Category Archives: FAQ

Encouragement for Week 11

The book of Acts gives us a unique view of the earliest days of the church.  It was written by the gospel writer Luke, and as our BIND video teacher explained, Acts can be thought of as “Gospel of Luke, Part 2.”  It is a continuation of the life of Jesus, only now Jesus is living his life through the church, in resurrection power, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  There is a sense of miracle, joy, and astonishing events.  Just as Jesus brought healing, hope, and conversions, the church in Acts is able to do many of these same deeds.  Clearly, we are meant to realize that the Lord is still doing the things he did in his earthly body, and he does the as followers of his Way respond to his call.

Several characteristics of church life are to be noted.  First, everything is centered on Jesus Christ as Lord.  That is the message they preached and taught about, and it was also the source of their abilities to bring radical transformation to people’s lives.  We also note that they lived daily with a sense of expectancy, knowing that each day, God had surprises in store.  They experienced the Lord’s intervention in problems they faced, including imprisonment, shipwreck, poison, and persecution.  We see, too, that the early Christians shared the adventures of faith through deep fellowship.  They formed something new in human experience.  It was a community, called into being by God, committed to Christ and to prayer, and creatively ministering to real needs in Jesus’ name. 

The marks of the early church are meant for us as well.  We are to celebrate the centrality of Christ, live with a sense of expectancy, strengthen our bonds of fellowship, and devote ourselves to mission and ministry in Jesus’ name. As we do so, we experience more and more of God’s work among us.

Encouragement for Week 9

Ezekiel 37:1-14 is one of the best-known passages in this otherwise little-known book. The valley of the dry bones. It’s an eerie scene of death and despair.  To understand what’s going on here, you have to know this is 587 B.C. – the lowest point in the history of God’s people.  In that year the mighty Babylonians wiped out the Israelite army, desecrated the temple of the Lord, leveled the city of Jerusalem and dragged off most of the survivors (including Ezekiel) to captivity.

That’s what this valley of bones is all about.  God’s people appear to be dead and dismembered, scattered like dry bones across the dreary landscape, cut off from any hope of a future.  As Ezekiel gazes across this valley of death, God asks him, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  The obvious answer, the realistic answer, is “No way.”  But Ezekiel wisely says, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then comes what must have seemed like a bizarre command.  God tells Ezekiel the prophet to do his job and prophesy to the bones – say to them, “Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.”  In other words, God says, “Pretend you’re in church, Ezekiel, and make like this is your congregation.  Preach to the bones.  See what response you get.”

It didn’t take much imagination for Ezekiel to pretend he was in church.  For years he’d been preaching to the exiles living around Babylon.  For years they’d listened to his words.  But nothing happened.  For years they’d been stuck in a sense of hopelessness, frozen in a feeling of God-forsakenness. 

Ezekiel obeyed.  He preached to the bones.  And to his amazement, they started coming together to form skeletons.  Sinews appeared.  Flesh began covering them.  And right there, before his eyes, those dry bones become human bodies.

But not living bodies.  Just corpses.  (Sounds like a zombie movie: “I see dead people!”). God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy so that breath will come into them.  To understand the text here, you need to know that the words breath and wind and spirit are all the same Hebrew word: ruach.  This time when Ezekiel preaches the ruach, the breath or Spirit of the living God enters the lifeless bodies and they come alive.  It’s like what happened back in Genesis, when God formed the first human body out of dust, and then breathed into it and it became a living being (Genesis 2:4-7).  It’s like what Jesus says needs to happen to Nicodemus – being born again by the Spirit, the breath of God (John 3:1-8).  It’s like what happened in the days after the first Easter, when the risen Christ brought together the scattered disciples to form a body of believers, and then on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit breathed life into them (see Acts 1 and 2). 

“I prophesied as he commanded me,” says Ezekiel, “and ruach / breath / Spirit entered them,” and those dry bones “came to life and stood on their feet – a vast army.”  And God said, “O my people, you say your hope is gone, you’re cut off.  But I say I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.”

And the question we need to ask today is the same question God asked Ezekiel: “Son of man, can these bones live?”  No matter what has happened in your life or in the lives of those you love, no matter what the disaster or defeat or death, can God breathe new life into that pile of dry bones? 

In our spiritual life? In our marriages and families? In our political systems? In our world economy? Can God possibly breathe new life into these dry bones?

 It wasn’t enough for Ezekiel just to preach at those dry bones.  What had to happen was for Ezekiel to call out to God and ask his Spirit to bring life back into these broken bones. It was something he had to pray for, something that could only happen by the mighty re-creative power of the Spirit of God.

