Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for February 28, 2021. We will be continuing on in the new Lenten worship series entitled, Purple Theory. Today we will be discovering the importance of reading Scripture as a daily practice, which makes us healthier through connecting us and drawing us closer to God. Let us not forget about the power of the Bible!
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In this brand new video series, Pastor Todd of First United Methodist Church of Newton, NJ brings passionate awareness and helpful tips on various transformational Christian practices and theology. Each episode will inspire and motivate spiritual growth through time-tested practices and and wisdom.
This week’s episode invites you to RECLAIM the Bible as a means of grace for us in our daily lives. In this episode, Pastor Todd will discuss how to know which translation to pick, how to read the Bible and why it is important to make reading Scripture a part of our daily routine.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.” (John 17:20 NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 135: You. Yes you, the one who is reading this devotion. When one thinks of the Gospels most people do not think of themselves as one of the main characters. One thinks of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the disciples/apostles, Herod, and the Romans. Heck, one even thinks of the devil and his demons; however, most people do not think of themselves.
I believe that this fact points to a major reason there is such a disconnect between most people and the Gospel message when/if they read the Bible. The Bible, Old and New Testament alike, is being read as a bedtime story filled with two-dimensional characters who bear little to know resemblance to us. At best, the Bible may be read as a work of history, something to look back upon and imagine what it must have been like to be there. Still, we read the Bible as if there is a distance between us and the characters within.
The truth is, however, that there is less of a distance between us and the books of the Bible than we think. It is true that the authors lived in a different time period than us as well as in a different culture and different part of the world. It is also true that the authors wrote with their own contexts and audiences in mind. With that said, the authors also wrote with YOU in mind. The New Testament authors, especially, wrote to all who would be reading them. Thus, YOU are very much a character in the New Testament.
YOU are the one who needs to hear and learn of the Good News about Jesus Christ. YOU are also the one who is being called to follow Jesus and become a disciple. YOU are the one the author intended to teach what the Rabbi/Teacher taught and YOU are the one to whom the author witnessed about Christ’s miracles.
The reader should not, nay, MUST NOT distance him or herself from the Bible. We are the people the authors are writing to. Mark starts off his Gospel cluing YOU in that he is writing about the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. In the very first sentence, YOU are given a clue that the people in the accounts did not have. Then Mark lays before you the accounts of Jesus, not just to tell a neat and fanciful tale, but so that YOU might believe and become a disciple yourself.
The same is true for the other Gospels. Luke has something else going on as well, but we’ll touch upon that next time. Suffice it to say, the Gospel writers, Paul, the other letter writers, and the writer of Revelation all write for YOU, so that you might come to know the truth about Jesus Christ, become a disciple and carry on sharing the Good News with others.
The challenge for us is to read the Bible, especially the New Testament, from a fresh perspective. We need to learn to read it without reading our own contexts into it (because it was not written in our context); conversely, we need to learn to read it as if it were speaking directly to us and as if we were among the characters within it. The truth is WE ARE among the characters in this narrative. What’s more, every time we share the Gospel with others and bring them into a direct relationship with the risen Lord, they too become a character in this ongoing unfolding of God’s redemptive, salvific work in the world.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” – Martin Luther
Lord, illumine me through the Bible and allow me to see that it was not just written about others, or merely for others, but that it was also written for me. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalms 34:18 NLT)
Jesus continued his bestowal of blessings, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The words rang out and filled the ears and souls of the multitude of people gathered around Jesus that day. There was much to mourn in their day and age, there had been much to be grieved over. Under the weight of such suffering, there wasn’t a single soul among Jesus’ followers who hadn’t been in some state of mourning or another.
Whether rich or poor, whether powerful or weak, whether a person of status or a peasant, all were in a state of grief over the travesty of being subjegated to the Roman Empire. Sure, there were some who had much to gain from Rome’s presence. The High Priest, Caiaphas, and his whole priestly family benefited from Rome. According to Flavius Josephus, Annas (the same Annas who took part in Jesus’ mock trial) was appointed High Priest in 6 CE by the Roman Governor Quirinius as the first High Priest of the new Roman Province of Iudaea (aka Judea). He served in that role until he was deposed by the Roman Governor Gratus in 15 CE and was replaced by his son, Eleazar, in 16 CE. In 17 CE, Gratus deposed Eleazar and appointed Annas’ son-in-law, Joseph son of Caiaphas (aka Caiaphas) as the high priest.
