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Grown Up Bible Stories 

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A Father’s Faith

He couldn’t just shake his head and mutter something about the will of God. He had too much at stake. He had one child, a twelve-year-old girl. She was his only one, and she was ill, deathly ill. Religious man or not, it is neither natural nor right to walk away from a dying child and assume that her death is the will of God. So today, this man went to seek a religious figure from outside the local organization.

A Man for an Impossible Situation

He was a legend in his own time. The first son of the nation’s first king, he stood to inherit the crown. He even showed promise of filling that crown better than his father did. A national hero, a man with great popular support, he had a lot going for him. Only, as the saying goes, "It’s hard to soar with the eagles when you work with a bunch of turkeys." In this case, it wasn’t a bunch of turkeys—it was his royal father.

A Mother’s Triumph

She was desperate. Her three-month old baby lived under a death warrant, and hiding him grew more difficult by the day. She was part of an oppressed ethnic group living in the territory of one of the world’s superpowers. The government had decreed that all baby boys of her race must die. It was an effort at population control, an effort born of mistrust and prejudice. Today, we’d call the whole mess ethnic cleansing. When the midwives who delivered her people’s babies managed to outsmart the ruler’s command to kill all male children at birth, the command had become general. All of this king’s subjects were ordered to drown any infant boys found among the unwanted people. A command that broad was impossible to escape. Her baby had to go in the river. She had hidden him as long as was humanly possible. The end result was inevitable. It was time to face reality and let the sweet little thing go.

A Savior Is Born

The meaning of Christmas becomes most apparent in the lives of people who aren't part of the traditional Christmas story. Some of them may not even have been born yet on that most famous of birthdays. Most of them have remained nameless in history. They were just ordinary people who needed a Savior they didn't have until they met Jesus. Yet, it is in their lives that we begin to understand what the angel meant when he said a Savior had been born. Here are the stories of a few of them.

All They Did Was Show Up for Work

Whatever happened at the top, the people living out the hard realities of the situation were commoners. Peter was working class. His guards were soldiers. Both he and they were pawns in the hands of the big boys. None of their lives mattered to the man making the decisions.

Angels in the Sky

One of history’s more interesting incidents involved a sin by one of its greatest kings. The incident isn’t so spectacular because King David did the wrong thing. David had already demonstrated the full range of human weaknesses despite his great devotion to God. Rather, the story grabs the attention because it lifts the curtain and gives a glimpse of the interaction between heaven and earth. It is one of those places in the Bible where the veil hiding the spiritual realm is eased back and we get a view of some of the forces at work in the unseen world. (Ends with a Christmas parallel.)

Bigger than Magic

He was only a prisoner. Well actually, it was worse than that. He was a slave whose master unfairly suspected him of trying to get too involved with his wife. His master, a high government official, controlled the prison. As a foreign slave from a tiny nation-clan, he couldn't expect much help. He might face more years than he cared to count on the chain gang. He may even have wondered about facing an executioner. Yet, there was something exceptional about this particular slave-turned prisoner. For one thing, everything he touched seemed to turn a profit; although, as a slave he didn’t get the wealth personally. This uncanny ability had once made him his master’s personal business manager. Now it made him foreman of hard labor in the prison. His ability was unusual. Actually, what we know from today’s perspective assures us that his ability included a supernatural element.

Buried Alive

The histories of many nations include periods of anger. Whether the result of oppression, international events, or charismatic but angry leaders, whole societies sometimes become enraged. Sometimes such anger rights wrongs. Other times, it only maims, bereaves, and oppresses. An angry public, like an angry person, often proves dangerous. Such nationwide anger during the famed Exodus led to one of history’s more remarkable incidents.

Caring Enough to Win

My father! My father! The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!” Today, Elisha wasn't speaking those words. A man he was leaving behind was saying them to him. This great prophet wasn't about to ride to Heaven in a whirlwind. Rather, he was slowly dying of illness.

Challenging the Gods

He stole through the night with a handful of servants. History doesn’t remember such personal details, but the farmer had to have trembled just a little. His family owned the shrine he planned to destroy, but they didn’t control the spiritual powers behind that shrine or the emotions of the neighbors who prayed there. Destroying the abode of the gods wasn’t the kind of thing a guy did and lived to tell about it. But then, he’d just had one of the strangest experiences in history. Attacking a highly honored god was only one of the unsurvivable things he faced.

Chariots of Iron

There was a place in ancient Israel named Weeping. At this sad spot, the living God told the world’s most marvelous army its winning streak was over. Here, the people of God heard their Deliverer say in effect, “You weren’t willing to follow Me all the way, so you can go your own way. You’re on your own, and you will ruin yourselves.” It is no wonder the people wept. Things had started out so differently too.

