The Very First Easter

The Very First Easter by Paul L Maier is a great kids book that explains the story behind Easter.  It’s written in the form of a father reading the story to his son but the son breaks in periodically with questions.  It uses quotes from the Bible that the father then explains to his son.

Great illustrations.  Might be a bit long for younger kids (my son didn’t make it through it and he’s 3) but highly recommended.

Did People Who Lived Before Jesus Go To Heaven?

I’m reading a kids book I got for my kids for Easter and in it is this statement that stopped me in my tracks:  “Before Jesus died, no one could go to Heaven.  Jesus changed all of that on the first Easter.”  From The Miracle of Easter by Jean M. Malone.

I immediately thought, That’s just not true!  You can’t tell me all those people are in Hell?  Abraham, Sarah, David, Solomon, etc.  What about Isaiah?  You can’t tell me he’s not in Heaven!

Or are they?

So I set my mind to find out.  But this wasn’t as easy as you might think.  There are a lot of websites out there who “answer” this question but they are really just forums or people guessing the answer.  Most had no scripture to back it up.

Here’s the summation of my thought process based on what I found and I will need your help on this because I am still unsure.

People before Jesus had faith.  They believed in God who dwelled in Heaven and they believed they would be there.  They atoned for their sins through various sacrifices and offerings ordained by God.  Those who lived after the prophets knew of a Messiah to come and they believed in the Messiah before He walked the Earth.

If people (before Jesus, during Jesus, after Jesus) believed in the One, True God and accepted everything God did for them with all of their hearts, then God had a place for them in Heaven.  But only after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven himself would these people rise and take their spots.  Jesus had to be first.  Jesus atoned for those before, during, and after Him, providing the cleansing needed to be with God. Jesus died for everyone before and since so we could all go to Heaven and be pure enough to be with our God.

Jesus himself in speaking to Nicodemus says, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man…the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”  John 3:13-14

Where did these people go then while waiting for Jesus to rise from the dead?  Several websites said there was a special place they went kind of like purgatory as they awaited to be fully atoned for.  To me, this isn’t as important as their final destination:  the fact they are in Heaven now.

Like my post yesterday, it all comes down to faith:  faith to be saved, faith you’ll go to Heaven because you have faith in Jesus and accept His sacrifice, faith in God’s promises, and faith in God’s words (through the prophets before the written Bible).

God knew He’d send His son BEFORE He even created the Earth.  You have to have faith He had a plan for those before Jesus.  God is just.  He wouldn’t create a system of atonement that didn’t apply to all of His Creation (all of mankind).  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

Hebrews 9, 10, and 11 are fascinating with regards to the Old and New Covenant, Christ’s sacrifice for all, and faith.

Here are my favorite sites on this matter.  I’m still not 100 % sure about this with so many different view points out there so I’m hoping all you BSF’ers out there know about this and where to find it in the Bible!!!

This website has a whole lay out on the question with many Biblical quotes.  It’s very hard to read though due to the bright colors:

http://www.biblebell.org/otsaints.html

This site is a forum that starts out on the question but as usual wanders off but I’m including it because the beginning is good and it has Biblical references as well:

http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?127212-How-did-good-people-go-to-Heaven-before-Jesus

Finally, I like the simplicity of this answer.  It draws logical conclusions without heavy thoughts:

http://felidazone.blogspot.com/2010/04/did-everyone-before-jesus-go-to-hell.html

So, the kid’s book had been right.  The key word was could.  No one could go to Heaven.  That doesn’t mean they didn’t go to Heaven after Jesus.  This was definitely not explained and only confused my kids (and me!).

I never would have thought about this if this book hadn’t of brought it up.  Aren’t books wonderful?

It All Comes Down to Faith…

“Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.'”  Luke 18:42

“Then he (Jesus) said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'”  Luke 17:19

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'”  Luke 7:50

“Then he (Jesus) said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.'” Luke 8:48

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.'”  Luke 5:20

As I was reading my Bible yesterday, all these jumped out at me and the common word: faith.  People were healed by Jesus because of their faith.  People’s sins were forgiven because of their faith.

