Intermediate Bible Quiz

Answer key
Answer key

How did you do on the Intermediate Bible Quiz?  Here are the answers.

Basic Information

The Bible commonly used by Protestants contains a total of (1) 66 books. It is divided into two main sections: the (2) Old Testament and the (3) New Testament. The first section was written mainly in the ancient (4) Hebrew language; the second section was written in the (5) Greek language of the First Century.

 Bible People and Storyline

The book of Genesis describes the first humans as living in a garden named (6) Eden. There they fell into (7) sin by eating forbidden fruit. To prevent the complete corruption of the human race, God later sent a devastating flood while saving a remnant under the leadership of (8) Noah. Later, the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the Tower of (9) Babel. After this, God called a man named (10) Abraham to begin a line of chosen people who would represent him to the rest of the world. The great-grandson of this man was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. His name was (11) Joseph.

After several generations of slavery, the descendants of this former slave and his brothers became known as the nation of (12) Israel. They were delivered from their slavery under a lawgiver named (13) Moses. Although God promised them the land then known as (14) Canaan in which to establish themselves, they showed a lack of faith and many of them died in the wilderness. After forty years of wandering, God raised up a man called (15) Joshua to lead them into this Promised Land.

In this new land, the nation was at first ruled by servants of God called   (16) judges, one of whom was a woman named Deborah. Later the nation was ruled by a series of (17) kings, the best known of which was David. When this line of rulers became foolish and disobedient to God, he divided the nation in two, with the northern capitol in Samaria while the south had its capitol in (18) Jerusalem. Though they were warned to cease worshipping idols and devote themselves to the true God, the people continued to disobey, with the south eventually suffering exile in (19) Babylon. A book of 150 musical poems, some of which were written during this time, was used by God’s people in worship. It is entitled (20) Psalms. Though called to represent him in the world, God’s people often needed correction by men and women speaking on God’s behalf. These people were called (21) prophets.

The second main section of the Bible begins with the life and ministry of (22) Jesus. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (23) Mary and born in the city of (24) Bethlehem. He performed many (25) miracles to validate his claims of being the Son of God. After being accused of blasphemy, he was condemned and put to death by the cruel method of (26) crucifixion. After (27) three days in the tomb, he rose from the dead. The book of (28) Acts is the history of the early Christians. They formed a new people of God, known as the (29) Church. The basic Christian message, called the (30) gospel is the good news that, though people are guilty before God, anyone may be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in God’s Son.

The associate of the Lord and main spokesman for the earliest Christians had been a simple fisherman. His name was (31) Peter. The majority of the letters in the second section of the Bible were written by one man: the Apostle (32) Paul. Other letters were written by various Christian leaders. One of these letters makes it clear that faith without works is dead. It was written by (33) James, who was probably a brother of the Lord. Several other letters were written by the Apostle (34) John, who was especially close to the Lord during his lifetime. The book of (35) Revelation fittingly climaxes the Bible, closing with the promise of the Lord’s return and the establishment of his Kingdom on earth.

Never be discouraged.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

 

Intermediate Bible Quiz

Intermediate Bible Quiz
Intermediate Bible Quiz

This 35-point intermediate Bible quiz is designed to measure your knowledge of the key people and facts in Bible’s storyline and motivate you to dig deeper into the Bible itself.

Basic Information

The Bible commonly used by Protestants contains a total of (1) ______ books. It is divided into two main sections: the (2) _______ _____________________ and the (3) _______ _______________________. The first section was written mainly in the ancient (4) _________________ language; the second section was written in the (5) ______________ language of the First Century.

 Bible People and Storyline

The book of Genesis describes the first humans as living in a garden named (6) __________. There they fell into (7) ________ by eating forbidden fruit. To prevent the complete corruption of the human race, God later sent a devastating flood while saving a remnant under the leadership of (8) __________. Later, the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the Tower of (9) ___________. After this, God called a man named (10) _________________ to begin a line of chosen people who would represent him to the rest of the world. The great-grandson of this man was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. His name was (11) _________________.

