Content and Context (part 10) – General Letters and Revelation

This is it! The end of the series. For me, it has been a labor of love. Just the other day, I realized that I was applying something from this series in a conversation with my husband. What is more, I read and/or skimmed the entire Bible in the last five months! That’s invaluable.

Sometimes I think about Athanasius, when he compiled that list of God-inspired books which eventually became our New Testament. It seems like he got through Paul’s letters, and he knew Revelation should be last, but he had some leftover letters that didn’t fit into any other category. So we have this ‘Miscellaneous’ group of books—all epistles (a.k.a. letters)—by various authors to various groups before we conclude with the Revelation of John, which is also a letter, by the way (Revelation 1:4).

GENERAL LETTERS

Hebrews

  • About: supremacy of Christ, encouraging Christians
  • Everything that God established before Jesus points to Jesus as the Final Answer.
  • Big stories: Jesus as High Priest, Hall of Fame of Faith, cloud of witnesses
  • Author: unknown (a man, not Paul and not anyone who knew Jesus directly)
  • Time: before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD
  • “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3

James

  • About: practical applications of faith in Christ
  • God designed our faith to be lived out in community and in the world.
  • Big stories: perseverance in trials, taming the tongue, faith v/s deeds
  • Author: James (probably the brother of Jesus)
  • Time: before 50AD or in the early 60s
  • “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:24

1 Peter

  • About: perseverance under persecution from outside the church
  • God calls us to continue in holy living regardless of our circumstances.
  • Big stories: royal priesthood, Jesus as cornerstone, women’s beauty, suffering for faith, devil is a lion
  • Author: Peter, the Apostle
  • Time: 60-64AD
  • “And the God of all grace, who called you to this eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

2 Peter

  • About: standing up to false teachers and other problems within the church
  • God purifies his church, making it ready for Jesus’ return.
  • Big stories: destruction of false teachers, God’s patience with humanity
  • Author: Peter, the Apostle
  • Time: 65-68AD, toward the end of Peter’s life
  • “Dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:17-18a

1 John

  • About: identifying false teachers, assuring salvation, God’s love
  • God’s love is active and distinguishes believers from the world.
  • Big stories: light & dark, sinfulness in the believer’s life, God is love
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:5-6

2 John

  • About: loving others, rejecting false teachers
  • God shows us how to love and how to discern truth from deception.
  • Big stories: “walk in love,” don’t assist false teachers
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 6

3 John

  • About: hospitality for God’s messengers
  • God’s children must take care of each other.
  • Big stories: John’s condemnation of a harsh church leader and commendation of another leader
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” 3 John 11

Jude

  • About: counteracting false teachers
  • God always knows the true believers from the false.
  • Big stories: ungodly people punished (lots of nice imagery)
  • Author: Jude/Judas (probably the brother of Jesus)
  • Time: 65-80AD
  • “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude 20-21

Revelation

  • About: faithfulness through persecution, Christ’s ultimate victory
  • God’s victory is sure, and all believers will join Him in it.
  • Big stories: letters to 7 churches, visions of Heaven, fall of Babylon & rise of New Jerusalem, final judgment
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 95AD
  • “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:5b-6

“What’s Your Motivation?” Pursuing Excellence without Pride

My over-achieving, first-born, all-honors 6th-grader made a ‘B’ in math, and she didn’t like it. (Not bragging, just trying to give you a picture of the situation.) I was not upset. But then—and this is the funny part—she got angry with me for not being more bothered. After a few minutes of back-and-forth that included the classic “Did you do your best?” line on my side, she said, “I just wish you would push me harder to get good grades.”

In that moment, it would have been easy to spurt out a line from our self-centered culture or practice some of the blame-shifting that’s so common these days.

Instead, I sat back down in my chair and paused for a moment. Looking up at her (because, even then, she was quite tall), I voiced the dilemma that had been eroding its own little gully in my mind since she started Kindergarten: “I don’t know how.” How do I motivate my child…first-born or baby, Type-A or slacker…to do her absolute best, her most excellent work, without drawing upon her pride?

It’s been a couple of years since that scene played out in our kitchen, and I still don’t have a pat answer. Even if I did, every child is different, so my step-by-step solution might not work for your child. I do, however, have three Biblical principles that we discuss (randomly but frequently) to address this issue of motivation, especially as it relates to school. I believe they apply to every Christ-centered family.

One note first: As my children have matured (physically and spiritually), these principles have become easier for them to internalize, so if your children are early-elementary-age, you may need to simplify…and be patient. Don’t fall back into the rutted route of pride-based motivation!

