Friday, March 17, 2017

Block 58:Nahum

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“The Lord is slow to anger but great in power.”  Nahum 1:3
We know very little about the minor prophet, Nahum.  In his writings, we know that he is from the city Elkosh.  But we don’t know where Elkosh is, as the city is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.  It’s possible that Elkosh and Capernaum are one in the same.  Capernaum in Hebrew means city of Nahum.  Some Bible scholars speculate that it is possible that the city Elkosh was renamed in honor of the prophet Nahum. 
Here’s what we DO know about Nahum.  Nahum ministered around 650 BC.  While not the shortest book of the Bible, the book of Nahum is a mere 47 verses.  Compared to the other prophets, Nahum is often left out in modern worship.  When is the last time you listened to a reading from the book of Nahum in church?  Probably never. 
Like Micah, Nahum predicts that God will deliver justice to those who treat others unjustly.  But unlike Micah, Nahum is not directing his prophecies toward Israelites.  Rather, Nahum is predicting the fall of Ninevah and the Assyrians who had conquered and oppressed the northern tribes of Israel.  Nahum predicts God’s wrath and destruction of Israel’s arch enemy.   Nahum predicted that Ninevah would be wiped from the face of the Earth, and it was.  The city was destroyed, and all evidence of the existence of the city disappeared until 1850 when archaeologists discovered the site.
Nahum delivered a simple message condemning those who disobeyed God’s law and consoling those who trusted and obeyed God’s law. In our world filled with countries at war, terrorism, political and physical oppression, poverty, hunger and other disasters and tragedies, it is important that we maintain hope that we may have a place in the future kingdom of God. Nahum reminds us that the “Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” Nahum 1:7.


Block 57: Micah

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“To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
Micah was not an aristocrat.  We was not born of wealth.  Rather, like Jesus Christ himself, Micah had a humble start.  As a child of a small farming community 25 miles from Jerusalem, Micah knew little of government and politics.  Coming from the working class, Micah was extremely protective of the lowly, the disadvantaged, the outcasts, the sick and the lame.  Micah was particularly concerned about the common farmers who were being cheated by wealthy land owners.
Micah directed much of his prophecies toward the powerful, unethical leaders of Judah and Israel.  Morality and religious interest were at an all-time low.  Wealthy land owners robbed the poor, business owners were corrupt, false prophets delivered prophecies for pay, priests taught for a price, judges and rulers could be easily bribed.  Like his prophet contemporaries, Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, Micah realized that the people were performing religious rituals without living faithful lives.  The prophets knew that morality could not be separated from true religion.
Micah was the first prophet to predict the punishment and fall of Jerusalem.  He also predicted that God would stop talking to the Israelites;  He would stop guiding them as well.  AND, Micah was the first prophet to predict that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and described how Christ would rule the whole world.   To add credibility to Micah’s prophecies, Jesus quoted Micah 7:6 when He spoke to the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:36. 
In Micah’s closing prophecy, he describes a compassionate God who would not be angry forever, providing everlasting hope in our ever loving God.  Our take home message from Micah is simple.  We should guard against injustice in our own life.  Micah’s recipe for good living? We should do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”   Micah 6:8

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Block 56: Joel

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“I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”   Joel 2:28
The minor prophets were consistent with their message, “repent and sin no more.”  But the Israelites did not listen.  Joel was the second of the twelve minor prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).  His name means “the Lord is God.”  Joel is only mentioned in the Bible one time: in the first verse of the Book of Joel, the prophet identifies himself and his father.
A plague of locusts had destroyed the land, and a severe drought followed.  This is ironic (and purposeful).  God had punished the Egyptians with a plague of locusts before freeing the Israelites, and later he punished the Israelites with a plague of locusts.  But the Judeans did not recognize these calamities as the warning they were meant to be.  Joel tried to explain that unless the Judeans repented immediately, armies would replace the locusts, and Judah would receive the God’s promised punishment.  Joel promised that if the people would repent, they would experience physical restoration, spiritual restoration and national restoration.  He described a judgment day that would be terrible and impossible to endure.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however…  Every time the Old Testament authors describe a future judgment for sins, they are foreshadowing the story of Jesus Christ and his death on a cross.  If we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear on the final day of atonement.  It is hard to tell if/when Joel’s prophecies were fulfilled.  Some believe that there was a fulfilled in the 9th century, others believe it was fulfilled at Pentecost (Peter quotes Joel 2:28 in Acts 2;17), while others believe the fulfillment is yet to occur.  Prophecies, such as Joel’s are not meant to be a road map or a time line, letting us know how long we have before we “really” have to repent to be saved.  Rather, they are intended to show us God’s character, His mercy, and His justice for now and all of time.