After several generations of slavery, the descendants of this former slave and his brothers became known as the nation of (12) ______________. They were delivered from their slavery under a lawgiver named (13) ____________. Although God promised them the land then known as (14) _______________ in which to establish themselves, they showed a lack of faith and many of them died in the wilderness. After forty years of wandering, God raised up a man called (15) _____________ to lead them into this Promised Land.

In this new land, the nation was at first ruled by servants of God called                           (16) ____________, one of whom was a woman named Deborah. Later the nation was ruled by a series of (17) ___________, the best known of which was David. When this line of rulers became foolish and disobedient to God, he divided the nation in two, with the northern capitol in Samaria while the south had its capitol in (18) _______________. Though they were warned to cease worshipping idols and devote themselves to the true God, the people continued to disobey, with the southern kingdom eventually suffering exile in (19) ______________. A book of 150 musical poems, some of which were written during this time, was used by God’s people in worship. We know this collection as the book of (20) _______________. Though called to represent him in the world, God’s people often needed correction by men and women speaking on God’s behalf. These people were called (21) _______________.

The second main section of the Bible begins with the life and ministry of                (22) _____________. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (23) _____________ and born in the city of (24) __________________. He performed many (25) _____________ to validate his claims of being the Son of God. After being accused of blasphemy, he was condemned and put to death by the cruel method of (26) ____________________. After (27) _____________ days in the tomb, he rose from the dead. The book of (28) __________ is the history of the early Christians. They formed a new people of God, known as the (29) _________________. The basic Christian message, called the (30) _____________ is the good news that, though people are guilty before God, anyone may be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in God’s Son.

The associate of the Lord and main spokesman for the earliest Christians had been a simple fisherman. His name was (31) ____________. The majority of the letters in the second section of the Bible were written by one man: the Apostle (32) _____________. Other letters were written by various Christian leaders. One of these letters makes it clear that faith without works is dead. It was written by (33) _______________, who was probably a brother of the Lord. Several other letters were written by the Apostle (34) ____________, who was especially close to the Lord during his lifetime. The book of (35) __________________ fittingly climaxes the Bible, closing with the promise of the Lord’s return and the establishment of his Kingdom on earth.

How did you do? You can access the answers in a separate blog–Intermediate Bible Quiz–Answer Key.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

 

Basic Bible Quiz: Level 1

Basic Bible Quiz
Basic Bible Quiz

This 15-point basic Bible quiz is designed to measure your basic knowledge of the overall storyline of the Bible .  Fill in the blanks to see you much you know!

The Christian Bible is divided into two main parts, the (1) ______ Testament and the (2) _____ Testament. This first book in the Bible, called (3) ________________ tells the story of the origins of the universe and of human civilization. This book describes the first humans as living in a place called the Garden of (4) __________.   They disobeyed the command of God and followed the temptations of the (5) _______________.

 After a devastating flood in which humanity was preserved through the family of (6)__________, the Bible continues with the establishment of a chosen people known as (7) _____________. These people were delivered from slavery and received God’s Law under a leader called (8) __________.   Though this nation was to represent God in the world, it often needed correction by people who spoke for God. This type of corrective leader is called a (9) ______________.

The second section of the Bible begins with the record of the life and ministry of  (10) __________. His followers were later organized into a new people of God called the (11) ____________. The first leaders of this new people of God were called (12) _________________.   One of these leaders named (13) ____________ was a former fisherman, who had denied his Lord in a moment of weakness. Another of these leaders preached the Christian message in many places and wrote at least twelve letters to various groups of believers. History knows him by the name of Saint (14) __________. The book of (15) ________________ closes the Bible by promising the coming of God’s Kingdom at the end of the Age.

