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 (#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!

Scripture Reading Challenge (#6)

Many of us remember, “Father Abraham had many sons.  Many sons had Father Abraham, and I am one of them.  So are you.  So let’s just praise the Lord.”  and all the accompanying motions.  The next section of the Biblical story focuses to Abraham. We first learn that before God changed his name, it was Abram.  We also learn that God gave Abram and his descendants three promises: (1) give them a land, make them a great nation and name, and finally bless the world through them.  Abraham’s story sets up the trajectory for the rest of the story.  Namely, how God would bring redemption to a broken creation.  We see in Abraham the roots to the nation of Israel, but even more, we see the roots of the people of faith.

Read Genesis 12:1-20

Sometimes, Satan is no bigger than 6 inches tall.  Enough to stand on our shoulders and whisper words of doubt and discouragement in our ear.  Abram lived in a place that was the equivalent of a modern-day metropolis.  It also seemed feasible that he had a sizeable inheritance coming to him.  He also had his entire life set up in the land of Ur of the Chaldees.  Still, in an amazing act of faith, Abram packed up his house and family to follow God’s direction.  Perhaps, Satan sat down on Abrams’ shoulder and whispered, “That’s that.” He was leaving a luxurious world for the unknown.

Abram lived in faith, and eventually, God would change his name to Abraham as a reminder that God would keep His promises.  Abraham did not seem to doubt God, but he did have trouble understanding how God would fulfill his plan.  Sometimes he tried to help.  We see an instance of this at the end of our reading today.  Abraham would lie to Pharoah about Sarah in an attempt to preserve their life.  We also see two other times where Abraham would try to help God out with fulfilling the promises of having children (since he and his wife were childless and super old)!  He decided to seek to adopt one of his servants as his son and then had a child with another woman that his wife gave him.  Whew!  Finally, God gave Abraham and Sarah, their son.  God keeps his promises but fulfills them in ways that are beyond our understanding.  We are just called to be faithful and live a life aligned to what we believe.

Studying Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit

Check out yesterday’s blog post on the preacher’s library.

The questions, “What is the place of Scripture in interpretation” and “What about the leading of the Holy Spirit leading the pastor” arise when talking about using preaching resources. To put it simply, the preacher must hold the Holy Spirit as the great teacher of the Holy Spirit.  Without either our preaching is nothing more than religious and moral talks.

The old saying in bible study is to “let Scripture interpret Scripture.” There are a couple of different things this statement implies.  First, each verse and passage find itself in the context of all scripture. When we read a verse, we must also pay attention to the verses immediately before and after.  Moving from there we look at the entire passage that is connected and later on the whole chapter.  Neighboring sections and the remainder of the book that the scripture finds itself in also play a significant role in interpreting scripture.

This leads to the second implication, that what ever interpretation we raise on a particular scripture must be in harmony with the larger teaching of scripture.  Scripture will validate itself and never contradict itself. So, when we begin to interpret what scripture is teaching it will not oppose instruction in another portion of scripture.  What will happen is that we will find the lessons of the scripture only become fuller in meaning and application as Scripture is “rightfully divided” (2 Tim. 2:15) and harmonized.

The last implication for the high place of scripture interpreting scripture is that while viewing context, we can learn the meaning of words and what their particular use is. While it is a valuable tool to know the original languages, we must also trust that God was heavily involved in the translation process. We must believe that God oversaw the process where we received the Scriptures in our own language and that it is possible in knowing what is meant by a plain reading of Scripture.

This is due to giving a high place to leading of the Holy Spirit when it comes to the Word of God.  Second Peter 1:21-22 reads, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”  The Holy Scriptures did not come by man but by the leading of the Spirit.  Moses could not have written about creation unless the Spirit showed it to Him.  John could not write about future events in such detail without the Holy Spirit leading him.  If the Scriptures could not be written down without the leading of the Holy Spirit, then it is impossible to think that interpretation of them can come without Him.

