Categories
Can You Trust the Bible? Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

The Certainty of Truth

Author: Charles Hegwood

One of the questions we should always ask of any book of the Bible we are reading is, “Why was this book written?” Part of understanding the meaning is understanding the purpose. Often the writer will tell you the ‘why’. Others will require more thought and some light research to uncover. So what about Luke? We see that Luke begins his gospel with an explanation of why he is writing this. He wanted his audience to know his purpose and intent in writing this gospel. We need to consider the purposes and intentions of Luke as we read and interpret his gospel. If we do not then we risk missing the meaning entirely. So why did Luke write? Luke wrote to a specific person or people to tell them that they can have confidence in the truth of Christ that they were taught. So let us look at each part of the first four verses and answer the questions.

The Recipient

The recipient is the original audience the author is writing. This may sound obvious but we must identify the original audience as we consider how to interpret and understand the message that Luke is trying to convey. We discover that the recipient is Theophilus. We do not know who this is. His name means ‘lover of God’ which could be a person’s name or a pseudonym. Some scholars even suggest this could be a pseudonym for a local church as well, so not one person but many. And while we are not sure of exactly who Theophilus was, we do know enough to understand Luke’s message and purpose.
Theophilus was a person or people that Luke knew and had respect for. We know that Theophilus was a believer as well. Luke is not sharing the gospel for the first time with him either, but instead writing to give Theophilus more confidence in what he already believed. This information helps us as we read and understand Luke. It is written to believers like us. We have believed and therefore Luke’s purpose is to give us more confidence in what we already believe.

The Process and Message

How does Luke compile his information? Or another question we can ask is, “How can we trust Luke’s information?” For the first question, we see that Luke took it upon himself to compile information from interviews with eyewitnesses. He sought to investigate from sources who saw and heard Jesus, what he believed to be true. This corrects the claim that Christians are not allowed to test and question their faith. We should have confidence to research our faith and the claims it makes. It can withstand scrutiny. We must of course go to valid sources and that is just what Luke did. Luke went and asked eyewitnesses who saw and heard Jesus. He likely asked some of the apostles. Luke also asked other people who were compiling accounts of Jesus too.
Let us take a second and marvel that within the first twenty years after Jesus and likely earlier than that, people were already writing down what they heard and saw. They knew it was important. And these witnesses to the gospel and recorders of what happened were already busy writing these things down and passing the message to all who believed.
Some criticism of the gospels you might hear is that the accounts were written down much later than the events. For example, Luke was written down sometime before 70 AD. That means Luke may have written his account decades after Jesus was resurrected. However, these detractors fail to realize that much of what Luke contained was from writings that had been written much closer to the event. We do see from Luke that he got his information from people who were speaking and writing with the purpose to pass down the information. His goal was to be orderly. He wanted to take all of the accounts and put them in an order that would best convey the message to his audience.

The Purpose

Luke, among many others, was investigating and researching the claims of the gospel he heard. And what did Luke find? He found that what he had received as the gospel was trustworthy. So much so that he compiled the information and underwent the difficult process of writing down all that he had learned so that he could share it. His purpose was so that Theophilus would have the same confidence in the gospel that Luke did. The gospel is not simply good information. It is good news that calls us to follow a risen Jesus. Luke is not a simple historian. He writes with a purpose to grant confidence in what has been thoroughly investigated. Luke wrote to defend this certainty to his reader. Even in the first century, God had set people about the task of writing to defend the truthfulness of what happened.

Conclusion

So with Luke, we can see the recipient, process, and purpose are all to give us confidence in the things that we believe regarding Jesus. Luke is a great book to build your confidence in what you have already learned. Luke desired to show the importance of the truthfulness of the gospel. It is not a mere story. Jesus really came, taught, died, and rose again. We can have confidence in the truthfulness of God’s word to us. God’s word has the purpose of bringing us life. So read with confidence the good news that Jesus is our Savior and many throughout the ages have gone to great lengths to ensure that we have and can trust that good news.

 

Categories
Christian History Spiritual Development

The Principles of Deliverance

Author: Rachel Kidd

The Story of Exodus

Objective: To understand that there is no such thing as salvation without the power of God.

“The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him… and I will exalt him.” — Exodus 15:2

God’s power is uniquely displayed in the book of Exodus, which fittingly means way out. It tells the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt at the hands of Pharaoh while providing parallels to help us understand our relationship to sin and God’s ability to deliver us from it.

Deliverance

The theme of the book of Exodus is deliverance, which also means salvation, particularly in the Old Testament. We see the power of God through the salvation or deliverance of the Israelites through the plagues.

Each time Pharaoh rejected Moses and Aaron’s plea to let the Israelites go, God sent a plague on Egypt —ten in all. Everything from blood in the Nile, to hordes of locusts, frogs, lice, and flies, and finally the death of every firstborn plagued the Egyptians. After every plague, Moses and his brother Aaron come to Pharaoh and ask for the freedom of their people, in the name of the Lord. And every time, Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, his heart hardened.

These plagues are crucial to the story of Exodus because they convey a great truth; that God is far greater than any earthly power, even the most powerful Pharaoh at the height of Egypt’s power and influence.

He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. —1 John 4:4

God’s power is greater than any found on earth, not a president, army, prime minister, or king. The plagues are clear evidence of this, causing the most powerful country of the time to crumble and its leader to fall to his knees, allowing this small group of enslaved people to be free.

Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron at night. He said, “Get up and go away from my people, both you and the people of Israel. Go and worship the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your cattle, as you have said, and go. And pray that good will come to me also.” –Exodus 12: 31-32

Ultimately, the plagues serve to persuade Pharoah and the Egyptians, urging them to free these enslaved people and demonstrating the mighty power of God.