Like a good singing voice or basketball talent, intelligence is a gift from God.

It may not be politically correct to say it, but some people are just smarter than others (speaking in the generic sense of ‘smart.’ See this post for what I really think of the term, ‘smart.’) God gives gifts for His glory and humanity’s good. If we waste our talents, we disrespect God and loose our chance to help the world.

His Glory: Remember the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)?* God expects a return on His investment. The talent He gives us should, in turn, bring Him glory.

Humanity’s good: Speaking of gifts within the church, Paul said they were given so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:12), not for our own glory. It’s not too far of a reach, especially in light of Scripture as a whole, to expect all of our gifts/talents to be used for the good of others rather than for our own benefit.

In this way, my child must put her gift to work not for her own good but for the good of the world and the Kingdom of God.

God is glorified by our excellence.

grades close-up
(c) Carole Sparks

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). You need to be careful on this one because some of those high-achievers think actual perfection is a reasonable goal for their educational careers. Romans 3:23 will bring them down a notch, if necessary! God’s standards, however, far exceed any goals we might set for ourselves. At the same time, we cannot fully achieve those standards this side of Heaven. For the time being, let’s leave the perfection to Jesus even as we pattern our lives after His. This means we’re called to perfection and simultaneously called to accept that we can’t get there. Otherwise, show your children that ‘perfect’ sometimes means ‘complete’ or ‘finished’ (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:9, James 2:22 in various versions).

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). When God created the world, He daily declared His creation to be good. He didn’t create anything half-heartedly or without paying attention to what He was doing. When He was finished, He sat back, took a look at what He had created, and said, “I did this well.” We call it the satisfaction of a job well done. Let your children see you satisfied with your work—if it’s a clean kitchen, a beautiful building, or a computer program. Encourage them when they complete something, and let them know it’s okay to enjoy that completion. Maybe it’s just my own Type-A personality, but a page of math homework with no mistakes is a beautiful thing. Our children can come to see it that way as well.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15; if you really want to use the word ‘study’ here, you’ll have to go back to KJV or the Geneva Bible.). I know Paul’s admonishment to Timothy has a context unlike your child’s or my child’s, but the principle of working to do your best and handle information properly applies to all of us. The application (or the prayer) for your child might go something like this: “Do your best to get the approval of God, your teachers, and your parents as a student who doesn’t need to be ashamed (due to anything lacking in your effort) and who correctly handles all the information he receives.” As I write this today, the Lord is convicting me to pray this verse over my children regularly!

Finally, just to keep everything in balance, remember that moral excellence is most important to God (Philippians 4:8).

We are called to do our best.

Excellence—especially in an educational setting—is going to look different on different people. For each person, we ask, “Have you done your best?” or “Have you given 100% to this task?” Paul told the Ephesian church (6:7-8), Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do…. I don’t know when my child has done her best, but she knows, and God knows. That is her ultimate accountability.

After I confessed that I didn’t know how to motivate her in a healthy, God-honoring way, my 6th-grader and I talked through some of these things. (I’m sure the conversation was far less organized than what I’ve written here.) I reassured her that making a ‘B’ in 6th grade was not going to diminish her chances of getting into a good college, that no one loved her any less because of it, and that I was sure she would bounce back to her usual ‘A’ in the next grading period. I’m choosing to hold grades loosely and formal education loosely and many other things loosely in favor of raising a child who clings to God tightly.

What about you? How do you motivate your children to do their best…in anything, not just school? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

*Endnote: Our English word, talent, comes from this parable in which a talent was a “unit of coinage” worth about 20 years of day wages. (NIV Study Bible textual note and study note for Matthew 25:15.) That’s a lot of money!

 

Content and Context (part 9) – Paul’s Letters cont.

With these last two letters to churches and then his letters to individuals, I feel like we’ve taken a peek into Paul’s personal journal. Here’s Paul the mentor, the father-figure, the wizened patriarch of the Church universal. Here’s Paul the very human man, near the beginning of his ministry and then looking at the end of his earthly life. For our children, we find so much wisdom about what church is supposed to be and how we are supposed to live in this world. Take your time through these books, and let it all sink in.

As usual, I welcome your comments and observations. What do you think the theme verse for each of these books should be? How would you summarize any of them in one sentence (that starts with ‘God’)?

