Read-a-Thon IN the Bible

Okay, okay, okay. I know that the books of the Law and Prophets were written on scrolls. I know that the printing press had not yet been invented in the first century A.D. I know that the majority of people in those eras did not even know how to read.

But — could we, maybe, be missing something? Bear with me.

  • “…When all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this Law before them in their hearing” (Dt 31:11).
  • “Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the Law… there was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel” (Josh 8:34-35).
  • “Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God” –apparently from daybreak to noon. (Ez 8:18; 3)
  • “On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that…” (Ez 13:1).
  • “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (I Tim 4:13).

There is something different about reading God’s Word out loud. There is something powerful about public declaration. Really.

Our two weeks — 92 hours — of reading were remarkable; it is precious to be washed with the Word! Not all the donations are collected yet, but we are thrilled to have raised over $1,000 for DOVE Missions Africa. Thank you for your amazing support!

I will finish this year’s Read-a-Thon reports with a humble challenge. Have you ever read through one of the Gospels in one sitting? Have you read all of Paul’s letters in one day? Have you, as a pastor, ever thought of reading the Bible to your congregation instead of preaching? Just saying… it would be well worth it!

 ~Diane

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The Old and the New

We completed the Old Testament today and entered the New. I must admit that the reading is much easier in the latter. And the New Testament is even further enriched after reading through the Old. When the book of Moses was read aloud under Nehemiah, they discovered many things that they had not known. Definitely, the same happens with us!

Of all the detestable, disgusting things the Israelites were accused of, the one that churns my insides the most is that of sacrificing their children to foreign gods and eating their own children in times of famine. The final words of Malachi that speak of the turning of the hearts of the fathers to their children and vice-versa would be no small feat!

Enter Jesus Christ, Son of Yahweh, born in human likeness. Talk about expectations–they had been building up for at least 2000 years. Has any other person in history ever had so much pressure to ‘perform’ and ‘deliver?’ He was the Desire of the nations. But for sure, He did NOT fulfill all that was expected of Him. In fact, he was a disappointment, an anathema to most of the Jews. On the other hand, He did more than anyone could ever have expected! He was not who they wanted, but much more than they ever could have wanted.

Jesus’ interactions with the Law, as seen in the book of Matthew, are so revealing.

  • Jesus was very knowledgeable of the Law and Prophets; He quoted scripture when rebuking Satan. (Mt 4:4-10)
  • Jesus declared, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:13)
  • After insisting that everything in the Law would be accomplished and no letter would be dropped from it, Jesus proceeded to either expand or adjust various commandments from the Law of Moses. Adultery is not only a physical act, but an act of the heart. Revenge (‘eye for eye’) is no longer valid; we must not repay evil with good! (Mt 5)
  • Jesus implies that some aspects of the Law are more important than others. He told the Pharisees and teachers of the law that they should tithe, yes, but should not neglect the “more important” matters of the Law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. (Mt. 23:23)
  • When challenged, Jesus crystallized “all the Law and Prophets” (Mt 23:34-40) into two commands: love God and love your neighbor.

The Jews tried to make Jesus what they wanted Him to be. They tried to fit Him into their expectations — their ‘boxes.’* What a mistake! Do we ever do the same, such as when we sing “Jesus is mine,” treating Him like an ATM, putting Him in our pocket, or viewing Him in the same category as a human lover? God help us!

~ Diane

* FOR MORE: See our friend Steve‘s re-post, “Ekklesia” from the Simple Church Journal.

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Mercy

The prophets spew out a lot of judgment, and God does punish the ‘rebellious house.’ Both the northern kingdom and southern kingdoms are now in exile in our readings. But the prophets make it clear that God does not delight in the suffering of His people. It pains Him. It grieves Him. He longs to draw His people to Himself.

In the thick of all the doom and condemnation, almost every prophetic book contains at least one passage of hope and promise. God always preserves a remnant, and always declares that restoration is coming.

Many of our favorite verses are found wedged in between declarations of judgment. When you come across them, after chapters and chapters of doom and terror, they become so precious.

  • Isaiah records so many fore-tellings of the Messiah and is the prophet most quoted by Jesus. “By his words we are healed,” he prophesies.
  • Jeremiah, as desperately as he laments the fall of Jerusalem, also proclaims, “Because of the Lord’s great love you are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness1 and “I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord2.
  • Ezekiel, despite all his scathing judgments, says, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them… they will be my people and I will be their God3.
  • Hosea, the love story. How could God tell Hosea to marry a prostitute? And then how could he tell him to receive her back after she had returned to adultery? Really!? But, it is picture of us. “While we were yet sinners,” Christ died for us. And even when we fall, He restores us to Himself with persistent, extravagant love. “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us. He has injured us, but he will bind up our wounds4.
  • Amos records God’s promise, “In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent… New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills… I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted5.
  • Obadiah ends with the hope that “Deliverers will go up on Mt Zion… and the kingdom will be the Lord’s6.

