Scripture Reading Challenge (#18)

One of my favorite stories is the Chronicles of Narnia.  In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the children are talking about the Christ-like figure, Aslan the Lion.  The conversation goes, “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

God is certainly good, but he is not safe, at least for sin and wickedness to be around. The Lord is going to demonstrate in our reading His power and intolerance of sin and the evil in the hearts of men and women.   God will send ten plagues upon Egypt.  We will learn about the first nine in our passage today.

Read Exodus 6:28-11:10

What does it mean that God would harden Pharoah’s heart (Exodus 7:3)?  There are a variety of explanations based on how one understands God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.  However, it may be sufficient at this point in God’s story to note that this is ultimately above our pay grade, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).  Still, I would like to point out God’s dealings with people’s hearts in Romans 1:18-32.  A passage we have already visited.  You will notice that in the Romans passage, three times God says “God gave them over” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).  I believe this is similar to God hardening Pharoah’s heart.  Pharoah made a choice to live without Israel’s God and when confronted with another choice, kept going against God.  God gave Pharoah over to his desire to not listen, and he reaped the consequences of Godlessness.  In other words, Pharoah chooses where he wants to make to his bed, and God said, “Okay, if that’s what you want.”

The plagues demonstrate another aspect of God.  God is holy and loving.  They are not separate concepts.  Instead they are two sides of the same coin.  God’s holiness may seem harsh, but it is in His holiness that He is the only real source of Love.  As love, there is the aspect of the Lord appearing tough on those things that cast themselves against what God loves.  Through the plagues, we see judgment fall on those who are against God, but mercy on those who follow God.  Whether God’s action is seen as judgment or compassion is based on what side of redemption you are standing on.  From the side of the unredeemed, God’s actions produce conviction, fear, and at times bitterness.  However, from the viewpoint of the redeemed, all that came before was accompanied by God’s providential grace.  Providence is the grace that God sends before us to bring us to Him.  Thank God for His grace that goes before us to prepare the way.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#15)

Have you ever had to keep a surprise hidden but couldn’t keep it secret because you were so excited to share it?  I remember one year at Kohl’s, I set inside the car with our baby boy while my wife and three or four-year-old daughter went Christmas shopping.  When they came out of the store and opened the hatch of the car, my wife said, “don’t tell Daddy what we got him for Christmas.”  Well, after my wife put my daughter in her car seat and before she could sit in her seat, my sweet daughter blurted out, “Daddy!  We got you a watch!”  It was great.  As we come to the end of this part of the story, Joseph is so overwhelmed with emotion, that he can no longer keep his identity secret from his brothers.

After today’s passage, we will be finished with our readings in Genesis and have 85 more readings to go before we are done.  Do you feel that you are getting a better grip on the Biblical story? I pray that you are already feeling strengthed in your faith and encouraged to keep on moving forward with the challenge.

Read Genesis 45:1-46:7

There are two passages that I want to focus on for our devotional today.  The first is Genesis 45:7-8, namely, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God.”  Wow.  God took the evil that Joseph’s brothers committed and turned it to everyone’s good.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  God had a plan for Joseph’s life, and nothing would thwart his counsel.  The same is true in our present reality.  Whatever trial and great difficulty come our way, God can take those and turn them into our good and to the benefit of others.  Nothing happens in vain when God is in our life.  Without him, anything and everything that happens good or bad are in vain.  The Lord makes everything have a holy purpose.

The second passage is Genesis 46:3-4.  The focus here is, “I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt…I will go down with thee into Egypt.”  I feel that this reinforces the previous point.  Look at Jacob and his families direction of life.  It’s going down.  Some may say it’s going up because they are heading to a land of protection and wealth because of the famine in the land.  However, even some good things can turn out to be wrong things because they are not the great things God really has laid out for us.  The good is that Egypt would supply them during the famine and be a good place to multiply numbers for the future nation of Israel.  However, the good turned to bad as Egypt would enslave Israel.  The great is that God had a promised land he wanted them to live in all along.   God would go down into good land of Egypt, but He did not want them to stay there forever

God would go down into the good land of Egypt but He did not want them to stay there forever, he had something better planned for them.  God does intend for us to be entangled in this world.  There are many good things here to enjoy, however, it is easy to lose sight of God’s Spirit in this world for the elements of the world.  God has something far better in store for the faithful.  He is with us here, but to make us ready and keeping us pure for what Jesus is preparing for us (cf. John 14:1-7).

