Category: Bible Study

Shoreline beacon
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Pause for thought

“A man, a plan, a canal, Panama” is probably the longest palindrome I know. Try it — it reads the same backwards as forwards!

That fact popped into my head because I was remembering a trip across Gatun Lake in Panama. You might not have been aware that Gatun Lake did not exist before 1914 when President Theodore Roosevelt pressed a switch ...

Frustrated boy with head on chalkboard
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I hear it time and time again.

I sometimes wonder if those saying it really believe what they’re saying is actually true or whether they’re whistling past the graveyard as a sign of bravado.

It usually crops up when some particularly evil thing happens unchecked or there is a horrible natural disaster or a personal tragedy that leaves ...

Empty pews
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Pause for thought

I was struck by a recent Gallup Survey showing that in-person attendance at religious services was down by over five percent.

My first thought was that this must be yet another side effect of the COVID pandemic until I realized that the comparison was with post-pandemic numbers.

My next thought was that maybe the drop-off was because ...

Supermarket
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Pause for thought

I was recently talking with friends who are pastors of a small church in the south of England and asking about developments in their congregation post-COVID.

As in so many congregations, the pandemic caused many to drop out of the habit of attending Sunday services. This was especially true of those who are older and more vulnerable. And ...

Adrift
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Pause for thought

“Good morning, brother. How are you? Are you well in the Lord?”
“I am well, thank you, without Him where would we be?”

I witnessed the exchange above between two friends prior to a Sunday Morning service of worship. They always say the same thing to each other and give the same response, but the response as a question got me thinking.

Without ...

Man in despair
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If you read the Book of Psalms you will come to realize that about one third of them contain an expression of sorrow or complaint!

For example:

Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away. Psalm 90:10 NLT

I think that ...

Flashlight in dark
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One of the tools taught in business school to help plan new (ad)ventures is often labeled as “SWOT” standing for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Thoughtful attention to each of those areas can help preclude problems before they arise as well as help marshall resources for success.

As we navigate this world as Jesus followers, ...

Book of knowledge
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All time will pass into Eternity and man must venture on a life unknown Journey alone, each to his own destiny In life or death amidst uncertainty, In the struggle of right against wrong, Somewhere amidst the confusion, There will be love, There will be peace, THERE WILL BE GOD — Joy Webb

Be still, and know that I am God! I will ...

2024
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I always remember being quite disappointed the day after my birthday because on that day I didn’t feel any different than I did the day before!

You, like me, probably have felt let down after all the hype up to a “special” day only to discover that everything proceeded just as before. Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New ...

Pope in puffer coat
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A friend of mine recently passed away and I was asked if I could supply a suitable photograph of him for his memorial service.

I really didn’t have anything which fit the bill, so (with his wife’s permission) I extracted an image of him from a happy photograph of him with his wife in a restaurant, deleted the wife and the restaurant setting, ...

Sabbath shirt
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Pause for thought

My grandson and I were chatting about where the names we use for the days of the week come from and the subject of “Sabbath” came up.

Of course, in English the names for the days of the week are based on the Sun, Moon and Saturn plus the names of four Norse gods — if you are interested, Google is your friend!

In his multicultural studies ...

Dove descending
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In approaching Bible Study I have come to realize that nothing Jesus is recorded as having done in the Gospels is without meaning or symbolism.

As you read the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John you will often come across words saying that Jesus did something “so that scripture might be fulfilled”. This tells us two things, that Jesus ...

Mustard Tree
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Even a casual study of the Gospels reveals the great mismatch between the accepted religious beliefs of Jesus’ time and the explanations he gave of how things really were, or from our perspective, how they would be.

I often joke that the Kingdom of Heaven must be in the Southern Hemisphere since according to Jesus’ explanations, everything ...

Gratitude under the surface
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I am struck by how often Jesus interacted with or told parables about Samaritans.

