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New Testament Overview Parts 1, 2 & 3 (10 minutes each)

New Testament Overview Videos

This is a gift from BibleRoads –  a New Testament overview video in about thirty minutes, free. We hope many will take advantage of watching it, tell your friends, use it in Sunday School with your iPad or laptop, start a BibleRoads study program with it providing helpful background,  etc. The goal is that after getting a clearer sense of the timeline, the books, letters and stories will be more meaningful.  Then the real goal – bringing their lessons forward to our lives today – happens with ease and grace.

Enjoy this free video overview by clicking on the links at the bottom of this post.  It’s divided into three parts for ease of viewing if you want to watch it in three ten-minute segments.  Or you can watch it all at once if you prefer.  Please let us know your response and we hope it whets your appetite for further searching of the Scriptures with our many BibleRoads talks and workbooks.

This particular overview is video, meaning you have maps and slides to aid the audio. It was given prior to an in-depth five day class on three of Paul’s letters at a beautiful ranch in the Colorado Rockies this past winter. All maps shared in this presentation are by Manna Bible Maps – http://www.biblemaps.com/

(***Note: This New Testament Overview video is a great accompaniment to the Bible Roads Overview of the Old Testament. If you have not seen it yet, you can gain access by signing up for our monthly newsletter.)

 

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

Part 3

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3 Helpful Doors into the 91st Psalm

A “fowler” trapped birds.

The 91st Psalm was our family’s go-to prayer during emergencies –like when a tornado funnel whirled dangerously close to our living room window in Oklahoma.  It’s one of the three Psalms my Mom had us memorize and pray before going to sleep—something I was incredibly grateful for as the years went by and new emergencies arose.

In World War I, many of the troopers recited Ps. 91 daily, earning its moniker as “The Soldier’s Psalm”.  Some claim the Commander of the Army’s 91st Brigade even had the Psalm printed on a small card for his men, asking them to pray with it daily.   They must have felt particularly close to it given the name of their Division.

Here are three ‘doors’ for understanding it more, which I hope you also find helpful:

1–Context. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned studying different Biblical texts is to look at their context:  what precedes and follows them.  It turns out that Ps. 90-92 are a unit, all written while Israel was in Exile, yearning for their homeland, embedded with a foreign culture, language, and religion.

Psalm 90 is the opening of Book IV of the Psalter (which has five books total) and includes Psalms 90 – 106.  While the previous Book III is full of laments over Jerusalem’s fall and the Exile, Book IV’s tone changes significantly.  It takes us back to the time of Moses since Ps. 90 is the only Psalm attributed to the great Hebrew lawgiver.  We’re reminded of the Wilderness period before there was a Temple, land or king.  It was just the people and their God, which reminds us that even in the most desolate, abandoned situation, God is in charge and reigns.  What hope this must have given the Children of Israel.

While it’s not possible that Moses actually wrote this Psalm (formed after the Exodus period), the anonymous author clearly wants to remind us that in God we find our home.  Its opening declares unequivocally:  ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” (Ps 90:1).  How life-saving must have been their growing realization that home wasn’t a physical place but the presence and power of the eternal God.

The English hymn writer, Isaac Watts (1674-1748) captured this in his loved Christian hymn (of the 750 he wrote!):

“O God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home.”  (emphasis added)

2 – Response.  And that brings us to Psalm 91 which is a response to the petitions of Psalm 90.   Three examples:

  • 90:14 petitions: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love”

Ps. 91:5 answers: “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night nor of the arrow that flies by day.”

  • 90:16 invokes: “Let your work be manifest to your servants.”

Ps. 91:14 replies: “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him.”

  • 90:17 entreats: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.”

Ps. 91:3 responds: “Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler…”.

I love that these two Psalms have this meaningful ‘conversation’ of entreaty and response because it mirrors our own prayers when in need.  Petition, then declaration.  This one-two divine punch destroys fear and lifts us to the astounding reality that God is right here, present, loving us.   Wow.

3- Structure.  It’s also helpful to know what the author intended by seeing how a text naturally divides.  Psalm 91 separates into three sections:

  • Verses 1 – 2 are addressed to a believer who already understands the security the Lord provides.
  • Verses 3 – 13 is the body of the Psalm offering instruction about the Lord and describing how free and secure life is when we know God. A fowler was one who trapped birds ( 124:7) and can be easily understood as a metaphor whenever we feel trapped by something or someone. The Psalm promises:  “Surely he shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler” (Ps. 91:7)
  • Verses 14 – 16 are the triumphant climax when God speaks directly. And surely it is the benediction to our lives.

“Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
     When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
    With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

Please share your experiences with this Psalm of Psalms!

 

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“Want ad for an Apostle…” 

The Apostle Paul, from a 4th-century cave painting in Ephesus, Turkey.