This is only a sampling of the amount of time Jesus talked about faith.  We all believe in God based on faith alone.  We can’t see Him.  We can’t physically touch Him.  We can feel and hear Him but not like we can feel and hear our spouse or our dog.  His presence is spiritual only.

I think our lesson for our time is the same as in Jesus’s:  faith is paramount to knowing and accepting Jesus.  It’s the key to everything else.

Even when Jesus was present on Earth some believed and some didn’t–because of faith.

This is what we teach our kids, right?  If you believe you can do something, you can.  If you believe anything is possible, it is.  I think some forget the crucial element:  “All things are possible with God, Jesus said.”  Mark 10:27

We must keep the faith even when it’s the last thing we want to do.  Faith alone must remain when everything else is gone all around you.

“They should always pray and not give up…cry out to Him day and night.”  Luke 18 1 & 7

BSF’s study of Isaiah talked a lot about how God is faithful.  But what about us?  We must be faithful to God as well.  It has to go both ways as in any relationship.  We must be faithful as God is faithful.

If we pray and believe and have faith, God will be there; He will accomplish His will; He will answer.

The Unicorn and the Lake

The Unicorn and the Lake by Marianna Mayer is a fantastic book about  a unicorn pitted against a serpent. Symbolically, it can be said that  the Unicorn is God and the Serpent is the Devil.

A unicorn roams the lands until chased away into the mountains by man’s greed to possess his magical horn.  He stays hidden many years and as a result a drought dries up the land.  The other animals are weakened and are no longer able to defend themselves against the serpent.  The animals call out and the unicorn hears them.  The unicorn causes rain to fall, filling the once-dry lakes and ponds.

The serpent, furious, poisons the newly-formed waters.  The animals again call out and this time the unicorn answers in person.  He ventures down the mountain, only to meet the Serpent who attacks him.  The ensuing fight ends in the Serpent slithering away, spared, the unicorn purifying the water and returning back to his home in the mountains.

Great picture of God, isn’t it?  God answers when we cry out as we are being thwarted by the devil and in the end vanquishes and restores.  Lovely.

Proposal for Online BSF Study

To the Bible Study Fellowship Board of Directors and Director of New Start-Up Classes:

I am proposing starting an online BSF class strictly for those who are unable to attend a regular BSF class (disabled, elderly, can’t drive, rural communities, etc).  This would follow the BSF four-part model:  lecture, notes, discussion, personal study and questions but be available all online.

A BSF lecturer could videotape himself/herself (like at our class that is videotaped) and post it online.  You listen to the lecture and then can download the notes and next week’s questions.  Then in the forum you can discuss with others your findings.  This forum could be restricted to being open only on the designated meeting day.  Similarly with the notes.

I know this will challenge BSF’s paradigm and maybe financially but the I think the benefits will far-outweigh the costs.

With regards to the paradigm:  Times change.  Think of all the innovations since Jesus first walked the earth:  we’ve gone from camel and horse travel to train travel to cars and planes.  The printing press has allowed us to own a copy of God’s word.  Improvements on the printing press have allowed the Bible to be the biggest best-seller ever.  Now, you can even read the Bible on the Internet and on your phone!

Enrollment can be qualified.  For those who live in remote communities; those who attending a BSF class would be an inconvenience (flying, hiking, snowmobiling, driving over a certain number of hours, etc); disabled or elderly; those with kids in different age groups who can’t attend because they have both school-age kids and preschool age kids; those who can’t afford to pay for the gas to get to the class; and other extenuating circumstances, etc.

My story:  I had a very tiny blog.  Not many hits and few subscribers.  After my first day at BSF, I blogged about how much I loved it and was looking forward to it.  BAM!  87 hits.  So, I thought to myself I may be onto something.  I started posting my answers and my blog has skyrocketed to beyond belief.

Obviously, there is a need of some kind out there.

I have people from all over the world follow my blog.  One lady is going on a mission trip to Uganda.  She “met” a lady who lives in Uganda who is enrolled in BSF who posted on my site and now they are going to meet in Uganda!  How cool is that!

