Women in the Bible: Anna

Anna is widowed after only seven years of marriage. A devout woman, she dedicates her life to God, spending as much time as possible in the temple fasting, praying, and worshiping him.

She is at least eighty-four years old when Mary and Joseph show up to consecrate Jesus. She recognizes him as the savior who the people have been expecting for centuries. She thanks God she lived long enough to see Jesus and then tells everyone about him.

After a lifetime of devotion to God, Anna is rewarded by seeing Jesus. How many other people were likewise as devout, but never got to see him?

God calls us to focus on him, but we may not receive any reward for our loyalty during our lifetime. Will we be faithful anyway?

[Luke 2:36-38]

News Release: Read the Bible in 2015

Read the Bible in 2015 by Reading Only a Few Minutes a Day

ABibleADay.com and Peter DeHaan Unveil Comprehensive Bible Reading Schedules for 2015

Dec. 16, 2014Grand Rapids, Mich. Now in its tenth year, ABibleADay.com has released its Bible reading plans for 2015 to encourage regular Bible reading. In addition to the plan to read the entire Bible in 2015, author Peter DeHaan also has two less ambitious Bible reading schedules to cover just the New Testament or just the Old Testament in one year. All three plans are available by a free download from ABibleADay.com. Readers may freely share the Bible reading plans without restriction, as long as it is for a noncommercial use.

“Every December people email me asking about Bible reading plans for the New Year. Last year we added a plan to read the entire Bible to our perennial plans for the New Testament and the Old Testament,” said Peter DeHaan, PhD. By reading about fifteen minutes a day, an average adult reader can cover the entire Bible in one year, while it takes only twelve minutes a day to read the Old Testament. “It only takes three to four minutes a day, five days a week, to read the New Testament in one year,” added Bible scholar Peter DeHaan, “The New Testament plan is our most popular.” For people who want a less ambitious approach, DeHaan also provides monthly suggestions, which are also available at ABibleADay.com.

DeHaan’s method for all the options is to cover the Bible in sections, reading from only one book each day, completing that book before moving on to the next one. However, the schedule does not make people read the Bible straight through from page one to the end. “It’s too easy to get bogged down by one section of the Bible,” said DeHaan.

In addition to the annual Bible Reading plans, ABibleADay.com also has hundreds of pages of information about the Bible, including Bible FAQs, Bible terms, books of the Bible, and a Bible blog.

Download one of the 2015 Bible reading plans or learn more about the Bible from http://ABibleADay.com – and have a Happy New Year!

Reflecting in Church #34: Should a Church Live Forever?

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #34.

From a human standpoint, the future of this congregation is bleak. When we visited, eleven people showed up. In addition to my wife and me, there were the leaders’ family of five, who go to another church and live forty-five minutes away. That makes seven visitors and only four regulars – and one of them walked in half way through the service.

Four people, all non-leaders, are not much of a foundation for rebuilding a church. If this church survives, it will certainly be because of God’s power and not through the efforts of people, regardless of their dedication or how hard they work.

I wonder if it’s time to say enough is enough and shut the church down. Surely there are other needs or opportunities these leaders could focus on that would have a better chance of success and produce more fruit.

Though many people think that a particular local church should exist in perpetuity, we shouldn’t look at a church as an institution but as an organic entity. Like everything organic, it has a life cycle and will one day die. Today may be that day.

[See my reflections about Church #33 or start with Church #1.]

Do You Wish People Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

My wife wishes people a “Merry Christmas,” while I say “Happy holidays.” We both have our reasons for doing so, and we are both right.

It’s important to us to keep Jesus as the central focus of Christmas. One way my wife does so is by wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” – every chance she gets. She never says “Merry Xmas” and doesn’t shop at stores that resort to that godless abbreviation. She also never says “Happy holidays” – and gives me a critical glare when I do.

I am, however, quick to say “Merry Christmas” to people who follow Jesus and am happy to return the greeting to others who offer it to me. My preference, however, is a more intentional “Have a wonderful Christmas,” because the idea of making merry is a bit too jolly for me, obscuring the wondrous love of Jesus and what he came to do.

