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Church Development Featured Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

God and Money 

Author: Rachel Kidd

As someone who likes the finer things in life, I often consider the implications of money. What does it mean to have money and acquire wealth as a Christian? It is a sticky morality question, one with so many burrs and thorns that it seems easier to just not touch it at all.  

Money is a necessary evil in the modern world. We work hard for it, live off of it, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how the world would function without it. But, the question I ask is who do you serve? Are you a slave to your money or is it merely a tool for survival? 

 Jesus was not wealthy on earth and neither were His disciples. They were regular, peasant folks who worked physically demanding jobs. During Jesus’ ministry, they were nomadic, traveling often by foot from city to city across Israel. They were often dirty, hungry, and slept under the stars. Today, they might be van lifers that traverse the globe in beat-up vans, bathing in streams, and hiking trails. Their goal was not to acquire the most wealth, but to dwell in relationship with others and spread the gospel.  

Verses on Money  

Many of the verses on money in the gospels are found in Matthew, who was a former tax collector himself. Tax collectors at this time were notoriously corrupt, stealing from the poor and lining their own pockets. Once a hoarder of wealth, Matthew left it all behind to follow Jesus and embraced a life of pious poverty.  

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. 

Matthew 19:24 

When talking to Jesus, a rich man asks how he can be good. Jesus tells him first to follow the commandments. The man agrees and says he keeps the commandments. Jesus then says he could sell his belongings and give the proceeds to the poor, so he can follow Him. The man then leaves discouraged, because he can’t bring himself to sell his many belongings.  

He is so attached to his belongings, wealth, and status, that he chooses these over Jesus. He can’t see past his tangible, earthly things, that he turns down eternal glory in heaven. And that is what Jesus warns the disciples about, telling them that it is hard for the rich to enter in the kingdom of heaven. The poor on earth have little to lose and much to gain, striving for a reward they can’t have on earth. Yet, the wealthy are secure in their money and life on earth and find it difficult to give it up just for the promise of an intangible reward.  

The disciples all gave up their livelihoods fishing to follow Jesus. While not insignificant, their wages were likely meager. But, Jesus promises that they will be rewarded in heaven for their faithfulness with twelve thrones, where the last will be first and the first will be last.  

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 

Matthew 6:24 

Much like the rich man could not part from his wealth in order to follow Jesus, this verse tells us that we cannot be followers of more than one master. We can’t love money so much that it clouds our faith. When you serve money, your life doesn’t have room for anything else.  

Living for wealth obscures your vision, making it difficult to see where you may be hurting others, particularly the exploitation of people in industry. When the goal is simply to make as much money as possible without consideration for the human and environmental consequences, so much can be destroyed.  

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  

Luke 6:21 

Those that understand what it means to be hungry can better appreciate feeling full and satisfied. Those who understand poverty, housing insecurity, can better appreciate being safe and comfortable. God sees people that don’t have much and promises them more in heaven. He sees their pain on earth and promises an eternal solution, one that can be more fully understood and appreciated by those who have lacked.  

The wealthy cannot truly appreciate the promise of heaven in this sense, because they are already safe and secure. While they may enjoy the richness of eternal life, they simply cannot be grateful in the same way the poor can. The ones who have struggled and suffered are going to be the most grateful recipients of this abounding grace.  

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 

Matthew 6:19-21 

Of course, money makes the world go ‘round, as they say. But, I believe that Jesus uplifted the most vulnerable and poor of us, understanding their deeper appreciation for the promise of heaven. He asks us to live in such a way that we are looking towards eternity, seeking out rewards in heaven instead of how many houses we can own or purses can line our closets. These riches can easily be lost to time, thieves, or deterioration. Our heavenly rewards for faithfulness and compassion however, are eternal and everlasting.  

As much as I enjoy nice things, I hope my focus is less on the material and more on my relationships with God and the people around me. I don’t believe that Jesus is calling us all to be nomads for Him, but rather to turn our focus outward and make sure we are serving Christ, not money first.  

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Digging Deeper into the Word Featured Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

Living Out the Fruit of the Spirit

Author: Rachel Kidd

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23  

What are the Fruits of the Spirit?  

My mom often quoted Galatians 5 to me and my little brothers growing up, often when we were whining or fighting with each other over the remote. Basically, whenever we were demonstrating the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit, is when she reminded us of their virtue.  

And she was correct, of course, as she always is. The Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I had them memorized as a kid, and I could still rattle out the song for you today. They’re all wonderful virtues and you;d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue that. Everyone wants their children to embody these traits, but the process of fostering them is the much greater challenge.  

 Instilling the fruits of the spirit in your children, or in yourself as an adult, is certainly more involved than singing a song. It requires consistency, great love, and most importantly, relationship with God. To be human is to fall short of the glory of God and the fruits of His spirit, but his Son allows us to commune with the saints. In other words, the fruits of the spirit are the harvest of a deep relationship with the Holy Spirit.  

How do you become more loving?  

John 15:12: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

Jesus commands us to love each other self-lessly, as He first loved us. Jesus is the perfect model of love; deep, abounding, grace-filled love that we so desperately need.  

How do you become more joyful?  

Romans 15:13. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. 

This verse tells us that God is the source of all hope, peace, and joy that can only be found in believing in Him. The Holy Spirit is the conductor of sorts, the power to imbue us with overflowing joy.  

How do you become more peaceful?  

1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 

Much like Romans tells us that God is the source of peace, this verse tells us that God can unburden us from our anxieties. He has the power to take those crippling fears, doubts, and worries off of our shoulders because He cares for us. Free from anxiety, we can rest peacefully in the knowledge that our God has our back.  

