Tuesday, June 29

Categorizing the Books of the Bible

From Genesis to Revelation, there are a myriad of different styles of writing, and each book can be classified in different categories. The sections may divided as: Law, History, Poetry and Wisdom, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, Gospels, Acts Literature, the Epistles of St. Paul, General (also called "Catholic") Letters, and Apocalyptic Literature. Now, it is important to note that there were a number of other important early Jewish writings and Christian writings that are not a part of the canon or listed here. For example, within the literature known as the Pseudipigrapha we find 1st, 2nd and 3rd Enoch - books which are helpful in giving the reader a clearer picture of what Jews were thinking and writing about during that time period. The Jewish work of Jubilees, another example, was essentially an expanded version of Genesis which added commentary and interpretations. Early Christian writings such as the Didache, 1st and 2nd Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas or the Shepherd of Hermas are helpful in providing us with a better understanding of the ideas and concepts of early Christians in the late 1st-early 2nd centuries. These are not considered part of the Bible, but these are also important writings worth exploring in order to better grasp how ancient Jewish and Christian interpreters viewed Scripture in their respective eras.

It is also worth noting that listed below are six books which are not included in Protestant Bibles, but are found in Catholic Bibles. These include the books of Tobit, Judith, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus. There are also additions to the books of Daniel and Esther in the Catholic canon. Early in the Church's history, there was a debate about a variety of books in the accepted canon. In the earliest version - the Muratorian Canon (late 2nd century), we read for example that some books were seen as good to read, but not necessarily viewed as Scriptuure, "Moreover, the Epistle of Jude and two of the above-mentioned (or, bearing the name of) John are counted (or, used) in the catholic [Church], and [the book of] Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honor. We receive only the apocalypses of John and Peter, though some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church. But Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair of the church of the city of Rome. And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the prophets, whose number is complete, or among the apostles, for it is after [their] time."

Later on, in the early AD 300s, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea wrote concerning these "other" books, "Among those that are spurious are to be placed the Acts of Paul and the book called the Shepherd, the Apocalypse of Peter, the surviving Epistle of Barnabas, and the book called Teachings [the Didache] of the Apostles, and, as I have said, the Apocalypse of John, if that seems right—a book that some reject but others judge to belong to the acknowledged books." We see here and elsewhere that the Apocalypse of John (also known as Revelation) was under dispute, but ultimately accepted (we believe by God's guidance) into the Scriptural corpus. But these other writings are important because they help scholars to understand the range and genre of some of the books we find in Scripture. An example of this is the Acts of the Apostles. Following the time of the New Testament, similar works were circulated such as the Acts of Peter, Acts of Thomas, Acts of Paul and Thecla, and the Acts of John. These works contained traditions and other (sometimes fanciful) stories about what happened to these followers of Jesus after the events of the Acts of the Apostles. But it is precisely this kind of Acts literature, episodic narratives, that help us better interpret what we read in the New Testament book of Acts.

Bearing this in mind, within the final and accepted canon, there are 66 books in Protestant Bibles and 73 in Catholic Bibles. These were divided up into the aforementioned categories. The Jews referred to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as the Pentateuch (meaning "five scrolls"), and later divisions found in both the New Testament and the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus divide the Hebrew Bible into three categories: the Law, Wisdom, and the Prophets. The modern categories can be viewed below (or see the "Bible Bookcase" image.):

-1st/2nd Samuel
-1st/2nd Kings
-1st/2nd Chronicles

- Judith
- 1st/2nd Maccabees

Poetry and Wisdom
-Song of Solomon (Also called Song of Songs)
-Wisdom of Solomon
-Ben Sira (Also called Ecclesiasticus)

Major Prophets


Minor Prophets


Acts Literature
-Acts of the Apostles

Epistles of St. Paul
-1st/2nd Corinthians
-1st/2nd Thessalonians

-1st/2nd Timothy

General (Catholic) Letters
-1st/2nd Peter
-1st/2nd/3rd John

Apocalyptic Literature
-Revelation (Also General Letters in Chapters 1-3)

The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are important for a number of reasons. They have relevancy to many disciplines, including archaeology, history, psychology, anthropology, religious studies, theology, and so forth. For example, if someone is studying John Milton's Paradise Lost, it is helpful to have an idea of where some of the Biblical concepts are derived from in order to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of how the writer was utilizing and interpreting these concepts. We hope you have found this a helpful guide in some way, and wish you well on your reading.

Peace and all good,
Troy Hillman

Book Overview: Leviticus

The book of Leviticus is the book of laws which sprung directly out of the covenant God made with his people at Mt. Sinai (In Exodus). For the most part, the book was written as laws for the priests, who were to instruct the people. Also, the main focus of the book comes out of a single statement made by God, "You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy." Do all of these laws still apply to Christians today? No. But some do. (Photo credit to concoxions.com)

When Jesus died, it let go of the need more ceremonial law, and we are required only to follow The Ten Commandments and the Commandments of Jesus. However, by reading Leviticus, we can see the sacrifice of Jesus, and what we no longer have to do be pay for our sins. What remains are underlying principles, the unchanging nature of God, and the need we have as human beings - for forgiveness, which we can now find fulfillment with in a relationship with our savior, Jesus. Which laws still apply to us? Luckily, we are told which still apply in the New Testament Book of Hebrews. But we may eat meat, we do not have to sacrifice animals, the like.