Dealing with the Evidence

He sat in perpetual darkness as he plied his trade. It probably wasn’t his trade of choice, but his life offered few options. He was blind. He lived in an economy dominated by agriculture, and farming didn’t come easily for blind men. The technology that allows sightless people to pursue commercial careers today hadn’t been invented yet. Even living in a city famed for scholarship, he couldn’t pursue a scholastic career as Braille hadn’t been invented either, and scholars weren’t particularly interested in making a way for the blind. He lived in the ancient Middle East, and even such basic aids as dark glasses and white canes lay far in the future. This particular man really had one career choice. He could sit on the street and beg for handouts.

Enforcing the Enforcer

They didn’t really have civilian police officers in ancient Palestine, but this man came pretty close. He was educated in the law. He had ties to the highest national authorities. He was intensely patriotic and burned with zeal for his nation and its law. He didn’t merely do a professional job of arresting criminals. He actively sought opportunities to attack them.

Faith beyond Nature

The death of John was more than the death of a public figure. It was the death of a respected teacher and relative. Jesus had pulled back into Galilee at John's arrest. Now he suggested a mini-vacation of sorts. He and the twelve clambered into a boat and headed up the coastline toward a wilderness area. The dry desolate hills offered a place to pull back from the crowds, to rest, and to heal. It didn't work. Jesus was a local sensation. His presence proved just too much of a draw. Literally thousands hiked along the Galilean shore toward his lonely destination. Others seem to have followed by boat. The crowd arrived before his wilderness retreat could even begin. Tired and grieving or not, Jesus saw the very hearts of those spiritually hungry people.

"Follow Me"

Peter was back on Lake Galilee. In fact, he and six of Jesus' other friends went fishing. Peter had suggested the venture. Perhaps he needed money. Then too, their world had moved through disaster to a whole new understanding of death and hope in a few short days. Perhaps they all needed to step back and regroup. In any event, Peter was fishing on Galilee again. We don't know that Peter intended to return to fishing as a career, but he did go fishing this particular night. He was doing what he'd done before Jesus came along and said, “Follow Me.”

God's Man and the Devil's City

Of all the dramatic moments in Scripture, the disaster that befell the city of Sodom stands among the most dramatic. While time—not to mention fiery destruction—has placed many statistics beyond our reach, the disaster was huge. It involved multiple cities and a large rural area. Only three people survived. Those three survivors had no way of knowing, but they survived because of an important conference the day before.

God Was Big Enough After All

Jeremiah became unpopular long before the foreign army renewed its siege. As a divine spokesman, he had run afoul of conventional wisdom. Popular thought held that offering sacrifices to God in the temple was a good thing, but the old idea of worshiping God alone was outmoded. Jeremiah's contemporaries maintained the temple and called themselves the people of God while also keeping shrines to the many deities their world believed in. After all, people worshiped in hope of gaining earthly advantages from the heavens, and they needed all the help they could get. God, in their minds, wasn't big enough to cover all life's contingencies. Standing for God's rightful place required a thick skin.

In Over Their Heads

We don't know much about the seven men who plied the creepy trade of exorcism. We know they were brothers. Their dad's name was Sceva. They traveled the ancient world, driving—or at least attempting to drive--evil spirits from the possessed. As Jews, their own religious background avoided the mysterious spirits that hung out around pagan temples. In addition to their own safe worship, they had learned traditional methods that seemed to help drive off unwanted spirits. Thus equipped, they became a resource of last resort for those whose lives had turned terrible.

Journey to Good Enough

Jesus told the story of a family with a serious problem. The problem lay in the youngest son. His father's farm wasn't good enough for him. His place in the family wasn't good enough for him. His predictable future wasn't good enough for him. True, he was a son of the family. He would someday inherit his share of his father's holdings. His livelihood would be secure in his part of the farm. It was a comfortable prospect, if not glorious. But he wasn't content. He wanted more excitement and satisfaction in life. He seems to have felt himself too good for his home and family.

Magic Versus Miracle

Samaria was the kind of city where a practitioner of the occult could find himself honored as a man of God. We know this fact about this city because history records that a man named Simon did just that. In a superstitious world where evil spirits are seen as gods, it doesn’t take a lot to sway people’s thinking. Even a sleight-of-hand artist might pass himself off as a spiritual superstar in such a setting. It does seem, though, that Simon did have at least some real influence with the unseen world. The record is that he practiced magic and amazed the locals who saw him as the great power of God.

Nature and Super-Nature

In light of this experiential knowledge, Peter and his friends had their senses and their sensibilities challenged over and over by Jesus Christ. Jesus fitted the natural world extremely well, but He claimed to be from the spirit world. Peter and his friends believed in Jesus and His claims, but like many believers for much of history, they didn't always recognize all the implications of their beliefs. They were students of the one Man who uniquely brought the loving side of the spiritual world into the physical world. It should come as no surprise that their faith and minds didn't always keep up.

