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Can a Five-Year-Old Become a Christian?

Last week I led my  five-year-old through a prayer to become a Christian.

The prayer was simple.  I explained to him that it was an “ABC” prayer.

  • Admit that he is a sinner who needs God’s forgiveness and grace.
  • Believe (trust) that Jesus died for his sins, and was raised from the dead to overcome sin’s power.
  • Commit to live for Jesus, serve his kingdom, and grow as a Christian every day.

This moment of prayer/decision hadn’t arisen from out of the blue.  For several months Brayden had been asking questions about Jesus/God/faith/Bible, and what it means to be a Christian.  Our talks usually occurred in his bed at night while we reflected on our day.

A few Fridays ago, among talk about Star Wars and Christmas, Brayden asked me if he was a Christian.

I told him that he was not.

“But you and mommy are Christians,” he replied, puzzled.

I explained that no one is automatically a Christian, because a Christian is someone who has personally decided to devote their life to Jesus.

He seemed confused.

“But I go to church” he said.

“Yes, you do, but you can go to church and not be devoted to Jesus.  Becoming a Christian only happens when we make Jesus our King and decide to live for him instead of ourselves.”

“I want to become a Christian.  When can I become a Christian?”

That was/is a good question!  Personally and pastorally, I hold the conviction that becoming a Christian is a serious, life-altering decision.  Like marriage, it should not be entered into “lightly or hastily.”  That’s why, regardless of what age one is considering embracing Christ as King and Saviour, I think it’s appropriate to provide some resistance so that we prevent people from making a rash or impulsive decision.  Jesus said “follow me” (Matthew 4:19), but we should do what we can to help people think through what that commitment will mean for them, both now and into the future.  As Brayden’s father, I felt it was important for him to wrestle for a while with the potential consequences of becoming a Christian before saying the prayer that could change his life forever.  That’s why, for several months I’d consistently pushed the decision (but not the conversation!) off to an undetermined point in the future.

It wasn’t just for Brayden’s sake that I was providing some push-back to his request: had a lot of questions that I felt needed to be answered before I could be confident that his decision to embrace Christ was legitimate:

  • Why did Brayden want to become a Christian?
  • Did Brayden know “enough” about what his commitment to Christ would cost him?
  • Did his age invariably mean that the decision was born out of complete naiveté?  He’s watched his older sisters talk about their Christian faith and grow in it; is it just “monkey see; monkey do” mimicry?
  • Is there any depth to his motivation?  Does he show a desire for discipleship?  When his definition of discipleship is “making good decisions,” does that show a sufficient or insufficient understanding of the foundation of a Christian worldview?
  • How much theology does he need to know before he’s ready to make a commitment of this nature?  If he can (barely) articulate the Gospel (Manger, Cross, Crown), can he legitimately embrace it?

These were some of the questions I was mulling over during the months I was pushing Brayden to think about becoming a Christian until a later time, when I could better determine if he was ready.

But a few weeks ago, Brayden wouldn’t let it go.  I went into my usual, “that’s great, let’s keep talking about it…” mode, but he kept pressing me.

“Why can’t I become a Christian now?”

A Scripture that God had used to rebuke me in the past came to mind once again:

“Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:17

Indeed.

Brayden had shown a persistent desire to become a Christian for almost half a year.  We had talked about Jesus, God, the Bible, salvation, love, grace, and sin, all while snuggling in the warm blue glow of the nightlight beside his bed.  For months I had put a (necessary) speed bump in front of him, wanting to make sure any conversion would be from the heart, and not mere mimicry.

And here he was, resolute in the conviction that he was ready to give his life to Jesus.

Was I going to stand in God’s way?

Nope.  In that exchange what became very clear was that my little boy genuinely desired to give his life to Jesus.

Did he know “enough”?  Well, he knew the gospel.  That’s enough, isn’t it?

Did he understand what he was getting into?  Did I when I said my own unpolished and imperfect prayer at age 14?

Were his motivations and intentions pure?  Can I point to even one decision I’ve made that has been made with pure and right motives—even my decision to embrace Christ?