The door back to God and the fullness of His mercy is always open. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths7.

~ Diane

1 Lamentations 3:22-23; 2Jeremiah 32:44; 3Ezekiel 11:19-20; 4Hosea 6:11; 5Amos  9:11, 13, 15; 6Obadiah 21; 7Micah 4:2

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View from Under the Sun

Last week we logged 47 hours of Bible reading. We have started the books of the prophets, which run concurrently with the period of the kings. The Bible Read-a-Thon continues, raising funds for the work of DOVE missionaries in Africa (DMA). We have raised around $590 so far — thank God — but are significantly below the target that our missionaries need. You are still welcome to send a donation! (use tab on the right-side column)

Ecclesiastes: a unique book. Is it the inspired word of God, and useful for our instruction? Yes, of course. Is it wholly composed of divine Truth? No. It is written from a human point of view, albeit inspired by God. King Solomon (usually assumed to be the author) declares from the beginning that he is viewing the world from “under the sun,” in other words, from the human perspective. God’s perspective would be from “beyond the sun,” right? If King Solomon is in fact the author, it is likely that he wrote Ecclesiastes toward the end of his reign. By then, he had deteriorated into being a lustful idol worshipper; he was not the wise and godly king he was when he started out.

Several human ideologies can be seen in this discourse. Chapter 2 displays a hedonistic attitude; chapter 3 describes a type of thinking known as existentialism. Both approaches conclude that life is short and without meaning, so we should as well live for the moment and just have fun while we can. Solomon goes on to lament the meaninglessness of success, fame, religion, riches and possessions.

Finally, in chapter 12, there is a shift when the author declares that life is only worth living within the context of faith in God. When we fear God and keep His commands, we have finally found meaning. All of the other pursuits are useless.

Yes, everything IS vanity — apart from God. But with God at the center, all of life and all of eternity become not only worthwhile, but also significant.

The seemingly endless cycle of revenge and idolatry of the kings of Israel and Judah could certainly lead us to agree with the earlier chapters of Ecclesiastes that everything is meaningless. I feel such despair, for example, when Solomon ‘throws it all away’ in his later years, or when Joash just up and murders the son of priest  Jehoiada–who cared for him, defended him, advised him and protected him, or when Rehoboam listens to foolish advice and plunges the nation into civil war. . . . But unfortunately, we do not see very different patterns in most of the national leaders around us today.

Oh, that we may finish well. (Not many of the kings managed that, despite their godly start: Solomon, Joash, Uzziah, Hezekiah — just to name a few).

Yes, lessons for us in all of God’s Word.

~ Diane

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My Assignment

In reading the Old Testament, we find ourselves wading through list after list of job descriptions. Every Levite had an appointed task in the temple. Every craftsman had a defined assignment. When it was time to move camp, every tribe was commissioned with specific responsibility regarding what they were to carry.

Legalism? Probably, yes. After all, they were under the Law. But it strikes me that it is very important for every individual, every believer, to know exactly what his or her role in the Kingdom — or in the church, for that matter — is supposed to be.

We tend to be very haphazard. Our mantra of ‘following the Spirit’ tends to equal disorganization (especially in the African context?). When discussing spiritual gifts, Paul says, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (I Cor 12:18). So even in our Spirit-filled context, we need some order.

Besides knowing our role, and fulfilling it, we also see that praise, intercession, worship and prophecy were fully catered for. Those tasked with these ministries in the temple (I Chron 25) were to put their efforts into this and this alone. They were trained, skilled and dedicated. In other words, intercession, or praise, was their “job.”

As we look toward establishing a prayer center at the DOVE property in Nairobi, this challenges me. Will we be ready to ‘put on salary’ those who could stay in the prayer room day after day? Will those called to this ministry recognize it and obey?

Another topic. King David. Oooh! A man after God’s own heart… but from early life to end of life, he was battered by opposition, betrayed, and beset with sin. Even in his final days, a coup d’etat erupted in his own family. Yet, he is a prototype of Christ and and Israel’s most noble king. I notice three redeeming traits:

  • David (almost always) sought God’s will. “David enquired of the Lord” is repeated often.
  • David was repentant. When confronted, he confessed and accepted discipline.
  • David did all he could to observe justice. He was very, very careful to be fair and just. He always wanted to keep his own hands clear of innocent blood.

