any further.  We're simply going to investigate the word 'perfect' and see how to interpret it.  Holy cow.  I'll let you know how this goes.  Honestly, it's really cool and fun to be digging into scripture to do this.  But, ow!

This is part of the excitement, though of discovering how God works through scripture.  There are so many things that tie the entire Bible together and opening up a single word to see how God employs its use is exciting!

Today's post takes us back to last December...

September 28, 2009 - Divine Revelations

Think about it for a moment. We have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe. He has chosen to reveal mysteries to us through His Word and our Bibles spend more time on the shelves than they do open in front of us. It seems utterly insane, doesn't it!

Daniel 2:22, "He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness and light dwells with him.

Amos 3:7, "Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets."

God is more than willing to reveal His mysteries to us, if we would simply spend time learning from Him. I was reading "The Case for a Creator" by Lee Strobel and he made the statement that one of the reasons for the immensity of the universe and the depth of things that we know nothing about is that God also gave us curiosity. If we could easily figure everything out, there would be no need for learning. He gave us amazing things to learn about so that throughout generations of time, people would always have something to search for, always have something to learn.

But, He will reveal it to us!

And He will reveal His great love for us.

John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."

1 Corinthians 2:9-10, "However as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God."

Ephesians 1:9-10, "And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."

Do you notice how God's revelations are made to us through the Spirit and through Jesus. He has revealed Himself and how He works among us, He has revealed His will to us, He has revealed the depths of His love for us.

October 19 - Tell the World!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I have a couple of young friends that are in Afghanistan right now and are learning the mission field there.  I thought about this post from last September and how important it is that we spread the Gospel to everyone.  I'm not crazy about the idea of traveling to the far corners of the world.  That's just not anything God has ever placed on my heart.  However, if He told me tomorrow that was in the plans for my future, I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be a question ... I would just go.

God wants us to tell the world about Him.  What else can we do?  We can hide and ignore Him, but in the end that only brings us pain and distress.  There are millions and millions of people that need to hear about His love.  Some live in Tibet, some live in Afghanistan, some live in Africa and some live across the street or next door.  They work with us and sit beside us at concerts or football games.

September 27, 2009 - The Gospel is Universal

I have a couple of friends that chose to leave their lives in the United States and live in Tibet as missionaries. They live very simple lives among the people in the Tibetan mountains, always being very careful of their interactions so that their lives show Jesus Christ as much as their words. And they have to be careful of their words because of the oppressiveness of the government. When they send emails home, they have to speak of 'Father' instead of God.

But God promises that His Word will be preached throughout the world.

Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

When I asked my friends why they had chosen to go to Tibet, they reminded me of that verse. You see, they want to be a part of the movement towards the end of the world. They look so forward to the Lord returning that they want to do all that they can to ensure the Gospel is preached to the ends of the earth.

Mark 13:10, "And the gospel must first be preached to all nations."

This was the last thing Jesus commanded us to do. I've talked in the past about my fears that God would ask me to become a missionary to Africa. However, I figured that He could just use me in the United States ... that's a nation, right?

Matthew 28:19, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Mark 16:15, "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.'"

But, before Jesus returns to heaven, he says to the disciples in Acts 1:8, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

So, if God had actually called me to go to Africa, I should have set aside my fears because He wouldn't have asked me to go alone. He promised that the power of the Holy Spirit would be with me. I tend to forget that - a lot!

The last verse that talks about this is found in Revelation 14:6. What an amazing image this is!

"Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth - to every nation, tribe, language and people."

Even at the end, the Good News - the Gospel of Jesus Christ is going to be proclaimed to everyone on earth. God never quits trying to draw His creation back to Himself.

October 18 - Love

Monday, October 18, 2010

In one of my classes we have been discussing how people perceived the kingdom of God in the first century and how it is perceived today.  The next part of that has been a discussion about how to regain the sense of urgency that the early church had in bring Christ to the world.  

I've been part of churches that are excited about taking Jesus' message to the world and when that happens, there is an incredible sense of urgency. Once you start, you can't stop!  The love of Jesus begins to flow outward and it turns into an incredible outpouring.  I've been part of churches that want to stop that message at their doors ... apathy, fear, control, pride ... all of those things are more important than being a part of his kingdom message.  

As we discussed this, we landed on the fact that the revolution Jesus brought to his day was love and this is the thing we are most frightened of today ... pure, unadulterated, selfless, giving love.  It's a difficult task and it's bigger than saying "I love you" to people that love you back.

Here's a post from August 28 of last year.

August 28, 2009 - 1 John 3:1-24 - Love One Another

John's first letter is such a glorious testament to love.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1)

John absolutely adores the people to whom he is writing this letter. He wants to assure them of God's love for them. Each precious word in this chapter is meant to be internalized so that love fills the heart!

"Now that we are children of God, what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:3)

Wow! The creation story in Genesis tells us that we are made in God's image. John tells us that we don't yet understand what that looks like, but we will!

In 1 John 3:11, John goes on by telling us that the message has always been to love one another. It's a message the continually gets lost. But, a lack of love for each other is like death. "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him." (1 John 3:14-15)

I have very few words that I can add to this passage - it speaks for itself.

"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth ... For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:18-19)

He finishes with: "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us." (1 John 3:23-24)

The Spirit that was sent to us at Pentecost remains in us. This Spirit is our Counselor, our Teacher, our conscience. This Spirit reminds us continually that we live in Christ and he lives in us.

Love one another.