Scripture Reading Challenge (#14)

God does not point out our sin to laugh at us or scorn.  Instead, he reveals our issues so that we can deal with them appropriately.  That is, to be cleansed and forgiven.  In the story of Genesis, the brothers need to make a second trip to Egypt.  They will face their sin one way or another.  Joseph is building with excitement to reveal his unfeigned love for his brethren.

Read Genesis 43:1-44:34

Something that should be jumping off the pages of the Bible to us about this story is Joseph is dropping hints to his brothers all the time.  In Genesis 42:18, he says, “for I fear God.”  The word used for God is Elohim, which can be a generic term to identify any God. However, the writer of Genesis uses it to signify the One True God of Israel.  It’s possible that Joseph is letting his brothers know that he fears their God.  We also see in our text today that He knows that his brother’s and father’s God blesses (Genesis 43:23).  This Egyptian is very well acquainted with the Hebrew God.  Egyptians probably had cultic practices and perspectives against Hebrews.  Finally, the individual interest he took in his full brother, Benjamin, and the extra food he gave him (Genesis 43:34).  All I can say is Joseph may have disguised himself from his brothers, but at the same time, he is trying his best to get them to recognize him.

God is doing the same thing.  First Timothy 1:17 and Colossians 1:5 reminds us that God is invisible.  He has dropped hints all the way through the Old Testament about his character in that is it claimed, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1)  The Psalms also teach, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1).  God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:5).  The Father has made himself known fully in the Son and witnesses in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  Even more, Christ has left us the Church, His literal body on earth.  First John 4:20 says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  It is difficult for me to believe someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in

It is difficult for me to understand that someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in fellowship with a local congregation).  We have faith in the invisible head of the Church but no faithfulness to the visible body.  God has revealed Himself fully in time past through His Son.  Today, God continually reveals Himself through His people.  Our bodies are the temple His spirit dwells in now (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Not something made with human hands but fashioned by God.  So, again, how are you living out the faith you claim to have?  God has given us the Church as the community where we are to live out our faith.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#13)

I grew up with the saying, “be sure your sins will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).  And, found out that it’s true.  If we think that we can escape being noticed when we do something wrong or when we neglect to do the right thing, we are only fooling ourselves.  We will reap what we sow (Proverbs 11:18, 22:8; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7-8).  Reaping and sowing is not the idea of karma.  Karma has to do with reincarnation and a person receiving the repercussions of actions of a previous life in the next life until eventually they reach a state of nirvana and are no longer reincarnated.  Christianity holds the belief that once this earthly life is over, judgment is final.  There are no do-overs.  We must seek to live holy and righteous in the time that is now.

Read Genesis 42:1-38

Joseph is going to play a grand charade before his brothers.  His goal is to bring his entire family to Egypt and surprise them that he is still alive and second in command of Egypt.  However, he is going to have a little fun with his brothers and see if they are remorseful for what they did to him so many years before.  We know that they are indeed sorrowful over their actions.  One of his brothers, Reuben, who tried to protect him then, said “Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against eh child; and ye would not hear?  Therefore, behold, also his blood is required” (Genesis 42:22).  The brothers of Joseph are being led to a contrite spirit, repentance, and restitution.

If only we would become sick of our sin, repent, and seek God.  King David wrote in Psalm 51 about his sorrow for the crime he committed and sought after God’s forgiveness.  He knew that peace, joy, and contentment only would only come through an unbroken fellowship with God.  It had been broken by sin, and he wanted to have it restored.

Is your relationship with God broken?  What sin have you allowed to remain that is separating you from the sweet fellowship of our Savior?  Why not, right now, seek God’s forgiveness and repent of your sin?  First John 1:1 teaches us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  He is faithful.  Are you faithful?

CFCB Scripture Reading Challenge (#2)

God’s creation included freewill.  Adam could use this freedom to voluntarily choose to love God and obey his commands, or he could abuse this freedom and decide to disobey God.  The reading today focuses on the fall of man and how sin entered into creation.