In so many passages of Scripture, the Word of God is united with Spirit and His work in making Scripture alive. It is the Holy Spirit that truly teaches the minister and any student of the Scripture its real meaning.  The Holy Spirit reveals the truth and illuminates it in our mind.  It is the Holy Spirit that drives those truths into our heart, convicting us and setting us free by God’s truth. It is the Holy Spirit that likens our own personal experiences to the truths found in God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit that makes preaching fruitful and full.

I believe that it is important for preachers to use every tool available in presenting the Gospel.  We must strive to preach with integrity, clarity, and conviction.  We can accomplish that only by utilizing all that God has given.

Why do we lack discernment?

When Jesus was asked to speak about the end times, one of the signs He gave was the deception of God’s people (Mt. 24:24).  Other passages warn us of false prophets (2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Tim. 4:1, 3-42 Pet. 2:2, 12-13), Satan (2 Thess. 2:9-12), and personal deception (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 6:6-8).  How does this deception take hold of believers?  My observation is that Biblical illiteracy, a culture of syncretism/pluralism, and a lack of accountability contribute to those who are easily deceived.

Biblical Illiteracy

Barna Research recently released a stat loving pastor’s dream, Barna Trends 2017.  There are 236 pages of research material.  Part of it is the recent trends in faith, which includes Biblical literacy.  Currently, 57% of the world’s population still do not have a completed translation (Barna, p. 126).  When it comes to Americans approaching the Bible, even though it is more accessible than at any other time (p. 143), almost 30% read it once a month, and another 30% read it one a year (p. 140).

There is plenty of passages that refers to our need to honor and know the Holy Scriptures.  However, we do not seem to care about reading the Bible.  It is easy to be tricked into believing false truths about the Scripture when we do not actually know what is in the Bible.  We listen to a two-minute video and post it to Facebook without thinking about the actual teachings and character of the person we just promoted.  Believers are being deceived by a fancy religious talk by so-called ministers, but yet they do not have the ability or take the time to be like the Bereans when they heard Paul preach.

Acts 17:10-12

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

Culture of Syncretism/Pluralism

Pluralism means a diversity of perspectives, values, beliefs, and practices.  Syncretism is the attempt to combine a plurality of these items into a single system.  The Old Testament contains several examples of Israel’s history where they tried to absorb pagan idols into their practices, only to be absorbed by paganism.  According to the research, 57% of Americans now believe that morality is self-defined (pp. 50-53).  People can adopt whatever beliefs they want from any system available and make their reality.  In research, we call this confirmation bias.  When personal interests get in the way of reason, we become biased to the truths we accept while refusing the facts that are inconvenient.

Our society teaches us from an early age to “be ourselves” and “do what makes us happy,” but this can be against God.  The modern morality in the culture we live says that all religions are valid, choose what you like, and just be a good person.  Christian Scripture does not allow for followers of Christ to agree on with this approach.  Jesus is not another way to God, but the only way.

John 14:6

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Lack of Accountability

The mantra of our age sometimes feels like, “Don’t judge me.”  The stats are staggering that we lack a desire to be held accountable.  Barna reported that 89% of all U.S. adults and 76% of practicing Christians believe that “people should not criticize someone else’s life choices” (p. 53).  Also, 37% of Christians believe spiritual growth comes is only on your own (p. 135).  Proceeding from a culture of pluralism/syncretism, we have developed into a therapeutic culture.  We tend to gravitate towards those things that make us feel better about ourselves, even if there is no truth in them.

When someone offers teaching or rebuke that is contrary to our feelings, we take it as extremely negative criticism.  This is why the Word of Faith movement has such a large following (think of most televangelist).  They highlight the power of positive thinking, be positive and your situation will go away is a part of their approach.  The thought process becomes “anyone negative to you is against you.”  Again, Scripture is keen on believers holding each other accountable for what they believe and their actions.

Galatians 6:1-5

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For every man shall bear his own burden.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not be deceived anymore.

 

References

Barna Group (2017) Barna Trends 2017. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.