The Slavery of Sin

The dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh can also be seen as an illustration of the dynamic between our deliverer Jesus and Satan, who holds people in bondage, or the eternal conflict between good and evil.

God allows evil to exist to demonstrate His power to defeat it, because what is goodness without the existence of evil? Like a fine jeweler displaying their most glorious gems on a dark velvet background so they stand out, God uses sin and evil to emphasize His goodness and purity. Evil ultimately serves the purposes of God, as difficult as that is to reconcile.

An example of this can be found in this story in Exodus. God purposely hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not permitting him to let the Israelites go until the plagues escalated to death. God called Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh each time, asking to be set free, knowing the answer would still be a resounding “no.”

“You will speak all that I tell you. Your brother Aaron will tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel leave his land. But I will make Pharaoh’s heart hard. So, I will do many powerful works for the people to see in the land of Egypt.” —Exodus 7: 2-3

A Deal with the Devil

As we look at the dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh, we can see what is involved in our salvation and deliverance, understanding Moses as Jesus and Pharaoh as Satan.

Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, “Go and give a gift in worship to your God here in the land.” But Moses said, “It is not right to do this. For the Egyptians hate what we would give in worship to the Lord our God. If the Egyptians see us giving this gift and doing what they think is sinful, will they not throw stones at us? We must travel three days to the desert and give a gift in worship to the Lord our God, as He tells us to do.”

So, Pharaoh said, “I will let you go, so you may give a gift to the Lord your God. But do not go very far away. Pray for me.” Then Moses said, “I am leaving you. I will pray to the Lord that the many flies may leave Pharaoh and his servants and his people tomorrow. But do not let Pharaoh lie again by not letting the people go to give a gift on an altar to the Lord.” —Exodus 25-28

Satan, like Pharaoh, does not mind people being religious as long as they are still worldly, not too “churchy,” or different. They ask that you take faith lightly, to go to church on holidays but stay exactly as you were. They want us to stay in “Egypt” and remain like them, much like non-Christian friends often react to a new convert.

After the devastation of more plagues, Pharoah concedes and says that Israelites may be free, but their children must stay. If Satan cannot get access to you, he will settle for your children if you neglect to support their spiritual development, like the Pharaoh attempted to do with the Israelite children.

And after even more plagues, Pharoah concedes once more and says the Israelites can be free if they leave their livestock, the ancient equivalent of money and property. Likewise, if Satan cannot have you, he will go after your aspirations and love of money. Perhaps he can tempt you away from a calling to missions, instead drawing you into the entertainment industry and the potential of fame and fortune.

Ultimately, Satan and Pharoah are compelling and deceptive. But, God and Jesus, the deliverer, are infinitely more powerful and are the conquerors in the end.

To be free from the bondage of sin, like the bondage of the ancient Israelites in Egypt, we need a miracle of God. He devastated Pharaoh and the Egyptians with plagues, He parted the Red Sea for their escape, and He provided manna to eat as they wandered the desert.

In the same way, Jesus defeated our enemy- sin. He provided a way out of sin, and He gives us what we need to live.

Categories
Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

Humility God’s Way

Author: Charles Hegwood

“My how the mighty have fallen,” is a phrase that you may have heard growing up. I often heard it when someone in a high position would fall, be dethroned or get taken down. The phrase often means to convey someone justly being humbled. This phrase has a mocking tone rather than a redemptive one. So, what does scripture say about humility?

Well, scripture says that God ‘humbles the proud.’ You will find themes of mighty kings falling because of their pride. He humbles righteously and for a purpose. He humbles His enemies in justice. He humbles His people to set them on the right path, His path. Today we are going to specifically look at Moses’ story. We will see that God teaches Moses humility by removing Him from a high position and authority so that he realizes that he can do nothing without God’s help.

God Humbles the Proud

When we are first introduced to Moses, it is in a time of struggle. Egypt is killing all the Hebrew boys. Moses, by the grace of God, is found floating in a basket by none other than the Pharaoh’s daughter. He then grew up in the household of Pharaoh and was educated and given authority. At some point in the story Moses recognized that God’s people, his people, were being unjustly treated. He made an attempt at rescuing a Hebrew who was being beaten by an Egyptian.

However, all he managed to do was kill the Egyptian. His arrogance was attempting to rescue God’s people his way. It did not work. The next day, two Hebrews were fighting, upon seeing Moses, they asked him snarkily if he would kill them too. This had to sting a bit. He certainly thought that he would have been seen as a hero and savior. However, they only saw Moses like the other Egyptian overseers. So, Moses fled in fear. The mighty had fallen. It was here that God would begin to work.

The Beginning of Humility

Moses found himself sitting in the wilderness alone and afraid. However, God was with him, even though he didn’t know it yet. His position and authority were gone. So was his pride. He had nothing left to be prideful about. However, being made humble is only the first step of the process. True humility comes from understanding that you can do nothing without God. Moses is not there yet.

For example, a scene unfolded in front of him with shepherds who were chasing away women at a well. Moses the protector sprung into action and chased away the shepherds and made sure the women got water. The story closes with Moses getting married to one of the women and living in the tent of the priest of Midian, his father-in-law.

There is some growth in humility here. Moses, who had previously dwelled in the palace now lived in a tent. He had always found his home in Egypt now he found himself living in a land that was not his. We see this feeling of sojourning in his first son’s name. Moses, no longer the man of position and authority, now helped care for a tent- dwelling people in the wilderness and seemed content.