If God ever wrote a want ad, looking for an apostle, maybe it would include some of the qualifications below.  That may seem like a silly idea, but it was a way to begin to appreciate the remarkable career of someone who changed the course of Christianity forever.  I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it years ago when I began to realize just what one person had accomplished and the extraordinary qualifications he brought to the work.   Many have requested this after hearing it in talks, so I hope you enjoy.    “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…” (Matt. 9: 37).  Indeed!

  • Must have a practical trade whereby he can support himself and not be obligated to those he serves.
  • Must be able to relate to and interact with all classes and types of people, from philosophers (Mars Hill) to tradesmen (Ephesus silversmiths and tentmakers), to politicians, government officials, women, wealthy, poor and slaves.
  • Must have an ability and willingness for public speaking (including to crowds who don’t like the message) in an articulate, thoughtful, persuasive and heartfelt way.
  • Must have a working knowledge of Hebrew and know the Scriptures about Me collected by my people, Israel, as well as understand the culture of the Temple and synagogue in which they worship.
  • Must be able to speak and write Greek, the language that the educated Gentile world uses and understands.
  • Must have demonstrated the ability to work in My vineyard, study My Law, be obedient to My teachings as best they understand them.
  • Must be freeborn and have a passport, i.e. Roman citizenship, in order to move freely throughout My world,
  • Must have significant spiritual receptivity, conviction, courage, and trust in Me, not himself or his own intellect or willpower.
  • Must have enormous nurturing abilities to express patience, tenderness, and care for those who don’t always get it, who backslide, who need course correcting.
  • Must have enough life experience that he isn’t fooled by the ways of the tempter, and is able to discern between My voice and that of the carnal mind
  • Must have the faith and courage to hear My voice in the darkest hours, such as in prison, and to consistently stand against envy, ignorance, greed, and hatred.
  • Must be on fire with the clarity and truth of the message I will provide along with indefatigable energy to walk, sail, or ride thousands of miles over three decades.

In short,  ‘I’m looking for Saul of Tarsus who I will transform into Paul.’

 

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Why linking Valentine’s Day and a Biblical Book isn’t crazy!

The judgment of Solomon, by Raphael (1483-1520) painted at the Vatican while Michaelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel nearby.

The headline of this blog might be a head-scratcher for you.  After all, Valentine’s Day has its origin in the ancient pagan cultures of Greece and Rome when orgies celebrating romance and fertility regularly occurred. But as the Roman Empire was Christianized, the festival of Juno Februata – the Roman goddess of love, marriage, and women—was replaced with religious festivals to the Virgin Mary and an obscure Saint Valentine.  By 1536 Henry VIII, known for his womanizing, declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day and the modern custom of exchanging love messages began.

How does that relate to our Bible?  Because of that perplexing book, “The Song of Solomon” (or “Song of Songs” as it’s also called)–long been thought to be one of the most difficult books of Scripture to interpret.  Is it to be read as an allegory?  A drama?  Literally?  However one interprets it, “Song” is poetry chock full of timeless tips for lovers.  For instance, compliments, not complaints, bind the ties of affection.   A sample might be:  “ah, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves” (Song 1:15).

For all the steamy poetry that appears to be between a country girl and her beloved, a simple shepherd, the book made the ultimate ‘cut’:  the Canon.  Why?  Because the more we understand the love between two individuals, it is reasoned, the more we understand our relationship to God, often depicted as a marriage in the Scriptures (see the book of Hosea, especially chapter 4).

“Song” has no religious beliefs, themes or guidelines for ancient Israel, no plot that seems evident, not even a single mention of God.  And then there’s that erotic and figurative language filled with the longing, love, joy and fear of a man and woman in love.

What a puzzle it has been for Christians through the centuries, which most probably explains why Song ’s most popular interpretation is allegorical.  Couldn’t the references to love, for example, apply to God’s love for His creation, or to the love within a devoted marriage?  For Jews, it might be about God’s love for the chosen people, Israel.  And for Christians, some see it as Christ’s relation to his bride, the Church.

Whatever way one interprets “Song of Solomon”, its name derives from its opening verse:  “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (Song 1:1).  The book concludes the Old Testament’s collection of Wisdom literature – one of the three parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, along with the Law and the Prophets.  Like other books in this category, such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, all three are attributed to the wisdom of King Solomon.   Scholars don’t believe Solomon actually wrote these books so much as an author wanted to associate its language with the renowned wisdom traditions of Solomon – not to mention, in the case of Song of Solomon, his love of women (see I Kings 11:3).

So this February 14th, perhaps try something a little different: read some love poetry from this rather baffling Biblical book.  Dig deeply to see why it has had a place in the Canon all these centuries and then please share what you discover with your fellow Bible Roads’ readers.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Six Reasons why Abraham is a January Role Model

Jozsef Molnar, Le voyage d’Abraham d’Ur à Canaan, 1850,  Galerie Nationale Hongroise, Budapest

With a new year, who better to look at biblically than Abraham, that Scriptural template for new starts.  His life spans 14 chapters in the book of Genesis (from 11 – 25) and weaves an extraordinary story of faithfulness, mistakes, and renewed efforts.  I’ve loved reviewing the sweeping events of this Patriarch of Israel’s life, not just because he is a key figure in the world’s three great religions –Judaism, Christianity and Islam –or even because his story launches the Bible’s ancestral narratives.