 Through the prophet Ezekiel, God is telling us that YES, these bones can life… if God wills it to be so. All things are possible through Him. And God is telling us something else…

 Through Ezekiel, God is pointing us to the One who can make all dry bones live: Jesus Christ, to the One who takes on the power of death and defeats it on the cross, to the One who rolls away the stone and rises from the tomb on Easter, the One who says, “I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John.11:25-26) 

Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is God’s Spirit that brings new life to the deadness in you and me.  So we pray the Spirit of the living God will come and breathe life into us, today and tomorrow and on the final day.  Even though your body will die, the promise of the Gospel is that the power of God that “raised Jesus from the dead will give life to [our] mortal bodies” as well (Romans 8:11).

Son of man, can these bones live?  Yes, they can.  Yes, they will – by the power of God.

*Adapted from a sermon preached at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church, Lake Oswego, OR

Encouragement for Week 8

Today, the term prophecy is often applied to predictions of the end of the world—regardless of whether those predictions are thought to come from the Bible, or Nostradamus, or the Mayan “2012” calendar.

However, all of this is a far cry from actual Old Testament prophecy.  The biblical prophets were concerned with the goodness and greatness of God, and the people’s response.   They had a passion to proclaim the word of the Lord as they received that word, pure and simple.  Sometimes that word dealt with what the future held, but it was always in relation to God’s work of judgment, blessing, and redemption.  The prophets’ words of long ago were never meant as a way to predict current events—except that the eternal themes of grace, obedience, and hope always apply to the human situation.

The prophets represent a breakthrough in human history.  Their divine message connected the dots, making it clear that there was a purpose behind every event.  “Stuff happens” was definitely not their mantra.  Rather, they viewed all of life as being under the direction of the sovereign, loving, and holy God. For God’s people, there was a high standard.  Faithfulness led to righteousness and peace; idolatry resulted in terrible defeat.  Pride was taken down, yes. But in times of hopelessness and humiliation, the Lord picked up the pieces and restored the blessing.  Sometimes in reading through, we may be overwhelmed by all the punishment for sin.  But don’t miss the words of peace and renewal; don’t miss the message that ultimately God overcomes sin and restores the broken. 

The prophets’ North Star was the glory of God, and the purity of worship: “You shall have no other gods…”  This constant was reflected (or not) in how Israel treated their neighbors, and cared for the least among them. In other words, their faithfulness to the Lord was in part measured by humble, decent living.   Wrath came whenever they turned from God and God’s compassionate ways.  Loyalty to God, and God’s blessing, went hand in hand with compassion toward others.  Living in such a way as to bring praise to God was key to Israel’s vocation.

We learn in Isaiah that tiny Israel has a cosmic role to play:  “I will make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”  (Isaiah 49:6)  Israel was being prepared for a bigger mission.  Christians see in the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the prophets, a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ.  Passages such as Isaiah 42:1-4, point us to the One who would live among us, bringing forgiveness, salvation, and true justice. As we read, we should look for those texts that proclaim the coming Savior, and God’s new covenant of grace.

Encouragement for Week Six

So here you are. You’ve made way through over half of the Old Testament! You’ve seen an entire nation of people grow from one old man and woman, survive forty years in the desert, be led mightily into the Promised Land, only to lose it all when they couldn’t remain faithful to the God who had led them there. You read about how they were brought back to this land and how they recommitted themselves to fidelity and obedience to God. And if you’re like me, you’ve begun to put one and two together.

 From what we’ve read so far, it seems fair to say that good behavior = good rewards, bad behaviors = bad punishment. That’s the way it worked for Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, David, Solomon, Ahab, and Hezekiah, right?

 So you think you’ve got it all figured out and then you get to the book of Job. And everything falls apart. Here’s this guy, whom the Bible says is “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” According to our formula, Job should be rolling in the blessings. And yet, as we read on, we are somewhat horrified to discover that this “contract faith” assumed in the earlier books of the Old Testament doesn’t hold up. Job suffers, seemingly undeservedly, and we are left to wonder what in the world is going on.

 As we begin to think about what the book of Job has to teach us, let us first start out by saying that it is quite possible that Job is a work of fiction. We have no historical record of this man “Job,” or his friends, ever existing. The book itself seems totally unconcerned with matters of history. There are no dates or markers of time and place. That’s not the point.

Whether or not this exact story happened in this exact way matters not, for the truth is variations of Job’s story are happening all the time. Though there may not have been a specific man named Job who underwent inordinate suffering, there are men and women who are suffering today, who need to hear the truth a book like Job has to offer.

