Scripture Reading Challenge (#23)

Transitions from one part of life to another is never easy. People are resistant to change and are quick to defend against change. Israel went through such a transition. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, an entire generation passed away. God raised up a new leader, Joshua, to take over where Moses left off. It is intimidating to follow someone who has already been successful. Even though Joshua has proven himself already, this new challenge of leading the people of God to the Promise Land was not for the faint of heart.

Read Joshua1:1-18

There is not much to be said about this passage except, be strong and of good courage. This admonition is repeated four times. Three times by the Lord to Joshua and one by the people to him. Encouragement goes a long way in providing a safe an open environment for leaders and followers to be morally courageous. We must continually check ourself to see if our critiques provide positive reinforcement or are simply negative and hurtful to others. In our local churches, we need to create opportunities for people to lead without fear of others in the community attacking their ideas. Sharing leadership encourages others to take responsibility and to think creatively, something a lot of pastors long from a congregation.

How long has it been since you offered a word of encouragement to someone struggling with life? Have you complimented someone for doing a good job or being their for you? Taking notice of others and offering a kind word at just the right time can impact someone for a lifetime. We need to build each other up more instead of tearing down. First Corinthians 5:11 reminds us, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, evan as also ye do.” Scripture tells us to do everything we can to build up the Kingdom. We do that by building each other up.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#22)

One of the greatest strengths of the Bible is that difficult passages are not hidden. Our life is filled with complexity and God’s Scripture faces it with His grace and wisdom. I am thankful for that as it gives hope and guidance. If it some of it’s teachings are hard to understand and hard to accept. Our first chapter today is a difficult passage.

Read Exodus 32:1-34:35

Moses cares for the people. That’s the big lesson I gain from chapter 32. “But wait,” you say, “what is this about the Lord repenting.” Why would the Lord need to repent? This is one of those difficult areas. The people of Israel made a molten calf. Aaron’s response in 32:24 is comical, “They made me do it and gave me their gold. When I through it in the fire, a golden calf jumped back out.” This infuriated God and went against the grace He just showed by bringing them out of Egypt. However, after Moses’ pleading, God repented of the evil He thought to do. Notice, He didn’t ask for forgiveness, which is included in our understanding of repentance. In this sense, it means to change direction, to do something different. He was going to destroy them but through Moses pleading, God changed His mind. To me, this displays Moses growing love for the people. Notice also in 32:30-35, that Moses is so passionate for Israel that he was willing to have his name blotted out in their place. Moses has changed from not wanting to defend Israel in front of Pharoah, but now will plead with God for them. That’s a pastor’s heart. One who grows in love for His people that they will pray for God’s grace and favor upon the congregation and community regardless of self-cost.

Another major point in this passage, is God’s relationship with Moses. We see clearly 33:11, “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend.” This is wonderful to know that God, the Creator, will enter into a relationship with us beyond covenant partnership and into covenant friendship. God even rubs off onto Moses (33:18-23, 34:5-9 & 29-35). God has great love for us, and the more we are around the Lord, the more we are changed.

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 (#3)

We take a little bit of a leap forward to get the big picture of the Bible.  In between our previous passage and today’s reading, is a lot of sin.  In those chapters, we find brother murdering brother and a growing contempt for God.  Sin multiplies, and we see God move to cleanse the world.  Grace, however, is also seen this passage of Scripture.  The word “covenant” is introduced in this chapter too.

Read Genesis 6:5-7:24

The state of humanity is summed up in Genesis 6:5-6, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”  I believe Romans 1:24 is an excellent commentary on the flood event and the actions of God afterward, “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.”  Romans 1:26 and 1:28, echo this idea of giving over.  In my observation, it is God telling humanity that if they don’t want Him around through their continual sinning, he will grant their request and let them see the consequences of such an action.  The evil of our present world is the outcome of man’s rejection of God.

God would go on to destroy the created world by flood.  Noah, though, would find grace in God’s eyes.  In the story, justice, mercy, and grace are on display.  Justice is receiving what we deserve.  Mercy is not receiving what we deserve.  Grace is receiving something that we don’t deserve.  Romans 3:23 teaches, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”   The difference between Noah and the rest of the world was faith.  The writer of Hebrews stated, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (11:7).  Faith is more than belief.  It is faithfulness or the actual living out of what is believed to be true.  

Covenants generally symbolized in today’s time.  Ancient near-eastern covenants were solemn oaths, typically bonded by a blood sacrifice displaying the seriousness of the covenant.  They were symbolized generally by a token.  The token given by God to Noah was the rainbow.  Every time we see a rainbow we are reminded of God’s promise to not destroy the world through a global flood.  God keeps His promises.  Second Peter 3:9 reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  God would bring in new covenants throughout human history.  The final covenant being made between Jesus Christ and man.  That covenant is the promise of salvation by faith made possible by God’s grace in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

 “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” -Genesis 18:14

“Ye Lord God! behold, Thou hast made the heaven and the earth by Thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for Thee.” — Jeremiah 32:17

“For with God nothing shall be impossible.”


The opening question is rhetorical in nature. The interesting point is that God is asking this question himself. The event that this phrase is nestled is centered around God’s promise to Abraham that him and his wife Sarah would have a child. Sarah, because of her age, laughs out loud. God confronted the outburst with a reference to His omnipotence.

The premier display of God’s power is interwoven with His love. The single act of power works its way throughout history, climaxes at the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and reaches throughout eternity. As Paul wrote, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

I am thankful for the power of God that is displayed in the world and in my life. He took my sins away. He has filled my life with the Holy Spirit and enabled me to resist temptation and endure trials. He has prepared a place of eternal bliss. Oh, what a great and glorious God we serve.

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

Fall 2017 Faith Bible Institute Schedule

All courses are free of charge!

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  • Equip Workshop – Saturday, September 23 @ 9:30am-1:30pm, Wheelersburg, Ohio – Different Speakers Register

  • Women of the Bible – Mondays, October 2, 9 & 16 @ 7:00pm-8:30pm each night, Wheelersburg, Ohio – Wilma Erwin Register

  • Revelation – Friday & Saturday, October 27th @ 7pm-8:30pm & 28th @ 9:30am-12pm, 7th Street Christian Baptist – Jeremy Kamer Register

  • Church Leadership – Friday & Saturday, November 17 @ 7pm-8:30pm & 18th @ 9:30am-12pm, Hilltop Christian Baptist – Jeremy Kamer Register