Category Archives: Bible study

Slogging Through Romans 2

Our pastor is preaching from Romans for the summer, so our Life Group decided we would study it along with the sermons. I suspect Pastor Mark will have about eight to ten sermons from Romans. But, studying it as a Bible study will require many more weeks than that, perhaps as many as 25 to 30 weeks. This was the third week for the series, and pastor is in Romans 6, whereas in Life Group we are just through Chapter 2 verse 16.

I found many lessons to teach yesterday from Romans 2:1-16. I chose to focus on the statements along the lines of “you have no excuse.” The main two are 1:19-20 and 2:14-15. Here’s what those four verses say, presented herein as if they are consecutive in the book.

What may be known about God is plain to them  [mankind], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

So, in these verses, God is saying, through Paul, that mankind is without excuse as to following Him or not. You can’t get to the gates of heaven and say, “No one presented the gospel to me in a clear way, a way I could understand it.” Nor can you say, “I’m a Gentile, and didn’t have the benefits the Jews had.” Nor can you say, “I’m a Jew. We were God’s chosen people.” In each case, God says, “You have no excuse. I made Myself plain to you. All who sin apart from the law, all who sine under the law, and you now have your eternal punishment.”

Ouch. That’s something no one wants to hear. Everyone wants to think that everyone they know who dies makes it heaven. Not so, says God through Paul.

I think I need to spend a lot more time in these few verses. Of course, in twenty or so weeks I might think that about all of Romans.

Friendships, Faith, and Politics

Henry Higgins said it well in My Fair Lady, when advising Eliza Doolittle on how to conduct herself in public. Concerning conversation, he said, “Stick to the weather and your health.” Others have said this in the negative: “Don’t talk about politics and religion.”

Wise words, perhaps. Yet, here in the U.S.A. we have just been through the most divisive presidential election I can remember. From lewd on-tape, off-camera remarks to chants of “lock her up” to questionable F.B.I. actions to baskets of deplorables, we have been at each other’s throats for the last twelve months, or actually longer than that.

Not everyone has been saying rancorous things, but many have. It hasn’t been confined to one side. Both have gone into the mud-slinging business, despite some promising to wage a high-road campaign. Such is the nature of politics when a people govern themselves. I’d rather have it that way as a consequence of choosing who will lead us than have leaders forced upon us by an outside power, or even by an inside power who doesn’t take our views into account. Self-determination, flawed as it is, is better than the opposite.

So where to we go from here? Approximately 121 million people voted (or maybe that number will be a little higher once all absentee votes are counted). Many eligible voters didn’t vote, either at all or for president, instead voting only for other offices and issues. That’s down something like 5 million voters from our 2012 presidential vote. Most commentators think that’s because the two major party candidates were unlovable people. I concur with that. I also note another difference. In 2012 every state and D.C. the winning candidate won a majority of the votes in that state. In 2016, the highest vote getter in each state got only a plurality. Third party candidates siphoned off a significant number of votes.

This lack of enthusiasm for the candidates is understandable, but is not reflected in what we see in the aftermath of the election. Racists and others with unhealthy beliefs are sending out messages of hate. Many are fearful that social changes from the last ten to thirty (or even fifty) years are going to be rolled back under the new administration. As a consequence, they are protesting the result of the election. Some really bad people are piggybacking on them, and are rioting, looting and destroying the businesses in their neighborhoods, in many cases the business of people who agree with the protesters.

One side says “Suck it up; you lost.” Another side says, “We’re terrified of what new era may be ushered in.” Still others say “Let’s all just chill out for a while.” A few people are saying wise words. I’m hoping to add to those wise words here.

I have heard two things recently that sum up very well what I believe should happen now. One was from “Dirty Jobs” star Mike Rowe. I never watched that show, and became familiar with Rowe mainly from his TV commercials and guest appearances. Embedded in a much longer commentary of this this last week was this statement: “Who tosses away a friendship over an election?” Wise words. They echo what Thomas Jefferson said some two centuries ago: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause of withdrawing from a friend.” Again, these are wise words. And, they were echos from John Wesley from a few decades before Jefferson: “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy: 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those who voted on the other side.” Also wise words.

In worship service yesterday morning, our pastor, Mark Snodgrass, continued in his sermon series “Restored”. This series concerns dealing with the news. He has pulled items from the news over the weeks as representative of where our society is. He could not, of course, ignore the election. He had spoken about it in an earlier message of the series, but felt compelled to say something more. After talking some of the things I did earlier in this post, he gave us a wise, wise statement: “Jesus did not call the church to reflect the lesser evil; he called us to reflect the greatest amount of love.” [loose quote]

What a great statement. It picks up from where Rowe, Jefferson, and Wesley ended, and takes us much, much further. It’s up to the church to: understand what caused people to vote the way they did, regardless of whether we agree with them or not; understand how people are feeling now; to treat all with love.

