As I write this lesson, it is the first week of November, yet the retailers already have their Christmas decorations up, television shows are offering Christmas cooking segments, and schools are practicing for holiday concerts. I still have leaves to rake, a family event to plan, and the distractions of unsettling news stories.
The situations of our world can distract us from what is of greatest importance. When least expected, we may encounter heartache or situations that disrupt life and challenge the normal.
When people are desperate for hope they often gravitate to any person who seems to promise what they want. Our study compares and contrasts two biblical texts about the same redemption of God event, but positioned in a different context.
Herod Agrippa II, son of Agrippa I, ruled Galilee for 42 years, while Judea, in the south, continued to be administered by a string of Roman governors in order to maintain tight control of Jerusalem. Luke describes this king's devotion; he “understood well all the Jewish customs and controversies” (v. 3). Agrippa II was loyal to Rome, which explains his long rule, and – unlike his predecessors – avoided violence as a pattern for control. He is the sole reasonable Herod.
Is there no end to the Herods? Here we are studying the third ruler in the Herodian dynasty. Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great and nephew of Herod Antipas, appears only in Acts 12 in the Bible. But this Herod is different from his royal relatives in that he is the religious king.
In the plainspoken New Testament letter called “James,” the writer contrasts two opposing ways to live (James 3:13-18). The first way is marked by “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart,” warning “do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth” (v. 14 NASV).
My wife and I attended worship with family members in a large Baptist church in Ft. Worth, Texas. It was Father’s Day and the sermon was based on the story of Sampson. On the long drive home to Missouri we discussed why the preacher used the tragic story of a man who lived selfishly and immorally as an example for fatherhood.
Freedom is an intoxicating idea. When we are growing up we long for the day when we can make our own choices and not be under parental control. When we become adults we discover that the freedom we so longed for has repercussions as we experience social pressures and the consequences of our choices. Then we begin to long for those golden retirement years when no one will tell us what to do, and then we revisit the burdens of the past and wish we could redo life! Isn't freedom great!?
When I made my confession of faith in Christ, my circle of high school friends came from many different churches and they were all recruiting me. They all had suggestions about what I should do if I really wanted to serve God.
It is sad how easy it is to twist God's truth into something that builds walls, locks people in cages of hopelessness and ignores the truth of God's love and grace. This letter to the Christians in Galatia confronts the destructive authority of religious legalism and human prejudice. Paul sums up the heart of Christianity with a simple statement: “You are all God's children through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:20).
Sometimes I think I've heard it all as people confronted me with my future: tarot cards, astrology's life-shaping power, a demon-possessed man threatening my soul and a high priest of Satan describing the devil's power. There is no shortage of religion or claims to spiritual truth in our world.