csberry: (pumaman)
1069849_10201776502879426_2042797746_n

You may have seen the story of Pastor Jeremiah Steepek on Facebook lately. The above image and below story are circulating Facebook:

Pastor pretends to be homeless and shames his new congregation. )

First of all, the image IS NOT Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (despite the story saying it is). That picture is of a homeless man in Richmond, Surrey (near London's Heathrow Airport) taken and posted to Flickr a couple of years ago - http://www.flickr.com/photos/bradgerrard/6181194702/. So, the story gets off on a bad foot for me by the fake picture and the text stating it is real.

Secondly, there is NO Pastor Jeremiah Steepek. This morning after I saw the story for the third time, I was curious if he was real and, if so, how was his ministry received from his church(es). I Googled "Jeremiah Steepek" and had two pages of results - all of the results were reprintings of the story and all but one were published in the past week or so. There is no way that a minister of a 10,000 member church would have no internet presence at all; whether through the church's website, denominational website and/or newsletters, local news that surely would have made some sort of mention of his arrival (you think local media would ignore this story of a local megachurch having this happen?).

So, we must accept that this is a fictitious story. Come closer my writer and creative friends...if this story is fictional, then all aspects of it are the creation of the writer and subject to editing. Why construct the story this way? Why not just retell the Bible passage instead of constructing this "gotcha" moment. Why does the homeless guy in the church have to be the new pastor? Had a homeless person done this, does the lesson mean less than the pastor-in-homeless-clothing version? I feel that this story urges us to act because God may bust us for not being charitable and not that doing charitable work is our mission from God. The ONLY point for the homeless guy being the new pastor is to shame the congregation.

I assert that the writer didn't create this story to build up people, but to tear them down. Would it not have been just as effective of a story had it been an actual homeless man and the Bible passage read from the lectern caused people to realize how they treated that man and offered him help? When the reader reaches the part where the congregation reacts to the situation, it seems to rejoice in the shaming of the congregation rather than showing a change of heart. The pastor basically went to the pulpit and said, "You failed being a Christian," and walked away after pulling his "gotcha" stunt.

I don't think Jesus practices "gotcha" salvation where Christians are expected to behave a certain way because that person we neglect, the person we cuss at...just might be Jesus or some other person of authority. That would indicate the root of a person's caring for others is their own fear of getting busted by God. We should care for others because of love, not fear of punishment or shaming! Again, it is possible for the congregation to be made aware of their reluctance to reach out to the homeless man without the pastor and the reader shaming them.

Finally, I feel that this story fosters inter-church, intra-Christianity strife and finger pointing. Obviously, it targets 10,000 member megachurches as huge arenas of people claiming to be Christian without living out Christ's lessons for us. As I've perused the comments of the many postings of this story, I've seen the usual fights break out of political parties being like the shamed congregation and people rising in anger to express why their political party is more Christian than the other. Along with those were assertions on what denomination this congregation likely was (does it matter, even if it was true?). Most of the comments I see are "I like and am sharing this story because my church would NEVER be guilty of this!" Are we all so sure of ourselves and how our church really would react to feel comfortable ridiculing the congregation in this story?

While I can respect that the author may have had good intentions on trying to recreate the story from the Bible in a modern context, I fear that it does so in a way that is more divisive, shaming, and manipulative than Jesus would want the message of loving others to be spread.
csberry: (normal completely different)
I posted this as a comment a little while ago. I've been trying to think of the right words to convey my thoughts on this policy. While I have a philosophical opinion, I know there are many PR, practical, and "cultural" obstacles that this change will cause. It is up to someone else to decide whether these new obstacles are better than the current obstacles caused by the ban. Here are my thoughts on the issue in better words I wrote down and deleted the other day, but definitely not a definitive treatise on this.

The arguments on this policy basically rely on two concerns - practical and theological.