I would take this a step further. Our Life Group is currently in a study of 1st and 2nd Timothy, a study I developed titled “Entrusted To My Care”,  This comes from 1st Timothy 6:20. In the first lesson I asked, “Who is entrusted to your care?” The answer I got back from the class was “everyone”. “Everyone?” I asked. They reaffirmed their answer. I explored this further with them, and they were adamant: 7 billion people are entrusted to our care, to my care.

That means that those who are protesting in the streets are entrusted to my care. Those who are sending vile messages either through graffiti or online are entrusted to my care.

Of course, I haven’t met all those 7 billion people, and am unlikely to do so in the time I have left on earth. I’m also unlikely to meet the protesters or the hate spewers. Yet, they are entrusted to my care. Taking my pastor’s words to heart, I know I need to reflect the greatest amount of love, and in so doing show them what care I can.

God help me as I try to do so.

Bread and Boxes

My time is very limited these days, almost all of my own making. I’m working hot and heavy on my novel, Preserve The Revelation. Over the weekend I added slightly more than 5,500 words to it. That exceeded my three-day goal of 5,000 words, so that was good. I was writing a difficult part, where a character dies, and another, closely associated character must carry on. But I’m through the worst of that. The worst going forward is I really haven’t planned out this next section very well, so I may find writing it quite laborious.

Two other writing tasks I’m working on is my chronological composition bibliography of Thomas Carlyle, and further study with writing intentions into my harmony of the gospels, specifically the Resurrection account. When I finished up my latest round of revisions, intended to be my last, in June, I did a little search for references I might add to the resurrection account. I found a couple, which led me to doing some writing on an auxiliary document last week and on the weekend. And some reading on it. This is perhaps totally unnecessary, but it’s something I want to do, something that gives me satisfaction.

Saturday saw me doing the typical chores around our house. I moved a large bookcase from the garage to the basement, to help close-in the temporary bedroom we’ve set up there. I loaded the shelves with Christmas decorations and who knows what all was in the boxes I placed. I now know I need to put a light back there, and will do so next weekend, or I might hire an electrician to do it, as I have a couple of other things I need for one to do.

Sunday was fairly restful. I wasn’t scheduled to teach Life Group, though I always prepare to since my co-teacher (on alternating weeks) is a veterinarian and can be called out at any time), but late on Saturday I received a text from him, saying his on-call weekends had switched and he would be on call Sunday. That meant I did have to prepare to teach. I did that by getting up early Sunday morning (thought in fact I had been preparing during the week). He didn’t get called in, and so he taught; I participated as a student. I napped in the sunroom after church, though not for long before I headed to The Dungeon for my writing.

In the evening we felt the 5.0 earthquake that hit Cushing Oklahoma, about 200 miles from us. That was minor excitement. We got pizza instead of having to prepare food, which was good. I pulled out a writing book to read, since I’ve finished all other books and was ready for something new and since I hadn’t read a writing book in a couple of years at least. But for some reason a wave of tiredness washed over me. I’ve learned not to fight it, so I set my book aside, slouched a little in my easy chair, laid my head against the back, and dozed. Maybe for an hour all together. I woke up about 10:15 p.m. to find a different tv program on.

At that point I tried reading a little more, discovered I couldn’t, so went to the kitchen to prepare for the week. I washed a few dished that needed washing, then packed my breakfasts for the week and my lunch for Monday. Yes, I eat breakfast at work. I leave the house at 6:30 a.m. so as to miss traffic, and have a quiet time at work to read the Bible, pray, and do miscellaneous things (such as write this blog post). I did all of that, finishing right around 11:00 p.m.

At that point I headed to bed. I no sooner laid my head down when I realized I had forgot to put bread for my breakfasts in my food bag. I had done the same thing last week, and got to work and had a boiled egg, slice of ham, slice of cheese, and no bread. I debated getting up to add that, but decided instead to say, “Add bread to my food bag” over and over till I fell asleep, hoping I’d remember it in the morning.

Another unfinished task that crossed my mind as I was trying to lock in remembering the bread was that, during the yard sale last weekend, I moved many empty boxes out of the garage and strewed them on the side of the house or under trees nearby. Lynda reminded me on Sunday that those needed to be brought in. I figured I’d better do them in the morning before going to work, so I started to lock that task in by saying to myself, “Remember the boxes, remember the bread.”

