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 (#24)

Sometimes we just have to get our feet wet. Joshua was tasked as the new leader of Israel, to lead the people across the Jordan river and into the promised land. Everyone needed to be reassured that the Lord was still on their side. God was going to show Israel and all the dwellers of the new land (Canaan) His favor was still on Israel. He would drive out the resistance and fight their battles. But first, they need to cross the Jordan river when it was most likely overflowing its banks.

Read Joshua 3:1-4:24

I remember the first time people came to faith under my preaching. I knew that God had called me into ministry but it was encouraging when He validated that calling by producing fruit from it. God’s blessings reminds me that there is nothing special about me, it’s all about Him. Still, to know that the Lord is on our side is strength to our soul. What impossible task did the Lord call you too, only to reinforce your faith when He performed the task? The song still rings true, “Trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

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 (#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 (#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).