Block 55: Obadiah

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“You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune.” Obadiah 1:12
The  hostility between Jacob and Esau did not end with trickery and the distribution of the birthright.  The nations of Israel and Edom originated with these brothers, and the nations were at war for decades.  Both nations fought to control the highway from Damascus to Egypt, thereby controlling trade and flow of merchandise.  At one point, Edom (who should have been Judah’s ally) helped the Babylonians attack Jerusalem.  Once Jerusalem was destroyed, the Edomites looted Judah’s possessions.  God was angry.  The Edomites should have shown love for their neighbor, and they did not. 
Obadiah was an Edomite who had a healthy fear of God. When Jezebel was killing prophets, Obadiah hid 100 prophets in two caves.  Why two caves?  Well, Obadiah knew that if one cave was discovered, then at least the prophets in the other cave could escape and survive.  For his efforts, God granted Obadiah the gift of prophecy.  Immediately, Obadiah began his prophecies against Edom.  He warned the Edomites that they would be punished for their sins.  Obadiah warned that they would get what they deserved, and they did!  The Edomites felt confident that they could not be overrun.  The narrow mountainous passage to enter their country gave them a false sense of security.  Obadiah warned the Edomites that their pride and confidence would be their undoing.  God allowed the nation of Edom to be destroyed.  They were overrun by other Arab groups, and Edomite descendants were killed or scattered.
Obadiah is the shortest book of the Bible, only 21 verses.  In those few words, Obadiah promises and gives reasons for the judgment of Edom,  He describes how the judgment will come to pass and gives hope for future deliverance for those who repent and obey God.  Obadiah teaches us that we must help others in times of need,  Obadiah also teaches us that pride goes before the fall. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Block 54: Ezekiel

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Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10
The Book of Ezekiel is probably the most confusing book of the Bible.  At first read, it is filled with confusing visions that are nearly impossible to interpret.  Once you understand Ezekiel’s life story, the visions make a little more sense, and his writings become a beautiful, spiritual work.  Ezekiel means “strengthened by God,” and you cannot help but be strengthened by God when you read and understand the Book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was a priest in Jerusalem and became a prophet at the age of 30. Ezekiel and other Israelites were taken captive by King Jehoachin of Babylon.  While in captivity, Ezekiel started to behave very strangely.  For a period of time, God took away his ability to speak except when God put words in Ezekiel’s mouth.  God directed Ezekiel to make a draw an outline of the city of Jerusalem under siege on a brick.  He directed Ezekiel to lie on the brick, on his left side for 390 days (equal to the number of years of Israel’s sins) and on his right side for 40 days. Word of the prophet’s strange behavior spread, and people came to see the weird prophet who couldn’t speak lying on his side on a brick. God directed Ezekiel to act out the siege of Jerusalem by shaving his head and dividing it into three piles.  Luckily though, God returned Ezekiel’s ability to speak so he could explain what he was doing.  Together with the prophet, Jeremiah, Ezekiel warned the Israelites that if they did not stop worshipping pagan idols, God would punish them.  For eight years, Ezekiel was unable to speak unless God directed his speech.  His full ability to speak returned on the day Jerusalem was destroyed and Ezekiel’s wife died.
After Jerusalem was destroyed, Ezekiel experienced a series of visions that promised hope for the restoration of temple and of the nation.  He continued to warn the Israelites about their sinful behavior, but also provided them with encouragement that the New Temple and New Jerusalem would be created and God would live among His people once again.  The Israelites did not listen well, and God designated Ezekiel to be the “watchman for all of Israel” Ezekiel 3:17, otherwise Ezekiel would be held accountable for those who would be punished.  Ezekiel headed God’s warning and was steadfast in delivering the warnings to all who would listen.  was a faithful man and followed God’s laws religiously.  His prophecies jumped ahead to a future world when Israel would be fully restored and never defeated by an enemy nation again.
By Ezekiel’s example, we are all called to be watchmen of our faith, sharing the Gospel with all who will listen. It’s not okay to shirk our responsibility and ignore the sinners around us.  We are compelled to try to reach all those we come in contact with.