This is the second Book Overview in a series of 66 Books. These overviews, as previously stated, do not interfere with the regular lessons, but these are written so that it may provide readers with details about the book, things that they may have missed, and will hopefully peak your interest so that you will read the book, the entire Bible, in fact, as God wants us to do. Now, onto the Book of Levticus.

Title: Leviticus (English), Vaykira (Hebrew) The word "Leviticus" means, "and he called.

Authorship: Like Genesis and Exodus, it is believed to be written by Moses. (See here.)

Written: Between 1400s-1200s BC, likely edited during Babylonian exile.

Summary: "Leviticus contains God's instruction for Israel's priests, and it includes God's instruction to the entire nation of Israel on how to live-spiritually and physically." (NIV)

Chapters 1-15 covers the Sacrifices that were required to remove sin, and renew fellowship with God. Laws are given for the priests and for the clean - and the unclean. 

Chapters 16-27 deals with laws based around Matters of conduct, morality, holiness, and the "Day of Atonement."

*Points -The tenth day of the seventh month (Tishiri - September/October) was the annual "Day of Atonement" for Israel. It was only on this day that Aaron was allowed to enter the Tabernacle and offer sacrifices on behalf of the people, to atone for their sins. This can be found in Leviticus, Chapter 16.

While Exodus ended with the construction of the Tabernacle, Leviticus tells us about the worship that took place in the Tabernacle.

Genesis - Origins of the Nation, Theocracy Born. Exodus - Deliverance of a Nation, Leviticus - Life of a Nation, Theocracy established. Genesis begins with creation, which tells of the rise of God's people. Exodus begins in slavery, which tells of redemption from Egypt. Leviticus begins with sacrifice, it helps set forth the ritual of worship.

There were only three groups of people who were anointed in the Hebrew Bible: Priests (found here),  Prophets, and Kings. When Jesus came, he became all three, and becoming the "Anointed One," "HaMeshiah."

Notice that the Passover was to be held on the 14th day of the month. The Jews followed a lunar calendar. Their month would begin with the New Moon. This means that the 14th day of the month would be the time of the Full Moon. Some have wondered if the darkness of the sun at the death of Christ could have been caused by a solar eclipse. But this could not be the case, for it took place in the season of Passover - the time of the Full Moon.

The covenant relationship between God and Israel, (Leviticus 26:12) "I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people," after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, was extended to the Gentiles. The Gentiles are everyone who is not a Jew by birth. I am a Gentile. St. Paul re-affirms this in 2nd Corinthians  6:16. We have entered into the promise originally given to Israel, through Jesus Christ.

I hope you have found this overview helpful, not too descriptive, but insightful, enough to make you want to read the book. 

Next Overview: Book of Deuteronomy

Previous Overview: Book of Exodus

Monday, June 28

Did Abraham Know the Law as later given to Moses?

How did Abraham know about tithing 430 years before the law was made? Since God did not want Abraham's life to be a mess, he instructed him in his laws, his commandments, and his way. Within the Genesis narrative, God told Adam and Eve his laws because he is their Father, just as he is out Father. What kind of parent would he be if he sent them out into life without instruction? It is a parent's responsibility, so God instructed his children. This is important, as it conveys the idea of a relationship between God and man. Within Genesis, Cain and Able, the first two sons of Adam and Eve, made their sacrifices to God. How did Cain and Able know what it is that they were to sacrifice? Because of Adam and Eve, who, in the Garden of Eden, has literally walked with God, and they had told their children what the correct sacrifices were. When it came time to sacrifice, Abel obeyed, but Cain disobeyed and did not make the proper offering to pay for his sins.

Later in the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Jeremiah tells us in Jeremiah 31:33-34, "'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbors, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the LORD." From the first man up unto the last man or woman, God has written the law - his commandments, on the hearts and minds of every person. Think about that. We all know that it is wrong to lie. Our conscious tells us not to lie. We know it is wrong to lie, wrong to cheat, wrong to lust, wrong to dishonor parents. Even those who have never heard of the Christian tradition have, in this perspective, the Law of God written on their hearts. We all do, and even society tells us that we should not lie, we should not steal. Should not murder. Because the law of God is written on all of our hearts - whether we chose to obey them our not is of our own free will, be he tells us to obey them.

If, however, we are speaking in terms of evolutionary history, then the question becomes more difficult. Did the homo erectus have this law "chiseled" into their heart, so to speak? Did the early homo sapiens have this moral code programmed into them? That is difficult to tell. Certainly, anthropologists, archaeologists and paleontologists have shed light on early humans insofar as we are able to have a sense of their early hunter-gatherer concepts of society, their tools, their weapons, their ancient artwork, and so forth. There seems to be some kind of sense of morality in these early communities of humans, but whether this moral code was something imprinted on man at a later date or something present from our earliest origins, we cannot say for sure. On a theological level, however, one could argue that God is consistent, and thus, just as the prophet Jeremiah spoke of this inherent moral law in his time, so too would it have existed in the time of the first humans.

