How to Listen to the Bible

How to Listen to the Bible

Nehemiah 8:1-10 Have you ever daydreamed through the Scripture reading in worship? Yep – me too.  And not just back when I was sitting in the pews; sometimes, I’m thinking so much about my sermon that I miss it. I don’t want to miss it.  I don’t want you to, either.  So today, we’re going to learn from the story of when Ezra read the Law to the Israelites… and it they heard it so deeply, they cried.  But first, a little historical recap to set the stage.  The southern kingdom of Judah was taken by the Babylonians in 586, destroying the Temple in the process.  For almost 50 years the Israelites lived in exile, until the Persians came to power in 537.  The Persian King Cyrus told the Israelites that they could go back home and rebuild the Temple.  That project wasn’t a quick one, but finally in 516 they were able to dedicate the Second Temple.   Today’s Scripture takes place in 458 BC – another 58 years down the road.  Ezra, a priest and a scribe, was sent to Jerusalem by the Persian King Artaxerxes.  In a letter, Artaxerxes tells Ezra, “You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand” (Ezra 7:14). The implication is that they’ve been without the Law (read:  first five books of the Bible) all that time.  In Nehemiah 8 we get the story of the first reading of the Law to the people.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder...
How to Be More Positive

How to Be More Positive

“Do all things without murmuring and arguing… …and in the same way you must be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:14, 18)   Do you want to make 2019 a better year?  A lot of us do.  So let’s talk about how to bring more positivity into the next 12 months… …by addressing the opposite. I’m taking this sideways approach because of my Methodist roots.  Our denomination started with a guy named John Wesley, a church of England priest who lived in the 1700s.  John Wesley was really… methodical… about how he lived out his faith (get it?).  Among his methods were three simple rules:  (1) do no harm; (2) do good; and (3) stay in love with God. It’s that first rule that applies here.  If we want to be more positive, then we can start by avoiding the harmful opposite:  being negative.  And the everyday way most of us are negative is by complaining. Complaining is annoying, and harmful, and counter-productive, and – did I mention, annoying?  And I speak as one with authority, because of my backpacking experience. There’s something about backpacking that lends itself to complaining.  I spent a few years leading 4.5 day backpacking excursions for youth, and let me tell you:  4.5 days is plenty long enough to hear a lot of complaining. “My feet hurt.” “How much farther?” “I smell bad.” “Why are there so many bugs?” “Why are there so few toilets?” “This water’s too cold.” “This weather’s too hot.” “Where is camp?” “There’s dirt in my macaroni and cheese.” Okay, so some complaints are legitimate.  But some complaints are...
But Now

But Now

Isaiah 43 begins with two powerful words: “But now.” They tell us that a significant change is taking place:  “Before, things were one way; BUT NOW a new thing is happening.” Jumping into the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, we can easily miss the “before.”  So go back in your Biblical memory bank – way, way back.  Remember how God built Israel into a mighty nation:  saving them from slavery in Egypt; leading them to a Promised Land; raising up kings like David and Solomon; commissioning the Temple.  Remember that for a time, Israel had all the trappings of a mighty nation:  wealth and soldiers and land and buildings.   As Israel reached its pinnacle, it began to behave like an overconfident teenager who forgets that she owes any of her success to her parents.  Israel turned away from their God to worship other gods.  They did it again, and again, andagainandagainandagain.  God sent prophets to warn them again and again… but no use. The consequence to that sin was exile – being kicked out of their own Promised Land.  The Babylonians took Jerusalem and the southern kingdom of Judah in 587 BC.  Most of God’s people were scattered across the Babylonian Empire. They were exiled.  Exile is the “before.” But now. Something new is taking place.  With the rise of Persia comes the Edict of Cyrus in 587 BC, announcing that the scattered peoples can return to their native lands.  Or, as Isaiah puts it: “I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, Do not withhold;...

Following a Star

We three kings of Orient are Bearing gifts, we traverse a-far. Field and fountain, moor and mountain – Following yonder star. So:  how did the “three kings” find Jesus? The followed “yonder star,” that’s how. The wise men made their way to Jerusalem because they saw Jesus’ star rise.  They found the exact spot when the star hung right over the infant Messiah.  The star was the key; they navigated by the star to find Jesus. Which makes me think:  I would not have made a good wise man (or woman, as the case may be).  I’m not so good at that kind of orienteering.  That’s not to say I can’t get around without a GPS.  I’ve logged plenty of miles along wilderness trails.  I’m so comfortable getting around in the woods, half the time I don’t even bother to bring a map.  But that kind of trekking involves following a well-defined trail cut through a dense forest – often with white blazes to follow as extra insurance.  What I cannot do is go away from the trail and the blazes and navigate toward some far-off point.  I cannot orient myself by the night sky, picking out Orion and the Big Dipper (the only two constellations I can recognize) and charting a course accordingly. I find my path by the nearby landmarks, not by some far-off star. Which works very well, I might add.  I have very rarely gotten lost in the wilderness. But it has happened. The most dangerous failure happened out in Colorado – a place I got to call home during three years of seminary.  Hiking...