Covid-19 – Mask Mandate Update

As of February 28, the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health have changed their guidelines for wearing masks indoors.  The church board agreed to continue its policy of consistently following the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines for COVID as best practices for the church.  This means masks are encouraged, but no longer required in the building.Because some may feel uncomfortable not masking in a group setting, Barker Hall will be reserved for people who wish to be in a mask only setting during worship.
After discussing masking with the LOGOS CARE team and parents of Little Logos, it has been decided to go to a masks optional situation for LOGOS. This is supported by the Church Board.We understand that these changes will be welcomed by some and others may experience some level of discomfort with this change.  Please know that if you decide to wear a face covering in the church for yourself or your loved ones, you should do so without hesitation, and be supported in that decision.  The Church Board appreciates the love and understanding the congregation has shown to each individual with respect to masking and distancing. Please continue to be respectful of the decisions of others with regard to masking. We are all children of God. If you have questions or feedback about this issue, please feel free to discuss them with a Board member or Pastor Brian.

Practices for the Church on Mission – Proclaiming the Gospel

The third chapter of David Fitch’s “Seven Practices for the Church on Mission” is one that in some circles evokes a simultaneous “of course” and “yeah, but…”

Proclaiming the Gospel.  Evangelism.  Sharing the good news about Jesus.

It is the heart of why the church exists – to carry out this mission and embody it.  And yet, if we’re honest – sometimes we seem embarrassed to do so.  Or we say we’re ‘planting seeds’, but in such an obscure way that it would be hard to draw the line back to Jesus.

The problem with words

The words themselves: evangelical, evangelism, evangelist, have come to carry unfortunate connotations in many circles.  To some, an evangelist is less about sharing the Gospel and more about a slick proclamation that hides a personal agenda for one’s own power or financial gain (think some televangelists or the personal empires of some well-known church leaders).  Contrast that to Paul who wrote in 1 Cor 2:1-5 “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified….so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

To others, the word evangelical has narrowed further in the past 50 years to be identified with a partisan political affiliation and agenda.  To be sure – that does not represent everyone who calls themselves an evangelical (see Roger Olson), but we need to acknowledge that this is how many see the label.

And evangelism itself has suffered from both a too restrictive narrowing of its scope and hope and an expansion of its meaning that renders the idea almost meaningless; that doing nice things for people is evangelism.    I’m being a bit harsh here…both a concern about eternity and present acts of mercy are important facets of what the actual Gospel is — the question is whether we are actually as centered in the whole of the Gospel of Jesus as we might think we are.

Reclaiming the real mission

In other words – how do we rejoin the experience of the early church who prayed for boldness in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus (Acts 4:29, 28:31, 2 Cor. 3:12, Ephesians 6:19, etc) , while making sure that we are actually pointing to Jesus, and not our own political or theological preferences?

David Fitch pulls it together this way:

“The Gospel is that God has come in Christ, who has been made Lord, and a whole new world (the kingdom of God) has begun.  In Christ, God has begun to make things right.

Proclaiming the gospel therefore is the art of announcing to our neighbors that this new world has begun in Christ”

There’s so much good stuff here in this chapter, but I don’t want to simply regurgitate or copy what he has written.

Instead, I just want to highlight a few images that I find helpful in re-centering us in what it means to proclaim the Gospel:

Proclamation is less about haranguing people, and more painting a picture — it is about describing what God has done and is doing in the world; what the kingdom of God is like, and inviting people into that world.

Proclaiming the Gospel can happen in many ways, but doesn’t rely on our skills and technique, but on what we have experienced of the power and presence of God in Jesus.  We don’t have to have a perfect life to share Jesus (Paul didn’t!), and neither do we have to have some dramatic conversion story from a life of utter ruin (Peter didn’t), we just have to be real about the difference Jesus has made and makes in our lives today.

Proclaiming the Gospel includes us – but isn’t about us.  We aren’t the focus – and it’s not about gaining followers/subscribers/likes, etc…   it is about coming together in acknowledging  Jesus as Lord, not with the person doing the proclaiming being in a position of power over the other, but an invitation to a shared journey.  We’re not at the center of this, Jesus is.  We’re not gatekeepers, but those called to share what we’ve received.