God’s Presence Brings Humility

Moses had lost his power, position, and home. He had failed to rescue his people and now dwelt in a tent. Then God intervened in Moses’ story. God must intervene in our story as well. God showed himself to Moses in the fire of the burning bush. It is in this setting that God said that He would rescue His people that Moses could not rescue.

At first, Moses must have been relieved God was taking the lead on the rescue plan. Then God told Moses that He would use him to do this rescue. Moses argued with God saying that there was no way he could be the right person. Humility is a process and Moses was walking on the path but had yet to reach the destination. As you read through Moses’ exchange with God in chapter 3 you will see that Moses’ humility doubts God’s sovereignty. This is not godly humility. We will get there though.

Even though Moses had not yet arrived, notice what was happening. He was talking with God. I am always amazed at the grace and patience of God speaking to sinful humans. We see this through scripture. As Moses began to learn humility He began to talk with God. He was learning that without God he could do nothing. This is the result of God drawing near to the humbled heart.

The Journey of Humility

As I said before, humility is a journey we take. Moses learned throughout his life and ministry to be humble and trust in God. That does not mean that Moses did not have moments where he acted in his own strength, he did. That does mean we see a pattern of progression towards godly humility.

One of my favorite accounts of this is in Exodus 33:15. After the disastrous idolatry of the golden calf, God called Israel a ‘stiff-necked people’ and that He would not go with them any farther. Moses pleaded with God that if God did not go with them that he would not lead the people. Why? Moses realized that without God, he could not do it. After this intercession is when God’s presence altered Moses’ face. He had humbled himself rightly before God. He was on the path toward growth in godly humility.

Conclusion

Humility is a journey. Moses learned to be humble. Education is a process that takes time and testing. Learning humility was not something Moses mastered in this life. We will never master it perfectly either. We can learn though. We can see that we do not and cannot do anything without the power of God. Once we have come to the end of ourselves, then we may truly begin the journey to godly humility. A humility that looks to God for every breath and action. A humility that says, “I cannot and will not do this without You God.” Moses learned this over a long life of trials. I hope you will too.

Watch this complete lesson here.

Categories
Christian History Spiritual Development

The Father of Faith

Author: Jon Slenker

God’s Plan

Jude must have heard echoes of Abraham when he petitioned the Church to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the Saints” (Jude 1:1-3). Abraham, also known as the Father of Faith, is a great portrayal of a life that contends for and by his faith in God. Abraham was blessed by God to be a blessing to others (Gen. 12:3).

From creation, God’s command to be fruitful and multiply is first given to the animals (Genesis 1:22), then to Adam and Eve, his vice regents (Genesis 1:28). After the flood, God restates His original purpose for creation to the animals (Genesis 8:17), as well as to Noah and his sons, twice (Genesis 9:1 and 9:7). This command and promise is repeated to Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8, 20), Isaac (Genesis 28:3), Jacob (Genesis 35:11; 48:4), as well as to all of Israel through Jacob and the prophets (Habakkuk 2:14). The faith of our Jewish fathers rested in God as their authority and is precisely what fueled their courage to accomplish what He called and commanded them to be and do. While they did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them, their faith was in their King who called and covenanted with them, so they might partner with Him in His global plan of redemption.

After the earth dried from the flood, the building of the tower of babble and the subsequent dispersion and confusion of tongues, Abraham grew up as Abram, with two brothers to a man named Terah. One of his brothers passed away, and Abram went on to marry Sarai. The years passed and the man named, “father of many sons,” had not borne a single one. Sarai was barren and laughed at God’s promise to bless her with a son in her old age. Throughout their lives they would be blessed with a great inheritance, build four altars to God, have a promised son in old age and fulfill their part of the creation mandate; to worship God and fill the earth with worshipers. They would be buried in the same final resting place in a cave in Hebron.

Not everything turned out perfect for this patriarch of our faith. The bible is quick to malign the character of every character in it except one, Jesus. Yes, Abraham accomplished many incredible things by faith and following God’s way, but it was God who ultimately pursued, directed, protected, and provided. The account of Abraham’s life is a prime example of how God relates to man, and how man relates to God, by faith. The bible doesn’t hold back from revealing the missteps and mistakes Abraham made. This is a real account of a real man, in all its glory and honor and wisdom and failure with positive and painful consequences. God’s relationship with Abram begins with a call and a promise.

God’s Covenant to Abraham

God pursued Abram and even gave him and his Wife Sarai new names. To Abram, he called Abraham, and Sarai, he named Sarah. He also told them to name their promised son Isaach, which means laughter. None of this would be revealed before God covenanted with Abram.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.”
Hebrews 11:8-10

The Author of Hebrews highlights the faith it required for Abraham to trust God to lead him to a land he has never been before, protect him from famine and Pharoah, to give him a son, and an inheritance and land to pass down. Beyond all this, Abraham had to trust that God would provide, even if God asked for his son to be sacrificed. Throughout this entire biography, God’s promises would be fulfilled despite Abraham’s woes.

Genesis 12 introduces the reader to a preview of things to come in chapter 15, known as the Abrahamic Covenant. This first chapter zooms in on the main character Abram, but it is God who is doing the acting by pursuing Abram and calling him to follow Him to a land that He will show him.

God speaks to Abraham 8 times, repeating His promises and clearly stating Abraham’s responsibility. Abraham erects four altars in direct response to God’s promises, provision, and protection. God pursues Abram. God always initiates the relationship. Abram responds by faith and follows God into the unknown. Here, Abram signifies God’s relationship with him after God promised, “I will give this land to your descendants”, by building his first altar (Gen. 12:7). This is a sacred place of praise and worship in response to God. Abraham builds four altars to worship and to signify his relationship with God.

