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Three Phases of the New Birth

Author: Rachel Kidd

 

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see His conflict with religious leaders of the day and are presented with the profound impact of His grace and mercy. It was so antithetical to the orthodoxy of the time and unprecedented in tradition, that it upended everything that came before.

 

Jesus came to change the world, to set humanity free from the bondage of sin and death. His ministry proves this over and over again, demonstrating His divinity and His incredible grace and mercy, even when He spoke harshly.

 

Mercy To The Adulterous Woman

 

Mercy is not receiving deserved discipline. In John 8:1, we see Jesus and a group of religious leaders in an intense stand-off. They bring Him a woman “caught in the very act of adultery” and ask if they should stone her, as the law dictates.

 

Jesus tells them to do what they must, but that the blameless and sinless among them should cast the first stone. Unable to find themselves without sin, the men drop their stones, from oldest to youngest, and leave.

 

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” – John 1: 10-11

 

Jesus embodied mercy to those standing face to face with their deserved condemnation, and gave them a way to be set free and remember their true identity.

 

We tend to remember what God forgets and to forget what God remembers.

 

Jesus sets us Free

 

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. – John 8:34

 

Jesus explains to the people that He has come to set them free from their sins, calling it bondage that enslaves them. He speaks matter-of-factly, even harshly at points with the people, making it apparent to them that their sin is not to be taken lightly.

 

“You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins…–John 8:23

 

Jesus tells them that they are of Satan, of evil, while He is of God and heaven. He says they are doomed to die in sin unless they believe that He is the Son of God and are born again. Jesus then explains the steps to the new birth in Him, broken down into three phases.

 

Three Phases

 

  1. Belief (repentance, belief, receiving the Holy Spirit)
    1. “…for unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” –John 8:24
  2. Fellowship & Discipleship
    1. You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. –John 8:31
  1. Experience
    1. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” –John 8:32

 

These phases are especially helpful for us today, mapping out our journey to aid in our spiritual development. As you read through the book of John, it might be helpful to ask yourself and ask God, where am I in these stages? Do I have the assurance of eternal life like John describes? Am I walking in obedience as a faithful disciple of Jesus? How am I allowing freedom in Christ to shape my joy, understanding, character, or tendencies, to name a few?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior, as the son of God? Have you been discipled and mentored in your faith?

 

Jesus Gives Sight to a Blind Man

 

As we continue in the book of John into chapter 9, we meet a man who was born blind. The people around ask if he was blind because of the sins of his parents or his own sins, perhaps in a past life.

 

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. –John 9:3

 

Jesus continues, comparing His task on earth to work that must be done before nightfall. He calls Himself the light of the world, sent by God Himself to save humanity from darkness.

 

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” –John 9:4-5

 

Many religious leaders realized that He was accusing them of rejecting Him, the Light so that they could remain in their sin. He explained that He gives sight to those who know they are blind.

 

Jesus creates a salve from spit and mud, placing it on the eyes of the blind man. He tells the man to wash it off and when he returns, he can see for the first time. Through this miracle, Jesus demonstrates His power and the call He came to fulfill, the light He is, and the sight He came to restore.

 

Repenting, believing and receiving the Holy Spirit is an initial act that follows us throughout our journey to be made more into the image of Christ. We are to never stop repenting, believing and abiding with His Spirit. Jesus sent His Spirit to care for us and guide us as He is our Good Shepherd.

 

The Good Shepherd

 

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. –John 10:9-10

 

In John chapter 10, Jesus compares Himself to a good shepherd, whose sheep recognize and find comfort in His voice. Shepherds in this time before nightfall would construct primitive corrals of sticks and brush, placing their bodies across the entrance where a door would be. The sheep then cannot leave without waking the sleeping shepherd, who would then direct them back inside the pen and safety. No predator either would be able to get inside to attack the sheep without first crossing the shepherd, keeping the flock secure.

 

Jesus says that He is the only gate to the sheep pen and that those who enter can only do so through Him. We are the sheep, He is the door. Because of Jesus, we are not only taken care of inside the fold but we are also protected from the enemy.