When God’s grace-filled invitation to new life intersects with a person’s humble and heartfelt response, we may find ourselves harboring lots of questions regarding what is “actually” happening.  That’s ok.  We’re entitled to our questions.  Those questions and hesitations are important and often valid and should be identified and addressed.

But, we must be careful to never allow our questions and hesitations to stand in God’s way.  None of us (however well intended) have the right to delay another’s response to the gospel until we’ve figured things out and are sure they “get it.”

Besides, you can never really “get” grace anyways.  That’s kind of why it’s grace.  It can’t be grasped.  It can only be received.

That night, Brayden didn’t fully understand God’s grace, but he “got” it.  Or more precisely, God’s grace “got” him.  He may not have grasped it in its totality, but it grasped him.

Can a five year old become a Christian?  Yes, a five year old can.

And that night, my five year old did. By God’s grace and for His glory.

 

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Bible Overview Series: Philemon

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Philemon by Joseph Novak

Philemon: Then one day, for the first time in history, a slave and his master cried out in stunned recognition: “Brother!”

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Philemon

Philemon (fi-LAY-moan) is a good guy. He loves Jesus and the other believers (Phm 5). He as refreshed the hearts of many saints (Phm 7). He’s a church leader in the Colossae area (Phlm 2, Col 4:17). Paul even considers him a beloved brother and a fellow worker (Phm 1).

But he’s about to find himself in a very awkward situation.

Philemon owned a slave, Onesimus (oh-NAY-see-muss). Onesimus had run away from Philemon, and somehow met Paul in his travels. Paul shared the gospel with him, and Onesimus had been saved. Onesimus then stayed with Paul and assisted him while he was in prison (Phm 13).

But Paul sends the runaway slave back to his old master.

Onesimus is going to show up on Philemon’s doorstep with a note from Paul. This message urges him to do something unheard-of: forgive Onesimus and accept him as a brother, not a slave.

Theme verses in Philemon

“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever,  no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Phm 15–16)

Philemon’s role in the Bible

For the most part, Paul’s letters fall into two neat categories: letters to congregations and letters to pastors. In our Bibles, the letters to congregations come first and the pastoral epistles follow. Then we’re left with Philemon.

Philemon is a hybrid. The main thrust of the letter is to Philemon, an individual church leader, but the letter is also addressed to Apphia, Archippus, and the church in Philemon’s house. The epistle is clearly not a private note to Philemon: Paul is publicly addressing the matter.

There’s a good chance that Onesimus delivered both this letter and the letter to the Colossians in the same trip. In that letter, Paul says that in Christ, there is no distinction between “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). The book of Philemon gives the Colossians (and us!) a tangible example of what that means.

Speaking of tangible examples, you might read Philemon as a case study of how Paul’s teachings played out in real life1:

  • In Romans, we see the divine mechanics of salvation. In Philemon, we see the social mechanics of salvation.
  • In First and Second Corinthians, we learn how church members should deal with interpersonal and cultural conflicts. In Philemon, we see Christians forgiving one another and deferring to one another.
  • In Galatians, we see the Godhead enacting salvation. In Philemon, we learn to view fellow believers the way the Godhead does.
  • In Ephesians, we see a high-level model of unity in the local church. In Philemon, the local church is called to witness two brothers overcoming their differences.
  • In Philippians, we’re told to have the attitude of Christ and put others’ interests above our own. In Philemon, we see what that looks like in relationships with other Christians.
  • In Colossians, we learn how to see ourselves in Christ. In Philemon, we learn how to see others in Christ.
  • In First and Second Thessalonians, we learn about a church that set a great example in anticipation of the Lord’s return. In Philemon, we learn about the example Paul expects a fellow laborer to show.
  • In First and Second Timothy, we see the general qualifications and duties of church leadership. In Philemon, we see a church leader put to the test.
  • In Titus, we see what the counter-cultural church should work toward. In Philemon, we see a counter-cultural church in practice.