The Venturing program (which has co-ed, boy, or girl units) has been one of the few areas of growth for the organization. Because of the increase in female youth and adults and the reaction the organization had to the pedophile allegations a couple of decades ago, there have been a huge wave of policies, updated facilities, and training changed to nearly eliminate any time where people are in potentially compromising positions. While not all facilities around the nation have completely converted away from group bath/shower situations, those facilities are in the minority. When units are in those group bath situations, though, policy indicates that times of use are to be scheduled so no one of differing genders nor age (adults and scouts) are using those facilities at the same time. Of course, there may be folks worried about catching AIDS from toilet seats, but there isn't a "practical" solution for that kind of paranoia. I think the only area now where the boys will likely see policy change is the BSA is likely to go to a "no-share" rule when it comes to tents.

Secondly is the theological. The Scout Oath that each scout takes states he will do his "duty to God" and to "keep myself...morally straight." One of the points in the Scout Law is A Scout is Reverent. The BSA doesn't dictate religion and is has many policies about ecumenicism and being respectful of differing religious beliefs. Thus, if a scout's religious beliefs don't state that the scout's homosexuality is a sin or immoral, then the scout is living up to his duty to God, is being morally straight, and can be reverent (I believe there is more to "being reverent" than eschewing sin). If a boy is a gay Southern Baptist, then, yeah, that complicates things.

And let's get this "straight," too. The term "morally straight" isn't some code that you have to be heterosexual. The term "straight" didn't come to be used as slang for heterosexuals until the 1940s (where it was slang within the homosexual community). It didn't come out to the mainstream culture until a couple of decades later. There is no way that "morally straight" meant "sexually hetero" when it was put into the scout oath in 1911.

I think, one way or another, the BSA will be changing over the next decade. We could see a co-ed BSA with gay members, we could see a growth of co-ed troops/crews alongside traditional troops, and we could see the BSA continue its membership and financing decline. We are a country that is polarized on so many social and political issues and having a national policy that is guaranteed to tick off half of the country is not a good way to grow the organization. While conservatives chant "state rights" on many political issues, the policy that the BSA is making results in the decision on gay membership even more localized than the state level. Either people will embrace the diversity being allowed among the various BSA units or they won't. Somehow I've got to think that this "unit choice" option likely ticks off less than half of the population by not making this a national decision.
csberry: (Default)
Whether we're talking national politics or inter-personal relationships, I do worry quite a bit about how fractured we can be on various scales of "society" when it comes to voicing and supporting our choices/opinions and the effort we place on understanding others' choices/opinions. That is a big enough concern, let alone going the next step of actually taking the time and effort to compromise and come to some sort of agreement on things. It is so easy (and lazy) to isolate ourselves in our own world where we surround ourselves only by like-minded people. Is it within our collective ability to think outside of our own opinions and put forth the brainpower and communication necessary to find common points and overcome the differences so we can get along together?

I just keep noticing so many instances lately where those that disagree or dislike something instantly choose the isolating or aggressive (reporting to police, personal attacking, PR/political ploys) option in a situation rather than working with the person of a differing stance to come to a mutual agreement or understanding. I'm tired of seeing people paint those that disagree with them as evil or stupid. I can tolerate people of opposing positions a lot better than I can people that are intolerable.
csberry: (Default)
Over the past couple of weeks, I've been letting what I've read in the bible sink in. The following in an unordered list of thoughts and questions that have been dominant during/after the Bible in 90 Days project. To be honest, I've been delaying my posting these thoughts because each time I think about it, I feel...um...unqualified...er...lacking in serious thought and knowledge(?)...uncertain about how to best articulate what it is I do and don't know. Anyways, the following is my best effort on this Saturday morning. ;) These are my feelings at this time. I don't mind explaining my thoughts more, but I have no interest in debating these issues because these are my opinions and I'm not claiming I fully understand God's will.

* Above all else, faith in God is key. The whole Bible is filled with discussions, stories, and advice that pinpoint faith and the number one resource humans need to utilize in their day to day life.