All of this invites us to some important questions:

    • What is the kingdom of God all about?  What does it look like when Jesus is being acknowledged as Lord and people are truly seeking to follow and live in Christ-like ways?
    • How have I experienced God’s presence in my life?  What’s my story?
    • How does that reality, even as we experience it in part, change the way we face the concerns, values and realities of today?
    • How then, does the good news of Jesus speak to the needs of the people we meet?  (so that we can help paint a picture of how the gospel truly is good news to their situation)

Practices for the Church on Mission – Reconciliation

If we were to compile a list of essential practices of the church on mission, things like prayer, Bible study, helping people, might be near the top of our list.

I sincerely doubt pastor and theologian David Fitch would argue against any of those things being a vital part of our lives together.  Yet his list of seven practices for the church on mission directs us to think about how those things get habitually applied as we live out our faith.

Following the practice of the Lord’s Table, he lists reconciliation as the second key practice for the church.  And this is important.  Because as we read throughout the New Testament, there is a tremendous concern not just for the key theological belief about our reconciliation with God through Jesus, but also how we live that out in the rest of our lives in regards to our relationship with others.

The letter of 1 John puts it bluntly; “Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20b)

Church community is hard.  If we’re in it for any length of time, we will not only experience the care and love of a community walking with us in Christ, but we’ll also see the reality that none of us are there yet – we will encounter gossip, griping, power moves, pettiness, and sadly, sometimes people who abuse their power or position.  I’m not about to excuse any of that.  It’s real.  It’s in the church because it is everywhere, and the church is made of people still dealing with their brokenness, pain and sin.  And there will be times where it’s not about ‘right’ vs ‘wrong’ but simply differences of opinion or conflict that comes naturally as we work through how to do life and do life together.

But what *does* make the church different than the rest of the world is its ministry of reconciliation – when we are willing to do the work.  Not just inviting people to be reconnected with God, but taking the initiative to be reconciled with one another when there is something that needs to be healed in our relationships.

In other words, when the church is a place where we own our mistakes and lean into conflict not to win, but to seek truth and renewed community; that provides a powerful witness of Jesus’ presence and power to the world.

One the aspects he names of the practice of reconciliation is found in Paul’s counsel in Ephesians 5:21: “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This concept of mutual submission doesn’t seek vindication or punishment as much as restoration, healing and renewed fellowship.  At this point, I need to pause and say that the practice of reconciliation is *not* about diminishing or evading consequences where there have been situations of abuse or deep harm.

Genuine reconciliation involves both parties, truth telling, and accountability.  We quickly get into deep waters that require not just human wisdom and commitment but God’s Holy Spirit to guide us.

As throughout the book, Fitch explores what reconciliation looks like within the community of believers, but then also how we can be hosts of reconciliation in the wider network of our relationships – how do we help bridge fractures between people, model Christ-centered submission and humility to others, and take responsibility for our actions?

And in the “half circle” where we are neither the “in-group” or the “host”, Fitch addresses what that work could look like when tackling broader issues like the need for racial reconciliation.  Critically, he acknowledges that sometimes those who are in positions of power or privilege tend to assume that they (we, as I – pastor Brian – acknowledge my position of privilege), that we are the ones who have to come up with the solutions or set the agenda and understand the issues to fix things.  Instead, the work of reconciliation may need to begin with a lot more listening and letting go, so that we can engage more helpfully and as partners.

There’s an example of this in my experience that relates to the desire to care for others.  Lots of food ministries and soup kitchens involve people generously giving of their time and resources to gather and prepare food and serve it to those who are in need.  This is good, and it almost always comes from a good intention and desire.  Yet most folks who do the serving rarely have the opportunity (or take the opportunity) to eat with or get to know those they seek to serve.  Nor are there often ways for those being served to participate in a way where there is any kind of sense that they have something to offer, should they choose to.  I know – it’s structurally hard to pull these things off.  But, going back to the last article on sharing meals together, I’ve seen what happens when people slowly build trust across the table beyond the things that might otherwise divide us.  The willingness to sit, eat, listen, and care  for someone, not to fix them, but simply to honor them as a person created in God’s image, is a powerful step that can transform lives – ours included.