A covenant is a promised agreement between two parties. It is a partnership where each guarantor works alongside one another to accomplish a goal together. God created the earth and a special creature, Humans. He called us to partner but we didn’t want to partner with Him, we wanted to make ourselves God. So, God made a promise, or covenant with certain people, Abraham being one. His purpose was to use special covenant relationships to reconcile and renew his relationship with others.

There are two types of covenants, the first being ones that we make throughout life with other people in personal or professional dealings. You promise to provide a service, I promise to pay you. This first kind of covenant is a promise between equals. The second type of covenant is between a lord, king or ruler that graciously enters into agreement with their subjects. Genesis 15 records God’s conversation and gracious covenant with Abraham.

“So the LORD made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River…””
Genesis 15:18-21

God reminds Abraham in Genesis 17:9-14 of his responsibility to uphold the covenant by obeying the terms. The promise is for all of Abraham’s descendants; therefore the responsibility will be theirs to uphold as well. This circumcision would be a mark of the faith Abraham’s family, God’s chosen people, would bear. God would undoubtedly keep His covenant even when his ‘subjects’ were imperfect. He desired faith, not works, lest anyone should boast that their mark of the covenant would save them, even if their faith were absent.

Abraham’s Altars to God

The Altars of Abraham, Genesis 12-22, reveal a lot about how God relates to man and how we can relate to God. Abraham is a great example of what to do and what not to do. When you read these passages, think about how God first pursued Abraham, and why Abraham, at that time and in that circumstance, would respond by building an altar.

Altar 1 (Gen. 12:1-7) …God pursues and calls man to follow Him.
Altar 2 (Gen. 12:8-13)…God forgives, restores, directs, and gives blessings and wisdom.
Altar 3 (Gen. 13:18)…God wants to be known, loved and related to.
Altar 4 (Gen. 22:9)…God provides, reigns and is to be trusted

What has God called you out of? What has He called you into? God has called you out of a life of darkness and into the light. He has called you into right relationship with Him and those around you. More specifically, God may be calling you out of an unhealthy situation, relationship, or behavior. To be in a right relationship with God means we pursue Him and not the world. You have been set free from sin and death and are a new creation if you respond to God’s loving pursuit (Rom. 8:1-2; 1 Cor. 5:19-20; Rom. 10:9-10). What provision do you need from God? Call out to Him and let your faith be counted as righteousness like Abraham, in all his failures and in all his faith (Gen. 15:6). God’s mandate and covenant stands, he has filled the earth with worshippers and continues to expand Abraham’s descendants. God is faithful. 

Categories
Church Development Spiritual Development

Where is Your Brother? The Story of Cain & Abel

Author: Jon Slenker

As God’s image bearers, we are called to be perfect and holy as God is. He has the highest of standards for his creation and children. This is why hearing from God, “Where is your brother?” could be argued as the most terrifying statement of Genesis chapter 4. Along with the obvious verse 10, “What have you done…your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground…”. Genesis 4 is not the feel-good comeback from Genesis 3 one might have hoped for. But just as the darkness is overshadowed by the ray of light in chapter 3, there is hope in the bleak story of these two brothers.

The Sacrifice v.3-5

Cain is the first born of Adam and Eve, and brother to Abel. He is a worker of the ground, a farmer, while Abel is a shepherd. Adam and Eve were fulfilling their creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and Cain and Abel were fulfilling theirs as worshippers and stewards of God’s creation. God gave them purpose through their identity, authority and responsibility. In addition, they had a relationship with God. A relationship where they sacrificed portions of their harvest and flock as an offering.

The Bible does not say what Cain did wrong, it simply indicates that Abel’s offering was from a heart that wanted to give back the finest of what he had been given. Verse five details Abel’s offering was from the first born of his flock, including fat portions, and he was regarded by God. In contrast, verse four simply says Cain gave, “an offering” and that God had no regard for Cain and his offering. Where the Bible is clear, we should be clear. Where it is vague, we should remain vague. We are not completely sure why God had no regard for Cain. Was it his attitude? A lack of sufficient sacrifice? Was it not done with the right heart or intent? We are not told of a command that he disobeyed. Did he bring a lazy or rotten gift? God knows, and perhaps the rest of Cain’s actions and reactions in the rest of the chapter will clue us in.

“So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.”
1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Sacrifices are to the Old Covenant as taking the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are to the New Covenant. Sacrifice and the sacraments are all signs pointing to the One True God and reminding the participant of the hope that comes from Him, who is the ultimate sacrifice. Be one who’s heart, not just actions, is worthy of God’s regard.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23

The Grace and Truth v.5-7

Cain was angry that God had no regard for him, or his offering and he had every right to be angry, at himself, not God or his brother. Anger is a signal, an alarm going off in our bodies that screams, “somethings not right!” We are to be stewards of ourselves first and foremost, something Cain was struggling to do regarding his emotions. It is in the midst of Cain’s confusion and anger where we see God’s perfect balance of grace and truth, or support and challenge, to Cain. He isn’t babying Cain, nor is he manipulating or dominating him. God engages Cain with questions like “why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:6-7). There is no favoritism. This is grace filled with hope. We are not received or judged by comparison to others. We are judged by our own hearts and actions.

Not only is God gracious to speak life and hope into Cain, he gives him a warning of truth. A healthy challenge, that sin is crouching at the door if he does not turn his heart toward God. It is as if James wrote his New Testament letter with Cain in mind. Or perhaps the local churches he was writing to were just dealing with the same natural born tendencies that Cain struggled with so many generations ago. “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The Harsh Reality v.8-14

The harsh reality is difficult to face up to at times, especially when it is difficult to make sense of all the emotions swirling around. Cain goes to speak to his brother, and when they were in the field, he rose up and killed him. James offers a look into how sin crouches at the door and how to respond to anger, jealousy, selfishness, pride, quarrels, boasting, lying and calls their practice earthly, unspiritual and demonic (James 1:19-21; 3:13-19).