October 17 - I want to know it all!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm about to head into a really crazy week.  Lots of writing and reading.  All of it for a grade ... I will wait for someone to judge my work based on their perceptions of what is good and right and it will make me crazy when I disagree.  I talked to my sister tonight about how I needed to relearn what I knew when I was much younger - how to simply play the game without rocking the boat.  But, at some point in my life I quit letting the world dictate what I needed to know.  I began to realize what information I was missing and went after it.  Being back in the academic world reminds me that I don't always get that choice, no matter how hard I try or how much I push.  The secondary part of that reality is that God holds things back from us until we are ready to know or have enough information to fully understand.  I don't really like that either, but I must learn that He is the one in charge.

This post is from last November. 

November 14, 2009 - Full Revelation in the Future

I'm often told that patience isn't one of my virtues. Now, you see, that's just plain funny. When I was in high school, we had these amazing spiritual weekends called Lay Witness Missions. People from the region would gather at a church, witness to the life changing experience that knowing Jesus brought to them and on Saturday evening there would be an altar call of some sort.

For some foolish reason, I recognized my lack of patience and decided to ask God to help me gain more of it. I thought it was a reasonable request. Little did I know that it was the craziest thing I had ever asked for from Him. Over the next 35 years, God has placed more than a few practical examples in my life that have taught me about patience. I failed at most of them, but I have been learning patience since that day that I foolishly asked God to help me.

I love the internet. Talk about immediate wish fulfillment! I have said it before and I'll say it again - knowledge and information are things that I constantly desire. I'm not sure how I existed before the internet. I love being able to have my questions fully answered within moments of asking. I'm incredibly impatient with ignorance and lack of knowledge on my own part. I want to know it all! Yes, I would love to be jacked into the Matrix. Until then, I'll be grateful for the access that I have.

In John 13:7, Jesus said, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

That statement would have been like flinging a red cloth in front of a raging bull for me. How could I now understand Him? What was I missing? I want to understand and know it all ... right now!

John 16:13, "But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come."

Here's the deal. I'm so thankful to be living on this side of the coming of the Spirit of truth, I can hardly stand it. I get to look back at the teaching of Christ through eyes that see with the Holy Spirit. I don't have to be confused by His teachings, I don't have to wonder what it is that He means. The Holy Spirit has come and is here to help us understand and know it all.

1 Corinthians 13:12, "Now we see but a poor reflection, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

Honestly, I'm grateful to know that there are things that will finally make sense to me once I get to heaven. Through all of the training I have gone through these last 35 years, God has been able to make a few things very clear to me. He is in charge, He knows and understands it all. He will reveal those things to me that He wants me to know and when the day comes that I stand before His throne, He will show me everything. I can be patient and await that day.

October 16 - God's Love ... It's Why I'm Here

Saturday, October 16, 2010

There have been many times in the last few weeks that I need to remember exactly WHY I'm doing what I'm doing right now.  I get frustrated with professors, I am frustrated with the idea that this seminary is trying to form my belief structure rather than teach me.  The amount of busy, stupid work is annoying and sometimes I get through an entire week without feeling as if I did anything that moves me toward a future goal. Every once in awhile I get a moment of excitement, but it doesn't happen often enough.  You might pray for me - I think I need it and I would really appreciate it!

But, I go back through my posts for this blog and I re-discover exactly why I am passionate about God's Word and why I am putting up with a load of garbage to glean bit of treasure.  It's because it is all about God.  I need to be reminded of this on a regular basis these days.

I rediscovered this post tonight - and it helped me remember.

November 30, 2009 - God's Love

One of the greatest mysteries to me is that the God of the Universe, the God of all Creation, loves me. The kind of love that He brings to the relationship with mankind as a whole and each of us individually is beyond anything that I can comprehend. From the moment He created man, He loved us.

Jeremiah says "The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.'" (Jeremiah 31:3)

Throughout all of history, we find God working to bring His people into a close relationship with Him. We fought against it, we continue to fight against it - through deliberate means, through apathy ... over and over, we miss out on the one loving relationship that will never fail us.

When God saw that it was time, He sent Jesus - God's Word - to earth so that every single person would have the chance to spend eternity with Him. He doesn't want to miss out on that relationship with any of us!

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

This continues to be the single, greatest gift we could be given.

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4-5)

God's grace, mercy and great love for us enables us to be saved from ourselves - from the mistakes we make (whether in error or deliberately).

I love this last verse - what a great use of the word "lavish." God loves us more than we can ever absorb.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1)

October 15 - Kingdom of God

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tonight in my New Testament class we were asked the following question and I had to write a response.  Here's what I had to say.  What about you?  Have you ever given any thought to this?

What do you think are the differences between the earliest Christians' view of the Kingdom of God and our own? What are some tangible ways that we can reclaim the urgency of the Kingdom in our own lives and in our churches?

For as much as Jesus spent time describing the Kingdom of God in the Gospels as something other than a visible kingdom, using comparisons to seed growing secretly, yeast mixed into dough and a mustard seed, it was a difficult concept for early Christians.  Jesus spent a great deal of time trying to teach his disciples about the kingdom that resides within them and in Luke 17:20 we find him telling the Pharisees specifically that the kingdom will not come visibly.

In Acts 1:6, the disciples asked again, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (NIV)  They didn’t fully comprehend his words even then. With the expectation of an imminent return of Christ to begin the work of the final kingdom, I think that early Christians continued to look for that visible kingdom. They would know of Jesus’ words in Mark 13:30 when he claimed that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

As centuries passed, the tension between present day living and future prophecy regarding the events in the Revelation began to move away from an expectation of immediate return to an understanding of living out God’s kingdom.  And as more time passed, that understanding has gotten caught up in societal and cultural ideals, leaving us with a poor understanding of what it is to live in that kingdom.