“A broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” That was David.

~ Diane

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CHOICES

Today we read Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Ruth. Wow! Reviewing the intrigues of the children of Israel from the time they crossed the Red Sea, in other words, reviewing our readings of yesterday, Moses gave three speeches (Dt 1-4; 5-28; 29-33) just before his death. Now that the children of Israel were preparing to enter the Promised Land, it was important for Moses to interpret the events of their history to this generation aged sixty years and below (except for Joshua and Caleb). They needed to understand God’s Law and be warned about what would happen if they failed to obey it.

Moses, one of the greatest leaders in history, was certainly not perfect. In fact, in some instances he seems a bit cheeky. He said four or more times that it was the Israelites’ fault that he could not enter the Promised Land. Hmm? We know that was not really the reason — it was his own disobedience! Apparently Adam’s original sin of passing blame was still manifesting in Moses. And the fact that he would not enter Canaan really irritated Moses. He pled with God to change His mind on that score, until God finally told him “That is enough — do not ask again!” (Dt 3:26).

Major concerns for social justice are seen in the book of Deuteronomy. These include

  • Personhood: dignity, women, value of human life
  • Justice: punishment, intention, false accusation, exploitation, fair trial, the law, bribery
  • Social systems: inheritance, property, marriage, distribution of wealth
  • The environment: fruit of the ground, animals, trees

It becomes very crucial, in this reading, to understand how the Law relates to we who are in the New Covenant in Christ. Certain principles hold true. But Jesus Himself invalidated some of the Law’s commands. “Moses said to you, ‘eye for eye, and tooth for  tooth,’ but I say. . .'” (Mt 5:38-39). The ‘eye-for-eye’ passage is in Deuteronomy, along with many other harsh-sounding practices.

So, which instructions are still valid? How can we distill, and then obey, the eternal principles? Just one example is about what can or cannot eat. Uh-oh: rabbit (I like it), pig (you know, pork and bacon), creatures in the water that do not have fins and scales (= most seafood), and flying insects (Ibrahim’s favorite), are all unclean and forbidden! Do we opt to preach and apply the commands that sound logical, but ignore those that do not fit our paradigm? Obviously we cannot go back to the Law; we live in the era of grace. But sorting it all out can be quite a challenge.

About public reading: Moses told the Israelites, “You shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people — men, women and children and the aliens living in your towns — so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law” (Dt 31:12). After the very meaningful reading today, I am ‘tempted’ to do just that — read the entire book of Deuteronomy in a Sunday morning service.

Deuteronomy and Joshua reverberate with this one reality: we have choices to make. Every day, every moment, we must choose good or choose evil. Consequences will follow.

Throughout Judges, the people kept reverting to “what seemed right in their own eyes.” But for that, they always ended up in a big mess!

How can I learn to distinguish ‘what is right in my own eyes’ from the voice of the Lord? What choices will I make today?

Stay tuned! ~Diane

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I Began to Cry

(Yes, the Bible reading is going on, but today’s post is different).

I watched Dr. Brian H. Williams, a trauma surgeon who attended the wounded police officers in Dallas Texas, and I began to cry.

“I do not understand why people think it is okay to kill police officers,” he said, holding back tears. “I don’t understand why black men die in custody and they are forgotten the next day. I don’t know why this has to be ‘us’ against ‘them.’ This all, really, has to stop,” he concluded

I can tell you why I am crying. It is because this affects all of us. We cannot wish it away. It is not ‘out there somewhere.’  It is my children, my family, my friends, my nation and my world.

I am crying because not too many people want to address this issue. Not even the church. It is messy; it is ugly; it is divisive.

But this is a problem that we cannot just push away. Whether it is in the streets of US cities or the capitol of Juba in South Sudan where the President’s tribe and the Vice-president’s tribe are at it again, killing indiscriminately, or in South Africa where some of the blacks feel that they should forcefully take back the land owned by the white minority . . . Wherever it is, the events tell us that ours is a broken world. A hurting world. A world that seems to be racing toward self-destruction.

This is not the world we want to leave for our children and future generations. We must do something now to turn the tide.

It begins where we are. It might begin, like Dr. Williams, with tears on public television; a sermon in the local church; a visit in the neighboring community; a prayer vigil; a meal with a stranger.

Each of us needs to ask God to show us which step He wants us to take… then please take it!

~ Ibrahim

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