Help! I’m Reading Romans 9!

Today, we reach that passage in our Bible reading plan. The passage that pastors do not like to preach. The one where we have to wrestle with a doctrine that is difficult to understand – election. If you want to better understand Romans 9, this post attempts to give some clarity, and I also recommend listening to Pastor David’s sermon on Romans 9 (“The Marvel of God’s Mercy”) for a more robust explanation on God’s love, will, and human choice.

Background of Romans: Paul’s wrote the letter to the church in Rome, which was a church he had not visited prior to writing the letter, to prepare them for his arrival before attempting to take the gospel to Spain. However, Paul did not make it to Rome until he was under house arrest while he appealed to Caesar (Acts 28), and as far as we know, he never made it further west than Rome. The church in Rome contained both Jewish and Gentile Christians, and this mixed community provided opportunity for conflict as seen in Romans 14-15. Romans 1:16-17 marks the thesis of Romans, for it explains the gospel as “the righteousness of God” that is available to all who believe. Romans 1-11 gives an overview of God’s plan to redeem humanity, and Romans 12-16 describes how we should live in light of what God has accomplished.

Structure of Romans:

  • Romans 1:1-15 contains Paul’s greetings to the church at Rome and his tentative travel plans.
  • Romans 1:16-4:25 unpacks God’s wrath towards sinners and His grace towards those who trust in Christ.
  • Romans 5-8 describes the hope and obedience of Christ-followers, despite a continued struggle against sin.
  • Romans 9-11 surveys God’s plan to save both Jews and Gentiles.
  • Romans 12:1-15:13 explains how Christians are to live in light of the gospel.
  • Romans 15:14-16:27 includes Paul’s concluding remarks to the Roman believers, his upcoming travel plans, and his personal greetings.

Today in Romans 

The topics of predestination and election can be controversial topics when one studies Romans. Romans 9-11 addresses the issue of Israel’s unbelief. God specifically made the Old Covenant with Israel, but what would happen to “God’s chosen people” who did not trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior? How was their unbelief part of God’s plan? Were the Gentiles replacing them under the New Covenant? With Paul being an apostle to the Gentiles, the contents of Romans 9-11 were no doubt topics that he had to address in his ministry, especially if Jews and Gentiles were to be a unified body of believers.

Paul states his thesis for Romans 9-11 in 9:6: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed…” He denies the belief that any particular group of people has a birthright for salvation, for one’s ethnicity or religious heritage does not grant them salvation. Instead, all who trust in Christ for salvation are descendants of Abraham (9:6-13), and salvation is a work of God and a gift that He offers both to Jews and to Gentiles (9:14-29). Paul uses the examples of Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau to exemplify this these truths. If birthright made one saved, then Ishmael’s descendants and Esau’s descendants would have been included as part of God’s people. God did not base His decisions on Ishmael or Esau’s conduct because He chose Isaac and Jacob before they were even born (see Gen. 25:23). As these verses demonstrate, He can call whomever He wants to be part of His people, despite their social status, conduct, or ethnicity.

In understanding the quotation from Malachi 1:2-3 in Romans 9:13 about God loving Jacob and hating Esau, we must learn the Greek meaning of the word “hate” to fully grasp what this verse is expressing. When we think of hating someone, despising and loathing are the connotations we have in mind, but the context and the word used both point towards the idea of rejection. God rejected Esau in the sense that He did not choose Esau to inherit the blessings promised to Abraham. So hate is not used as an emotion in verse thirteen but as an action that God carries out in how He chose one son of Isaac and rejected the other, for logically, only one son could be chosen to carry out the task of continuing the line of descendants.

Paul uses a question and answer format to address issues that would likely come up because of his argument in Romans 9:1-13:

  • “What then shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” (9:14)
  • “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” (9:19)
  • “What shall we say, then?” (9:30)

These questions and Paul’s responses cover issues about God’s character and man’s responsibility, and in order to further understand Romans 9 and the doctrine of election, listen to Pastor David’s sermon “The Marvel of God’s Mercy” from December 2010 on Romans 9.

Romans 9:30-10:21 provides an explanation for why Israel has rejected the gospel, and in Theology of the New Testament, Frank Thielman summarizes the reason for their rejection:

“Both the law and the gospel…pointed in the same direction – toward a right relationship between God and his people, but God has provided Christ, not the law, as the means by which this relationship will be realized. By their rejection of the gospel and their insistence of living in an era dominated by the Mosaic law, many within Israel have implied that their own works (9:32) and their own righteousness (10:3) were preferable to the righteous status that comes from God through belief in the gospel (10:3).”

Romans 11:1-32 explains how the Gentiles came to be grafted into God’s chosen people, and after eleven chapters describing God’s incredibly detailed plan of redemption, Paul breaks out into praise of God’s knowledge and wisdom in Romans 11:33-36. In Romans 12, the book transitions into how the gospel affects the daily life of the believer. Whereas Romans 1-11 describes what God has done, Romans 12-16 instructs believers in how to live. Romans 12 begins with instructions to the community of faith then expands to imperatives regarding their interaction in wider society then continues into chapter thirteen with how Christians are to live in relation to the government.

Coffee & Connection for Women at Brook Hills

Debbie and Tammy Home Group

Do you walk into Brook Hills on Sunday without seeing a familiar face? Do you long to know and be known by people in this church? Are you wanting to connect to a small group (like what you see in the picture above)? Would you like to meet several of our Small Group Leaders face-to-face?

If so, we invite you to attend one of BH Women’s upcoming Coffee & Connections! Coffee & Connection is a time and place for Brook Hills women of all ages and life stages to connect to a small group community. This August, we have three opportunities for connection:

  •  Wednesday, August 13, from 6:30-8:00pm in Room 130 at the church. 
    • All women are welcome to bring a brown bag dinner. Drinks will be provided, and the room will be open at5:30pm for those who are coming directly from work.
  • Sunday, August 17, from 9:00-10:30am in Room 130 at the church (continental breakfast provided)
  • Wednesday, August 20, 9:30am-noon at the Student Building at the church (brunch)
    • All women are asked to bring a brunch item (fruit, breakfast casserole, bread/muffins, etc.). Drinks will be provided.

CoffeeConnection2c_fall14_updatec-1At each of these connection times, you will enjoy fellowship with new friends and have the opportunity to connect to female small group leaders who lead women, couples, and co-ed small groups. 

Around the tables, small group leaders will lead guided discussions to allow you to get to know a little more about small groups at Brook Hills and to help you meet the new friends at your table. Pertinent explanations of how to connect at Brook Hills will also be shared at each of these connection opportunities.