This book has been cited through the centuries as a biblical argument against slavery. Paul does not make any direct attacks on the notion of slavery, but he does hold Philemon to a standard higher than that of the surrounding culture. Punishment for runaways was severe, but Paul told Philemon not only to withhold punishment, but to embrace Onesimus as an equal. And on top of that, Paul is willing to absorb whatever this might cost Philemon (Phlm 18).

And here’s another important aspect of Philemon: we see the early church handling ambiguous situations with complete love and deference:

  • Paul could have kept Onesimus with him, but instead Paul lets Philemon do the right thing on his own.
  • Onesimus could have run away again to start fresh, but instead faithfully brings Paul’s letter to Philemon.
  • Philemon could have made Onesimus a slave again (or worse), but we can assume he does as Paul requests.

It’s a marvelous example of how church leaders and members can approach difficult issues.

Philemon isn’t the shortest book of the Bible (that’s Third John), but it is only one chapter long (335 words).

Quick overview of Philemon

  1. Paul greets and affirms Philemon (Phm 1–7)
  2. Paul requests that Onesimus be accepted as a brother (Phm 8–19)
  3. Paul anticipates Philemon’s obedience (Phm 20–25)
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Our Posture Towards Death

The following was a sermon given on Sunday, November 20th, 2016 at Nelson Covenant Church.

Today many within our community are still in shock at the news of the tragic death of Devon Dunkley this week.  Devon’s family is part of our sister church at the Junction, and he was a part of our youth group for many years.   This past Wednesday Blair invited me to share from the Scriptures at our youth group, and I thought it would be important to pass along those thoughts to our entire community this morning.

We have record of an early Christian community in the ancient city of Thessalonica.  These were new believers in Jesus, and after experiencing a series of deaths within their community, they were seeking to understand how they were supposed to process death as believers in Jesus.  Paul addressed their questions in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

What is our posture towards death?  How are we called to live as Christians in the face of death?

The first thing that must be said, is that We MOURN. We MOURN the loss that comes through death. 

“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

Notice Paul doesn’t say, “You’re Christians—so you shouldn’t mourn!”  He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”  Paul wants these early Christians to know that they will grieve and mourn, but their grief and mourning will take on a different shape.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but let’s stay on this first crucial point:  Christians MOURN the loss that comes from death.  Death is a monster, because it takes someone from us who was an image-bearer of God; someone who was valuable and loved, beautiful and good.  That’s why it’s important—critical—to mourn.

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Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.  In the kingdom of God it’s not a virtue to remain stoic and unfeeling in the presence of significant loss.  We are not more spiritual if we can keep sorrow at bay, nor are we stronger if we manage to keep our grief contained and controlled.

Jesus wept in the face of tragedy.  When his cousin John was beheaded, Jesus mourned.  When Jesus was informed that his close friend Lazarus had died, he wept.

That we can allow the searing pain that comes from losing a loved one find expression through our tears and our crying out to God…reveals we are becoming more like Jesus, not less.

Christians mourn in the face of death.

But there is a second thing that must be said.  In the face of death, We MOCK. We MOCK the powerlessness of death.  Paul continues:

14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

And in 1 Corinthians 15:22–26 Paul declares:

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 

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I’ve been reading through St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation (written in the 4th century).  In a chapter on the resurrection Athanasius shares how he has witnessed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection transform how the Christians of his day responded in the face of death.  Specifically, he highlights how the resurrection has led to Christians “despising” death (and by “despising” he means mocking/belittling).  Listen to his words:

A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.

“There is proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Savior’s resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?

If you are a Christian, you serve a King who has broken death and trampled it underfoot.  When Jesus was resurrected, he overcame death’s power and signaled the beginning of the end of death’s rule and reign over God’s good creation.

Therefore, those in Christ are no longer held hostage by death’s power.  Death is a defeated foe, so that we now live without fear, knowing that “We are confident…and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8.  Even more astonishing than the hope of life after death, is the hope of life after, life after death.  The Christian’s ultimate hope is that one day Jesus will return and bring full Restoration and Redemption to this broken world.  Then his kingdom will be fully established within the context of a new heavens and new earth, and “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

In light of this great hope, Christians mock death, seeing it for the temporary inconvenience that it is.