Troy Hillman

Book Overview: Exodus

The book of Exodus is the first book to give us the laws by which we are to live: The Ten Commandments. The book of Exodus is the first to feature Moses, it begins the Four-Book Story of the Life of Moses, as it was written by him. It also provides us with an important message: Turn to God, and he will take you out of captivity of the enemy. The enemy is Satan, and he will free us from our chains if we turn to him and serve him with all of our heart, mind, body, and soul.

This is the second Book Overview in a series of 66 Books. These overviews, as previously stated, do not interfere with the regular lessons, but these are written so that it may provide readers with details about the book, things that they may have missed, and will hopefully peak your interest so that you will read the book, the entire Bible, in fact, as God wants us to do. So, onto the Book of Exodus. (Picture credit to The Glue Society, "God's Eye View.)

Title: Exodus (English), Shemoth (Hebrew) The word "Exodus" is derived from the Greek word Exodos, which means, departure/exit.

Authorship: Like Genesis before it, Exodus is thought to be written by Moses. (See here.)

Written: Between 1400s-1200s BC, likely edited during the Babylonian exile.

Summary: "Exodus documents how God rescued Israel from Egypt and it records his instructions on how to act as a nation." (NIV)

Overview: Chapters 1-11 covers Israel in Egypt, and the early life of Moses up to when he becomes the man who stood before the Pharaoh and told him to let God's people go. 

Chapters 12-18 talks about the Exodus, which led to the Passover of God's Spirit, (the reason the holiday Passover was created)
Chapter 13, Verses 17-22 detail how God parted the Red Sea - it is an interesting account.
Chapters 19-40 details part of Israel's journey, it tells of the introduction of the 10 Commandments in written form, it gives the Law and Covenant, and it tells of how God's tent was to be set up and how worship would be conducted.

*Points - It is ironic that when the Exodus occurred and God led his people out of slavery into freedom, and this became the Holiday of Passover, that on Passover about 1,400 Years later, during Passover, Jesus died to pay for our past, present, and future sins, to allow us not to be slaves - bound to Satan - but to be free, to accept his gift of salvation.

Genesis 15:13-16 says, [speaking to Abraham] "Then the LORD said to him, 'Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." - This came true in the books of Exodus-Deuteronomy.

The plagues that affect Egypt are similar in the plagues mentioned in the Apocalypse of John (c.AD 95).

Aside from the 10 Commandments, the ceremonial law is no longer in effect. We are told in the New Testament to follow the 10 Commandments and the Commandments of Jesus and are commanded several other thing as Christians, for the most part in the book of Hebrews and in the letters to individuals and churches.

Genesis 31:12-18 was the Sabbath Day. It was a day of rest for Israel. It is kept as an index of the nation's spiritual help. Obedience in this is a test of their obedience to God.

The Ark of the Covenant makes its first appearance in Exodus 24:10. The importance? "There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet you and give you all of my commands for the Israelites." (Verse 22) When God was able to meet them in the temple, the Stone Tablets of the Ten Commandments, Aaron's staff, and a jar of manna - originally. However, in 1st Kings 8:9, which says, "There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the Israelites after the came out of Egypt." So, the original contents, aside from the Stone Tablets, had apparently been removed 300 years after the Ark was made.

For 300 Years, until it was replaced by Solomon's Temple, God's tent would be the focal center of the nation's worship. Now, we are able to worship God everywhere we go, and are encouraged to as we proclaim the truth of God's Word and lead souls to Christ.

Next Overview: Book of Leviticus
Previous Overview: Book of Genesis

Sunday, June 27

How Can You Have Peace When You Can't Forget Sins?

How can you have peace when you have shameful sins that still grieve you? Well, there are a number of ways to do this. Dr. John R. Rice (1895-1980), a Baptist evangelist, outlined certain things that have certainly helped me, and I would like to outline and expand upon this for you:

1) Get things settled by the Bible and not by your feelings. When you have faced your sin and failure and confessed it to God, he wants you to quit thinking about it and count it settled. 2) Start with the promise of God about forgiveness of sin. 1st John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." If you confessed your sin honestly to God, it is forgiven.

Psalms 103:8-14 says, "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us." What this means, is that if you ask God for forgiveness, you are forgiven, He will not harbor anger towards your sin. Let it go, move on, and accept that you are forgiven. Does this mean you should continue to sin over and over, knowing that you are forgiven? No. That's taking advantage of God. It means, once you have done that sin, certainly attempt not to ever do it again. No, we are none of us perfect, but he gave us free will so we could make our own choices: choose not to do that again.

3) Now, a great step in contentment and fellowship is to be not in some great emotional climax, in some... sudden feeling, but rather a quietly growing contentment and peace as you set out to follow the habits of a good Christian. This includes:
  • a) Daily reading of the Bible. Ask God to help you understand the Scriptures and enjoy them. If you feel pressure or tension as you are reading, so that it hinders the reading, don't fret. Just take your time, everyday, to read your Bible, whether its six chapters or one chapter, take time out of the busy lives that we lead, and read your Bible.
  • b) Then everyday as your failures and sins come to mind, confess them to God, count it settled, and leave them there never to worry about again. "Keep short accounts with God." This may be hard, but you'll find that after doing this once or twice, It will come easier.
  • c) "Dwell much in your mind not on yourself, either how good or bad," but on Jesus and how merciful and great his promises are. The peace of God has been given to you and you can have it, but he wants you to set out to, day by day, live and walk in that peace.
May God bless you and keep you.