 I remember being filled with urgency when I was growing up in the 70s.  It was a time of great discovery and revival that moved throughout the youth of the time.  We waited for Jesus’ return with anticipation (and yes, this was within the Methodist Church!).  Whenever we renew the sweetness of discovery of Jesus and our relationship with him, that anticipation grows again as he plants it in our hearts.  I don’t know that there is anything we can ‘do’ to create it, but I do know that when a church opens itself to the Holy Spirit, the movement will bring the urgency of the kingdom to the forefront.

October 14 - Mark 1:1-13

I'm cheating!  I've been so focused on breaking down three verses in Matthew (oh, you don't even want to know!!!) and writing a paper on the growth of Christianity around the globe, I don't have the energy to think too deeply.  So ... since we were discussing the first part of the book of Mark yesterday, I'm going to re-post my blog from April 1, 2009 ... which just happened to be on those same verses.  

April 1 - Another Opening ... Another Show - Mark 1:1-13

The Gospel of Mark could very well be called the Gospel of Peter. The author Papias in 110 AD stated that Peter was the source of information for Mark. He wrote that the information came straight from the apostle John. It is generally accepted to be true. Mark was not an eyewitness follower of Jesus, yet while he accompanied Peter in his journeys, he wrote down his memories and transcribed Peter's Aramaic speech to Greek for the common man.

Mark's gospel is the Action Gospel. He uses the word 'immediately' over and over through the gospel and strings sentences together using 'and' quite often. There is always a sense of pushing forward to the next event. Mark was more than likely the first gospel to be written and Matthew and Luke used it as a resource for their writing. Matthew incorporates about 90 percent of Mark and Luke incorporates about 40 percent. Of Mark's 661 verses, over 600 are found in Matthew and Luke. It was probably written about 57-59 AD from Rome and was written for Gentile Christians. His purpose was basically 'pastoral.'

Mark didn't begin his gospel with the the story of Jesus' birth. The reason he was writing was to encourage Gentiles who had already come to know who Jesus was and were already Christians. He wanted to give them a fresh look at the life of Jesus as many of them were beginning to deal with the reality of persecution. Jesus was obedient and to be a true disciple of His, obedience was called for.

The first thing that Mark did was to identify Jesus as the Son of God, then he moved to proving that this was who He was. He quoted prophecies from Malachi and Isaiah and gave the testimony of John the Baptist. (Mark 1:1-8)

Whenever notable people came into a community, roads were repaired so that their caravans would find the travel easier as they approached. Malachi and Isaiah's prophecies were meant to remind people that they needed to prepare their hearts for the coming King. (Mark 1:2-3)

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets and he presented the Messiah to the world. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was doing all that he could to prepare the hearts of the people of Judah for the coming Messiah. His clothing and lifestyle indicated that he was a Nazirite (Numbers 6:21), but it was also very similar to the clothing worn by the OT prophets (Zechariah 13:4) and what they knew of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). Locusts and honey were common foods in the desert area. (Mark 1:4-6)

The word 'baptism' in this passage literally means immersion. John acknowledged that his baptism was an outer sign of cleansing, but imagine for a moment being immersed in the Holy Spirit. That was the promise that John offered with the coming of the Messiah. (Mark 1:7-8)

When he baptized Jesus, there was no confession of sins. He was being obedient to the over plan of redemption, John's role in that plan. He identified with the nation of Israel and this was a time of dedication to his mission. The people saw and heard the vision of heaven open. What does Mark say? "Heaven being torn open." They saw the Spirit of God descend and they heard the voice of God speak. (Mark 1:9-11)

Jesus faced Satan for 40 days in the desert. Mark didn't call him the devil (the slanderer). He wants us to see Satan for who he is - the opposition, the tempter, the one who will do anything possible to stop the movement of God in this world. This is the beginning of his attempts to get Jesus to turn aside from God's will. But, Mark also wanted his readers to see that Jesus didn't face this alone. God's angels were there to assure Him continually of the presence of the Almighty. (Mark 1:12-13)

October 13 - Mark 1:1-15

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I have a LOT of scripture rolling around right now.  Yikes!  Tonight I began working through Mark 1:1-15.  This is a VERY rough draft of what has been happening as I have thought through it.  I've posted it to one of my forums, we will work as a team (of about 5 people) and then submit a final piece on Friday.  Whee!!  So ... open your Bible, read the passage - and you can see how I've begun to dig into it.

The author of this Gospel begins with an introductory statement announcing the purpose.  He is presenting the good news of Jesus.  In one sentence, the author tells us who this man is.  His name is Jesus, he is the Messiah (Christ) and he is God’s Son.  We are left with very little doubt about who the focal point of this book will be.

The Old Testament prophecy, while attributed solely to Isaiah actually comes from both Malachi and Isaiah (verses 2-3).  His use of the actual Isaiah passage leads us directly into verse 4 with John appearing in the wilderness.  This seems to affirm that John was the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy.

Why the author combines the two prophetic passages and applies Isaiah’s name to them raises several questions: Was it simply for expediency – was the author attempting to condense the message?  Was it because Isaiah’s name carried more weight as a prophet? Was the author simply unaware?

People from all over came to hear John’s message and to receive his baptism.  Who were the people confessing their sins to in verse 5?  Did it occur as they were in the process of being baptized?  But, obviously they had to confess their sins to be baptized by John.

John’s clothing and manner of eating were uncommon enough to be pointed out in the text, but the people must have recognized that he was special and had something to offer them.  We aren’t told how long John ministered to the people before the arrival of Jesus, but it was a long enough period of time for a great many people to hear about him and to travel to hear his message.  John could have easily been a celebrity.  The author may have been exaggerating by stating that all of the people from Jerusalem (vs. 5) came out to him, but a great many did so and even more from the entire countryside.