PAUL’S LETTERS (part 2)

1 Thessalonians

  • About: Jesus’ second coming, encouragement through persecution
  • God has expectations for our lives on earth and a plan for the end times.
  • Big stories: Paul’s conduct in Thessalonica & desire to return, a life that pleases God
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: ad51, possibly the earliest of Paul’s letters (see Galatians)
  • “We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4

2 Thessalonians

  • About: Jesus’ second coming, Godly living (same as 1 Thes.)
  • God calls us to fully live in the present even as we anticipate the end times.
  • Big stories: end times prophecies, don’t be idle
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: ad51-52, shortly after 1 Thessalonians
  • “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

1 Timothy

  • About: encouraging and advising Timothy regarding church leadership
  • God has ordained a proper way for the Church to act and interact.
  • Big stories: false teachers, behavior in worship, leader qualifications
  • Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
  • Time: ad63-65
  • “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5

2 Timothy

Map of coastal ports of Smyrna, Ephesus and Cnidus plus Loadicia and Colosse inland. – Slide 17

Courtesy freeBibleimages.com

  • About: Paul’s relationship with Timothy, guidance on leadership (like 1 Tim.)
  • God calls church leaders to faithfulness, perseverance, and discernment.
  • Big stories: guidance for church leaders, false teachers, relevance of Scripture
  • Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
  • Time: ad67-68
  • “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” 2 Timothy 3:12-14

Titus

  • About: leading well despite opposition, doing good inside and outside the church
  • God intends for us to live so that our actions set us apart from the culture.
  • Big stories: qualifications for elders, directions for age groups (older/younger)
  • Author: Paul (Titus is on Crete)
  • Time: ad63-65 (same as 1 Timothy)
  • “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in his present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:11-13

Philemon

  • About: the slave Onesimus’ return to Philemon, his master
  • God receives us as family and servants when Jesus advocates for us.
  • Big stories: Paul’s appeal to Philemon regarding Onesimus
  • Author: Paul (Philemon is in Colossae)
  • Time: ad60 (see Ephesians and Colossians)
  • “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” Philemon 15-16a

 

Content and Context (part 8) – Paul’s letters

This week we tackle the thickest, most chocked-full book of the Bible: Romans. There is no way to adequately present the content and context of this book with six bullet points (although I gave it a try). In it, we find the foundations of our theology, an understanding of Israel’s place in the New Covenant, and connections to much of the Old Testament. I don’t necessarily like reading Romans because there are very few stories, but when I study it, I find so much to “chew” on and so many areas in which to grow spiritually.

After Romans, the Corinthians and that set of four small books (You know, the ones we learned using acronyms such as ‘Go Eat PopCorn’ or ‘General Electric Power Company’) feel comforting and simple. If you want to dig into Paul’s writings with your children, I suggest you start with Ephesians or Philippians. They are straightforward, and Paul employs some word pictures that help us all understand our faith. What is more, it’s not too hard to memorize big chunks of verses here such as The Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) or the Christ hymn (Philippians 2:5-11).

Did I leave out something important? What changes or additions would you suggest? Let me know in the comments section below.

PAUL’S LETTERS (part 1)

Romans

  • About: system of salvation, God’s big plan
  • God is knowable and He has a clear plan for our salvation.
  • Big stories: God judges everyone, Romans Road, victory for believers
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: about mid-way through Paul’s ministry; prob. ad57
  • “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17

1 Corinthians

  • About: cultural influences in church, Christian/church behavior
  • God intends for his church to represent His purity, mercy, and love.
  • Big stories: church practices, spiritual gifts, “Love is…”
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: shortly before Romans; prob. ad55
  • “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25

2 Corinthians

  • About: the challenges and joys of Christian ministry, God’s high standards
  • God’s calling involves both blessings and difficulties.
  • Big stories: jars of clay, ministry of reconciliation, Paul’s “pedigree”
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: shortly before Romans but after 1 Corinthians; prob. ad55
  • “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Galatians

  • About: justification by faith, freedom in Christ
  • God provides salvation to all people, separate from the law.
  • Big stories: Paul’s calling and apostleship, faith v/s works, fruit of the Spirit
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: possibly the earliest Pauline letter we have; ad48/49 or 53
  • “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28

Ephesians

  • About: the purpose and goals for the church
  • God wants His followers to know and follow through with His plans.
  • Big stories: unity of all believers, husbands & wives, armor of God
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad60
  • “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17b-19

Philippians

  • About: perseverance, joy, humility
  • God’s presence and blessing are unaffected by human circumstances.
  • Big stories: suffering for the Gospel, Christ’s humility, everything a loss in comparison to Jesus
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad61
  • “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20-21

Colossians

  • About: refuting false teaching
  • God’s provision of Christ is completely sufficient for our salvation.
  • Big stories: supremacy of Christ, freedom in Christ, life in Christ
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad60 (same as Ephesians)
  • “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” Colossians 2:9-10

 

5…3…1 Recommended Reading

Instead of a guest post this month, I offer you some recommended reading beyond this Intentional Parenting blog: 5 things to pray, 3 steps to child-rearing, and 1 book (with a 1-word title). Enjoy…and let me know what you think of these readings using the comments section below!