If you would like to serve at any of these connection times by helping with refreshments, greeting, or cleaning up, please contact Dawn Stephens at dstephens@brookhills.org. For additional questions regarding these connections, contact Ashley Chesnut at achesnut@brookhills.org or at (205) 313-7790.

Childcare
Childcare is available for each of these three connection opportunities. 

  • If you come to the Wednesday, August 13, or the Sunday, August 17, Coffee & Connections, then your child(ren) will participate in our regular on-campus activities with preschoolers (birth through five years) being on the preschool hall on the first floor, children’s ministry (1st-5th grade) being on the 3rd floor of the main building, and students (6th-12th grade) being in the Student Building.
  • If you come to the Wednesday, August 20, Coffee & Connection, please make a reservation for your child (birth through five years) with Mary Cannon at mcannon@brookhills.org or at (205) 313-7709 by Wednesday, August 13. Last minute requests will be considered on a “case by case” basis.

Heaven Is For Real, But What About Hell?

Today’s post was written by Brook Hills member, Jan Rowland.

It never occurred to me that I should evaluate the existence of my Great Grandfather by whether or not I had seen or experienced him. I “see” him in my Grandfather, my Dad, and my son. No pictures were ever taken of him; however, I have heard about him. My mind readily accepts his existence because of obvious reasons which validate that truth.

When the call came that my Dad passed into eternity back in 2007, it set in motion a flurry of emotions, additional phone calls to family members, travel plans, and a flood of anxious questions. My Dad was not a man of faith. He rejected the existence of God until his last year on earth. Even then, all he could muster up was the idea that God may indeed exist, but he certainly had no compulsion that there should be any personal response on his part to an elusive, unseen Being. That lame acknowledgement was the closest thing to comfort I was to hang my hope on after thirty years of fervently praying for his salvation, thirty years practicing gracious segues in conversation toward his spiritual need followed by an equal number of angry responses. “Shoving religion” or “emotional crutch” were his usual angry retorts to every conversation of that nature. I took hope by praying silently in order to keep peace and the relationship with him alive. The Word assured me that God would hear and answer. Random phone calls came throughout those 30 years from friends telling me of their burden to pray for my Dad. My assurance grew, though no evidence of any answer ever surfaced.

Sitting through his memorial service was disheartening. Accolades of his contributions to the military and space industry were recited. Hobbies, skills, and talents were duly listed. But nowhere during the eulogy was the one thing stated that I had so desperately longed for in his life. The sting of death is beyond description when you’re pretty certain that the claims of the Bible concerning the realm and penalty of death are now true for one you love. I sat there heart broken. All those years of praying had not produced a single shred of evidence they had been answered.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” -Proverbs 13:12

My desire had not come, and over the next six months, my heart indeed was sick. False hopes and strange scenarios all played out in my mind. Reasoning away the stated terms of the gospel momentarily eased the raw pain of Hell’s certainty. Imagining my Dad there was more than I could wrap my mind around. Utter disappointment in God choked and soured my relationship with Him. I knew I was becoming cynical and cried out, asking Him to settle my thoughts with His indisputable truth. But the truth only reminded me of the inevitable consequences of sin and rejecting God’s merciful Savior. Those were the very reasons I had been motivated to escape the wrath of God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation. After believing for so long, I was slipping deeper and deeper into….not UNbelief, but DISbelief.

“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” -Romans 10:17

For decades, I had delighted in God’s Word as my daily guidance and a place of sweet fellowship where I joyfully bowed before Him. Growing disbelief was making those times more like bowing my face over blown out matches, and the scent was repulsive. Thinking about my Dad at all was like approaching a terrifying, deep black hole that was rapidly growing in size. As the hole grew, my faith shrank and recoiled. It genuinely troubled me that I could accept all of God’s truths that blessed and pleased me, while secretly denying the reality of Hell.

It has always amazed me that God hears thoughts we cannot or choose not to articulate. Realizing the Holy Spirit is the interpreter of my deeply felt and unformed thoughts was always very comforting to me. I knew He presented my thoughts and prayers to God in perfect form and expression. However, that same realization turned on me and left me feeling guilty. The Holy Spirit does not allow us to hide our motives from God. He will comfort us and give us peace of mind, yet He will not leave us to our own secret devices. As the six month wrestling match went on in my mind, I slowly came to terms with the selectivity of our minds to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we favor and how, those we don’t like, we either ignore or deny. My faith has a huge hole in it. Though I still have not resolved the leanings of doubt in my mind concerning the reality of Hell, I have found comfort in agreeing with Romans 3:3-4:

For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: indeed, let God be true, but every man a liar….

Yes, my mind willingly embraces truth when it suits me, then becomes the liar when it does not. I cannot wrestle my finite mind into submission. Human reasoning is what put us out of fellowship with God from the beginning of time, so it is understandable it will continue to lead us astray if we trust it.  However, I can bow my faulty intellect and will to the Word of God, trusting the God of all truth to help me through things I cannot understand or that are too painful to accept. It is Him that I trust, and I choose not to lean on my own understanding.

“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”  -I John 3:20

If you have questions regarding what the Bible says about Hell, below are some helpful resource recommendations on the subject:

Am I the Older Woman?

Today’s post was written by our women’s minister, Dawn Stephens.

As I reached a milestone birthday on February 3 of this  year (1964 was a very good year!), I have felt compelled to speak to my generation of Christian women.

As a women’s ministry leader since 1992, I have not experienced the overwhelming desire of young women (ages 22-40) to be discipled and mentored by an older woman, as I have the past 2-3 years.

If we are going to effectively mentor and disciple this generation of women, we must embrace our age and see our life experiences as fuel for a mentoring lifestyle.

This lifestyle is then more easily infused into the next generation of wives, mothers, business owners, government influencers, and future matriarchs of the faith.

I am afraid our culture with all of its trappings has enabled my generation to “stay young” longer than God’s design for our days. Therefore, we can infer that age is bad and to be avoided at all costs.

Instead, let’s focus on what God’s Word says about our age:

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. ” – Proverbs 16:31

If we color or hide our “crown of glory” because we don’t see our age as something to be valued, we miss out on the blessing of investing, teaching, and multiplying ourselves into younger women.  Are we trying to stay too young for too long and never step into our role as the “older woman” that Scripture describes?

I’m not saying don’t cover those roots or care for your skin – I certainly do! But I am encouraging you to see the external evidence of age as an affirming expression of God given wisdom and experience in your life.

Sisters in Christ, talk with God about what you believe about your age, and ask Him to show you if you are running from it or embracing it for your good (and the good of others) and His glory.

