Organizing the Biblical Narrative for Easy Memorization

The following is an exercise that I have utilized several times to gauge my students present an understanding of the Biblical narrative.  According to Barna’s report on spiritual growth in 2017, millennials reported Bible reading as the most important spiritual discipline, but less than 30% noted any reading in a previous month.  I would put forth that in my experience, there is a high level of Biblical illiteracy in every generation.  This issue is something our Church leaders need to address with a more intentional approach.

The tool I use is a simple ten-name framework – five Old Testament individuals and five New Testament individuals.  From each of these names, different narratives and doctrines are attached for more natural referencing and deeper dives into the work of God across history.  To begin, I have my audience try to name five individuals from each group, so that signify the crucial changes in the story.  We then go through them and my suggestions.  So, here are the following names I use to tell the Bible story and some of the doctrines and other narratives attached to them.

Old Testament

Adam

Creation, Marriage, The Fall

Noah

The flood, Covenant, Righteousness

Abraham

Covenant, Faith, Patriarchs and Israel, Salvation by Faith

Moses

Slavery in Egypt, Exodus, The Law, The Promise Land, Judges

David

History of the Kingdoms, the Messiah and David’s throne, the devils attempt to destroy the seed of David on the throne through exile and corruption.

New Testament

John the Baptist

The last Old Testament prophet who reminded the people of the promises of God and provided the final connection to the coming Messiah.

Jesus Christ

Everything the Scripture points toward.  The Gospel and all that includes.  Need I say more?

Peter

Represents the early church and its growth and struggles.  The day of Pentecost and living under the Holy Spirit.  Begins the transition from grace centered on the Jewish population toward the inclusion to the Gentiles.

Paul

The apostle to the larger Gentile world.  Furthered the expansion of the church, its organization, and practical theology.

John the Beloved

Brings closure to the New Testament by pointing forward to life under the victorious Christ in uncertain times for an undetermined period.  Demonstrates that God is still on the throne, and Christ will make all things right.

Three Reflections on the Old Testament Tabernacle

2018-02-13 14.23.11

We recently had the opportunity to co-host a course on the Old Testament Tabernacle in Ashland, Kentucky.  A long-time family friend facilitated the sessions and shared many fantastic points about the Old Testament Tabernacle.  After I few days of reflection, I want to offer three observations from this course.

 

 

The Old Testament and all that it contains is necessary for a full understanding of the New Testament and God’s present work.

This first reflection focuses on more than just the Tabernacle.  Paul wrote in Romans 15:4, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”  The Old Testament is not just a preface to the New Testament.  It is one Scripture and serves as a sturdy foundation for our faith.  Old and New Testament together provide a robust resource for the Christian.  And, much of the New Testament may not make sense without the Old Testament.

The Old Testament Tabernacle was an excellent illustration of Christ’s future work.

Hebrews 8:1-6, begins a connection that the author will further develop in chapter nine.  In 9:1-14, we are shown that the Old Testament Tabernacle is a “figure for the time then present” (vs. 9) and “patterns of things in the heavens” (vs. 23).  Furthermore, the language John uses in his Gospel also notes the comparable nature of Jesus and the Old Testament Tabernacle.  When John says “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” the translation is equivalent to saying that Christ pitched a tent and camped with us.  The deacon, Stephen, concluded his sermon to the point that God desired the Tabernacle (the tent) but was later given a stationary temple.  To which Stephen noted, “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? Saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?  Hath not my hand made all these things?” (Acts 7:44-50).

We quickly become overwhelmed by any attempt to illustrate the greatness of God.

God is infinitely greater than we can ever imagine or attain.  Our attempts to talk about the Lord with any metaphorical illustration will fail to adequately describe any quality of Him.  Even with the Biblical examples, such as the Tabernacle, we will not be able to bring in to view any boundary of God’s greatness.  He is too wonderful to immense to be put into any of our boxes, concrete or abstract.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#33)

One of the most familiar stories of the Bible is that of David and Goliath.  This is a story of a young teen facing impossible odds and through the grace of God was victorious.  The stance that David made is admirable.  The faith that he displayed is inspirational.  The commitment he had to God is challenging us to us.

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-18:16

The Spirit can leave a person. Saul is a testimony to this. Scripture reminds us,“And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians‬ ‭4:30‬). The Holy Spirit is the testimony to our soul that we are a child of God (Rom. 8:16). Saul grieved God so deeply and for so long that the Holy Spirit moved away from Saul.  This is the sad condition of many people, and like Saul, they do not repent of their secret or open sins and errant thinking.  Instead, the chasm between them and God widens.