How did you do? You can find the answers in the key to this Level 1 Quiz posted as a separate blog.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

Basic Bible Quiz: Level 1 Answer Key

Answer key
Answer key

How did you do on Basic Bible Quiz: Level 1?  Here are the answers:

The Christian Bible is divided into two main parts, the (1) Old Testament and the (2) New Testament. This first book in the Bible, called (3) Genesis tells the story of the origins of the universe and of human civilization. This book describes the first humans as living in a place called the Garden of (4) Eden.   They disobeyed the command of God and followed the temptations of the (5) Serpent (or Devil).

 After a devastating flood in which humanity was preserved through the family of (6) Noah, the Bible continues with the establishment of a chosen people known as (7) Israel. These people were delivered from slavery and received God’s Law under a leader called (8) Moses.   Though this nation was to represent God in the world, it often needed correction by people who spoke for God. This type of corrective leader is called a (9) prophet.

The second section of the Bible begins with the record of the life and ministry of (10) Jesus. His followers were later organized into a new people of God called the (11) Church. The first leaders of this new people of God were called (12) Apostles.   One of these leaders named (13) Peter was a former fisherman, who had denied his Lord in a moment of weakness. Another of these leaders preached the Christian message in many places and wrote at least twelve letters to various groups of believers. History knows him by the name of Saint (14) Paul. The book of (15) Revelation closes the Bible by promising the coming of God’s Kingdom at the end of the Age.

If you missed some answers, don’t be discouraged.  A knowledge of the Bible is something that comes with time.  Keep reading!

 

Can I Trust the Bible? Yes you can!

We can trust the Bible
Study the Bible with confidence!

Many so-called experts claim that we cannot trust the Bible.  They assert that the written documents of the Bible were not well preserved and that the copying process resulted in many mistakes.  Yet Christianity and Judaism have traditionally claimed that the Bible we read and study today represents the Word of God faithfully handed down through the centuries by God’s people. But which claim is true?  How can we be sure that the Hebrew and Greek copies scholars use for translation into English are faithful to the original documents?  In other words, can we really trust the Bible?

Where did our Bible come from?

Let’s begin with how the Bible came to be preserved and passed down.  As far as anyone knows, none of the manuscripts of the Bible that were written by the original authors are still in existence. This fact leads to the legitimate question of whether what we read in the Bible today accurately represents what was written down by Moses or Isaiah or Paul.  Because of the lack of original material, scholars must rely on early copies of the original manuscripts.  Experts in the discipline of manuscript study can compare the various early copies available in order to sift out the small percentage of variations in the text and synthesize the original content. Over the years, this process has yielded a very high degree of confidence in the texts of both the Old and New Testaments.

Evidence for the Old Testament

The manuscript evidence for the Old Testament is quite strong.  It might seem obvious that most of the books of these Hebrew scriptures were written in the ancient Hebrew language, but a few of the later portions were actually composed in a related language, called Aramaic. These books were probably written over a nearly 1,000-year span between 1400 and 400 B.C. by several dozen different authors, including Moses, Ezra, David, Solomon and others. Until 1947, the best and earliest manuscripts for the Old Testament were known as the Massoretic Texts. The Massoretic Texts were copies of still earlier manuscripts (now lost) made by Jews in eastern Europe between 800 and 1000 A.D.  Many critics of the Biblical text argued that the accuracy of these manuscripts, which date from the Middle Ages, was probably very poor due to the more than 1, 200 years between the original documents and these copies.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

But in 1947, through the providence of God, the accuracy of the Massoretic Texts was confirmed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  This large collection of miscellaneous writings dating from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. included dozens of much earlier copies of Old Testament books. The scrolls were found carefully preserved in desert caves in the Qumran area of the Dead Sea. What scholars have discovered in studying them is that, apart from a few very minor differences, there had been virtually no change in the text of the Hebrew Scriptures for more than 1,000 years. So, almost overnight, doubts about trustworthiness of the Old Testament suddenly became much less convincing.

The Septuagint

In addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is also an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament made around 200 B.C, known as the Septuagint.  The Septuagint also confirms the copying accuracy of the Old Testament.  So, based upon the evidence of the extreme care with which the Jews copied their scriptures, as well as the insight provided by the Septuagint, we can have confidence that the material of the Hebrew Scriptures is highly accurate.