 

The Resurrection of Lazarus

In John chapter 11, we witness one of Jesus’ most dramatic miracles, when He solves life’s two most unsolvable problems — sickness and death.

 

Jesus had three close friends, siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus who lived in Bethany in Judea, several days’ travel from where He was preaching. He received word that Lazarus was sick and close to death. Instead of coming as soon as He heard, Jesus waited.

 

Jesus said:

“Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. –John 11:4-6

 

And so Lazarus died before Jesus’ arrival. For four days his body lay in the tomb as mourners grieved him. Mary and Martha wanted to know what could have kept Jesus for so long, knowing that if He had come sooner, their brother would still be alive. Jesus tells them that their brother will soon walk again.

 

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” –John 11:25-27

 

Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away from the tomb, calling out to Lazarus to come out. Lazarus appears, alive and well, still wrapped in tomb-cloths. Jesus commands for him to be unwrapped so that he may be free.

 

John records these specific events, words, and instructions to pass on the faith once delivered to the saints. He wanted those that knew they were blind to truly see. He wanted His flock to be cared for and protected. He wanted His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—and all who read their story—to learn that He is the victory over death and the key to eternal life.

 

Because those who believe in Jesus and live in union with Him will never truly die.

 

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All Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

Lifted High

Author: Charles Hegwood

As we go through this season of Lent, we want to take a moment and reflect on the conversation that Nicodemus had with Jesus. Their conversation went from being born again to the cross. The mention of the cross may sound odd to our ears. However, as John wrote his gospel, the shadow of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb is found throughout. Even in the conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, we see that the cross has much to do with our spiritual birth and our spiritual birth has much to do with the cross.

 

So let us first talk about this term born again. What does being ‘born again’ mean? This is a phrase that is tossed around Christian circles throughout the world. The reason we hear this phrase so much is that Jesus uses the term in John 3. Today we will look at what Jesus meant by being born again and its relation to the cross. We will see that Jesus is telling us that our spiritual birth is from and accomplished by the power of God. Therefore we must run to God to have a spiritual birth. It is the only way we can be saved.

 

The Context

 

Before we dive into Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, we need to look at what happened right before this story. Jesus went into the Temple and drove out those who were selling sacrifices to make dishonest money. The old way of belief and spiritual practice was broken down. Sin had polluted people’s worship of God at the Temple. This part of the story is important to understand what follows. We, like the people in the Temple, have polluted our worship of God. Sin has corrupted us. We thus need to be cleansed and cleaned. What we need is the same as the Temple needed. We need Jesus to purify our hearts. We need a new heart.

 

Jesus’ purifying the Temple by running the people out with a whip earned him the ire of the Pharisees. This is why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. He does not want to be seen talking with Jesus. This would be hazardous to his career. But Nicodemus is interested in Jesus’ teaching. He desired to hear what Jesus had to say about the matter.

 

New Birth

 

Nicodemus realized that Jesus was from God. That is how the conversation began. However, Jesus side stepped Nicodemus’s comment and instead talked about a second birth. Here Nicodemus is confused. He knew that Jesus was not talking about a literal second birth. That would make no sense, but what was a spiritual birth? And how do you do that? How does someone get spiritually born again? To Nicodemus’ ears, both a literal and spiritual rebirth sounds odd and impossible. He is not far off.

 

Jesus first pointed to the reality that we must have a spirit change to be born again. New birth results in a new creation, a new nature. So how do we do that? Jesus’ answer to that is spiritual birth comes from God and God alone. This is not something we accomplish. Your work will never lead you to a new spirit. You cannot purify your own heart. But God can and does.

 

The Shadow of the Cross

 

As mentioned earlier, John wove the shadow of the cross in this story. And to this point, you may be wondering where it is. Jesus then shifts the conversation to a story from the book of Numbers in which venomous snakes were attacking the people of Israel in the wilderness. A bronze snake was raised up and all that looked upon it were saved, quite literally from the poison.