* Sin and God's Reaction to It - In the Old Testament, sin wasn't just violating the 10 Commandments, there were TONS of rules that the Israelites were to follow. It was an impossible task, really. The rites for forgiveness were just as complicated as the instructions on holy behavior. Then comes Jesus! He simplified the rules mankind was to follow and poured His grace upon us. Jesus died to forgive our sins, if we accept him as that sacrifice.

When going through the OT, I was relieved about God's forgiveness of David's multitude of sins. I was relieved that my sinful foibles can be overcome by staying faithful to God. But, I guess I've got to blame Paul, for my relief decreasing when I came upon the letters at the end of the NT. Paul wrote about believers becoming new people and that the new person they became wouldn't sin and could avoid temptation. While I feel that I have found an increased supply of patience and flexibility when working in conflict situation with others, there are sins I've done for years that I find no easier to spurn than in the past. There are times where I feel like a bipolar Christian; I bounce between feeling unworthy and sinful to feeling joyous for being forgiven.

* Sexual Immorality/Homosexuality - I am no more or less content with my understanding of what exactly is God's view on this now as I was before. Homosexuality isn't enough of a sin to be included in the 10 Commandments. It shows in the excessively long list of regulations and sins detailed in Leviticus, etc...but then Jesus essentially sweeps some/most/all of those non-10 Commandments under the rug. There is no seeming documentation of Jesus talking about homosexuality. Then come the letters from Paul and others. While Jesus didn't talk about sexual immorality much, Paul seems to bring it up all of the time.

I have known and love many gay and lesbian friends. I know they didn't chose their sexual orientation and can't just pray away the gay (as a few of them from charismatic/Pentecostal/fundamentalist Christian childhoods tried to do as youth). If I had the time to pursue this area of study, I'm curious about what particularly provoked Paul to discuss this issue so much. Was the Hellenization of the Holy Land so fixated on sexual promiscuity and homosexual acts by heterosexuals that Paul felt a need to address it? Was Paul/God speaking out against all homosexual acts or heterosexuals partaking in homosexual acts? When there was a small human population, it is logical to be against homosexuality (considering God stated the purpose of creating humans was for them to "be fruitful and multiply). But as population increases, having a small percentage of humans naturally inclined to homosexuality seems like a way of nature tempering the birthrate of our species to a more sustainable rate.

Anyways, my reading the bible DID NOT make me dislike my gay friends. I still love them all and hope that they can find churches that will accept, embrace, and pray with them without homosexuality being considered a "disqualifying" sin. We all sin, God sees sin equally, so don't ban the gays from church if you let in those that swear, abuse their wives/children, drink to excess, leer at cheerleaders having car washes, or work on the Sabbath come to church.

* I wish I could learn more about Q source. I am intrigued by the evidence of a Q and would love to delve into this exploration more. On the other side of the coin, I'm not as interested in the Apocrypha and other books that were removed from the bible as I thought I might be.

* What happened with the Israelites between the Old and New Testament? I knew there was a Intertestamental period gap, but I didn't realize how frustrated I was going to be after getting acclimated to OT Judaism and then having to greatly alter my understanding of ritual and structure when I came to the Pharisees, Sadducees, rabbis, and synagogues that showed up in the NT.

* Early Church politics - especially surrounding Paul. I became very intrigued by how Paul's letters dominate the NT after the Gospels and Acts. Here comes this persecutor of Christians, he has a dramatic convergence, and then becomes the most prolific and adamant disciple for Christ. How many original Van Halen fans took a liking to Sammy Hagar? How many original Star Wars fans love the second trilogy? How did the 11 apostles feel about Paul's convergence, his starring role spreading the word of Jesus, and his confidence in documenting religious instruction...despite not being a follower of Jesus before the resurrection? Were Peter and Paul frenemies (friend-enemies) or just those that took sides with Peter or Paul?
csberry: (bigmclargehuge)
Sit down, fasten your seatbelts, and ingest that brown acid for John's prophesy. The menagerie of creatures and cast of characters combine with imagery you might expect from a Terry Gilliam movie along with the symbolic battle of good and evil previously seen from the OT prophets. If you ever have a Trivial Pursuit question about numbers in Revelation; if it's not the obvious choice of 666, the number HAS to be 7. Goodness, gracious, everything somehow seems to involve a 7 somewhere.
csberry: (bigmclargehuge)
James - This book is written by Jesus's (half) brother/cousin, James (I'll leave the debates about whether Mary had children after Jesus or if Joseph was a widower that brought children into his marriage with Mary for someone else). In this book, James emphasizes Jesus's Sermon on the Mount teachings. There is A LOT of time spent discussing rich vs poor. He also goes into how faith without good works is fruitless, but that one who has faith will be moved to do good works.

