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Every Day Bible

Random

In our Wednesday study of the Bible in a Year last week, we read the strange story of the death of King Ahab in 1 Kings 22:34:

“A certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate.”

Did you know that this is the only story in the Bible that uses the word “random”? (It’s told again in 2 Chronicles 18:33 with the exact same word.)

Random is a strange word.

It means “happening without method or conscious decision.” It is impossible to reliably predict a random number.

It is a chaotic word.

The Hebrew word in this story shows up 23 times in the Bible, but only here is it translated random. The word is usually translated integrity, blameless, innocence, full, or upright. Seem strange?

According to the NET Bible, the phrase here literally translated would be “now a man drew a bow in his innocence” (i.e., with no specific target in mind, or at least without realizing his target was the king of Israel).

That’s a little different, don’t you think?

You see, from the archer’s perspective, this was a random occurrence.

A shot went up and came down. He was innocent, in a sense. But it wasn’t random to Ahab. That one-in-a-million shot against the high-value target felt more like divine judgment. And it certainly wasn’t random to God who sees all and knows all.

I’m not sure exactly how God runs this world. I know that Ecclesiastes says that “time and chance” happen to all (Ecclesiastes 9:11). But from God’s perspective, I’m not sure that there is such a thing as random.

I can’t make sense of all the chaos in the universe, but maybe it is comforting to know that it isn’t my job to do that. I trust that God knows what he’s doing. I don’t have to!

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Every Day Bible

How God Used Paul (Philemon Part 3 of 3)

This is the third and final part of our at-home study of “Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Applied Christianity in Philemon.” Thanks for joining us!

Discussion 1: When did someone correct you–and you were able to hear it? When did someone correct you–and you weren’t able to hear it? What made the difference?

Discussion 2: Why didn’t Paul command Philemon to do the right thing? Why did he nudge?

Discussion 3: Who has played the part of Paul in your life? Who is in your council of advisors?

Discussion 4: When should we get involved in others’ lives? When shouldn’t we? How do we get more deeply connected?

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Every Day Bible

What Faith Asked of Onesimus (Philemon Part 2 of 3)

This is part 2 in our series “Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Applied Christianity in Paul’s Letter to Philemon.” I hope you’ll gather with some friends and join me for this simple study of Philemon.

Discussion #1: Why do you think Onesimus ran away?

The text of scripture doesn’t explicitly tell us, but try to put yourself into his shoes. What reasons might have have to take a drastic and risky step?

Discussion #2: When have you witnessed God’s providential hand at work in a strange way? Look both in scripture and your personal experiences.

Paul thought that, perhaps, God arranged for Onesimus to end up imprisoned so that he would come to faith. Stranger things have happened. It’s a good exercise to learn to look for God’s providential hand in our life stories, too.

Discussion #3: What does Christianity say to a slave? What is the gospel calling Onesimus to do differently than he did in the past?

Consider the following scriptures:

  • Colossians 3:22-4:1
  • Ephesians 6:5-9
  • 1 Peter 2:13-25
  • 1 Timothy 6:1-2
  • Titus 2:9-10
  • 1 Corinthians 7:17-24
  • …and any others you can think of.

Discussion #4: What did Christianity say to you?

This is personal, but it is important. How has Christianity changed you?

We’re often blind to the changes in our own hearts, because they happen slowly and daily. We are with us all the time! But sometimes it is easier to see it in the lives of others.

How has Christianity changed someone you know and love? Can you find a way to share that encouragement, so they might be able to see the power of God at work in their lives more clearly than they do right now?

Check back soon for Part 3 of 3: How God used Paul!

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Every Day Bible

A Setting on a Washer

“When will things get back to normal?”

I’ve asked that question. Have you?

I will fully concede my bias here: no one has ever accused me of being normal—but I’m convinced that normal is an illusion.

I searched my Bible for the word “normal.”

It only shows up once in the ESV—in Exodus 14:27. In that passage, it isn’t describing a person. It describes how the Red Sea “returned to its normal course” after God’s miraculous division.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary says that normal describes something “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.”

Even as kids, we feel a strong pressure to conform to the standard. We don’t want to stand out. We want to go with the flow and blend in with the crowd.

What’s the result of our lifelong obsession with normal?

We compete with the Jones’s.

We measure our success by our outside perception of others’ inside lives.

Maybe if we framed it differently, we’d realize the insanity of it all.

Most people in the modern world are unhappy, unhealthy, up to their eyeballs in debt, and crazy busy. And we spend most of our lives trying to be just like them!

The true path to happiness is more likely to lead through abnormal lands than normal ones. After all, didn’t Jesus say something about a broad path that leads to destruction, and a narrow one that leads to life?