I’ve witnessed a retired correctional officer who had been recently widowed sitting down in a folding chair next to a young person who was staying in a local warming shelter.  As they shared a lunch that the older man had helped set up, they talked.  As they talked, they learned that this young man had spent some time as an inmate at the same facility (though not at the same time).  Over the next hour, I watched them share, laugh, find common ground, and the retired correctional officer offered some encouragement.  The younger man also created space that welcomed and honored someone who might otherwise have been seen as an enemy.  Reconciliation isn’t often easy, it takes vulnerability, risk, presence, attention.  It is the repairing of that which is broken – and as we know, so many things are easy to break and hard to mend.   The cross reminds us of how God took the initiative for reconciliation in Christ, the cost of that act, and the invitation for us to take on the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

And what do we find in that re-joining but communion?

God is inviting us to that table, how will we extend that through joining that work of reconciliation in our own relationships?

Practices for the Church on Mission – The Lord’s Table

In his book Seven Practices for the Church on Mission, seminary professor and pastor David Fitch examines the importance of the practice of Communion for the church – not only as an internal experience, but its implications for how we carry the Gospel into our everyday world.

It’s a short book, deliberately written to be easily accessible — in fact, I read through it in a day at the airport on vacation.  But I think he’s on to something, giving us a reminder of core practices: things we all can do and apply to both church and everyday life, as well as a set of lenses to look at those practices with new eyes.

Quickly – those three lenses are the circle, the dotted circle and the half-circle.

The blue circle represents the immediate Christian community – our sisters and brothers who share a commitment to Jesus and to one another.

The dotted circle represents how we open that circle to others as they are — how that circle expands and opens to welcome others in with hospitality.  It may represent things we do at a church building that those outside the church are invited to, or things in our homes or meetings, events or missions we are a part of that we invite others to.  It is a space where we consider how to genuinely welcome others as they are.

The third ‘half’ circle is where we meet others in the world as guests, as partners.  It’s the space where we aren’t in charge, aren’t providing everything needed.  We look for the work of the Holy Spirit around us, we carry with us the presence and message of Christ (as a treasure in the clay jars of our lives) — and we simply look for ways to join what God is already doing.

With those lenses in mind, it opens up new ways to consider the practice of the Lord’s Table, the first of the seven he writes about.

Paradoxically all too often what is meant to gather us together in Communion with God and one another has been one of the things that divides Christians of various traditions.

Instead of re-hashing arguments about transubstantiation, consubstantiation, memorial feasts, or issues of how often do we have to do this, is it ok to use grape juice or do we have to use wine, who gets to serve, etc…   Fitch points us to honestly, more fundamental issues:

How are we recognizing and naming the presence of Christ when we gather to eat in his name?

How does that recognition of Jesus’ presence at the table with us call us to examine ourselves and our relationships not only with God but with one another (1 Corinthians 11:27ff) and submit ourselves to God and one another in mutual love (Ephesians 5:21).

When we are among other Christians, the practice of the Lord’s Table in the context of worship invites us to reflect on what we are doing in light of what Jesus has done: not only affecting our vertical relationship with God, but the horizontal relationships with our other believers.  Are we going through the motions?  Do we have ruptured relationships with others in our community that we haven’t done our part to seek reconciliation in?  Are we paying attention to the real presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit here and now?

In the second circle, we’re invited to think of the Lord’s Table beyond just the worship service context and into the meals we share with family and friends.  What does it mean to recognize Jesus’ presence here?  How do we ‘hold sacred space’ around the table we invite others to without making it weird?

Part of it is simply our own recognition and treating these meals as encounters where Jesus is present.  When we do that, and how we do that, is what we mean by ‘holding space’ and recognizing the presence of Christ in the moment, without expecting that non-believers will view it the same way.  So, following the pattern of Jesus, who consistently ‘gave thanks’ for the food being served, we express gratitude, hospitality, and take the time to create opportunities for genuine conversation that starts out with more of a focus on listening than speaking.  There will be enough opportunities to speak and share our experience, perspective and faith — but it needs to emerge from a genuine valuing of the other person, not just waiting till it is our turn to talk.

