Sunday, February 7, 2016

Prata's Potpourri: Taiwan quake, LifeWay jumps the shark (again), Jesus marveled at their unbelief; more

Here are a few items for you consideration.

On February 5, 2016 a deadly earthquake struck Taiwan. The 6.4 magnitude toppled many buildings and trapped hundreds of people, and killed at least 26, but that number is expected to rise as officials examine the rubble. Vast parts of the southern part of the country are without electricity and water. Al Jazeera has more.

My friend Pastor James Bell wrote,
As we pray for those who are suffering... it would be well for us to realize that in just a moment... life as we know it can suddenly change! Moreover, this would be a good time to meditate upon Luke 13:1-5. suppose that those in this city are greater sinners than we? Except we repent, we shall all likewise perish!

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

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In reading Mark 6:6, I was struck by the fact that Jesus marveled at unbelief. After salvation everything seems so clear to us, and it's a marvel that people can't or won't or don't turn to Jesus who is the obvious solution for filling our spiritually deserted souls. Here is the introduction to JC Ryle's essay on unbelief being a marvel to Jesus.

Unbelief a Marvel by J. C. Ryle
(1816-1900)
 First published by Drummond's Tract Depot, Stirling, Scotland

"He marveled because of their unbelief."--Mark 6:6

The text which heads this page is a very remarkable one. Of all the expressions in the four Gospels which show that the Lord Jesus Christ was very Man, none perhaps is more startling than this. That He who was born of the Virgin Mary, and had a body like our own, should hunger and thirst, and weep and rejoice, and be weary and suffer pain,—all this we can, in some degree, understand. But that He who was very God as well as very Man, He "in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," He in whom were, "hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," He who "knew what was in man,"—that He should "marvel" at anything here below, may well fill us with astonishment. But what saith the Scripture? There it is written in plain words, which no critical ingenuity can explain away,— "He marvelled because of their unbelief."


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LifeWay has jumped another shark.

B&H Publishing is an imprint publishing house from LifeWay Christian Resources. Authors Rollin G. Grams and S. Donald Fortson III have published a book through B&H titled Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition, in which they look at the consistent historical Christian stance regarding homosexuality.

The authors wrote a synopsis of their book on the B&H blog, called B&H Academic, "a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, which is dedicated to providing resources for undergraduate and graduate theological education."

The authors stated that in researching texts to determine that Christianity has always condemned homosexuality, these texts included 
the Fathers, Reformers, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox churches
They came to the conclusion that,
Homosexual practice has been affirmed nowhere in the history of Christianity. An overview of texts [examined in the book] reveals unequivocally that the Fathers, Reformers, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox churches are unanimous in their condemnation of homoerotic behavior among those who profess Christ as Lord. 
How unfortunate that LifeWay supports authors who include Catholic and Orthodox as part of Christianity, when they are not. How much more unfortunate that this book is aimed at an audience of learners who will then become teachers of the faith.

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Does your pastor seek to be popular? Or faithful?

Faithfulness Versus Popularity
Today concludes our series highlighting five compelling motivations to preach the Word. Previous posts in this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
Motivation 5: Preach the Word
Because of the Deceptiveness of the Sensual (2 Timothy 4:3–4)Having reminded Timothy of the ultimate accountability, Paul continued by warning him that faithful preaching will not necessarily be popular preaching. As the apostle explained, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:3–4).

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John MacArthur is going through a series at Grace To You blog examining Christian Cliches. In this one, he looks at what it really means to "Love the sinner, hate the sin". The essay helped me see things in a new light.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin
To preach love apart from God’s holiness is to teach something other than God’s love. No awakening or revival of the church has ever occurred apart from strong preaching of God’s holiness and the corresponding call for believers to forsake sin and return to the Lord’s standards of purity and righteousness. No church that tolerates known sin in its membership will have spiritual growth or effective evangelism. In spite of that truth, however, such tolerance is standard in the church today-at all levels.


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I made these yesterday. They are sooo good! Try 'em!

Baked Cheddar Broccoli Cups



Saturday, February 6, 2016

Unity, disunity, and breaking fellowship- a real life tale

 I received an email the other day. It was from a long-time reader/sometime commenter.

