Scripture Reading Challenge (#16)

There seem to be evil men in every generation.  Pharaoh of Egypt, as we will read, committed terrible acts because of jealousy and fear of God’s people.  In the middle of these tragic events, God would raise up a deliverer.  The Story of the Bible now introduces us to Moses, the man God would use to set His people free from slavery and organize Israel’s societal and religious values.

Read Exodus 1:1-2:25

If the question has not come to mind yet, it indeed does at this point, “How can God allow such evil things to happen?”  There is never a simple answer to this type of question.  However, it adds to the integrity of the Bible.  Scripture does not sugar coat real life.  Reality can be dark and grim, and God uses His Word to shine the light and spread hope in the dark world.  I will say, that in my answer to the questions, typically starts with, God has already done something to answer evil, and it leads to his promise to vanquish it forever.  Romans 1:18-32, speaks of God’s wrath against ungodliness and wickedness in summary fashion.  Like I said, it’s not an easy answer, and there is more to it, but basically, God’s beginning judgment on sin (the ultimate cause of evil) is to allow it to run its course.  This passage marks three times that God gives people over to their wishes to not have him around.  God allows evil because humanity has rejected him, and a broken world is the result.  In the end, God promises to set all things right and the one who tempts us to sin, the devil, and those who utterly reject God, will be cast into an eternal lake of fire, while the faithful enjoy eternal bliss in a new heaven and earth.

Thankfully, God does not entirely leave this world alone.  In fact, Scripture teaches us that it is still the Holy Spirit that restrains evil incarnate from running rampant in this world (2 Thess. 2:7).  In the case of Moses, God heard the cries of the people and would send Moses to deliver them from Egypt.  It is tempting to read these Scriptures and think that God forgot them, after all, it does say God remember his covenant.  Haven’t we already discussed that God does not forget us?  One of the prophecies in Genesis foretold Israel’s 400 years of calamity in Egypt (Genesis 15:13).  We also have seen that God was preparing Moses and protecting his life well before we read of the people’s cry to God in the text today.  I think more of what is being said is that God was moving into a new phase of the plan of Salvation.  There are is no “plan B” with God.  Everything is “Plan Jesus Christ.”  When it states that God remembers the covenant, it seems that we see the next step taken in salvation history.  One big step closer to the time when God would send the Son and the world was ready.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#8)

One of the hardest experiences is to receive something extraordinary and then either misplace it or have it taken away.  We see this type of thing happening to Abraham.  However, we will also see just how strong his faith had become.  As the Hebrew writer penned, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Heb. 11:17-19).

Read Genesis 21:1-22:19

We have already noted in the Scripture reading challenge that God keeps His promises.  God promised Abraham that they would have a child and eventually a great nation would be attributed to them.  At the age of 100, Abraham and Sarah gave birth to their son.  God had kept his promise.  It may have taken 35 years in our time, but God keeps his promises.  God took thousands of years between the fall of man and the death, burial, and resurrection to fulfill the plan of salvation.  It’s also been around 2,000 years since Christ’s resurrection and of expectations for his return.  However, God spoke to Isaiah, 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” (Isaha 55:8-9).  

These higher thoughts and ways of the Lord are demonstrated in the following chapter.  God asked Abraham to now sacrifice his only son that he had long waited for, and he did it!  He took Isaac on a trip to Mount Moriah, which some consider being Mount Calvary where Jesus was crucified.  Isaac knew something was different since they didn’t have a sacrifice.  Abraham, calmly said, God would provide a sacrifice.  He was aware that either God would provide an alternative or that he would raise Isaac back to life because through Isaac they would have a great nation.   Abraham knew by this time, God keeps His promises.  God did provide an alternative sacrifice that day and thousands of years after.  We should pay the penalty for our sin, but Christ is our substitute.  He took our place.  He paid our price.  Thank you, Jesus!

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 1)

After being in captivity for 70 years in Babylon, in 536 B.C., the first group of Jews returned to Israel under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the kingly descendant. In 458 B.C., Ezra the priest led the second group, and in 444 B.C. a third group was led by Nehemiah.  Zerubbabel led the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra restored proper worship and understanding of the law, and Nehemiah rebuilt the walls.  Work on the temple and Ezra’s attempt to restore Israel’s religion was hindered until Nehemiah came and led the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  Before the walls were rebuilt, the city was defenseless to raiders and those who would sabotage the work and heart of the people.