And finally, we are invited to consider the half-circle; where we meet people and experience their hospitality, or eat side by side with one another.

I think of so many of our feeding programs where we are invited to generously give to others (and that’s good!) and yet how few opportunities we have to actually eat with and listen to one another.  And fewer still, the opportunities to be served by those we might think actually need our help.  Remember that when Jesus sent out the disciples, he specifically called them to rely on the hospitality and welcome of others, not a call to mooching or taking advantage of people, but creating opportunities for mutuality.

Sometimes we get focused on how we can help, or naming the hurts in “the world” around us — and again, that’s good — but how can we also look for signs of God at work.

As I type this, I’m having a texting conversation with a person in Wisconsin who is a living example of this.  She is a believer who doesn’t have much by worldly standards, but works hard and is incredibly generous.

One of my cherished memories is of meals shared in the parking lot of a local library in Wisconsin, where what started as making some sandwiches to share with people experiencing homelessness became a sort of community potluck where everyone was invited to bring what they had, share it, and eat together.  Many times, this person would bring things she had prepared from food she had received from a local food pantry, to share with others.  And often, it seemed, that food would show up right as we ran out of other food and there were still people who needed to eat.  Sometimes we focus on other people’s pain to the exclusion of noticing what they want to give or contribute — because while we all have needs, we also have a need for meaning, to be able to help, and be part of community.

The meal table is a great place to start.  How can we recognize it as the Lord’s Table when we gather?


Current Ministry Information

Updates on our activities in the midst of Coronavirus.  We continue to follow IDPH guidelines for best practices in a changing situation.   If you have any questions, please contact the church office at (309) 662-4253, or contact a member of the church staff.

Worship: In Person and Online

Worship is streamed online each Sunday at 10am

Small Groups and Classes: In Person and Online

* Plans subject to change based on circumstances and will be posted here
* For information on hosting an in-person small group or class, click here.

For those who choose to attend worship or events in-person:

(Updated May 4, 2022)

  • Following current guidance, masks are not required for any activities at church.
  • At the same time, please feel welcome to continue wearing masks as you prefer.
  • We encourage those not feeling well to wear masks and/or to participate online.
  • Masks are available at the entrance to the church, along with hand sanitizer as needed.

Current Classes and Small Groups:

(click on the Zoom links to join) 

FBC Ladies Bible Study: 1st and 3rd Saturdays 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm online through Zoom

Breakfast Fellowship: 2nd Saturday of the month 9-10am online via Zoom

Wednesday Evening Bible Study: an interactive discussion on the scripture for the coming Sunday.  6:00pm via Zoom

Koinonia Class: Meets alternating Thursday evenings at 7pm in Barker Hall

Crusader Class: Meets Wednesday mornings at 11am – contact the church office for meeting location.

Meeting ID Numbers (if you prefer to save them / write them down)
1) The Church Account Meeting ID is our phone number: 309 662 4253
* Used for Sunday Prayer & Sharing time, the Wednesday Bible Study, Racism and Justice Class, Board and Committee Meetings
2) The Christian Education Account Meeting ID is: 822 018 8253
* Used for the LOGOS program, the Women’s Small Group, the Koinonia Class and Special Gatherings
To Join a Zoom meeting by phone, dial: 1 312 626 6799, then when prompted, enter the Meeting ID number, followed by the # key.

Using the Church Building for Classes and Small Groups:

Small group ministries for all ages are an important part of the ministry of First Baptist Church, and are continuing to meet and gather in multiple ways.

  • Classrooms and other meeting spaces are available throughout the week to reserve for small group gatherings.  Please contact the church office to reserve a time and place.
  • Reservations may be made through Jania by phone or email.

A word about ministry in this time:  

Over the years, we’ve heard it said that the church is not the building, it is the people.  The events unfolding in our world are challenging and upsetting, and at the same time, they reveal the essential truth that community and the bonds we share in love as children of God in Jesus Christ remain even when we cannot gather in person as we are used to.