1 & 2 Peter - 1 Peter has him discussing that suffering adds to one's faith in God. All of us are to submit to others, no matter if they abuse that submission or not. For if they don't abuse, you are being blessed; and if they do abuse your submission, this is your chance to suffer and grow in faith. Peter states that Christians need to submit, be humble, and try to live a clean life so all are ready when the Lord comes again. 2 Peter supposedly was written shortly before Peter's death. In the book, he reminds Christians to live a good, holy life while they wait for the return of Jesus. Yes, he says, Jesus will come again. Just because Jesus didn't return shortly after the resurrection doesn't mean he won't come again - "with the Lord one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like one day."

1-3 John - These books share the same symbolic flourishes as was found in the Gospel of John, however the arguments in these letters are a bit jumbled and disorganized. 1 & 2 John focus a great deal on Jesus being the Messiah. He tells how God is Love and those that abide in God and Jesus will have no reason to fear. John talks about the seriousness of sin and makes an attempt to fight the heresy of dualism (Spirit = good, matter = evil). He also uses the term "antichrist" for the first time. In these books, however, John uses that term to identify the people who deny and refuse the truth about Jesus and not necessarily the figure from the End Times. 3 John (as well as 2 John) are quite short. This third letter discusses a different topic than the first two. In this final letter, John commends those that welcome and support those traveling to spread the word of Jesus.

Jude - Jude is reported to be Jesus' (half) brother/cousin (again, I'll skip the debate on whether Jesus had siblings and if Mary birthed them). In this very short letter, Jude admonishes those claiming that because Jesus cleansed us of our sins we are allowed to sin. Jude cites numerous examples from the OT and non-canonical Jewish sources of God punishing those that sin.

Now, all I have left is to read Revelation tomorrow. Once that book is read, I will have reached a goal I've had for decades. While I freely admit that reading and listening to the Bible in 90 days doesn't make me a Bible scholar, there is a breadth of knowledge that I have now that will fuel my Bible studies for a long time to come.
csberry: (pumaman)
The author of Hebrews is unknown. The letter/essay argues from a Jewish perspective the superiority of Jesus to Mosaic law and how he fulfilled the prophecies from the OT. As one might expect from that last sentence, there is a ton of quotes from the OT used to structure the argument of why God created Mosaic law and how He then sent Jesus to earth to create a new covenant that utilized the symbolism and purpose of the old law in order to create a new way for God's forgiveness of our sins. The book closes with warnings and basic instructions on how followers of Jesus should live their life.
csberry: (bigmclargehuge)
Ephesians - Christ brought humans from death in sin into eternal life. Both Jews and Gentiles are united under God's covenant through Jesus. Once a person accepts Jesus as their savior, they become a new person and get rid of their old sinful ways and lives a better, more holy life. Paul tells us to put on our armor as to help us navigate the earthly world with its temptations. He also discusses intrafamily relations telling all in the family to spend their time providing for the others. Each member submits to another for the betterment and love of all.

Phillipians - Paul encourages the reader to pursue a life of devotion to all things holy and pure and lovely.

Colossians - Salvation is through Jesus, who has always existed, and not through ceremonies, philosophy, or hidden wisdom. He then reiterates some of his lifestyle instructions found in Ephesians.