How do you become more patient?  

Proverbs 14:29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. 

This Proverb reminds us of the virtue of patience, calling us to be slow to anger. It is of course easy to lash out when we’re upset, to hurt others when we feel hurt. I have often said things out of anger to people I love that I immediately regret. This verse warns me of this habit and reminds me of how foolish I feel after a tense argument.  

How do you become more kind?  

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 

Being kind is not being nice. It is deeper and genuine than surface-level niceties. This verse reminds us of the power of kind and encouraging words from our friends. Words have the power to tear down and destroy, but also the ability to bolster confidence and make you feel invincible. Let us use our words wisely and carefully; to be kind.  

How do you become good?  

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 

Goodness comes from God, and how do we become more like Him? Just like our Savior forgives our sins and desires a relationship with us, so we can forgive the people in our lives. As difficult as it may seem to forgive people who may have hurt us deeply, forgiveness can lighten our own emotional burdens and improve our relationships.   

How do you become more faithful? 

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Sanctification, or the process through which a relationship with God changes us, involves confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness. Only God can forgive sins and only He can make us whole.  

How do you become more gentle? 

Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 

Like catching flies with honey, responding to the world with gentleness is often the most effective. Not only that, but it is godly as well. To meet the cruelty of life with sweet softness is a radical way to show God’s love.  

How do you become more self-controlled?    

2 Timothy 1:7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 

Not to say that being a Christian is synonymous with timidness, this verse reminds us of the power of Christ. He emboldens us as his church with power, not necessarily physical power, but internal. His Spirit is one of careful self-control and overwhelming love and as we grow in our faith, so we flex our spiritual muscles.  

The Fruits of the Spirit do not grow spontaneously. Rather, they produce fruit from careful cultivation through a deep relationship with God. We cannot expect a full harvest of Fruit without working the land. Growing our faith, and our Fruit, requires study of the bible, fellowship and communal worship with other believers, and prayer. These are the farmers’ tools. 

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Digging Deeper into the Word Featured Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

Perfect Love

Author: Rachel Kidd

What is perfect love?  

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 

1 John 4:18 NIV  

We know that God is love and that He is perfect. But what does it mean to love perfectly? John tells us here that love not only is the absence of fear, but that love actively pushes out fear. To love is not to intimidate with threats of retribution, rather it is peaceful and harmonious.  

Fear has no place in perfect love, no matter the intention.  

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

Romans 5:8 NIV 

Despite His hatred for sin, Jesus demonstrated perfect love by dying for us in the most horrific way. Crucifixion was a horrific way to die, agonizingly slow and painful, designed to be a warning to dissuade other criminals. Yet, Jesus, the only perfect man to ever live, who was fully God and fully man, chose to die for us sinners on the cross. This act can only be described as perfect love, a divine act of grace for a people so wholly undeserving.  

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints.  

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 

In a competitive world, it can be hard to imagine relationships with others without competition, arrogance, or rudeness. We see it all the time, from road rage to yelling at a waitress for a mistake in an order. But, what if we chose to live with love in mind? What would the world look like if we were kind to each other, humble, patient, and long-suffering? I can imagine that it would be a world much like heaven.  

How can we show that love to others?  

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 

John 13:34 NIV  

I have two younger brothers, the middle is 2 ½ years younger and the littlest is 7 ½ years younger than me. I was the de-facto babysitter and the responsible party in all matters of disagreements and shenanigans. With two hyperactive and intelligent brothers, you can imagine the scrapes we managed to find ourselves in, from kitchen concoctions gone wrong to broken heirlooms.  

To be honest, I found it really difficult to love my brothers for most of my childhood. I just wanted to go out without being asked “where’s your brother?” or “go find your brother.” I didn’t want to chase a little boy in circles around my middle school or crawl through round racks of clothes in a department store, searching for the missing toddler (both true stories). It began to be a matter of resentment, an anger I carried for many years. Of course, it’s in our nature to feel anger- in fact, Jesus Himself felt angry (Mark 3:5). But, the issue lies in what we do with that anger.  

Anger and fear go hand in hand. And we know that fear has no place in perfect love. In the same way, anger that causes fractures in relationships is far from the vision God has for the love we show our brothers and sisters. The resentment I carried did not foster a loving relationship with either of my brothers, it created a dividing wall between us, eroding the closeness we once shared.  

Once I realized that this anger was preventing a relationship with my brothers, I had to take a step back and evaluate. I needed to spend time in prayer and reflection to process my resentment. It took time, grace, patience, and God’s intervention, but my anger began to dissolve. I realized that my parents were doing the best they knew how, that my brother’s never intentionally tried to take anything from me or my childhood, and that my whole family loves me.  

In order for me to begin to show love for my brothers that even resembles the perfect love of Jesus, I first had to work through my anger. God allowed me to process those childhood feelings in order to rebuild those relationships, making them more perfect in His grace. And that is the key element of perfect love; an absence of anger and an abundance of God’s grace. Without both, love cannot be perfected.  

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Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

Missing Jesus in God’s Word 

Author: Charles Hegwood

Reading God’s word is essential to following Jesus. We need those marching instructions. The Bible is a place that we meet with God as we read. Reading scripture invites us into the presence of the King of Kings. At least this is what reading the Bible is supposed to be. Many times we read with an assortment of motivations. But we must hear John as he writes to us, “Don’t read the Bible and miss Jesus.” Finding Jesus in the text is the greatest invitation to the greatest scavenger hunt in the history of the world. As you study God’s word make sure that you do not miss the Word, Jesus, God in human skin.  