At the same time, we are all leaning into and learning new ways of being the church in this time.  We believe that despite all of our uncertainty, God is present, God is active, and God is moving to redeem these events, bringing good out of what is not good.

One way we will continue to honor God and connect with each other is by gathering online for worship together; not as if we were watching Netflix or a podcast, but actively engaging and being together in a virtual space.

I believe that in the midst of something none of us would choose, God has given us the opportunity to ask some of the most important questions about our faith, to realize the value of our church family, to step into a time of fear and respond with grace, love, and the confidence that as Paul writes in Romans 8:39 “No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Connecting with Others: Sharing meals, sharing life

Food is a necessity of life — and a meal shared with others can be life for the soul.

Our human interactions with and around food are a universal experience and are likewise found throughout scripture.  Sometimes those meals are life-changing; from Abraham and Sarah setting a feast before three strangers who will share good news, to a Passover feast eaten hurriedly in anticipation of God’s saving work, to the meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion…

In our lives today, meals are both an ordinary experience and one with the potential to experience God’s presence is made tangible.  How might we lean into that potential, both in our the lives of our homes/families and among our friends and wider community?

Some quick thoughts:

  • Use a meal as an opportunity not only to connect with friends but to get to know new people.  Invite someone you don’t know as well.
  • If family meal time has become scattered – what would it look to prioritize that time at least a few times a week?
  • Another building block would be to use conversation starters or short devotional times as part of the meal.
  • Remember that at the core of this is loving one another where they are at.  It is important to stay open to spiritual opportunities and deeper conversations – but the goal is not “getting people to come to church” or a aiming for some kind of conversion conversation.  Let God do that work.  People are not projects for us to work on, but are beloved by God whatever happens or doesn’t happen in a specific moment.


A quick note – obviously much of this is more difficult in the time of Covid; particularly outside of the people in our immediate circles.  The CDC has provided updated guidance for small gatherings of fully vaccinated people, and the possibilities that opens up.  For Christians, the law of love of neighbor and care for those most vulnerable/at risk, continues to take precedent in guiding our choices and actions.  In the midst of this, let us continue to think and act creatively so that we are connecting with others while caring for one another’s health. 

Ideas and Resources for Gathering around the Table:

(links provided are not a blanket endorsement of all content and perspectives found within them; take/adapt what is useful)

Small Group Meal Resources:

Meal Ideas — something to get some friends together and try:

Incorporating meals into existing small groups:

Family Resources: 

Simple conversation starters provided monthly by the UMC

50 Table Talk Questions (general questions that open up conversation)

The challenge of leaning into difficult subjects around the dinner table:

Religion and Politics at the Dinner Table: Challenging the Old Maxim

Tips for Having Challenging Conversations – Some really good practical advice here


Devotional Time: Exercise for the Soul

I probably shouldn’t have included the word ‘exercise’ in the title.  Exercise and I don’t always get along.  Don’t get me wrong, I have good intentions, I know it’d be good for me, and I’ll make a start and keep going for a little while, but then there always seems to be something that comes up or another reason not to do it.

On the other hand, exercise as an analogy for the time we spend in devotion to God may fit more than I’m comfortable with…

We use the word ‘devotion’ to describe time where our focus is on God and our relationship with God.  It is very much like prayer, and indeed should be an expression of prayer – but can incorporate all kinds of different practices; like reflecting on scripture, reading (or listening to) someone’s experience or wisdom as they talk about faith and life, or simply slowing down to intentionally pay attention to God with gratitude – which could happen in prayer at the end of the day, or on a walk outside.

Set a time, create a rhythm.

A key to turning good intentions into actions is making sure there is time set aside for it.  Worship through the week does involve growing into an awareness of God’s presence at all times, and offering the whole of our lives to God.  Yet having specific ‘anchor points’ through the week – whether it be gathering for worship with other Christians or having specific daily times for devotion (early in the morning, in the evening, or perhaps over the lunch break) can help keep us spiritually grounded and more open to listening to and looking for God through the day.

