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 (#13)

I grew up with the saying, “be sure your sins will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).  And, found out that it’s true.  If we think that we can escape being noticed when we do something wrong or when we neglect to do the right thing, we are only fooling ourselves.  We will reap what we sow (Proverbs 11:18, 22:8; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7-8).  Reaping and sowing is not the idea of karma.  Karma has to do with reincarnation and a person receiving the repercussions of actions of a previous life in the next life until eventually they reach a state of nirvana and are no longer reincarnated.  Christianity holds the belief that once this earthly life is over, judgment is final.  There are no do-overs.  We must seek to live holy and righteous in the time that is now.

Read Genesis 42:1-38

Joseph is going to play a grand charade before his brothers.  His goal is to bring his entire family to Egypt and surprise them that he is still alive and second in command of Egypt.  However, he is going to have a little fun with his brothers and see if they are remorseful for what they did to him so many years before.  We know that they are indeed sorrowful over their actions.  One of his brothers, Reuben, who tried to protect him then, said “Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against eh child; and ye would not hear?  Therefore, behold, also his blood is required” (Genesis 42:22).  The brothers of Joseph are being led to a contrite spirit, repentance, and restitution.

If only we would become sick of our sin, repent, and seek God.  King David wrote in Psalm 51 about his sorrow for the crime he committed and sought after God’s forgiveness.  He knew that peace, joy, and contentment only would only come through an unbroken fellowship with God.  It had been broken by sin, and he wanted to have it restored.

Is your relationship with God broken?  What sin have you allowed to remain that is separating you from the sweet fellowship of our Savior?  Why not, right now, seek God’s forgiveness and repent of your sin?  First John 1:1 teaches us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  He is faithful.  Are you faithful?

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.

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 Signs in John: 3 – The Man of Bethesda

Thirty-eight years is a long time to deal with one disease.  But that’s exactly what this individual had been doing.  He and countless others would gather themselves together beside the pool of Bethesda waiting for a miracle.  At this place, an angel would supposedly trouble the waters, causing a ripple.  We do not know who the angel is or whether they are a heavenly or demonic spirit. But, apparently, the first person into the water would be healed.

John 5:1-14

After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

What we see is that the man’s attempt to be made whole shows the man’s limits.  He can’t be healed unless someone helps us.  The same goes for us with our sin.  We are unable to be set free from sin unless someone else does so on our behalf.  That’s exactly what Jesus did for this person and us.

Healing without seeking.

Seemingly, for this miracle, Jesus targeted this man.  The man beside the water was laying there hoping for a miracle but was not actively seeking.  That’s when this man finds grace in the eyes of Jesus.  The Lord asks him, “Do you want to be made whole?  The man doesn’t say yes. Rather, he complains about how no one helps him into the water, and every year someone else beats him to the miraculous healing.  He did not even know that Jesus standing in front of him, could heal him in a word.

This man received grace when he wasn’t looking for it.  Jesus tells the man to get up, pick up his bed, and walk.  And, you know what?  It happened, immediately!  The man is still complaining when it seems like Jesus interrupted him and delivers the miracle he had been needing.  The man was not seeking his healing but received it anyway.  We may not have been looking for a Savior, but Jesus became ours when we weren’t looking.  As Paul wrote, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

Meeting the miracle worker.

Jesus had slipped off in the crowd, who had no doubt taken notice of this man’s healing.  Later, Jesus finds this man and warns him that something worse than what he had experienced the previous 38 years would happen if he were to continue sinning.  Is Jesus concerned with your disability or disease?  Yes, he is, but he is without a doubt, more concerned with your holiness before God.  God just doesn’t perform random miracles of healing. When he does a miracle it is an act of grace to encourage our faith in God and our fight with sin.

 Miracles do happen, but not for just any reason.  They are for God’s glory and our holiness.  We must praise God whether he brings us healing or allows us to suffer.  He sees the end from the beginning, and he knows what He is doing. He is in control of our condition and guides us through it to places where we can praise Him loudest.  God also brings miracles to us not to make us feel good but so that we may also have greater victory over sin.  Why? It is because there is something far worse than our present conditions.

The beauty of praise

The scene is set in Heaven right now.  It establishes a precedent for the promise of the new Heaven to come.  The example we find teaches us valuable praise.  I am referring to the fourth and fifth chapter of The Revelation of Jesus Christ that was given to John on the Isle of Patmos.  These two chapters and the last three are my personal favorite found in this book.   Chapters four and five teach us about the beauty of praise: the glory of God, the victorious atmosphere, and the spontaneous responses.

The Glory of God (Rev. 4:1-7)

In John’s vision of the throne set in Heaven, he see’s one who is arrayed in glory.  The beauty that is described is given to the Lord of all.  There is power demonstrated by the lightning, thunder, and voices in verse five.  Nothing compares to the splendor that we find in God.  What we learn about praise is that God is worthy of our praise.  God’s  very nature draws out our praises.  The Lord is our Creator, Sustainer, and Provider.  We find all we need in Him.

The Victorious Atmosphere (Rev. 5:1-7)

Many people shudder at the thought of the book of Revelation.  The challenging nature of its symbols and the fear of end-time prophecies add to this pull-back when dealing with Revelation.  However, in my readings, I have come to the understanding that God is never nervous about the outcome.  No matter what is happening in the realm of man and spiritual wickedness, God is never wringing His hands or having a knee-jerk reaction.  Revelation 5:1-7 shows this clearly.  We can praise God, for when we are worried about situations in life (vs. 4), Jesus shows up on time to bring victory (vs.5-7).  Thank you, Lord!

The Spontaneous Responses (Rev. 4:8-11; 5:8-13)

Our praise to God should not require us to work it up.  Instead, it should be an automatic and spontaneous response to God.  Beautiful praise is not forced or fake.  The pattern of praise we find in Heaven can be seen as the default activity of inhabitants before the throne (Rev. 4:8-11).  They are continuously centered around the Throne of God for worship.  It is their primary concern.  We also see praise as a response to the great things He has done (Rev. 5:8-13).  Thousands upon thousands freely join in the worship of the Lord when they see what He is able to do.