A Read and a Miss  

In John 5:39 Jesus essentially says, “go and find me in the Scriptures.” By the way this includes the Old Testament as well. In the immediate context of John chapter 5, the Pharisees, “pore over the Scriptures.” That is a reference to the Old Testament. John is saying that it is more than simply finding Jesus in the Scripture. Instead, this verse implies we must find Jesus. I find Jesus’ words both a blessing and a warning. The blessing is that we can go to all Scripture with the expectation of finding Jesus. But it is also a warning. We must not miss Jesus in the Scriptures. This was the problem with the Pharisees.  

Earlier in chapter 5 Jesus healed a lame man on the Sabbath. This was a big problem for the Pharisees. Jesus’ healing violated their rules regarding the Sabbath. They begin to confront Jesus and turn up the pressure. It is in this context that we arrive at the conversation that is going on in 5:39. Jesus does not deny the fact that the Pharisees knew the Scriptures. On the contrary, they “poured over them.” The Pharisees and the scribes were experts in knowing their Bible. They should have seen Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. They should have had no problem with Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They should have known Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath. The problem lies in their motivation and interpretation. Jesus did not fit what they wanted. They missed the Word of God despite knowing God’s word.  

The Mirror of Scripture 

We often read the gospel accounts of Jesus and the Pharisees with blinders on. We think, “those Pharisees just did not get it.” And yet we must see that when we read Scripture it is a mirror. We cannot simply laugh at the ignorance of the Pharisees without seeing the warning of Jesus to the modern reader. Let the Holy Spirit use the Bible as a sword to cut away our callousness. We are often like the Pharisees. When we read scripture it should be like looking at ourselves in the mirror in the morning. We might not like what we see, but that is what we need to repent and change. As Jesus called out the Pharisees’ mistake, we too are being called out.  

Brothers and sisters let us not pore over the scripture everyday and miss Jesus. This is the warning that John, in writing this account, is trying to tell us. Read the Bible and find Jesus in the text. Meet with Him there. When we do, we will see our sin laying out exposed. We repent and are ushered into the presence of Jesus. But when we read with wrong motivation and interpretation we miss Jesus and miss time with Him. How sad it would be to spend time reading the Bible and never see Jesus, and never seek Jesus. We miss the whole point when we do this. The results are that we become the Pharisees. We become calloused toward the working of the gospel in our lives and in the lives of others. If that is you today, the good news is it is not too late.  

Conclusion  

It would be a tragedy to miss Jesus as we read, but if that is you, as it has been me in the past, then I have good news. You can meet with Jesus in His word today. Open your Bibles to the Old Testament or New Testament and find Jesus. It is like the greatest scavenger hunt you could ever embark on. When we seek Jesus in the text it brings a sense of excitement as we read God’s word. And something else begins to happen.  

We begin to see how wonderfully interconnected the Bible really is. We see how truly all of Scripture is telling one story. It is telling the story of how God steps down into human history to take on flesh and redeem His lost children. Jesus is whispered throughout every corner of the Bible. Only go and find Him. See the wonderful tapestry that Scripture weaves. Embrace it and be inspired by it. Read the Bible with the expectation to find Jesus and you will find Him. The more you do this the more you will see. This truth has guided me throughout my journeys through the Bible. It has been one of the increasing joys in my life. So enjoy the blessing and heed the warning. Do not read the Bible and miss Jesus.  

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Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

Be True Hearers of God’s Word

Author: Charles Hegwood

As a parent I can tell you there is a difference between your child hearing you and listening to you. There is a difference between your child acknowledging you spoke and understanding what you said requires response. I have also been that child at some point in my life. In Luke 8:1-21 Jesus is telling the crowd and his disciples the difference between hearing and listening. Luke is telling his reader there is a difference between acknowledging Jesus spoke and understanding that Jesus’ words require a response. The one who hears and does what Jesus commands is a true follower of Jesus and in the family of God. We see the profile of a true disciple lived out in three truths found in Luke 8:1-21.  

Hearing the Word  

First, a disciple who understands God’s word grows and bears spiritual fruit. Jesus told the famous parable of the Sower starting in verse 4 and concluded in verse 8 with the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” That phrase becomes the main idea for this section. The disciples hear but do not understand so they ask for clarification. Jesus explains the parable to them in detail. When Jesus concludes the parable he again tells them that the one who produces fruit is the one that hears God’s Word and clings to it. The words that Jesus spoke and the lessons that Jesus taught were not to go in one ear and out the other. His words require response. A proper response to the gospel is to hold fast to it and in doing so it will bear spiritual fruit. Hold on to the Word of God.  

 The Light and the Word  

The second truth is that the person who hears and understands God’s Word is given the spiritual blessing of knowing God deeply. Jesus now tells a parable about a lamp. He concluded this parable with the phrase in verse 18, “Be careful then how you hear.” This should strike the reader as odd. After all, Jesus just finished talking about a lamp. Should we not be careful how we see? But again, Jesus is making a thematic point. The lamp represents the Word of God. A lamp is not to be hidden but seen. Therefore God’s Word is to be heard and received with care. Just as we would not hide a light, we do not shy away from hearing the Word of God. Take care in how you receive and perceive the Word of God. Do not just read it, or hear it without concern for understanding. If we do read and perceive God’s word, we are spiritually blessed. Understanding God’s Word requires intentionality. Just like if a lamp stops shining or is hidden, then darkness encroaches. If we hide from God’s Word then it is not without consequence. What we had is taken away. We lose spiritual blessing. We move away from our loving God. So read God’s Word with great care and receive more of the presence of God and spiritual blessings.  