Praying Higher Things for Your Children by Dr. Walker Moore

“There are two ways to pray for children. The first is to pray them through things like tattoos, skydiving and prom night, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is also a higher way to pray for them, and that is to pray for their lives to be aligned with His holy Word.”

I recently discovered Weave, a website/blog devoted to help families take their place in God’s global mission. You’ll find many good posts there. One of their contributors, Dr. Moore, has a great sense of humor. (I’m a sucker for a good post that makes me laugh…or cry.) In this post, he offers five Scripture-based suggestions for praying for our children. I think I’m going to print them out and hang them on my mirror!

3 Steps to Raising Disciples by Matt Blackwell

“Mom and dad, you are the leaders in your home and as such you are uniquely positioned to keep your eyes fixed on God and your finger on the pulse of the family. The kids that God has entrusted to you are your primary disciples. And as their mom and dad you have the privilege, joy and responsibility to lead them.”

Verge Network’s posts on family/parenting are always insightful. I’ve reposted from them before. In this article, Blackwell lays out a simple plan for discipleship-based parenting. It’s very intentional but not at all intimidating. I encourage you to give it some thought and examine where you may need to make adjustments in your home too.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.”

Do you have a child who clams up immediately after school but then interrupts your dinner preparations with multiple stories from the same day at school? Chances are, that child is an introvert. Quiet is not necessarily a parenting book, but parenting applications abound throughout it. Cain does devote the final chapter to parenting; it’s entitled “On Cobblers and Generals: How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them.” This book is worth a trip to the library just for that chapter! Especially if you are an extrovert raising an introvert (or two), please take time to read this book. It will equip you to support your child in the way that’s most appropriate for him or her. Even if you’re not a big reader, Cain’s friendly style and excellent organization make this one easy. Also check out the Quiet Revolution parenting website.

Content and Context (part 7) – Gospels and Acts

We return to our Content and Context Series today (see the beginning *here*)—just in time for the Advent season. It’s the perfect opportunity to focus on Jesus’ life and purpose on earth. Simply pick a gospel and start reading; you can’t go wrong! Then, when it’s time for New Year’s resolutions, turn to Acts. The early church models the called-out life in a way that remains relevant today. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you need to make a change.

Of course, all the Gospels are specifically and intentionally about Jesus. All tell about the miracles He did and the parables He told, all provide details about His crucifixion and His resurrection, but each has a specific audience or purpose and each is told from a clear point-of-view. That’s why it’s so great to have four of them. We have a much fuller picture of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. For this outline, I have tried to differentiate the four so you (and your children) can see God’s purpose in each. As we approach Christmas, I pray that a fresh understanding of Jesus blesses your holiday season.

THE GOSPELS AND ACTS

Matthew

  • About: Jesus as the expected Messiah
  • Through Jesus, God fulfilled the Old Testament Messianic prophecies and provided a Savior for His chosen people.
  • Big stories: Jesus’ birth, Sermon on the Mount, Great Commission
  • Author: Matthew/Levi (a disciple)
  • Time: when Jesus was on earth
  • “All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”  Matthew 1:22-23

Mark

  • About: Jesus as teacher and miracle-worker
  • Through Jesus, God gave us wisdom about life on earth and modeled suffering.
  • Big stories: John the Baptist, Greatest Commandment, Passion Week (1/3 of the chapters)
  • Author: John Mark (based on Peter’s preaching)
  • Time: when Jesus was on earth
  • “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” Mark 14:35-36

Luke

  • About: Jesus as world-wide Savior
  • Through Jesus, God made a way for every person (regardless of gender, politics, social status, etc.) to be saved.
  • Big stories: Jesus’ birth & childhood, Jesus’ focus on women/social
    IMG_6563.JPG
    the author’s childhood Bible     (c) Carole Sparks

    outcasts/Gentiles, parables (more than any other Gospel), Emmaus Road & Ascension

  • Author: Luke (a doctor who traveled with Paul)
  • Time: when Jesus was on earth
  • “Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” Luke 5:31-32

John

  • About: Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man
  • Through Jesus, God demonstrates His love toward us and we are connected back to Him.
  • Big stories: Nicodemus, “I am” statements, Lazarus raised, upper room discourse, Peter’s restoration
  • Author: John (a disciple)
  • Time: when Jesus was on earth
  • “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31

Acts

  • About: the early church, the life of Paul
  • God uses believers to spread the gospel across continents.
  • Big stories: Pentecost, Stephen’s stoning, Peter’s dream, Paul’s conversion/missionary journeys/trial
  • Author: Luke (a doctor who traveled with Paul)
  • Time: the 30 years following Jesus’ ascension
  • “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

 

Content and Context (part 6) – Minor Prophets

Our last survey for the Old Testament. These guys are fascinating, and so much of what they said reverberates into our century. If it’s been awhile, just read through Amos or Habakkuk and see what God says to them…and to you.

