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.

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.

A glorious and difficult task.

Our present society places before us the question, “why do we need ministers and preaching?”  This leads to frustration among many but what really puts pressure on ministers is the very impossible task of preaching.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  Karl Barth put out three points that characterize this difficulty that lies before the minister in a chapter called the “Task of the Ministry.”  He said, “‘As ministers, we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory. This is our perplexity. The rest of our task fades into insignificance in comparison.”

First, we ought to speak of God

Often in sermons, there is a failure to point people toward God.  We apply sound biblical principles to everyday life, but we fail to make much of Jesus.  We have taken the aim to help people live better rather than helping them die before God.  What they need is God, and our preaching should contribute to pointing them to Him.

Second, we are human, however, and so cannot speak of God

We are finite creatures talking about the infinite Creator.  He is beyond us in every capacity, even imagination.  To talk about God is beyond our ability and cognition.  We would continually fail to correctly display God by our words.  Barth was famous for simply saying, “God is God.”  In that way, he described God but in reality, did not try to limit God by any human definition.

Third, we ought, therefore, recognize both that we should speak of God and yet cannot, and by that very recognition give God the glory

As God is infinitely above us and the task of preaching is given to us, we should use our voice and opportunity to praise God.  To praise and give thanks is to give God glory.  To proclaim to others the self-revelation of God through the Holy Scriptures and draw them to Him is to bring God glory.  Returning to the first statement, we ought to speak of God.  Make much of Jesus in our preaching.

Seven Sign in John: 6 – A Blind Man Healed

The sixth miracle seems similar to the previous healing miracle we saw in chapter 5 where Jesus healed a paralyzed man for 38 years.  The movements of Jesus are the same: Jesus healed, disappears, and then reappears.

John 9:1-7

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

Jesus focuses on this man who was blind from birth.    From here, the conversation ensues about the cause.  The disciples’ inquiry Jesus as to whether the man’s blindness is a direct effect of sinning.  However, Jesus doesn’t focus on the cause but rather the purpose. He will continue to describe the purpose through the next two verses.  What we see here is that God permits suffering and difficulties to arise in our life so that the work of God can be clearly seen.  We look at the events in the world and say, why does God permit such things? Why doesn’t God do something?  Yet, only through God’s work, which comes through Christ’s and His Church, can we see things made right.

 The work of God

What are works of God?  Jesus’ answer to this question was “I am the light of the world.”  Of course, we keep asking good questions, “why light?”  Light is essential to physical life as it is essential for many of the same reasons spiritually. Light dispels darkness.  Light enables life to reproduce – photosynthesis.  Light helps to warm.  Light helps us to see and therefore, it guides us as well.

 How does Christ give us light, especially since Jesus uses spittle and dirt to bring the healing?  It just seems amazing that Jesus’ supernatural power was seen through spit, mud and obedience.  Jesus used spit three times in Scripture, one for a deaf man (Mark 7:33) and two for blindness (this passage and Mark 8:23).   Still, what does is this supposed to point us toward?  That is John’s intention in writing, right? I think first this is going back to the creation of man when God formed us out of the dust of the Earth.  God created in the beginning and still has power over his creation.  Secondly, I show that Christ blesses the use of his creation to promote his work.  Namely the church.  We are the clay in God’s hands and we pray that you would use us to deliver Jesus’ light to this dark world.

 Through our witness let us show people God’s love.   Matthew 5:14 says, “ye are the light of the world, A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”  We should seek to let our life dispel the darkness of times.  To let God’s power be on display in our life.  Our cry is Ephesians 5:14, “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

Seven Miracles in John: 1 – Water into Wine

John, the beloved disciple, shared his purpose for writing his Gospel account. He wrote, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).  His presentation of the life of Christ is focused on showing the reader the power and purpose of Jesus.  One of the methods he employs to accomplish this task is the inclusion of seven miracles.  The following series of blogs will explore the beauty and meaning behind these miracles.

