Bible Bee Brings Hope

Aidan Before Bible Bee

Today, our son Aidan competed in a local competition of the 4th annual Bible Bee. What is Bible Bee? It is a student competition where contestants memorize Bible passages and study a book of the Bible in order to demonstrate Bible knowledge. This year, the students had to memorize 25 passages (not verses!). They also spent 10 weeks doing an inductive study of the book of Second Timothy.

At the competition, each student had to recite, on demand, up to 20 of the passages within 12 minutes. Then they had one hour to answer 200 multiple choice questions about 2 Timothy, the verses they memorized, and any related study verses from their study. This is not your simple Sunday School Bible memorization. Passages included Ephesians 6:10-18, Job 6:14-21, and Galatians 1:11-17. (Take a second to see that these are not simple passages.) This was a serious undertaking for Aidan and our family. We are so impressed with Aidan’s work. In one of our practice sessions, Aidan ripped off 17 passages in 12 minutes, needing very few prompts. What a joy to hear how much of God’s Word is stored in Aidan’s heart!

Bible Bee Contestants (2012 - Smyrna, GA)

Bible Bee Contestants (2012 – Smyrna, GA)

Then, I went to our local competition and saw the rest of the students and families. There were about 40 students from age 7-17 who also studied 2 Timothy and memorized the passages. Thirty or so families in our area considered the Scriptures so important that they would commit their summers to studying and memorizing them. Nationwide, over 7000 students were signed up to compete. (The three hundred best will go to a national competition in November.) Meeting these students and families gives me hope for coming generations. Others may look down at today’s students and despair. I look at these students and know that God’s Word will continue to impact our world for good through their lives and families. It reminded me of God’s words to Elijah when he despaired that he was the only one left serving God in Israel. God said, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”  (I Kings 19:18)

Kudos to these families for taking on the responsibility to pass down their faith and train their children. These intense efforts will not be in vain.

Aidan did not place in the top five for his division. However, we still celebrated his hard work and his endurance. Though he wanted to give up because it was hard, he persevered and made us proud.

A final note: 14 of the 15 winners were females. I’m not sure why more guys didn’t compete and win. However, we told Aidan to remember that Bible Bee might be a great place to meet a Godly woman (with a great family), later when he takes an interest in girls.

So, if you needed a shot of hope about the future, consider the fine families involved in Bible Bee and do not despair.

 

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Finding Rest in the Midst of Crisis – Psalms Project: Psalm 3

Have you had a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, or even a bad year? Where is God when it seems like the bottom is falling out and sucking you down with it? Psalm 3 gives us powerful insight into how David dealt with such calamity at one of the worst times of his life. Even if our struggles are not as dire or dramatic as David’s we can learn to depend on God as he did. Then we will have rest – physical and spiritual.

David’s Situation

At first read, Psalm 3 seems to be an exaggerated, woe-is-me pity party.  Listen to verses 1-2:

O Lord, how many are my foes!
 Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

However, this was literally true for David. The Psalm’s title tells us David’s historical situation. He was on the run from his own son, Absalom, who had initiated civil war in Israel in an attempt to wrest the throne away from his father. Read 2 Samuel  15-17. Absalom had already killed one of his brothers, Amnon, because of the rape of his sister. Then he turned the people’s hearts away from David and toward himself. He then declared himself king and gathered military forces to his cause. David fled Jerusalem with a few faithful warriors. Seizing his advantage, Absalom publicly raped 10 of David’s concubines and set himself as ruler in Jerusalem. Then he sought to kill his own father. So, yeah, David really had many rising up against him, even from his family and supposed friends.

Then, on his way out of town, a member of Saul’s family, Shimei, comes out and curses him. He says that David is getting what he deserves from God. David’s men want to kill Shimei, but David answers,

“It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.  2 Samuel 16:12-14

David’s Trust

It is speculation, of course, but I think David’s refreshment is what he reveals in Psalm 3.

But You, O Lord, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the Lord with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain. 
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about
Psalm 3:3-6

Against the many, David trusts in the One who lifts him from despondency. Though surrounded by enemies, David is safely shielded by the Lord. This is the God who hears and answers! Therefore David can rest, trusting in his sustaining God. Once David has his trust in God restored, he can look confidently to the future:

Arise, O Lord!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people!
Psalm 3:7-8

David’s trust in God proves well-founded. Salvation (deliverance) does come from God and not man’s opinion. God defeats Absalom’s forces in battle and Absalom is killed. While David mourns the death of his favored son, he is restored to the kingship for which God had chosen him.