After today, we’ll take a break from the Content and Context series. While it is good and helpful (I’ve learned many things in writing it!), we need some real how-to-parent-with-intentionality postings. I’ll intersperse the New Testament charts over the months ahead.

MINOR PROPHETS

Hosea

  • About: God’s covenant, Israel’s idolatry
  • God loves His people and wants them to have a faithful relationship with Him.
  • Big stories: Hosea loves his unfaithful wife, Israel worships other gods
  • Author: Hosea
  • Time: just before the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom in 722bc (Isaiah, Amos)
  • “Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” Hosea 14:9

Joel

  • About: locusts, Day of the Lord
  • God uses a natural disaster to remind the people of coming judgment followed by restoration.
  • Big stories: invasion of locusts, promises for the day of judgment
  • Author: Joel
  • Time: unclear, but probably before the fall of Jerusalem
  • “The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” Joel 3:16

Amos

  • About: social justice, honest worship
  • God wants His people to live with integrity, experiencing authentic worship.
  • Big stories: Amos’ calling, fat cows of Bashan, call to repentance
  • Author: Amos
  • Time: about 30 years before Israel went into captivity (Isaiah, Hosea, Jonah)
  • “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24

Obadiah

  • About: Edom (shortest book in the Old Testament)
  • God will punish Edom for participating in Israel’s devastation.
  • Big stories: Edom’s failure to help Israel
  • Author: Obadiah
  • Time: probably just before the fall of Judah (Jeremiah)
  • “The pride of your heart has deceived you…you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord. Obadiah 3-4

Jonah

The sailors took hold of Jonah and threw his overboard. Immediately the storm stopped. – Slide 23
(c) freebibleimages.org
  • About: disobedience, ethnocentrism (belief that your culture is superior)
  • God cares about other people groups as well as His chosen people.
  • Big stories: Jonah swallowed by a fish, Jonah preaching to Nineveh
  • Author: maybe Jonah or maybe someone who knew him
  • Time: after Amos & Hosea but before the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom
  • “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’ Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.” Jonah 3:1-3a

Micah

  • About: divine judgment and deliverance
  • God’s judgment is certain, but so is his restoration through the coming Messiah.
  • Big stories: prophecy about Bethlehem, call for social justice
  • Author: Micah
  • Time: before & after the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom (Isaiah, Hosea)
  • “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Nahum

  • About: fall of Nineveh
  • God’s people can be sure He will judge their oppressors.
  • Big stories: descriptions of Nineveh’s future destruction
  • Author: Nahum
  • Time: between the fall of Israel and of Judah (Zephaniah)
  • “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.” Nahum 1:7-8

Habakkuk

  • About: complaints and questions to God
  • God’s timing is always perfect.
  • Big stories: God answers complaints, Habakkuk’s confidence in God
  • Author: Habakkuk
  • Time: before the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah)
  • “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2

Zephaniah

  • About: the Day of the Lord, judgment
  • God’s justice will prevail not only among His people but around the world.
  • Big stories: warnings for Judah and other nations
  • Author: Zephaniah
  • Time: between the fall of Israel and of Judah (King Josiah, Jeremiah, Nahum)
  • “Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.” Zephaniah 1:7

Haggai

  • About: priorities, the temple’s glory
  • God calls for His people to be faithful, then they will be blessed.
  • Big stories: rebuilding the temple, blessings for faithfulness
  • Author: Haggai
  • Time: 520bc, when exiles returned to rebuild the temple (Ezra/Nehemiah, Zechariah)
  • “’I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:7

Zechariah

  • About: encouragement, Messianic prophecies
  • God is sovereign and keeps His promises.
  • Big stories: vision dreams, social justice over fasting, the coming Messiah
  • Author: Zechariah
  • Time: after exiles returned to rebuild the temple (Ezra/Nehemiah, Haggai)
  • “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6

Malachi

  • About: breaking the covenant, the coming King
  • While God will preserve a remnant, His judgment is surely coming.
  • Big stories: list of covenant violations, blessing for tithing, scroll of remembrance
  • Author: Malachi
  • Time: post-exilic (Nehemiah). Probably the latest of the OT prophets.
  • “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Malachi 4:2

A friend of mine just posted a poem about prophets. Since we’re in the Minor Prophets, it seems appropriate to share it *here*.