So what is it that Job teaches us? Three things…

 1.      The one on trial here is not Job, but God.

Satan (Hebrew for “the adversary”) comes to God and claims that God’s policy of bringing blessing on righteous people is flawed because they will then be motivated by prosperity rather than simply the desire to be righteous. Satan is claiming the humans really only love the gifts, not the Giver, that we try to be good only for the sake of God’s benefits, that we are “religious” and “good” only because it pays.

 If that’s true, if Satan is right, that means that human beings aren’t truly free. Sure, we are free to descend- to rebel against God. But are we free to ascend- to believe in God for no other reason than, well… no reason at all? Satan’s accusation is that human beings only love God because we are bribed to do so and therefore not truly free at all. And God cannot allow that accusation to stand. And therefore, God allows this test.

2.      “Right” answers are not always right

Job’s friends have all the “right” answers. Common sense and all reason tell us, they argue, that a just God will treat people fairly, Those who obey and remain faithful, God rewards. Those who sin, God punishes. Therefore, Job must have some unknown, unconfessed sin in his life. If he would just confess and repent, God would surely forgive and restore him.

 Theologically, they are right. The problem is… they’re wrong. Job is sure of two things: God is just and he is righteous. How those two truths fit together in this situation, he does not yet understand.

 3.      God’s wisdom is far beyond human understanding

When God finally appears in chapter 38, God does not spend any time explaining why Job had to undergo this time of trial. Nor does God try to defend his justice because no one is in a position to assess his justice. To assess God’s justice in running the world, someone would have to know exactly how world is run. And only God knows that. We simply do not have enough information to be able to affirm that God is just. We do have enough, however, to affirm that God is wise. If we believe that God is wise, then we can believe that God is just.

 So what are we to take away from our reading of Job? Quite simply, faith in God is never as simple as good and bad, reward and punishment. Unfortunately, we know all too well that good people undergo immeasurable, incomprehensible suffering for which there are no easy answers.

 When it is we, or the people we love, who are suffering, we can take courage from Job…

  1.  Despite our circumstances, whether or not we are actively receiving blessing from God’s hand, we can know, we can believe that God is GOOD, ALL the time. We can ask God for the faith to love and follow Him, despite our circumstances. When we are in the darkness, we can hold on to what we have learned in the light.
  2. “Right” answers don’t help. Job’s friends weren’t a comfort to him, and neither will we be to our friends in pain if all we can offer are trite religious sentiments. As it turned out, the most compassionate things the friends did for Job took place at the very beginning, when they sat in silence with him for seven days. Simply being with person in pain speaks volumes more than any words you could ever say.
  3. It is in the moments that seem most impossible that we need to hold on to our faith the most. Though we do not understand what God is up to when we suffer, how we respond matters. Though God clearly is not upset by our true expression of our feelings (Job had some pretty choice words for God), what God asks is that we continue to hold on. To believe even when it seems impossible. We don’t have all the answers to why suffering happens. The best thing we can do is hold on to one another and to the God who promises, one day, to work all things for good.

Encouragement for Week 5

I grew up in a what I consider to be a very typical suburban American family. Mom, Dad, Sister, and a rotating cast of pets. In our house, there were definitely rules and expectations for how everyone was to live. And in their effort to make sure we actually learned and followed these rules, my parents would consistently remind us of them… no lying, hitting, or name-calling; everyone eats dinner together and you eat what’s put before you; get your chores done before someone has to nag you…. and so on. We knew the rules, but sometimes we forgot to follow them. And it was in those forgetful moments that my parents would have to remind us.

 But sometimes, instead of directly telling us how she expected us to behave, my mom would tell us stories from her past. Now these stories were not simply for her or our entertainment. They were just as instructive as the rule-reminders, but much more subtle. Through these stories, it was clear that Mom was trying to guide our behavior.

 Sometimes she would tell us stories that were meant to dissuade us from bad behaviors. I don’t know how many times I heard the story of Mom’s older sister Louise; when it came to after-supper time and the kids’ were expected to do the dishes, how Louise would “desperately” need to use the restroom, and “mysteriously” wouldn’t finish until after the dishes were done. Mom wasn’t SAYING, “Don’t be like Louise. YOU have to help with the dishes,” but her point was made clear through her story.

Similarly, she would also tell us stories meant to elicit good behaviors. When my sister and I didn’t give a hoot about school, she’d tell us the story about how she worked hard and became her high school valedictorian. Her “hidden” expectation: “Do your homework, ya lazy-bum.”

Well, for the past 2 weeks, we’ve been reading some pretty important stories from Israel’s past. And like my mom’s stories, these stories aren’t in the Bible simply for our entertainment. They serve a purpose. To understand their purpose, we need to also understand their context.

Brief history excursus: David became king over the united kingdom of Israel around 1010bc and ruled until 970. David’s son Solomon ruled from 970-931, after which the kingdom divided into factions, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah).