One lady who has severe health problems and is unable to attend classes at times uses my blog as her discussion time.  She swap prayer requests even.  She is just one among many who use my blog as such.  The Internet never shuts down during inclement weather.

One member whose friend lives in Hawaii would have to fly to her nearest BSF class.  When I move (our move has now been delayed), I would have to drive 6 hours to my nearest one.  Think of Alaska:  you’d have to snowmobile up there!

Funding:  I believe BSF could solicit funds specifically for such a purpose.  I for one am willing to donate to such a project.  You could have a designation added to your online giving system fairly easily to facilitate donations.  This money would go to help pay the initial start-up costs.

Someone can be trained to administer the program once it’s up and running.  This could even be a volunteer willing to post the videos, etc.

Please read some of the comments on my site about how much being able to have a discussion group 24/7 facilitates learning and ultimately growing with God means to others.  For some, it could be indescribable (I know it is for me!).

BSF Statement of Beliefs #14 (according to your website) says how BSF believes we are all called to study the Bible personally through the power of the Holy Spirit until each one is matured into God’s purpose for their life.  How better to aid in this for those who for whatever reason cannot physically make it to BSF classes?

I am asking you to please pray about this as with everything in BSF.  A pilot year could be set up to see if this idea works or not.  Limit the number of attendees and see what happens.  She what needs to be improved, changed, or scrapped all together.  A year to work out the bugs, evaluate at the end if it accomplishes BSF’s vision, and go from there.

I can only imagine the number of people who can be reached through the Internet (another invention God gave to someone).  His kingdom can grow by leaps and bounds through this measure.

Part of BSF is community.  Well, I can attest to the fact you can have a community over the Internet.  There are followers of my blog whom I consider some of my dearest friends.  They regularly offer words of sage advice that I appreciate beyond belief.  Even though I can’t see them and they can’t see me, this is vital to what my website has become.  Without them, my blog is empty.

Facebook is the second-highest ranked site (according to Alexa) in the world–a website dedicated to facilitating connections–existing only in cyberspace as this BSF class would do.

Community is what you make of it.  BSF is what you make of it.  I think a BSF online could thrive.  And grow.  But still remain true to BSF’s and Ms. Johnson’s vision.

I have been praying about this ever since the idea popped in my head.  I only ask you all do the same.

Thanks for listening, considering, and praying with regards to this proposal.

Do the End Times Really Matter?

In BSF, our leader talks a lot about the end times, the Apocalypse, the second coming, and signs in the Bible.  I tend to tune out when she does.  Why?

No one knows when Jesus is coming again.  Period.  The Bible is very, very vague.  We know it’s going to happen.  Yet man has this need to predict the future (something only God can do) so man tries to tell us, “The End is Near!”

Here’s my view:  If I’m ready for the Second Coming and so is my family, does it really matter when it happens?  Sure, it’d be great to be here when Jesus comes again.  But if He doesn’t, I’ll see Him soon enough in Heaven.  So why worry about it?  The Bible tells us not to worry about anything.

I’m glad that Isaiah told us to expect the Messiah and Revelation reveals what’s going to happen once Jesus does return.  It gives me hope when the world is in chaos.

Yet, I don’t dwell on it.  I don’t sit around worrying.  I try to take my life day by day and strive to be like Jesus.  I’ve learned even planning for the future can sometimes fall apart as quick as a stock market fall.

We don’t have TV in my home.  I get all my news off the Internet and lately I’ve barely been reading it.  I just can’t stand it.  One, I think it has become a bit of an idol in my life (the Computer in general) so I’m trying to limit my time on the Internet.  And two, I can barely stand reading the tragedies around the world, the idiocy of our government, and celebrities who have nothing better to do than ruin their lives and their families.  It drives me insane and I got enough of that in my life already!

So when my BSF leader asks if we’re paying attention to the signs, my reply, “No.  I’m not.  I got other things going on.”

I believe in my heart Jesus will come again.  I don’t really think it will happen in my lifetime but if it does I’ll be ready.  Through my daily life and not through any other special preparation or worry.

Any other thoughts?