John 2:1-11

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.  This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Emptiness is defined as

  • The state of containing nothing
  • Lack of sincerity and contentment
  • Meaningless
  • Futility
  • No value or purpose

We can have an empty soul, home, marriage, or life.  Perhaps one of the most detestable things for a person to have before God is an empty religion.  Scripture teachings that there are some that have a form of godliness, but deny the power” (2 Tim. 3:5-7).  The will of God is that rather we be full. But not just full of everything under the sun.  No, God would rather for us to be filled with him.

Miracle at Cana

You know the story of Jesus at a wedding in Cana.  During the celebration, they run out of wine, and Jesus’s mother asks Jesus to get more wine.  This is where Jesus performs his first miracle as he takes about six water pots, almost 30 gallons each, a total of nearly 120-180 gallons of water, and turns it into wine.

John goes on to say in 2:11, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory.”  Two words in the Greek are translated as our English word miracle.  The first is “dynamis,” which means power or strength.  It sounds familiar to dynamite which we understand as being explosive power.  The second word, “semios” which is the word John uses here, means means a “sign.”

So, what do these seven signs say and in at this moment, this particular sign?  John says to show God’s glory.  We are going to see God’s glory and power.  We are getting a glimpse of God’s purpose in sending Jesus.  This first miracle will demonstrate all of this.

The water pots

So, what does this miracle teach us about Jesus and the purpose of His coming?  This sign shows that we can be filled with the goodness of God.  We who were filled with vile things are now filled with the joy of the Lord.  How does he demonstrate this?  Notice that John includes a key detail about the waterpots, “and there set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews.”   This is an important aspect of information John wants to include for us.  It also makes this miracle a little disgusting.

In the Jewish law that we find in the Old Testament was high on the distinction between clean and unclean.  One of the significant aspects of the law was that uncleanness was unavoidable.  One of the traditions the Jews adopted was ritual washing with water.  Full body, foot washing, hand washing, and washing the face are all references for Jewish washing from uncleanness.  So in reality, the water pots that the people were drinking the wine from were bathtubs or at least wash basins.

Thank the Lord, there is cleansing, but I don’t think that is the single purpose sign in this miracle.  Cleansing or purifying of the water pots is only implied and hopeful.  Who would want to drink from something where you wash your face and feet?  Instead, imagine being a Jew and what these water pots would mean to you. It’s like what we see when we pass by a cross or church.  They would have been reminded of their religion.  Their faith.  And this is what Jesus’ miracle of transforming the water into wine.

You look at the pots, they were full of emptiness.  They were filled with water, but the pots themselves represented to many the emptiness of what their religion had propagated.  The law made nothing perfect (Heb. 7:19).  In those waterpots was about 180 gallons of law, guilt, and filth. But, Jesus turned it into 180 gallons of grace.  The water in Jewish law was a symbol of an external ritual.  The wine represented to the Jewish mind meant joy and blessing.

The law made nothing perfect. The law didn’t fix anything.  It was a temporary covering.  It was something to point us toward the salvation that only Jesus Christ could bring.   The wine represents the blood of Jesus that was shed for us.  Matthew 26:27-29 reads, “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”  We are forgiven of our sins by the blood of Jesus.  We have moved from an external washing by water to an eternal cleansing and filling by the blood of Jesus.

The sign shows our fellowship with Christ and the ultimate joy of heaven.  Matthew continues, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (26:29).  We have fellowship with Jesus through the shedding of His blood.  Our relationship with God is restored through the work of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.

Jesus comes to fill the emptiness that is in our life.

Can you be a room full of people and still be alone? Can you have good health, a full bank account, lots of friends, a busy schedule, a beautiful home, a good job, a great family and still feel empty?  Jesus took the empty law and transformed it into something full of life.  Returning to John’s narrative telling of this miracle, the last verse says that the disciples believed on Jesus. He filled them with faith.  If you have given up, Jesus can fill you faith.

If your life is empty, your faith is empty, Jesus can fill you full.  As the wine was a symbol of joy, Christ can fill your life with joy.  Jesus’ first miracle is a showing that “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (Jn. 15:11).