However, when expressing season’s greetings to people of unknown faith, I prefer a less confrontational “Happy holidays.” While people of other faiths could take my “Merry Christmas” greeting in a secular sense, they could likewise be incensed at a perceived attempt to proselytize. That would not be my intent; I do not want to offend.

My wife thinks I’m over analyzing something simple.

I consider it this way: How would I feel if someone wished me a “Happy Kwanzaa,” a created holiday originally intended as an “oppositional alternative” to Christmas?

Someone did, and I was offended. Caught off guard and unwilling to reply with “Happy Kwanzaa,” I blurted out “Merry Christmas.” Sadly, I responded to his confrontation with an equally confronting retort.

I wish I had just smiled and said, “Happy holidays.”

Women in the Bible: Elizabeth

Childless, Elizabeth and husband Zechariah are getting old; their chance for kids is slim. Still they pray for the improbable. Despite not receiving what they yearn for, their faith remains strong; they are a righteous couple who honor God.

One day at work, an angel shows up and tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will finally have a son – not just any son, but a special one. He is to be set apart for service to God, the Holy Spirit will empower him, and he will spark a nationwide revival. They are to name him John.

Elizabeth does indeed get pregnant. In her sixth month, Mary – who will later give birth to Jesus – comes for a visit. Inside Elizabeth, John jumps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. Then the Holy Spirit comes upon Elizabeth and she prophesizes, blessing Mary and her unborn baby.

When John is born, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s friends and family celebrate with them. They praise God and share in Elizabeth’s joy for finally having a baby.

Elizabeth and Zechariah prayed for a child even when it no longer made sense; God answered their prayers by giving them a son named John, John the Baptist.

Are we willing to pray for the impossible? Will we patiently wait for God’s answer?

[Luke 1:5-60]

Reflecting on Church #33: A Reminder of What’s Really Important

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #33.

It seems the congregation of this rural church has little to be thankful for, at least from my perspective. Yet their service taught me the opposite.

I live in a prosperous area, and it’s sobering to know there are people nearby living in deep poverty. I’ve thought about this poor church and her needy people often, when I see their members stop at the local food pantry to pick up supplies each month. Their church, primarily its pastor, does what it can to meet needs and provide food. I’m glad the food pantry is there to help out.

They do not have much in the way of possessions or food, but they are rich in the things not of this world. Praying for their daily bread is not a metaphor but a persistent reality. Their faith is strong; they depend on one another and even more so on God.

I’m also humbled by their joyous attitudes. Their pastor’s message of being thankful wasn’t mere words to contemplate but an imperative entreaty to lead a thankful life.

They have much to teach me, and I have much to learn.

[See my reflections about Church #32 and Church #34 or start with Church #1.]

Do You See Good or Evil?

I recently read a series of movie reviews in a conservative magazine. With three pages of critiques to consider, all but two movies earned advisory warnings. With no R-rated movies covered, several cautions were for PG and even G-rated movies. Their items of concern struck me as overly critical.

One obscure line from an animated feature earned it an advisory warning. This was a vague quip that kids would miss and require adults to make an assumption. With multiple possible inferences, only someone looking for sexual innuendo would find it. (I missed it when I saw the movie.) Are these reviewers able to spot evil most anywhere they look?

I wonder if these cautious caretakers of morality have read the Bible. What might they write in their review of it? After all, the Bible contains a myriad of problematic content: rape, murder, incest, cannibalism, violence, and sexual misconduct. Would they slap an advisory warning on the Bible?

These self-appointed guardians of goodness irritate me. Though they may have worthy motives, the result is they fixate on what is wrong, and when they find it, they highlight it to make sure everyone else is aware of it, too.

Just as there is evil in most things around us, there is also good. Do we seek the objectionable or notice the laudable? What we choose to consider reflects our focus in life and forms our perception of the world.

The Bible encourages us to think about things that are right, pure, and admirable. That is, to fill our minds with good, not evil. While this may warrant not seeing some movies, it also means to look for good in the ones we do watch.