Troy Hillman

Thursday, June 24

Nature of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and History

Sometimes referred to as the "Holy Ghost" or "Holy Spirit," this figure has at times been seen as enigmatic within the Christian tradition. Who is the Holy Spirit?  What role does the Spirit play throughout the sacred Scriptures? How has the Holy Spirit been viewed through Christian history - from the Nicene Creed to the recent Pentecostal movement? These are some of the questions we will seek to address. In the Trinitarian perspective, the Holy Spirit is one of the three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now, the term "trinity" did not arise until the time of Tertullian around AD 200, but the Trinitarian nature of the divine appears much early than this. Thus, from a Trinitarian perspective, the Holy Spirit appears as the "Spirit of God" hovering over the primordial waters of creation in Genesis 1:2. But there is much more to this Holy Spirit than it first appears. 

The Holy Spirit in the Scriptures
The role of the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible may appear minor, but it is still crucial in understanding the Christian perspective. The Holy Spirit came upon the anti-hero Samson when he took out the Philistines, overshadowed King David, Elijah, and others. Later, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we read, "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. [The disciples] saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [languages] as the Spirit enabled them." 

Imagery-wise, the Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove. One example is found in John 1:32-34 says, "Then John gave his testimony: 'I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and I testify that this is God's Chosen One" (many manuscripts says, "that this is the Son of God"). This image of the Spirit hovering is reminiscent of Genesis 1:2, and similar to Deuteronomy 32:11, which describes God as being "like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft." The later non-canonical Gospel of the Ebionites (AD 100-160) also says, "When he came up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, descending and entering him" (emphasis mine). In Dr. Luke's gospel, the archangel Gabriel says that the Holy Spirit would "overshadow" Mary, and she would become pregnant with Jesus. Perhaps the "overshadowing" has similar connotations to this descent, or hovering, seen consistently throughout Scripture.

In his De Trinitate, St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) - keeping in line with the notion of descent and its association with the Holy Spirit as a dove - speculated that just as the Holy Spirit appeared 50 days after the lamb (Jesus) was slain, and descended in tongues of fire at Pentecost, likewise, at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19, here it was the Spirit who descended in fire. He further noted that just as the theophany (appearance of God) of the burning bush has associations with fire, so too do the incidents at Mt. Sinai as well as at Pentecost, implying something deeper and passionate about the divine nature. Hence, this motif was later picked up by St. John of the Cross in his poem "Living Flame of Love".

On another note, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament seem to strongly infer (from a Christian perspective) that the Holy Spirit - also called "the Spirit of the LORD," "my Spirit," "his Spirit," "the Spirit of his Son," "the Spirit of Christ" and "the Spirit of God" all throughout the Bible - is God. Again, this Trinitarian perspective is often where the Holy Spirit comes into a higher regard, as opposed to non-Trinitarian traditions. Later legend has St. Patrick illustrating this unity with a three-leaf clover, which of course has three leaves, yet is connected by one stem.

In Acts 8:9, the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of Christ,” showing that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one. At the same time, the Father called the Spirit “my Spirit” several times in the Hebrew Bible, and in John 10:30, we find that Jesus and the Father are one. This heavily implies a Trinitarian nature. 2nd Corinthians 3:17-18 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is also omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-8), and is called eternal in Hebrews 9:14. Again, we may infer from these passages and their later interpretations that the Holy Spirit is to be viewed as God, or the Spirit of God. 

Historical Perspectives on the Holy Spirit
Early Christianity and the Holy Spirit have an interesting relationship. In fact, in the original creed at the council of Nicaea in AD 325 (not the later creed from the Council of Constantinople that came to be known as the Nicene Creed), the Holy Spirit was given one line - “and in the Holy Spirit,” and that was it. When these early Christians did finally say more about the Holy Spirit, they sparked the filioque controversy that created a division between the East and the West that remains a point of contention even to this day. This controversy centered around whether or not the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, or proceeded from the Father alone. Now, notably, the Spirit was given more attention in the later Athanasian Creed (sixth century). Nevertheless, aside from a handful of Christians through the centuries - from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Julian of Norwich or St. John of the Cross, the Spirit has mainly been relegated to Christian mystical writings.