John refused to be a celebrity.  He stopped all of that by fulfilling the prophetic words, claiming his role as the messenger, pointing to the one who was greater than he was and who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (verse 8).

When John first appears on the scene in verse 4, it says that he proclaimed – preached a baptism of repentance.  Then, in verse 5, we find that he begins performing the action of baptism with water in the Jordan River.  In verse 8, he makes a clear distinction between the water baptism that he offers and the baptism by the Holy Spirit that the one who comes after him will offer.

We finally encounter Jesus in verse 9.  He has come from Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  It is as if he also reinforces the prophetic words regarding John as the one who prepares the way by doing this.  John baptizes him with water and then in verse 10, the Holy Spirit descends on him, which refers us back to verse 8 when John draws the two types of baptism together.  They have come together in Jesus Christ. 

In verse 11, the voice from heaven is assumed to be God claims Jesus as his Son, bringing the three members of the Trinity together in the opening verses of this Gospel and circling back to the first verse where the author presents Jesus as God’s Son.

The Spirit wasted no time sending Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.  Maybe it is like pulling a bandaid off – do it as quickly as possible so that we can move forward.

The author assumes that the readers know why John is arrested since there is no immediate explanation for the action.  This would, however, give first century readers a time frame for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  There would have likely been records kept of the arrest and a time frame could have been established if necessary. 

This passage offers us several instances of repetitive information.

The wilderness is mentioned several times.  It is the place where John begins his preaching (vs. 4), where Jesus is sent to face down Satan and where he was cared for by the wild beasts and the angels (vs. 12-13).  Jesus comes out of the wilderness, returns to Galilee and begins his ministry.

Baptism is proclaimed (vs. 4), performed (vs. 5) and then a distinction is made between water baptism and that of the Holy Spirit (vs. 8).  We see it all come together when Jesus is baptized by John and then the Spirit (vs. 9-10).

Repentance is preached by John (vs. 4) and after his arrest, Jesus continues the call for repentance, but fills out the message with his announcement that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near.

The good news is the message at the beginning and the end of the passage.  We are introduced to the good news of Jesus Christ and at the end of this passage, Jesus proclaims the good news of God, calling all to believe.

October 12 - God is Moving Across the Globe!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This is going to be a tough week.  I have a lot of things to do - three paper - which means there is a lot of reading.  I had a Greek quiz today and realized that in two weeks I have a mid-term!  Yikes!  Ok ... breathe, Diane.  I spent some time today going through the course list for next semester.  I need to get that ironed out this week so I'm ready to register.  All of a sudden, professors are posting lectures - where did these come from?  So ... I have plenty to do.

This evening I have been reading further into Philip Jenkins book, "The Next Christendom."  There really is some exciting information in here - the numbers can be staggering! 

Western colonialization was ending in the mid part of the 20th century.  All across the third world, countries were regaining independence.  As this happened, Christianity began to see a period of explosive growht.

Since 1965, the Christian population has risen from 25% of the total population to 46% in Africa.  This ends up being about 8.4 million new Christians a year - 23,000 per day!!!  And these numbers are net numbers - those who leave the church aren't counted in these numbers.

The growth of Independent churches in Africa is overwhelming, but the leading churches are still Catholic, Anglican and Methodist.

In Latin America there are 424 million baptized Catholics.  That is 42% of the global total.  In 1955 there were 16 million Catholics in Africa.  Today that number is 120 million.

There are 70 million Anglicans worldwide - 20 million of them are in Africa.  In Uganda alone, Anglicans make up 30-40% of the Ugandan population.

Protestantism has been growing rapidly in these countries.  In Latin America, Protestants reach out to the migrant and marginalized communities and sees a growth of about 6% per year.

These numbers seem overwhelming - especially when in the United States ... in the United Methodist church we have seen declining membership for the last 43 years.  God is moving - and moving in grand and glorious ways.  I think we're going to have to get out of ourselves and out of our safe zones to see how explosive and creative His moving is.  It's happening across the globe and if we don't pay attention, we might never recognize it for what it is!

October 11 - John 1:1

Monday, October 11, 2010

I've spent a good part of the day immersed in Greek again, so it looks like you are going to learn a little bit more!

Sometimes it is so much easier for us to be ignorant and allow scholars and theologians to interpret and explain scripture to us.  I've never been much for that, but I'll tell you what, it does make it easier on the brain.  Since they've done all of the work interpreting the Greek New Testament into various and sundry translations for us, why do we even bother to learn Greek and study using the original language. What I can tell you is that even though it is out there ... I want to know it for myself, even when it causes me to run these poor neurons round and round until they're spinning so fast they want to shut down.

One of the passages we were assigned to uncover this week is John 1:1.  You know this verse very well.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

This is part of our basic doctrine and theology, right?  There is enough discrepancy in this verse in the original Greek that it is one of those places that other cults use to slam down and claim a win.

In yesterday's blog, I wrote a bit about the definite article and its importance in the Greek language.  Well, a lot of confusion happens when it doesn't show up.

So ... here's the Greek transliteration of this passage.

En - In
arche (arcay) - beginning
ayn - was
o - the
logos - word,
kai - and
o - the
logos - word
ayn - was
pros - with
ton - the
theon - God,
kai - and
theos - God
ayn - was
o - the
logos - word.

In the (assumed because of the preposition) beginning was the word, and the word was with the God and God was the word.

Look at those two sentences together:

English: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Greek: In the beginning was the word, and the word was with the God and God was the word.