Hi there. Would you please be so kind and remove the comments (and my name) that I have made on your blog? I’d do it myself, but I don’t have the same email address anymore in order to do it. I also could not find your email address, hence this message in comment form.

Thanking you,
Commenter

And then he included the links to 30 comments from two years ago. BTW, my email address is in the "About this Blog" tab at the top of the page. I asked in reply, May I ask why?

I do not share in your theology at all and don't want to be associated with it (the theology) in any way whatsoever. My comments were mostly non-theological, but I want them removed nonetheless.
Greetings,
Commenter

If I am wrong, I want to know. If I need correction, I want to submit to it. I replied, "Thank you for your response. What is it about my theology that troubles you so greatly that you would go to these lengths to disassociate? Is there something unbiblical? Extrabiblical? Aberrant?" He responded:

I am 100% anti-Calvinist and don't want to be associated with it. Please remove my comments at your earliest convenience.
Regards,
Commenter

Ah. So that's it.

I replied that there was no need to go to lengths to disassociate from a theology that the Bible presents, even if one holds vehemently to Arminianism. The Bible is also clear about unity. I shared the verse from 1 Corinthians 1:10, noting it's one verse among many urging unity among the brethren. I said that it seemed an unreasonable request that would cause difficulties in the threaded comment stream, take an undue amount of my time, and that since we all make our own decisions when choosing to comment publicly in online forums, I sadly would not be able to fulfill the request. I said I was truly sorry he decided to leave on that note and urged that he was welcome to read or comment any time. His response was less than hopeful...and less than brotherly.

Elizabeth, really, I want nothing to do with Calvinism, and I am not interested in your defense of the philosophy of Calvinism, or whatever you like to term it. And I'm not interested in debating or arguing; I simply want my comments removed. You don't have to do it all at once, of course, but my request stands: remove my comments. Take your time with it; there's no rush.

The correspondence ends here.
Regards,
Commenter

Of course, bullies always change the argument to a straw man. I had not defended Calvinism but had made a biblical appeal to unity as described above.

There are all sorts of false teachers running around proclaiming the need for unity. But theirs is a false unity. Partnering with any other religion that's clearly false is not a unity. Pasting over deep doctrinal differences in order to promote a shallow harmony is not unity.

However, there's a unity that IS called for. The Bible is clear that among Christians there will be differences among us over minor or secondary doctrines, but that we are to be humble and love one another. Secondary doctrines are not salvation doctrines. Some call them "non-essential" doctrines, but I don't like that term because I don't like to think of any doctrine as being non-essential, though the meaning refers to the belief in the doctrine not being essential to one's salvation.

Essential doctrines are the ones we split over. Non-essentials are doctrines we do not split over. The website at Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry gives the following advice about essential and secondary doctrines. The list from CARM.org includes an explanation, then gives examples of primary non-essentials and secondary non-essentials:
Primary Non-Essentials- (1 John 2:4). Denying these can bring one's salvation into question since the regenerate seek to live according to God's Word. Violating them does not automatically mean the person is not saved since Christians fall into various sins. However, abiding in sins with unrepentance would be evidence that the person is not regenerated. Examples: Moral integrity (Exodus 20:1-17). Fidelity in marriage in heterosexual relationships. The condemnation of homosexuality. Inerrancy of the Bible. Baptism is not necessary for salvation (Acts 10:44-48).
I might put inerrancy of the Bible as an essential salvation issue, but then again I'm not a theologian.
Secondary Non-Essentials- Any of them can be denied or affirmed, and regeneration is not in questioned. These are often Denominational Differences: 14) Predestination, election, limited atonement, and free will. 15) Communion every week, monthly, or quarterly, etc. 16) Saturday or Sunday Worship. 17) Pre-, mid-, post-trib rapture. 18) Premillennialism, Amill., Postmill., partial-preterism. 19) Continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts. 20) Baptism for adults or infants. 21) Musical Instruments in church.
Breaking fellowship over a non-essential doctrine is a shame. Though I'm Reformed, pretribulation, literal Millennial Kingdom, soft dispensationalist, I would not break fellowship over the secondary non-essentials. I would hope that people would not break fellowship with me over those, either.