Evidence for the New Testament

When it comes to the New Testament portion of the Bible, the evidence is even better. The books of the New Testament were probably written in Greek between A.D. 45 and 100.  The very earliest copies we have of the original books date from just after A.D. 100.  For example, there is a fragment of chapter 18 of the Gospel of John, which dates from around A.D. 110. Since the Gospel of John was probably originally written around A.D. 90, that puts the time from original to earliest known copy at about 20 years. An even earlier manuscript portion, known as the Chester Beatty Papyrus, dates from around A.D. 100. Since Paul probably wrote this portion in the years A.D. 55-65, that puts the time lapse from original to copy at less than 50 years. These examples illustrate the very strong evidence for the reliability of the New Testament compared with other works of ancient literature.

All told, there are something like 5,000 early Greek copies of the New Testament in existence today, as well as hundreds more in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic and Armenian translations. With the aid of computer software, scholars are able to do intensive comparisons of the available copies in order to “weed out” any copying mistakes and synthesize the original text of the New Testament.  More evidence for the trustworthiness of the New Testament comes from the writings of the Christian Church before 400 A.D., called the Patristic writings.  These early Christian works quote so extensively from the New Testament that it can be virtually reconstructed from these writings alone.  One expert estimated that only one half of one percent (.05 %) of the New Testament is now in any doubt as to its original wording.  Most of this small percentage of uncertainty has to do with word order, rather than content.  For example, there are a few passages that are unclear as to whether they said Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ – hardly a reason for doubting the reliability of the New Testament.  So, just as with the Hebrew Scriptures, the text of the New Testament has been shown to be highly accurate.

Conclusion

All of this evidence points to the conclusion that the Bible we use today is extremely reliable and can be trusted.  It has lost very little, if anything, in the copying process from the original writings of the authors.  While none of this by itself proves the Bible’s inspiration, it does support Christianity’s ancient claim that the Scriptures are the word of God, fully inspired and authoritative for the ages.

How to Pray for People

Have you ever wondered how to pray for people?  Are you tired of the standard prayers typically prayed by Christians? Perhaps you can relate to what I am talking about: “Dear God, please bless so-and-so with (health, a job, salvation, a renewed spiritual interest, an easier life, etc).” Not that there is anything wrong with these things. They may be legitimate matters for prayer, but it seems to me that we Christians often settle for so little when we make requests of God.  What follows is what I hope is a remedy for these routine kinds of prayer

Do we know what God wants?

Maybe the problem is that we don’t really understand what to ask God for. Maybe we just get caught up in responding to the urgent felt-needs of those around us. Maybe we have become creatures of habit, falling into the set patterns of our particular circle of friends and church associates. Whatever the reason, I sometimes find typical prayer sessions to be bland and all-too predictable: the same categories of prayer; the same focus on immediate physical and material needs; the same salvation requests.

The problem of group dynamics

Prayer sessions can easily be dominated by two or three people who either don’t mind sharing most of the prayer requests or who enjoy being the perpetually needy ones. Maybe you can relate to feeling like this at a prayer gathering, “Here we go again. Brother Sam has been feeling upset again this week. He is requesting that we ask to God to remove the source of his frustration. Beside him, brother Ned needs a job for the third time in the past year. Sister Sue is asking for her son’s salvation just as she has since we have first known her years ago. Another Christian lady has urgent health issues and can hardly function in her daily routines. (But, if so, how is she well enough to come to this prayer-gathering?) Across the circle, sister Mary is sharing another compelling story she came across on the Internet this week. She wants prayer for an individual a continent away who has been “on her heart” for days but whom none of us has ever met. So we bow our heads and ask God to intervene.