There were others who also had much to gain. Herod, an Idumaean Jew, and his family gained power under Rome, as did those who supported Herod’s agenda of Hellenizing Judea (aka the Herodians). Yet, even they were not without their mourning for, under the Roman boot, no one was truly free to do as they pleased, not even Herod. Following Herod’s death, Caesar Augustus refused to give any of his children the title of king, but appointed three of his sons as governors. Herod’s son Archelaus, though willed by his father to be king, was eventually deposed by Augustus and the regions he ruled (Samaria, Judah, and Idumaea) were consolodated into a new Roman province of Iudaea (aka Judea) and placed directly under Roman Rule. Antipas and Phillip both kept governorship of their regions, but the tension between them and Rome was thick.
So, yes, many had much to mourn over in the days and years Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, and no doubt, everyone has something to mourn about in our day and age as well; however, Jesus was not merely speaking to those who mourned in the physical sense, as it is often misunderstood. Jesus was, in actuality, speaking to those who mourn in both the physical and spiritual senses.
Without doubt, by using the phrase “those who mourn”, Jesus is referring to the poor. This can be evidenced in Luke’s literal interpretation of this famous beatitude (Luke 6:21b). With that said, I would once again caution anyone from rushing to the judgment that Matthew is “spiritualizing” Jesus’ words. First, it is more than likely that Luke was written after Matthew, not beforehand. Thus, chronologically speaking, it would be more likely that Luke “literalized” the words of Jesus found in Matthew, and even that’s just as unlikely. Second, since the mysterious Q source of Jesus’ sayings has never been found, only speculative (and not empirical) claims can be made regarding what Jesus was actually recorded as saying. Without empirical evidence, there’s no reason to believe that either Matthew or Luke are detracting from what Jesus said, but more or less expounding upon it.
Lastly and most importantly, Matthew’s text (regardless of the points above) does not exclude the literal poor, but most certainly includes them when mentioning those who mourn. Blessed are they who mourn because of the greed, the corruption, the power, and oppression of the wicked, for they will be comforted. Also included in this group of blessed people are those who mourn and lament because of how far wayward God’s people had gone as a result of greed, corruption and abuse of power. Blessed are those mourners for they, too, will be comforted when God’s Kingdom finally and fully reigns on the earth.
What’s more, as will be seen later in the beatitudes, the mourners are not merely those who are helpless and voiceless against injustice, but those who stand up against it and face the consequences of doing so. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The question for you is, which one of these are you? Are you one of the poor and helpless who mourn? Are you one of those who mourn and lament over injustice and stand up against it, or are you one of those who our Lord (Matthew 23; Luke 6:24-26) declares a series of woes against? Challenge yourself to earnestly reflect on this, not only this week, but always.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Good God, if our civilization were to sober up for a couple of days it’d die of remorse on the third.” – Malcom Lowry PRAYER
Lord, as I mourn the way this world is, empower me to follow you and change it. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms 119:18)
What if I were to tell you that the Bible says that “there is no God”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible comes to the conclusion that “everything, including life, is meaningless, like chasing the wind”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible says that God wants people to endure slavery because God put the slave masters in authority over them? Or that God punishes generations of family members for the sins of their ancestors. Or that women are inferior to men and should be silent in churches as they are not fit to teach? Or that the Bible says that women are saved through childbearing?
On the one hand, the Bible does say such things. The words “there is no God” can be found in Psalm 14:1; the words “everything is meaningless” can be found in Ecclesiastes 1:2 and elsewhere in Ecclesiastes; God wishing people to remain slaves can be found in Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18. That God punishes the descendants of sinful ancestors is found in Numbers 14:18, among other places. That women are inferior to men, are to be silent in churches, are not fit to teach and are saved through child-bearing can be found in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.
On the other hand, each one of these verses has something in common tying them together. That common thread is that they’ve all been taken out of context, perhaps in different ways, but they are definitely all out of context. In Psalm 14:1, the Psalmist is ACTUALLY saying that “the fool says in his or her heart that ‘there is no God.'” The words “there is no God was taken textually out of context. Ecclesiastes 1:2 is the opening to a philosophical treatise on how life, and all of its trappings, leads to emptiness and that, at the end of the day, people need to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). While Ephesians and Colossians do state that slaves are to obey their masters, the historical context of this passage shows us a Christian community that is reacting to accusations that Christians are inciting slaves to riot against their masters (which was one of many accusations that Romans were levying against Christians of the time period). That doesn’t justify the passage, but helps us understand it so that we don’t fall into the same trap.