Good examples to me over the years have been John MacArthur and RC Sproul Sr.'s friendship and warm fellowship despite Sproul's no-rapture, preterism, paedo-baptism issues and MacArthur holding the opposite view. It's helpful to me to see them on a panel together, gently chiding and teasing in brotherly love but united over the essential doctrines.

As the visible church has become bloated and is falling away like a black banana peel from the fruit, those who are sound and remain in the faith by standing on the essential doctrines need to demonstrate our love to each other in the cause of Jesus more than ever. We DO need unity. We need to unite around the essentials and monitor the non-essentials and remain faithful to loving each other until or unless the non-essentials in a person or organization become too wayward to overlook.

John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” (Luke 9:49)

There were false teachers in the NT and there were many false prophets in the OT. In both Testaments, these false ones claim to speak in Jesus' name but do not truly represent Him. Now of this particular man in the Luke 9:49 verse, if he had not truly been one of His faithful, God would not have given the man the ability to cast out demons, and Jesus would not have answered by saying the 12 must accept him. Don't misunderstand Luke to be a verse that urges acceptance of false teachers. We still use discernment to determine false from true representatives of Jesus. The man in Luke 9:49 was true and Jesus said that he was part of the brethren because he was not against Jesus.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures says of this verse
suggested that the Twelve were not to see themselves as God’s exclusive representatives. Rather they should have rejoiced that the power of God was being manifested on earth by others as well. If they manifested that attitude, it would show that they were truly trying to be of service to the Messiah.
And this from pastor-teacher John MacArthur,
even though we might not agree with methods, we might not agree with style, if they're for Christ, we're for them, but with the proviso that they're really for Christ because they're committed to the truth. ~John MacArthur
Be committed to the truth first, and then be committed to all those who embrace the truth. Even us poor, deluded Reformed folk.

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How can the church achieve a true, biblical unity?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Join your voice to the mighty song

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

9And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

11“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:8-11)

From my Devotional this morning:
"As you pray this passage, consider that you are joining your voice to the voices of the mighty heavenly beings. You are taking up the words to the songs of heaven. Bless God in union with these spiritual powers."
Did you ever stop to consider that when you pray in worship to God you are joining your voice to a mighty, heavenly throng in heaven? Jesus said He would not leave us alone, and He sent the Comforter who is the Holy Spirit. When you pray, you are not alone, either, but part of a chorus of beings and peoples who are doing the same, blessing God for Himself and Who He is.

Whether on earth or in heaven, praise to the Lord God Almighty is constant. Join your voice today to the song of praise for our Blessed Savior.



Thursday, February 4, 2016

Prickles and briers and thorns, oh my!

Won't it be a beautiful day when there is nothing on earth or heaven to hurt us? From satan himself destroying people's souls, down to the smallest thorn, nothing will pain us anymore. Remember, thorns were not part of the original creation. They appeared after the Fall when God cursed the ground.

cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; (Genesis 3:17b-18a)
THORNS AND BRIERS AND BRAMBLES
“All the land shall become briers and thorns.”—ISA. 7:24.

THE Hebrew words atad, koz, chedek, choach, naazuz, shait, shamir, sillon, sirim, sirpad, zinnim, and eight others, have been translated variously “thorns,” “briers,” and “brambles” in the Old Testament; and the word akantha is the “thorn” of the New Testament. It is impossible to say whether or not a particular species of plant was intended by each of these terms. Most of them apply generally to thorny plants, of which there are many in Palestine at the present day. 
Commentators mention among the thorny plants of the Holy Land species of Zizyphus, such as Zizyphus spina-Christi, also Paliurus aculeatus, Acanthus spinosus, Ononis spinosa, Solanum spinosum, Tribulus terrestris, Lycium europ├Žum, and species of Rhamnus, Centaurea, and Astragalus. 
Since man’s fall, thorns of all kinds have come up on the ground, which was cursed (Gen. 3:18); and God in chastening Israel often refers to the curse of thorns. Thus Isaiah says, “Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers” (32:13); and Hosea prophesies that “the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars” (10:8).
Source, Balfour, J. H. (1885). The Plants of the Bible (p. 128). London; Edinburgh; New York: T. Nelson and Sons.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Depravity is child's play

As a child I was often silent or a girl of few words. I was an observer. At recess if it was outdoors I'd stand under the tree on the side of the playground and watch. If it was indoors I'd read and covertly watch. I'd do the same in High School, observe, observe, observe- trying to figure out...people.