Let me be clear: I am not condemning such prayers or the people who pray them. In my experience, the motives of those who make these kinds of requests are usually good. They care about people and they want God’s blessings on those people and circumstances they care about.  Yet I have become increasingly discontent with prayer requests which go no further than these kinds of things.  It is entirely possible that, as a pastor, I have simply been jaded by attending many dozens of these prayer sessions.   Part of the solution is to set ground rules for prayer times that limit one or two people from dominating the agenda.

Getting beyond the routine

Maybe I am also frustrated by the lack of discernible growth in these dear folks whose prayers seem to be on the same level year after year. It could be argued that these types of prayers simply reflect poor biblical teaching on the part of their leaders, including me. What I do know is that we ought to be asking God for much more.  So, I have put together a collection of prayer requests that I believe are more in line with those modeled in scripture. I am urging that, along with praying for jobs, and protection, and the solving of various problems—-all of which may be valid—that my fellow believers should consider praying “outside the box”. But what does a biblical, yet edgy prayer request look like? Let me give some examples. Try praying for these things:

  • That people develop a deep love for God
  • That people have thoughts, words and actions controlled by the Holy Spirit
  • That our friends become willing to accept a life-changing direction from God
  • That we experience a sacrificial attitude in marriages, families and other relationships
  • That those we are concerned about come to genuine repentance
  • That together we are a voice for Christ’s Kingdom when one is needed
  • That people develop the mental commitment and toughness to resist temptation
  • That Christians demonstrate our oneness in Christ
  • That we all become competent in applying the truths of scripture to our own lives
  • That we strive for personal excellence as a visible result of honoring God in all we do
  • That Christians are seen as models of tolerance in situations in which tolerance pleases God
  • That Christians model godly family living
  • That Christians face their own blind spots
  • That we decide to be content with what cannot be changed
  • That we develop consistency and skill in their work
  • That believers respond to conflict with truth, righteousness and mercy
  • That our friends acquire the ability to persevere through hardship and failure
  • That we all learn true forgiveness
  • That our churches grow in their ability to speak about their faith in ways which ring true with the unchurched and unbelieving people around them
  • That we discover joy in giving to others
  • That Christians commit themselves to basic spiritual disciplines
  • That we develop healthy eating and exercise routines
  • That we stop judging others’ motives
  • That folks learn the difference between explicit biblical teachings and their own inferences based on certain verses of scripture
  • That we all become amazed at God’s care and provision in their lives
  • That troubled people find God to be the acceptance and beauty that they have been looking for
  • That stubborn folks find God to be tougher and smarter than themselves
  • That all of us desire to become more than they have dreamed possible for God’s glory
  • That we find deep enjoyment in the life God has blessed them with
  • At all times that God’s people show themselves as models of God’s grace

I could add many more requests that are biblically-based and relevant to the society we are currently living in.  It could be that if we consistently prayed for ourselves and others like this, we might actually turn the world upside down!

Michael Bogart

 

A Neglected Female Perspective on Jesus’ Resurrection

Women at the tomb

A female perspective on the Resurrection of Jesus is desperately needed in our divided times. Though male myself, I have tried to see the resurrection of Jesus through the eyes of the women who went to his tomb as recorded in Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, and Luke 24:1-12.  The following is my attempt to tell their story in a single narrative.

The Women’s Story

It was an early Sunday morning twenty centuries ago.  Actually, we would probably describe it as night because the darkness had not yet been mixed with the faintest light of dawn.  A small group of women–three or four–were on their way to do something that would break their hearts. They were going to finish preparing the body of their dear friend and honored teacher for his final burial. Over the past days, these women had experienced an emotional ups and downs.  Just seven days earlier they had been convinced that their teacher, leader, friend was finally going to be acknowledged as the Messiah that their people had been expecting for centuries.

The Previous Week

Such excitement; such hope!  Only a few days ago their expectations were all coming true.  Now it had ended so suddenly, so tragically.  The previous Sunday–just seven days ago–Jesus of Nazareth had arrived in Jerusalem to the acclaim of the cheering multitudes. He had entered the holy temple and called out the corruption of its leaders.  The packed and eager crowds hung on his words.  Though Jesus’ enemies had tried to discredit him, they were unable to counter his answers, and went away, publicly embarrassed.  It had looked like the Messiah and his Kingdom had actually arrived at last.