Normal is just a setting on a washer.

What if we aimed for extraordinary instead?

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Every Day Bible

Getting Unstuck

Have you ever gotten spiritually stuck?

You realize that your relationship with God stalled; you’ve drifted farther away from him. You haven’t made progress on conquering those sins that nag at your heart. It’s not as dramatic as the Prodigal’s journey to the far country; it’s more like a spiritual drought.

If that’s you – there’s hope!

I think it happens to most everyone at some point. But let me encourage you to work on getting unstuck.

Here are a few suggestions:

ONE: Get untangled. (Read Hebrews 12:1-2). Maybe something is weighing you down. Look for unhealthy relationships or obsessions that distract you from what matters most. Be willing to do some pruning work to lighten the load (see John 15:1-11).

TWO: Get motivated. Recognize what is on the line! Nearly four hundred years ago, John Owen summarized Romans 8:13 powerfully: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” And it’s not just you—it’s your family and your friends. When we get stuck, we weigh down the people who depend on us, too.

THREE: Get moving. There is great power in simply acting. You likely already know what you need to do. You know a step you can take. Most of us contemplate for a long time before we act. Just act! Scripture promises a reward for action. James says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” He doesn’t say he might. He will. Do something.

FOUR: Get creative. Perhaps your spiritual routines served you well for many years, but your season of life has changed. It might be time for a change. I’ve noticed that much of our spiritual growth comes when we are out of our comfort zones. Try something new. Study in a different way. Serve in a new capacity. Dare greatly!

FIVE: Get help. Remember that we were never called to live the life of faith alone. Sometimes when you get stuck, the only way you’re going to get out is to call a friend with a winch and a tow hook. Lean on your spiritual family for help.

Everyone gets stuck. Not everyone gets un-stuck.

Take action today to get moving in the right direction!

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Every Day Bible

Where the Rubber Meets the Road: A Study of Philemon (Part 1 of 3)

With so many of us doing church online or hosting study groups in our homes, I wanted to put together a little resource for your study of a powerful little New Testament letter: Paul’s letter to Philemon.

Check out the intro to the series below:

Intro to “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”

A few thousand pounds of car sit on just 147 square inches of rubber, the patch of tire where the rubber meets the road. That contact patch might be the most important place on your car. No matter how powerful the motor is, its ability to move the car (and steer and stop it) comes down to these 147 square inches.

We like that expression: “where the rubber meets the road.” It’s the spot where the idea meets reality. That recipe looks good on paper, but when you cook it – is it any good? Have you ever seen (or created) a “Pinterest fail”?

Where does the rubber meet the road for Christianity?

In real, boring, every day life.

Specifically, your life, and my life. That’s where we get God’s word out of the book and into practice.

I’d like to invite you to join me for a study of the book of Philemon. Philemon is a “rubber meets the road” book of the Bible.

It’s a tiny letter—only 355 words. It fits on a single page. You can read it in 3 minutes. It’s shorter than this post! So if Bible study is intimidating to you, trust me, you can make it through Philemon.

Here’s the gist of it: it’s a letter from Paul to a Christian named Philemon. Philemon was a slaveowner—like most of the rich people were in his day.

His slave, Onesimus, ran away.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Onesimus meets Paul and becomes a Christian while living as a fugitive. So now the fugitive slave who was considered his master’s property becomes his master’s brother.

Legally, Philemon could beat or kill Onesimus. So here’s where the rubber meets the road. What does Christianity look like on Philemon? What does it look like on Onesimus? How do Christians handle a situation like this?

Sound interesting? I think so.

Choose a time and a place to get together with a few friends or family members for the next three weeks (at home, virtually, whatever works for you), pick up your Bibles, and head here or facebook to watch the 3 lessons and study.

Let’s see what Christianity looks like in real life – where the rubber meets the road!

Sesson 1: Thru Philemon’s Eyes

Read Philemon online here

Read Pliny’s letter to Sabinianus here

Check back next week for Part 2: How Onesimus Saw It!

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Every Day Bible

Like Riding a Bike

We’re in the “learning to ride a bike” stage at our house. It’s wobbly, crashy, wonderful fun.

Learning to ride a bike is tough, isn’t it? It’s scary to pull off the training wheels and trust the balance of the bike. It takes some time to convince the kids that it actually gets easier the faster they go and the more fully they commit.

That might not be a bad analogy for learning to live a life of faith. Walking by sight is what we’re used to. It’s comfortable. It feels safe. But we’re not called to walk our bicycles. We’re called to ride them! So we learn to pull our feet up and walk by faith, not by sight. We trust that God knows what he’s talking about and that what he says and does is good, no matter what it looks like.