 

And now you are thinking that the Old Testament story is all well and good, but it is not the cross. But let us look a bit closer. Jesus now connects the story of the bronze snake to Himself. The story from the Old Testament was a shadow and illusion to the cross. He will be raised up when He is crucified. All that looks to his death and resurrection will be saved. But whereas the story in Numbers was a shadow, Jesus is the substance. Looking at the bronze snake may have saved your life for a moment. Looking to Jesus will save you for eternity. It leads to new birth and being purified by the blood of Jesus.

 

Jesus said that through his death on the cross we can experience new birth because his death creates in us a new spirit. This is the way that Jesus chose to purify our very souls. So that now the old corrupt sinful nature is dead and we are given a new nature, one that desires God. This is a new birth. We are, as Paul said, a new creation in Christ.

 

Conclusion

 

So let us take a moment and reflect on the cross. As we think about what it means to be born again, let us never forget that new birth is entirely God’s strength and work. His death on the cross purifies us and brings us into a true fellowship with the Father. Being born again is looking to the cross, so that Jesus purifies our heart, birthing us into a new creation that longs to worship God rightly. We cannot have a new birth without the cross. Jesus did not hide that reality. He embraced it. So should we.

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All Christian History Church Development Digging Deeper into the Word

The Sign Language of John

Author: Rachel Kidd

Objective: To introduce the Gospel of John and understand its major themes and purposes.

The Gospel of John is the favorite gospel of millions of people because of how God has used it to bring them to faith in Jesus and to show them who He really is. It is unique in many ways; its purposes, its literary style, and its content are different from those in the other gospels.

Literary Style and Codes

The Apostle John wrote in a specific style, a beautiful and inspired Hebrew language of signs. Breathed by the spirit, John wrote a message to the people of God in a sort of code in both the Gospel of John and in the book of Revelation. In order to understand that message, you need the key in order to break the code.

1. Uniqueness

The Gospel of John is unique in that it was written approximately 60 years after the first three Gospels. The book is also made up of 90% original content, diverging from the content covered in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

2. Purpose

There is an idea that comes from Paul’s words in 2 Timothy, that scripture is addressed to the believer. That its purpose is to perfect and mold Christians to become more Christ-like.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God  may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. –2 Timothy 3:16-17 

God wants us to be prepared, to be equipped to be good servants. The book of John contains quite a bit of these teachings that would prepare good and faithful servants of Christ.

However, the Gospel of John also serves another purpose; to present the Gospel, the Good News to the unbeliever. John records signs, miraculous evidence that proves that Jesus was and is the Messiah, the savior of the world.

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. –John 20:30-31

John presents a compelling record of Jesus’ ministry that proves to all readers that Jesus was and is who He says He is; the Son of God, the Messiah.

3. Sign Language, a Deeper Meaning

The Gospel of John is written on two different levels, one which a child just learning to read can understand, and another more complex and symbolic.

On the surface, the language reads simple and is easy to understand. He uses more one-syllable words than any other Gospel writer.

While it appears to be simple, John uses complex allegory to delve into the complexities of faith.

4. A Systematic Argument

Unlike the other Gospels that simply recount the life of Jesus, John presents a cohesive and systematic argument. He is proving that Jesus is the Son of God with a very clear through line that you can trace from start to finish.

Now that you have the code, how should we approach the book of John? As you read, ask yourself these questions to help you understand the deeper meaning of John’s rich language.

1.      Who is Jesus?

2.    What is faith?

3.    What is life? (What is eternal life?)

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a revelation as you read the Gospel of John, to help you see Jesus for who He is.

The Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. –John 1:1-2

John tells us that Jesus is the word of God. A word is a vehicle of thought, a way to communicate. As John says in the first verses, Jesus was the expression of God’s thoughts, the manifestation of His thoughts to humanity. 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14 

God wanted us to experience Jesus, to see him and know him in the flesh. So He sent Jesus to earth, becoming flesh and bone, to show great love in the most tangible of ways. 