“Older women (Is that me?) likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” -Titus 2:3-5

Where We Are In The Story – Week 29

To download the Bible reading plan that our faith family started on January 1st, visit this site. There is also a guide to personal worship that you can download from that site. If you haven’t been reading along thus far, no worries! Jump on in with the current day’s reading.

Readings for This Week
Joshua 20-24, Judges 1-3, and Acts 1-7

Where We Are In The Story (Joshua)

Background of Joshua: While authorship of this book is unknown, the book’s name derives from the name of its main character, Joshua, who was Moses’ successor in leading the people of Israel. His name means “Yahweh delivers” or “Yahweh saves,” which is an apt title of the book since it describes God’s work in defeating the nations of the Promised Land and giving the land to His people. Joshua presents the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give their descendants the land of Canaan, and it describes the military conquests that brought this to pass. Written as a historical book for Israel, Joshua also emphasizes God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and faithfulness to His word, and Joshua 21:43-45 provides a fitting summary of God’s character as One who keeps all of His promises.

Structure of Joshua:

  • Joshua 1-5 describes Israel’s preparations before taking the Promised Land.
  • Joshua 6-12 depicts the military conquests of the nation.
  • Joshua 13-21 explains the distribution of the land among the tribes, highlighting the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people.
  • Joshua 22-24 records Joshua’s final instructions and exhortations to the nation before his death.

This Week in Joshua: Joshua 20-21 describes how Israel kept the Lord’s instructions regarding the cities of refuge and the cities and pasturelands allotted to the Levites (see Ex. 21:12-14; Num. 35:1-29; Deut. 4:41-43; 19:1-10). Forty-eight cities were set aside for the Levites, and six of these were also cities of refuge. Teaching the people about God was one function of a priest, and this could more easily be accomplished by living among the Israelites throughout the land. Levi also lacked its own tribal allotment of land because of the judgment on Levi in Genesis 49:6-7 for his violence against the Hivites in Genesis 24.

Joshua 21 mentions three groups among the Levites: the Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the Merarites, and while each of these groups were still Levites, they were also the descendants of Levi’s sons, Kohath, Gershon, and Merari. At the time that God spoke these words to Joshua, Israel did not yet possess all forty-eight of these cities, but as they conquered, they knew God’s prescription for how to divvy out the land. Joshua 21:43-45 presents the fulfillment of God’s promises to Joshua in chapter one and His covenant with Israel to give them the Promised Land, and it stands as a testament to God’s faithfulness and His power. It rightly credits God for the accomplishment of taking the land and defeating Israel’s enemies.

In Joshua 22, Joshua releases the people of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh, so they could return to their allotted land since they had faithfully helped the other tribes possess their inheritance. When these tribes arrived in their land, they built an altar to the Lord. When the rest of the nation heard this news, they sent Phinehas and ten tribal chiefs to address the rebellion, for they feared another reprisal of what happened at Baal-peor (Num. 25:1-18) or with Achan after Jericho (Josh. 7:1-26) because God had instructed them to only have one altar for sacrifice (Deut. 12:13-32). However, it was a miscommunication, for the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassehites built the altar as a memorial that they had fulfilled their commitment to help the other tribes conquer the Promised Land. They did not build it as a place to worship or sacrifice offerings in replacement of doing so in the Lord’s sanctuary. Therefore, the Reubenites and the Gadites called the altar “Witness,” for it represented their unity with the other tribes. Because the Jordan River formed a natural boundary line between the eastern tribes (Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassehites) and the rest of the nation, they worried that future generations would either cease to worship the Lord in His sanctuary or that the western tribes would reject the eastern tribes as heirs of the promises to Israel.

Joshua 23-24 fast-forwards an indefinite amount of time (possibly 25 years) when Joshua makes his farewell and gives a charge to Israel’s leaders and to the nation. As God had urged him to heed His Law in Joshua 1, Joshua urges Israel’s leaders to do the same (Josh. 23:6-8). He reminded the people of God’s promises, of God’s faithfulness to give them the Promised Land, and of the blessings and curses associated with the covenant. The book concludes with a covenant renewal ceremony in which the Israelites affirm their fidelity to their covenant with God, and it describes the death of Joshua and Eleazar the priest (Aaron’s son) as well as the burial of Joseph’s bones per his instructions (Gen. 50:25).

Where We Are In The Story (Judges)

Background of Judges: While authorship of Judges is traditionally assigned to Samuel, we do not know who wrote this book. Judges presents Israel’s cycle of idolatry, judgment, repentance, and deliverance that occurred between the death of Joshua and the establishment of Israel’s monarchy (Josh. 2:11-19). Throughout this book, God remains faithfulness to His covenant, but Israel receives judgment that comes as a result of God’s promises to punish His people for their disobedience. However, Israel’s depravity emphasizes the scandal and the greatness of God’s mercy and forgiveness. While God raises up twelve men and women during this time period to lead His people, He remains the ultimate Judge and Savior of Israel.

Structure of Judges:

  • Judges 1:1-3:6 introduces the reader to the circumstances after Joshua’s death and gives an overview of the cycle Israel would follow as God raised up judges to deliver and to lead His people.
  • Judges 3:7-16:31 provides accounts of twelve judges in Israel’s history.
  • Judges 17-21 describes the moral descent of Israel and how the nation demonstrated little difference from their pagan neighbors.

This Week in Judges: Unlike after the death of Moses, when Joshua died there was no named successor set in place to lead the people of Israel. The people began with an encouraging start, for they “inquired of the LORD” as to who should lead them to fight against the Canaanites (1:1). But their fidelity to the Lord quickly dissipated .At the time of Joshua’s death, several other nations still inhabited the Promised Land, and Joshua 1 describes the tribes of Judah and Simeon assisting each other in defeating some of these inhabitants, including the king of Jerusalem. At the same time, the tribe of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites from the city (1:21), and Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali also “did not drive out the inhabitants” of the land (1:27-33). Their inability to conquer these nations would later lead to them being influenced by their pagan neighbors and drawn into idolatry.

Judges 1:19 mentions Israel’s inability to drive out the inhabitants of the plain because of their chariots of iron, but Judges 2:1-5 clarifies that the real reason for their failure was the Israelites’ idolatry (Judg. 2:1-5). Because of their sin, God judged the nation of Israel by making the Canaanite inhabitants a proverbial thorn in their side who would entice them to sin (2:3).

Joshua 2:6-10 reiterates the death of Joshua, the distribution of land to the tribes of Israel, and the birth of a generation who had not experienced God’s provision in the wilderness or faithfulness in battle. As you read Judges 2:6-15, observe the contrast between the descriptions of the different generations of Israelites.