And maybe the most important lesson from learning to ride a bike is this one: when we fall down, we get back up and try again.

“Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” (Proverbs 24:16)

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Every Day Bible

My Council of Advisors

When we talk about peer pressure, we almost always talk about it negatively.  There are tons of scriptures and cautionary tales.

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Paul warned that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Jesus warned his disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6).

Peer pressure has a positive effect, too. Good influences can help us be better than we would have been otherwise. Read the following scriptures to see how the Bible speaks of positive influence:

  • Acts 4:13
  • 1 Timothy 4:12
  • Titus 2:7-8
  • 1 Peter 5:1-3
  • 1 Corinthians 11:1

People say that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Who are the five people you spend the most time with?

How have those people made you a better person?

How have they negatively affected you?

I’m not interested in blaming others for our faults—that’s not the point of this lesson. The blame game was pointless in the Garden of Eden and it still is today! BUT – we would be foolish to neglect the fact that we are influenced by those around us.

Locate an example in the Bible of someone who was made better by the people around him or her.

Locate an example in the Bible of someone who was made worse by the people around him or her.

Check out the OpenBible Topical Bible reference on “Influence.” Select one passage you find to be particularly helpful and share it with your friends.

Who is on your council of advisors? How did each person earn his or her spot? What is uniquely helpful about each person’s input?

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Every Day Bible

The Indestructible, Unstoppable Church

“If all the cathedrals on earth were gone, all the most glorious art were lost, and all of the world’s most valuable treasures were thrown out, Christians could and would still meet for worship around the Scriptures and Eucharist. To have church, all we need is Word and sacrament.”

(Tish Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary)

One of the beautiful things about Christianity is its simple, unstoppable power. A virus and quarantine can’t stop the church from being the church. Power outages and downed trees don’t stop the church from being the church.

Never forget what Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell [Sheol—the grave] shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

When Jesus said these words, he was standing in Caesarea Philippi, not far from Mount Hermon, an area sometimes referred to as Bashan. It was known for terrifying giant clans—the Rephaim and Anakim associated with kings Sihon and Og (Deuteronomy 2:10-12, Joshua 12:1-5).

Ugaritic history tells us that the locals believed the giants were the spirits of these dead wicked kings. They believed this area was the portal to the underworld, or the gates of Sheol. Nearby is Dan, where Jeroboam built an altar to Baal.

There is even Jewish legend that this is where the Nephilim of Genesis 6 were born, and they were the ancestors of the demons (1 Enoch 15:1-12).

On top of all of that, Caesarea Philippi was dedicated to Zeus.

What I’m saying is – if you wanted a headquarters for the spooky, evil, and demonic, this region is it.

How powerful is it that Jesus stood in this place and says, more literally, “the gates of hell will not withstand my church.”

A lot of people predict doom and gloom for the church—but Jesus said the opposite. He said that no force dares stand in the way of God’s kingdom.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel pretty optimistic about the future of the church!

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Every Day Bible

Living “In Coram Deo”

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Sunday’s Lesson – 10:30am

No one, anywhere, has enough time or resources to do all the things they would like to do. Everything we say “yes” to is an automatic “no” to something else.

In this week’s lesson from Matthew 13, I suggest that the biggest dangers to our spiritual health are starvation and neglect (rocky soil and thorny soil). Those dangers arise directly from our choices about what we say “yes” to and what we say “no” to.

The problem is most of us don’t make those choices on purpose. We don’t plan to nourish our souls, so when we get home after work, rather than taking a strategic action, we take an easy action, and we re-watch the same TV show that wasn’t that funny the first seven times we watched it.

Living in coram deo means being conscious of the fact that we are living in the presence of God.

How would our choices about using time look different if Jesus accompanied us on each task?

How would our attitudes about the mundane chores of life feel different if Jesus were scrubbing toilets next to us?

How would our response to temptation change if we knew that Jesus were really beside us, helping us in the struggle, holding us by his nail-pierced hand?

Living in coram deo has the power to change our lives!

We’ll still neglect to do some things, but that neglect will be strategic neglect

Read Psalm 90

  • What metaphors does Psalm 90 use to illustrate the brevity of human life?
  • What does it mean to “number our days”? How might we do that?
  • How does numbering our days give us a heart of wisdom?

Read Ephesians 5:15-16

  • Look in the verses before and after this section. What do you think it means to walk “wisely”?
  • How would you define “making the best use of the time”?
  • Does making the best use of time eliminate recreation and rest? Why or why not?

In light of these passages, Matthew 6:33, and this morning’s lesson…

What are some things that you have been neglecting that need some attention?

What is something in your life that you need to start neglecting in order to focus on something more important?