As you read last week in 1 & 2 Kings, the people continually did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They just couldn’t seem to get themselves to follow the rules that they and God had agreed on way back at Mt. Sinai. And so, after many, many efforts to bring them back, God finally let the people experience the full consequences of their actions and they were exiled. Judah fell to the Assyrians in 722 and most of their citizens deported forever. And Israel fell to Babylon in 586. The people who were allowed to remain alive were deported to Babylon, where they remained for the next 70 years.

1 & 2 Kings was written during those 70 years. These stories were told as an attempt to understand what had happened and how they ended up in exile. In telling these stories, the people remind themselves just how far off track they had gotten. God had tried to warn them, but they hadn’t listened. As they recounted the past 300+ years’ worth of stories to one another, they retaught themselves what God expected of them.

Another history break: Now it’s 536bc. And Babylon has been conquered by Persia. And the Persian king doesn’t want these Israelites hanging around. He allows them to return home to Jerusalem. This is when 1 & 2 Chronicles gets written.

Though the stories of Kings and Chronicles may seem mind-numbingly similar, they are BOTH necessary, for they serve two different purposes. Chronicles was written to remind the people that, throughout their history, obedience lead to blessing and disobedience to trouble. Through telling these stories again, this time with a little twist, the writer of Chronicles now isn’t interested in focusing on the people’s failures, but on God’s faithfulness. They can look to the future with hope, because they now know that of they commit themselves to God, God will always commit Himself to them.

These stories are important. Without laying out the rules explicitly, they still tell the Israelites and they tell us what God expects of us. And what God expects is that He would be number one. No matter how strong we think we are on our own, our strength is no match for God’s. And no matter how weak or fearful we feel, we can take courage that God is on our side. He’s the One upon whom we can depend, no matter what. And that’s exactly what He expects us to do.

How to read the Bible

Congratulations friends! You are about to embark on a very special journey. This journey will start on the first page of the Bible and will end on the last. You’ll read a little bit every day and, in 90 days, you will have read the entire Bible, cover-to-cover!

 If you’ve ever tried to read the Bible on your own, you may have already discovered that sometimes reading the Bible can be kind of hard! It doesn’t always make sense at first!  So as we begin this journey together, we wanted to share some insights on how you can get the most out of this experience. Here are some Bible-reading tools of the trade for you to hold on to as you read…

 1.      Always start with prayer. One of the Holy Spirit’s main jobs is to help us understand what God wants to say to us. So it’s best to ask for help listening to and understanding God’s Word. As you open your Bible each day, say a simple prayer like this: “Gracious God, thank you for this gift I hold in my hands. May your Spirit fill me and interpret your precious words for me as I read. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.”

 2.      Take the 5,000-foot view. You’re going to be reading a LOT of the Bible each day. If you ever want to get through it, know that you’re not going to get to really dig in deep. There may be parts that interest you each day that you want to learn more about. Take a note of these passages so that you can go back later to investigate! If you try and go deeper now, you’ll likely fall behind.

Also, remember that it’s okay if you don’t understand everything the first time through. Make note of the passages that confuse you. Bring your questions to your BIND group or send a note to your pastors. But don’t let your confusion discourage you from continuing to read. You’ll be surprised at the end how much you’ve learned!

 3.      Utilize the tools of the scientific method. As you read, keep your Participant’s Guide or a journal handy. Jot down a couple notes as you read.

  • Observation: What does this passage say? 
    •  Take note of the basic WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY’s of the passage
  • Interpretation: What does this passage mean?
    •  This is where the Essential Bible Companion can be a BIG help.I
      • Identify the message of the book as a whole
      • Understand what kind of literature it is… (Is it Historical, Biographical, Poetic, Proverbial, Prophetic, a Letter, or some combination thereof?) We read poems very differently than we read commands, so it’s helpful to be able to identify the
      • Try to gain an understanding of what the meaning might have been for this passage, both for the people to whom it was written, and for us today.
  • Application: What does this passage mean to me?
    • Try and take at least one life-lesson with you throughout the day. Ask yourself…
      • Have I learned something new about what I believe?
        • Do I need to change of thought or behavior?
        • If I applied this passage to my life today, how would my day look different?
  • Transformation: Letting the Word of God change your life.
    • The apostle Paul writes this about the role of Scripture in our lives: “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God might be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
    • Notice, he does not say that the purpose of reading and knowing Scripture is to enable us to get a 100% score on the entrance exam to heaven. We read the Bible so that we become equipped for good works… so that we can become transformed into the kind of people from whom goodness flows like an unceasing stream.

Blessings on you as you endeavor upon this exciting and life-changing adventure!