And so death causes us to mourn, but it ought never cause us to despair.  Christians must never be frozen by the fear of death, nor overwhelmed by a misunderstanding of its grasp.

Because of what Jesus has accomplished–for you, for me, for Devon–death does not have the final word.  It has been swallowed up in the life and victory of King Jesus; a life and victory that Devon now knows fully, even as he is fully known (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

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Bible Overview Series: Luke

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Luke by Joseph Novak

Luke: After careful research I have prepared an objective scholarly account of what happened. It all began with an angel…

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Luke

Luke is the story of Jesus Christ—exactly as it happened. It’s written by Luke, the physician.

Luke is the third Gospel (an account of Jesus’ life and ministry) in the New Testament. Luke tells Jesus’ story in extensive detail, more so than any other Gospel. Luke records miracles, sermons, conversations, and personal feelings (Lk 2:19). The writer is a thorough historian who researched everything (Lk 1:3). And Luke’s attention to detail shows: not only is his the longest of the four gospels, but it’s also the the longest book of the New Testament. That’s a lot of content!

The book of Luke shows us Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10). We learn all about the God-man in whom we’ve placed our faith. We see how He lived, how He died, and how He rose again.

Luke’s Gospel is written in ways that Jewish and non-Jewish people can understand and appreciate. In Luke, Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Messiah; He is also the savior of the nations (Lk 2:30–32). Whereas Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry to Abraham (Mt 1:1), Luke charts His lineage all the way back to Adam (Lk 3:38). This isn’t surprising—after all, Luke spent a great deal of time with the apostle Paul, who shared the good news with both Jewish and Gentile audiences.

Theme verse of Luke

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Lk 19:10)

Why Luke was written

Luke states his purpose right away: this book is meant to give believers an accurate, chronological understanding of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Luke investigated the events of Jesus’ life by speaking with eyewitnesses (Lk 1:2), giving Theophilus (and us) a thorough record of the things Jesus did and said.

Luke is written to a Christian with little education in the life of Christ, making this book a terrific starting point for believers interested in studying His life today.

Quick outline of Luke

  1. Jesus’ origins (Lk 1–3)
  2. Jesus’ popularity as a prophet grows (Lk 4–9:17)
  3. Opposition to the Son of Man grows (Lk 9:18–19:27)
  4. Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and death (Lk 19:28–23:56)
  5. Jesus’ resurrection (Lk 24)

 

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Bible Overview Series: Zechariah

Zechariah

If only you could have lived to see the day he read your scroll, and loved it, and told his friends to fetch a donkey.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)
 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Zechariah

When God had a message for the people, He sent His prophets. The prophets would then speak forth the word of God to kings, priests, and the people. The prophets warned the people of God’s need to punish sin, and pleaded with the people to turn to God. But the Jews almost never listened (2 Ki 17:13–14).

So God exiled them to foreign lands. The northern tribes were carried off by Assyrians; the southern tribes went to Babylon for 70 years. Now the Jews had been released to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of the Lord.

The city is in ruins. The royal family has been reduced to governor status. The temple is under construction. But the words of the prophets still remain.

And now the Jews have another chance to pay attention. God sends them a new prophet: Zechariah. This prophet has colorful visions—messages of comfort and hope to the Jews. It all begins with a simple request: “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you” (Zec 1:3).

Zechariah’s writings encourage and admonish the Jews of Jerusalem. He specifically affirms the governor and priest of that time (Zec 3, 4). He chastises the foolish leaders among them (Zec 11), and calls all the people to follow God and remember the words of the prophets before (Zec 1:6).

But most importantly, he anticipates a full restoration of God and His people. The temple will be rebuilt, Israel will be purified, the enemies will be overcome, and the Lord Himself will dwell in Jerusalem. But this restoration isn’t only for the Jews: the Lord will rule the whole earth, and all the nations will worship Him (Zech 8:2214:9).

Theme verse in Zechariah

“Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. (Zec 1:3b)

Zechariah’s role in the Bible

Zechariah is the eleventh of the Minor Prophets, the last 12 books of the Old Testament. When God had a message for the people, He spoke through the prophets. His word came in visions, oracles, dreams, parables, and the like.