Content and Context (part 5) – Major Prophets

It’s really all about God, isn’t it? When I started this content and context listing, I wanted to write the summary sentence for each book so that the focus was on God. That hasn’t been hard. Here in the Major Prophets, with their intense and personal connections to Him, it has been even easier. If you want to see what I’m talking about, go back and look at those summary sentences (the second bullet point under each book title) in previous posts; you can clearly see God’s active presence in each time period and situation. This is why history is actually His Story. Beautiful!

If you are new to this blog, find the original post that started the series *here*.

MAJOR PROPHETS

Isaiah

  • About: judgment, promises
  • God uses Isaiah to voice His promises for the restoration of His people.
  • Big stories: Isaiah before God, promise of Immanuel, prophecies about Jesus
  • Author: Isaiah
  • Time: fall of Israel (Amos, Hosea, Micah)
  • “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

Jeremiah

  • About: Judah’s approaching exile (Did you know this is the longest book in the Bible?)
  • Through Jeremiah, God forewarns and demonstrates how Judah will be judged.
  • Big stories: Jeremiah’s calling, visiting a pottery studio, a king burns Jeremiah’s scroll of prophecies, fall of Jerusalem
  • Author: Jeremiah
  • Time: before fall of Judah (King Josiah, Daniel, Habakkuk)
  • “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.’” Jeremiah 29:11-12

Lamentations

  • About: mourning, loss (It’s a collection of laments, after all.)
  • God’s people mourn their punishment but remember that God is faithful.
  • Big stories: the people feel deserted
  • Author: maybe Jeremiah
  • Time: immediately after the fall of Jerusalem
  • “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23

Ezekiel

Ezekiel spoke as God had commanded. There was a sudden rattling as the bones came together, bone by bone, to form skeletons. – Slide 5

The valley of dry bones (c) freebibleimages.org

  • About: God’s sovereignty and omnipresence
  • With Ezekiel as His spokesman, God removes the tangible centerpieces of Israel’s religious life.
  • Big stories: Ezekiel’s call, the valley of dry bones and restoration of the temple
  • Author: Ezekiel
  • Time: fall of Jerusalem and Babylonian exile
  • “Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name…Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.’” Ezekiel 36:22-23

Daniel

‘I see four. And they are loose and walking around. The fourth man looks like the Son of God.’ – Slide 40
In the fiery furnace (c) freebibleimages.org
  • About: Daniel and his friends, long-range prophecy
  • God uses a few faithful men to make His glory known in a foreign nation.
  • Big stories: fiery furnace, lions’ den, interpreting kings’ dreams
  • Author: Daniel
  • Time: late in Babylonian exile
  • “The king said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” Daniel 2:47

Content and Context (part 4) – Historical Books cont. & Wisdom Literature

Have you ever tried to summarize the Psalms in one sentence? That’s a doozy! I made an attempt below as we continue our content and context chart for the Books of the Bible. (Find the first post, with explanation, *here*.)

I would still like to hear about some well-done resources for helping our children learn the Bible.  Take a minute to comment if you know of something helpful.

HISTORICAL BOOKS (cont.)

Ezra

  • About: rebuilding the temple
  • God uses pagan kings and exiles to maintain His name and His place.
  • Big stories: exiles return to Jerusalem, temple is rebuilt, Ezra goes to Jerusalem and leads the people
  • Author: probably Ezra (a priest and teacher)
  • Time: about 50 years after Judah went into exile
  • “Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices. … Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem.” Ezra 6:3-5

Nehemiah

From that point on half the men did the work while the other half stood guard with swords, spears, bows and amour. Those who were building also carried weapons. – Slide 11

half worked while half stood guard                      (c) freebibleimages.org
  • About: rebuilding the wall
  • God helps returning Israelites rebuild the wall around Jerusalem despite fierce opposition and their own sinfulness.
  • Big stories: Nehemiah asks permission to go to Jerusalem, opposition and discouragement delay the rebuilding of the wall
  • Author: possibly Ezra
  • Time: contemporary with Ezra but slightly later
  • “When all our enemies heard about this [rebuilding], all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” Nehemiah 6:16

Esther

  • About: rebuilding the people’s faith (notice the theme in these three books?)
  • God delivers His people through the courage of one faithful woman.
  • Big stories: Esther pleases the king, Esther pleads for the lives of her people
  • Author: unknown
  • Time: same as Ezra
  • “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

