Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

03 April 2016

How is your Bible reading going?

 
Long time readers of this blog will know that my preferred style of Bible reading is to follow a reading plan and endeavor to read right through the Bible each year.  Of course there are lots of different ways to read the Bible besides the annual read through model.  There's focusing in on a particular book and reading it multiple times over a month or more and really digging deep. Or reading a section slowly and thoroughly with the aid of a commentary.  Maybe following a theme or topic through the Bible. Reading in and around Sunday's sermon passage leading up to or following your time at church.  Small snippets. Large chunks. Random chunks.  Daily reading.  Weekly reading.  Random reading. 

How is your Bible reading going?  I ask because I want to encourage you with all my heart to keep persevering in the good work of growing in your relationship with God through His Word.  Here's why.

During the last three or four days I have heard news of various people in sudden and deep crisis. A couple of them are known to me personally. The others are known through friends and so I ache because my friends ache. Yesterday morning, unable to sleep, I gave in to my restlessness and got up to pray and read the Bible. I thought I would start with my daily reading and then maybe head over to one of Paul's letters or maybe some Psalms...some of those soft places to fall. 

My reading for the day included a passage from Deuteronomy and the stoning of Stephen in Acts. Deuteronomy and the stoning of Stephen would not be your typical "go to" passages in times of trouble. And yet they were such a comfort as I read about God promising through word and demonstration that He would be faithful, loving and sovereign in the lives of His people forever and then the example of a man, so certain of his faith in God that he stood firm through utter horror, spoke truth and prayed not for his own release but that God would forgive those stoning him to death and finally, that tender release from God at the end of his life.  

Comfort and courage.

The more I read the Bible the more I learn about God and about being one of His children - and the more I find comfort and courage in some of the most unexpected places of this big book.  There are certainly many "go to" passages in times of trouble or despair but the more I get to know all of God's Word, the more I see what I know to be true about God - His love, mercy, faithfulness, patience, justice, wisdom, sovereignty, holiness - in every page and so I can receive comfort and courage not just from the "go to" passages but also from simply reading the next bit and being reminded afresh of God and His good promises. 

If your Bible reading has fallen into a bit of a hole, or you never really got started, please let me encourage you to open your Bible and get going again.  Please don't be overwhelmed or think, "I could never get my Bible reading to that point."  I have a long way to go myself but in God's mercy and kindness I have got to this point by simply opening up the Bible on as many days of the year as I can and reading the next bit.  Every year is better than the one before.  And there is much joy in this lifelong project, most especially in the deepening of your relationship with God.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:67-69
 

12 February 2016

Getting a bit more out of your Bible reading

Have you ever found yourself in certain parts of the Old Testament and wondered to your yourself, "Who actually are those Moabites?"  And while we're thinking about this, who are the Ammonites, the Amorites, the Jebusites, the Edomites - even the Canaanites - and countless other groups of people who never seem to be favourably disposed towards Israel and whose names end in "-ite"? 

There are some passages in Genesis that are hard to read because they contain lengthy lists of long names of people and places that are foreign to the eye and hard to pronounce and maybe, just maybe, we skip over them.  But in doing so we miss out.  As it happens these passages are rich with background information.

For example, imagine if you knew that Ham - he was the son of Noah who looked upon his father's nakedness (a big no no) and then gloated about it (worse and worse) - was the father of Cush, Egypt, Put and (wait for it) Canaan?

And then we find that...

Cush and his descendants pushed into and built up Babylon (one big enemy) and Assyria (big enemy number two) and among other achievements, built the city of Nineveh.  (Remember Jonah??)

Egypt's descendants (there's quite a list of them) include the Kasluhites from whom (wait for it) the Philistines (thinking of Goliath here) came.

And Canaan...well Canaan was the father of Sidon and of the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites and various others, all of whom gave Israel a hard time during the times of Joshua.  That is, all the little nations that occupied the Promised Land.

All of that lot is just from the family line of Ham, son of Noah.  The son who did not honour his father.

Doesn't just even knowing that change the way you read a whole lot of the Old Testament?

And then there are the Moabites and the Ammonites.  They gave Israel quite a bit of grief.  Well, remember Lot?  After he escaped from Sodom with his wife (who was then turned to pillar of salt...but that's another story) and his two daughters, the three of them lived in the mountains because he was afraid to stay in Zoar.  (Let's not worry about Zoar at this point.  The main point is that they were hidden away in the mountains.)  The girls quickly worked out that there were no prospects for furthering the family line so they (ghastly bit) made their father drunk and took turns to sleep with him and both had a child.  Those children were Moab (father of the Moabites) and Ben-Ammi (father of the Ammonites.)  That changes the way you read about Moab and Ammon.

Edom.  The father of the Edomites was Edom (no surprises there), otherwise known as Esau - the twin brother of Jacob.  Now if you know the story of Jacob and Esau then you won't be surprised that every time the nation of Israel asked the Edomites for a favour the Edomites said no, in fairly strong terms.

I haven't even mentioned the Midianites, the Ishmaelites and a host of others.  But virtually every nation and people group the Israelites encounter as they make their way towards Jesus get a mention in Genesis.  And knowing the backstory of each of these people groups gives depth and understanding to the narrative.

Here are the key passages...

Genesis 9:18 - 29
Genesis 10
Genesis 15:17 - 21
Genesis 19:30 - 38
Genesis 21: 8 - 20
Genesis 25: 1 - 4
Genesis 25: 12 -18
Genesis 36

Take an hour to read over the words of those passages (including all of those hard to pronounce words) and see how many names and places and people groups you recognise.  It probably will take an hour but this is an investment for the future.  And be in awe all over again of our Sovereign and loving God who has planned all things and is in loving control of all things.

02 February 2016

Great games for groups

I'm about to go semi-public on this so let it be know that you first heard it here.

Take one large tarpaulin and set out a grid on it with electricians' tape.  Just like this...


My one worked out to be 10 by 7 squares but it's not imperative to have those dimensions.  It's back and knee breaking work but worth it because then you can play...

Giant Connect Four

Equipment: 
The grid.  Two or more sets of disposable plastic plates - each set needs to be a different colour and I have had four sets successfully on the go with large groups.

The basic game:
The teams take turns to put a plate anywhere on the grid.
The aim is to get four plates in a row - horizontal, vertical or diagonal - while blocking the other teams' attempts at doing the same.  Plates can be placed anywhere on the grid.




Variations:
Make it three in a row with younger children.
The actual game of "Connect Four" is played vertically and coins drop to the lowest level.  With older children pretend that gravity is involved and work from the baseline, building the puzzle up, rather than placing the plates anywhere on the grid.

The Maze Game

Equipment: 
The grid.  A small copy of the grid with a trail marked from one side to the other - kept out of view from the children.  A whistle.

 
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(This is a sample trail.  Make the trails as simple or complex as is appropriate for the group.)

The basic game:
The aim of the game is to step, square by square, from one side of the grid to the other.  The children take turns.  If they step into a square and it's on the pathway then there is no sound and they are free to take another step - vertical or horizontal.  If they step off the track the leader blows the whistle and the child is out.  The next child tries to retrace the footsteps and get a bit further along the track.  The winner is the one who gets right across the grid following the path.  The leader can tell them where the starting square is...or not.

Variation:
Play in teams.  The children still take turns, team by team, but during their turn they will get some assistance from their fellow team members.

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These games have been thoroughly tested and loved by Sunday School, Youth Group, after school Kids Club and Holiday Bible Club groups, a school class and a group of adults over the last twelve months.

Yours to use.  You're very welcome.