Most of the Minor Prophets wrote about the coming destruction of Judah, Israel, or the surrounding nations, but Zechariah is different. Like Haggai and Malachi, Zechariah shows up on the scene long after the destruction took place.

Of the Minor Prophets, Zechariah is easily the hardest to understand.

This is partially due to the dense symbolic nature of his writings. Whereas Hosea, Micah, and others give direct instructions and warnings of what is to come, Zechariah “lifts up his eyes” to see scenes, characters, and strange objects. Zechariah is one of only two Minor Prophets who records his visions in this way; the other one is Amos (Am 7:8; 8:2; 9:1).

Zechariah uses a few different ways to communicate God’s word to the people in this book:

  • Visions. Zechariah has vivid visions, similar to those that you see in the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. He sees lampstands (Zech 4:2), horses(Zech 6:2), flying scrolls (Zech 5:2), and other images that symbolize the spiritual landscape. Lucky for Zechariah—and us!—an angel interprets many of these symbols (Zech 4:4–6).
  • The word of the Lord. This is your typical prophetic discourse, which you’ll find in almost every book of the Minor Prophets (except Jonah). This is God using Zechariah as His mouthpiece to the people through word alone.
  • Symbolic demonstrations. Sometimes, Zechariah will do something in the physical world that represents the spiritual side of things. In one example, Zechariah forges a crown for the high priest Joshua (not the one who fought at Jericho) to remind Him that one day, there will be a Man who is both king and high priest in Jerusalem.

The prophets Zechariah and Haggai were contemporaries: the book of Ezra notes that these two prophets compelled the Jews to finish rebuilding the temple of the Lord, even thought he surrounding nations were opposing them (Ezr 5:1–2). Haggai’s recorded ministry seems to conclude after three months, but Zechariah continues to preach for at least two more years (Zech 1:1, 7:1).

Here’s something interesting: while Ezra sees Haggai and Zechariah motivating the Jews toward one goal, the two books of prophecy show some striking differences:

  • Haggai gives brief, almost clipped messages. Zechariah is the longest book of the Minor Prophets.
  • Haggai focuses explicitly on the present temple work, while Zechariah deals with the larger picture of Israel’s history and future.
  • Haggai is very literal, directly addressing the economic decline and the tangible solution (building the temple). Zechariah is highly symbolic, instead pointing to the spiritual activities behind the scenes.

Zechariah is ultimately a message of assurance: God has brought the Jews back to Jerusalem, and His work of restoration is far from over.

Quick outline of Zechariah

  1. Zechariah’s first visions (Zech 1–6)
    • The Lord calls Jerusalem to return to Him (Zech 1)
    • The Lord will return to Jerusalem (Zech 2)
    • The Lord affirms Jeshua and Zerubbabel (Zech 3–4)
    • The Lord’s judgment on other nations (Zech 5–6:8)
    • The Lord promises a priestly king (Zech 6:9–15)
  2. Zechariah’s teaching to Israel (Zech 7–8)
    • Learn from the former days (Zech 7)
    • The Lord’s return to Zion (Zech 8)
  3. Zechariah’s oracles (Zech 9–14)
    • Judgment on the nations, blessings on Israel (Zech 9–10)
    • Warnings against foolish shepherds (Zech 11)
    • Victory for God and His people (Zech 12–14)
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Bible Overview Series: Zephaniah

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Zephaniah by Joseph Novak

Cry out with horror, for I will sweep you from the earth. Cry out with joy, for I will sweep you into my arms.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Zephaniah

Judah was doomed.

Judah had been doomed long ago. The old king Manasseh had lead the nation away from God and into heinous idolatry, including human sacrifice (2 Chr 33:9). Manasseh’s son only made it worse (2 Chr 33:22–23). God had shown mercy during those days, but although He is slow to anger, He does not let the guilty go unpunished.

Judah is enjoying some peace, though. The good king Josiah reigns, and he has directed people back to God. It’s about this time that God sends the prophet Zephaniah with a startling message for Judah:

God is about to bring everything to an end (Zep 2:2). The day of the Lord is coming to Judah, and it’s a terrible day for those who have put God to the test all these years.