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. —John 1:12 

John also tells us that while His own people, the Jews, rejected Jesus, He offers eternal life to those who believe. He calls them children of God, who have been born of God, or of Spirit. Those who believe and follow Jesus are born again and given the birth right of children of God.

John the Baptist

John presents the case of John the Baptist and his relationship with Jesus as further evidence of His identity as the Messiah. Most importantly, we see the baptism of Jesus and how John the Baptist continually pointed to Christ.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” –John 1:19-20

John tells us that when John the Baptist was questioned by the Jewish council, he adamantly denied being the Messiah himself, like many of his followers believed he was. Instead, he continually redirected them to Jesus.

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. –John 26-27 

John’s unique style presents a compelling case for Jesus, written in a deceptively simple style that is layered with deeper meaning. In this Gospel, we see illustrations of who Jesus is, the light of the world, the Son of God, and a beautiful story of faith and eternal life found in Him.

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Christian History Church Development

Fulfillment of Jesus’ manifesto

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.

2. 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.

3. 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
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
Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word

What is in a Name? A Story of Faith

Author: Charles Hegwood

Names are important. I like to joke that I am a man of many names. Most of course are nicknames. My real name comes from a TV character. Throughout the Bible, though, names had deep meaning. This is especially true in the book of Genesis. Jacob for example, means trickster or heel grabber. And we see that as Jacob was born, he was grabbing his brother’s heel. Following Jacob’s story throughout Genesis, you will see that he is quite the trickster and usurper. Today we want to zoom in on Jacob and his story. We want to see the rambling, twisted, valley-filled path of faith he took. Of course, we also want to look at a name; not a nickname, but a new name. God gave Jacob a new name after meeting with him in Genesis 32. We see that this new name describes Jacob, His descendants, and every one of us as well. Who is Jacob? Who are we? I hope that today you will see the winding, often stumbling path of faith with the knowledge that God strives with you.

The Background

In the context of chapter 32, we find that Jacob is fearful of meeting his brother Esau. Wait, back up. Why would he be fearful? Well, the last time he saw his brother was when he had stolen the blessing from him. Jacob sought the blessing through scheming and tricking his brother and father. Jacob’s trick resulted in him running for his life.

Many years passed and Jacob learned to be humble after finding himself tricked by his uncle. Still, God blessed Jacob, just as he promised to do. Jacob had twelve sons and many possessions, knowing that he did not deserve God’s good favor. God also met with Jacob at Bethel, promising to be with and bless him. The reader must then ask, will Jacob trust in God? Then we arrive at chapter 32 where Jacob found out that Esau wanted to meet. With God’s promise in mind, how would Jacob respond?

The Scheming

The chapter started well, as Jacob recognized that God’s presence was with him. Faith! But by verse 7 we see the old scheming Jacob come out. He was fearful, seemingly forgetting the promise that God had just made to him. Yet, when I look at this story, I get it. I see my reflection in Jacob’s fear. My faith journey and I suspect yours as well, looks like a winding road. After soaring spiritual highs, life hits and it all comes crashing into a deep valley. Can you relate? Jacob could.

He heard his brother had 400 men. That is a lot of people. So, Jacob divided the camp into two camps so if Esau attacked, at least half of his people would survive. It was a good, strategic plan, but it showed a complete lack of faith that God would fulfill his promises. Jacob also sent in front of his camp a parade of goods and gifts to help buy the favor of his brother. What was Jacob doing? He was relying on his schemes and his cleverness to get past a potentially difficult situation.

He did not go to God in prayer first. He went instead to his ability and strength. There is nothing wrong with a good strategy, but do you first go to God or your understanding and strength? Do we beseech the wisdom of God over our own? And now the Scheming Jacob finds himself alone, yet not completely alone.

The Wrestling Match

Jacob suddenly found himself in an impromptu wrestling match with a stranger. The fight went on until morning. At some point in the fight, Jacob recognized that his opponent was an angel of God. Jacob thus held on, begging for a blessing. Finally, the angel reached out and dislocated Jacob’s hip with a mere touch. What is happening here?

