Friday, May 3, 2019

Bible Challenge: Wisdom Literature

The last section of the Bible Challenge for the 2018-2019 program year is Wisdom Literature.

Wisdom Literature is the term used to cover the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Solomon.

Most of us are somewhat familiar with the Psalms, if only because one is always included on Sunday mornings.  The other four books are probably less familiar.

They are called "Wisdom Literature" both because of the content of the books and the style of them.  Starting with style.  They are all, in the main, books of poetry.  That doesn't mean that they all rhyme, but they are all poetic books.  They make extensive use of symbolism.  They also all show the characteristic repetition of the same idea in two different ways of Hebrew poetry.

The content is, broadly, about human response to environment and events.  The books all contain a variety of reflections on how people, individuals and nations, attempt to come to terms with their reactions to the work of God in their lives and the world around them.

These books were some of the last to come into their final forms, Psalms was the earliest to reach its current form, while many of the psalms are more ancient, the last edits to the book as we have it happened only a couple of hundred years before the birth of Jesus.  The final editing of the other books happened after that. 

As you read these books, remember that they are poetry, so look for symbolism and meanings beyond the words themselves.

The Bible Challenge will take a break for the summer.  Year Two of the Bible Challenge will begin in the fall.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Major Prophets: Lamentations

Sometimes called the Lamentations of Jeremiah, this book it is generally considered possible that it may have been written by the prophet Jeremiah.

The book consists of five poems written in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the forces of Babylon and the carrying off of much of the population into captivity.

The poems are in slightly different forms:
Chapters 1, 2 & 4 are in the form of a funeral dirge.  Rather than being a dirge for an individual, they are dirges for the nation as a whole.
Chapter 3 is an individual lament by the author
Chapter 5 is a community lament.

A lamentation is a cry of pain, it is a response to circumstances that challenge our sense of safety and purpose. 

Lamentations begins by acknowledging the magnitude of the current suffering.  It then turns to the past and acknowledges the power of God and the fact that the nation had become an enemy of God because it had turned away from him and that this was the cause of their destruction.  There is a small bit of hope at the end that God will not exile the people forever, but the majority of the book is confession and repentance.

Bible Challenge Reading:
Read Lamentations on April 12 & 13 - it will be an appropriate preparation for Holy Week.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Major Prophets: Jeremiah

The book of Jeremiah was written in Jerusalem between 627 and approximately 587.  The major concepts are that because of Judah's sin, God will use the Babylonians to destroy the land, but God will be with them in exile and eventually they will return to the land.

The years of Jeremiah's writing saw the decline of Judah and the carrying away of the leaders, educated and skilled people into captivity in Babylon.

Jeremiah was part of a priestly family, but it is not clear whether or not he followed his father into priestly service before becoming a prophet. 

Jeremiah continued to call the people to repentance.  This was not well received by either the king or the people.  Some of the most poignant pieces of the book are Jeremiah being rejected by the people. 

Jeremiah remained behind when many were carried off into Babylon.  He was a part of the remnant working to rebuild life in the land. 

Readings from Jeremiah for the Bible Challenge are:
March 26 - 30 - Jeremiah 1 - 16
March 31 - April 6 - Jeremiah 17 - 40
April 7 - 9 - Jeremiah 41 - 52

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Major Prophets: Isaiah

In our Bible Challenge we are beginning our look at the major prophets.  They are called major because they are long books in comparison to the other prophetic books in the Old Testament.  However, both Isaiah & Jeremiah are certainly major theological work as well.

Remember that the word "prophecy" in Biblical literature doesn't necessarily refer to foretelling the future, but about calling the people of Israel, or the king, or the religious leaders or all three to repent and return to the ways of God.

This post is about the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah is actually not one book, but three.  The three are set far apart both in time and in the events of the history of Israel.

First Isaiah (sometimes just called Isaiah) is chapters 1 - 39.
This was written in Jerusalem during the years from 742 to 701 BC.  The key ideas of the book are that God, who is holy and just, demands that the people be righteous and that they trust in him.  The people will be judged, but a remnant will be preserved and God will raise up a king from the line of David.

First Isaiah took place during the reigns of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.  Isaiah's call story places his call to be a prophet in the year of Uzziah's death.  Uzziah's reign was a time of peace in Israel and because there was peace, it was a time when wealth increased for many of the people of Israel.  That continued during the reign of Jotham, but when Ahaz came to the throne in 735, the Assyrian empire was gaining in power and more and more Assyria exerted power over Israel, even to the point of a temple being built to the Assyrian god in Jerusalem and the king participating in worship and sacrifice (possibly even including his own son) to that god.

The prophet of first Isaiah calls not only the king, but all the people to return to the ways of God, but fears that they will not and that they will be judged.  He holds out hope that after the judgement of God, a remnant of the people will remain and that from that remnant God will raise up a king from the line of David who will rule not only Israel, but the world and will restore them to righteousness.  Many of the writings about that king were believed, after the Babylonian captivity, to refer to king Cyrus of Persia and by the time of Jesus were being read to refer to the Messiah who would one day come to free the people of Israel.