God will raise up leaders after his heart.  The Scriptures substantiates our hopes at this point.  These leaders may not always replace toxic leaders, as in the example of David and Saul.  They may challenge leaders in the wrong, they may only offer a new direction to follow, or they may inspire and bring hope to those while enduring a difficult situation.  God would remove Saul from leadership and David would step up into the position of king.  However, David was leading the people long before he was king.  You lead from proximity and manage from a position.  David spent time with the people while Saul became separated.  Leaders today must guard their relationships if they hope to remain a good leader.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#31)

The story of Samuel is one of my favorites.  Here is a man who both began and finished well.  That is a rare feat among today’s leaders and even many of the leaders in the Bible (of course not all the leaders in the Bible are trying to be good).  However, Samuel is one whose life is thoroughly committed to God and even more, during a time when it seems God was no longer working with Israel.

Read 1 Samuel 1:1-3:21

It is no wonder that Samuel turned out to be such a great follower of God.  Look at the example that was given to him as a child.  Hannah’s approach to prayer and praise before God is worth noting and modeling.  Fervent in prayer and quick to praise.  Many times we are apathetic in prayer and slow to worship.  Probably, much faster to complain.  We should learn more from Hannah.

Hannah had a severe burden on her heart.  In ancient times, being childless was considered a curse, and today it is no less heartbreaking.  The Scripture does not hide this reality.  In fact, through the many inclusions of this issue, it may be one of the most noted effects of the fall of man.  But notice, the Scripture changes tune after Jesus.  The last barren woman mentioned is Elisabeth (Luke 1:7 & 36).  There was another miracle birth from a couple in their old age.  Then, through Mary we see Jesus, and that was a miraculous conception all by itself.  But, the picture is painted all through Scripture, that God is greater than any barrenness.  I know there are not many words of comfort for someone having difficulty to have children, but remember this, God is on your side.  The Lord was able to create a man without anyone else, and he created a woman using only a man.  Jesus was born of just a woman.  God gave children to couples beyond their childbearing years.  I believe God’s message to women is the same thing He told Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).  Keep your faith in God, and He will make something beautiful happen.

Samuel received his calling from God amazingly and audibly.  The calling is not the only thing I notice.  It’s the age of Samuel.  He was most likely around the age of twelve.  God can and will work with young people.  It is also great to see Eli recognize and respect this about Samuel (even when Samuel told Eli that he and his sons would no longer be priests).  As a pastor and professor, I am always reminded of the openness youth have in following God’s leading into new methods and areas of ministry.  We could shut them down for fear of them getting hurt or messing things up.  Or, we can bless and empower them to get things done.  I choose to bless and empower.

The last thing that jumps off of the page is that there was no open vision in the land (1 Samuel 3:1).  Meaning, there were no prophets with a fresh word from heaven.  First, it was as though God was silent.  But, we see God is moving and working in the life of Hannah and Samuel.  So, we learn that when it seems God is silent, he is still working.  Secondly, it could also mean that the teaching of God’s Word was not up to standard.  Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”  These verses imply there was no available teaching or preaching.  We know for sure that Eli’s children were not doing the right thing as priests.  However, Eli seemed to be complacent and by his silence and inaction, permitted this dearth of God’s Word.  Oh God, do not let us be silent in our words or actions but let us declare you faithfully through our words and deeds!

Scripture Reading Challenge (#30)

This short book in the Old Testament is the first of two books named after women in the entire Bible.  One may wonder why she is included in the Scripture.  After all, she is not of Hebrew descent but was brought in through marriage.  However, through her story, we see the faithfulness to God and God’s grace.  We also learn that everyone is welcome to be part of God’s story.  Finally, we know how God works through families and salvation history.  Ruth would become the great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest king, David.

Read Ruth 1:1-4:22

Isn’t it amazing that such a sad beginning to this tale ends up with a beautiful love story?  And, all the way through it, we see God’s hand orchestrating events.  The Lord is present in the painful situations and the pleasant ones.  I am reminded of Romans 8:28, “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.”  You may have heard the cliche phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.”  People may even reference this verse.  I think that is a  wrong interpretation of Romans 8:28.  Instead, it seems to say that things can happen without reason, at least for those not seeking to live in the Lord.  Instead, we should say, “everything can have a holy purpose or else it happens in vain.”  Ruth demonstrated that even the death of her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law, could lead to God’s glory through faithfulness.  May we be found faithful and find handfuls of purpose along the way (Ruth 2:16).

Scripture Reading Challenge (#29)

The story of Samson is one of the incredible feats he performed by God’s Spirit.  However, at times, it is difficult to understand what we can gain from these passages in Scripture that apply to us today.  After reading about Samson’s life, we will be able to take away a better understanding of God’s work in time, and the frailty of even the best leaders.