There is a solid, definite article in the second phrase identifying this as the God we know.  In Greek, generally a proper name has an article in front of it.  It's just the way things are done.  But, what about the last of the three phrases.  This is what gets everyone into trouble!  The Jehovah's Witnesses read this and interpret it without the definite article and instead use an indefinite article, which is always a possibility, implying that Jesus is not of the same essence with God, but is a god along with God.

So, they interpret this as:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and a god was the Word.

That changes everything, doesn't it!?!

Without going too deeply into the history of translation and the research done into the use of verbs/nouns/articles before and after other verbs (which, by the way, is what I read and processed on today), suffice it to say that Biblical grammar actually has a pretty solid base and there are more things to consider than just the words in a verse.

Theologically, you do more than translate a single verse.  The entirety of John's gospel points to the deity of Christ - the fact that He was God, the fact that He existed from eternity.  Though the Word differs in the person of God, He shares the essence of the Father. 

Grammatically, this type of sentence structure nearly always indicates that the noun requires not a definite article (the) or an indefinite article (a, an), but is qualitative - meaning that it emphasizes the quality of the noun.  So ... Theos is the essence ... the quality that is being applied to "Logos."  In other words,  The Word is the essence of God.

Now, it all makes sense and we can move beyond simply accepting the verse to knowing deep down that the verse offers us truth.  John wrote it this way so that we would have a clear understanding of just exactly who Jesus Christ is.

And, if you think all of this is just nuts and all you want to do is read your English translation and be happy, I'm totally cool with that!  But, if you keep reading this, you have to put up with me as I explore the parts of Scripture that are going to upset and intrigue me!

October 10 - Jesus is the Way

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Well, I just can't stand it.  I have to share a little bit of Greek with you today.  It's been rattling around my mind and until I get it written out, it will just make me crazy.

In the lecture this week we began discussing articles. In English there are indefinite articles (a, an) and the definite article (the).  If I say to you, "I want you to bring me a cat" you could bring me any old cat and I would be happy.  That's an indefinite article. 

As opposed to "I want you to bring me the cat."  Now, both of us have an understanding somewhere about which cat you are to bring to me.  It is a definite, specific cat.  That's a definite article.

There is no indefinite article in Greek.  Many times it is implied.  If there isn't a definite article specified, it is left up to the interpreter as to whether or not to translate using a definite article or an indefinite article.

Are you still with me?

One of questions that comes up regularly is what to do with John 14:6.  In English we read, "I am the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." 

Could this possibly read "I am a way and a truth and life."?  Well, here we go.  The joy of learning to understand how Greek is actually translated.

Let me put the words out there for you from this sentence.

ego - I
eimi - I am
a - the
odos - road, way, path.
kai - and
a - the
alathea - truth
kai - and
a - the
zoe - life

Do you see the letter 'a' there each time?  When the Greeks used the definite article, they were serious about it.  This passage doesn't leave much room for equivocation.  Jesus says he is THE way, THE truth and THE life.  You can't wonder.

The other kind of cool thing that happens - occurs right at the beginning of the sentence.  The word 'eimi' actually means "I am."  It's another one of those millions of words that I have to memorize.  When you conjugate the verb 'to be,' this is it.  But, the word 'ego' wasn't necessary at the beginning of the sentence.  In Greek, when you see the word 'eimi,' the only thing that occurs in your brain is to read it as "I am."

Jesus repeated himself.  In other words, he wanted the reader - the listener, to be very clear about what he was saying.  He said, "I, I am the way, and the truth and the life."  There is no one else, there is no question.

He is.  He is the way.

Ok ... is that enough for tonight?  Yup, I'm done!

October 9 - The Historical Jesus

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fridays are a wrap up day for me and I generally spend quite a bit of time digging into my Greek.  Trust me, you do NOT want me to try to teach you what I'm learning right now.  Ouch!  I have the entire weekend to get this stuff in my head for the quiz next week.  Then, maybe I can translate it for you. 

One of the most difficult things of this is that he has to work so hard teaching us grammar.  I'm not going to say it is basic grammar, but I suppose it might be considered that way.  We're working on the Direct Article (the) and Adverbs right now, and my head hurts.  There is only one way to signify the Direct Article in English.  It is simply ... 'the.'  (or teh as I typed it before correction).  In Greek, the Direct Article is found in 24 different forms.  Now, my professor assures us that once we have them memorized they will help down the road (which, by the way is the Greek word hawdawss, which can be translated as 'way' or 'path.').  So, they are on a flashcard now and I will work through the memorization until my brains begin to flee in terror.

It is much simpler for me to retreat into the Gospel of Matthew.  I spent a lot of time in Matthew 5 this week and I am thankful for that. Of course, this is after a discussion in my Introduction to New Testament course that was about the Quest for the Historical Jesus.  I'm telling you what - if you want to stay a happy Christian, stay ignorant. 

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but learning about what has happened in the last two thousand years regarding scholarly study of the Bible can be painful.  For years and years, the Gospels were accepted as historically and theologically accurate.  These are the sources of all the information we have regarding Jesus' life, ministry and relationship to God and man. 

Well, that's all fine and good until someone decides that isn't good enough!  Historians began tearing the Gospels apart, trying to decide whether or not they were historically accurate.  Hmmm, it occurs to me that after several (many) centuries, there isn't anyone around to actually make that determination and we have to rely on some source or other.  But, no ... that wasn't enough and the Gospels were soon rejected by them as sources for historical accuracy.  That was the first quest.  The second quest hit when a scholar finally decided that it just didn't matter.  All that mattered was that theologically things were accurate. We only needed to have faith that Jesus was who he said he was.  Well, that didn't help things at all.  You can't just set the question aside.