Reclaiming a Failure

Shortly after Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He met with his twelve closest followers on the shore of the lake that we call the Sea of Galilee. The disciples had been out fishing, and Jesus called them to land to partake in a breakfast of roasted fish. Among those disciples was one man who had reason to be unsure of his standing with Jesus.

Taking Away the Stone

It is hard to call any day involving Jesus Christ an ordinary day. The only ordinary thing about Him was that He was human. He specialized in the extraordinary—teaching about God at a level that defied the routine of religion, feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish, driving out demons without the rites of the exorcist, and healing the sick without medicine were hardly ordinary activities. Yet, presumably, even these things would eventually begin to seem ordinary to those who followed Him regularly. On one of these more-or-less ordinary extraordinary days, a messenger came along and interrupted. . . The appeal may not have been stated, but the intention was obvious. Somebody in a household that often hosted Jesus was sick. Not just common-cold sick, but sick enough to warrant sending a neighbor out on foot for several days to call an important man away from His work. They were facing something serious. They were worried.  

The Beginning                                                                                                                              

Eliminate planets, stars, moons, cosmic dust, and matter of any kind. Also eliminate energy. All that is left is space. It is dark. It is empty. It is colder than you’ve ever experienced. If you should happen to find yourself in this environment, you would be dead before you even realized how remote and helpless you were. Yet, this is the picture we get if we look far enough into the past. People debate just how the earth came to be and how the different species of life arose upon it. They debate these things, but the debate must end in a black, terribly cold emptiness with no raw materials with which to build a universe, no time in which to do so, and no energy with which to work.

The Decision

He was a victim. When the great Chaldean king, Nebuchadnezzar, came from what we now call Iraq, deposed the Jewish king, and took whatever promising young noblemen he could prisoner, the young man in question got swept up in his net. There wasn’t a Geneva Convention to keep the rising emperor from killing his P.O.W.’s, so the young man did fare better than some of Nebuchadnezzar’s captives. Still, he was little more than a slave, a lifetime servant of a sometimes-brutal dictator.

The Devoted One

The last few days represented total upheaval. Mary Magdalene had been an eyewitness to the defeat of the greatest display of God’s power yet known to humanity. She had seen no one less than the man she knew to be a prophet of unprecedented power die like an ordinary mortal. Actually, he’d died like less than an ordinary mortal. He’d hung from a wooden rack and died publicly as a condemned criminal.

The End of the Boy King

The king lay alone, far from the admiring crowds that had filled and shaped his life. He lay alone, sick, defeated, and suffering. He was royalty, yes, but at the moment, he was mostly a hurting human. Other famous kings of the Jewish nation sought the God of their fathers at such times. But for Joash, God wasn’t really an option. He’d lost his faith among the crowds of admirers who’d thronged him.

The Fisherman and the Carpenter

People often describe Peter as a big, rough-hewn working man. They see him as outspoken, impulsive, and ignorant, a man who needed help. Actually, what history records of the man whose first name was Simon suggests a bit more gracious interpretation. Outspoken he was. We really don't know if he was tall, short, fat, thin, dignified, or rough. We do know that he was a religious man who had never fudged on his kosher diet. We know that he was the kind of family man whose mother-in-law found welcome in his home. He was also a professional and a businessman. He was a professional fisherman. He also seems to have been a partner in his fishing venture. As such, it isn't really stretching things to call this technical expert a businessman as well.

The Flood

Life seemed very normal in the years before the disaster. In fact, some would have suspected that conditions were close to ideal. The records that far back are a bit sketchy, but it looks as if there may have been worldwide unity. People spoke the same language. There isn’t a lot of evidence that the earth’s population had developed into multiple nations with their conflicts and wars. In fact, migration and social isolation had yet to produce what today we call races. It was an ideal world socially, or rather it had been.

According to the preacher, things were coming apart at the seams.

The Good Samaritan

Jesus had just reiterated the Old Testament command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. His hearers were already familiar with this important duty. Still, it was a powerful message, a message that no one could argue with.

Among the audience that day in old Palestine was a lawyer, however. A lawyer was, even then, an expert on exactly what the law said and also on making what it said fit the situation the way he wanted it to. He saw a loophole and went for it. He said: "And who is my neighbor?"

The King and the King of Kings

The man remembered as Herod the Great held an enviable position. In a world dominated by an Emperor, he had politicked and battled his way into a royal title. He was King Herod. Subject to Rome’s Caesar, of course, he ruled a significant chunk of Middle Eastern real estate. He wielded life-and-death authority over thousands of people. Herod owned an enviable position, and he knew it.

The Making of a Traitor

One of history’s most despised individuals started out as one of the privileged few.