Pious Jews of his time regarded these people as half-breeds and scum. They were the remnants of the other eleven tribes of Israel who had been diluted and intermingled with other tribes and nations in the vicinity. They were people to be avoided at all costs ...

Decorative bells
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Let me apologize in advance for the apparent free-wheeling and rambling in this week’s column!

Part of my meditation practice is to let my mind free-associate with words and ideas in the Bible, and I feel led to let you witness that process in action. If there is a point to be made (and there always is) I’m sure I’ll get there eventually! ...

Joy
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I can’t shake the feeling that I’m being harassed by the media this week.

There is a flyer from a cruise line in my mail that is entitled “The Joy Issue”. There is a mail piece from a local charity begging me to “Share the Joy” for Thanksgiving. Our local theater company wants me to come and share the “joy” of their latest holiday production. The ...

Jeweled Crown
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It has been my privilege to witness two coronations in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in my lifetime, and to live in the reign of three monarchs.

I have seen the Crown Jewels normally kept in a vault in the Tower of London, and the Honours of Scotland, including a crown that predates the one used to crown King Charles ...

Haiwaii Interstate 1
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I’m not exactly sure why, but it really tickles my funny bone that Hawaii — which is arguably the remotest piece of civilization on earth, if you are measure by the distance to the nearest continental landmass — has an interstate highway system.

It could be argued that it would be more feasible to build a combination of bridges and tunnels ...

River
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In general I have very little knowledge about the readers of these columns.

But I know this, you live close to a river!

Some of you living by estuaries, deltas, or in forests or mountain slopes, will nod and say, “that’s not exactly a startling deduction”, but some of you may be living in a city or in the desert. So how can I assert ...

Provisions
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I’ve always been fascinated by how and why words mean what they do.

I think it started in Miss McLean’s Latin Class when I was aged ten.

She would greet us all in the morning in a Lily-Tomlin-esque squeaky voice, “Ave Discipuli” (pronounced “ah-vey-dee-SKEEP-ool-ee”, meaning “Greetings, students!”

You will ...

Atomic explosion
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I was reminiscing the other day about events in my life after which everything was destined to be forever different.

For example the day I got the results of my eleven-plus exam (an arcane system in the UK that was basically an IQ test that determined what kind of High School you would attend) so I could study French, Latin, Mathematics, ...

Ambient lighting
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How adventurous are you in the food department?

When I was growing up my Mom would try anything while my dad was strictly a “meat and two vegetables” kind of guy. When dad was asked how he liked his meat cooked, it was invariably “well done”. When he finally got to visit my wife and I after we had emigrated to the United States and he was ...

Outdoor Party
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I have a confession to make: I don’t like parties or large social gatherings of any kind.

My wife jokes that I am antisocial, but in reality it’s just that I find such gatherings quite emotionally draining.

I never liked attending my own birthday parties as a child and for a while I think my parents thought I must have been having ...

Miss Piggy
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I’ve been looking at the metaphors, similes and controversial aphorisms Jesus used in his ministry and exposition of the nature of the Kingdom of God. One of those similes that stood out to me was the idea of a pearl being worth sacrificing everything else just to possess it. Here is the verse:

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant ...

Toast and sardines
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I don’t have a great deal of varied experience with other churches, but I do know it is quite common for Sunday morning worshippers to hang out together after the morning service for refreshments and fellowship. In most cases the comestibles are fairly modest — tea, coffee, cookies or maybe cake on a special occasion. It’s a great time to catch up ...

Bread and wine
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Pause for thought

What do Arlington Cemetery, Westminster Abbey, The Arc de Triomphe, Canberra in Australia, and Aukland in New Zealand have in common with the fields of Flanders in modern Belgium? The most obvious answer is that they all have a place where there is a grave and a memorial dedicated to the memory of a fallen soldier whose name will forever only be ...

Angelic Toddler
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If I were to ask you what your earliest memory was, what age would you have been? Where were you? Why does that memory stick?