Cain is mad and jealous of Abel and possibly even God when he should be frustrated with himself. Instead of doing the tough personal work of looking in the mirror and self-correcting, Cain allows his anger to lead him, not the Spirit. This is what happens when we are accidental, not intentional, and shirk responsibility. We cease to lead ourselves, instead we follow our childlike emotions.

“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.”
James 1:19-21

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”
 James 3:13-18

The Hope v.15-26

There are very real consequences that Cain must live with. Ones that changed the trajectory of not only his life, but his family and generations to come that would bear forth the promised, perfect sacrifice. Cain became a fugitive of the Garden and God’s presence and wandered the earth. He was crushed and thought it unbearable to go on fearing for his life. Yet again, God ‘parents’ Cain perfectly and gives him his word and a mark to protect him. God is the hope of mankind immediately following the fall, and he is the hope for Cain immediately after his grievous sin. The very lineage of the Spotless Lamb passes through Cain as well as every other imperfect human, arriving at the perfect God-man.

“My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”
James 5:19-20

Who do you know that is struggling with anger, jealousy, selfishness, bitterness? Pray for them, care for them. Reflect on how God went to Cain and offered a great balance of grace and truth. Pursue your brother and sister or child in love and all humility. Pray for wisdom and God will give it to you.

 

Categories
Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

God’s Grace in the Garden

Author: Charles Hegwood

We enter into one of the most sorrowful yet hopeful stories in all of Scripture. This is the Fall in Genesis 3. Questions are likely swirling through your mind as you recall the details of this tragic chapter. Such as, why did God put that tree in the garden in the first place? Why did God allow the serpent in the garden? Who was the serpent? And so, on it goes. What I want to do is look past the ugliness of this chapter and embrace the impossible grace of God in the face of an all-out rebellion by His special creation who we know as Adam and Eve.

If you grew up in church like I did, I encourage you to let go of all you know for one moment and read this chapter with fresh eyes. If you have vaguely read this chapter at some point in the past. That is okay. I welcome you to read it and take in all that is there. As we begin to dig in, I want to highlight the grace of God that is prominently displayed in this chapter. We rebelled and yet God did not abandon us but embraced us and promised a way to redeem us. Let us now look at those acts of grace and shadows of redemption.

The Setup

First, let us look back at all the good that God had given the man and woman. God gave Adam life and spirit. God breathed into him. God planted a garden and placed the man in it. God gave the man a purpose to fill the earth with worshipers who reflect God Himself. Even in the command to not eat of one tree, God was giving the man the offer of a relationship.

If Adam obeyed, then he was reflecting his love to God. All these good, gracious things were mentioned in the previous chapter. Adam had done nothing to create anything or to warrant the favor of God. Chapter 2 drips with God’s love and grace towards Adam, Eve, and by extension us. So let us not lose the wonderful context that precedes the rebellion. The darkness of the Fall is contrasted by the light of God’s goodness.

The Rebellion

The man and woman rebel against God through the eating of the fruit. Back up just a little bit though. We mistakenly assume eating the fruit was the first sin, but that is rash. Before Eve ate the fruit, she thought, “It looks good to me, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Maybe God is holding back on us. (Paraphrase and added commentary)” The first sin was the thought that maybe she knew what was best for herself; better than God did. That thought sowed the seeds of the act.

Let us back up a little further. Why was the serpent in the garden to begin with? Adam’s responsibility was to take care of the garden as an act of worship to God. If there was a crafty serpent, Adam had the authority from God to remove it. And yet there the serpent was, talking to Eve about the one rule God had given the man. Adam did nothing to stop this. We know by later context, that he was likely right there listening in. He may have even watched Eve pick the fruit. Never did he step in and try to stop it. Adam was not a voice of reason, calling Eve back from the edge of transgression. He did not quell her questioning of God’s goodness. You can see rebellion from every angle.

God’s Grace to the Man and Woman

God could have swooped in after the eating of the fruit and wiped Adam and Eve out. They could have died instantly. God could have come in like an angry father yelling and swinging the belt of justice, but He entered the garden quietly. He asked questions as a father would his disobedient children. This was grace. This was more than they deserved. God calmly spoke to the two people who had just spat in His face with their sins.

God did not mock the covers they had sown to hide their nakedness. The fig leaves did nothing to hide their shame. God one by one, gave them a chance to repent and come clean. Adam blamed God and Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Neither of them took responsibility for their actions. God gracefully gave out judgments. This may seem harsh, but consider what God had the right to do. He would have been just to kill them. The judgments were graceful in their promise of life. Eve would experience pain, but would still give new life through childbirth. Adam’s work would be painful and difficult, but they would live a life.

Then something amazing happened. God promised that these judgments would not always be so. Someone was coming that would end the curse they had brought on the earth. The ‘he’ who would strike the serpent would also be wounded. A battle was coming. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, this image of a coming Redeemer would continue. We know this is fulfilled by Jesus. Even in the ashes of rebellion and judgment, God promised to restore what was broken.

Finally, God did not demand their blood. They did not die, but some animals did. God used animal skins to cover them. This covering was a shadow. The animals died instead of Adam and Eve. The animals’ death covered their nakedness and shame. The shadow here is the promise that someone will die instead of us. We know that is Jesus. He died in our place and His blood covered our sin and rebellion, our shame.