The Man Who Sold His Rights

He was an outdoorsman. Rugged and self-reliant, he was the kind of guy a lot of men choose as a role model. He was a hunter, used to getting what he wanted by his own strength and skill. It is no surprise that he became his father’s pet.

The Man Whose Eyes Were Opened

One of my favorite Bible stories involves a very mysterious character, Balaam the son of Beor. But, let’s start at the beginning.

The Outcast

It’s one of the ironies of history. When God planned a Messiah to bring healing to a hurting world, he chose to start the action with a very dysfunctional family. But then again, redemption in a dysfunctional world would have to start with dysfunctional people. We remember Abraham and Isaac, the first patriarchs of this family, as good men—and they were. They also were products of the world and society they lived in. As a result, even these great men faced difficulties in their home lives.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

It is interesting that one of Jesus' most graphic descriptions of the afterlife came in response to people who mocked His teachings about greed in this life. It is also interesting that the people who took offense at His teachings were specialists in Old Testament Law. After all, the the ten commandments—the heart of that law--forbade covetousness. Jesus responded with a parable about two men, one rich and one poor. Jesus didn't name the rich man. The poor man shared the name Lazarus with an actual friend of Jesus. Unlike Jesus' friend, however, the Lazarus of His story was desperately poor.

The Secret Agent                                                                                                                     

There have been people that God Himself placed in very trying circumstances. They have been people who’ve had to serve God by working for His enemies. I suppose you might call them the spiritual equivalent of spies or secret agents. As in earthly politics, the job is neither safe nor easy. It also leads to some very strange situations.

The Stranger

One couple, however, walked sadly and alone. They didn’t walk like people heading home from a holiday. For that matter they didn’t walk like people returning from a holy day. They looked more like people whose faith had been crushed. It had been, and their greatest hopes lay in ruins.   

The Testing

Had you been there, you would not have seen anything to suggest the enormity of the crisis. A lone man camping in the Middle Eastern desert hardly would suggest a situation in which the future of Heaven and Earth hung in the balance. Had you drawn closer, however, you would have seen that the man was skinny, unnaturally skinny. Had you drawn even closer, perhaps you would have observed a sickly yellow tint to His skin, a jaundice stemming from enough hunger to have seriously impacted His health. History doesn’t describe His appearance, but had you drawn closer still and looked carefully, you might have even read in his eyes a look of inner struggle. Perhaps you would have wondered what demon was plaguing that man as you walked on your way.  Actually, there was a demon plaguing him, but it wasn’t an inner one.

The View from the Cave

Caves are dark places. The darkness fit the lone man’s mood. It fit his sense of despair. It fit his need to hide. True, back at the cave’s entrance there was light, but the light missed this particular man on this particular day. He’d had his day in the sun. He’d performed gloriously, too, bringing a display of God’s power that would be remembered for thousands of years. But as he hid in the cold darkness of the earth, that day lay behind him. He’d been a spiritual hero last month. Today, he was a has-been.

The Weak Commando

He was a man of iron, but also a man of irony. The man most universally remembered for great strength was also a man of great weakness. He was a man consecrated to God before birth, yet his religion never seems to have quite reached his heart. He spent his life wearing the sign of a holy man, but he wasn’t holy. He wasn’t supposed to touch a dead body, yet he killed thousands single-handedly. He was a man of contrasts, a hero and a villain, a patriot whose numerous girlfriends inevitably belonged to the enemy. He lived, fought, killed, and died for the good of his country, but his motives were often personal rather than civic. The man whom even his countrymen feared was unable in the end to rise above his own emotions. 

Two Men, Two Scandals, Two Results

Their stories contain several parallels. Both started out as younger sons in agricultural families. Both cared for sheep. Both had trouble with older brothers. Both were men of God. Both knew hardship and luxury. Both rose from obscurity to great power and prominence. In fact, both became national rulers. Each was tempted to intimacy with another man’s wife. They responded to that temptation differently, and their stories end differently.

When Actions Weren't Better than Words

The historical narratives of the Bible include the full range of human experience. Love and hate, peace and war, triumph and defeat, life and death, holiness and evil fill its stories. Of all the glorious joy and devastating sorrow we find in Scripture, one of the saddest stories involves one of history’s greatest men.

Where is the God of Elijah?

It was a day like few others; a day filled with parting and grief, a day of victory over death and yet of bereavement, a day of miracle and mystery. While there have been greater days in history, there has never been one just like it. For one man, it was the day from which all days afterward must be counted. That man was there, saw it all up front, and faced the crisis of his own destiny as a result.

Willing to Pay the Price

The missionary recognized God’s voice in these warnings, but he also believed God was telling his heart to continue into danger. When friends wept and begged, he asked them not to break his heart. He was willing to be chained in prison for the cause of Jesus Christ. Beyond that he was even willing to die. He would go where he felt he was needed. He was totally sold out to his Lord and willing to pay the price of that commitment.

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