The overarching conclusion I came to, no matter my age, is that "people are mean."

Did I grow up in the Chicago Projects or Fort Apache the Bronx where I saw unspeakable things? No. Did I grow up abused or abandoned so that my perspective has now been permanently tainted? No. I grew up in the wealthiest town in my state with two parents for most of my childhood and all the creature comforts one could want, plus wealthy extras like luxury vehicles, boats, a pool, country club, extended vacations, and occasionally, a maid. My perspective should have been the opposite.

So how, at a tender age, did I come to the conclusion that people are mean? By simply watching them, what they do, how they speak, and how they treat each other, over and over and over. The pattern is clear. People are mean.

Now, if you are in the camp that believes "people are mostly good!" or even "people are mostly good, deep down..." you hold the opposite view of the years of my observations and more importantly, the opposite view of what God's word tells us people are like. No, people aren't mostly good. People are mean. Here are just a few verses which remind us of our true nature and our true relationship with God.

Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 51:5, Psalm 58:3, Ephesians 2:1-5, Romans 3:10-11, John 3:19, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Romans 1:18, Proverbs 14:12, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Romans 8:7.

I'm all grown up now but I'm still an observer. I am a teacher's aide (AKA para-professional). I spend my work day in classrooms and on playgrounds and in cafeterias watching children. Did you ever notice children playing puppets? They start out all nice and good, and the puppets are doing normal things, but the "play" almost instantly descends into one puppet biting the head off another, or the puppets fighting. If boys are playing dinosaurs, it won't take long before one dinosaur bites the head off something whether it's another dinosaur or a toy soldier or the other kid's finger. Though many children are sweet or nice or kind, their sin-nature eventually reveals itself.

The Doctrine of "Total Depravity" is one that people who think we're mostly good, or even partly good, find odious. Total depravity is a misnomer in that one way people who lack knowledge of it interpret it to mean that all people are completely depraved all the time. That isn't what total depravity means. It means,
The effect of the fall upon man is that sin has extended to every part of his personality -- his thinking, his emotions, and his will. Not necessarily that he is intensely sinful, but that sin has extended to his entire being. (source)
A better term is "Total Inability." This means that because our sin nature has extended to all part of us in everr nook and cranny, this fact prevents us from being able to respond to the things of God on our own, in any way. Of course, this doctrine is at "total" odds against Arminianism, which its adherents claim we are able to "choose God". Of course that's "total" absurdity. Read this short essay by R. C. Sproul to see why. Or see this below from a different source,
The unregenerate (unsaved) man is dead in his sins (Romans 5:12). Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel (Mark 4:11f). This is why Total Depravity has also been called "Total Inability." The man without a knowledge of God will never come to this knowledge without God's making him alive through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). (source)
Just watch kids, you'll see. The simplicity of the child's faith is on display but equally is their wicked heart quickly seen. The miracle and wonder is that while we were still sinners, Jesus loved us.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).

That while our hearts were darkened and we followed evil and reveled in it, Jesus died for us.

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:25)

He knows we are totally unable to "choose Christ" or "decide for Jesus" so He made a way. He declared us justified, He gave us a new heart, and He sent the Spirit to conform us to Him. We were totally unable. Yet HE IS TOTALLY ABLE. And He is all we need.






Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Of Reading Plans and Audio Bibles

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This essay will be more if a "fireside chat" than a theological exploration.

I've never done a formal "bible reading plan" as you see commonly discussed every January. I just read through a book of the Bible and see where it takes me. But I thought perhaps it might be a good idea this time to formalize my study instead of it being loose and organic as it has been.

I chose to do the Robert Murray M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, and use the audio option. I don't listen to audio books, I don't like them. But for some reason I decided to try listening to the Bible (Max McLean reading) and my hunch was right- it brings another aspect to the text. For the texts meant to be heard, such as Peter's great sermon, or Paul's sermons, or the legal arguments in Romans, hearing them spoken brings a layer of understanding I'd missed previously. What a joy to hear these sermons and passages read aloud, it ignites a different area of my mind. And no doubt, hearing the names and places in Genesis and Nehemiah spoken correctly is a joy (and a relief).