Our Turn 

So what about you and me? In the drama and despair of my life, can I sleep unhindered? Do you toss and turn and spend what’s left of your strength on your own plans? Can we trust God to protect and restore us, even if family betrays us? The God David knew is still the same today. You can trust Him and rest. I can trust Him and rest. Will I? Will you? Let Psalm 3 be your cry to God as you end this day.

 

Did you miss Psalm 2? Safe, Not Shackled

God and Country? – I’m Good With That

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.

Psalm 33:10-12 NKJV

This past Sunday our church had its annual God and Country worship service. We honored veterans, waved American flags, and sang patriotic songs. Some might argue that this is a dangerous mix of faith and patriotism. We should be honoring Jesus and not our country. However, I think those who would argue that are misguided.

I am not going to argue that the United States is God’s new chosen people. And our church is not declaring that either. There is plenty of evil in our land. And as our pastor said, if we keep going the way we are, God will have to judge us. Abortion (54 million+ killed since 1973), immorality, greed, and pride have powerful grips on our culture. Many Americans needs to repent and turn back to God for sure (starting with the church!).

However, while all that is true, America still is the number one missionary sending country in the world and the home of the greatest number of evangelical Christians. We are also the most charitable country in the world, according to the World Giving Index. We are the beacon of freedom to a world of bondage. We are the refuge for the poor and needy and persecuted. There is much more to America than the nightly (bad) news and the sewage seeping from Hollywood. God is blessing the world through America.

God and Country worship service

God and Country worship service – July 1, 2012 Burnt Hickory Baptist Church, Powder Springs, GA

America’s ideals are drawn from the truths of Scripture. Freedom and liberty. Sacrifice for others.  Protection for the weak and the minority. Checks and balances to curb corruption. The rule of law. The power of grace. The melting pot of many cultures, talents, and opportunities. The good guys win in the end. The value of one life. The importance of the individual. The bonds of community. We do not consistently live up to our ideals, yet they do inspire us toward  God’s best. America, ideally, is good.

I agree with our pastor’s exhortations from Sunday. America’s future hope is in Jesus Christ and His people, the church.  It is not in Washington, D.C., or Hollywood, or Wall Street or even Main Street. It is at the foot of the cross. When we bow to our Creator; when we seek His ways and turn from ours; when we earnestly pray and trust; then He will hear, and answer, and heal. Otherwise, America has no hope. The church must stand unashamedly for Jesus in our land.

So, it is with joy and sorrow that I celebrate our country’s birth. I am so thankful for God’s blessings on America. I am thankful for the freedoms we (yet) have. And I am inspired by the ideals that spur us on. My heart is stirred when I think of all those who sacrificed to make our nation great and free. But I mourn for the lost in America. I mourn for those who spurn God and turn to the false idols of self, security, fame, fortune, and power. I wish we did not use our liberty as a license to sin against God. Yet, I will wave my flag, pledge my allegiance, and celebrate this great nation.

Happy birthday, America! May you honor God and realize His blessings.

My recent prayer for America

Esther vs Evolution

Because of some recent discussions on evolution (on other blogs), I have been listening to a college course on evolution and Darwinism. Then, in our church’s weekly Bible study, we recently read through the book of Esther. As our class discussed the truths revealed in Esther, it struck me that it had something to say about the creation/evolution debate, even though that is not its subject matter.

If you haven’t read Esther recently, let me remind you  of the major details. Esther (or Hadassah) was a Jewish orphan in the Persian empire sometime after the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland (mid 5th century BC). Her cousin (or uncle), Mordecai, helped raise her. She became Queen of Persia after being chosen in an empire-wide Persian Idol competition for a new queen (except the king had the only vote). Following Mordecai’s advice, she does not reveal her ethnicity. Entering the scene is the villain, a court official named Haman, who is determined to destroy the Jews, especially this Mordecai who won’t bow down to him. He throws the dice (or the pur) to determine the date when this destruction will occur. Through a series of ironic twists and turns, Esther ends up defying the empire’s laws to intervene for her people, the Jews, and save the day. It is a story of courage and faith and is the basis for the Jewish holiday called Purim.