Second Isaiah is chapters 40 - 55.
This was written in Babylon, during the captivity of the people of Israel.  The book was written shortly before 539 BCE, or about 200 years after First Isaiah.  The main concept is that God has forgiven the people and will restore them to their land.  The ministry of the "servant of God" will extend the knowledge of God to all the nations.

Israel had been defeated by King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon in the 570's BC.  The walls of the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, all the leaders who survived, all the priests, anyone who could read or write and anyone with any skill was taken into captivity, leaving behind the poor and subsistence farmers in Israel.  The author of Second Isaiah was among those taken into captivity. 

After the death of King Nebuchadrezzar in 562, the Babylonian empire began to decline and in 539 BCE Babylon surrendered to King Cyrus of Persia.  King Cyrus sponsored the return of the captives to Israel and sent Nehimiah to oversee the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of Jerusalem.

Second Isaiah holds out hope that the people of Israel will be returned to their land and that a servant of God will prepare the way for them and then spread the knowledge of God beyond the people of Israel.  In it's own time the servant of God was taken to by Cyrus of Persia, but by the time of Jesus these verses had also come to be considered to refer to the coming Messiah.

Third Isaiah is chapters 59 - 66.
This is written in Jerusalem after 538 BC, after Cyrus of Persia had conquered Babylon.  The main concept is that God vindicates the righteous and destroys the wicked.

Third Isaiah focuses a good deal on the universal love of God and the forgiveness and grace of God. 

The Bible Challenge reading of Isaiah is:
March 3 - 9 - Isaiah 1 - 18
March 10 - 16 - Isaiah 19 - 40
March 17 - 23 - Isaiah 41 - 58
March 24 & 25 - Isaiah 59 - 66
 


Monday, January 7, 2019

Bible Challenge: The Minor Prophets

The next section of the Bible Challenge has the books called The Minor Prophets.  They are called this not because they are less important, but because they are shorter than the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah & Lamentations).  These books span a period of about 400 years beginning about 800 years before the birth of Christ.

When we hear the word prophecy we think about people predicting the future.  That is not really what Biblical literature means by prophecy.  In the context of the Bible prophets are people chosen by God to deliver a message to the leaders, the people or both.  Usually this involves telling the king, the religious leaders and/or the people that they have strayed from the ways of God and that they better shape up.  Prophecy usually includes the hope that God will not forsake the people, that God will rescue the people etc.... but that message is in the context of the admonition to shape up and return to the ways of God.

Hosea: This book is basically a rejection of Israel's politics and religious practice.  Hosea appeals to the history of Israel to remind the people that God is their savior and to remind them that faithful love and kindness are the responses that God requires of them.  The book is dated between 750 and 732 BCE.

Joel: This books falls into two sections, the first two chapters, which focus on plague and drought and chapters three and four which focuses on the coming of the Day of the Lord. This book is hard to date, a majority of scholars place it after 515 BCE., but a strong minority place it much earlier, from 837 - 800 BCE.

Amos: This book mostly consists of a series of oracles.  You will find four themes in the book: Judgement; Social Justice; Religious Practice and Ignoring the Word of God.  In all of these areas Amos (and God) find the people wanting.  Internal evidence places this book between 786 and 742 BCE.

Obadiah: Nearly the entirety of the book is oracles against the nation of Edom, a traditional enemy of Israel.  It concludes with a warning of the coming of the Day of the Lord which will include punishment for all nations. The book was written no earlier than 587 BCE and no later than 312 BCE.

Micah: Calls the people out on their rejection of God.  He sees punishment coming.  Sin is the reason for that and the King of Assyria will be the tool God uses.  The book is dated to between 740 and 687 BCE.

Nahum: In this book the prophecy is largely through poetry.  There is only one message to this book, God will execute judgement on Ninevah (the capital of the Assyrian empire). The book is usually dated to between 663 and 612 BCE.

Habakkuk: Some scholars believe that this book in mostly made up of prophecy written for use in worship. Nearly unique in prophetic literature, this book directions questions to God directly and calls God's justice into question. This book is very hard to date, but it is usually placed between 626 BCE and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BCE.

Zephaniah:  Written at a time of great political turmoil, the book's dominant theme is the coming of the Day of the Lord, when God will punish both the nations who are enemies of Israel and the people of Israel themselves and will purify the nation. This book is dated to between 640 and 609 BCE.

Haggai: Haggai was one of the people responsible for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem following the captivity of much of the nation of Israel in Babylon.  This book is an effort encourage the people in that effort. The book is dated to between 521 and 486 BCE.

Zechariah: This is actually two different books, probably by two different authors.  Chapters 1 to 8 are the first part, the second is chapters 9 - 14.  It is difficult to precisely date either part, but in and around the end of the Babylonian captivity, around 500 BCE seems likely.

Malachi: Malachi is directed at the priests and it calls them to reform and return to the true worship of God. It is dated to after 515 BCE.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

New Year's Resolution for the Spirit

New Year's Resolutions are a big part of conversation as the end of the year approaches.  Gyms gear up for a January onslaught of people who made resolutions to exercise more (and for the usual March drop off of many of those people).  Book stores also prepare for a rush on self-help books on a variety of topics.