Read Genesis 3:1-24

In this third chapter, we are introduced to the antagonist to God, Satan.  However, we find him in disguise, as we later learn in Scripture that Satan is called the old serpent (Rev. 12:9, 20:2).  It seems that Satan had possessed the serpent (apparently by freewill as both the Serpent and Satan receive curses in 3:14 and 15).  We also note the method of Satan is to tempt.  It seems to be his favorite approach to influence sin (Gen. 3:1-6; Matt. 4:1-11;  John 13:2; Acts 5:3; 1 Co4. 7:5; 1 Thess. 3:5).  We must guard our life against the trickery of the devil.

Chapter three also displays the consequences of sin.  Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and will take more from you than you ever wanted to give.  Adam and Eve first lost their innocence.  They knew immediately that they had done wrong.  Trust between each other had also been lost.  Sin resulted in the breakdown of the relationship between people.  Sin also resulted in the loss of a personal relationship with God.

The last thing we notice about the consequences of sin is that the results are short and long-term.  The immediately felt guilty.  In the long-term, they also had to bear the weight of a broken world.  However, in the midst of the curses, there is a glimpse of hope.  God promises in 3:15, that Satan would receive a wounded head.  How will that happen?  Another glimpse of God’s plan of salvation is shown in a comparison of coverings.  Adam and Eve attempted to cover their nakedness (their personal sin) with their own works (3:7).  God, however, knew this was not sufficient, and slew and skinned an animal and made them coats.  Our redemption would require the shedding of blood and a covering not made with our dirty hands.

Thank you, Lord, for a glimpse of the great promise.

CFCB Scripture Reading Challenge (#1)

Over the next 100 days, the congregation of Columbus First Christian Baptist is engaging in a Scripture reading challenge. We are using the Essential 100 reading guide by the Scripture Union. I am going to write a daily devotion that goes along with each of the readings. There are 50 Old Testament passages and 50 New Testament passages. I will share the passage for that day and my personal observations.  This purpose of these devotionals is to help the people at CFCB see the Scripture a little clearer and to invite others to join in on the readings as well.

Read Genesis 1:1-2:25

Creation, communion with God, and companionship with others are the topics covered in the first two chapters of Genesis. We start by reflecting on creation, a hotbed issue in society and the Church. Personally, I am a young earth creationist and also believes that science fully informs that direction of my faith. However, whatever your theologically bent is here, creation is beautiful. I remember in a trip to the western states that we had an opportunity to view the Grand Canyon. It was breathtaking. The world that God created is amazing. From our own bodies to the smallest single-celled creature. Psalm 19:1-6 speaks of the beauty of God’s creation. God’s presence is clearly seen in the intricacies of the created world.

God created humanity in His image.  There are so many avenues that we can travel down and explore exactly what the “imagio dei” (image of God) means to us.  However, it enough in this writing to note that God loves us and we are created with freedom of will to love Him back.  First John 4:19 reminds us of this simple truth, “We love him, because he first loved us.

God not only created in us the capacity to have a relationship with Him, but he also created us to have a relationship with others.  The depths of this first relationship is wrapped around human companionship.  I am very thankful for the companion that God placed in my life.  This reality may not be the case for everyone.  However, God has created us for in a web of relations, from which we are able to draw strength and receive encouragement.  So, we do thank God also for all those around us that support us and sharpen our character and faith as well.

Christian Planning

The default Christian mixture of planning minimizes the role of people and lifts up our dependence on the leading of God.  The problem is when those that are carnal find themselves in positions of leadership and espouse a spirituality that is a cover up for a laissez-faire attitude toward any type of preparation and planning.   There are those who actually feel unspiritual if any kind of planning takes place in regards to worship or programs that would require planning.  Too much planning is believed to cut God out of the picture and elevates man’s locus of control.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, we see those that plan all the activities of the church in a way that could easily ease God out of the life of the church.

God wants us to search for His will

In First Chronicles 15:1-14 there is a record of David’s preparation for the ark of God to be brought to Jerusalem according to God’s Word.  David lived in a time where the past King (Saul) did what he wanted and had forsaken the counsel of God.  Alfred Edersheim wrote, “It was surely time to restore the ancient worship which had been so sadly disturbed” (Vol. 4, p. 170).  This was a massive undertaking for the new king and ended up being a failure on his first attempt.  This was mainly due to a lack of consulting the written law of God and relying solely on human effort.  David made a second and fruitful effort after seeking God’s will for handling the ark.