As a side-note, the heretical movements and other non-canonical Christian writings refer to the Holy Spirit on a number of occasions.The Gospel of the Hebrews (AD 80-150) actually refers to the Holy Spirit in the feminine form, where Jesus says, "Just now my mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs and carried me up to the great mountain, Tabor." This is similar to the ancient concept of Sophia (wisdom) found in early biblical literature.The Gnostic Gospel of Philip 16 also portrays the Holy Spirit as female, and asks, "Some say Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. They err. They do not know what they say. When did a woman become pregnant by a woman?" Aside from associating the Holy Spirit as the divine feminine, a handful of other writings seem to associate the archangel Gabriel with the Holy Spirit. This association is later picked up in the early Islamic tradition, where it is Gabriel who speaks with and "overshadows" Mary. Now, some of these views may appear very odd and abnormal to many Christians today, but we must bear in mind that some of these fringe groups were seeking to claim the Holy Spirit in a certain light. A number of other early orthodox writings refer to the Holy Spirit when referring to the virgin birth, the acts of St. Paul or St. Peter, and others. So while the Gnostics, Ebionites, Nazarenes and others groups had a lot to say about the Holy Spirit, the main capacity that these early Christians seemed to mention the Holy Spirit in was often by paraphrasing or quoting parts of Scripture.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned problem of neglect for the Spirit came up again during the Reformation, not in Catholic circles but in Protestant circles. Martin Luther responded to a man named Thomas Muntzer, who claimed to receive divine revelation from the Holy Spirit apart from Scripture, saying that he would believe the man if “he had swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all.” Yet after this early Anabaptist movement arose, Luther saw Muntzer and the others as promoting social violence and as a result, he became much more adamant against such views of the Holy Spirit, and declared that the only valid vessel of revelation was God’s Word and the sacraments approved by it. Thus, the element of experience and its relation to the Holy Spirit was neglected. During the 1700s, however, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral was introduced, which describes Theology as being comprised of Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason. As the Holy Spirit is often associated with spiritual experiences, we may say that the Quadrilateral in some ways bridged the gap between Luther's view and a Wesleyan perspective.

Now, in his "Experience of Theology" from the The Routledge Companion to the Practice of Christian Theology. Garret Green discusses the 20th century perspectives on the Holy Spirit. Early on, thanks to the 1906 Azusa Street revival and the Holiness movement, Pentecostalism spread rapidly. The central message placed an emphasis on the Holy Spirit - one that has been lacking early in Christianity. Despite an initial and in some ways ongoing impasse between Pentecostals and others who focus more on the doctrinal and theological, there have been encouraging signs of dialogue. Indeed, there are some Pentecostal writers who have been slowly engaging with the Christian traditions on the Holy Spirit, such as David K. Bernard.

According to Dr. Simeon Zahl, professor of Theology from St. John's College in Oxford, at the heart of the Azusa Street developments, we find that experience and self-deception were central. Christians have had to find a harmony between criticizing Pentecostals for over-enthusiasm, emotionalism and self-deception, while at the same time not cutting off their spiritual roots and guidance by the Holy Spirit. This has been held in tension since the beginnings of Christianity - early Christians dealt with Montanists, the Reformation had Anabaptists, the Awakening in America had to deal with revivalism and hypocritical enthusiasm, and today we deal with similar views.

Also in the 1900s, the Jehovah's Witness movement, a non-Trinitarian group, has viewed the Holy Spirit as God's "active force." In fact, in their New World Translation of the Bible, they do not translate Genesis 1:2 as "the Spirit of God" hovering over the waters, but rather, "God's active force was moving about over the surface of the waters." A literal rendering of the verse would phrase it as the "spirit or breath [ruah] of God" (cf. Genesis 8:1), which is tied into the ancient association of spirit and breath. On a theological level, we may say that the Spirit of God is as close and intimate to as us our breath. However, the Jehovah's Witnesses appear to treat the Holy Spirit as more of an impersonal force, on the level of the Eastern notion of the Tao.

The nature of the Holy Spirit as a personal being vs an impersonal force will likely continue, but encouraging signs of dialogue among different traditions within Christianity continue. Christians continue to study the Scriptures, the traditions within the history, the creedal and confessional formulations, and attempt to discern the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives. But Green also cautions that in this understanding, we do not limit the Holy Spirit to what is in Scripture, as every utterance is not found in Scripture - but it must be in conformity with Scripture. Theologian Karl Barth once said that theology must always show itself in praxis. We must also be open to the Holy Spirit’s direction - for just as Jesus said, the Spirit blows as it wills. We are again reminded that the Spirit or "breath" should be close and intimate, so in the spirit of love, of dialogue and of kinship, we take a moment to appreciate the Holy Spirit, whom the Nicene Creed calls the "giver of life."

Troy Hillman

Tuesday, June 22

The Faithfulness of Abraham

Abram was a man who lived about 2,000 BC. He was the son of a man named Terah, and had two brothers, Haran and Nahor. His wife's name was Sarai. Abram and his wife, with their people, and Abram's nephew, Lot and his wife and children, were called by the LORD to leave for Canaan. Faithfully, Abram left with his family for Canaan. When they had arrived in Canaan, the land was already occupied. The LORD told Abram that this land would become the land of his descendants, that they would live there one day. This promise was fulfilled hundreds of years later when Joshua and the people reached the "promised land."

Abram was promised that through him, a great nation, a multitude of people numbered so many that, like the stars, they could not be counted. This promise was fulfilled. The problem was that his wife Sarai could not conceive, and they were old.

So, according the old custom, Abram took Sarai's servant, Hagar, and she had his eldest son "Ishmael." Then, the Bible tells us that Abram was visited by Three Men. (The Trinity - Father, Son, Holy Spirit) They told Abram and Sarai that she would give birth to a son, named Isaac.

Abram was re-named Abraham, and Sarai, Sarah, by the LORD. The point of telling you all this is to lead up to example of faithfulness. When Isaac was young, God asked Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering.

Through all of the struggles that he had faced, from leaving his homeland, to trusting God to provide for his family, everything that he had gone through, he knew that he had disappointed God too many times, and did not want that to happen again, with the short life he had left. (He was 86 when Isaac was born.)