Is Your Faith Growing Cold?

We are quickly entering into spring revival season.  I am still a supporter of church revivals.  There is nothing wrong with a congregation seeking to set out more time in their schedule for increased spiritual emphasis.  We all need revival at times.  Life has a way of wearing us down.  It is easy to allow our faith to grow cold even in times of joy and peace.  It happened to the disciples when Jesus was with them.  It can happen to us.

Jesus fed his disciples and a multitude with just five loaves of bread and two fish (Mk. 6:31-44).  However, in the midst of the miracle, the disciples were burned out.  Mostly, they were tired.  As we read what takes place, it is easy to notice that the followers are a little grumpy.  But, this was only a small symptom of a worse condition, a faith that had grown cold.  Jesus sent his disciples ahead by boat while he sent the multitudes back home.  The Savior was about to comfort and challenge His disciples.

Mark 6:45-54

“And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened. And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him.”

They did not recognize Jesus.

We often see the hand of God in life after He has brought us few something.  However, as we go through life our faith increases.  Over time it should become easier to sense the presence of God in our life and the way the Holy Spirit is leading.  Yet, for the disciples, they still did not recognize Jesus who they had already spent a significant amount of time following.  As Jesus came walking on the sea, the reverted to previous beliefs and assumptions.  They had forgotten about Jesus.

They did not expect a miracle.

As Jesus stepped into the boat, the wind and waves were calmed.  Jesus had greeted them, told them to not be fear but to have cheer because He was there.  But, they were looking around, amazed at what had happened.  Almost like they had never seen Jesus perform a miracle.  Not that we should become disinterested with God’s power displayed, but it was more in the sense that the disciples were not expecting a miracle.  Remember, they were toiling in rowing.  We are not shown whether they were crying out to God for help.  They were not expecting assistance.  When we no longer go to God in prayerful expectation, we have grown cold.

Their hearts were hardened.

Scripture finally tells us the problem with the disciples.  They did not consider the miracle of the loaves because their hearts were hard.  Forgetfulness of Gods previous blessings, failure to see His provision at an earlier time has now resulted in a hard heart.  Their passion for God had cooled.  They couldn’t put two and two together, the feeding and the calming had both come from Jesus.  The hardness of their heart had resulted in a barrier to see God move, a failure to move after God, and a failure to reach out in faith.

The Prayer Meeting

How much time does your church spend in prayer together?  Before the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, the apostles and many others spent the better portion of ten days in prayer (Acts 1:12-14).  Sadly, few churches focus on corporate prayer.  Sure, we have all sorts of prayer methods and calls to prayer, but we still lack in commitment.

It is my position that healthy churches have strong prayer meetings.  Christians have always gathered for the purpose of prayer from the very beginning (Acts 4:24; 12:5; 21:5).  If our churches are to remain vibrant or have any hope of revitalization, they hinge upon their congregation’s commitment to prayer.

Individuals and the local church body’s prayer life is energized or drained by the pastor and leader’s prayer life and emphasis on the group prayer meeting.  The leadership in the church must teach and model the value of prayer.

If you do not have a prayer meeting, or you are seeking to strengthen the active prayer meeting in your church, consider the following.  I use this approach in times when prayer and the prayer meeting need to emphasized in our local church.  The people have enjoyed it, and we are witnesses that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

The Prayer Meeting

  • Begin with one or two songs.  Call people to worship God and plead their case in prayer.
  • Place greater emphasis on prayer by having someone share an answer to prayer and a lesson on prayer for about 15-20 minutes.
  • Finally, the majority of your time should be spent in prayer.  This requires more thought and effort than the typical prayer request and prayer time.  Here are a few of movements that you can use to focus this time of prayer.
    • Pray as an act of praise and adoration
    • Pray for Strengthen the Church and its leaders.
    • Pray for people’s salvation.
    • Pray for government leadership, community, and global issues.
    • Pray for those who need healing.
    • Pray for those who need financial needs.
    • Pray for the healing of broken relationships.
    • And more as the needs arise.