WISDOM LITERATURE

Job

They sat down with him for seven days and nights, and no one said a word, because they saw how great his suffering was. – Slide 28
Job with his friends (c) freebibleimages.org
  • About: justice, suffering, Job’s faith
  • God permits Job to suffer and be tested for His glory.
  • Big stories: Job loses everything, God declares Himself to Job and his friends
  • Author: unknown
  • Time: probably contemporary with Abraham
  • Job “said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:21-22

Psalms

  • About: songs of prayer and praise
  • God enjoys the praise of His people; He comforts and guides us.
  • Big stories: God’s presence, the priority of His Word, praising all His attributes
  • Author: King David and others
  • Time: Moses through Solomon or later (Genesis-1 Kings)
  • “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:9-11

Proverbs

  • About: sayings of warning and advice
  • God expects younger people to heed the guidance of their elders.
  • Big stories: avoiding folly, parenting well, the noble wife
  • Author: King Solomon and others
  • Time: same as 1 Kings/2 Chronicles
  • “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7

Ecclesiastes

  • About: finding wisdom and meaning in life
  • Life is meaningless without God as one’s ultimate source of understanding.
  • Big stories: a time for everything, pointlessness of life
  • Author: possibly King Solomon
  • Time: possibly same as 1 Kings/2 Chronicles, Proverbs
  • “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” Ecclesiastes 12:13

Song of Songs (formerly Song of Solomon)

  • About: physical love between a man and woman (Yeah…I’m not putting a picture on this one!)
  • God delights in the amorous attraction of a faithful couple.
  • Big stories: interaction between lovers
  • Author: possibly King Solomon
  • Time: possibly same as 1 Kings/2 Chronicles, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes
  • “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” Song of Songs 8:7

3 Tips For Discipling Your Kids Through Halloween (a repost)

Every once in a while, you come upon something (usually in print, for me) 
that connects with your heart, with the way God is already leading you and 
your family.  So today, I'm taking a break from the "Content and Context" 
Series to connect you with just such an article. Like me, you have probably 
struggled with how to approach Halloween as a Christ-follower.  It's 
difficult to separate the celebration of evil from the fun, kid-friendly 
attitude of many people. With permission, I've reposted this timely article 
by John Murchison here.  Read it, then read about John and Verge Network at 
the end.

Halloween seems to be the one holiday in American Christianity that we just don’t know what to do with. We are happy to celebrate cultural or historical holidays like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, or New Year’s Day. We love religious holidays like Easter and Christmas. But Halloween… Halloween has quite a mixed history, and so we don’t know how to approach it.

In one sense, it is a religious holiday. After all, it started out as “All Hallow’s Eve,” the night before “All Hallow’s Day,” which was a Christian holiday celebrating the lives of saints. In another sense, and one that is far more obvious to a 21st century American, it’s a cultural holiday.

To most families in America, Halloween is a fun time to eat candy, dress up, and have fun with friends. Yet because some choose to use this holiday to celebrate evil and its effects, it also can be a dark holiday.

Click to Tweet: “It’s important for each family to use wisdom and discernment to determine how to celebrate Halloween.” @JohnMurk

Choosing wisely

With such a complicated mixture of influences, it’s important for each family to use discernment and wisdom in determining if and how to celebrate this holiday. I believe that there are sinful ways to participate in Halloween, just as there are with any holiday.

However, I also believe there are many aspects of this holiday that we have freedom in Christ to participate in. Regardless of how you choose to engage in this holiday, I urge you not to miss out on all the opportunities to disciple your kids that the Halloween season provides.

Because this holiday can be a complicated one to disciple your children through, I have three tips to help you lead well during this season.

1. Every Decision is an Opportunity for Discipleship

Each October, your family is faced with a multitude of decisions regarding Halloween. Will our kids dress up and go trick-or-treating? What should we let our kids dress up as? Should we decorate our house like all the neighbors do every year? Will we let our teenagers go to a Halloween party or a Haunted House with their friends? Is it ok for my preschooler to watch the Curious George Halloween episode, or will it be too scary? Are we ok with pictures of ghosts in our home? Witches? Jack-o-lanterns? And on and on.

Leaning on the Word, prayer and community

Fathers and mothers should answer these questions through consulting the Word of God, through prayer, and through community. The principles of Scripture need to be applied by each family with wisdom and discernment. Because every family, every child, and every ministry context is different, there is no “one size fits all” answer for how to approach the season.