Who was Nehemiah?

We are told in the book named after Nehemiah that he was the “king’s cupbearer” (1:11:).  The Persian King Artaxerxes trusted Nehemiah with his life since Nehemiah was to taste test everything before the king to make sure it was not poisoned.  We also know that Nehemiah had a happy soul because he was never sad before the presence of the king (2:1).  God had placed Nehemiah in a strategic place for the purpose of securing resources and the kings blessing to rebuild the walls the Jerusalem.

A Burden for Lasting Change.

What does Nehemiah have to do with change and why do leaders continually look to this book for inspiration?  Especially as it concerns our local churches and service before God.  I believe it is because Nehemiah demonstrates to us the foundation of producing real and lasting change.  Now, most consultants and other leaders will start with a vision and may quote some verse about not having a vision.  However, Nehemiah was not in Jerusalem, and he was not aware of anything needing help in Jerusalem.  He was unconcerned at first until he had a burden.

The book begins with Nehemiah receiving a message about the deplorable state of Jerusalem.  The walls were still broken down and were the laughing stock of the surrounding nations.   At this news, he broke down and mourned for some time (1:4).  It is not at this point that Nehemiah started to develop a vision.  No, instead he sought after God’s help.  Once we lose sight of God, we begin to be reckless. We cast off certain restraints from activities we know are wrong. We set prayer aside as well and cease having God’s vision in the little things of life. We naturally begin to act on our own initiative.  If we are eating only out of our own hand and doing things solely on our own accord without expecting God to come in, we are on a downward path.

The information that the messenger revealed was a dark contrast to Nehemiah’s knowledge of Jerusalem.  This presented a conflict in his soul that something more needed to be done.  He now had a burden and was cultivating it before God in prayer.  It would even affect his demeanor before the king (2:1-4).

What we learn in the episode of Nehemiah’s account is that burden must be present for change to occur.  It is a burden to make a difference that will help a person move forward with their work even when facing extreme difficulties.  A burden will stay when helpers are not found.  A burden will still be present when resources are low.  Yes, that can produce some pains, but it strengthen’s passion and a desire to follow-through with commitments.

Do you have a burden for a needed change in your church?  Or, in your life?  Seek God to imprint on your heart a strong desire to do something that in turn will point others to Christ and empower the believer to greater devotion before God.

 

 

 

SOM: Blessed are they which are persecuted

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

 This is the last of the beatitudes that Jesus has been using a particular formula.  Verses 11 and 12 starts with a blessing but the subject and added length makes it seem more like a final summary blessing of the previous blessings, especially this last one about persecution.  Persecution, hostility, or ill-treatment are something expected to the believer (2 Tim. 3:12).  Perhaps the previous blessing about being merciful, pure in heart, and a peacemaker have all led up to this truth.  While we seek to do good to others, it may not come back to us the same way.  This has led to many to turn away from the faith or become very defeated in their walk with Christ.  But Christ tells us to expect it and somehow has a way to use it for our good so that we can be called “blessed.”

There is a past tense wording to this phrase that implies a permissive understanding, “those who allowed themselves to be persecuted.”  These are the ones who did not flee from persecution in any form!  An outside threat normally brings out a flight or fight response from us.  We either run away or we stand up and fight when we are insulted, falsely accused, or persecuted.  Jesus, on the other hand, brings in a third option to react.  He introduces the idea that we go through persecution with neither fight or flight.  Later in this same chapter Jesus will say, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt. 5:39). Fulfiling the Old Testament the prophecy, Jesus would give us an example of this as “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Is. 53:7).  Could we really suffer shame and pain without opening our mouth or fighting back?

To deny that Christ’s true followers don’t have a target on them is to plead ignorance.  For one, we are told this is the reason we shall suffer, “because of righteousness,” and “for my sake.”  Another reason is that it is clearly visible in its many stages.  Persecution comes to believers in manner manners but typically in an ever escalating fashion.  This usually happens in the following sequence, 1) ignore, 2) humilate, 3) legally restrict, 4) confine, and lastly 5) execute.  Each of those key words can be filled with examples of each but they are pretty self-explanatory.  Still, the lesson to believers is to not fall into disbelief when it comes because it will.