Then on Thursday, Jesus and his closest followers sat down to the annual Passover meal–the traditional celebration of their people’s deliverance from slavery long ago.  During that extended meal he taught them as usual about God’s coming Kingdom.  But this time the teaching was more personal.  Jesus addressed them as friends.  It was hard to believe, but he had seemed to be saying that the covenant between God and Israel had been fulfilled, and that a new covenant was being established based on himself. There was talk of blood sealing this new covenant–but then he had always spoken in symbols and metaphors.

Later that night, though, the metaphor turned into reality.  Jesus was arrested by his enemies. The next day, Friday, he was tried before the high Jewish council and, later, by the Roman governor. To the disbelief of his followers, he was quickly and unfairly condemned and executed after public humiliation and torture. Within forty-eight hours the women had gone from excitement and expectation to numbed grief and devastation.

The Lord is Dead

All day Saturday they were haunted by the memory of taking his shattered body off that cross. Along with two kind men–Joseph and Nicodemus–the only two members of the high council who sympathized with Jesus, they carried his body to a nearby tomb that Joseph donated in this hour of need. Together, they had done what they could to prepare Jesus’ body in the short time before the Sabbath came at sundown. The Romans sealed the tomb with a heavy stone and posted a guard.

Sunday

Now the Sabbath was over and the little band of women were picking their way through dark lanes and streets of Jerusalem and then out of the city gate to the tomb where the final preparations would be made to lay their beloved master to his final rest.

Arrival. Shock. Confusion. Are we at the wrong place? No, this is surely the right place. How could we forget this scene of crucifixion so etched in our memories barely thirty-six hours ago? But something is dreadfully wrong. The tomb is standing open. That big, heavy stone door is laying way over there. How? There is a man sitting on it. Who is he?  He is terrifying, powerful. Light seems to be radiating from him.

What is he saying? “Jesus isn’t here. He is alive from the dead.” What does that mean? We must look inside the tomb. Another man in shining clothes. An angel? ” Where is out master?” “See for yourselves,” he says: “He is not here.” We look at the niche where we placed his body, now just the empty shroud lays there.

Outside now.  Bewildered. Where has he gone?  “You there, sir.  Are you the groundskeeper?  What has happened to the body of our teacher?  Where are the soldiers?  Please help us!”

“Mary!” That familiar voice.  Recognition!  Tears.  Fear.  Joy.  Alternate laughing and weeping.  Questions.  He is saying, “Don’t detain me. Don’t hold me–not yet.  Run and tell my disciples that I am alive and I will meet them soon.” ” No, Lord.  We don’t want to leave you.  Don’t send us away.  Alright.  Yes Lord, we will go tell the others.”

The First Eyewitnesses

Stumbling, hurrying, running into the waking city as the light grows stronger. Pounding on the door of the safe house where the men are staying. We tell the story with words tumbling out of our mouths. Interrupting, talking one on top of another. Those infuriating blank looks from Peter and the others.  More urgent attempts to make them understand.  Questions.  Disbelief.  Off they go to see for themselves–just like men!

But oh the joy, the relief. Our hope is renewed.  Morning has come.  We sit down to an improvised breakfast.  More talk. Is this a dream?  More tears. Irrepressible joy.  Nothing will ever be the same!

The Benefits of Christianity

The light of the world

What are the benefits of Christianity?  The days when most people saw the Christian Church as a necessary part of Western Culture are long gone. Studies of how North Americans and Europeans make choices in the early twenty-first century show that when making important decisions, most people think in terms of personal fulfillment and well being, rather than of Christian values.