Conclusion

In all these things, the grace of God drips from the pages of the Bible. Far from the angry God, some atheists like to paint in the Old Testament, as this story highlights God’s goodness and grace to sinful people. This grace is only magnified as the story continues into chapter 4.  I invite you to read through the Old Testament and see the grace of God, even in judgment. See the hope in the darkness through the promises found in this chapter. Your eyes will be open to the wonderful truth of God’s love for you.

Categories
Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

Created for God’s Glory

Author: Charles Hegwood

The route was difficult and the path steep. The stairs are worn and rounded showing their age in every crack and discoloration. The traveler painfully continues his journey. At the top of a mountain sits the old man, full of wisdom and knowledge. The traveler has come far to ask his most important questions, about the meaning of life. At least this is the picture in my mind as I think about asking some of life’s deepest questions. It’s also a common trope in stories. At some point in everybody’s life, a person will ask, “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of life?”

The good news is that you do not have to journey to find some old guru at the top of a mountain. The Bible you hold in your hand every day answers these questions. In Genesis 2, we get to see the creation of man. Captured within this story God reveals the reason and purpose for our lives. We see that people were created by God to represent Him and glorify Him throughout the world.

The Main Character

            When we approach the Bible, we must ask ourselves who is the main character of the story. Hint, it is not you or me. However, so many people read the Bible and interpret it as if they were the main characters and actors. So let us look at the text itself. We see that God is the main character in Genesis 2; and all of Scripture. Just in chapter 2, we see God as active 22 times. The man God created is only active 4 times.

Why is it important that we take time and observe where God is active in the text? The reason is that we must understand who we are in relation to who God is. God created, made, spoke, formed, planted, placed, and commanded as some examples of how God is active in Genesis 2. God is in the driver’s seat. You will never understand life, your purpose, or who you are if you do not have a proper understanding of who God is. Most of the world’s problems go back to a breakdown in the understanding that this life is about God, not us. Therefore, we conclude that the purpose for our lives is to worship and glorify God. This is our creative purpose. You did not form yourself, but God did. We owe everything that we are to God.

God’s Goodness and Grace 

            When you read Genesis 2, I hope you see that God is good. He breathed life into the man He formed. God formed all the other animals, but He only breathed into the man. Our very life is a gift from God, but our spirit is more so. God planted a garden for the man. Understand that man didn’t have to do anything to grow the garden, God made everything grow and supplied the garden with beautiful trees with delicious fruit. God also watered the garden and thus maintained it. The man did not have to find the garden but was placed there by God. This is a love story. God took care of and out of His goodness and grace supplied the man that He gave life and spirit to all these good things.

I know there is often confusion about why God places a forbidden tree in the garden. He gave a command to eat every tree, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Bear with me here, God’s one rule given to the man was not foolish or arbitrary, but an invitation to join God in a relationship. This was entering into a covenant with God. The man’s obedience was a display of his love for God. Our obedience to God in our lives is our act of love to Him. We obey Him because we love Him. This is how we get to thank God for all the good He has done for us.

Created to represent God

             In verse 18 the story shifts. God now has the man begin to name the animals. Why? This was one of the ways that humans were meant to represent God on earth. We already know from chapter one that God created people in His image to fill and subdue the earth. The man is now fulfilling part of this command as he is given agency to name animals. It is easy to miss, but in verse 19 it says, “And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.” This is so amazing. God has given man the responsibility and the authority to name the animals. Thus, the name was so because the man now reflects God’s authority over nature. He has become what we often call a vice-regent of the King.

We also reflect God through communion with other people. Why was it not good for man to be alone? God said it was not good. God determines what is good for us. He did not create us to be solitary creatures, but to be social. And as the story goes, God formed a woman as a helper for the man. Let me give some quick points here. The woman was not a separate creation but shares the same breath of God the man has. The woman therefore has the same vice-regent status and authority to represent God on earth. The man and the woman will also represent God’s creative purpose through the propagation of children.

Conclusion

 As we reflect on Genesis 2, we see that we were created to represent and glorify God. We do this by understanding God as King over our lives. Therefore, we see our lives in relation to God. We reflect on God’s goodness and grace displayed through our creation. Finally, we see that we were created to represent God through working and subduing nature. As you ponder the deep questions surrounding meaning and purpose, consider who God is, what He has done and is doing, and what He has commanded us to do. Our purpose is to glorify and represent God in our world. This is not a small task but a glorious one. Go and glorify and represent God to the people in your lives today.

Categories
Digging Deeper into the Word Featured Spiritual Development

The Manifesto of the Messiah

Author: Rachel Kidd

Just like Matthew tells us, Luke emphasizes that Jesus was a man on a mission. Jesus came to bring a message of good news to spiritually poor people, the blind, bound, broken-hearted and bruised people. He says that His message will make the blind see, set the bound free, and heal the broken.  

Luke is purposeful in the way in which he presents the message of Christ, making a clear argument for the gospel. Jesus proclaims this message in Luke chapter 4, proves it in chapter 5, and practices it throughout the rest of the book of Luke.  

Jesus continually extends an invitation to us to become a part of His manifesto, a participant in His mission. In a broken world, we are always interacting with the spiritually blind and bound.  

Today, the same Christ that walked the earth is within us. As the body of Christ, the church has the responsibility to fulfill Jesus’ mission on earth. 

We are called to walk with the broken and sick, to share with them the Good News of the Gospel, or to fulfill Jesus’ manifesto.  

Building Bonds 

Throughout Luke, we see Jesus reaching out to the spiritually broken over and over again. We witness the bonds He builds with fishermen, sinners, and tax collectors. 

Simon Peter was an ordinary fisherman from Nazareth, a working class man a bit rough around the edges. But Jesus called him. He gave him a nick-name Petra or Rocky, meaning stability. Peter was nothing but stable, but Jesus called out this quality in him.  

