28 April 2016

Guide to the Bible (8) Paul's letters - By Jack Lewis

Hello everyone, hope you enjoyed the Gospels post. As you are all probably well aware, after Acts comes a load of letters written by Christ's followers, either to individuals or to a group. There are probably too many to do all in one blog post, so today I'm doing the first 7, also probably the most well known. You could maybe even call them the "major" letters, or even the "Paul letters!" Anyways, the seven for today are Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. 

To start off, Romans. This is a letter written by Paul to the church in Rome, whom he desperately wanted to visit. Seeing as this was proving difficult, he wrote a very long letter laying out his teaching. It contains bits on nearly all of his favourite subjects, things like rejoicing in suffering (Chapter 5), how nothing can separate us from the love of God (8), and most importantly the subject of salvation. (I'll go into that in more detail in a future post) Put simply, if you want to read an expansive book on the Christian faith, by a very creditable author, then read Romans! 

Following on from that, are the two letters to the church in Corinth. The young church was struggling at the time; after all the city of Corinth was not an easy place for a young church to thrive. In fact the city was perhaps best known for it's temple shrine to the goddess of love, Aphrodite. The first book is probably most well known for Paul's famous passage about love. (Chap 13) Book one also has a similar feel to Romans, in that many different topics of the faith are covered. The second letter was then written shortly after the first, and it was because some people in the church were spreading rumours that Paul couldn't be trusted, and saying they shouldn't listen to his teaching. In this letter Paul reminds them of the suffering he'd been through for the sake of Christ, although because he is defending himself he admits that he feels uncomfortable having to "boast" about his own achievements. There is also some great teaching in there though. 

Next, is the book of Galatians. Here Paul's main subject is grace. He passionately addresses the people who were telling others that they still needed to follow the Old Testament laws of sacrifice and circumcision. Paul argued that salvation is given by grace and not earned, and so circumcision was irrelevant. I can't finish without mentioning that the Fruits of the Spirit are of course found in chapter 5. 

After Galatians, is Ephesians. While many of Paul's letters address a particular subject specific to that church, Ephesians, like Romans, is much more generalized. It's possible that it was not written to a specific church, but instead as a circular teaching letter to many different churches, Ephesus being one. Also in chapter 6 is the famous "Armour of God."

 Philippians is a short letter written to the church in Philippi by Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome. He reminded the people to rejoice in whatever circumstances they found themselves in, and he also explained that his arrest was helping the Gospel to be spread. He also reminded them of what Jesus went through for them, so they would be bold and courageous for him. (Jesus, not Paul, that is!) 

Finally for now, Colossians. The book is similar in style to Ephesians, it contains lot's of general teaching on how to live a good Christian life. Paul had never visited this church, it had actually be planted by his friend, so Paul wanted to finally "talk" to them personally. This was also written while Paul was under house arrest in Rome.

Thanks for reading, and by the way, if you can't remember which order the last four come in, remember Gods Electric Power Company!                  

21 April 2016

Guide to the Bible (7) The Gospels & Acts - By Jack Lewis

Q. In my "Guide to the Bible" series, what is one thing all the books covered so far have in common? A. They are all building up to four books, known as the gospels. These four books, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are the basis on which the whole Bible revolves around. 

Imagine when there is a big news story/event, things like an election or a world cup. For ages before, all you hear is the "build up," and for a while afterwards, the news is dominated by the "fall-out", or post-event analysis. The Bible's format is actually very similar to this. For ages, the Old Testament, especially the books of prophecy, were written as a build up to Jesus. For example, the place where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, is the exact same hill that Jesus was crucified on. Then, after Jesus' ascension, the New Testament is written (in a much shorter space of time) as letters about "what happened next." So here is my guide to where we meet Jesus! (Plus a little fall out!) 

It's interesting how, despite the fact they all have the same subject, the Gospel writers personality really comes through in their books. Firstly, Matthew is very methodical and precise, and his gospel has many things like genealogies in them that you would not find in more fast paced books. Matthew's gospel is also famous for the "Great commission" in chapter 28. Perhaps it is the gospel that you would read last, when you've read the others, and then want to read in more detail some of the stories in the others or read the exclusive content in Matthew. We may find it best to read Matthew last, but Mark surely has to be the first destination for anyone not yet familiar with the stories of Jesus. Completely different in style to Matthew, it's fast paced, and easy to read/understand. It's just a shame that it doesn't include the story of Jesus birth. It's a good read though because it has many interesting miracles and parables in it. I know that it's technically in the wrong order, but the next book to be looked at, is John. It's very different to the other three gospels, as it was written last and the author wanted to avoid repeating what the others had already said. In fact the other three are known as the "synoptics." Perhaps after reading Mark, John would be next as you will learn stuff that you wouldn't elsewhere. Another interesting thing is that it's the only Gospel not to contain any parables. Finally, there's a real two-part-set. Luke and Acts are both written by the same author, so obviously they are very similar in writing style. They are also both addressed to the same person, and the end of Mark fits like a jigsaw puzzle piece into the start of Acts. In fact, they could quite easily be made into one book, and it's definitely worth reading both together. To take them separately, Luke is a bit like a hybrid between Matthew and Mark. It contains all the interesting stories that are in Matthew, but without the "boring" bits like genealogies! The book ends with Jesus' ascension, and that's also the subject of the first chapter of Acts. Acts is perhaps a little like the history books, as it tells many interesting stories about what the apostles did after Jesus' death. (Hence the name, "Acts of the Apostles") The book covers in depth the first church and also the first missionaries. 