I’m happy to say that this morning I remembered both. I put five slices of bread in two baggies and put them in my food bag. As I left the house through the garage I brought in the boxes and put them where they needed to be, at least temporarily. The need to do that was emphasized to me when I hear on the radio that rain is probable today. These  tasks, and one other within the house, made me about eight minutes late, caused me to be behind two slow moving truck, and then in a long, long line of vehicles heading in to Bentonville. So I was at work late. Alas.

However, so long as I crowd writing into my life, so long as I have so many other obligations that can’t be shunted aside, I will have to compromise somewhere. Driving in heavier traffic was this morning’s compromise. Who knows what it will be for the rest of the day, or tomorrow, or the next day?

Oh, and sorry for missing to post something here last Friday. Too many tasks, something had to give.

It rains! It rains!

Today, Friday, we are having band after band of thunderstorms pass over us here in Bentonville. As I’ve mentioned before, I like the rain; it does my heart good. So, on a Friday afternoon, I’m upbeat. I have completed a number of miscellaneous tasks this week, including today, and am ready for the weekend. If the storms continue (as, I believe, they are forecast to do), I shall read and write, file and discard, clean and organize to my heart’s content. If the rain holds off, I have plenty of outside work to occupy my time.

My writing work has been slowly progressing of late. I add a little every now and then to Preserve The Revelation. I do the same to Thomas Carlyle: A Chronological Bibliography of Compositions. Almost every day I review and add to my Bible study titled “Entrusted to My Care”, which we are scheduled to study in our adult Life Group beginning in four weeks or so. Of poetry, I add nothing. The villanelle I wrote last month I hope to get back to in a week or so, tweak it, then submit it to the anthology; the deadline for submittals is Oct 31.

Then, the other major task I have at hand is the cover for the print version of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I’ve been waiting for two talented cover artists/creators to get to it. For a variety of reasons, some legitimate, some not, they haven’t gotten to it in over a month’s time. So, my top priority is to get it done this weekend, uploaded to CreateSpace, a proof copy ordered ASAP, and the book published ASAP. It won’t be as good as if a pro did it, but it will be done, and the book will be available before the Cubs win the World Series—if they do.

My cell phone just gave me a severe weather alert, the first one I’ve received on this. Yet, the thunder has about quit. I may not go by Home Depot on the way home. We’ll see.

A Programmed Bible Reading

The first Sunday in August we were in Dodge City, planning to drive home that evening/night. In church service that Sunday our pastor announced a church-wide Bible reading plan: 40 days of us all reading the same thing. It would start the next day, and follow a certain program on a certain website. Our pastor would also be blogging about it at another site.

Now, we’ve done this sort of thing before; not recently, but we’ve had times when everyone in the church was supposed to be reading the same thing, either something in the Bible or a book for a study. When the reading was a programmed Bible reading, I generally have had trouble keeping up with it. My normal Bible reading is to take a book and read it on my own schedule. Maybe some much per day; maybe till I’m ready to stop. Right now I’m reading the major epistles, currently reading a chapter a day as a devotional reading.

But, when I get a programmed Bible reading, for some reason, I can’t do it. I fall asleep while reading. I let my mind drift. I get nothing from the reading. I seldom finish the program.

This time, when we got home from our trip, and by the time I looked at e-mails and newsletters and found myself already behind in the reading, I almost didn’t start it. However, wanting to participate with the others, I started a few days late and determined to catch up. I did so within a week, and am on schedule, slightly more than 1/2 way through.

The surprising thing is I’ve been able to read and enjoy it. When reading, my powers of concentration seem good. My mind doesn’t wander, and I get through it all. This is a strange thing for me. But I hope it continues, through this program and in the future.

Deeper than an MRI

At our adult Life Group this morning I was faced with a dilemma. Our pastor is gone on Spring Break, and the youth pastor was preaching. In the first service his sermon was shorter than our pastor’s normally is, and we were out of service in just 50 minutes instead of the usual 65 or so. That meant during the second service, when I would be substitute teaching the Life Group, the time would be shorter than normal.

The man who organizes our card ministry (At the beginning of each class we prepare greeting cards for various people in the church), so that took some time to get going. Finally we got to prayer requests. The first one was by a woman (early 50s, I think) who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Two recent tests, a biopsy and an MRI, confirmed the problem, but she doesn’t yet know what the treatment will be.