It is interesting that God’s name is never used in this book. However, His fingerprints of providence are all over it. It is His providence, not mere coincidence that:

  • Esther is chosen as queen and “happens” to be Jewish
  • Mordecai overturns an assassination plot the he “happens” to hear about at the gate
  • the king is saved from the assassination, but Mordecai is not initially rewarded or recognized
  • the king “happens” to have trouble sleeping and is read the account of Mordecai’s deeds
  • Esther “happens” to have great favor with the king, even though he banished his previous queen
  • the king “happens” to return when Haman is threatening Esther

None of this is happenstance.  While Haman rolls the dice and trusts in chance (and himself), Mordecai and Esther trust in the God who sees and intervenes. This is why Esther is correctly included in the Scriptures, despite having no explicit reference to God.

Is this dichotomy any different than the creation/evolution debate today? Creationists and evolutionists look at the same evidence in the living beings around the world. But they interpret it very differently. Classic Darwinism teaches that evolution occurs when blind chance (or random mutation) changes a species to have a new trait that makes it more fit to survive. There is no Creator involved in “natural selection;” it just happens.  And the result (over an extraordinarily long period of time) is the astounding variety and balance of life we have today, though I suspect the evolutionists are not that much astounded. After all, it is just blind chance. Evolution’s “nature” reveals no purpose or design, except procreation.

Spawning Salmon

The creationist looks at this diverse and beautiful world and recognizes the providential hand of the Creator. It is not mere chance and blind “selection” that could provide such a world. The woodpecker, for example, who needs a strong bill, a tongue that wraps through his head, and the muscles to allow for pecking is specially created for his role and environment. The salmon that  swims thousands of miles, including much upstream to spawn at the place of its birth, receives its instincts from a Creator. God’s name is written into the fabric of His creation, though many refuse to see it. This world reveals the majestic creativity of a Master Designer. And it demonstrates the taint of sin which has marred its original form. Thus, it cries out for redemption.

 

I’ll stick with Esther and the creationists on this one: God is the power behind the scenes of everything.

Finding God in Daniel

When I started this blog, I thought I would write more posts like this one. However, I have discovered that a conversational, visual, and topical style is more suited for a blog. But I am going to try this anyway and let the readers decide its value for them. For me, I am excited to collect and organize my thoughts and research so I can revisit it in the future. (My memory is weak at times.)

Our church is reading through The Story,  a chronological arrangement of excerpts from the Bible that focuses on God’s big picture plan (called the “upper story”). It is a great tool for getting a grasp of what the Bible is about and understanding how God has been at work. Last week’s chapter was on Daniel and the time of Judah’s exile to Babylon. Oddly, Daniel is both a source for children’s stories and for all kinds of prophecies about the future. When I taught through the book in detail, I think we took 6-9 months to work through its 12 chapters. It is a tough, but rewarding study!

This past week, though, I read through Daniel again. I was struck particularly in chapter 2 when God is called “the revealer of mysteries.” This is an unusual title for God, but a powerful one, if you stop and think about it. In fact, I should probably just write about that. However, I wanted to dig a little deeper (or at least broader). I went back through and pulled out all the names and characteristics of God that are revealed in Daniel. Wow, there are many!

I think God had a reason for revealing Himself so vividly to Daniel and the people of his day.  Because God had to discipline His people with the exile, many probably wondered who this God was. They wondered if He had abandoned them to the pagan Babylonians. Perhaps they would be scattered like their northern cousins, never to return home. Maybe God wasn’t powerful enough to protect the promised remnant for a return. If you look at the list below, you will see that God reveals some of His character to Daniel (and Nebuchadnezzar) precisely to answer these charges. He is the sovereign Lord of kings. And He will do what He says.

I urge you to consider this God revealed in Daniel — at least meditating on one of these names or qualities. He is worthy of your trust, just like Daniel and his friends experienced. Let Him be your Lord today.