1 & 2 Thessalonians - In 1 Thess, Paul talks about living a holy life and that the Day of the Lord will come "like a thief in the night," so all shouldn't procrastinate shedding their earthly ways, but do so now because Jesus might return at any time. Then in 2 Thess, Paul dials back the immediacy of the Day of the Lord a bit and tells those that stopped working because they thought Jesus was on the verge of returning to go back to work. Everyone should go about their life...as a better person than they were before. Paul mentions in 2 Thess that the Day of the Lord wouldn't come until there was a "man of lawlessness" that would claim to be God or above God. The lawless one would come to power and, after that, Jesus would return and destroy him.

1 & 2 Timothy - 1 Timothy is focused on the administration of the church. Paul discusses what traits to look for with elders and deacons. It is here that Paul lost me a bit with how he tells the women in the church to be silent and to let the men be the teachers. After all of the praise Paul has given to women in other letters, this passage was definitely a disappointment for me to read. 2 Timothy finds Paul in jail again and feeling as if this letter was likely one of his last to send. He tells Timothy to be strong in faith, that the whole world is filled with challenges to faith and the word of God. He states that all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, rebuking, or correcting for training in righteousness.

Titus - Paul warned Titus about how lazy and corrupt the people of Crete were. He advised Titus on how different age/sex groups in the church should dedicate themselves. He also stated that sound teaching of the true word of God was the best defense against those that attempt to deceive or derail the faithfulness of those in the church.

Philemon - This tiny little letter accompanied Onesimus when he returned to his master, Philemon. Onesimus ran away to Rome, found Paul, and was converted to Christianity. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon, telling him to accept Onesimus as a brother - to love and forgive him. It is implied that Paul would like for Philemon to free Onesimus from slavery.
csberry: (pumaman)
Paul defends his role in Jesus's ministry again and goes into a discussion about salvation through faith and not works. The letter discusses the transition Jesus brought from Israel's adherence to the laws passed along by Moses and faith by any ethnic group to the teachings of Jesus and God's promise to all of mankind.
csberry: (pumaman)
1 Corinthians has Paul voicing his concern about the divisions and sexual immorality he's heard about the group in Corinth. Paul sought to snuff divisions individuals were making on which apostle or disciple of Jesus's they followed. He told them that he didn't baptize anyone in his name, but in Jesus's name. He also discussed how the church needs to be a support group for those within it. Rebuke and forgive those sinning amongst them and yet cast out those that can't overcome their evil.

2 Corinthians was a bit awkward to me. It seemed particularly personal in Paul's defense of his ministry, how he conducts himself, and the negative things he's heard others say about him.
csberry: (bigmclargehuge)
Paul's Epistle to the Romans is a hefty letter/essay about salvation. He addresses the questions surrounding the status of Jews and Gentiles in God's plan. Did Gentiles need to convert to Judaism (become circumcised, follow dietary restrictions) or was Jesus bringing a new church into the world? The book is so much more than a letter. There is an intellectual debate Paul has with an imagined antagonist at several points that reminded me a bit of the Solomon wisdom literature from the OT.
csberry: (pumaman)
The Book of Acts is basically Luke Part 2 and covers 30 years of events: from Jesus's resurrection, through Pentacost, through the conversion of Saul to Paul, and up to just before Paul faced trial in Rome. The letters that occupy much of the remainder of the New Testament rely on Acts to provide historical context to the situations mentioned in the various letters. If you read Acts and you don't know Paul's conversion forwards and backwards, you were obviously not paying attention. That story is told once as part of the "story" of the Book of Acts and then Paul likes to use that experience in speeches quoted in this book. While some may say that the main character in the four Gospels was Jesus and in Acts the main characters are Peter and Paul, I think there is more consistency between the Gospels and Acts. Sure, the reader follows Peter and Paul a good bit in the book, but it is actually the emergence and presence of the Holy Spirit as the continuing force for God on Earth that I think is more accurately the main character of Acts.
csberry: (Default)
After the redundancy of Luke, I was really worried about being able to remain focused when going through the fourth Gospel. However, John's writing style differs a good deal from the other Gospel authors. Matthew seemed utmost concerned with presenting Jesus's life and words in juxtaposition with quotes and prophesies from the Old Testament. Mark's approach dropped some of Matthew's OT quoting and jumped right into the ministry of Jesus. Luke then added more stories and, IMO, did more to show Jesus and his disciples in a more humanizing way.