Homiletics

What is homiletics?  I was stumped too at first.  So I took the seminar offered by BSF a while back.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, homiletics is the art of preaching.  BSF defines homiletics as analyzing and studying the Bible passage in preparation for teaching this to others.

In essence, you figure out what the passage is saying and then narrow it down into the main thesis of the passage and then apply application questions to those whom you are speaking too.

Come to find out, I was doing Homiletics all along; I just wasn’t writing it down.  My summary is basically the content of the whole passage and my conclusions is the thesis or what I got out of it–what the passage says to me.

I think some are intimidated by homiletics (the name alone does it for most people–blame the Greeks) but it’s really not that bad. It’s just what the passage is saying and what it means to the Biblical world and how it can be applied today.

I would wager most of us do at least some of form of an informal homiletics when we do our questions.  You have to to get an answer and be able to explain it to others.  I’ve ran into a couple of people who thought themselves better because they ‘did’ homiletics every week.

I wish BSF would change their final question because at first I thought it was just for the leaders and we weren’t supposed to do homiletics.  That’s what the question says, right?  “For Group and Administration Leaders.”  Well, that’s not me, I thought.  It seems unnecessarily restrictive when put this way.

No one explained homiletics to me or the last question.  We never talked about the last question in our small group or in lecture or in the notes even (I never heard the word even mentioned until the seminar came up and I had to attend it to find out what it was).  So why have it on the “Discussion Questions” if its never going to be discussed?

Homiletics is for everyone–not just the leaders.  You don’t have to be an expert in the Bible or have been in BSF for multiple years to do homiletics as I believe BSF implies.

As most of you know, the BSF process was never explained to me. I was just thrown in, handed the questions, and wished good luck.  I think Homiletics needs to be explained on the first day.  I think everything needs to be explained much better.  I think BSF assumes attendees know it all or you’ve been attending for a while.

I think we all need to go over this stuff every year so we’re all on the same page.  For an organization who adheres to their way of doing things stronger than super glue, you think they’d be sticklers on such things.

This year in Isaiah we’ve talked a lot about control–a lesson I think BSF could learn from.  I think BSF needs to loosen their grip a bit and let God use the tools of the modern age to bring more to Him.

BSF does not exist without the generosity of those giving and supporting what they do.  Still, I’m left wondering how many calls they do get from those desperate for Christ who are turned away because “we don’t do that here.”

Tangled

My daughter picked up the book Tangled adapted by Christine Peymani based on the movie from the library.

“I’ve been dreaming about  them (magic lanterns) my entire life!  Haven’t you ever had a dream?” Rapunzel asks.

“I had a dream once,” a thug said.

Dreams is what motivates most of us I think.  For little kids, these are extremely important.  They live in their own little worlds and it’s important they believe anything is possible.

Later on:

“What if everything is as I have dreamed it to be?  What do I do then?” asks Rapunzel.

“You get to go find a new dream,” Flynn told her.

I LOVED this.  Even when our dreams are fulfilled, there are other ones out there to pursue.

Finally:  “Don’t leave me,” Rapunzel says to Flynn who’s dying “I can’t do this without you.”

“You were my new dream,” Flynn replies.

“And you were mine,” Rapunzel says.

Great stuff.  Stuff of fairy tales and movies.  I don’t think I need to expound on this.

I couldn’t put the book down.  I’m assuming the movie is just as good.

It Could Always Be Worse

It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach reminds us of that very fact.

This Caldecott Honor Book retells the Yiddish folktale of a large family living together in a tiny house.  The father goes to the Rabbi for advice who tells him to bring his chickens into the house with him.  Well, this only causes more chaos so the father returns again for advice and the Rabbi tells him to bring the goat in as well.

This pattern repeats itself until the rooster, goose, and cow are all living under one roof.  Finally, the Rabbi tells the father to kick the animals out, resulting in a very, very peaceful night.

The father finally recognizes what a pleasure his life now is.

Great life lessons here–of gratitude, appreciation, perspective, etc.  Recognition of what a blessed life we all lead and often take for granted.

It could always be worse is a great motto to live by.  If only I’d remember this more when miniscule problems take over my mind when I should be focused elsewhere or when I should quit carrying things I should have handed over to God long ago.