The Word and Family 

The third truth is one who hears and does what the Word of God says will become a part of the family of God. This is perhaps one of the most breathtaking truths. Through hearing the word, bearing fruit, receiving more, we become a part of God’s family. After all, the church really is the family of God. As followers of Jesus we really are brothers and sisters. In verses 19-21 we have what could be called a living parable. Unlike a traditional parable, what we read in these three verses really happened to real people. But like a parable this story has one purpose. Luke wants his reader to know that by hearing and doing what Jesus taught we become family members.  

Jesus is teaching and again a large crowd is listening. His mother and brothers come to see Him. The problem is they cannot reach Him because of the crowd. As Jesus is teaching He gets word that his family is here. What Jesus said is abrasive at first. It may seem a bit harsh. He told the crowd, “my mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” That is not the response we would expect. Jesus does not just say “hang on a minute.” He instead makes an appeal to the crowd. Said another way, if you hear and do the words of God then you are my family. This is a living parable and Jesus is stating frankly that acknowledging God’s word is not enough. There must be a response to it. James in his letter said the same thing when he talked about being ‘doers of the Word not just hearers.’  

Just like when I tell my daughter to do something, I expect that she will act on what I am telling her. But the act of doing is a matter of love not duty. When we act on God’s Word we are not obeying out of duty but out of love. Let me be clear, acting on God’s Word is not the ticket to get into the family of God but a mark of someone who is in the family. It is a mark of love to respond. Said another way, the family of God will hear and do what God says. To the disciple who hears and does, you are in the family of God, and this is a big promise that Jesus offers his listeners.  

 Conclusion  

Luke strings these stories together with the theme of true hearing. From the text the three truths talked about above become reality. When we truly hear then we grow and produce fruit. When we are careful to listen, understand, and intake God’s Word then we receive spiritual blessings. When we understand and respond, then we are members of God’s family. So do not merely hear the word. Do not merely read the Bible. Instead hold on to its truths, take care in understanding it, and respond to it. By doing so you will grow, be spiritually blessed as members of God’s family.  

 

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Can You Trust the Bible? Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

Sense in the Serpent

I am quite interested in the work of those who investigate the details of the Genesis creation stories along scientific lines. I wholly support any honest study of the possibilities of things like a global flood, genetic analysis to see if man really does trace its origins back to a single pair, or even questioning whether or not there is some evidence that serpents used to have legs. I do not believe, however, that these studies hold the keys to understanding Genesis.

If you want to understand the theological messaging of Genesis, you have to read it like a pagan. That is to say that Genesis was written within the context of the global dominance of the pagan worldview and was intended as a help for those struggling to understand and embrace the biblical worldview under the great pressure of that pagan dominance. Stories of creation that sustained the pagan perception of god, man, and reality populated the imaginations of every society, and Genesis is constructed to preach the truth about God, man, and reality in intentional opposition to those stories. Genesis is about the true origin and nature of the Divine order. It reveals how the world was made to function so that man could learn how to function best within it.

Let me illustrate by talking about the context for reading about the serpent in Genesis 3.

Only a child imagines that Genesis 3 is some etiological tale about why women don’t like snakes or why snakes have no legs. Given the role of the serpent dragons in so many Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts one would be foolish not to believe that there is a connection between it and them. Indeed, many Scriptures show a keen awareness of these ancient serpent dragon stories. Authors cast enemies in their image, and link the serpent figure with Satan Himself.

My doctoral dissertation demanded extensive contrasts and comparisons between pagan and biblical creation stories and flood stories. We learn much about the pagan view of gods, man, and reality from reading their myths, and discover just how radical the biblical worldview was to them when they encountered it. So, if I were a pagan reading Genesis, let me tell you how it would strike me, and what I would intuit most from the story of the fall of man and the serpent.

In Genesis, the entire nature of Yahweh is radically different from pagan conceptions of God. Rather than being untrustworthy, powerful but highly limited, self-absorbed, fickle, super-being bound to the created order that was established by someone else wholly unknown and unknowable… i.e. a pagan deity… Yahweh is the One Holy Creator of all. He is omnipotent, omniscient, all-wise, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, transcendent but immanent.  Yahweh is positively disposed to his creation as a loving and good Creator, can be trusted and personally known, and is the very source of all morals and ethics. All creatures spiritual and material are heading for a trial before the judgment seat of Yahweh to answer for their actions in Yahweh’s world toward Yahweh and Yahweh’s creations.

In Genesis, the entire nature of man is radically different from pagan conceptions of man. Rather than being created as a barely tolerable slave of the gods, kept in check by suffering to keep him from proliferating and adding to his general annoyance of the pagan gods… rather than being on his own to work out his destiny for himself by manipulating pagan gods through ritual to achieve his own ends without any dependable moral or ethical guidance from the gods… in Genesis Man is Yahweh’s highest creation. Man was made to be filled with Yahweh’s Holy Spirit as His ruling and reigning image in the world. Man is given a mission and a blessing and declared with all the rest of Yahweh’s beloved creation, to be very good.

In Genesis, the entire nature of reality is different from pagan conceptions of it. Rather than being a random compilation of conflicting pagan gods who are the cosmic forces of the world cycling endlessly and purposely… the world of Yahweh had an intentional beginning and is driving toward an intentional end. In Genesis, nature is a body of material forces wholly subjected to the order of Yahweh and without personal volition. The wisdom of Yahweh is woven into the fabric of reality as a system of natural reward and punishment.