It was a common tone in the ancient world that if you make God angry, God will punish you. Some of these texts were written in times of tribulation, such as the Babylonian Exile where people were wondering why they had been exiled to begin with. What had they done to deserve such an awful fate…or what had their parents or their parents’ parents done? This understanding is less “God’s word” as much as it is people grappling with their circumstances, though there certainly are many unintended and far reaching consequences to sin. And the bit on women is also a reaction to the fact that women, up until that point, had played prominent roles in the church (e.g., Romans 16:1-4, 7) and the Romans were levying that against Christians as yet another example of how Christians were vile and against Roman order. Again, this historical context (plus Paul’s commendation of women leaders) helps us to discern and affirm that indeed God DOES call women into ministry and leadership, and that they are saved equally and in the same manner that all of human beings are: through faith (Romans 3:19-25; Galatians 3:28).
This is not an exhaustive discussion of those particular topics, but hopefully makes the point that CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING. The Bible is THE MOST IMPORTANT, and INSPIRED, source of our faith; however, it can be made to say anything when the context (textual, socio-economic, and/or historical) is missing. Don’t just read your Bible, but study it. Get into a good Bible Study that dives deep into the texts and gives you a good foundation not only on what the Bible says (keep in mind that we are not reading it in its original languages), but the context behind what it says. Buy books that delve into the Bible and provide the context behind it. Today’s challenge is for you to begin to not only read the Bible, but to build up a solid means of understanding it so that you can relevantly apply it to your life in a way that is true to the Spirit of the Word.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Context is worth 80 IQ points.” – Alan Kay
Lord, guide me in my studying of Scripture so that I may grow, not just in knowledge but also in understanding. Amen.
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
In the late summer of 2012, Jeff Foxworthy hosted a game show show called “The Great American Bible Challenge.” The premise of the show was to quiz people with questions centered on the Bible to see how Biblically literate they were. The contestants were not actually competing to win money for themselves, but would represent a specific charity and the winners would donate their winnings to that charity.
The show, which first premiered on the Game Show Network August 23, 2012, debuted as the network’s highest rated program of all time, bringing in 2.3 million total viewers on its first night. That was the largest amount of viewers in the network’s seventeen year history, proving that the Bible is still very much a marketable venture for entertainment companies to pursue.
Yet, when you look at Biblical literacy in America, the statistics are astounding. According to a Gallup Poll, 16 % of Americans say that they read the Bible daily, 21 % read the Bible on a weekly basis, 12% say they read at least once a month, and 41% say they rarely, if ever, pick up a Bible. Readership of the Bible has declined from 73% to 59% from the 1980’s to our present time. Those numbers are staggering.
I have often heard people say that they find that the Bible is boring, that they don’t understand it, that they don’t have time to read it, and a host of other excuses. Yet, people clearly have an hour to watch a Bible Quiz Show, or ten hours to watch a Bible miniseries. People don’t seem to find the Bible boring when they are Hollywood-ized versions of the Bible and they flock by the millions to soak it all up.
The problem is that Hollywood tells the stories usually from a very narrow perspective. By nature, they need to be told that way; however, the Bible is so much more exciting when read and studied, particularly in a group setting, then when it is being fed to us via a television show. If you like steamy, scandalous romance, check out Samson and Delilah (Judges 16) or David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). If action and adventure suits you, check out the Exodus led by Moses (all of Exodus). God knows there is plenty of horror in the Bible (Judges 19, Daniel 5, Mark 1:23-26, Revelation 13, etc.). If you like drama, check out a book like Esther who rises up over her circumstances.
The challenge to you for this new year is to not become a statistic! Pick up your Bible and read it. Actually read it! There are plenty of things in there that will catch your fancy. If you come across something that doesn’t make sense or grab your interest, move on to something else; however, read your Bible. In fact, join a Bible Study. Join one that will look broadly at the Scriptures and encourage the kinds of open-ended questions that promote learning, understanding and growth. It is my prayer for you, in this new year, that you will find the depth and relevance that the Bible has to offer you in your life. It is my prayer that you will find it to be an life changing, and illuminating, resource in your life. It is my prayer that it will indeed become a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” – President Theodore Roosevelt
Lord, I pray that you inspire and motivate me to engage scripture and that, through such engagement, I may grow from who I am to who you want me to be. Amen.