Where Do I Start? – Part 2

From time to time people tell me they want to start reading the Bible, and they almost always share the same question… “Where do I start?” Last week we looked the way the Old Testament is organized, the purpose of the writings, and the topics covered. This week we’ll focus on the New Testament.

The first four books of the New Testament make up The Gospels (“gospel” means “good news.”) These books cover the life of Jesus, but they aren’t biographies you and I are used to. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “synoptic gospels” because they are so similar in the content the events they cover, but each writer arranges the events in a different order so the story had the greatest impact on their original audience (very common to the writing style of the time.) John uses a different approach than the others for the same reason. All four books give us the details of Jesus’ ministry on the earth.

The book of Acts is written by Luke, the same man that wrote the Gospel of Luke. It’s a continuation of the Jesus story and it includes details about Jesus’ last days on earth, then covers the beginnings and spread of the first church. We see events and history recorded about the other writers of the New Testament, as well as read many stories of how early Christians cared for one another and were so dedicated to Christ that they were willing to face death because of their faith.

The Pauline Epistles is a fancy way of saying “Paul’s Letters.” These were letters written by Paul, an apostle that we first meet in Acts, to various churches that he worked with in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica, two letters to a young preacher named Timothy, and a letter written to a man named Philemon.

The General Letters function much the same way as Paul’s letters, they just weren’t written by Paul. These writings include an anonymous letter called Hebrews, a letter from James, the earthly brother of Jesus, two letters from the apostle Peter, and three from the apostle John.

The final book in the New Testament is the book of Revelation where the apostle John recounts a vision that he had from God. He writes specific warnings from Jesus for seven churches in Asia, as well as a very apocalyptic description of God’s ultimate victory over evil, as well as a beautiful description of Heaven.

Hopefully these past two posts have given you some insight into the organization of the writings contained in the Bible. “So where do I start?”  Well, it depends. If you have never read the Bible before, I always recommend The Gospel of John near the beginning of the New Testament. John does a fantastic job of sharing the life of Jesus with his readers.

If you’re looking for specific answers to questions you have, you can use this summary to look on your own, do a search on BibleGateway, or you can always email me.

Next time we’ll discuss if the Bible can be trusted.

 

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Where Do I Start?

From time to time people tell me they want to start reading the Bible, and they almost always share the same question… “Where do I start?”

Last week we talked about how the Bible isn’t just another book. It’s really a collection of writings, and those writings are organized a certain way within the book. Most books are sequential, or chronological in nature. The Bible doesn’t work that way. It’s grouped by type. Let me show you what I mean. We’ll begin with the Old Testament.

The first five books of the Bible make up The Law of Moses (also known as the Pentateuch or the Torah.) These books were compiled and written by Moses and incorporate the earliest history of the Israelites, as well as the books of the law of the covenant between God and his people (such as the 10 commandments.)

The History of Israel is recorded in the next twelve books from Joshua to Esther. Within these writings you can learn about the history of God’s interaction with the Israelites. From entering the promised land, to great battles. Most people know these writings through stories they were taught in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School growing up.

Poetry and Wisdom Literature makes up the next 5 books from Job through Song of Songs. In this section you will find beautiful writings of people who are struggling with God and the pain of this world, songs of praise for God, a graphic description of a man’s love for his wife, and a collection of wise sayings.

The Major Prophets are known as such because their prophecies played a major part in the life of Israel. Many of these writings are quoted by the writers of the New Testament. These books from Isaiah through Daniel foretell of the coming of the Messiah, and include many warnings and depictions of the captivities and destruction that Israel would face in the future because of their disobedience to God.

In a similar way, The Minor Prophets from Hosea through Malachi describe more minor events and prophecies from the history of Israel. These books aren’t any less important, but are more specific in their writings and application. The well known story of Jonah is found here, as well as the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.

If you are interested in the history of Israel, studying the long anticipated coming of the Messiah, or want to read some beautiful poetry, you can find what you are looking for in the Old Testament. Click Here to read part two about the New Testament.

The Problem with The Bible

The Bible is not a book.

No, I’m not suffering from a head injury. The Bible is not a book…at least when compared to most people’s definition of books.

If you or I were to sit down and write a book, we’d start at the beginning and write in a linear manner. We’d start at the beginning of our thought, then proceed until we had a completed book. We would proofread our work, and go back and make changes if necessary. We would ask our friends to make suggestions and make changes where we thought improvements could be made. We might even reorder some of the chapters to make the book flow better. But in the end, the book would be written by one person.

Occasionally authors will work together to write a book. They will decide which parts each will write, and will work as a team to reach the finished product. Lots of planning and lots of communication between the authors will lead to a cohesive final product.

That’s not how the Bible was written at all! And that’s the problem. We look at the Bible often as just another book. The problem is we don’t really understand how we got it, and what difference it makes. Let me show you a bit of what I mean.

The Bible is a collection of writings. This is why we call the individual sections of the Bible “books.” Although, that’s sort of a misnomer as it’s made up of historical accounts, poetry, wisdom literature such as Proverbs, as well as letters sent between writers and Christians as a means of encouragement and instruction.