Rather, Abraham embodies timeless qualities we can model today:  flexibility, openness, willingness and especially faithfulness.  As you think about 2019 and your spiritual progress, it’s hard to aim higher than hearing and following God’s direction which requires trust and obedience, qualities that Abraham models – most of the time!

Below are six key events with lessons that yield, like interconnected threads of a tapestry, a life shaped by spiritual pursuits that grow into blessings for an entire nation.  This process of examining some of his pivotal moments has been instructive in discerning turning points that can fill a life with contribution, meaning, and influence.

Please share what these mean to you or add any of the other signposts you’ve noted in his spiritual journey that are helpful on your own.

  1. Abram, his original name, received God’s call (Gen. 12) to leave Ur in Mesopotamia–south of today’s Baghdad, Iraq—to relocate to an initially unnamed land God would provide. The unstated outcome of following this divine directive meant forfeiting his inheritance –all the animals, household possessions and land–from Terah, Abram’s father.  The fact that God promised the blessing of new land still meant turning away (as the expression goes) from ‘the bird in the hand (Ur) worth two in the bush (the promised land)’.  Attributes:  willingness, readiness, humility.
  2. Abram’s faith in God causes him to obey, a singular act so powerful that 2000 years later a young Pharisee-turned-apostle, Paul, will point to it as the model for the faith that new Christ followers (“all who believe”) will need on their spiritual journey (see Rom. 4:11). This obedience is all the more remarkable considering the promise of heirs in spite of Sarai’s barrenness, the central challenge of the Abraham saga.   Attributes:  trust, conviction, faith.
  3. Abram’s story is not just his own but a precursor to the nation of Israel’s experiences as well. In fact, God’s call in Gen. 12:1-3, is considered a ’fulcrum text’, meaning one that is central to both past and future events.  For the past, the text declares that God’s call to Abram will bless ‘all the families of the earth’, meaning those mentioned prior to Abram in Gen. 1 – 11 (Noah, his son Shem, and others).  These verses of God’s call then point forward to the rest of Genesis where the beginning story of the ‘great nation’ commences with the stories of Abraham’s heirs (Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph).  How Abraham answers God will affect all those future children, families, and tribes, although Abraham himself won’t see this.  The patriarch’s positive response to the sudden divine directive of his calling reveals more spiritual qualities. Attributes:  obedience and vision.
  4. Abraham is already in his 7th decade, not exactly the time most people call the moving van and take off!  The journey was 560 miles northwest through the Fertile Crescent, along the Euphrates River to Haran, in eastern Syria. Attributes:  grit, persistence, stamina.           
  5. Along the route of his journey, Abraham is not told where this land or final stop will be, yet he continually builds altars as an acknowledgment of his faith in this God he cannot see. How beautifully this tees up what his grandson, Jacob, will do in Gen. 35, when he too will build an altar, acknowledging the Almighty’s presence every step of the journey: “He has been with me wherever I have gone” (Gen. 35:3).  We can only imagine how Abraham and his family told the stories of such stops and how this thankfulness for God’s blessings carried to subsequent generations.  Attribute:  gratitude.
  6. When in Haran, Abram is again directed to pick up and move the family, flocks and possessions.  Now seventy-five, he is finally told that Canaan is indeed the promised land.  Yet on arrival, he discovers no milk and honey but a terrible famine, one more test for Abram’s faith.  So he heads South to Egypt in order to survive, an act later generations will imitate. Like many life journeys, Abram makes a bad decision to ensure his own survival, positioning the much-desired Sarai as his sister.  (He reasoned that if the Egyptians knew she was Abram’s wife, they would kill him and take her.)  Gen. 20:12 reveals that they actually were half-siblings.  But failing to truthfully acknowledge Sarai also as his wife enables Pharaoh to take the beautiful woman into his home, paying Abram a significant amount in servants and animals as a dowry.

What a terrible price Abram’s cowardly, self-serving actions have cost:  he loses Sarai, and she loses her honor since the ‘marriage’ with Pharaoh was no doubt consummated.  Yet in spite of Abram’s duplicity, the deceived (Pharaoh) is punished instead of the deceiver (Abram).   Although the Pharaoh experiences plagues for his involvement with Sarai, he is a model of generosity, allowing Abram and Sarai to leave Egypt with all their possessions, thus becoming an example of how God is always in charge, saving his children even when they’ve erred.   Attribute: learning from the sin of self-centeredness.

Perhaps this last episode is the nadir of the father of Israel’s life, yet it is also the precursor to what the nation of Israel will itself experience:  the ups and downs of obedience, not unlike our own lives perhaps.   This is one of the dozens of reasons the Bible continues to guide us on our journey from whatever ‘Ur’ we come from to our own ‘promised land’.

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