As the pagan’s mind reels in the face of such declarations, the role of the serpent appearing late in the creation tale blows his mind. The images of sea and serpent dragon are, in the pagan stories of creation, the very visage of chaos, the amoral destroyer of worlds, the enemy of an active and thriving cosmos. This ruinous force predates the populating cosmos, is at enmity with it, and must be conquered for it to progress. In defeat, the serpent dragon becomes instrumental in the natural world’s establishment as a necessary but ever-threatening part of its foundations.  If something could be said to be “wrong” with the world as the pagans conceived it, it would be the idea that chaos is part of the world’s primary wiring and only man is truly looking out for the interests of man in the cosmic battle against it.

Not so, in Genesis. There, the world is very good. Other portions of Scripture will work the poetic imagery of the sea as a barely controlled enemy, but in the Genesis creation, the sea is just one more purely material force among many. The waters of the deep divide at command, above from below, seas from land, just as the darkness flees the light, and the waters and land team when God demands that they do so.

World trouble is born in Genesis 3, not Genesis 1 or 2. The serpent comes as an enemy to entice the man and woman into rebellion against God. As regents over God’s world, the creation is cursed by their sin and not by the presence of the serpent, malicious as he is. The source of world evil, of world chaos, is found not in the sea, serpent, or Satan, but in the rebellious heart of man himself. Satan may tempt and lure, seduce and deceive, but it is man’s own selfish heart that spawns evil in the world. The fault of man is not his failure to create the right kinds of systems, cultures, laws, or institutions, but the fact that none of these are immune to the influence of his corrupt heart. Satan may seek our ruin, but man’s greatest enemy is himself.

You can debate the literalness of the snake and look for scientific evidence of his curse in his namesakes, but I want to understand his role in the creation story, the meaning and influence of his words, and the impact that he had on bringing human evil into God’s good world, and how we, the children of Adam and Eve can find stability, restoration, and redemption in the world that we, and not he, ruined.

 

1 A global flood is not necessary in the Hebrew reading of Genesis 6-8. In fact, evidence, as I’ve seen it, points more strongly toward a massive regional flood in the Black Sea area, though some have brought forth some interesting data in support of the other.
2 Some wonderful claims of this have come forth of late by those looking at DNA records, as well as genetic evidence for a spontaneous explosion of species around the same time mere tens of thousands of years ago.
3 These serpents are usually the visual double of the primordial sea, the great enemy of creation. Leviathan shows up in Job 41, Psalms 74 and 104, and Isaiah 27. Rahab shows up in Job 9, Psalm 87, and Isaiah 30. Labu appears without name in Ezekiel 29.  We have great adversaries rising as beasts from the sea in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13. There are more.
4 Revelation 12 and 20.
5 i.e. standing outside the created order, but wholly present in its operation, flow, and purpose, making Himself known to His creatures.

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All Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

Did Jesus Claim to be God?

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I’ve seen the faith of more than a few ministry students over the years crumble in the face of easily addressed “difficulties.” One such issue involves the deity of Jesus. More than a few times, students have come to me shaken to their core when they realize (usually because some atheist or agnostic biblical scholar mocks the Church over the matter) that “Jesus never claims to be God, and that the New Testament writers never declare Jesus to be God,”

Now you can ask yourself, “Is that true? Did Jesus never claim to be God? Did the New Testament Writers (other than John) never claim the deity of Jesus?”

Short answer: No, it is not true. There are other New Testament writers who make such claims.

Long answer: It depends on what you will accept as declarations of deity. Let’s look at a few examples.

A Trained Eye

If one is waiting for Jesus to jump on a table and shout to passing crowds, “Hey! Look at Me! I’m Incarnate deity!!!” then no, that never happens. If one is demanding that narratives and epistles be systematic theology texts that take the reader step by step through a categorical discussion on the enumerated doctrines of true believers, then, again, no, that never happens.

If, however, one allows the New Testament writers to be artful narrators and the Epistles artful addresses to church issues, then yes, the Scriptures do declare Jesus to be incarnate deity… and they do so quite clearly by Ancient Near Eastern standards. The problem is that modern eyes are often too poorly trained to observe it.

Always keep one carefully focused eye on the Old Testament when reading anything in the New Testament.

Jesus and Jonah

One important way for biblical storytellers to declare the deity of Jesus is to cast Jesus in the role of Yahweh from significant Old Testament passages. For example, in Mark 4:35-41, the author tells the story of the calming of the storm with clear allusions to the story of Jonah. The key to Mark’s telling is that Jesus plays the role of both Jonah, the sleeping prophet, and God, who controls the elements of nature and strikes more fear into the hearts of the sailors through His power to calm the raging sea, than the sea itself causes in all its raging.

Mark actually quotes bits of Jonah 1:6 from the Greek—Where the captain says to the sleeping prophet “Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Mark has the disciples call out to Jesus Himself, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

Mark also strongly alludes to the work of Yahweh in the sea storm passage of Psalm 107, when Jesus speaks to Mark’s storm. In verse 29 we find, “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” In Jesus, Mark 4 presents “the deeds of Yahweh, his wondrous works in the deep.” (Psalm 107:24) Jesus is declared incarnate Yahweh, “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9)

You Will Be My Witnesses…

Acts 1 presents us with yet another incident of such character.

Each gospel ends with some version of the Great Commission, including Luke, which says in 24:45-49, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” After this Jesus ascends into heaven.

Acts, though written by the same author, begins with a varied retelling of this scene. In 1:8, we read, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This idea of witness is a recurring theme in Acts. The term itself shows up 16 times in reference to being witness for Christ, once directly declaring the sending of the Holy Spirit as God’s witness of Christ.