Block 53: Jeremiah

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Come back to me with all your heart.” Joel 2:12
The nation of Israel was falling apart.  God had repeatedly warned Israel to stop worshipping false gods, but they didn’t listen. As punishment, God allowed the ten northern tribes to become Assyrian captives.  The two southern tribes, Benjamin & Judah,   The prophet Jeremiah, a Benjamite himself, was called to tell the Israelites that their behavior had resulted in the destruction of their nation.  Jeremiah was only 17 when God called him to action, and he was very fearful that the last two tribes would also fail God’s test.  He was called the “weeping prophet” because he often cried real tears when begging the Israelites to listen and conform.  Jeremiah quickly became an outcast amongst his friends and family who did not want to hear God’s warning.
The people of Israel had sinned for so many years that they no longer believed in God, His promise of rewards or threats of punishment.  Jeremiah became depressed and even more worried.  He felt alone in his ministry.  God confirmed that this sense of isolation was to be expected, but Jeremiah would be far better off than the  suffering that would strike the sinning Israelites.  Jeremiah preached for 40 years, and he felt that he made no progress with the Israelites.  But God knew that Jeremiah’s words were not wasted.  Little did they know, but every Israelite who heard the word, but denied God was essentially “convicted.”
Ultimately, Jeremiah fell victim to his isolation and depression.  His life was a never-ending spiral toward death and destruction of the people he loved and tried to save.  He began to doubt God himself.  But God did not give up on Jeremiah, giving him a message to share with believers at a time when their faith is tested, “If you return, I will restore you…” Jeremiah 15:19.  Our world today is much the same as the nation that Jeremiah tried to save.  As He did with Jeremiah, God is promising salvation to us as well.  He is calling, “Come back to me…”


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Block 52 Barnabas

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"And you will be my witnesses from one end of the earth to the other.” Acts 1:8
Born a Levite Jew in Cyprus, Joses (Joseph) came to Jerusalem to live with family and continue his religious studies with the rabbi, Gamaliel.  This is most likely where he first came into contact with the Jesus and the apostles and converted to Christianity.  Barnabas sold his farm and gave all of the proceeds to the apostles to aid them in their ministry.  He provided help and encouragement to the apostles.  In fact, they called him Barnabas which means “son of encouragement.”  Barnabas traveled to Galilee with Jesus, where Jesus named him as one of the 70 apostles.  He successfully converted his several of his kinsmen, and attempted to convert Saul, a fellow student of Gamaliel.  But Saul chose instead to persecute the Jews.  When Saul returned to Jerusalem after his conversion, the other apostles were distrustful and wary.  It is not surprising that Barnabas believed that Saul had truly converted and was willing to vouch for him and his sincerity. 
The Jerusalem Council sent Barnabas to Antioch to investigate reports that believing Jews and Gentiles were worshiping together.  This practice would have been unheard of at the time.  Jews would NEVER associate with uncircumcised Gentiles.  Barnabas traveled to Antioch and saw with his own eyes that the Gentiles, like himself and other Jews, believed in Jesus Christ.  Barnabas pastored the church in Antioch and told the Christians to “remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion” Acts 11:23. Soon, his responsibilities with the church became too much for one man, so he sought out Saul to assist him.  As co-pastors, the church in Antioch grew even more.  At this point, Saul realized that he had a greater mission to grow the Church, so he and Barnabas left on a missionary journey.  Along the way, Saul changed his name to Paul, and became the leader of the duo.  Barnabas was happy to assist Paul (remember his nickname, the encourager).  Their ministry included bold preaching and miraculous signs.  The established churches and assigned elders to lead the churches.  They split ways later, when Paul wanted to go back and re-visit some of the earlier churches they had established.  Barnabas, however, wanted to give another apostle, John Mark, another chance (this is a whole story in itself).  They disagreed, so each went different directions.  Barnabas and John Mark continued their ministry, first in Cypress, then in Syria, where Barnabas was drug out of a temple and stoned to death. 
In his writings, Luke praised the Barnabas’ work in Antioch, noting that this was the first time the disciples were called Christians.  Barnabas was good, faithful, generous, self-sacrificing, open-minded and full of the Holy Spirit — exactly what the church needed at the time, and still needs today.