In the New Testament the same understanding of seeking God’s, will first before planning and doing.  However, it would also seem that there is still a significant focus upon human involvement in the planning of the life of the church.  As such, much of the New Testament shows that people from different cultures had different understandings of how to planning would take place in the early church.  Such as who should take leadership in the church and who should be taken care of (Acts 6 for example).  Ken Schenk shared, “It makes perfect sense that the concepts of order and peace would play themselves out differently in different cultures, as well as in various groups and denominations today” (p. 201).  Those approaches considered decent in one culture may not have been the case in another.  Culture seems to be an inevitable part of the human side in organizing the life of the church.

Led by the Spirit

Primarily concerning worship, John 4:23-24, transitions our understanding of the mixture of planning in the church by the Divine and human elements.  This passage sets up a strong implication that worship has a high degree of freedom in the Spirit.  Joseph Dongell pointed out that, “Only through divine assistance – through the Holy Spirit – may a person worship God appropriately” (p.80).  If we understand that all of life is worship to God, then the Spirit must also lead any time spent in organizing the life of the church.

What would this mean for an individual such as Charles Grandison Finney, who has made such an impact on the revivalist movement (he popularized the use camp meetings, revivals, choirs, and the altar call)?  Finney pointed out, “That a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means. The means which God has enjoined for the production of a revival, doubtless have a natural tendency to produce a revival” (part 1, paragraph 4).   He was intent on the human side of the mixture, maybe so much that it betrays His understanding that God was the instigator of movements whether they are a revival or other projects the church concerns itself with.

It would be interesting to have seen such an individual of Finney and his method of bringing revival and Anne Hutchinson, a puritan, that led a movement engrossed with the idea of simply being led by the Spirit alone.  Hutchinson wrote, “a believer possessing the Holy Spirit was not bound by laws of conduct but was moved by inner spiritual compulsions” (Noll).  Finney promoted a certain way of doing things and actions that had to complete to prepare the way for the Spirit to take control.  Hutchinson taught that actions flowed from being led by the Spirit.

Balance is the key

It would seem that a balanced understanding of the leading of the Spirit and the importance of human involvement is the necessary approach.  John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “It was cold and lifeless to represent God as a momentary Creator, who completed his work once for all and then left it” (paragraph 1).  To leave God entirely out of the equation would be dangerous and foolish.  Therefore the organization of the life of the church has to be founded upon Him.  James 4:13-17 shares God’s frustration with those who plan and leave Him out of the process.  As it is written, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15).

Yet, it would seem fair to surmise from scripture that the human element of planning is entirely done away.  Our plans and preparations should be made but also allow for the spontaneous change of plans by the Spirit.  Such is the case of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16:6-10.  Paul had a desire to go one direction, but the leading of the Spirit pointed him toward another direction.   It would be essential for any Church leader is that planning is part of the calling but that it is subject to change by the leading of the Spirit.  The leading of the Spirit takes precedence over all organizing.

Conclusion

Saint Augustine wrote that we are to “Pray as though everything depended on God.  Work as though everything depended on you.”  The balance that should be sought in having the right mixture of divine and human elements is one hundred percent on both ends.  God is the author and finisher of everything that we do.  We ought to seek His will on all matters of life, especially as it concerns organizing and making decisions regarding the church.  We also understand that it is impossible to remove the human element of decision-making and even such things as the cultural context on the person.  It is also the will of God to use people to accomplish His divine plan for their life and the local congregational context.

Decisions making, planning and organizing rest upon the leading of the Spirit.  It is up to us as leaders to seek God’s will.  In times where He allows us to have a greater say in the matter, we still pray, “God this is how we see you leading us in the matter.  But, if you desire to change this, we pray that you change it up and lead us by your Spirit.”  There needs to be a confidence that God’s will is being accomplished, even when it seems that human minds and hearts have seemingly done a majority of the planning.  There must also be a surety that God’s ability to bless or change the agreed upon plans by people may come.

References

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.xvii.html

Edersheim, A. Bible History: Old Testament (Vol. 4, p. 170). Oak Harbor: Logos Bible Software. 1997

Finney, Charles, Lectures on Revival.  Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/revivals.iii.i.html

Noll, M. A. Hutchinson, Anne. In (J. D. Douglas & P. W. Comfort, Eds.) Who’s Who in Christian History? Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House. (1992).

Schenck, Kenneth. 1 & 2 Corinthians: A Commentary for Bible Students. Indianapolis, IN, Wesleyan Publishing House. 2006