Read Judges 13:1-16:31

The Lord is a mighty Deliverer.  However, He does it in His way and according to His schedule.  Throughout Scripture, we are reminded of that truth.  He also has much more patience than we do.  God took 400 years before delivering Israel out of Egypt.  God waited 40 years in our current passage before bringing Samson in the picture and then worked through Samson’s entire life from birth to death, to deliver Israel from the Philistine rule.  Furthermore, God worked through eternity past to the fall of man, through several millennia to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to bring us salvation.  Now, we have gone through almost 2,000 years of waiting for the second coming of Christ.  God works at His own pace, but we can be sure he is not slack concerning His promises (2 Peter 3:9).  God may take a decade or a millennia or two, but He will keep His word.  He makes things happen according to His divine plan.  We must remain faithful during the in-between times.

The second thing we learn from Samson’s story, and many others in the Bible, is that even good leaders fail.  There are undoubtedly toxic leaders who never seem to do good, but there those like Samson, Moses, David, and Peter, who are God’s people but still make mistakes or even fall into grave sin.  Moses worked with anger issues.  David was a man after God’s heart but yet was caught up in the act of adultery.   Peter liked to stick his foot in his mouth or could be hypocritical depending on who he was around.  When we do things on our own, we can be tempted and will fall.  Judges 16:20, noted that Samson did not even know the Lord had departed from him.  He had allowed the temptation to overtake him.  We need to pray for our leaders and ourselves to be vigilant in God’s Spirit.  Even the mighty can fall, and it only through the Lord’s grace we can keep standing tall against the tactics of Satan (Eph. 6:10-12).

Scripture Reading Challenge (#28)

First John 4:1 reads, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”  John continues with a litmus test for professing believers.  Discernment is an essential part of the Christian life.  Not everything that seems like it is from God is actually from Him.  We must be hyper-vigilant to be on guard for our faith and the faith of our families.  Gideon was such a man that wanted to be sure it was God helping Him.  God wanted to raise Gideon up as a judge.  Gideon, however, wanted to be sure it was the Lord calling Him and not something else.  

 

Read Judges 6:1-7:25

What are you doing for the Lord by His grace?  Are you sure it is for the Lord and not something for yourself or another?  It is important to examine ourselves to make sure we “beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Eph. 4:1).  We can become drawn away from our initial calling and trapped in sin.  However, the Lord can help us keep our focus and commitment to the calling on our life.  By His grace, we can be sure of our identity and work.

An essential piece of Gideon’s story is that God does look on our ability and think, “They don’t have the right stuff.”  The cliche motto is “God does not call the equipped, but equips the called.”  God wants faithfulness.  He will take care of the rest.  It doesn’t matter if you are weak or outnumbered.  If we are faithful to the Lord, He will perform miracles.  In fact, that is his counter to human wisdom.  When reasoning says that something is impossible, God makes it possible.  Whatever the Lord has called you to do, He will accomplish it through you if you are faithful to Him.

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 (#19)

Does your family have any traditions that are times of celebrations?  More than likely, you do.  It’s a way that we stay connected to our heritage.  There are some traditions that probably should be changed, but there are those traditions that are so rich in meaning that it would be detrimental to a groups history by bringing change.  To this day, Jews still observe Passover and the Feast of Unleavened bread.  What is significant about this celebrations?  In our reading today, we will learn about the historical event that is still celebrated even now.

Read Exodus 12:1-42

Blood was shed almost immediately after The Fall of humanity to make a covering (Genesis 3:21).  From then, we begin to see sacrifices given to God.  The first time we see this happen, God would not accept the half-hearted harvest gift of Cain but received the firstlings of Abels animal sacrifice (Gen. 4:3-5).  Now, God commands that the blood of each family’s lamb be placed on their doorpost.  God would pass over each house with the blood applied and the meal observed but would take the life of each firstborn in the homes that did not follow the command.  The house that was covered was saved from wrath.  It is also interesting to note at this point that the word atonement means, “covering.”  When Christ atoned for our sins, he shed his blood, covered us with God’s grace and saves us from wrath.   What an incredible foreshadowing of things to come that God painted for us in the Old Testament.

God had Moses tell the people, “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s Passover” (Ex. 12:11).  It sounds like God means business.  I take this statement as two-fold.  First, God is telling the people that the judgment on Egypt and the deliverance of the Israelites will be so complete, that the people will be quickly ushered out of the country.  Secondly, it was an act of faith to take in the meal with their running shoes on.  Do we have such confidence in God’s Word?  God said he would deliver them and so they should be ready to go at the exact moment He says, “Go!”  Is your life ready for an immediate act of obedience?

The reason given for making an annual tradition of the Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread was for the children, future generations.  Sometimes, when we start to change a tradition, we hear someone say, “But, this is the way we have always done it.”  That statement demonstrates a low understanding about the purpose of traditions.  Traditions are not about preserving the old paths as an end to themselves.  Instead, traditions keep history as a way to teach future generations.  In this particular case, it was to show the children about God’s deliverance and favor on Israel.  How many other traditions do we currently have that are kept for the wrong purpose rather than teaching future generations about what God has done in the past?  Traditions can show us what God has done and can still perform today.

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.