Witnesses of Yahweh

Three times in the Book of Isaiah Yahweh says to the Servant and to His community of restored Israel, “You are my witnesses.

In Isaiah 43:10, after challenging the pagan nations to provide witness for the power of their gods (something they cannot do), Yahweh boasts of the witness that His people can bear of His prophetic word fulfilled in their lives. He declares, “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” Yahweh follows saying, “I, I am the LORD, and besides me, there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed when there was no strange god among you, and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God.

In Isaiah 44:8, Yahweh addresses those who have experienced the power of the living God, He who redeems, who promises and predicts, and who brings it to pass. He says to them, “…you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.

The servant who has come to restore Israel is called “witness” again in Isaiah 55:4-5. “Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.  Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Witnesses of Christ

Four times in the Book of Isaiah, Yahweh calls the Servant His witness. Three times, He includes those bound to the servant saying of them, “You are my witnesses.” In Acts 1:8, Jesus is both Servant (Jesus) and Incarnate Yahweh addressing the community of witnesses who are sent to tell of the fulfilled promises of salvation come to men by Yahweh’s hand working in His Servant.

Jesus intentionally uses the language of Isaiah, referring to witnesses of Yahweh, to refer to himself. Any ancient reader would have understood the connection and implication. Jesus was making himself equal to Yahweh. These are only a couple among many examples of similar declarations.

Remember: always keep one carefully focused eye on the Old Testament when reading ANYTHING in the New Testament.

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Guest Blog: How (and Why) to Memorize Bible Verses

Author: Kayla Hyatt, Guest Author Ministry Assistant Services

 

It is a great kindness that God has given us His word to read, study, and memorize. His Word has the power to transform us to be more like Jesus, and whether you are a new Christian or have been following Jesus for a long time, it’s always a good idea to bury Scripture in your heart.

Memorizing Scripture appears early in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 11:18 says, “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul…” From the beginning, God wanted His people to know what He had spoken. Even when The Law was written on stone tablets, God’s preference was always that His Word would be written on the hearts of His people. We have been given access to God’s living and active Word, and we know that it pleases Him to do so, so let’s commit it to memory.

What happens when we memorize Scripture?

Matthew 4:1-11 is an excellent example of the power of Scripture and why we should take the time to memorize it. In this passage, Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and nights and was understandably hungry. Matthew 4:3-4 tells us, “The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. ” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Twice more, the enemy tempted Jesus, and each time, Jesus responded with, “it is written…” and quoted Scripture! After the third time, Matthew tells us that the devil left.

We fight against the enemy and run from sin.

Just like Jesus in Matthew 4, we are tempted at times. To combat the enemy’s schemes, Ephesians 6:17 tells us we should carry “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” The Word of God is a sword we can use to stand firm and fight against the enemy when he tempts us with lies and half-truths to lead us to sin. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The antidote for sin is knowing the Word and storing it in our hearts. The more we know God’s Word, the more we know what pleases Him (and what doesn’t). It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes, but we will be heading in the right direction.

We are encouraged, and we share it.

Another reason to memorize Scripture is that it is incredibly comforting. Have you ever gone through a season in life that was less than stellar? Maybe you’ve suffered the loss of a job or a loved one. Perhaps you’re in that season right now. Whatever you’re going through, there is a wealth of encouragement in the Bible for you and your situation. When you’re at a loss for what to do, you can whisper (or scream) Psalm 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” There is something powerful about reminding our souls that the God who made heaven and earth is our helper! And when we know Scripture like that, the Holy Spirit reminds us to share it in conversations when our friends, family, and even strangers need to hear it.

That’s just the beginning of what can happen when we hide Scripture in our hearts. If you’re ready to get started committing Scripture to memory, here are a few easy ways to get started:

Pick your passage.

The best place to start is to decide what verse(s) you want to memorize. It might be a verse about something you are struggling with or something you want to work on. It also might be a verse that you find particularly comforting. If you don’t know where to start, my favorite place to look is the Psalms. There is so much encouragement packed in there!

Read, Write and Listen.

Once you’ve picked your verse (or verses), study the passage surrounding it. Context is so important when it comes to remembering and applying Scripture to your daily life. Read the entire chapter your verse(s) are found in, and maybe a chapter before and after. When you have a feel for the context, focus on reading your verse out loud. Over and over. The trifecta of seeing it with your eyes, saying it with your mouth, and hearing it makes memorizing so much easier. Once you’ve done that a few times, write it down. And then write it again. This is another great way to hide Scripture in your heart, especially if you learn by doing. Writing it down with colorful pens or markers can also be helpful! Finally, listen to it by recording it or using a Bible app with a reading feature. You can listen while doing other things, so take advantage of your commute, the time you spend doing chores, etc.

Sing it.

You might remember learning things in school by singing songs. That is because it is one of the ways our brain memorizes new information quickly. And don’t worry; being a great singer is not a prerequisite! Pick a verse or two (the Psalms are especially great for this strategy because they were written to be sung) and sing it! You can make up your own melody or borrow a tune you already know. Keep singing it, and soon, you’ll know that verse by heart!

Word games.

If singing really isn’t your thing, you can use word games to memorize Scripture. The first game you can try is reading your verse while covering a word and filling it in by memory. Each time you read the verse, cover an additional word until you know the entire thing. Another strategy is using the first letter of each word as a reminder of what the verse says, almost like an acronym. For example, Psalm 23:1 says, “The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” The way you would write this is “TLIMSISNW.” Read over your acronym as an aid for memorizing your verse!