Jesus developed His relationship with Peter, calling him the ‘rock’ and encouraging him for three years. By the book of Acts, Peter became the rock, a cornerstone of the early church.  

Jesus exemplified what it means to encourage our friends, calling out good qualities in them and helping them become the best versions of themselves.  

When I feel encouraged, I am motivated to improve. Words of affirmation from friends, family, or especially from a person of authority, make me feel valued.  

Whatever you call people, they have a tendency of living up to it. It’s what it means to be a good friend, a good leader, and the living embodiment of the body of Christ.  

The Miracle of Fish 

Early one morning, Jesus is preaching to a crowd of people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Despite the crowds, Jesus’ attention is on a fisherman.  

This man is discouraged, he spent all night fishing and didn’t catch a single fish. Jesus knows that one day, this man will be a great church leader and preach to thousands, inciting revival on the day of Pentecost.  

But on this day, this man can’t even catch fish. How can someone who can’t catch fish become a fisher of men? Jesus saw Peter and who he could become.  

With the crowds growing around Him, Jesus has been pushed to the water’s edge and running out of room on dry land. He asks Peter to borrow his boat to use as a pulpit, giving Him more space to preach to the crowds from the water.  

Peter, probably reluctantly, agrees to share his boat. Peter continues to wash his fishing nets while Jesus finishes teaching from the boat. Afterwards, Jesus asks Peter to go out fishing with Him once more.  

Now Peter had been fishing all night and was already discouraged, having caught nothing. But, he goes with Jesus anyway. Reluctantly casting his nets once again, he says “Teacher, we’ve fished all night and caught nothing.”  

Jesus tells Peter to pull the nets in and check again. This time, the nets were overflowing with fish, requiring all hands on deck to pull them in. Both Peter’s and his brother’s boat were full of freshly caught fish, nearly sinking them both.  

Peter falls to Jesus’ feet and says “depart from me oh Lord, I’m a sinful man.” Why would Peter respond this way to the miracle Jesus just performed?  

Jesus is trying to recruit Peter to join Him on his mission, His manifesto. He is calling Peter to be a partner as they give sight to the blind, healing to the broken, and freedom to the spiritually bound.  

He is asking Peter to leave behind his simple fisherman’s life and pursue instead a life dedicated to fishing for men. Peter seems to feel unqualified for this role by Jesus’ side, an uneducated, impulsive sinner with a temper and a foul mouth.  

But, Jesus sees something more in Peter. He knows that this man who can’t even catch fish today, can become a great partner in the mission of the Gospel. He also knows that to get there, He must teach Peter a few things.  

Fishing Lessons 

Jesus teaches Peter and future readers of scripture, a few things about fishing for men as partners in His manifesto.  

  1. You are not the fisherman, Jesus is. You are not the deliverer, Jesus is.  

Without Him in the boat with us, we will return with empty nets.  

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” –Matthew 19:26 

When you try to go fishing for men, or lead someone to Christ, it is an impossible task without the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the evangelist and Jesus is the fisherman.

You cannot catch men alone, but with Jesus, anything is possible. 

  1. Jesus has control over the boat.  

When Jesus gets on Peter’s fishing boat, Peter is no longer in charge. Jesus tells Peter when to cast the nets, when to pull them up, and when to return to shore.  

When we accept the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are surrendering control to Jesus. We are giving Him authority over our lives, trusting in His wisdom.  

  1. Forsake everything to follow Jesus.  

Peter was a career fisherman. He had spent his life learning his trade and earning a living. But, when Jesus calls him to leave it to follow Him, he does.  

Peter doesn’t bring his hard-earned boat with him, he doesn’t continue to hold on to his former life. He leaves it all behind to become a follower of Jesus, a full-time fisher of men.  

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”-Matthew 16:24-26 

Like Peter, we are called to be partner’s in the fulfillment of Jesus’ manifesto. We are called to follow Him, pursue His word, and lead others to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

Categories
Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

Peace Framework : Part II

Author: Rachel Kidd

In the first blog in this series, we talked about peace and what it really is. We also introduced the Peace Framework, a triangular model of the modes of peace.  

The first side of the triangle, place, is something we might not think of initially when we think of peace. But, it is a crucial piece that can really impact your overall feeling, whether peaceful or chaotic.  

What is Place? 

I don’t know if this is a universal experience, but in my family, nothing motivates us to clean the house from top to bottom like having company. Any time we host a party or get together, everyone pitches in, a frenzy of cleaning products and stashing clutter away. We always pull it together for a sparkling home, complete with scented candle, by the time people arrive.   

Why are we so motivated to make our place, our home, sparkle just for company? Why don’t we feel that drive to clean, to prepare, for ourselves? 

It comes down to asking yourself, how am I motivated?  

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation  

Intrinsic motivation is doing something for its inherent value and what it means to you, without outside influence. Extrinsic motivation is doing something for the outcome, whether that be a reward or to avoid punishment.  

Understanding what is compelling you or motivating you is a great way to get to know your needs better and how to better motivate yourself.  

How hopeful are you that your place will be peaceful for you?  

Place encompasses your environment and how it makes you feel. This could be your home, your city, your job/office, even your digital spaces like a desktop or phone. I like to include mental state here as well. 

When my mind is cluttered, my physical space often reflects that. I feel chaotic inside and so I let things like dishes and clutter pile up. It’s a vicious cycle, because the messier my apartment gets, the more overwhelmed I feel. It takes quite a bit of effort, and medication for me, to tackle the mess that has accumulated.  