Chapter 1: Daniel and friends refuse the king’s food
1:2 – Gave Jehoiakim over to Nebuchadnezzar. (Sovereign over kingdoms)
1:9 – Gave Daniel favor/loving-kindness with others
1:17 – Gave knowledge in literature, wisdom, and dream interpretation (note: pagan knowledge) – better than all the rest

Chapter 2: Daniel reveals and interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream
2:18 – God of heaven
2:19 – Revealer of mysteries (also 2:28, 47)
2:20-23 – Changes times and epoch, gives wisdom, light dwells with Him
2:28 – gives dreams to show the future (also 2:45)
2:38 – Giver of nations and nature into the king’s hand
2:44 – establishes kingdom that won’t be destroyed
2:45 – great God
2:47 – God of gods; Lord of kings

Chapter 3: The fiery furnace
3:17 – able to deliver (also 3:29)
3:25 – appears in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, like a son of man (might be an angel/messenger instead)
3:26 – Most High God (also 4:24; 5:18, 7:25), delivers from the furnace

Chapter 4: The testimony of a humbled Nebuchadnezzar
4:2 – doer of signs and wonders
4:3 – has an everlasting kingdom
4:31 – God who speaks; able to remove sovereignty from rulers
4:32 – ruler over the realm, gives to whomever He chooses (recap in 5:21)
4:34 – lives forever; has an everlasting dominion (also to Darius in 6:26)
4:35 – has absolute free will, absolute power
4:36 – giver and taker of reason/knowledge; restorer
4:37 – King of heaven; works are true, ways are just, Humbler of the proud

Chapter 5: Belshazzar and the fall of Babylon
5:18 – granter of sovereignty, grandeur, glory, and majesty
5:23 – Lord of heaven; holds lifebreath in His hands
5:24 – the hand writing on the wall
5:26 – ending the kingdom
5:27 – judge of the king
5:28 – dividing and giving the kingdom

Chapter 6: Under Darius, under Duress (lions’ den)
6:5 – gives law
6:16 – he will deliver
6:20 – living God (also 6:26)
6:22 – sender of angel; protects the innocent
6:27 – delivers, rescues, performs signs and wonders

Chapter 7: Vision of Daniel during first year of Belshazzar
7:9 – Ancient of Days upon throne, purity and fire (also 7:13, 7:22)
7:10 – myriads/thousands were before Him
7:13 – Son of Man
7:14 – gives dominion and everlasting kingdom to the Son of Man
7:18 – Highest One (also 7:22, 25, 27)
7:22 – rendering judgment
7:27 – dominions will serve and obey

Chapter 8: Vision of Daniel during third year of Belshazzar
8:16 – sender of Gabriel; giver of vision
8:17, 19 – knows details of the “time of the end”
8:26 – revealed something of the far future

Chapter 9: Daniel’s prayer (my favorite chapter – READ it)
9:2 – Lord, spoke to Jeremiah about the 70 year judgment
9:3 – Lord God (also 9:4)
9:4 – great and awesome God, keeps His covenant and loving-kindness (chesed) for those who love Him and keep His commands
9:5 – has given commandments an ordinances
9:6 – sender of the earlier prophets (also 9:10)
9:7 – righteousness belongs to Him; drove out His people because of their deeds against Him (also 9:14)
9:9 – Lord our God, compassion and forgiveness
9:12 – confirmed His words; brought great calamity
9:15 – brought people out of Egypt with a mighty hand; made a name for Himself
9:16 – turned anger and wrath against Jerusalem
9:18 – can hear and see (also 9:19); has great compassion

Chapter 10: Daniel’s vision in the third year of Darius
10:12 – heard Daniel’s humble prayer from the beginning
10:14 – gives understanding of the latter days

Chapter 11: Daniel’s understanding in the first year of Darius
11:32 – will be known by His people
11:36 – God of gods

Chapter 12: The Time of the End
12:2 – judge and resurrector (hinted at)
12:7 – lives forever
12:9 – concealer and sealer of some future events

Which name or characteristic speaks to your need today? 

Psalms Project: Psalm 2 – Safe, Not Shackled

The much anticipated movie “Avengers” opened this weekend. It tells the story of several superheroes who must band together to stop an evil Norse deity, Loki, and his band of aliens. I haven’t seen the movie, but I suspect that the heroes must learn to work as a team. Then, using all their powers, they thwart Loki, at least until the sequel. Strange as the movie plot sounds, it has some similarities to Psalm 2. (Hang in there and maybe you will understand my warped way of thinking.)