While they had not experienced God’s miraculous guidance firsthand as their parents and grandparents had, this younger generation was not ignorant of His acts; however, they lived as though they were unaware of His greatness and power. As Pastor Timothy Keller states in Judges for You, “when a whole generation turns away, we have to expect that the parents have failed to model real faith and disciple their children” (33).

The term “judge” implies a judicial role, and while Deborah seems to have acted in this role, the judges in this book act more as military leaders and as individuals who instruct the people in the way of the Lord. Judges 2:16-23 describes the sin cycle of Israel (idolatry, judgment, repentance, deliverance), and the book as a whole describes the “Canaanization” of Israel. Instead of being a kingdom of priests who witness to the surrounding nations, Israel acts just like them. Because of Israel’s habitual idolatry, God determined to test Israel by leaving the remaining Canaanite nations in the land (2:20-3:6). Would Israel choose to follow God even when tempted by their neighbors to worship other gods? Anytime God tests His people, it is for their benefit, not His. He knows their hearts and the future. But when He tests us, we learn more about our own strengths and weaknesses, and we come face-to-face with the status of our functional faith in God.

Judges 3 lists three judges in Israel’s history: Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. God would use the judges to conquer remaining nations in the land while He also allowed these nations to bring His judgment on His people for their idolatry. Othniel, a nephew of Caleb (3:9), prevailed over the king of Mesopotamia (3:7-12), and Ehud defeated the king of Moab and subdued the nation (3:12-20), which inhabited the region on the southeastern border of the Dead Sea. Shamgar led the nation against the Philistines (3:31), and while he freed Israel from them, he did not completely eradicate this nation.

Where We Are In The Story (Acts)

Background of Acts: As with the Luke’s Gospel, Luke wrote Acts to a man named Theophilus to describe the events that occurred after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and Luke 1:1-4 states the purpose of both Luke and Acts: to provide a narrative of the truth from eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word. Acts details the thirty years following the resurrection of Christ and describes the spread of the gospel throughout Asia and Europe.

Structure of Acts:

  • Acts 1-5 describes the advent of the church.
  • Acts 6:1-9:31 portrays the persecution and the growth of the church.
  • Acts 9:32-12:24 details the inclusion of the Gentiles into the faith.
  • Acts 13:1-19:20 follows the missionary journeys of Paul.
  • Acts 19:21-28:31 chronicles Paul’s journey to Jerusalem where he is arrested, tried, and sent to Rome for an audience with Caesar.

This Week in Acts: In the forty days after His resurrection, Jesus taught His followers about the Kingdom of God and instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until they had received the Holy Spirit (1:1-8). The disciples still thought in terms of an earthly king who would free Israel from the Romans, and Jesus directs them to focus on the task given to them by God – to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of all the earth” (1:8). Acts 1-7 depicts how they fulfilled this call in Jerusalem, Acts 8-11 describes the expansion into Judea and Samaria, and the rest of the book shows how God’s people spread the gospel to the nations.

After Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, the disciples returned to the Upper Room in Jerusalem (this may or may not be the same room in which they celebrated the Passover with Jesus). The apostles viewed the replacement of Judas Iscariot as a matter of Old Testament prophecy, hence the quotations from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 in Acts 1. In relation to the selection of a twelfth disciple, F.F. Bruce states in his commentary on Acts, “The total of twelve was significant: it corresponded to the number of the tribes of Israel, and may have marked the apostles out as leaders of the new Israel” (44).

Pentecost occurred fifty days after the Passover and was the feast where the firstfruits of the wheat harvest were brought to God, and it was on this day that God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell in His followers. Acts presents a turning point in salvation history. No longer is God’s presence among His people as with the tabernacle or among His people as when Christ walked upon the earth. Now, the presence of God would dwell in the believer. Just as the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus during His earthly ministry, this same Spirit would indwell and empower God’s people as they ministered in Jesus’ name.

Wind and fire accompany the filling of the Spirit, which alludes to Ezekiel 37:9-14 and Luke 3:16-17, and the Spirit led these believers to prophesy and worked through them to where everyone heard them speak in their native language. The speaking of tongues that occurred on Pentecost differs from the type of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14, for the tongues mentioned in Corinthians involves speech where someone with the gift of interpretation has to translate what the speaker uttered.

Peter preaches the first sermon in Acts 2. He begins by refuting the charge of drunkenness (2:12-13), explains that the people were witnessing the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that God would unleash His Spirit on His people, then delivers the reason for this demonstration of power – the proclamation of Jesus’ identity as Messiah and Lord. Peter called the people to repent of their sins and to be baptized (2:37-41), and 3,000 people trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior on that day. Acts 2:42-47 describes the actions of this new community of believers. Based on the teaching of the apostles, they fellowshipped, worshipped, and served together.

Acts 2:43 mentions that “many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles,” and Acts 3 describes one of these miracles – the healing of a lame beggar. This demonstration of power pointed to the authority of the One whose name they invoked – Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and Peter used this miracle to transition into telling the crowd about Christ. Their sermon in the temple did not go unnoticed by the religious leaders (keep in mind that these were the same religious leaders who had crucified Jesus only weeks before), but Peter and John used this opportunity to share the gospel with the people who had crucified the Messiah.

In contrast to Barnabas who willingly sold his belongings and gave the money to the apostles (4:32-37), Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and pretended to give all of the proceeds when they had kept a portion for themselves. As a result of their attempt to deceive the apostles and, ultimately, God, they died. They were free to give however much they desired, so it was their lie that warranted such judgment. This incident demonstrates that even the idyllic early church of Acts 2:42-47 contained imperfect people. Especially because this was a new era of salvation history, it was important to impress upon the believers the importance of honesty and obedience and to give warning as to attempts to deceive the Spirit and the church.

Acts 5-7 depicts the persecution of these early believers by the Jewish religious leaders, and they seized Stephen, who was chosen to assist the apostles and who was performing many miracles among the people. As they had done with Jesus, the religious leaders had invoked the charge of blasphemy against Stephen, utilizing false witnesses to make these claims (6:11-14). Stephen’s defense consisted of explaining God’s plan of salvation from Abraham to Solomon and how His presence is not confined to a building (specifically the temple), and Stephen pointed out how the Israelites had historically persecuted the prophets and even the Messiah Himself. As a result of His assertion of Christ as the Messiah (which they deemed blasphemy), they stoned and killed Stephen. But despite the persecution of Stephen and other believers, God’s church continued to grow.

Testimony Tuesday: From Skepticism to Salvation

Today’s post was written by Brook Hills member, Whitney Frasier.