Click to Tweet: “Don’t miss out on all the opportunities to disciple your kids that the Halloween season provides.” @JohnMurk

However your family decides to answer all the questions that arise during Halloween, keep in mind that what is most important is how the decision is made. As long as each decision is made with the goal of honoring God and leading your kids to know Him more, then it is a good decision!

Share your reasoning with your children, along with how you are trying to honor God with your decision. In this way, every decision you make this Halloween can be opportunity for you to point them to Jesus.

For example, let’s say that my oldest, who’s now two, decides that she wants to wear a princess costume in a few years. Rather than just saying “yes” or “no,” I need to see that as an opportunity to talk with her about God.

As my wife and I pray about it and discuss it, we might decide that the reason she wants to be a princess is because she’s focused on external beauty. If that is the case, then we would tell her that she can’t be a princess, and explain that Jesus cares more about inner beauty than about external beauty.

Click to Tweet: “Every Halloween decision is an opportunity to disciple your kids.” @JohnMurk

On the other hand, we might decide that her request to be a princess is a great opportunity to talk to her about being a daughter of God. In that case, we would tell her yes, and explain to her that every girl who trusts in Jesus is a princess, because she is adopted into God’s family and is a daughter of the King of kings.

So you see, whether we say “yes” or “no” to her request is not as important as seeing it as an opportunity to tell her about Jesus. Seen through this lens, Halloween is simply full of opportunities for great discussion with your children.

2. Do Not Fear

Right now in Austin, Texas, where I live, there are billboards on every major highway advertising an attraction called the “House of Torment.” The advertisements for this “premiere haunted attraction” contain large pictures of characters that are downright frightening. I’m dreading the day that my two little girls notice these pictures while driving around.

The really scary part

To be honest, I’m scared of those billboards. I’m not scared of the pictures themselves – I’m scared of the conversation that I will need to have with my daughters once they see them. Scared that I won’t have the words to comfort them. Scared of saying the wrong thing.

One reason we parents tend to agonize over each little decision regarding Halloween is that we are scared. We’re scared that if we make the wrong decision, that we will scar our kids for life. We’re scared that we’re too strict, or that we’re too lenient. We’re scared because we care for our children so much, and want to make sure that we always do what’s best for them.

Click to Tweet: “This Halloween we may make parenting mistakes because there is only one perfect parent, God. And our kids are in His hands.” @JohnMurk

In these moments, God has words of comfort for us. When God’s people, Israel, were in fear of the nations around them, He said, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Good news for parenting mistakes

When Jesus was preparing His followers for going out and telling others about Him, he says “…do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12).

As we speak to our kids about Christ this season, God has promised to be with us, and Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit will give us words to say. And yes, we may make mistakes. After all, there is only one perfect parent, God the Father.

But the good news is that this Father is more wise, more powerful, and more loving than we are, and our kids are in His hands. He will use all of our successes and all of our failures in our parenting to bring His children to Him. We can rest in that promise, and we have no need to fear.

3. We’re All on the Same Team

Every year in the weeks leading up to Halloween, my heart breaks to see Christian parents tear each other down. Because we’re all a little insecure over whether our decisions were right or not, we tend to attack anyone who decided differently from us. Each year I see blog posts, Facebook status updates, and heated discussions full of “friendly fire” from one Christian parent to another. This type of talk is neither useful for building up the body of Christ nor helpful in sharing the good news of Jesus to others. It needs to stop.

I want to remind all of us parents that we all want the same thing. All of us are doing the best we can to lead our children through this life, praying that God will bring them safely home to Him. While other parents may make different decisions regarding Halloween than you have made, what we all need most is not judgment and criticism, but rather prayer, encouragement, and support.

Our enemy would love nothing more than for us to tear each other down during this holiday. Instead, I pray that this season will be filled with love – for our kids, for each other, for our neighbors, and most of all, for the Lord.

Happy Halloween, however you decide to spend it!

John Murchison
John MurchisonFamily Channel Director
John Murchison is the Director of Children’s Ministry at The Austin Stone. He is husband to Sarah and father to Waverly and Lucy. He is passionate about making disciples of children rather than “mini-Pharisees,” and about teaching children the gospel over morality. He desires to help parents see themselves as missionaries on mission to and through their children. He’s also a fan of Pixar movies, all things Disney, comic books, and video games, and uses his job as an excuse to do “research” in these areas.
Carole here. Verge|Family is a channel on Verge Network. Verge “is for everyday people and leaders who are pursuing the mission of God with the gospel in their context. Verge leaders and churches are engaged in the mission of God, centered around the gospel, in community, and understand the value of staying connected.” (That’s from their website.) I strongly recommend that you follow the blog or Twitter feed for Verge!