The judgment doesn’t stop at Judah—the whole world will be consumed. Zephaniah tells the people that the nations of the world cannot stand: Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia, and especially Assyria. All nations will know that He is God, and “He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth” (Zep 1:18).

But Zephaniah doesn’t end the message there. God has bigger plans than the end of the world. God will remove all things, yes, but then He will restore all things.

And the restoration doesn’t stop at Judah. God will bring about a time when all the nations will call on the name of the Lord. Judah, Israel, the nations, and the Lord will dwell together in peace, justice, and joy.

Theme verse of Zephaniah

Seek righteousness, seek humility.
Perhaps you will be hidden
In the day of the LORD’S anger. (Zep 2:3b)

Zephaniah’s role in the Bible

Zephaniah is the ninth of the Minor Prophets, the last 12 books of the Old Testament. When God had a message for the people, He spoke through the prophets. His word came in visions, oracles, dreams, parables, and the like.

The man Zephaniah has an interesting pedigree: he traces his lineage back to a man named Hezekiah. We’re not sure whether or not this is the same person as King Hezekiah, who initiated reform, transcribed much of the Proverbs, and was remembered long afterward for following God (2 Ki 19:5). Zephaniah was probably a contemporary of HabakkukNahum, and Jeremiah.

Zephaniah preached his message during the rule of King Josiah, who had initiated religious reform in all of Judah and some surrounding territories. At this time, the nation as a whole was obeying God’s laws and turning from idols (2 Chr 34:33). Since the land was obeying God, one might ask, “Whom was Zephaniah warning, then?”

His warnings seem to better resonate with the next generation of Judah. After Josiah dies in battle, his sons take the throne for 22 years. The disobey the Lord, they stir up trouble with Babylon, and they disregard the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 36:27–2937:1–2). Plus, the priests and citizens defile God’s temple (2 Chr 36:14).

In light of this, Zephaniah’s message makes sense. God knows what will happen, and the punishment is coming. That punishment plays out in the books of KingsChronicles and Jeremiah.

Quick outline of Zephaniah

Like the book of Joel, Zephaniah takes a “bad news first” approach: he begins with the coming destruction of Jerusalem, discusses the downfall and restoration of the outside nations, and finishes with the promise that Judah and Israel will be restored.

  1. Desolation and discipline on Judah (Zep 1)
  2. Desolation on the surrounding nations (Zep 2)
  3. The Lord’s remnant from the nations (Zep 3:1–11)
  4. The Lord’s remnant from Israel (Zep 3:12–20)

More pages related to Zephaniah

  • Joel(also concerns the day of the Lord and restoration)
  • Habakkuk(also anticipates the fall of Judah)
  • Nahum(also anticipates the fall of Nineveh)
  • Haggai(next book of the Bible)
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Bible Overview Series: Micah

 

Micah

Micah by Joseph Novak

We call you a minor prophet. But you are mountains rising behind mountains; all the world’s wealth is minor next to you.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 

 Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Micah

God had made Israel His own special nation, and He had special expectations of them. God is holy, and His people were to be holy. God is faithful, and His people were to be faithful to Him. God is merciful, and His people were to be merciful.

God is just, and His people should exercise justice.

But the prophet Micah feels that there are no righteous people, there is no justice in the land (Mic 7:2). The judges accept bribes (Mic 7:3), the rulers oppress the poor (Mic 3:1–3), the prophets lead the people astray (Mic 3:5), and the priests are easily bought (Mic 3:11).

Israel’s behavior is unacceptable, and Micah tells the people that they have no excuse:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Mic 6:8)

They know better, and God will not sit by while they treat one another this way.
So He comes to the prophet Micah with a twofold message:

Israel and Judah must be disciplined for their injustice.

God Himself will rule Israel with justice someday.

Because God is just, even when His people have no justice.

And because God is merciful, even when His people show no mercy.