I definitely fit the old “I grew up in church” cliché’. I did. My parents divorced when I was a baby, but both of them on their respective Sundays took me to church. I always attended Vacation Bible Schools in the summer as a child and church camps in the summer as a teenager. Needless to say, I thought I was OK. For me, that is what it was always about. Am I okay? Am I going to go to Heaven when I die? The alternative that I had heard about my whole life did not seem nearly as appealing to me.

Under this cloud of fear of going to Hell, I walked an aisle as a 10 year old and “asked Jesus to come into my heart.” I had no clue what I was doing. I can remember sitting in the preacher’s office with my mother and answering his questions. I knew how to respond to him because of all of the church-going I had done those 10 years. I knew then that this was not real, and at that point I was only doing this for my family and out of fear of ending up in a place of torment forever and ever.

I continued going to church, singing in choir, going to Bible schools, etc. But I rarely, if ever, actually thought about having a real relationship with Christ. I was completely okay with Him being my Savior, but I really did not ever go beyond that. When I was a teenager, during a revival (yes, another cliché’) I “rededicated my life” to God. At the time, I 100% thought it was the right thing to do. Over the months prior to this decision I had begun to feel a lot of shame and guilt related to my sinful lifestyle. I thought this was God telling me that I needed to feel bad. But now looking back, I know it was Satan who was putting all of this guilt on me. Satan wanted me to walk that aisle again, be baptized again, and keep on thinking that I was “okay” in my sin. That’s pretty much his idea of a perfect situation! I fell straight into it too.

When I entered college, I was under the assumption that I was “in good standing” with God. I was still going to church. I even got involved with Campus Crusades. But what I did not assume was that I would be faced with so many new ideas that made me question every belief I had ever held. I quickly learned that I was just going through the motions; there was NOTHING real about my Christian life. I did not have a personal relationship with Christ. I merely had a belief in God and a fear of eternal damnation. Through my classes and hearing other opinions I had never heard before, I became curious about God in a way I had never been before. My whole life I had taken everyone’s word but never dug deep myself. So I started doing that. I was a religion major; I have studied all of the major religions in the world, including Christianity. By doing this, I began to put all religions on an equal footing. It seemed wrong and egotistical of me to say that one was right and all the others were wrong. I even began studying atheism and agnosticism. I was reading lots of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. Through all of my searching, I never doubted the existence of God, but I came to care very little for Christ or being a Christian. By the time I graduated university, I was basically an agnostic. I just did not know what was true and was sure that I never would.

God knew better. My senior year of college, I was looking for another roommate. I was having lunch with my current roommate when we ran into a friend we had not seen in years. She asked us how things were going. We told her things were not going so well since we just had one roommate move out. She said that she knew a girl looking for a place to live. I told her that as long as she was relatively normal, we would take her! About a month later, Maggie moved in. Meeting Maggie was a total “God thing!” She is such a great example of a Christian woman. I had never really seen Christ in anyone so fully. Maggie and I spent many nights up talking about my doubts; she was the first person in my life to have REAL biblical answers to anything! I had never seen anyone who lived out his or her faith like Maggie. I came to really desire to believe in the divinity of Christ, but I still wanted proof. Even Maggie couldn’t do that for me.

Whitney and her family

Whitney and her family

Maggie and I both moved to Birmingham, she for divinity school/internship at Brook Hills and me for law school. She tried her hardest to get me to come to Brook Hills with her, but I would not hear it! After Brett (my husband) and I got engaged, we decided that we should probably start going to church, you know, since we grew up in church and all. So we tried several places and nothing felt right to us. But I was still very anti-Brook Hills. I do not know why other than Satan was clearly trying to keep me away. A month before my wedding, I went to the beach with a friend who knew nothing about my struggles with God. She brought up church, something I would not have done. She asked if I had gone to Brook Hills. I thought, “OK, what is it with this place?” She followed up my “nope” with telling me that she and her fiancé had gone and hated it but that she thought I would like it. Odd right? Who says that? So I asked her why she thought that. Her response will forever be etched into my memory: “Because their preacher tells it like it is. He’s right up your ally!” I thought that was possibly the oddest thing I had ever heard. It peaked my interest enough that Brett and I attended Brook Hills the next Sunday.

I had never been a believer in the idea that God takes an active part in our lives until that Sunday. I know now that it WAS Satan trying to keep me out of Brook Hills. God had a plan for me. God brings all of us to Himself in different ways. He wanted, for some reason, to use our pastor and The Church at Brook Hills to bring me to Him. God knows my personality. He knows that I hate things being “sugar-coated” and that I appreciate honesty above all things, so He sent me to hear David Platt. That first Sunday sitting there listening to God’s Word so clearly delivered to me, I started to hear Him. I always thought people were crazy when they said that they could hear God, and maybe a few are. But I could hear Him say to me, “Let it go! What are you doing? You know I am here. Not because that is what you learned as a child, but because you can hear me and feel Me. Stop doubting Me; it’s making you miserable! I know you want proof. But who do you think you are that you can demand that from Me? Just LET IT GO!” And right there in that seat, I did. I knew then that He let me go through the doubts and the sufferings in my faith so that I would never doubt Him again, so that my love for Him would grow to a place I could not even imagine.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” -2 Corinthians 5:17

Where We Are In The Story – Week 28

To download the Bible reading plan that our faith family started on January 1st, visit this site. There is also a guide to personal worship that you can download from that site. If you haven’t been reading along thus far, no worries! Jump on in with the current day’s reading.

Readings for This Week
Joshua 9-19 and Psalm 140-150

Where We Are In The Story (Joshua)

Background of Joshua: While authorship of this book is unknown, the book’s name derives from the name of its main character, Joshua, who was Moses’ successor in leading the people of Israel. His name means “Yahweh delivers” or “Yahweh saves,” which is an apt title of the book since it describes God’s work in defeating the nations of the Promised Land and giving the land to His people. Joshua presents the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give their descendants the land of Canaan, and it describes the military conquests that brought this to pass. Written as a historical book for Israel, Joshua also emphasizes God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and faithfulness to His word, and Joshua 21:43-45 provides a fitting summary of God’s character as One who keeps all of His promises.

Structure of Joshua:

  • Joshua 1-5 describes Israel’s preparations before taking the Promised Land.
  • Joshua 6-12 depicts the military conquests of the nation.
  • Joshua 13-21 explains the distribution of the land among the tribes, highlighting the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people.
  • Joshua 22-24 records Joshua’s final instructions and exhortations to the nation before his death.