Thanks for reading :-)  

14 April 2016

Guide to the Bible (6) Major Prophets - By Jack Lewis

Today's "Guide to the Bible" post is probably the most difficult one to do, the Minor Prophets, but hopefully it will be a good read. These are the books many of us have never heard of before, but hopefully after reading this, you might have a clearer idea about one or two that could be worth a read! 

After Daniel comes the 12 minor prophets, starting with Hosea, a prophet to the Northern tribes of Israel. Perhaps his most famous act was marrying a prostitute, as instructed by God! Next up, is Joel, a short book detailing a disaster caused by a massive army of locusts. Joel compares the locusts to an army bringing justice upon the unrepentant people. Sticking with animals, the next prophet was Amos, a shepherd, who more or less prophesied in his spare time! His message was a warning to the now rich and prosperous Israelite's that God wanted them to worship him with their whole lives, not just in their worship services and ceremonies, and in many ways, his message can be well applied to our western society today. After Amos, is the tiny book of Obadiah. In fact it's the shortest book in the Old Testament, containing only one chapter. He warns the the complacent Edomites that their defeated enemies Judah will rise up and destroy them if they continue, and history shows us that this is exactly what happened. Next, is the famous story of Jonah. You will no doubt heard the story of Jonah and the "whale," but the whole book is a good read, right from Jonah's refusal to go to Nineveh to his anger at the death of a plant! The message delivered by Micah was very similar to the one given by Amos. In fact, they were around at the same time; Amos prophesied to the Northern Kingdom, and Micah to the southern. Following on from Micah is the short book of Nahum. He warns the country of Assyria (who were Israel's enemy) that God would punish them for oppressing his people. Nahum also foretold the destruction of Nineveh, (Assyria's capital) who was at the time one of the world's greatest powers, although within 100 years, it was just a pile of rubble! After Nahum, is the unusual book of Habakkuk. Rather than prophecies to a group of people, the book details a conversation between Habakkuk and God. He also lived around the same time as Jeremiah. That brings us onto Zephaniah, who also happened to be a descendant of King Hezekiah. He spoke passionately against their sinful practices including child sacrifice, and his message hit home as high as officials, rulers, prophets and priests. Next, is Haggai. He told the people of Israel that the many problems they were experiencing were because they had abandoned building the temple and had instead focused on rebuilding their own places. Haggai told them that if they focused more on God than themselves, then their problems would become far less. The moral of his story is simple, putting God first is our own gain. The penultimate minor prophet, is Zechariah. He also encouraged the Jews to continue rebuilding the temple, and he prophesied of the new Jerusalem on the perfect new earth. His message was very encouraging and it obviously struck a cord with the people, as they went back to building the temple. Finally, is Malachi. He was the last of the prophets and after his death God remained silent for 400 years. His message was for the discouraged people, who were getting impatient for the coming prosperity that God had promised them. They had started to do half - measure's, and were sacrificing diseased or imperfect animals as sacrifices. The priests also did their basic responsibility, but their hearts were not really for the Lord. Malachi reminded the people that God wanted their best, and not just their excess stuff. He told them that if they devoted their whole lives to God, he would bless them fully on Judgement day. That's a message that still applies today!

If you've read all this, and enjoyed and learned from it, then great! However if you've just woken up... :(           

8 April 2016

Guide to the Bible (5) Major Prophets - By Jack Lewis

Last time I posted, I had got to the end of the poetry section in the Old Testament. So over the next two posts, I am going from there right up until the end of the Old Testament. These 17 books that bridge the gap between Solomon and Jesus, (in the Bible) are known as the books of the prophets. 

First of all, if you are wondering what a prophet is, they are people who are like the links between God and the rest of society. In other words, God speaks to a prophet and they relay his message to a large group of people. Prophets are often given knowledge about what will happen in the future. Today the books we're looking at are simply books written by prophets.

The books of the prophets can be divided into two groups, the major prophets and the minor prophets. Today is the major prophets, in order: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. 

So to go through all the books and give a brief overview of them: Isaiah, is the first and longest book of prophecy. (66 chapters) The first part, (1-39) is a warning to Israel that they will be judged for their sin, and they are also warned about the coming exile. Chapters 40-66 were then written during the exile, and reminded them that, although they had to be punished, God still loved them and would bring them out of the exile and into a fresh start. The book of Isaiah is also known for it's many prophecies about the coming of Jesus. (Chapters 42, 52-53.) 100 years after Isaiah, came the prophet Jeremiah. He lived at roughly the same time as Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Daniel, and Ezekiel, and his prophecy was largely aimed at the the tribe of Judah. He was furious with the people's idolatry, and he warned them that they would be conquered if they did not. His message was not popular, and he was arrested and imprisoned, but he still loved his people and reminded them that God still loved them. The famous verse, "For I know the plans I have for you..." is found in Jeremiah 29:11. In his book, Jeremiah also had prophesied that Jerusalem would be conquered by the Babylonians, and that event is the main subject of Lamentations. The name is a big clue to what's in the book, and it's actually a collection of five different poems. Next, is Ezekiel. He was a prophet who did some insane things for God, including lying on his side for 430 day's. I challenge any of you to try that! There are also some other really dramatic stories in there, including the valley of dry bones, (Chap 37) so it's well worth a read. The last of the major prophets is Daniel, and the first half of his book is as interesting as any in the Bible. If you don't know what happens, then go and read chapters 1-6, you won't be disappointed! The stories include the fiery furnace and Daniel in the Lions den.