Reluctantly, Abraham took Isaac to the mountain, bound his hands and feet, and before he could strike, God said to Abraham, (Genesis 22:12) "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son." When Abraham looked up, he saw a ram caught in a bush by its thorns. God provided.

The point I am trying to make here is this. If you trust in God, put your faith in him, being faithful until the very end, he will see your trust, see your faithfulness. God will provide. Sometimes, we are tested. Other times, things happen because of the choices that we make. Through it all, no matter how hard something may be, God is always there.

Abraham is a shining example of how we should be faithful. Am I saying to go try to offer your son as a burnt offering? Of course not! What I am saying is that if God asks you to do something, no matter how large, or how trivial it may seem, show faithfulness in everything that you do.

When God called out to Abraham, he responded by saying, "Here I am!" Abraham spoke with humility. God called out urgently. Was Jesus thinking of his own sacrifice that would occur two thousand years later when this occurred? Quite possibly.

When God told Joshua to march around Jericho for 7 Days, Joshua was faithful, and followed through. These people were ordinary people, and they trusted in the Lord. They obeyed his commands, and they proved loyal and faithful all the while. (You can find this story in Joshua 5:13-6:27)

We can learn by example. In everything we do, we should all be faithful. When I was called to write this blog and to start a Youth Group, it made me wonder what people would think. I wondered what people would do, what people would say. "If our God is for us, then what can stand against?" None can.

Like Abraham, I tried to be faithful in writing this. I try to write as often as I can. I am nowhere near as faithful as Abraham was, but I can learn something from his example, and so can you. It doesn't take blind faith to believe, God makes himself known to you in different ways.

We all need improvement in our relationship with God, no matter where we stand with him. Let Abraham's Faithfulness be a good example.

Take Care, and God Bless You. Troy Hillman

Saturday, June 19

Obeying God

What does it mean to Obey God? The dictionary definition tells us, "to comply with or follow the commands, restrictions, wishes, or instructions of." So, to obey God is to follow his commandments - not just the Ten Commandments, but the Commandments given by Jesus as well. (See past entry, The Commandments of Jesus)

Why obey God? Some do not want to obey God because of circumstances in their lives. Sometimes, God arranges the circumstances to keep harm out of your life - but as Christians, we all suffer trials and tribulations, we all face hardships.
God has given us the Bible. His commandments steer us away from unnecessary pain, and into life.

John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." If you trust God, trust that he knows what is best, and will follow his commandments, you are obeying God, and will live your life to the fullest.
Does obeying God ever get easy? Let me give an example. If children follow their parents merely because they do not want to be grounded, then the child will always struggle with obeying. It is the same way with obeying God.

He is our Eterna
l Father, and you will obey him when you trust him above all else. Does that happen all at once? Of course not. But to get to that point, you need to choose the "way of truth."

What next? Tell God you want to follow him, follow his ways. You walk by faith, not by sight. You read his word, the Bible, not only to learn more so that you may spread his word, but also to remind yourself what he has done for you. (Image taken from Gospel of John, starring Henry Ian Cusick)

Romans 10:17 says, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ." By reading his word, we are hearing the message, and are reminded of what he did for us.
If you stick to it, everyday, you will see how God remains faithful, even in the hard times. You trust him more and more, he "increases your understanding." (1st Kings 4:29)

By doing this, by trusting him, you begin to WANT to follow him, not just follow as duty. We are not human doings - we are human begins. Yes, he wants us to obey his commandments and follow him.
But he also wants us to trust him, to read the Word daily, you increase in understanding and spread his message, he wants us to obey, but by obeying, we should WANT to obey. The only way to do that is to put your Trust in him.

A Christian writer, Kevin Johnson, wrote this next passage. "What does Jesus want most from you? Jesus has a situation on his hands. A crowd of five thousand men - plus women and children - swarms toward him and his disciples. Jesus sees it's time to eat. And time for a pop quiz: 'Where's lunch coming from?' Jesus asks. 'For the whole hillside!' he adds. But he's not wondering where he can find the nearest Taco Tom's or looking for volunteers to cough up a spare year of salary. What he really wants is to know what the disciples think about him."

Johnson continues, "None of Jesus' disciples answer the quiz question right. Philip mumbles about the price. Andrew finds a kid toting what he regards as a useless little snack of fish and chips. The disciples all think Jesus means the lunch problem is their problem. To solve. To survive. And on their own they don't see solutions. All Jesus wants them to do is to ask for help. 'Crack the bread in half, Jesus,' he wants them to say. 'Start passing it around. You're able to do what we can't.' What he wants from his disciples - from his followers back then and from us now - is trust. It wasn't supposed to be a trick question. It was a trust question." (Kevin Johnson, Total Devotion, ©2004)

Jesus wants us to trust him. He wants us to ask for his help. Bu trusting him, we learn to want his help, and by wanting his help, we seek to obey him and follow his commands. Happy Father's Day, and if you do not have a good history with your Earthly Father, remember that your Heavenly Father is always loving.