The Bible was written by more than 40 people, most of whom never knew or conversed with each other. It was written over the span of about 1,600 years, in at least 3 languages, on 3 continents, and somehow has a unifying theme that ties everything together. Every part of every section relates to another, all telling the story of God’s love for his creation, and His perfect plan to save the people from their sins.

No book has faced more persecution, scrutiny, and attempted destruction than the Bible, yet it is available today in nearly every language, in thousands of translations, in paper and digital copy, for very little or no cost to its readers. There’s no way that this is possible without the Spirit of God being the influence and inspiration behind every word recorded, and without His provision to ensure you have the ability to own one.

And sadly most people never bother to read it.

The Bible is not a book. It’s the Word of God. A book informs, the Bible is designed to transform. And if we fail to realize the difference, we’ll miss out on an amazing gift that our God has created just for our benefit. It’s time to start reading!

But how? Where do I start? What should I be looking for? We’ll discuss that next time. I’m beginning a series of posts on the history, and delivery of the Bible into our hands as we have it today. I hope you’ll follow along!

The Cost of Freedom

Today (Monday) marked the 154th anniversary of the final day of battle at Gettysburg. The battle lasted three days and the combined casualties were in excess of 46,000 men. So many lives were lost, or forever changed by the events that happened during that battle. All for the cost of freedom.

Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. That number is staggering, and to think that these casualties took place during one battle in a multi-year, multi-continent war is just hard to believe.

According to one article I read, the combined total number of American casualties in all wars since its inception is around 2.9 million troops. That’s 2.9 million brave men and women who were willing to put their lives in harm’s way for the cost of our freedom. Praise God for our freedom.

While all of those lives are valuable, and have played a key role in where we are today, there is one life that stands out above the rest. One life that was given for all people, in all times, and in all nations.

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. – John 3:16-17 NLT

This Independence Day, let us remember and celebrate the freedom that God has given our nation. Let us be thankful for the multitude of men and women who have been willing to sacrifice their lives for our earthly freedom. But let us never forget Jesus, the only life that can give us eternal freedom. May Christ our Savior be praised this day, and every day!

From Hacked Email to Changed Lives

Our church email got hacked this morning. Someone pretended to be our secretary, and made it sound like they were stuck in the Philippines and needed money. Needless to say the rest of our morning was full of changing passwords, creating a new email account, answering the unending phone calls of helpful people letting us know they received that email, and rebuilding email lists that the hacker deleted. What a pain!

On the positive side, we were able to create a better email work environment for our church office! We now have all email accounts on the same domain as our website (www.eastsidefamily.church), and we now have access to a number of resources and really awesome tools that we didn’t have with our old email setup. We were able to recreate new, more usable email lists and found a few mistakes we had in the old ones. As of now, our email setup is far better than it has ever been, and none of this would have happened if someone hadn’t hacked into our email! We were able to take a frustrating, bad event, and turn it into something great! (Even though our secretary’s fingers are still tired of retyping all the email lists!)

God often works in a similar way in our lives. All of us have made mistakes, or have failed at some point in our walk with Christ. Some of us lived lives we’re not proud of before we found Jesus. Most people I know are afraid to even talk about their failings. As a dear sister phrased it, we wear our “church face.” We don’t want anyone to know we struggle.

Paul lived a life he wasn’t proud of before he met Jesus. Yet the change in his life was so great that it encouraged others. Paul wrote this about his conversion:

22 …the churches in Christ that are in Judea didn’t know me personally. 23 All they knew was that people were saying, “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!” 24 And they praised God because of me. Galatians 1:22-24 NLT

We often run from our pasts, but our past in conjunction with our changed life can produce a powerful testimony for Christ! The group I Am Second produces tons of inspiring testimony based on changed lives. The testimony of a changed life is powerful. Don’t run from your past…share your testimony!

Attention Christians: Stop doing this!

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Christians have a problem. We tend to put ourselves in the middle of every debate, every issue, every situation whether it is our business or not. I think we’re well-intentioned in doing so, but we bring a lot of unnecessary grief and heartache upon us in the process.

Meddle is defined as “interfere in or busy oneself unduly with something that is not one’s concern.”  I know many Christians who have spent seemingly unending hours, and dollars as activists for various causes. Men and women who take a certain political stand on government-funded health care, or marriage rights, or refugees entering the country, or whatever the cause of the day happens to be.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get involved in our political process. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t vote. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about the world around us. I’m not saying we should support issues that go against God’s teaching.

What I am saying is that far too many Christians spend all their time meddling in the affairs of the world when we should be taking care of the business that God left us to do! We are called to pray for the sick in faith (James 5:15). Does that responsibility change if we have single payer healthcare or not? God teaches us that he wants us to pray for those who are in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Does this change our responsibility if our favorite choice isn’t in office? God wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Does gay marriage or transgender bathrooms change that desire? Jesus expects us to baptize and make disciples of “all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Does refugee status change that command?

We need to be busy with the work of God’s kingdom, not the arguments of this world. It’s fine to have an opinion, and to even voice that opinion, but please don’t do so in a way that makes the Gospel unattractive to outsiders! If more Christians would be about the work of the Kingdom, and not consumed with the work of Washington, this world would be a much better place!

via Daily Prompt: Meddle