If your New Year's Resolution involves your spiritual life here are some ideas of ways to pick up a spiritual practice for 2019:

You could add prayer to your day (once or several times)

·         The easiest way to begin integrating prayer is to pick a part of your day and add prayer to it.  That can be as simple as saying grace before lunch or dinner every day or saying a prayer when you wake up or go to bed.
·         Prayer, at its base, is talking & listening to God – so it doesn’t have to be formal “Good morning God” is as good a way to begin as any other.
·         Many people find that having a structure to their prayers help a lot
o   Forward Day by Day has a short devotion every day (it also lists the readings for that day at the top).  You can pick up one in any of the literature racks at church or go to http://prayer.forwardmovement.org/  There is a link to Forward Day by Day so you can read it on-line
o   Many people pray some portion of what is called “the Daily Office”  That is Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, & Compline.  You can do all of those or start with one (if you are starting with one, start with Noonday Prayer or Compline, which is late night prayer).  You can find instructions for the Daily Office in the front part of the Book of Common Prayer and a schedule of Daily Office readings in the back.  You can get a Book of Common Prayer for your kindle or on-line at bcponline.org.  If you want a hard copy you can order it from Amazon or let Pastor Vicki know and she can give you one.
o   If you want to pray the daily office on-line you can do that in a couple of places
§  Prayer.forwardmovement.org posts all four of the Daily Office prayers every day
§  Mission Saint Claire also offers the Daily Office on-line every day.  This includes some hymns that you can play if you would like - http://www.missionstclare.com/english/
o   The Book of Common Prayer also has a section called “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families”.  It is on pages 137 – 140.  There are prayers for Morning, Noon, Early Evening and Close of Day.
·         Many people find that keeping a prayer journal if very helpful.  This can be as simple as writing down each day what you are praying about.  If you want more structure, try making four sections: People & Thinks I’m Praying For: People & Things I’m Thankful for: Things I am sorry about: Praise to God and writing something in each section each day.

You could add Bible Study or Reflection to your day
·         Reading the Bible regularly is one of the best ways to stay connected with God.
·         At the prayer.forwardmovement.org website you can find a link to a series of daily readings.
·         St. Paul’s is also doing a Bible Challenge that has readings for 6 of the 7 days of the week.  In January we are starting the minor prophets – the short books at the end of the Old Testament.  You can pick up a pamphlet about the Bible Challenge on the Way of Love bulletin boards in the hallway and the library.
·         If you want to start reading through the whole Bible, you might with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) rather than with Genesis.  Another way to start is to read one Psalm each day (there are 150 Psalms)
·         If you are looking to purchase a Bible for you or your child, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is what we read in church on Sunday.  The Common English Bible (CEB) is a newer translation that is accurate and readable.  The CEB aims for a 7th – 8th grade reading level.  The NRSV is at about an 11th grade reading level.
·         If you want to read Bible stories with children there are several good Bible story books
o   Tomie dePaola’s Book of Bible Stories (GP Putnam’s, 1990), ages 2-10.
o   Spark Story Bible: Sunday School Edition (Augsburg Fortress, 2009), ages 3-7.
o   Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu (Zonderkidz, 2010), ages 4-8.
o   Shine On: A Story Bible (MennoMedia, 2014), ages 8-11
o   The Complete Illustrated Children’s Bible by Janice Emmerson (Harvest House, 2014), ages 7-11.
o   The Children’s Illustrated Story Bible by Selena Hastings (Dorling Kindersley, 2004), ages 8-12.
o   The Lion Bible for Children by Murray Watts, Helen Cann (Lion Hudson, 2014), ages 9-12.
o   Thank you to Church Publishing Incorporated for this list from their Way of Love for Families resource.

Worship is an important part of the life of the spirit
Gathering with other Christians to praise God and be in community is an important part of keeping our spiritual life balanced.  Committing (or recommitting) to regular attendance at worship can help ground our spiritual lives.

Rest is also a part of the life of the spirit
It is very difficult for us as 21st century Americans to really rest.  We tend to try to schedule or program our rest.  One way to start adding rest to your spiritual practice is to pick a few hours each week (it doesn’t have to be the same time each week) where you don’t schedule anything, create a space of time where you can just be and not have to do.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Giving Thanks

This is a General Thanksgiving prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (it is on page 836)

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us.  We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.  Amen.

This has been one of my favorite prayers for a long time.  I think it is perfect for the Thanksgiving time. 

My favorite part is the paragraph that thanks God for failure.  I rarely think about failure as something for which I want to give thanks.  But the truth is that I have always learned more from my failures then I have from my successes. 

I also like the part that thanks God for tasks that require our best efforts.  There really is nothing better then accomplishing something that is a challenge.

As we move towards Thanksgiving and we think about what we are thankful for, I invite you to move beyond the usual things that we think about and move into giving thanks for your challenges and failures too.