However the downside is, I don't feel as though my depth of connection to the text is really there as it has been. I do read along, my eyes going over the text as McLean speaks it, but it's not the same as when I read it myself. I feel that listening is actually more shallow than the way I used to do it. I gave it a month, and I'll give it more time to decide if this is working for me. It's maybe that I just don't like change.

I'm not impervious to trends and tradition and peer pressure. I see all the hoopla on social media in late December and early January about "which Bible reading plan are you using" and all the posts about the choices and all the Facebook talk about how good these plans are. I think to myself, 'Should I do one of these? Am I "doing it wrong"? Is there a more rigorous way to go about it? Can I be honoring Jesus further by studying better?'

In the end, I think it's good to try different ways to read the Bible, such as this plan or that one, or audio v. reading, Kindle vs book, personal reading v. an organized plan. I think it's good to ask one's self occasionally if I could be doing better. Slacking is always a problem. The flesh battles with the soul and rebels against the things of Christ, (1 Peter 2:11) so an occasional shake-up won't harm anything if it's to ensure that I am still focused on Christ and involved in His word to His glory.

slacker cat. EPrata photo
It's good to "check in" with yourself to see how things are going, look back over the past year or years to see if your sanctification has leveled off or deepened or weakened, and try to identify the causes. It's good to be active and proactive about one's study. The goal of course is to know Christ better, so attempting different levels through the scripture to determine differing measures of successfully engaging with it is OK.

The problem would arise if I sensed that my depth of study was shallower in using a certain Reading Plan and settled for shallow. We always strive to go deeper, know more of Christ, pray for wisdom and insight, pray for the Spirit's leading on how to use the knowledge gained. Never settle. Strive, press on-

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12)


Monday, February 1, 2016

Was the Holy Spirit present on earth before Pentecost?

Was the Holy Spirit on earth before Pentecost? (the traditional start date of the Church) What ministries did the Holy Spirit engage in before Pentecost, recognized as the traditional start of the church? How did He operate in the Old Testament?

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He was present on earth and involved on earth since the beginning!

He participated in creation-

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-3)

His ministry of instruction of the ways of God were active and direct.

You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. (Nehemiah 9:20)

His ministry of instruction of the ways of God were active and indirect. The Spirit empowered the men to craft the temple,

The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: (Exodus 31:1-6)

The Spirit acted as comforter and wisdom when God said He would take some of the Spirit that is on Moses and share Him with elders so that the overburdened Moses could share the duties of administering the People of Israel.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone (Numbers 11:16-17)

and:

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. (Numbers 11:25)

The Spirit of the Lord was on (not in) people at various times, in this case, on Othniel so he could judge Israel

But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. 10 The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. (Judges 3:9-10a)

And on Gideon, (Judges 6:34), and Jephthah, (Judges 11:29) and Amasai (1 Chronicles 12:18), and so on. Sometimes the LORD takes away the Spirit.

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. (1 Samuel 16:14)

The Spirit not only guides and instructs, but spoke from God through men. This is David speaking in the verse-
The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. (2 Samuel 23:2).

The Spirit also spoke through the prophets. (Nehemiah 9:30).

The Spirit of God makes us, as Job noted, (Job 33:4)

There are innumerable ways the Bible shows us that God in all three Persons have been intimately involved with mankind since He created us. The Holy Spirit is a major part of the Trinity and has always had roles to carry out and ministries to perform, since the beginning. Of course my essay is short and only barely scratches the surface, but it's just a way to get you thinking.

It's fun and interesting to do a topical study. From time to time I look into one subject and it could be theological like this one about the Spirit or agricultural such as wheat, chaff, and grain production. I enjoyed looking up "linen" and found a wealth of information on it. If you're wondering what Book of the Bible to read next but can't decide, as you ruminate, why not to a topical study?

Is the mustard seed really the smallest seed? How big do mustard trees grow? How common was the existence of lions in historic Palestine? And why did they die out?  Why did prophets wear the rough clothing, from whence did that originate? Why was foot washing a big deal and what are the physical and theological implications of the practice? How did they make wine? Is the olive tree the hardiest tree in the region? What were the five major offerings in the Bible and how do they differ from one another?

You see how fun it is to ask questions and then dig in. What would you do a topical study on?