John, however, seemed to me less concerned about historical accuracy and more interested in reinforcing what he felt was the important teachings of Jesus. John was the last of the four Gospels written and John wrote it near the end of his life (some time in his 80's, I think). Where the other Gospels are keen on chronological details of what Jesus did when, John frequently just said: "And one day, Jesus...". I'll just blame the ESV translation I listened to, but I think the key phrase for the Book of John is "Truly, Truly." It seemed that nearly every quote of Jesus starts off with "Truly, truly, I tell you..."
csberry: (Default)
I knew that there would be redundancy when going through the four Gospels. Still, going through the Gospels back-to-back in just a few days and Luke's historian approach of making a comprehensive account of Jesus's life and teachings made Luke seem all the more redundant to me. On the other side of the coin, when I did come across stories in Luke that weren't shared in Matthew and Mark, they stuck out all the more for me. Of the first three Gospels, I like Luke's writing style the best.
csberry: (pumaman)
Where Matthew started with Jesus's genealogy and spent his Gospel recounting out Jesus's life and words fulfilled Old Testament prophesy, Mark's version is more action-packed. Mark skipped all of those "begats" and jumped right into a quick intro of John the Baptist and Jesus's baptism. Then BOOM! Jesus's ministry then kicks into gear. In this Gospel there were a lot of times that Jesus told people he healed or ministered to that he wanted them to keep what he did a secret. There also seemed to be more questioning of Jesus about who he was - Was he a prophet? Was he Elijah? Was he the Messiah?
csberry: (pumaman)
Having the New Testament start with Matthew now makes perfect sense to me. Of the four Gospels, Matthew does the most to point out quotes from the Old Testament and how Jesus satisfied many prophesies. Previously, while reading Matthew, these OT quotes didn't have much of an impact. Now that I've actually read those quotes in context, when I came upon them in Matthew, the poignancy (and sometimes lack of poignancy, IMO) jumped out to me where previously I was unaffected.
csberry: (DonnaOMG)
The Old Testament talks about a new king coming from the house of David and/or a descendant of David. Matthew starts his gospel listing the genealogical lineage from Adam through David to Joseph.

HOWEVER, since God put Jesus in Mary's womb with no involvement from Joseph, can Jesus actually claim to be a descendant of King David? If we are strictly following the male biological lineage, Jesus is as much of a great-great-etc-grandson of David as Moses is a child of the Egyptian pharaohs.

But maybe Matthew is following the wrong path. I wonder what Mary's lineage is. Could she possibly be a descendant of David's and the justification for Jesus's connection to David that was previously unknown because of patriarchy?
csberry: (bigmclargehuge)
Huzzah! I finished the Old Testament today! Here are the last books of the OT:

Micah - Most of the other prophets stated that God was going to punish Judah/Israel because of unfaithfulness, immorality, and general sin. I found it interesting that Micah also mentions crimes against the poor as a reason for God's wraith. There are lots of passages here that could be in reference to Jesus, too.

Nahum - Apparently Jonah's work in Nineveh didn't stick (God's Plan or not?) and Nahum was sent a generation later. Like Obadiah spent his book targeting a neighbor with prophesies, this book is spent telling Nineveh what the future holds for them. It isn't a pretty picture. Eventually, he gets back to the fact that Israel isn't immune from God's justice and there will be a price to be paid for the sins of the Jewish people.

Habakkuk - This book is a bit closer to Job in form than to the other prophet books. Habakkuk asked God why sinful people seem to take forever to be punished and why God uses "more sinful" people (such as the Assyrians) to punish the "less sinful" people (such as Judah). God issues his replies that he takes care of all sinners in His own time.