This is a significant shift away from the thinking of much of the twentieth century, when Christian values were the template for decision-making. Christian believers may bemoan this trend but, like it or not, it would appear that this way of thinking will be around for the foreseeable future.  So maybe Christianity should be evaluated from a new, more pragmatic perspective.  What, then, are the benefits of Christianity in society? Let me suggest a few of the positive outcomes of Christianity in society.

Better marriages

The presence of churches that teach biblical family values results in more couples staying together.  I am not just talking about husbands and wives who agree to remain married under difficult circumstances, but also about couples who discover a deeper and more lasting love for one another because of their relationship to God.  Many Christians can attest that a commitment to one’s spouse, a willingness to work though issues, and a dependence upon God for wisdom and strength has saved marriages that otherwise would have ended in divorce court.

Better family life

Along with husbands and wives staying together, there tend to be fewer problems raising children when families are involved in church. “Parents– don’t exasperate your children, but bring them up in the teaching and discipline of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), is a valuable principle at a time when families are breaking down in record numbers. Churches that teach the Bible by precept and example tend to have a higher percentage of intact and reasonably healthy families.

Lasting relationships

People are moving so fast in our century that it is difficult to form deep, long-term friendships.  Again, churches that teach the Bible’s perspective on relationships tend to produce people who know how to befriend others and work through issues.  Churches also provide venues for meeting people who desire lasting friendships.  In many Christian circles, it is a rather routine thing to meet people who have remained friends over many years and weathered some pretty difficult circumstances together.

Personalized care

One of the best kept secrets is the fact that churches regularly provide free counseling, not only to their members, but often to virtually anyone who desires it.  Many churches have pastors or staff members who are trained and gifted in the art of listening to people, helping them understand the dynamics behind their situation and offering practical, biblical advice toward a solution.  Obviously the more people who receive this care, the healthier a community becomes. This is especially refreshing in a time when people are sometimes seen as figures on a spreadsheet, rather than as persons who are valuable in themselves.

Character-building

While it is not the only voice in society encouraging people to become more than they are, the Christian Church performs this role as well. Not only does it encourage people to dream large dreams and achieve great things, but it also builds character in ways that few others are: correction.  Where can you go in twenty-first century Western Culture to have someone tell you the honest truth about yourself?  I know that this sort of thing seems out of fashion these days. I also know that constructive criticism can be abused.  But when a person is involved in things that are self-destructive and harmful to others, isn’t it a good thing that there are venues where people can be lovingly confronted and helped to find a new path in life?

Finding God

When people get tired of the rampant materialism and the pursuit of personal fulfillment, many crave something more substantial. Christianity promises that if anyone desires to find God, God is willing to be found. In fact, the truth is even better than that. God has made himself very accessible by becoming one of us, living as we live and doing what was necessary for us to have full and abundant relationship with him.  Of course I am speaking of Jesus Christ as the Son of God made human.

I am aware that some people reject this basic Christian belief. Other religions teach that people must attain some ultimate spiritual goal through hidden knowledge, austere self-denial, or the offering of something precious to win God’s favor. The core Christian message is so simple and so accessible that some people object that it is too good to be true.  A person may be welcomed into relationship with God simply by putting their trust in Jesus. Trusting in Jesus means believing that he is who he claimed to be: the Son of God; accepting his self-sacrifice in payment for your wrongdoing; and embracing his offer to join with you in making you new from the inside out.

The irony is that faith in Jesus actually brings the personal fulfillment that has eluded many people all their lives. Far from being a narrow or exclusionary faith, Christianity is incredible inclusive.  Faith in Jesus is something a small child can do. It is something a mentally disabled person can exercise. The basic message of Christianity is truly trans-cultural, finding those in every ethnicity who resonate with its good news.  It embraces both men and women.  It reaches every strata of society. The good news of Christianity changes lives when nothing else can.

All this and more come with an active Christian presence in society. Those who are concerned with the welfare of their communities would do well to make certain that churches are free to do what they do so well: benefit communities and positively change lives, one by one.

Passion Week 4: Relating to Jesus’ resurrection

Jesus is risen!

Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday of Passion Week changed everything!  Out of all the followers of Jesus, only a few of the women were able to keep their wits enough to focus on practical things. Several of the women got up very early on Sunday morning, met at an agreed location, and set out together for the tomb to finish embalming Jesus’ body . As the walked through the darkness, the women must have quietly discussed both the heartache they still felt, and the task ahead. Specifically they wondered how they were going to roll aside the great stone that sealed the entrance.

Upon arrival, the women were stunned to find a scene of confusion. The stone weighing several tons, was not only rolled aside, but seemingly tossed aside some distance away. The Roman guard was dispersed and the tomb was empty.  Not knowing what else to do, they began the return journey to inform their friends. Mary Magdalene lingered behind because she wanted to ask what had happened of a man she presumed to be the gardener.  It was only when the man spoke her name that she realized he was actually Jesus, fully alive.

There were other experiences that day. After being urged by the women to see for themselves, Peter and John ran to the tomb and confirmed that it was empty.   Other followers of Jesus had been on their way home to figure out how to restart their lives– only to meet a fellow traveller, who they suddenly recognized to be Jesus at the end of the day’s journey.  Later Jesus appeared to his disciples when they were together in the upper room.  On still another occasion, Jesus appeared among the disciples when Thomas, who had been absent before, was present.

After his resurrection, Jesus seems to have been physically with his disciples a number of times during a period of several weeks, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. Imagine the emotional swings they must have experienced during those days.  In all of their discussions with Jesus, one thing was certain to these men and women: Jesus had come to life again after dying. His death was no tragic accident, but a supreme payment of human transgression. Most importantly, Jesus had shown himself to be the Son of God by taking on a new kind of life: a life he was offering to share with them.

There are many truths to be gained from the resurrection of Jesus.  One that should always be emphasized is the almost unbelievable fact that you now have hope.  The gracious God, who loved and pursued us through history, has never given up on your reconciliation. For reasons of his own, God wants you back and has done all that is needed to forgive you, cleanse you, and make you his own. The resurrection proves this almost unbelievable fact.  So, next time life seems hopeless– next time your heart is broken, or weighed down with worry, remember that there is hope in Jesus’ resurrection. Put your full trust in him. Hold onto the gift of life he offers you.  It will guide you through all that life brings your way, and will bring you eternal life with him!

Passion Week 3: Relating to Jesus’ suffering

Jesus’ death and burial

It is on Saturday of Passion Week that fear really took hold.  Jesus’ followers– scattered the day before– have gone into hiding. They were terrified of betrayal by their neighbors or other who might recognize their connection with Jesus.  That Saturday of Passion Week, every footstep in the street, every knock at the house next door, every raised voice, caused the terror to rise to the surface again. The extreme disillusionment and sorrow of Friday is taking its toll on Saturday. Life is not simply flat and gloomy: now it is horrifying.

Had God abandoned them?  Were they heretics as their enemies claimed? Was Jesus a liar or a misguided fool? In their minds, the fishing, or the collecting of taxes, the farming and small businesses of their former lives now appeared to be a respectable alternative to all the talk about the coming Kingdom of God.  What about the miracles, the crowds and the new hope inspired by Jesus’ teaching over the past several years?  These now appeared foolish and even dangerous.  So the followers of Jesus quietly made their plans to slip back north up to Galilee and just disappear.  Fear had caused a sudden abandonment of everything these men and women had so optimistically believed as recently as one week before.

Many of us have experienced (or are experiencing) this kind of fear.  That deep kind of fear is dark and overpowering.  It makes us desperate and irrational.  It can cause us to be suspicious of those around us.  We feel like cornered animals with no way of escape.  So we crouch, ready to fight and flee, abandoning all we once held dear. Threatened layoffs at work, accusations by associates, a medical diagnosis or some huge disillusionment can have this effect on us.  Are you in the grip of fear? Are you considering throwing away some of your dearest commitments?  Do you feel abandoned by God?  Hold on: God isn’t finished.  Hope is just around the corner!