Fortunately in the last fifty years, scholars have begun to return to the idea that we can trust the Gospels to be historically and theologically accurate.  Whew!  Just in time for me to be in seminary. 

This is too much excitement for me sometimes.  Watching the debates happen in the class forums is entertaining, but wears me out.

So ... I'll move back into the Gospel itself and as I close out the reading this week from Matthew 5:17-48, I recognize that Jesus had plenty to say to people and he didn't really care whether we were going to declare him historically accurate or not.  He is history.  He was here before time began and will be here long after the world as we know it is finished.  He calls us to perfection so that we can join him.  That actually works just fine for me!

October 8 - Matthew 5:17-48 (pt. 2)

Friday, October 8, 2010

One of the structural relationships that is observed when tearing into a Bible passage is Cause and Effect (called Causation for this activity).

When I was looking at the Genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17, there was a whole lot of cause and effect.  So and so showed up on this earth because his father 'begat' him.  Some that we saw in the birth story was that Joseph was going to set Mary aside because she had gotten pregnant.  Cause and Effect.  Herod killed babies because he wanted to destroy the Messiah.  The Wise Men returned home another way because the angel warned them in a dream.  Cause and Effect.

It's a little more difficult to discover that type of structural relationship in a sermon like this, but voila - it's there!

In Matthew 5:25-26, we find that if a person lags while confronting their accuser, things will turn on them and they might end up in prison.  In Matthew 5:28, Jesus says that the effect of lust is adultery.  On and on ... His teachings show that in life ... cause will bring an effect whether we like it or not.

Another type of structural relationship is Particularization - going from a general idea to the specifics and on the opposite side of that Generalization - going from specifics to a general idea.

This passage is filled with those.

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus calls for righteousness to exceed the scribes and Pharisees.  From the next verse on, He produces the particulars of His expectation on how to achieve that righteousness.  Then, He finishes with a general statement again in Matthew 5:48 when He says "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  General - to Particulars - back to General.  Pretty cool stuff, eh?

We find more of this in Matthew 5:23-26 when He offers particulars for expanding the law against murder, in Matthew 5:34-37, He offers particulars for expanding the law against oath-making and in Matthew 5:40-42, He offers particulars for expanding the law regarding retaliation.

Now, why do YOU think that this type of study is important?  I'm learning day after day the depth of understanding that I get from tearing into scripture.  Does it make sense to you?

October 7 - Matthew 5:17-48

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I had to get a first draft posted today of my segment survey for Matthew 5:17-48 in the Inductive Bible Study class.  You might recognize that this is part of the Sermon on the Mount.  It comes right after the Beatitudes and just before the Lord's Prayer.  But, this is the passage that Jesus uses to emphasize the fact that He didn't come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill it. 

If you want to take a few moments to read through the passage, it won't hurt!

If we break this segment apart, it's easy to see that what is happening is that Jesus presents an introduction regarding the Law, and then He expands on that.  He talks to the people about murder, adultery, divorce, oath-making, retaliation, and loving your enemies.  The first four are about action we should not be taking against other people and the last two are all about how to care for others.

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus says "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now ... look at 5:48 where he says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

He just said pretty much the same thing - and those two verses lie on the outside of the transformative words He uses regarding the Law.

The Law isn't about rules and regulations that are imposed from the outside - it is all about our response.  It is about what comes from the inside of us that makes this work.  It's about our relationship with God and our relationship with each other.

One of the phrases that recurs throughout this passage is "You have heard it said ... but I say to you."  Take a minute to find those recurrences.  Every single time - He reminds them of the way that the priests teach the lesson and then while He acknowledges that the lesson is important, He retells it so that there is a great deal of personal responsibility.  These aren't just laws that people should use to get by, these are ways of living so that people will live in healthy relationships with each other.

This is one of the things that Paul spoke of so often when talking about the Law.  As long as we use the Law to make rules we can obey, we forget about how important the relationships are between us and God and between us and the world. 

We're going to keep looking at this passage for a couple of days - I'm going to end up reading through it at least 3-4 more times. 

October 6 - Where is the Church Going?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Today I began reading two books for my Christian Formation course.  They're both fabulous and speak to the ever-indulgent, inward looking church that we recognize as the church in Europe and America.  With the decline of the church in the West as it becomes more and more secularized, the question of what to do is even more pronounced.

In the first book I read, "The Shaping of Things to Come" by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, the authors call for a revolution in how we perceive 'church.'  We can no longer simply live within the buildings that have been erected, but need to move beyond seeing 'church' as an institution to seeing it as a mission.  They call for the church to be 'incarnational' - taking the church to people who are not Christians, where life happens.  Right now the church is what they call 'attractional.'  We expect to plant a church and then have people show up. In the incarnational model, there are no expectations for people, except to live and transform.  They don't have to come to a building, they have to be in relationship with people.

The next step is to Missional - not dualistic.  Dualism comes because we have separated the sacred from the profane.  This no longer works with our society.  We have to find ways to live among the people of the world without giving up the truth of the Gospel.  There is a credibility gap between the church world and the real world.  The real world recognizes it, but the church ignores it.  The church has an 'us versus them' mentality and looks at 'the world out there' rather than becoming a part so that it can transform.

Then revolution has to happen within the hierarchy of the church.  For a church to be missional, the overly religious, bureaucratic, top-down model of leadership needs to change to an apostolic model which asks people to cast their nets beyond themselves and be the face of Jesus in their relationships, at home, at work, at soccer, at football games ... wherever their lives interact with others.