In Psalm 2,  we meet the kings of the earth. These kings are tired of being shackled by God and His Anointed (Hebrew – messiah). So they are planning some kind of rebellion to win their “freedom.” Mortals are taking on God. In this case, we are talking about the one, true God, the Creator of all. So, these kings on earth want to take on the King of the Universe, and they have no super powers to help them. God laughs (an ironic twist to Psalm 1). He and His Anointed rule no matter what anyone else does. He can just speak and destroy the kings and their nations. God has already chosen the Ruler – His Son.

Psalm 2 is classified as a “Messianic Psalm” because of its clear mention of God’s special, anointed One, the Messiah. Here, he is called “My Son” and “My King.” He is given the nations as His inheritance. And He will rule absolutely – as with a rod of iron. The nations are warned to properly honor the Messiah (v12) or face His sudden wrath. This is a proclamation of royal authority, perhaps using the same language as the coronation ceremony of Israel’s kings. Is it any wonder that Jesus’ disciples expected a Warrior Messiah to come and destroy the Romans and establish His kingdom on earth? (Of course, they neglected the teachings of other Messianic Psalms like Psalm 22, but we will get to those later.) While Jesus did not fulfill all of these roles in His first coming, He will upon His return.

The New Testament writers did not shy away from associating Jesus with this ruling Messiah in Psalm 2. In Acts 4, Peter and John are released by the Sanhedrin after they had healed the lame man at the Temple in the name of Jesus. When they return to the believers, they testify that Psalm 2 is being fulfilled: Gentiles and Jews gathered in Jerusalem against the Messiah, Jesus, and killed Him. But His resurrection demonstrated His ultimate authority and rule. In Revelation, John quotes Psalm 2:9 four times to remind us that Jesus is coming to rule.

So, what does this mean for us today? First, it is a corrective to our view of Jesus. If we consider Him only meek and mild, an itinerant preacher of mushy love, we don’t know Him. He is God’s Anointed King. He rules, whether we accept it or not. And if we choose to reject Him, we can expect to be broken like fragile pots.

I think the most important message, though, is that God’s rule is a refuge, not a shackle.  Look at how the whole tone of the Psalm changes in the last line: “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” God is not trying to destroy us or keep us from joy and pleasure. No! His way IS the way of life and peace. Boundaries are for our safety, not for binding. Let’s rejoice in our shelter, the Most High God who rules over all.

Read Psalm 1: Planted or Seated?

My Prayer for America

Today is the 2012 National Day of Prayer. I want to join the millions who are praying for our country. When I think about praying for the nation, I always think about Daniel. In exile with his homeland desolate, he prayed for his nation. His prayer in Daniel 9 is powerful. I offer this prayer for America inspired by Daniel’s prayer. (Though inspired BY Daniel 9, I do not claim it is God-breathed/inspired like the Scriptures):

Dear God,

You are the holy, faithful, and true God — the only source of life. You keep Your promises and love those who honor Your name. Your forgiveness extends to all who will accept it because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus.

We are not like you. We are faithless, sinful, and false. Although You have revealed Your plans and purposes to us in Your Word, we have neglected them. We have turned to our own ways and ignored the wisdom, commands, and words of life from You. From our presidents, CEOs, political and religious leaders to our teachers, entertainers, and thinkers, we have all fallen short. We trust the quick sand of popular culture more than the solid rock of the Bible. We will tear down an “offensive” cross, but let pornography flow freely into our homes. We have killed millions of unborn children, but we claim life as an inalienable right. We devote ourselves to idols of entertainment instead of serving those in need. We deserve nothing from You, except Your righteous wrath.

But, You, God are loving and kind and forgiving. You have blessed America beyond other nations. You have blessed America by bringing the nations. Freedom, land, wealth, prosperity, power, might, influence, creativity, natural resources, people — the blessings are too many to count. How do we fail to recognize Your hand upon us? Our founders knew Your providence and trusted it. But we have continually strayed from the ideals You inspired in us.

God, turn our hearts back to You. Hear our cries to You. Let those of us who claim Your name truly follow Your ways. Raise up for us leaders who know You and honor You. Turn back the destruction we have chosen by our wickedness. Forgive us! Heal us! Restore us! Let America be the faithful servant you have called, not the wandering vagabond we have become. And let us turn Your blessings on us into blessings for all the nations. We need You and we want You.

Amen