But, once I do clean and declutter, I feel so relieved. I feel accomplished and proud of my clean space. I then find it much easier to focus on my work for the day, especially working from home.  

In fact, I’ve begun to find the act of cleaning to be meditative, a menial task with short-term payoff that doesn’t require much mental energy. Like a runner feels when they hit their stride, the rest of the mental clutter fades away and they can only feel the soles of their feet hitting the pavement.  

That’s how I feel when I get deep into cleaning mode, focused on my hands and my  

How hopeful are you that your place will be peaceful for you?  

Mary & Martha 

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 

 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” –Luke 10:38-42 

The story of Mary and Martha is one of my personal favorites. Like me and my family, Martha is worried and focused on preparing the house for their guests.  

This may be her personality, perhaps she wants her home to be welcoming to Jesus (I can imagine we all would!) and His disciples. This could also be reflective of the gendered expectations placed on women of the day, who would have never been permitted to learn from the Torah with men.  

Martha becomes exasperated at doing all the housework alone, while her sister Mary sits with the men at Jesus’ feet. Perhaps Martha was worried for her sister, fearful of what might happen because of Mary’s flagrant disregard for the societal rules placed upon her.  

That’s why I love Jesus’ response here to Martha’s concern. In direct opposition to what is expected of Him, Jesus tells her that Mary has made the right choice in sitting and choosing to listen.  

Mary sought peace at the feet of Jesus, while Martha sought peace in preparing the home for their guests. I wonder if Martha might have felt more comfortable seeking the teachings of Jesus had the cultural norms of the time been more lenient? Or perhaps she might have joined Mary once everything was prepared, feeling at peace with a clean home and dinner on the table.  

Finding your Place 

Like me, like Mary and Martha, we all seek comfort and peace in place. Determining who you are and what you need out of your place is key as you seek peace within the peace framework.  

Maybe you’re a Martha, you have a hard time hearing from God when your home is cluttered or you prefer quiet time while you clean.  

Or maybe you’re a Mary, who seeks peace first at the feet of Jesus, regardless of the societal expectations placed upon you, because you need that peace first.  

Categories
Digging Deeper into the Word Prayer Spiritual Development

The Kingdom of Heaven : Part II

Author: Rachel Kidd

Both Matthew and John refer to the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God in their respective gospels. Are these kingdoms the same? Are they a physical place or a spiritual place?  

This second part of the series on the Kingdom of heaven will focus primarily on the kingdom as described by Matthew, centered on the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes.  

Different theological perspectives have different understandings and varied beliefs in the application or ramification of this definition.  However, generally the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom Of Heaven, refers to the “spiritual realm over which God reigns as king, or the fulfillment on Earth of God’s will.” 

It is what the world will look like when God’s will has been fulfilled on earth, making all things new. But, what does that look like exactly? This blog will delve into Matthew chapter 5 and his descriptions of the Kingdom, both what it is and what it is not.  

What the Kingdom is not 

Before defining what the kingdom of heaven is, it’s helpful to understand what it is not. Matthew is clear that the kingdom cannot be found through human righteousness alone.  

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. –Matt. 23:13–15 

The Pharisees followed the law of Moses, the Jewish law, to the letter. They believed themselves to be the only righteous ones, making themselves the arbiters of what is good and what is not. They bend over backwards to create followers, yet their hypocrisy makes their converts just as lost as they are.   

Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes that they are not the decision makers in the kingdom. They are hypocrites of the highest order, not compelling others to righteousness as they so believed, but they are pulling them down and causing them to stumble.  

He also emphasizes the distinct differences between the condemnation espoused by the religious leaders of the time and the welcoming arms of the Heavenly Father.  

What is it? 

In Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus describes the Kingdom in His Sermon on the Mount. He paints a picture, inviting the crowd into His vision of the kingdom. 

He begins by welcoming the persecuted Jews around Him, providing comfort for people who are experiencing the torment of the Roman empire. He blesses them, promising them the Kingdom. I can imagine His words were soothing to a hurting, persecuted people, seeking to preserve their community. Jesus says; 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. –Mathew 5:3 

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:10 

Fulfillment of the Law 

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:17-20 

Jesus tells His Jewish listeners that He has not come to abolish the law they have faithfully followed for generations, but rather to fulfill it. Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy who promised to bring renewal to the law of Moses.  

The remainder of the sermon, Jesus walks the crowd through each of the commandments, explaining how the kingdom of heaven will change and renew these laws. He did not come to remove systems of accountability, instead He emphasizes their importance, reminding us that only the most righteous can enter the kingdom.  

The next blog in the series will delve deeper into the commandments, studying the specific changes Jesus proclaims, like plucking one’s own eye out if it causes you to stumble. He flipped the law on its head, calling into question the root ethos of each, asking the crowd to look deeper and understand the meaning behind their rules.  

Righteousness 

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” –Romans 3:10-12 

Because the Jewish people were bound by a lengthy set of rules. The Jewish law, or the Halakhah, is an ordered way of life that includes rules about eating, drinking, bathing, dress, and how to observe Shabbat and other holidays. Many still live by this code today, observing centuries old tradition and living in a righteous manner.  

However, humans cannot be righteous enough for the kingdom by our works alone. The New Testament says that salvation then must come from Christ. Even the Pharisees, who follow the letter of the law, cannot enter into the kingdom without Jesus.  

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. –Matthew 6:1 

Jesus warns us to avoid performing righteousness for the approval of others. While we may be doing good work, like volunteering with a ministry, if we’re doing it for Instagram likes, we’ve already received our reward.  

The kingdom of heaven is the eternal reward, something that cannot be earned or bought. Jesus shared the vision of the kingdom to His people that day, bringing them close with comfort and hope for an eternity with Him.