The other thing for believers to learn is that when we are persecuted and go through any trial in life, we can grow from it. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:3-4, “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” When tough times comes we can know that God will use them to mature us (Romans 8:28).  Trials teach us how to endure and when we endure our character is mature and a mature believer knows to place all their hope in Christ.  In the face of persecution will you try to fight or take flight?  Both are reactions to try and preserve your life.  Christ asks us to trust His leading and grace by going through things.  Will you hope and trust in Him

SOM: Blessed are the Meek

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5

Weak and meek are not the same the same thing.  Jesus was anything but weak.  He had power of demons, diseases, and death.  He demonstrated his power over nature by simple use of His voice and when he spoke the people that heard him recognized an authority in it.  Jesus is the Son of God but yet He was meek and here He calls us to have the same attitude.  We are called to live in the power and freedom of grace but not at the cost of another’s own walk with Christ.

It is probably best for us to get a better understanding of what it means to be meek.  The Greek word used here can be translated with other words such as humble, gentle, considerate, and courteous.  Perhaps a better understanding of meekness requires us to take each of those words into mind when we read this verse rather one or another.  Together the word indicates an inward virtue exercised toward others.  For example, when the meek are wronged or abused, they show no resentment and do not threaten or avenge themselves.

Psalm 37 provides the background for this verse because it seems Jesus was quoting it, “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (37:11).  If you would take the time to read this entire Psalm by David you would be sure to quickly realize the calm assurance he gives as we lean on God’s power, wisdom and timing in dealing with those that would take advantage of us.  Earlier in this study we seen how the first set of beatitudes we vertical, meaning they focused on our relationship with God as citizens’ of the heavenly kingdom.  This verse seems to emphasis the fact that while we may have power and authority to avenge ourselves and deal with our enemies, we still don’t.  Rather than taking vengeance into our own hands we allow God to be God.  We rely on God dealing with our enemies, natural and supernatural.

We are tempted to take full advantage of all our rights in order to take care of ourself but the meek choose not to.  Why?  It is because we are not of this worldly system. Notice the blessing of the meek, “for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).  This world is not our home.  We are only passing through it on our way to the promised land.  The blessing though is like Abraham, who was promised a certain land but is also told that everywhere he sees and steps will also be part of his blessing from God.  The same is with the meek child of God.  We do not use the systems of the world to better ourselves because we are of Heaven and not of Earth.  But one day we shall inherit the earth when it is made new.

When shall that be?  In the context of Psalm 37 we notice that it the time frame is when the wicked have been dealt justice by God.  At the return of the Lord we will find ourselves the recipients of the message, “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:23).  When evil and the ones that perpetuate evil are removed then shall all things be made new and the righteously meek will inherit the earth.

So, the big question for us is whether we are willing to live meek in a cutthroat world?  Where people are constantly looking to take advantage of others and various systems in order to constantly get ahead we are cautioned against such actions that show us to be more earthly minded than heavenly.  During our times of devotion we must look not only towards pride, desires to have revenge, and to take advantage of others but also to examine our actions to see if we have behaved in such a way that is contrary to being meek.