Post it and pray it.

After some practice, your verse(s) should be committed to memory. The challenge now is to not forget it, and practice makes permanent! I love to add reminders in places I look often. You can write Scripture on sticky notes and stick them on your mirrors, kitchen window, or car dash. You’ll know where you’ll see it most, so write it out (again) and post it! Then, whenever you see it, pray through that verse. Ask the Lord to help you continue to remember it, and ask Him to bring it to mind when you need it most.

Hopefully, memorizing Scripture doesn’t seem like such a daunting task anymore. I pray these tips are helpful and you find the joy of hiding the Living Word in your heart. It is one of the best life-long habits you can cultivate, and there’s no better time to start than right now!

 

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Digging Deeper: The Pharisees

Author: Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Jesus likely had more clashes with one group of people than any other in the gospels: the Pharisees. There are many dramatic episodes, and on a particular occasion, Jesus, frustrated with some of the Pharisees, exclaimed to them, “You hypocrites! You snakes! You brood of vipers!” (paraphrase of Mt. 23:29-33). Clearly, Jesus had some objections to the Pharisees, what was the problem specifically?

Who Were the Pharisees?

Before we talk about Jesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees, let’s first look at who the Pharisees really were. If we don’t read the Bible carefully, it’s easy to get the impression that the Pharisees were all bad, all the time. But that is not what the Bible really says. Some Pharisees are portrayed in a neutral way, like Simon the Pharisee who invited Jesus to his house and listened to Jesus’s teaching, even if he initially misunderstood Jesus’s approach to the woman who barged into wash Jesus’s feet (cf. Luke 7:36-50). Some are even portrayed positively, like Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who sought Jesus out to ask him questions and, evidently, finally believed in Jesus (cf. John 19:39-42).

The Pharisees were a group that started at least 100 years before Jesus was born. The Pharisees likely began with good intentions. They wanted to help people follow the Law of God. They were committed to the truth and authority of the whole Old Testament, unlike their counterparts, the Sadducees. Jesus even agreed with the Pharisees on some things, like the resurrection and the existence of life beyond the grave. Likely to help make sure they follow God’s law, the Pharisees firmly upheld the oral tradition of the rabbis as well (later known as the Mishna). This oral tradition gave additional rules that were, at least in theory, easier to follow than the Law. One could be sure she wasn’t breaking the Sabbath, for example, if she kept all the Pharisee’s detailed rules about Sabbath keeping. They were apparently popular with the Jewish people as the Pharisees were able to wield great influence in the temple and community, even though the Sadducees held most of the positions of power.

It’s easy for us to think of the Pharisees as a caricature, as a mustache-twirling, cartoon-like villain. We might have a mental picture of them as totally conceited, smug, and willfully blind to the reality of Jesus’s status as the true Messiah. There’s truth to that image, but it’s also an oversimplification. That’s not how the Bible portrays them or what history shows us. The Pharisees are real people, and like real people, they are a mixed bag.

So, most likely the Pharisees started with the good intentions of keeping the law and honoring God. Some of them, like Nicodemus, still had good intentions. But something seems to have gone seriously awry by the time Jesus encounters them in the gospels. What was the problem with the Pharisees according to Jesus?

The Problems with the Pharisees

The first problem is that the Pharisees eventually forgot the point of God’s law. They sincerely wanted to keep God’s law, at least at first, and so they made more rules to make sure God’s law wasn’t broken. Then, they started to think their own rules were God’s rules. They felt safe and righteous because they could keep the rules they made up.

The Pharisees enforced the law based on technicalities. For example, they argued that if one swore on the altar of the temple, then the oath meant nothing. But if she swore on the gift on the altar, then it counted. Jesus said instead, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Matt. 5:37). The point was to honor God by telling the truth. Jesus thought the Pharisaic rules were nonsense and missed the point (Matt. 23:18). They focused on the laws they could keep and ignored the ones that really mattered. Jesus said that they were hyper diligent to give a tenth of their vegetables, but neglected the law of justice, mercy, and forgiveness (Matt. 23:23). That gave them the sense that didn’t really need God’s help or forgiveness. They thought they’d already done everything God had asked.

A second problem with the Pharisees has to do with their self-righteousness. It’s easy to see how someone could become self-righteous if he really started to believe that he was doing everything God told him to do. If he believes God wholeheartedly approves of his actions, then why shouldn’t he be the judge over everyone else? The Pharisees had replaced God’s standard with their own. They measured righteousness, of themselves and others, by how well their invented rules were followed. That was something they could do on their own, without God’s help.

Though these rules may have been written with good intentions, they became burdensome. Some of the Pharisees made following the law of God equivalent to complying with a complex, arbitrary system. The result was that, according to Jesus, the Pharisees tied up heavy loads for everyone else, but refused to lift a finger themselves (cf. Matt. 23:4). These Pharisees were righteous in their own eyes because they kept their own rules. But in God’s eyes, they needed grace and forgiveness, just like everyone else. Therefore, when Jesus encountered the Pharisees, he encountered a group that implicitly thought that they didn’t need God. They’d convinced themselves that they had no need to repent and no need for God’s grace.

Jesus’s Solution

What Jesus taught runs in deep opposition to the view of these Pharisees. God does not care about technicalities. Jesus said that the whole law can be summed up in two commands: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40).

If we are being honest, we know by our own experience two things. First, we have not done what God commands. Second, we cannot do what God commands. So, we are in desperate need of not only God’s forgiveness, but his grace to do what is right. This is what the Pharisees missed and what vexed Jesus so deeply in his confrontations with them.