Theme verse of Micah

I will bear the indignation of the Lord
Because I have sinned against Him,
Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me.
He will bring me out to the light,
And I will see His righteousness. (Mic 9:9)

Micah’s role in the Bible

Micah is the sixth of the Minor Prophets, the last 12 books of the Bible. When God had a message for the people, He gave his message through the prophets. These messages came in visions, oracles, dreams, parables, and the like.

While most of the Minor Prophets spoke to one nation, Micah called out both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Like Amos, Micah calls the people’s injustice to light. Micah admonishes the people, telling them that they should have known better.

And in light of the other Old Testament documents they had at the time, they indeed should have known better.

In Deuteronomy, Moses laid out what social justice should look like for God’s people:

For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. (Dt 10:17–18)

But instead, this is what God sees in Israel:

Recently My people have arisen as an enemy—
You strip the robe off the garment
From unsuspecting passers-by,
From those returned from war.
The women of My people you evict . . . . (Mic 2:8–9a)

In Micah, we see how seriously God takes justice among His people. We also get a glimpse of God’s future redemptive work  in Jesus.

God had laid out His expectations of man:

  • Do justice
  • Love kindness
  • Walk humbly with Him

Man did not meet God’s expectations, and although God would punish them, God also promises to meet His own expectations:

  • He would rule in justice (Mic 4:3).
  • He would show mercy (Mic 7:19).
  • He would lead them in the ways of God (Mic 5:4).

How does that work? How does God meet His expectations for mankind?

In Jesus.

We know that Jesus was that ruler promised from long ago. He was born in Bethlehem (Mt 2:8–11), He showed us kindness, He satisfied the justice of God (Ro 3:23–26), and He humbled Himself, even to death (Php 2:8).

And soon, Jesus will return as King to rule in justice and peace forever.

Quick outline of Micah

  • Israel’s injustice (Mic 1–3)
  • The Lord’s promise to rule Israel with justice (Mic 4–5)
  • The Lord’s expectations and judgment (Mic 6)
  • The Lord’s compassion and everlasting love (Mic 7)

 

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How To Pray For An Hour

“Lord, teach us to pray” Luke 11:1

Last week I spent an hour working my way through Jon Tyson’s  “How To Pray For An Hour” prayer wheel.

Prayer_How to pray for an hour

I do not believe there are short-cuts when it comes to expanding and deeping one’s prayer life.  However, tools like this are really helpful in learning how to pray.  As someone who struggles with prayer, I’ve discovered that I need resources like this to guide me along and keep me focused.

It’s been a long time since I prayed for an hour on my own.  I decided to walk and pray through downtown Nelson, and I was shocked at how quickly the time flew by.  In fact, I ended up expanding several of these sections far beyond 5 minutes, and ended up praying for about 1.5 hours!

Today I didn’t have a one-hour block through which I could move through the entire wheel in one session.  However, I made it my goal to move through the wheel over the course of the day.  Although a different experience, it was just as powerful to pray through this tool as my day unfolded.  I can see both practices becoming part of my weekly ritual.

You may or may not find a tool like this helpful, but one of its strengths is that it forces you into modes of prayer that, depending on your spiritual love language, you may avoid or simply neglect.  Case in point: I can’t remember the last time I prayed for “Holy Alertness.”  And yet as I made my way through the streets of Nelson I was instantly sensitized to how critical a prayer that is for me as both a pastor and Christian.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could pray for an hour without a tool like this to help me.  As I Mind type I’d rather talk about, think about, study, read, or teach on prayer than actually pray.  I’m therefore very thankful for leaders like Jon Tyson who share resources that I can use to practice prayer in an intentional and sustained way.

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Bible Overview Series: Leviticus

Capture

Leviticus by Joseph Novak

At the mountain they wait in love and terror, while holy words pass through them like a sword.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Leviticus

You could sum up the book of Leviticus with God’s repeated command: “Be holy, as I am holy.” Leviticus is a book of laws, but it’s also a book of worship. This book is filled with details on how the people of God should live, eat, sacrifice, celebrate, and more. The name “Leviticus” refers to the many laws for the priests, all of whom belonged to the tribe of Levi.