This Week in Joshua: Joshua 9 records the Gibeonite deception, and verse fourteen explains the crux of the matter: “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD.” God had given them directions on how to deal with the people in the land and how to respond to other nations (Deut. 20). Based on their own wisdom, the Israelites assumed that the Gibeonites fell into the category of a foreign nation rather than a nation living in the Promised Land. Because of their deception, they were cursed (see Deut. 27-28). Nehemiah 3:7; 7:25 reports that the Gibeonites were among the Jews who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile and helped rebuild the wall of the city, demonstrating that they had been assimilated into the nation of Israel.

While the Gibeonites deceived the Israelites because of fear, Joshua 10-11 tell of two groups of nations who opposed Israel in battle. The kingdoms mentioned in Joshua 10 were all located in the region between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, which is also where Gibeon was located, and soon after making the peace treaty with the Gibeonites, the Gibeonites called upon Israel to honor their promise to protect them. God demonstrated His power as He struck the enemy nations with hail and had the sun and moon stand still until the enemy had been defeated. According to David M. Howard in his commentary on Joshua, “A midsummer hailstorm would have been a rarity, rendering miraculous assistance in this instance. There are only five to eight days of hail per year in the coastal plain, mostly in midwinter…And even then the hail is not usually of deadly force” (p. 237). Yahweh rightly receives the credit as Israel’s warrior in this chapter.

Israel continued to battle against the inhabitants of Canaan and take possession of the land as God had promised. Although not all of the land had been possessed, in Joshua 13 God directs Joshua to divide the land among the tribes of Israel as Moses had directed (Num. 27:18-23; 32:17; 34:17; Deut. 1:38; 3:28; 31:7). Completion of the conquest depended on more than just military success; it also involved the people settling the land God had given to them. Joshua 13-19 explains the inheritance of the tribes and of Caleb and Joshua. It is important to note that Israel does not complete their conquest until the reign of King David (2 Sam. 8:1-14) because it was not until then that they were faithful in defeating the remaining nations.

Where We Are In The Story (Psalms)

Background & Structure of Psalms: God used many different writers to write Psalms: David, Moses, the sons of Korah, Asaph, etc. The book is arranged in five parts, and this arrangement occurred after the people of Israel returned to the land after the Babylonian exile. A doxology concludes each book or arrangement of psalms (Psalm 41:13 for Book 1, Psalm 72:18-19 for Book 2, Psalm 89:52 for Book 3, Psalm 106:48 for Book 4, and Psalm 150:6 for Book 5), and the entire book of Psalms climactically ends with a grand doxology of several psalms (Ps. 146-150).

  • Book 1: Psalms 1-41
  • Book 2: Psalms 42-72
  • Book 3: Psalms 73-89
  • Book 4: Psalms 90-106
  • Book 5: Psalms 107-150

This Week in Psalms:

  • Psalm 140 divides into four parts. In section one (vv. 1-3), the psalmist petitions God for deliverance from violent men. In section two (vv. 4-5), he asks for God to guard him from the traps of the wicked. Section three (vv. 6-8) contains a declaration of trust in God along with a petition to thwart the plot of the psalmist’s enemies, and section four (vv. 9-13) continues with more petitions and concludes with confidence in God’s justice and righteousness.
  • In Psalm 141, the psalmist asks God to sanctify him and to cultivate righteousness in him, and the psalmist requests that God preserve him and keep him from evil.
  • Psalms 142-143 both include petitions for God’s deliverance from enemies and expressions of trust in the God who has preserved the psalmist thus far. The psalms stem from a believer who desires to faithfully follow God in times of adversity.
  • Psalm 144 contains a praise report for God’s faithfulness in battle (vv. 1-2) and boldly petitions God to demonstrate His might in defeating the psalmist’s current enemies and to bless His people.
  • Psalm 145 is an alphabetical psalm, except that the Hebrew letter nun (נ) is left out of the acrostic. This psalm serves as a hymn that celebrates God’s character and mighty deeds.
  • Psalms 146-150 serve as the doxology of the entire book, ending the book with a crescendo of praise to God for His character and calling all of creation to join in praising Him.

Losing Focus, Staying Missions-Minded

Today’s post was written by Ann Murphy, a Brook Hills member who recently went on a Short-Term trip through Brook Hills to Mexico.

As a Spanish teacher in the community, I am constantly searching for ways to use and improve my Spanish. I love the Latino culture and have a heart for children and women’s ministry. Anything that can involve both is my life’s pursuit.

After completing an EQUIP workshop with Ashley and Dawn (it’s a training for women’s small group leaders), I began asking about opportunities that might involve both of these God-given passions. When I heard that there might be a mission trip to Mexico to encourage and teach women in their walks with Christ, I jumped at the chance to go. Sign me up! But, I was told to pray about it and make sure this trip is what God wanted for me.

Ok. So I prayed. Now, most people who know me know that I am direct, opinionated, and driven. When all of these gifts are given over to the dark side, my prayers consist of basically this: “Lord, you have given me a love for Spanish, teaching, and ministering to women, so that obviously means you want me to go on this trip. I really want to go. Thank you for this opportunity. P.S. Just shut a door in my face if you don’t want me to go.” Not exactly seeking the will of God. But, everything was falling into place.

God had given me the gift of Spanish, teaching, and a love for ministering to women. I would be able to practice my Spanish and gain cultural experience for my classroom, while working in ministry. (Do you see what I did there?) Spanish was my objective.

For months leading up to the trip, I was consumed with my abilities (and inabilities) in the Spanish language. I was researching and writing teaching material and meticulously translating it as a means to practice and prepare to speak in “Jesus Spanish” when I landed in Mexico. I agonized over whether I would know all the vocabulary/slang/jargon that the people would use in Los Mochis. I reveled in the praise the rest of my team members gave me for having some sort of command over the foreign language of our destination.

The team with some of the ladies at the women's conference

The team with some of the ladies at the women’s conference

Communication rather than the message I was communicating had become my focus. It had begun to consume me so much that when we landed in Mexico and met our host family, I was so overwhelmed with the fear that I would not speak Spanish perfectly, that I did not speak it at all. We had a translator, and most of the family spoke English. Why use it? Why was I even needed? What did I have to offer with my subpar language ability? How could God use me when He had all these other great bilingual people He could use?

That first night, God blessed me with a wise roommate named Sue. After complaining and lamenting over my lack of using the Spanish language, Sue said in a loving yet firm way, “ Ann, you aren’t here to practice your Spanish. You are here to do God’s Work.”

It was as though I had been punched in the stomach. An angel of God named Sue had come to me and spoken words of truth so difficult to hear, but desperately needed for an attitude check.

I had made an idol of my Spanish speaking abilities and was obsessing over my insecurities in speaking the language so much that I had completely missed the reason for being there in the first place. God probably couldn’t have cared less if I had used grunts and hand gestures as long as I communicated the Truth to these women the best way I knew how. After prayer and meditation on this, I knew tomorrow was going to be a new day!