The second book I'm reading is "The Next Christendom" by Phillip Jenkins.  He agrees that Western Christianity is in severe decline.  Grand church buildings that were built to hold thousands of people now seat several grey-haired people scattered throughout the pews.  While many in North America and Europe are decrying the death of Christianity, God has moved southward.  In Africa, Latin America and Asia, the church is growing at exponential rates.  There aren't buildings available to host the immense congregations of people who have come to know Jesus Christ personally.  The church is growing so rapidly that within the next 25 years, it will outpace most other religious growth numbers.  Western scholars worry over the rapid rise of Islam in the world, but ignore the fact that Christianity is growing much faster. 

In North America we seem to be ignoring this rapid growth.  Christian publishing houses don't publish books about it because North American Christians simply want to read about people that look, act, and feel as they do.  Western Academics ignore this growth as well, focusing on the decline of the church as they see it.

The Next Christendom is happening right now.  Some Southern scholars say that Christianity is returning to its roots since until 1400 AD, Christianity was found in Northern Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean.  When the church moved into Europe, Christianity transformed, taking on the beliefs and structures of the Europeans.  As it moves into these other countries, it will transform again.  Many of these new Christians have a strong sense of the supernatural.  They haven't been taught that science can disprove anything.  They bring a new sense of the wonder of God to their worship and daily life.

We are an insulated people, living lives that are self-centered and very self-aware.  The world is becoming immense and Christianity is moving into places of which we have very little information.  It is time to move out of our small words and accept that the entire world will be brought before God.  He is doing that work right now.  Will we be a part of it and allow revolution to change us, or will we hide in our beautiful buildings and wait for God to show up.

He's got a lot of people to bring into His kingdom.  We can be a part of it, or we can ignore it.  It really is our choice!

October 5 - Greek - It's not safe in the water

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Do you have all of those vocabulary words from yesterday's post memorized yet?  I'm doing pretty well with the nouns - it's the verbs that are difficult for me to get in my head.  Fortunately, the teaching assistant is selling some flashcards that will offer me ways to memorize the entire vocabulary list for the semester.  Those will show up here at some point in the next couple of weeks. 

This morning I watched a lecture from last Friday and he (we) processed through the translation and diagramming of a sentence.  I watched with great joy as I was able to begin making sense of the suffixes and relationships between the words. I can't wait to begin tearing apart scripture and understanding what is happening behind the scenes.

Then the professor scared me.  He wrote out the sentence (in English): "I have the love of God" and asked us to interpret it.  Ok, it seems like a 'duh.'  But, it's really not when we see it in Greek.  This is why the translations that we read are so important.  You see, when we read the phrase 'love of God' we can read this two different ways.  The first is what we believe to be obvious.  God's love comes to us.  If you put an arrow from God back to the word God, this is how that interpretation occurs.  But what if the author's original intent was to read I have love for God.  It is my action instead of God's action.  The entire tenor of the though and intent is changed.

It isn't always obvious in the Greek text what the intent is.  By the way, this type of interpretation is called exegesis.  I'm so NOT looking forward to getting into that, but it's coming, oh my, it's coming!!!

Some of these types of interpretation are what separate denominations and are the things that cause major doctrinal issues to develop.  There is absolutely no certainty on the interpretation of many passages.  Greek doesn't use articles like we do.  Sometimes it won't change the meaning, sometimes it might. 

Another sentence we looked at (not scriptural - just Greek) was "ochloi didoasi didaskalois stephanous chrusou." 

ochloi (crowds)
didoasi (They are giving)
diaskalois (teachers)
stephanous (crowns)
chrusou (gold)

(the endings tell us things about whether they are singular or plural, present tense, etc.)

The crowds are giving teachers crowns of gold.

Now, if you read this without an article, it seems as if the crowds are giving all teachers crowns of gold.  But, since Greek doesn't always use an article, it becomes the interpreter's responsibility to decide whether it is all teachers or some teachers.  Because the sentence's intent completely changes if you read:

The crowds are giving the teachers crowns of gold.

Now, there is the implication that we know which teachers and that it is the teachers we spoke of earlier (or something) who will receive these crowns.  It's a little more specific.

What this does for me is open up entire realms of possibility and understanding within scripture.  We absolutely rely on tradition and history to help with interpreting scripture. But, even as I read through commentaries and Bible dictionaries, I find differences in interpretation.  I have to choose which I feel God is leading me to believe and understand, but it is always based on my background, on my knowledge, on my concept of who God is.

It really is never as easy as we think, is it? Sometimes it just isn't as safe as we want it to be.

October 4 - It's time for a little Greek

Monday, October 4, 2010

Alright all, I'm tired of sharing the normal classwork with you.  If you're going through this with me, you're going to have to suck it up and live through the Greek as well.  Because this truly is my very favorite class.  It's stressful and totally makes my brain hurt, but my goodness, I love working through the pieces and seeing how the puzzle comes together.

Last week I was studying verbs.  One of the cool things in Greek is that there are a bunch of words used over and over and over again in the New Testament.  There are a few words that are used sometimes and even fewer words that are rarely used.  So, if I (we, you) memorize some words, we actually attack a good portion of the New Testament before we even know it.

Like: kai - (ki).  It means 'and.'  It's used a zillion times.  Ok, say there's about 180,000 words in the New Testament.  (that's pretty close - off by a thousand or so).  Kai is used 7112 times.  So, with one word, I've learned about 4% of the Greek New Testament.  That actually works out quite nicely!