Zephaniah - OK, back to the predictions of destruction and restoration. Zephaniah's prophesies are fierce with punishment but also jubilant about how God will rejoice when His people are reunited and restored.

Haggai - Overlapping the period discussed in Ezra, Haggai was in Jerusalem as the exiles returned. Alas, they busied themselves rebuilding their own homes and yet ignored working on the temple. Haggai passed along a message from God that the people needed to rebuild the temple now. No, it wouldn't look as glorious as it did before its destruction, but God said that it would return to glory. God was taking all of the defiled things in His eyes and making them into blessings.

Zechariah - I've got the feeling that I'll be revisiting this book a little when I am going through the New Testament. There is a good chunk of this book that prophesizes many of the things that Jesus did.

Malachi - This, the last book of the Old Testament, is both a reminder to those living in Jerusalem after returning from exile in Babylon to not be complacent with their relationship with God. I like how the book is formatted in a quick back-and-forth dialogue between God and his wayward people. The people are criticized for their sacrificing of maimed animals instead of the healthy, of not tithing 10%, and of marrying foreigners. Malachi does talk about a messenger that will come that will clear the way for the Lord in the future.
csberry: (bigmclargehuge)
Whew! I've made it to the "minor prophets at the end of the Old Testament! Hopefully, I'll be in the New Testament some time on Thursday.

Joel - Joel starts off with a description of a plague of locusts and then goes into a discussion of the "Day of the Lord" - a time of judgment for the nations but restoration for God's people. Considering the time the book was likely written, I felt myself conflicted on whether the "Day of the Lord" was reaching to foretell of the return of a healthy Israel after the exile or if Joel intended his vision to be further in the future and discussing the Messiah or the end of time. I'll have to give the scholars the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Amos - There was a folksiness to Amos that I liked. The book isn't all that different from other books by prophets. Amos announces God's wraith on several of Israel's neighbors and then what punishment God has set for Israel itself. The end of the book combines visions he has of plagues and of God's justice along with a sprinkling of narrative about reaction to Amos's prophesies. As with Joel and others, Amos discusses a restoration of Israel after the punishment.

Obadiah - If you flip through the Bible, you are likely not going to see Obadiah. The introduction to the book in my Bible is actually longer than the book itself...which is a single chapter. There's an odd twist to what Obadiah has to say here. The bulk of the book discusses Edom (The traditional homeland of Jacob's brother, Esau's, offspring. Thus, these people are a "brother" of Israel.). The book warns Edom that they are not free from God's actions and that Edomites shouldn't gloat on the downfall of Israel/Judah. In the end, Obadiah says, Israel will be restored and they will occupy much of the neighboring territory at that time, so Edom better be nice and await what will happen on the Day of the Lord.

Jonah - Is Jonah historical or just an allegory? In the book, God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh (located in present day northern Iraq, near Mosul) and minister to those people. God told Jonah those people had sinned greatly and he was going to smite them unless they repented. Jonah, daunted by the task decides to go the opposite direction and heads for the Mediterranean Sea. While at sea, God causes a storm. Those on board find out God is after Jonah, so they throw him overboard and Jonah is eaten by a great fish. Jonah prays while inside the fish and is vomited out three days later. Jonah then goes to Nineveh and successfully converts the people there. God decides not to smite them.

Jonah gets mad that God decided to be merciful to the people of Nineveh and claims he'd rather die now than to continue living. Jonah sets up a shelter east of the city and sits there waiting for God to strike the city after all. That doesn't happen. What does happen is that God caused a tree to grow to shade Jonah (which it does and Jonah is pleased). The next day, God has a worm attack the tree and it withers. Finally, God has a hot wind blow on Jonah all the next day. Jonah is upset that God destroyed the plant and God uses this as a lesson on why he didn't destroy Nineveh. All of that in just a few pages in the Bible. On the action:page ratio, Jonah certainly delivers better than most of the other books.

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Cory Berry

June 2016

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