Figure out what works for you and start to create a habit around it.  Watch out for the things that will crowd it out over time.  I know, it’s easier said than done to find a time with fewer interruptions.

How Long, O Lord?

How long should we spend on daily devotionals?  It depends on you and your circumstances.  How about: long enough that it doesn’t feel like something perfunctory we check off the daily routine, short enough that we can keep with it over the long haul, and flexible enough that we find ourselves spending longer times with God at some points, and able to ‘check in’ in the midst of frantic days.

What to do in that time?

Here’s where the exercise analogy can be helpful again.  Start with something you naturally gravitate toward (reading / music / prayer / listening to a podcast), and every once in a while, switch it up to a different method, just the way we exercise different muscles.


Some days, it’ll feel great to have that devotional time – you will feel closer to God, feel a sense of peace, just feel like it was a good thing to do.  Other days, you may not feel anything.  Which can, actually, feel frustrating.  This is normal.  Remember that we’re not chasing feelings about God, we’re focusing on God and our relationship with God.  These are habits that form us over the long haul.

Scripture 101 – Translations

“It’s all Greek to me”

Since the books of the Bible were originally written in Hebrew and Greek, for ordinary folks like you and I to be able to read and understand the Bible, they needed to be translated into languages we speak.  In 1526, William Tyndale published the first English translation of the Bible.  It was controversial at the time (for reasons of politics, tradition and religious tension from the Protestant Reformation), and Tyndale was actually executed for it.

Yet there is a sad irony in this – because the church in England at the time was using the Latin Vulgate — itself a translation of the original languages into the ‘vulgar’ or common language of the people of the Roman Empire, dating back to the late 4th century.

In fact, many of the Jews of Jesus’ time were reading their scriptures (our Old Testament) in a Greek translation of the Hebrew known as the Septuagint, because Greek was the common language of the Mediterranean world  – thanks to Alexander the Great, which is another story entirely.

The point being — there is a long history of translating the Bible into the languages being spoken by people today in different parts of the world.  Christians have not insisted that people learn ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek in order to read God’s word for themselves, but that through translating the Bible, we can read, study, and encounter God for ourselves and as part of the church community.

Why so many different translations?

If you’ve ever tried to buy a Bible, you probably noticed a bewildering variety of translations and types – an acronym soup of NRSV, NIV, KJV, ASV, NLT and so on…  What’s going on?

Well, the challenge is that words and ideas don’t always translate directly into one another.  Grammar and sentence structure can be different, idioms and puns don’t make sense if they’re translated literally.

Some Bible translations try to translate word for word in as literal a way as possible, even if it makes it difficult to read and follow.  Others (to a greater or lesser degree) try to capture the meaning of the original text, while putting it in language and sentence structure that is easier to read and understand.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.  Sometimes a paraphrase translation like the Message by Eugene Peterson can help shed new light or clarity on a hard to understand passage from Paul.  Or a very literal translation will include some details or connections that we might otherwise miss with a different style of translating.

For more information on the different perspectives in translation:

How do I find the right one for me?

So which is the “right” one?  …the one you will read and can understand.  As with so many things, don’t get hung up on finding the perfect translation or arguing over which one is better.  Start somewhere — and build from there.   More literal translations are generally better for study.  Other more dynamic or paraphrase translations may be more helpful at times for devotional reading.  God speaks through all of them; because the Bible is not an end in itself, but to draw us deeper in relationship to God through Jesus.

The deeper answer to the question of which Bible translation is best for me, is to realize that it can be helpful to have a few different kinds of translations at hand.  Looking at them side by side will sometimes highlight things that otherwise might get overlooked, and where words get translated differently can point to important words that might be difficult to translate from Hebrew or Greek into English.

Thanks to the internet – it’s easier than ever to access multiple translations quickly. is a great free website that allows you to not only look up passages in all the major translations, but to compare passages in different translations.  (This is also not a bad way to get a sense of which Bible translation may be most helpful to you!)

The American Bible Society has a list and brief description of some of the major English translations today:





Connecting with God: Worship Through the Week

Worship is more than what we do for an hour on Sunday — join us as we explore what worship is and share ideas and resources for connecting with God through our practice of worship through the week.