Troy Hillman

Sunday, June 6

The Importance of Prayer

When I was younger, I used to own a "Teen Study Bible," NIV, from Zondervan Publishing. I don't recall the exact definition, but it listed the definition of prayer, and then it listed what prayer meant to most teenagers and adults: talking to the ceiling wondering if anybody is listening. While it took me a long time, I was raised to believe in God. It didn't come till two-three years ago that I started thinking seriously about the way I was living and where I was at in my walk with God. I was at the point where I hadn't prayed in about a year, and I thought that, as long as I thought about God once a day, I was good. Not so. I will not go into detail, but the mission that he told me, literally told me to do, I have begun. That is the very purpose of creating this blog: To start what I have been given, and to seek and save the lost, according to what Jesus tells us to do, and how to do it.

Now, he may not have directly said, "Go out into the nations and save souls using a blog on your computer at home." But he did tell us to seek and save the lost, and I intend to do that whenever and however I can. My whole point in telling you all of that, is this: It took me several years to even begin to understand the importance of prayer. Prayer is an open communication to God, it is not talking to the ceiling and wondering if anyone is listening, as so many often wonder. People sometimes pray for the wrong reasons, that is why some prayers are not answered. "Dear God, please help me as I go to the casino tonight." Well, for one, God tells us not to gamble. Two, because you are praying for something he is against, he will not help. Other times, people do not see a change. I tell a person that I am praying that they feel better. When I do this, sometimes they come up to me and ask why they are not feeling any better. Why things aren't going so well with their husband or wife, their boyfriend or girlfriend. Why they couldn't pass the test... that they used someone's notes to copy, and didn't read them or remember them.

The reason most of these may go "unoticed" is this. For some cases, God is ready to bring you home. That is why a speedy recovery is not always an option. Other times, he needs you to stay on Earth, and use what resources you have to spread his word.

Again, other times. Say that you have just gone through the most traumatic event in your life, and the entire time you prayed for God to stop it. Sometimes, we learn and grow from these experiences, and God can see the benefits of learning and growing, even when we cannot. I have had people ask me why God "did not" help them at times. I told them this. "Are you still alive?" They respond yes. "So you got through it. What did you learn from it? Why were you at this house in the first place? With what kind of friends? What kind of drink?" Things like that. As I stated in last night's entry, we so often place the blame on God for things - for decision we ourselves made.

Was it God's choice to go party and get caught with your friends? Was it God's choice to drive home drinking that night? No. Personal choices. I cannot speak for every instance, but more often than not, we blame God for things that we ourselves caused, not him. Switching back to prayer... why should we pray? God wants to hear us. Yes, he hears our every thought and desire, all of it. He hears every word that comes out of our mouths. He sees what we see. But we wants us to have open communication with him, and he is never too busy for us. To those who always tell me that God is too busy, let me say this. God would not create a Universe in which he was ever too busy for his creation.

Something else, about prayer. You don't need to kneel down in the middle of a meeting or a classroom, or your cubicle for that matter, to pray. I find that I feel my prayers more effective whenv I close my eyes, but there are many times during a day when I need to keep my eyes open, so I put my hand over my mouth, or make a gesture, and pray out loud, but in a low voice, so that God hears it. We need to be patient in what we pray for. Messages can come in thought or in a strong feeling, telling you, urging you, to do something. Whenever - and however these messages come, they are only for you. Jesus tells us that if we believe God will give us what we ask for - if it is right, that is, he will deliver.

Ephesians 3:20 says, "Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." If you ask God for something, as my dear friend, mentor, and Pastor would say, "Nothing is too hard for the Lord." God can do whatever you ask him to do, it just depends on whether it is for good or bad purposes - and God sees the end result of how it will effect you in the long run, and the reason prayers may go unanswered at times is because God knows that it will end badly if he grants us what we desire in a certain thing. When you pray, don't hold back. Pray from your heart. The best prayers are prayers in tears, according to God. Does that mean that simple prayers don't mean anything? No. They mean everything to God. He wants us to commune with him. So, do so.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Take Care, and God Bless You. Troy Hillman

Thursday, June 3

Bible Memorization (Part Two)

Why should we memorize scripture? For several reasons. As I have stated elsewhere, most Christians read their Bible a mere 5 minutes out of the entire year. The sad part, is that most don't even read it for a mere 5 minutes - they only think about reading it for about five minutes. There are approximately 525,600 Minutes in an entire year. Aside from sleeping, that's about 525,595 minutes that are not spent reading the Word of our Creator and Savior.

God's Word is fully inspired, he literally speaks through the writers. The study and memorization of scriptures is a direct command from God. Our purpose on this Earth is to glorify God and to save as many people that we can in the time allotted. But we cannot do that if we do not obey his commands. Unless we know God's Word and obey it, we will never be able to understand it. Pray for spiritual discernment, to understand the scriptures, before, during, and after you read. Memorizing scripture is a delight to our souls, and it keeps us from sin and folly. It improves our lives as Christians, and God wants us to have a willingness to read his word. When I began reading my Bible, I promised God I would read it from start to end, no matter how long it took. It has taken a very long time, I am now on Revelation, the last book. But that has no hindered me from studying other scripture. I have been asked if I will put my Bible away when I finish Revelation. This was my reply: "I will not stop reading, studying, and memorizing, until there is nothing left to memorize." In other words, once I finish, I will begin again at Genesis, with better understanding and knowledge of God's Word, and we never stop learning. Ever. So, I will not only begin again, but I will be studying several other books as well at the same time, just I am now. The ones I look into the most are Genesis, John, and Revelation.