Biblical Conflict Management: 10 Principles

Given the number of variables two people bring to the table it is easy to see why conflict happens.  Not all conflict is bad as it can bring out healthy conclusion.  Ultimately, all conflict can be used to glorify God, serve others, and help us become more like Christ.  I consulted with Randy Kamer (my father), an experienced supervisor well acquainted with conflict management strategy inside the church and inside the management and factories.  He introduced me many of the concepts of conflict management at a very young age.
1.    Diffuse tension.
a.     Proverbs 30:33 “Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife.”
b.    Ken Sande writes that, “Peacemaking is not an optional activity for a believer” (2004, p. 56).  If we are always looking at creating unity and peace among believers there may be times when the quarrel is sudden and heated.  There will not be any resolution to the conflict until all parties involved have cooled down.
c.      “This is wise with any issue of conflict and should probably be moved to #1 in your listing. Caution should be used when and how diffusing, because there is a very thin line between diffuse and ignite” (Randy Kamer).
2.    Remain calm regardless of the situation.  Understand that how you answer can create answers or create more conflict.
a.     James 1:19 “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
b.    Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”
c.      We must have peace in ourselves or else we prone to fits of rage.  Before it can be seen in the situation we must have peace within our own soul.
d.    Some people argue for the sake of arguing.  Those with that attitude will pick any word of phrase apart, fill it with meaning, and start another argument.  It is important to consider how each word we speak can speak life into the resolution or pour more fire into the conflict.
e.      “Very often, conflict can be used good, personal growth, and even increased productivity” (Randy Kamer).
3.    Listen to the opposing side or sides if a mediator (walk in their shoes).
a.     Proverbs. 18:13 “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”
b.     Having the ability to listen to the other side is a skill and an art.  It is a skill to listen and pick up those things that are important to promoting resolution.  It is an art as to listen in a way that displays you actually do care.
c.      “You cannot rightly advise, diffuse and guide if you do not listen to both sides. And sometimes, the conflictor and conflictee must be separated before you may clearly hear the complete sides freely” (Randy Kamer)
4.    Seek understanding as to why conflict is happening (my issue vs. your issue).
a.     Proverbs 3:30 “Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.”
b.    Many times couples argue and forget what they are arguing about.  Sande writes, “In many cases, however, if you look at a particular issue from a biblical perspective, you will realize that it is simply not worth fighting over” (2004, p. 82).
c.      “There is always a reason for conflict, be it lack of understanding, the thought of inability to perform, against belief, etc. It is the responsibility of the conflictor, manager, mediator to find the underlying reason because rarely will the conflictee spell it out” (Randy Kamer)
5.    If possible, take time to respond as to be concise and complete.
a.     Proverbs 17:27 “He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.”
b.    If the conflict is taking place over e-mail and text, this is much simpler to do (and even better since we can become more aggressive behind a protective screen). 
c.      “You must understand the situation from both sides including, but not limited to the personality of the conflictor and the conflictee, understanding both sides but at the same time reasoning with good clear direction for resolution” (Randy Kamer).
6.    Seek to overcome any language barriers.
a.     Proverbs 26:4-5 “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”
b.    At some point, people may start talking past each other.  They may use the same terms but use different definitions.  In talking things through you have to understand the words each other is going to use.
c.      “Language is not always a issue of tongue, but educational, knowledge, understanding, illiterate, fear, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, etc” (Randy Kamer).
7.    If you feel yourself heated do what is necessary to calm down and recollect.
a.     Romans 12:17 “Recompense to no man evil for evil.”
b.    Again, if you are at your computer or texting it is easier to take a few minutes to regain your composer.  If at all possible, you may seek to be excused to think and to calm down.  If not, then it would be important to learn some quick breathing techniques or other ways to reflect anger positively during a time of unmanageable anger.
c.      “You cannot think and react smartly and wisely while angered” (Randy Kamer).
8.    Understand your own position.
a.     Ecclesiastes 10:4 “If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place, for yielding pacifieth great offences.”
b.    Simply because conflict has arisen does not mean that what your fighting for is not important.  It is not time to roll over and concede.  But the conflict will only move forward if you know what you are arguing about on both sides.  Only then will a answer toward both sides be complete.
c.      “You must understand your own position, the conflictor’s position and the conflictee’s position. Then determine what is right, agreeable, compromising or even an un-obtainable solution always remembering to make this and growing productive result in the end for all parties involved.” (Randy Kamer)
9.    Seek to make much of Jesus even in Conflict.
a.     1 Corinthians 10:31Whether therefore ye eat, or drink or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
b.    Our whole purpose is to glorify God and lead others to a relationship with him.  It’s hard to that in conflict but it is possible.  Sande writes that, “The best way to glorify God in the midst of conflict is to depend on and draw attention to his grace” (2004, p. 31). 
c.      You can always see in a person, Jesus, Bible and personal teaching, up bringing, and church studies into any conflict that you mediate without ever mentioning Jesus, the Bible or the church just in the calmness and the reactions that you make when dealing with conflict. If Jesus lives in you, then he will stick out somewhere, just let them see it in your actions and reactions” (Randy Kamer).
References

Sande, K. (2004). The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.   (3rd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.