Little did I know, tomorrow was not too far away. Sue and I went to bed around 11 that night and awoke to our hotel door swinging open at 3:00 in the morning. The individual quickly closed the door at our surprised screams; we locked the door and struggled to sleep the rest of the night. Later that morning, we found that we had not been put into the hotel’s registry, so the clerk opened our door trying to give our room away at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Despite little rest, the next day began with complete abandon as I began to speak (in Spanish) to the mother of our host family about the adventure of the previous night. I was able to speak with the children we picked up from the poorest and most depraved (morally and spiritually) area of town to take them to church. I was invited to lead the congregation in a song in Spanish at the church and, throughout the week, translate conversations between the wonderful women of the community and my amazing team members. God opened up doors to allow me to pray with women in their heart language, to make women feel welcome, to help women with low reading skills best understand materials given, and to allow our team members to encourage these women and for these women to bless us with their wisdom as well.

Mexico Mission Team 2After the first day of instruction, the women asked for two sessions so that women who worked in the morning could come in the afternoon. Therefore, since the need was there, we allowed God to use us for two three-hour conferences a day. The next three days saw about 60 women a day come to hear about Biblical womanhood and what it means to follow Christ in our marriages, families, and mentor relationships through daily discipling and living. The women were sincere and welcoming. Women opened up to us about their real life experiences, asking questions from contrite hearts. God taught us as we taught each other.

As I taught on pride, I was reminded of my earlier revelation: that when you are too consumed in yourself and your abilities, there is no room for God and His abilities. It is only when you realize that He doesn’t need you to do anything, that He invites you to be a part, that God can truly use you for His Kingdom. When you realize that it is not all about you but is all about Him, you can really begin to have peace. As I live on this earth as a sinful human being, I will continue to learn and relearn this lesson. I constantly find myself in the role of Israel and God in the role of Himself as I am continually being sanctified. Thank God for his discipline. Thank God that He made my soul to fear Him and repent. May it always be so…

A month after this trip, we received an email from our host. Many of the women are putting into practice what they learned. They recently held a VBS in multiple locations around the community, and 350 children were exposed to the gospel. These women have inspired us to continue to reach out to others in our community, and God has inspired and encouraged them to do the same. It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of this group and to meet this community. As a teacher, I pray I can continue to live in the lesson of God’s teaching first, Spanish teaching second.

Yo soy segundo. (I am second.)

Where We Are In The Story – Week 27

To download the Bible reading plan that our faith family started on January 1st, visit this site. There is also a guide to personal worship that you can download from that site. If you haven’t been reading along thus far, no worries! Jump on in with the current day’s reading.

Readings for This Week
Joshua 2-8 and Psalm 123-139

Where We Are In The Story (Joshua)

Background of Joshua: While authorship of this book is unknown, the book’s name derives from the name of its main character, Joshua, who was Moses’ successor in leading the people of Israel. His name means “Yahweh delivers” or “Yahweh saves,” which is an apt title of the book since it describes God’s work in defeating the nations of the Promised Land and giving the land to His people. Joshua presents the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give their descendants the land of Canaan, and it describes the military conquests that brought this to pass. Written as a historical book for Israel, Joshua also emphasizes God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and faithfulness to His word, and Joshua 21:43-45 provides a fitting summary of God’s character as One who keeps all of His promises.

Structure of Joshua:

  • Joshua 1-5 describes Israel’s preparations before taking the Promised Land.
  • Joshua 6-12 depicts the military conquests of the nation.
  • Joshua 13-21 explains the distribution of the land among the tribes, highlighting the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people.
  • Joshua 22-24 records Joshua’s final instructions and exhortations to the nation before his death.

This Week in Joshua: Joshua 2-6 focuses on the conquest of Jericho. As in Numbers 13, spies were sent into the land, and the people faced a choice in how they would respond to the report of the spies. Would they repeat history and commit the same sin of rebellion and distrust as their ancestors, or would they trust God’s promises? The spies experience protection by a prostitute named Rahab and promise to protect her and her household when they attack the city. Joshua 6:22-25 features the fulfillment of this promise, and Matthew 1:5 indicates that Rahab married into the Israelite nation and became an ancestor of Christ. Rahab’s declaration of faith in God in Joshua 2:8-13 bolstered the spies’ confidence in the Lord’s blessings on His people.

Joshua 3 tells of Israel’s entrance to the Promised Land when they crossed the Jordan River on dry land, similar to how they crossed the Red Sea in the Exodus, and in chapter 4 after they have crossed the Jordan, Joshua builds a memorial of twelve stones at Gilgal to remind the people of God’s power and provision that they might fear Him (vv. 21-24). Before sending the people to battle, God instructs the Israelites to keep the covenant by circumcising the male Israelites and to celebrate the Passover in the land (Josh. 5). Before they could conquer, they needed to obey the commands God had already given to them, especially since none of the males had been circumcised since the Exodus (Josh. 5:5). Circumcision, much as baptism is for Christ-followers, was an external sign that the Israelites were part of God’s covenant community (see Gen. 17).

Joshua 5:10-12 represents a turning point in the nation. When celebrating the Passover in the land, they looked back to remember God’s deliverance from Egypt and how He brought them to the Promised Land as He had promised their ancestors. It affirmed that the God who led them from Egypt would continue to lead them in the conquest of Canaan. This Passover celebration also marked the end of the heavenly supply of manna, a symbol of wilderness living for the nation. Now that they were in Canaan, they ate the fruit of the land.

Holiness links the contents of Joshua 5. Circumcision distinguished the Israelites as God’s covenant people. In celebrating the Passover, they remembered God’s deliverance of His people, and with Joshua’s encounter with the captain of the Lord’s army, it recalls the burning bush encounter of Exodus 3:1-6 when God tells Moses to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. The encounter reinforced God’s selection of Joshua as Moses’ successor, and it taught Joshua to recognize the Lord’s presence and to trust Him, even when Joshua did not receive the answers to all of his questions (as in vv. 14-15). In the Old Testament, the Angel of the Lord refers to a preincarnate appearance of Christ, but with the figure in Joshua 5:13-15, it is unclear as to whether it is the Lord or an angel.