Now, to start of, here are some practical tips when trying to memorize.

1) The TV is a big distraction, and can take time out of family time, or personal time with God. He saved us, there's no way for us to full repay him, so read his word! Turn off the TV, even if its for a half hour.

2) There are no special tricks, just consistency in memorizing, but if you have tricks or aids that will help, then by all means, use them.

3) If you are memorizing with an unrepentant and unwilling heart, it will not show in the fruits of your labor. You will not grow spiritually unless you repent.

4) Consistency, Review, and Repetition. This does not come without Discipline, Desire, and Dedication.

5) Do NOT be afraid to write and mark your Bible. In fact, it is highly recommended. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us that we cannot underline, highlight, circle words, add post it notes to help us remember, we are just not to add the God's Word, but we may take as many notes and study in whichever way you chose.

6) Sometimes, writing out a verse and reciting it verbally helps, or doing flashcards with a friend or family member. If writing out a verse multiple times works better for you, by all means.

Now, allow me to give you some suggested reading. (Special Thanks to Gideon BS.)
  • The Ten Commandments - Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:7-21
  • The Sermon on The Mount - Matthew 5-7
  • Christian Love - 1st Corinthians 13
  • The Golden Rule - Matthew 7:12
  • Christ's New Commandment - John 13:34-35
  • The Righteousness of Faith - Romans 3:19-28
  • The Royal Law - James 2:8, Romans 13:8-10
  • The Greatest Commandment - Matthew 22:36-40
  • The Parousia (Return of Christ) - Matthew 24, 2nd Thessalonians 1:7-2:12
  • The Eschaton (Final Event) - Revelation 20:10-15
  • A New Heaven and a New Earth - Revelation 21-22
Now, if you are looking to memorize particular verses, say for example a friend or relative comes up to you and asks, what about swearing? Where in the Bible does it talk about that? Well, it talks about it in several different verses. Most Bibles have a Concordance, which would greatly help, or a Bible Dictionary, which typically provides the scripture.
One of the commonly used verses to show that we are not to swear is found in Ephesians 4:29, which says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

The Bible is also a history book. The best textbook I've ever read. I will outline some of the major events referenced or talked about in the Bible, and you may do with these verses what you wish. This is not a full list of where these events can be found, but isn't that the whole point of familiarizing yourself with the Bible?
  • The Creation of the Universe (Genesis 1 and 2)
  • The Fall of Man (Genesis 3)
  • The Flood (Genesis 6-9)
  • The Call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-9)
  • Deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 1-14)
  • Dedication of Solomon's Temple (2nd Chronicles 5-7)
  • Captivity of Israel under Babylonians (2nd Chronicles 36)
  • Restoration of Israel after Captivity (Nehemiah 8-9)
  • Prophecies of the Messiah, Jesus (Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53)
  • The Birth of Christ (Matthew 1:18-2:23, Luke 1:26-2:40)
  • Triumphant Entry (Luke 19:8-44)
  • The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36, 2nd Peter 1:16-1:18)
  • The Last Supper (Mark 14:12-26)
  • Betrayal of Jesus (Matthew 26:47-56)
  • Arrest and Trail of Jesus (John 18:12-19; 26)
  • Death of The Messiah (Luke 23:26-56)
  • Resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24, John 20)
  • Ascension of Christ (Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:1-12, Mark 16:19)
  • Coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:1-31)
I hope you have found this a helpful resource in some way. Be adventurous. Be creative. Try your own methods.  Be open to new and exciting possibilities.
Troy Hillman 

Tuesday, June 1

Bible Memorization (Part One)

How do we memorize and familiarize ourselves with the books of the Bible? (Part One)

In the past few months, I have been using post-it notes, writing the book, the chapter, and the verse(s) at the top. (See Picture.) I include the verse, no matter how long it is, if it is long it goes front and back. Now, you do not have to use a post-it, you may use a piece of scrap paper or whatever suits you, but this is what I use. Usually blue post-its, thus the reason the picture is blue.

After you have written the verse out, stick it in that spot in the Bible. That way, when you are flipping through, you will get a better idea of where which book is in the Bible. It will help the memorization process.

Use flashcards. Put the book, chapter, verse on the front, and the verse on the back. It works wonders, believe me. Go through them as often as possible, and by the first few times, you will be able to quote scripture.

Begin underlining verses that are of value to you - that you think apply directly to you, and while all verses do, I mean this: take for example the teenager who cuts his or herself. For one, they already know its wrong. But say someones told them that it was in the Bible and they weren't sure where to find it. Leviticus 19:28 says, "Do not cut your bodies or tattoo yourselves. I am the Lord." I know that, only because of memorization.

By reading over passages several times, you will easily be able to remember them - flashcards, post-its, whatever it may be, they all help. By memorizing scripture, it will help the way you approach people, change your life, it will help you in your prayers, scripture is a powerful tool in prayer.

While this is a very short entry, I will be GREATLY expanding and expounding upon this subject tomorrow, and will be suggesting several verses too mark. God Bless, Take Care. Troy Hillman