I have always been blessed with both a good memory and good memories. I have had family members verify that isolated memories as far back as eighteen months of age were not figments of my imagining! I understand why ...

Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday
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It was such a relief when I first learned that there were basically two categories of personality: Type “A” and Type “B”.

You know the Type “A” folks. They are restless, throbbing bundles of power pulsating with nervous energy, they eat ADHD for breakfast, they have to-do lists, they are super organized, they plan two years ahead for everything, ...

Voltmeter
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Many years ago, when my grandchildren were very young, one of our favorite pastimes when grandma wanted to go shopping at the mall, was to ride the escalators!

It just never got old!

We would hold hands and time that first step onto the moving stairs. Up we would go until a few feet from the top we would plan our exit. One of the ...

Sky High Potential
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You, like me, have probably held a new-born human for the first time and thought, “What will you be? What will you do? For what will you be remembered?”

In that helpless little bundle of humanity a whole lifetime of potential is hidden away, and much like Michelangelo freeing his statue of David from a block of marble by chipping and sculpting, ...

Seven mile bridge
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When I first studied English in High School one of my teachers helpfully pointed out that a great number of very common phrases and sayings in everyday language are lifted lock, stock and barrel from the KJV Bible. I am enough of a dinosaur to remember a time when there were only two translations of the Bible generally available for ordinary folks ...

Glazed donuts
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I mentioned in a previous column my shock when none of three contestants on a popular quiz show was able to fill in the blank for, “… which art in Heaven, [blank] be thy name…”.

Lots of concepts that I thought were a given in our society, and characterized us as a “christian nation”, can no longer be relied upon. In explaining the good news ...

Lost in desert
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I find that folks are intrigued when they know that when I retired I was able to spend the time to obtain a private pilot’s license (technically not a “license”, but a “certificate”) and the additional qualification (“rating”) of being able to fly with only instruments, basically flying in clouds or on moonless nights with ...

Kite Flying
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Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there, I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft ...

Hand stretching to heaven
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One of the blessings I am truly grateful for is a curious mind!

I love finding out something I didn’t know or learning a new fact that has been hiding in plain sight all my life.

I recently sent my grandson a link to articles on how we can discover the radius of the earth or get an estimate of how much the earth weighs.

Although ...

Woman looking over bible
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I find it fascinating that the idea of sacrifice seems to be built in to our human DNA.

Every culture we have discovered including those from prehistoric times leaves evidence of rituals involving sacrifice. In ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, sacrificial rituals were common. These societies believed in ...

Narrow road
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It’s probably safe to say that the outlook on our world is becoming progressively bleaker with each passing year.

All the dire prophecies and predictions for the end times seem to be more evident. We were recently startled by a TV quiz show the other day when not one of the three contestants could fill in the blank for the quotation “Our ...

Man checking watch
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Many of the things Jesus did left his followers (and us) scratching their heads! Some years ago there was a wave of enthusiasm to place bumper stickers with the letters “WWJD?” on cars. What would Jesus do? I have always thought that we need to be careful about speculating about actions Jesus might take, and concentrate on the actual examples of ...

Stormy Waves
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When I was a boy, times were simpler in so many ways.

My grandson once inquired of me, “what video games did you play growing up?” And of course he was incredulous that when I was his age computers were vast multi-million dollar machines that filled spaces the size of several large houses and had to have their own dedicated power ...

This is the sign you've been looking for
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I have no idea from one week to the next what I am going to write about in these columns, but I have assurance that I will be directed in one way or another before my deadline!

I remember when a member of our congregation was asked to fill in for the sermon one Sunday, and in a panic asked, “what will I talk about?” “Just talk about God”, ...

Flipping scripture
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Do, or do not! There is no “try”! Yoda - The Empire Strikes Back

A guy can only do what a guy can do — but he can do at least that much! Jim Black — business aphorism

It is most unlikely that you have ever come across the word “parable” except in the context of the teaching of Jesus.