[Philippians 4:8]

Women in the Bible: The Virgin Mary

An angel visits Mary, a girl engaged to be married. The angel celebrates her as one highly favored by God. Perplexed, Mary wonders about the angel’s shocking greeting. Then he further stuns her by saying she will become pregnant, and her child will save her people.

“How,” Mary asks? “I’m a virgin.”

The angel explains that the Holy Spirit will supernaturally impregnate her.

Mary trusts God in this and accepts it without arguing.

When Joseph, her fiancé, finds out about her condition, he’s going to dump her, but an angel visits him and tells him not to. They do get married but remain celibate until after Mary’s miracle baby is born.

However, before that happens, Mary and Joseph must travel to Bethlehem for a mandatory census. Unable to find a room to stay in, they hunker down in a barn. There, among the filth of livestock, Jesus is born.

This is no ordinary birth: angels celebrate, shepherds bow down, and royalty offer expensive gifts. Then at Jesus’ consecration, people give astounding prophecies and thanks for him. Twelve years later, Jesus amazes his parents, especially Mary, when they find him at the temple in deep discussion with the religious leaders.

At age thirty he starts his ministry. Three years later, during his execution, Jesus asks his close disciple John to care for Mary. The last we hear of her is at a gathering of Jesus’ followers after he rises from the dead and returns to heaven.

Though we praise Mary for her pious acceptance of God’s assignment, the townspeople did not likely celebrate her situation. They probably dismissed her claim that God did it, and she forever carried the stigma as the girl who got pregnant before she was married.

Sometimes there is a price for following God. Would we be willing to suffer a lifetime of humiliation to conform to his plan for us?

[Matthew 1:18-2:11, Luke 1:26-38, Luke 2:1-51, Acts 1:14]

Life’s an Adventure; Don’t Miss It

For the past four months my wife and I have been living with our kids while we are between houses. In the summer we stowed most of our belongings in a couple of storage pods and loaded the remaining essentials onto a moving van. As we considered what we would need and what we could do without; practicality took precedence. Most things were Storage PODSdeemed nonessential, which is a lesson in itself.

A prime consideration was clothes: summer clothes, fall clothes, and winter clothes. Though half of my clothes are in storage, I’ve mostly forgotten about them and don’t miss what I can’t access. I also kept out what we needed for work, but not much else. I estimate about 95% of our belongings are presently stashed in some climate controlled warehouse.

When making this transition, my initial impulse was to seek to subsist during this season of in between. But even though this is a temporary situation, I can’t put life on hold just because I lack a permanent place to live.

Sharing a house with another couple (and their three pets) required some adjustments; not having all our stuff resulted in some sacrifices. But those were minor. Things are working out great, even better than we could have hoped.

As we wind down this phase in our lives, I look forward to being in our own house. I also know I’ll miss living with family. Life today is good; life tomorrow will be good, too.

I’ve seen people so focused on what was ahead, that they dismissed the present. I’ve also seen people so living for today, that they disregarded tomorrow.

I think many Christians also make one of these two errors: so focused on a future in heaven that they miss living on earth now or so fixated on life today that they forget eternity is ahead.

We are wise to do both.

Reflecting on Church #32: Overcoming Past Mistakes

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #32.

Our experience at this church was positive, and I’m excited for their future. However, there is more to it; here’s their backstory.

A couple years ago, this church stretched itself in constructing a grand facility, but then the economy turned bad. They lost their building and many members in the process. (Church #22 bought their foreclosed property.) For a time they met in the Seventh Day Adventist’s church, Church #31. We planned to visit them there, going to the same place twice in one weekend but for different churches.

However, they relocated, the week before we could visit, into a small, older building. They paid cash for the place. It didn’t cost much; either they couldn’t get a loan or didn’t want to.

The Sunday we visit is week number two in their new location. It’s their annual commitment Sunday. After the pitch for funds, members fill out their pledges. The service ends, and we head downstairs for a catered brunch. As we enjoy the food and meet people, they tally the pledges and announce the total. Enough funds are pledged to meet their full budget, which includes paying their beloved leader a full-time salary. They celebrate some more – and we with them.

[See my reflections about Church #31 and Church #33 or start with Church #1.]