Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Journey to Rome

After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. "After I have been there," he said, "I must visit Rome also."
~ Acts 19:21
Rome. What does that name conjure up in your mind? To those living around the Mediterranean in the first century AD, it represented the power ruling their world. Caesar ruled from Rome. It was a system that either served you, making you rich and enabling a good life. Or you were an oppressed people that had been conquered and heavily taxed, simply trying to eek out an existence. Or you were a slave going about your master's business with no rights of your own. Whatever the case, there was a common message that went out to the empire: Caesar is lord.

I've been journeying throughout the ancient Biblical world for years, aiming to visit as much as I reasonably can. I've been to Israel many times, as well as visiting Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece. The last few years I've been looking for a good tour to Italy; that trip finally arrived. I had intended to write this while on my trip but time did not permit. I've now been back a week and able to catch my breath. It's time to write.

As the Apostle Paul went around the eastern Mediterranean, he had a message to spread. The responses to that message would vary greatly. Some would laugh; others would be angry; still others would threaten or attack; others believed. His message was in stark contrast to what Caesar claimed. Paul declared that Jesus is lord. Those were controversial words then and remain down to this day.

What was the world of ancient Rome like? What was it like for Paul as he went there? Why did he go? Stay tuned for my journey to the heart of the Roman Empire!

Places I visited Sept 24-Oct 6, 2017

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Day the Sun Went Dark

On Monday I was one of millions to journey into the path of the total eclipse that passed over the width of the United States. I was in absolute awe watching the total eclipse. The corona glistened in splendor, a few planets winked into the sky, the entire horizon looked like a sunset in every direction. If you've never experienced a total eclipse, I highly recommend experiencing one.

How does the eclipse relate to the world of the Bible? I could easily refer to several passages of gloom and doom about the sun going dark, but there's a more definitive connection that can be made.

Have you ever wondered where we get dates in the Bible? For instance, it's commonly said that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. We certainly don't have any inscriptions, nor does the Bible provide that date because our reckoning of years was a millennium away from being formed. Instead, the Bible and the cultures around Israel marked the years by the reigns of their kings (in the fourth year of king so and so...).

We have to go to ancient Assyria (modern Iraq) for our answer. Each year a Limu was appointed, who was a high official in the kingdom. His name was assigned to that year. The Assyrians had lists of Limus, which provides relative dates. Our absolute dates arrive by Limu Bar-Sagale in which a total solar eclipse was recorded. Using modern astronomical calculations, this eclipse was determined to be on June 15, 763 BC. With this in mind, the calendars were aligned, allowing scholars to start giving absolute dates to the events of the ancient world!

One of several Limu stelae in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul, Turkey

My personal picture of the eclipse from Missouri

Monday, April 10, 2017

Crumbs

The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.
~ Leviticus 23:5-6
Passover is upon us. It's an annual reminder of God's salvation. God saved the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. When Jesus came, he used that as an image of what he was doing spiritually, saving people from their sins.

The most prominent command surrounding the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread is the removal of yeast/leavening from one's house. Just as the early Israelites ate bread without yeast in their hasty exit from Egypt, we remember this by eating unleavened bread today. On top of that, yeast became a symbol for sin. The annual removal of yeast should serve as a reminder of what thoughts or actions in our lives are inhibiting our relationship with the Lord. Even if you don't want to tackle the chore of removing all yeast from your home, take some time cleaning something as simple as your toaster. What comes out when you open it? Just as all those burnt crumbs tumble out, spend some time reflecting on what needs to be cleaned out from your life.


Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
~ 1 Corinthians 5:7

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Great Miracle Happened There

Today was Christmas and the first day of Hanukkah (how often does they coincide like this?). What is this day about?

Christians around the world commemorate the arrival of Jesus born in lowly conditions in Bethlehem. God come to earth. God had not abandoned the earth to its sins but was personally intervening to deal to it. Jesus' Hebrew name, Yeshua, means 'salvation'.

Going back to about 165 BC, we find the origins of Hanukkah. The land of Israel was under the rule of the Greeks. Under the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Torah was outlawed. The Temple was desecrated. The Jews rose up in rebellion and, against impossible odds, overthrew the Greeks! They rededicated the Temple and that is what is remembered at this time of year. Hanukkah means 'dedication'.

At Hanukkah, there's a traditional game called the dreidel. There are four letters on a dreidel: nun (N), gimel (G), he (H), and shin (Sh). They stand for the phrase, Nes Gadol Haya Sham, "A great miracle happened there". (In Israel, the shin is substituted for a pe (P) for Nes Gadol Haya Po, "A great miracle happened here") God intervened miraculously to save his people from the Greeks so they could worship him instead of idols. In the same way, an even greater miracle happened 160ish years later in the birth of Jesus. These are just two examples of how God has been at work in our world. How have you seen God working in your life in the past year?

Dreidels

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sermon - Grumbling and Gratitude

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
~ Deuteronomy 8:10
I had the privilege to preach again last weekend. Given the Thanksgiving weekend, I decided on something on gratitude.

It's easy to focus on what's wrong in life and grumble and complain about it. I'm as guilty as anyone on this. However, this is not how it should be. God calls us to something better - a life of gratitude. God has blessed us; we need to continually remind ourselves of that.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Vote for Saul!

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
~ 1 Samuel 8:4-5
After the Israelites came out of Egypt, they conquered the land of Canaan and settled it. Then the era of the judges began. The people would be prosperous and turn from God, which would lead to ruin (invading armies). As a result, they turned back to God. God sent a judge to rescue them. Prosperity returned. And thus the cycle repeated itself.

The prophet Samuel was the last judge. As he grew old, the elders of the people decided it was time for a change. They didn't want the destructive cycle continuing anymore. Their solution: establish a monarchy. The problem was that this contradicted the idea of God as their king. Interestingly, God granted their request and gave them the king they were asking for, a man named Saul.

While Saul started out pretty good, winning various battles, he became less concerned about the Lord. His kingdom was not a strong one. He fit what the people were asking for, even if he wasn't good for them.

As the United States nears a presidential election, that story has been in my mind. It feels like both candidates for the major parties are like Saul. They may not be good for the country, but they're what we've been asking for. We have the candidates we deserve.

I pray my nation and world will wake up before it is too late. No matter what happens, the Lord is the true King of the universe.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tent Specifications

Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters.
~ Leviticus 23:41-42
The festival of Sukkot (tablernacles/booths) is upon us again! It began Monday. I'm typing this from within my sukkah (singular of sukkot).

When I was in Israel this summer at a place called Neot Kedumim, I wandered around an area they have of various sukkot. The sages decided what made for a valid sukkah. This little village demonstrates what is permissible and what is not. Here is a sampling:
An overview of the sukkah village
If a sukkah is built on a cart, it is valid
This sukkah is too tall!
Enjoying some shade in a sukkah
Just as the Israelites lived in tents in the desert, God commanded his people to live in tents for a week each year to remember the event. Paul (2 Corinthians 5:1-4) and Peter (2 Peter 1:13) both refer to our current bodies as tents. They are temporary and will eventually wear out. Like the Israelites in the desert, we are on a journey for a permanent dwelling place. Just as the land of promise was better than the hot, dry desert, so too will our eternal dwelling be better than the life we know now!