One of the men in the class suggested we gather around her and her husband and pray for them right then, before we heard other requests. We did so. I was glad for it, and the whole time thing kind of melted away in my mind. This is what the class is for. The lesson is important, but prayer like this should be primary. I asked another woman in the class to lead us in the prayer. She did so with a heartfelt prayer, making one statement in it that was incredible. “Lord, you see deeper than any MRI.”

What a great statement, I thought! Indeed, God does see deeper than any MRI, any test on a biopsy, and Catscan (however that’s supposed to be spelled). He sees our deepest needs. He knows what the problem is, no matter what the problem is. That doesn’t mean that he miraculously solves all problems, instead leaving it to be worked out by human effort and ingenuity, sometimes with a good result, sometimes with a so-so or negative result. But always, always He does not leave the one with the problem alone.

Well, my problem of the amount of time I had to teach a lesson was much less of a problem than what we prayed over. But the lesson went well. We studied 2 John (first time I’ve ever seen it used in a Sunday School lesson). I had been able to pull three critical points out of it, and we found time enough to discuss each one. I think, by the end of the class, all attendees felt blessed and spiritually fed.

And we got out a little late. By the time I hit the church lobby most people had gone, so pastor Aaron must have been short-winded in the second service as well.

Now, I need to decide if this lesson was good enough to save and expand and possibly work into a Life Group lesson series. Stay tuned.

2011 Writing in Review: Non-fiction Bible Studies

The last of my posts reviewing my 2011 writing activities is in the area of non-fiction studies, primarily Bible studies. Actually, while I have a little writing of small group studies other than Bible studies, it was Bible studies that took some writing time this year.

Well, I suppose that’s not completely true. Yes, I worked on Bible studies the first couple of months of the year. But after that, any writing time I spent in this area was on John Wesley studies. My intent was to work up a large book dealing with his writings, and working that into a study of Christianity and the Bible.

At the writers conference in June, I talked with a couple of editors and found some interest in the project; however, the editor most interested said he would prefer studies of six lessons each. Split it into a series of books like that, he said, and he might be interested. So I began the process of consolidating my research then splitting the long study into a number of smaller ones.

I originally began writing these Bible studies to teach for our adult Sunday school class. During the summer, the church announced that we would be moving to a sermon-based curriculum in December. Unfortunately, that killed my motivation to complete two Bible studies in early development and the Wesley study series. That’s a lousy excuse, but that’s what happened.

So from about August till the end of the year, I didn’t work on any Bible studies for publication. I haven’t dropped the notion. I have four from the past that, with just a little polish, I could e-self-publish. I may do so in 2012. But wait, this post is about 2011. I’ll discuss what to do with those later.

Book Review: The Prodigal God

The parable of the prodigal son is a favorite with Christians. What’s not to like? A son turns from his sinful life and his father accepts him back with unconditional love. It is taught in Bible studies and preached from the pulpit. This popularity might lead you to think that almost everything that needs to be said about it has been said.

Timothy Keller would disagree. Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York City, he has been preaching/teaching this parable for a couple of decades. In 2008 he published The Prodigal God (Dutton; ISBN 978-0-525-95079-0). The basis of the title is that, while the younger son led a wastefully extravagant life, God is extravagant to the extreme in his love and outreach to mankind. “Prodigal” means recklessly extravagant, profuse in giving. We would normally attach this to the younger brother (not the giving part). Subconsciously we would apply this to God as well, but might not think of this often. Keller artfully shows this extravagance by explaining the what the father in the parable endured in his culture.

  • The affront of his younger son, demanding his inheritance. Normal practice would be to drive the young man out with sticks, but of course the father doesn’t.
  • The need to sell lands, fields, herds to make the division demanded by the younger son’s unreasonable request.
  • Running to welcome his son back, to have at most an extra minute with him. A dignified Middle Eastern landowner would never have tossed his dignity aside by hitching up his robe to run in public. Such is this father’s love.
  • His ignoring the prior affront by unconditionally welcoming back his younger son and restoring him to the family. Such a practice would have opened him to more ridicule from his fellow tribesmen.
  • The affront of his older son refusing to come in to the celebration, and the father’s going out to reason with his son.

Keller takes time to explain the younger brother/older brother dynamics, and how the older brother really has the same sin issue as his younger brother, but manifested in a different way: both want the father’s things, but not the father. One chose the sin of loveless disobedience; the other loveless obedience.

This small book, just 139 easy to read, small size pages, is a good read by itself. It can also be used as a small group study. A study book is available, as is a high quality video of Keller teaching this in six sessions. If you have an opportunity, do the study with a group. If not, at least read the book. You should learn much and be encouraged in your Christian walk.