Joshua 7:1 starkly contrasts with Joshua 6:27. As God promises Israel, they will successfully take the land as long as they remain faithful to the covenant. They should have easily defeated Ai (Josh. 7:2-5), but their defeat shed light on sin in the camp. The sin of one man – Achan – affected the entire nation. Why would Achan and his entire family be put to death because of this sin? The entire nation became defiled by the presence of the stolen items – items devoted to destruction – among them. God withheld His blessing from the nation until the sin was removed and the people sanctified. This is why the whole community of Israel was involved in punishing Achan and his family (vv. 25-26). God had instructed the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites because of their sin (Gen. 15:16; Lev. 18:6-23), and when Achan disobeyed God’s command concerning the plunder of Jericho, he became like the Canaanites in his actions. Once the nation punished the offender, God reinstated His blessing, giving Israel victory over Ai (Josh. 8). The end of Joshua 8 records Israel obeying God’s commands from Deuteronomy 27 for the nation to stand on Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, build an altar and make sacrifices to the Lord, and write the words of the law. 

Where We Are In The Story (Psalms)

Background & Structure of Psalms: God used many different writers to write Psalms: David, Moses, the sons of Korah, Asaph, etc. The book is arranged in five parts, and this arrangement occurred after the people of Israel returned to the land after the Babylonian exile. A doxology concludes each book or arrangement of psalms (Psalm 41:13 for Book 1, Psalm 72:18-19 for Book 2, Psalm 89:52 for Book 3, Psalm 106:48 for Book 4, and Psalm 150:6 for Book 5), and the entire book of Psalms climactically ends with a grand doxology of several psalms (Ps. 146-150).

  • Book 1: Psalms 1-41
  • Book 2: Psalms 42-72
  • Book 3: Psalms 73-89
  • Book 4: Psalms 90-106
  • Book 5: Psalms 107-150

This Week in Psalms:

  • Psalm 123-Psalm 134 continue the Psalms of Ascent, which were sung by the Israelites as they traveled to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and the Day of Atonement with the Feast of Tabernacles). So in reading these psalms, consider the context of pilgrims traveling with expectation and joy as they prepare to worship God at the sanctuary with the rest of the nation.
  • A declarative praise psalm, Psalm 135 calls those who serve the Lord to praise Him for His character, His superiority over all other gods, His role as Creator, and His deliverance of His people. It closes with a renewed call to praise in verses 19-21.
  • Another declarative praise psalm, Psalm 136 emphasizes God’s steadfast love. To truly grasp the reason for praise, one must understand the definition of this attribute and how God’s steadfast love has manifested itself in His relationship with His covenant people. Also translated “lovingkindness” or “loyal love,” the word in Hebrew (khesed) expresses a faithful covenantal love. It is a love that is unconditional and does not depend on the recipient but on the giver. God will remain faithful, good, and loving, even if His people do not.
  • Verse 1 indicates that the context for Psalm 137 is shortly after the Babylonian captivity of Israel. In this psalm, the psalmist remembers life in exile (vv. 1-3), recalls the peoples’ response to the taunts of their captors (vv. 4-6), and petitions the Lord to judge the oppressors of His people.
  • Psalm 138 divides into three sections. Verses 1-3 describe the psalmist praising God for His steadfast love, verses 4-6 pronounce that the kings of the earth will praise Him, and verses 7-8 expresses the psalmist’s confidence in the Lord’s protection and in the fulfillment of His plan.
  • Psalm 139 begins with David’s recognition of God’s omniscience (He’s all-knowing) in verses 1-6, continues with an emphasis on God’s omnipresence (He’s everywhere) in verses 7-12, and contains a beautiful description of God’s omnipotence (He’s all-powerful) as Creator in verses 13-18. Verses 19-24 contain a petition for God to judge the wicked and the motivations of the psalmist in offering this prayer. Such abhorrence for evil and evil men comes after great reflection on the character of God.

Lessons Learned in Hospitality

Today’s post was written by Heather Platt.

I was 22 years old, newly married, and had just moved to New Orleans, LA. My husband, David, had decided to attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and to study under a well known professor named Dr. Jim Shaddix. I was lonely, sad, and even a little scared about being on our own in this new city. As always, the Lord proved Himself faithful and strong on my behalf by providing a wonderful mentor and friend for me through Jim’s wife, Debra. I could have never imagined what I would learn about life, family, and hospitality from this precious woman, who is now one of my very best friends.

It all started one night when we were at the Shaddix’s house for dinner. We had only been in New Orleans a few weeks, and David was traveling that particular weekend to preach out of town. I was not looking forward to the time by myself. At the dinner table that night, the Shaddix kids started talking about family night. A movie, popcorn, everyone snuggled up on the couch. Inside, something began bubbling up in me. I was feeling so lonely and longing for friends and family that before I could stop myself, I burst out and said, “I love family night! That sounds like so much fun, can I come?” Everyone stopped, including my VERY EMBARRASSED husband, and looked at me. “Did I just say that out loud? I can’t believe I invited myself over to these people’s house I just met!” Debra smiled and graciously said, “Of course you can join us, Heather.” That was the beginning of many lessons I learned from her in “hospitality.”

Often times, we think we need to follow certain criteria to show hospitality: a clean house, a big, elaborate meal, perfect kids, the right outfit, etc. As I spent time with Debra and the Shaddix family, I realized that hospitality is actually very simple. Here are few things she taught me:

  • My home does not have to be pristine for company to come over, but simply inviting. I WANTED to come to “family night” because the environment of their home felt warm and cozy.  It was the Spirit of Christ that shined brightly in their home and that gave me the desire to spend time with them.
  • Meals can be simple or elaborate depending on what YOU feel comfortable with.  DSC_0625Debra is an excellent cook; I am not. She showed me the value of a nice meal around the table AND an impromptu meal of chicken wings pulled out of the freezer. I found that it is more important to focus on spending time with your guests. Thinking of meals that can be made ahead of time, getting take out, eating on paper plates, or just leaving the dishes for later, makes for a pleasant night of fellowship and getting to know each other better.
  • Finally, relax! Enjoy the gift of company. Whether it’s a visit you planned for or an unexpected surprise, invite them in, make eye contact, and be a good listener. Debra and I do not show hospitality in the same way. We have very different personalities, but I know it is not what I serve my guests but the attitude by which I serve them. When I am at Debra’s house, she makes her guests simply feel comfortable. Her easy going demeanor puts people at ease and makes them sit back and enjoy themselves!

That particular “family night” is one of my favorite memories. I came over in my comfy clothes ready to enjoy an evening with new friends. We had a simple meal, turned on a movie, and snuggled in with a blanket on the couch. The running joke with Debra, Jim and their kids is that by the end of the movie, I had spread out and fell asleep on their couch! I guess that just shows how good they are at hospitality! They made me feel so welcomed, I felt comfortable enough to fall asleep! I am so thankful for the friendship that grew deeper that night (despite my own lack of etiquette!), and how the Lord has continued to teach me much about His love and grace through this precious family!