We can learn from the mistakes of these Pharisees. Certainly, we should not be self-righteous. We should recognize our own deep, constant need for God’s forgiveness and his grace. But we can also see that our good intentions will not suffice. It’s like a dad told his five-year-old son, “I want you to build a house for our family.” The father knows his son can’t do it on his own. The father wants the son to ask for his help. But the son sincerely wants to do what his father asks, so he builds a house out of blocks and decides he’s done what his father asked. The son has good intentions, but he’s missed the point. He’s built the wrong thing and in the wrong way. To please God, we must do what he asks the way he asks us to do it. That means we need God’s help.

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Digging Deeper: Moses and the Burning Bush

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

The Ordeal of the Burning Bush

The story of Moses and the burning bush is much more than a simple children’s story. In its Ancient Near Eastern context, Moses’ encounter with Yahweh has as many facets as my wife’s engagement ring. We could consider what we learn about Moses personally in his willingness to play the shepherd. We could consider the theophany, the fire itself, the word-play in “bush,” foreshadowing Sinai, and more.

Another facet, one I’d like to discuss today, is understanding that the burning bush is an ordeal symbol.

A Flame of Fire

Though pyros are most dazzled by the idea of finding something on fire, the wonder capturing Moses’ attention was the fact that the bush was not burning up. Flash fires in dry grass and isolated bush consume quickly, but this thing just kept burning. Exodus 3:2-3 says, “And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”

Now, ordeal speaks to the experience of encountering death and being divinely spared. Fire that doesn’t burn, lions that don’t maul, waters that don’t drown, etc.

Ordeal

In various pagan law systems, you were not innocent until proven guilty, you were guilty until proven innocent. A neighbor could accuse you of doing witchcraft without any evidence, and you could be made to face an ordeal. They might tie you up and throw you into the river—river ordeal—and if you drown… well…. that proves it. Your neighbor is given your entire estate as compensation. If you live, however, your accuser is executed for making a false accusation against you and you get his estate.

Daniel escapes the lion’s den, while those who accused him are then devoured by the same lions. Daniel’s friends are thrown into the furnace and only their ropes burn up… oh, except the men throwing them into the fire. We have Israel passing through the Red Sea, and again later through the Jordon in flood time. When the Egyptian army follows Israel into the Red Sea, Yahweh drowns them. Jonah too is cast into the deep and describes his inevitable death closing in on him, when suddenly Yahweh sends the great fish and saves him.

We even have people actually dying and being brought back. Elijah raises the widow’s son, Elisha sees two people raised, Jesus raises the 12-year-old girl, Lazarus, and the widow’s son at Nain. He also raises himself. Peter raises up Tabitha, Paul raises the man who fell from the window, and was himself possibly raised up after being stoned. God has spoken. God has delivered.

We could cast our nets wider and consider scenes of war, where each warrior casts himself into the maw of death seeking divine salvation in the fight. These are called contest ordeals in which the gods choose one over the other. David vs. Goliath is Yahweh choosing David as His champion for the people. Korah’s rebellion ends with both Moses and Korah’s people stepping into the presence of the Lord. Moses lives and Korah’s ilk perish in the fire as the earth swallows them up. We see something similar when death is not on the line, directly. Those who challenge Aaron’s priesthood put their staves in the presence of the Lord. Yahweh gives life to the staff of His elect.

Surviving an ordeal is a sign of innocence, divine acceptance, and divine election.

Of course, Korah’s rebellion and Aaron’s staff introduce another common, but often unrecognized form of ordeal… entering into the presence of the Holy Creator.

A Consuming Fire

It is a common notion, overtly stated in Exodus 33:20 that the unveiled presence of God is lethal to humans, even a peek at the fading afterburn of God revealed left Moses so altered that he had to veil his face to keep from terrifying the people. Psalm 97 paints quite a picture of unveiled God saying in verse 3, “Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around,” and in verse 5, “The mountains melt like wax before the LORD.” Hebrews 12:28-29 declares, “thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Entrance into the presence of the holy is an ordeal, for death is on the line. It is not unlike the incident in Esther. Anyone entering unbidden into the presence of the Persian king is executed on the spot unless the king extends his scepter. Even so, Esther risks it all to make an appeal for her doomed people. His favor is toward her, however. He extends his scepter. The executioners hold their hands.

God in Glory

This is recurring ritual imagery in Israel’s sanctuaries. God shows Israel how sinful men can dwell in His Holy and consuming presence. For example, God reveals Himself in the glory of His Holiness in the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest can enter once a year to offer atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. His spared life is the sign of Israel’s forgiveness, acceptance, and election.

Of all the places this forgiveness, acceptance, and election are symbolized, one of the most powerful is in the burning-but-not-consumed bush. It preaches. It is possible by God’s grace to dwell in the presence of a consuming Holy fire and not be burned. Sinful man can find forgiveness and acceptance before the Holy One. God will show Israel the way, and at that moment, in the burning-but-not-consumed bush, He reveals the potential to Moses. In Israel’s sanctuary there will be another burning-but-not-consumed tree… a symbol of Israel, an ever-flaming olive tree, lighting the holy place, ignited by the fire of God and sacred oil… the lampstand.

And how should we respond as we stand with Moses and the Priest before the burning-but-not-consumed tree? Hebrews 12:28-29 gets it right. “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” May our encounter with God in Christ be likewise tinged with wonder, fear, and overwhelmed gratitude for God’s grace and mercy shown to the chief of sinners who dares to come before Him seeking forgiveness, acceptance, and election.

 

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