Articles on worship through the week:

Devotional time: exercise for the soul

Devotional Resource List:

Check back as we’ll be adding to this through the week! 


Pray As You Go:  (also available as a mobile app)

Pray As You Go is a daily prayer session, designed to go with you wherever you go, to help you pray whenever you find time, but particularly whilst travelling to and from work, study, etc.   A new prayer session is produced every day of the working week and one session for the weekend. It is not a ‘Thought for the Day’, a sermon or a bible-study, but rather a framework for your own prayer.  Lasting between ten and thirteen minutes, it combines music, scripture and some questions for reflection.  [Brian’s note: this resource comes from the Jesuit community but broadly helpful across Christian traditions.]

Common Prayer:

Common Prayer is a tapestry of daily prayers inviting faith communities from around the world to pray, sing, and act together. At this site, you’ll find prayers for every eveningmorning, and midday that celebrate the best of the Christian tradition and engage with the most pressing issues of our world today.


Some of the books I’ve found helpful for devotional purposes:

Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster

Celebration of Discipline is a classic that explores multiple facets of an ongoing life of worship expressed in many different habits and exercises.  From the ‘inward disciplines’ of Fasting, Prayer, Meditation and Study, to outward and corporate expressions; this book will encourage and invite us deeper into scripture-based practices for a life in relationship with God.

Scripture 101 – Placing things in Context

If a realtor’s cry is: “Location, Location, Location”, the Biblical scholar’s might well be: “Context, Context, Context.”  God can and does speak to us through scripture no matter what background knowledge we bring with us.  We don’t have to be experts to catch the story of God which draws us to a living relationship with Jesus!

At the same time; understanding that the Bible was first written to people in a specific time, culture and situation will help us more accurately interpret it, avoiding errors and invisible assumptions we bring to our reading of scripture.

First step – When did things happen?

One starting point when we come to the Bible is to realize that while some books follow a mostly chronological order (Genesis through Nehemiah), the books of the Writings and Prophets in the Old Testament are connected to various points in time throughout Israel’s history.

Likewise, in the New Testament, the Gospels are not in chronological order (Mark probably was written first and John last), with Luke and Acts being connected.  The letters (most of which were probably written before the Gospels), are also largely arranged by length, not order in which they were written.

So, when we read a book of the Bible (and sometimes certain sections within a book), we might start by asking:

  • When was this written?
  • Who wrote it, and to whom?
  • What was going on in the world at that time?

A good study Bible will offer some help with these questions; giving their best scholarly perspective on those questions.

A Timeline of History and Scripture:

Scripture Timeline
Graphical timeline of scripture and history – Click to enlarge

As we ask those questions, it’s also helpful to have a basic idea of the major historical events going on as scripture was being written – it provides a framework to get a better sense of how that individual book of the Bible fits the big story of God in history.  


Primeval History:

1750-1600 BC – Ancestral History  (Genesis 12-50)

1400-1250 BC – Exodus and the Laws of Moses (Exodus – Deuteronomy)

1250-1200 BC – Conquest of Canaan ( Joshua)

1200 – c.1030 BC – Time of the Judges ( Judges)

1030 – 931 BC – The United Monarchy (1 Samuel – 1 Kings 11)

1030-1010 BC – Saul’s Reign (1 Samuel)

1010-970 BC – David’s Reign (2 Samuel)

970-931 BC – Solomon’s Reign (1 Kings 1-11)

931 – 586 BC The Divided Kingdoms of Judah and Israel (1 Kings 12-2 Kings)

* 722 BC – the Assyrian Conquest

              – Isaiah 1-39, Hosea, Amos, Micah (address these events before and after Assryia’s destruction of Israel)

597-539 BC – Babylonian Rule

* This is a critical time for Jewish scholarship, reflecting on the events of the Assyrian destruction and the Babylonian triumph over Judah.  Shift from temple to torah: disciplines they can practice while in exile: almsgiving, fasting and prayer. 