Luo (lou' oh):  I destroy
timao (tih - maw' - oh):  I honor
poieo (poi - eh' - oh): I make or I do
delao (day - law' - oh): I show or I explain
didomi (dih - doh' - mee): I give
tithemi (tih - thay' - mee): I put, I place or I lay
bleppo (bleh' - poh): I see
kerusso (kay - rou' - soh): I preach - I proclaim
lego (lay' - goh): I say
apostello (ah - paw - steh' - loh): I send out
lambano (lahm - bah' - no) I take or I receive
akouo (ah - coo' - oh): I hear, I obey
grapho (grah' - pho): I write

Still with me?  Hey, at least I'm writing the English transliterations.  I had to interpret those from the actual Greek words.  Getting pretty good with this, I am!

This last week I had to learn a bunch of nouns.  These are fun, too ... some are obvious - some are fun to learn.

Angellos (ahn' - gel - lawss): the g in Greek is always hard, never a 'j' sound.  Angel
Apostolos (ah - paw-staw'-lawss):  Apostle  (notice how that might be close to the same thing as the verb above?  hmmmm ...

didaskalos (dih - dah - skah - lawss):  Teacher
thanatos (thah' na tawss):  Death
Logos (law' gawss):  Word
ochlos (awch' (hard ch sound) lawsss): Crowd
stethanos (steh - thah' - nawss):  Crown
chrusos (chrou' - sawss):  Gold

doron (doh' - rawn):  gift
euangelion (eu ahn ge' lee awn): gospel
paidion (pie dee' awn): child
teknon (tek' non): child
ergon (er' gon): work

biblos (bih' blaws): book
odos (o' dawss): road
eramos (eh' ray mawss): wilderness

Lucky you ... no quiz for you, but tomorrow I'll be working through the nouns - last week I worked through the verbs.  One of the fun things to do with the Greek language is to realize how many of these words translate into words we see every day - whether in full words or in parts of words we use.

October 3 - Matthew 1:18-2:23: Key verses / Observations

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Some of the other structural relationships that I looked at in Matthew 1:18-2:23 are cause and effect relationships.  They may seem obvious, but if you dig into them and think about the whys and the implications, it actually gets pretty exciting.

Mary's pregnancy led to Joseph's decision to dismiss her quietly (1:19)

Herod's fears of a new king led to the decision to bring the Wise Men to see him (2:3, 7)

Herod's fury led to the murder of children around Bethlehem (2:16)

The angelic messages via dreams led Joseph and the Wise Men to make plans and to change plans (1:24, 2:12, 2:14, 2:21)

What would you identify as key - significant verses?  These were mine:
Matthew 1:18 - Jesus is identified as being conceived by the Holy Spirit
Matthew 1:22-23; 2:5-6; 2:15; 2:17-18; 2:23 - Use of fulfilled OT prophecy to identify Jesus as Messiah
Matthew 2:3, 12, 16 - Herod identified as evil and unfit king afraid of the coming Messiah
Matthew 1:24; 2:14, 21, 22 - Joseph, though not the father, was obedient to God

Finally, I am asked to come away with some major impressions from the passage.  I made three. 

From the genealogy, Joseph is identified as the patriarch of Jesus’ family.  All decisions regarding these early years are seen through his eyes and his relationship with the angel.  This all occurs even as it is made clear that he is not the natural father of the Messiah.

The coming of the wise men created chaos in King Herod’s court as he gathered those that might be knowledgeable about the Messiah around him in reaction to his fear.  From that point on, he made decisions based on that fear.

Not only is the author clear about making certain the reader recognizes the Old Testament prophetic fulfillment, but he also brings Gentiles in to worship the Messiah, ensuring that the knowledge of God’s son will be spread to all nations.

There are plenty of ways to dig into Scripture ... I'll keep showing you what I do as I progress and hopefully you will begin looking at it with new and fresh eyes!

October 2 - Matthew 1:18-2:23: Recurrence & Pivot Points

Saturday, October 2, 2010

This week my assignment was to tear apart the story of Jesus' birth in Matthew.  I think one of the most fascinating things to observe is the different things the author uses to emphasize his point.  I am so used to just reading and accepting the narrative that I don't actually pay attention to the depth of the story.

I'll give you as much help here as I can, but if you can dig out your Bible and open up the passage, it will really help.  Or, heck just go here and read it.

One of the things that we look for in Inductive Bible study is recurrence.  What are things that happen over and over in the text?

If you read through the text, you discover the there are several things that the author uses again and again.

Matthew uses angelic appearances five different times in this passage (Matthew 1:20; 2:12, 13, 19, 22).  Joseph receives dreams telling him to take Mary as his wife, telling him to flee for Egypt, when to return from Egypt and then again to go on to Nazareth.  The wise men receive a dream from an angel telling them not to return to Herod.

Matthew also extensively uses the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  If we believe that he is speaking to a predominantly Jewish audience, it makes sense that he is ensuring they see that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.  We see this happening in Matthew 1:23; 2:6, 18, 23)

We are beginning to see the structure of this segment come together.

Another thing that occurs is the use of a pivot - a crucial moment.  Can you find this in the passage?  If you look at Matthew 1:20-24, you see a major pivot when Joseph changes his mind following the angel's message to him.  Rather than setting Mary aside, he takes her as his wife.  What would have happened if he had disobeyed?  This is a transformative moment!

The next pivot point that happens is when the Wise Men return to their own country rather than going back and reporting to Herod in Matthew 2:12.  Again, consider the impact of that crucial moment in history.  Had they done anything differently, history would have quite a different look. 

The scriptures that we read are filled with small details that easily get passed over.  Learning to study scripture using this method is absolutely fascinating!  Tomorrow I'll show you a few more things that I discovered as I dug deeply into this passage.