Leviticus is the third movement in the Penteteuch (the five books of Moses), and picks up where Exodus leaves off. This children of Israel have just erected a tabernacle at Mount Sinai, and now the Lord is relaying specific laws through Moses to His people. There’s very little narrative in the book of Leviticus, but a few important things take place, such as Aaron’s ordination and the deaths of Aaron’s sons. The story of Israel’s journey to the promised land picks back up in the book of Numbers.

Theme verse of Leviticus

“Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.” (Le 20:26)

Leviticus’ role in the Bible

Leviticus is about holiness (being set apart, separate)—both God’s holiness and the holiness He expects of His people.

Whereas Exodus displays God’s holiness on a cosmic scale (sending plagues on Egypt, parting the Red Sea, etc.), Leviticus shows us the holiness of God in fine detail. God spells out His expectations for His priests and people so that the congregation can appropriately worship and dwell with Him.

The call to holiness in Leviticus resounds throughout Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. Parts of the Levitical law are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, such as distinctions between clean and unclean foods (Mark 7:18–19), but the call to holiness still stands—Peter even cites Leviticus when he encourages us to be holy in all our behavior (1 Peter 1:15–16).

Quick outline of Leviticus

 

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Bible Overview Series: Exodus

Exodus2

Exodus by Joseph Novak

 

Barefoot on the hot sand, he stares into the flame and haggles with a god whose name he cannot say.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Exodus

The book of Exodus is the story of God rescuing the children of Israel from Egypt and making them His people. Exodus is the second book of the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses), and it’s where we find the stories of the Ten Plagues, the first Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Ten Commandments.

Exodus picks up where Genesis leaves off: the young nation of Israel is in Egypt (they were invited by Joseph, the one with the famous coat). A new Pharaoh notices the Israelites multiplying, and enslaves them. Afraid of an uprising, he orders that all Hebrew sons should be cast into the Nile at birth. But one son escapes this decree.

Moses is hidden in a basket and set afloat in the Nile—where Pharaoh’s daughter discovers him. Moses is grows up as her son. When an adult Moses sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he kills the Egyptian and leaves the country to escape capital punishment.

Forty years later, God appears to Moses as a burning bush and sends him to deliver Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. Moses, with the help of his brother Aaron, confronts Pharaoh on God’s behalf: “Let My people go” (Ex 5:1). Pharaoh refuses, and so God sends 10 plagues upon the Egyptians:

  1. Water turns to blood.
  2. Swarms of frogs cover the land.
  3. Gnats infest the land.
  4. Swarms of flies fill the air.
  5. Egyptian cattle die.
  6. Boils break out on Egyptians.
  7. Hail and fire rain down.
  8. Locusts consume Egyptian crops.
  9. Darkness covers the land.
  10. Every firstborn dies.

When the last plague kills Pharaoh’s son, he finally allows Israel to leave.

The sons of Israel leave Egypt and make their way to Mount Sinai, where God gives His laws to Moses. God makes a covenant with the nation of Israel and the generations to come: because He rescued them from Egypt, Israel is to observe His rules. God speaks the Ten Commandments directly to the whole nation of Israel, and He relays specific ordinances to Moses on the mountain.

God does not stop with a list of rules, however. He gives Moses instructions for a tabernacle, a special tent of worship.

The book of Exodus ends with the glory of the LORD filling the tabernacle: God is now dwelling among His chosen people, Israel. The book of Leviticus goes on to document the laws God gives His people at Mount Sinai.

Theme verse of Exodus

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex 20:2)

Exodus’s role in the Bible

Exodus is a starburst of Old and New Testament theology. God is faithful, and keeps His promise to Abraham (Gn 15:13–21) by judging the Egyptians and liberating Israel. The Lord also gives Israel the first iteration of the Law, and begins to dwell among His people in the tabernacle. God’s liberation of Israel from slavery foreshadows His work to redeem the nations (Ro 6:17–18), just as His judgment on His people serves as an example for Christians now (1 Co 10:6–13). Exodus is also where God reveals His memorial name: YHWH, or LORD (Ex 3:146:3).

Quick outline of Exodus

 

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