         key prophet: Ezekiel

597 BC – Babylon conquers Assyria, subjugates Judah (establishing a puppet king)

Jeremiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem

586 BC – Babylon destroys Jerusalem after the puppet king Zedekiah rebels.  Many more are deported

539 -333 BC Persian/Post-Exilic period

Isaiah 40-66 dates from this period (44:28, 45:1 referring to Cyrus of Persia)

538 BC (Ezra-Nehemiah) – Return from Exile

516 BC (Ezra – Nehemiah)  -Second Temple

445 BC (Ezra – Nehemiah) – Jerusalem Restored (rebuilding the wall)  Jerusalem exists as a vassal state to Persia and the Jewish high priest functions as a tax collector for the Persians

333-63 BC (1-2 Maccabees)  Hellenistic / Greek Empire

333-323 BC – Alexander the Great conquers Persia, captures Jerusalem in 332 BC

323 BC – Alexander the Great dies, his kingdom is divided among his four top generals

320-198 BC – Ptolemy (one of Alexanders generals) reigns over Egypt; he and his descendants rule over Israel until 198 BC

c. 250 BC – beginning of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), including books known as the Apocrypha which were written in Greek, not in Hebrew.

198-164 BC – Syrian Domination.  Antiochus 3 (whose capitals is in Syria) defeats the Ptolemies and gains control of Judah.

175-163 Antiochus Epiphanes IV convers the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem into a temple for Zeus and sacrifices pigs there.  1 Maccabees 1:54 calls this action a “desolating sacrilege”, and Daniel 12:11 calls it “the abomination that desolates”.  Antiochus IV attempts to outlaw Judaism as a faith, and sparks the Maccabean Rebellion in 167

167-164 BC – Maccabean Rebellion.  Judas Maccabeus recaptures Jerusalem and purifies the temple in 164 BC.

164- 63 BC – Hasmonean Rule.  Maccabean rulers control Judah.  Eventually their style of rule provokes dissention among factions within the Jewish people

63 BC – 95 AD – Roman Empire

37-4 BC – Herodian Period.  Herod the Great rules over Palestine for 33 years.  He enlarges the temple mount and rebuilds the temple in Jerusalem to exceed the majesty even of Solomon’s temple

6 BC – Birth of Jesus

4 BC – Death of Herod

27-30 AD – Ministry of Jesus

30 AD – Crucifixion / Resurrection / Ascension of Jesus

50-95 AD – composition of New Testament Documents

66-70 AD – Jewish Rebellion against Rome.

70 AD – Jerusalem and the temple destroyed.  Pharisees become the main surviving sect of Judaism.

– the Dead Sea Scrolls come from this range of time and illustrate  differences in Judaism between the Essenes, Scribes, Pharisees, Temple community.  This is reflected in both interpretation of scripture and the diversity of texts found preserved by the Dead Sea Scroll community.  Fragments of all books of the Hebrew Bible (except Esther) are present, but so are parts of apocryphal texts and other documents relating to the Dead Sea Scroll community itself.  There is no evidence as yet that the DSS community had any way of distinguishing which of these works functioned as ‘Scripture’ in the sense that we think of in terms of a list of canonized books.

90 AD The council of Jamnia works to settle the Hebrew canon of scriptures

Later events relating to the formation of the canon (list of books in the Bible)

Irenaeus quoted and cited 21 books of the NT except (Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 3 John, and Jude)

By the early 200’s Origen was using the 27 books we recognize as canonical, though some were still disputed (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation)

325 AD – Council of Nicea came up with a creed that described the heart of the faith.   The NT canon had not been finalized (yet) but they were coming close.

By the end of the 4th century, we have documentary evidence that multiple councils and core figures had come together on which NT books were to be regarded as canonical

c. 400 AD – Jerome begins work on the Latin translation of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. He initially started work using the Greek Septuagint, which included what we call the Apocrypha. However, he later changed his mind and worked from the Hebrew texts, which do not include them.

500-1000 AD – the Masoretic Text adds vowel markings to the Hebrew Scriptures


Interpreting Biblical Literature, Michael R. Cosby

The Making of the New Testament, Arthur G. Patzia