In Sunday School I learned that a parable ...

Dew on a blade of grass
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I have frequently heard it preached that, as Christians, we should be “in” the world, but not “of” the world. However, I’m also sure it’s your experience that doing so is often easier said than done.

In our hyper communicative age, the world is pressing in on us from all sides. It’s hard to escape what society claims to be important and worthy ...

Man jumping chasm
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Pause for thought

It’s not too much of a stretch to assert that you are probably able to read this as a direct result of the effect of Paul’s letter to Roman christians in 58AD.

Unlike his other letters, Paul was writing to a church that he himself had no part in establishing. Also unlike his other letters, he was not addressing some immediate threat or crisis ...

Roman coin and Caesar
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A group of Pharisees confronted Jesus and asked for a yes or no answer on whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, the Roman emperor.

Jesus responded by asking whose face was engraved on the coins used to pay the taxes. When they answered it was Caesar’s face, Jesus replied with the now-famous phrase, “Then render to Caesar the things ...

Whirwind
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Pause fro Thought

There is a fascinating story hidden away in the Old Testament in the second book of Kings which I will reproduce for you here:

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.” But Elisha replied, ...

Woman looking at blank wall
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But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women ...

Man surveying earthquake damage
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I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that a whole bunch of things have appeared to get worse, all of a sudden.

For years we’ve been warned about global warming, but this last year in California we’ve had more snow in one year than we’ve had in the last fifty years. We’re thankful for the relief from the drought that has plagued us for ...

Empty Tomb Sunlight
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I was recently asked where and how I find the graphics I use to illustrate these columns.

No secret there — search engines on the internet provide a plethora of images on any given subject! The real trick is to find images for which I can get a royalty-free license so I don’t infringe anyone’s copyrights.

However, it is always interesting ...

Palm Branch
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It is hard to imagine a christian believer who has not heard about the events of the first Palm Sunday. We teach it in Sunday School. We celebrate it every year on the Sunday before Easter. Movies have been made and musicals have been written. Before we were married, my wife taught the kindergartners’ class in Sunday School. On Palm Sunday she asked ...

Bureau de Change
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But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They ...

Group of men arguing
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One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ ...

Surprised boy with book
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As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from ...

Gift boxes
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I think people most often come to the book of Job expecting to find answers to questions about suffering. I certainly held that view up until recently.

But I think we need to be careful.

Job is a real person and not a generic human being. We can certainly learn lessons from Job’s experiences as believers, but an unbeliever coming ...

Elihu speaks to Job
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Job is an intense and daunting book. The book is intense because of the terrible sufferings it describes. The book is daunting because it is long and filled with complex poetic speeches.

We are told that Job is a righteous man who honors God despite immense suffering. Not only is Job the first poetic book in the Bible, but also the first ...

Depressed Man
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Some of you will recognize my heading as coming from John Bunyan’s classic book “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, written in 1678 while Bunyan was imprisoned in Bedford County Jail for violations of the Conventicle Act of 1664, which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England.

The plot centers ...

Tornado
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In legal usage in the English-speaking world, an “act of God” is a natural hazard outside human control for which no person can be held responsible. - Wikipedia

Woe upon woe! One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: “Your ...

Dude, breathe!
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Patient endurance attaineth to all things, Whom God posesseth in nothing is wanting, Alone God sufficeth!” Teresa of Avila

It’s been quite a while since my wedding reception, but memorably, one witty speaker wished my new bride and me, “…the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and the children of Israel!”. Since then I’ve found ...

Protesters for justice
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Pause for thought

Many of these columns I write are as a result of questions friends ask me to research in my Bible studies. Most often these are passages or topics in the New Testament where it is fairly easy to learn about the language, context and customs of the time. But occasionally I’m asked to get out of my comfort zone and into less familiar territory in the ...

Father and son walking along a path
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When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they ...

Mid East Carpenter
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When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.Get up!” the angel said.Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when ...