This wrestling match acts as a parable for how Jacob interacts with God. Jacob wrestles. He struggles. He clings. However, it was not that the Lord was unable to defeat Jacob. After all, he only had to touch his hip to break it. He could have easily destroyed Jacob, but that was not the point or purpose of the fight.

The point was that as Jacob clung and wrestled with God, God wrestled with Jacob. See the beauty and grace of God here. God wrestled with a man until daybreak. A man He could have easily destroyed. A man who was unworthy of the attention God gave him. A man like you and me. God’s grace prevailed in this fight. This would be the picture of how God would interact with Israel, formally Jacob, for the rest of his life, and with Israel, the descendants of Jacob, for the rest of their lives. God would wrestle with obstinate people. He would wrestle them back to Himself. At times, God would have to inflict a curse, like that of Jacob’s hip to bring them limping back to Him. This is a picture of how God interacts with you and me too. He wrestles with us when we sin. Praise God that He does not give up. Sometimes it can be painful, but our limp, whether spiritual or physical, reminds us that God contends with us.

The Name

God blessed Jacob there and bestowed a new name, Israel. This new name had deep meaning. “One who strives or struggles with God.” This new name was a picture of Jacob’s faith journey, his descendant’s journey, and our journey. They would fight. They would stray from the path of God. Yet, God would wrestle them back. So too it is with us. We are a people who wrestle with God. Cling to Him. Limp back to Him when you veer away. Remember He is with you.

This is why I take comfort in the story of Jacob; a man who did not always live up to the blessing of God. Just read chapter 33. He immediately fell back into his scheming ways. We often do too. And just like Jacob receiving a new name, one day we too will receive a new name from God. On that day, however, all striving and struggling will cease as we see our Savior face to face. Our new name will be a new identity and a beginning of a new life, an eternal life. This promised new name answers the question, “Who are we?” We are God’s people.

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
All Spiritual Development

3 Disciplines That Will Strengthen Your Relationship with God

Author: Jon Slenker, M.A., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

God wants a relationship with you. A meaningful, honest, loving, and liberating relationship. The Scriptures reveal a story told through God’s relationship with mankind. God’s story is one of triumph even though many characters in the Bible lacked discipline in some way. And where discipline was lacking, so was their relationship with God. The disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and the Church revolve around communing with God and his people. A fresh look at these foundational disciplines is a great place to start when strengthening your relationship with God.

Everyone has experienced a relationship that needed to be strengthened or rekindled. Discipline is an incredible gift of grace to humanity that images God’s own character. Bible study, prayer, and engaging with the Church will not only strengthen your relationship with God, but it will also strengthen your relationship with your family and friends, even with yourself. From the beginning, Jesus displayed perfect discipline and remained steadfast to the grave. Paul modeled disciplining his mind and body and instructed Titus to be “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined (Titus 1:8).” We must remember discipline is not only a mastery of self by our own strength but through the help of God. David wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).” 

The Discipline of Bible Study

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

The Bible was written over 1,500 years, by 40 authors, including 3 languages, spanning 3 continents and it all tells the same, brilliantly cohesive story. God is revealing himself, his name, his character, his purposes and plans for how we might be reconciled to him and join him on his mission to reconcile a lost and broken people to himself (2 Cor 5:17-20). All of the Old Testament points to Jesus, while all of the New Testament presents Jesus. Through creation, fall, rescue and ultimately restoration, Jesus is the hero of his story!

One who is disciplined in the Word learns how to rightly divide or interpret it. Inductive and discovery Bible study begins with observation, moving to interpretation, and finishing with application. A student of God’s Word is faithful to context and to the author’s original intent.

7 Questions of Discovery Bible Study

Read the passage and recite out loud from memory.

  1. What does this passage teach me about God?
  2. What does this passage teach me about man and woman?
  3. Is there a sin to avoid?
  4. Is there a promise to claim?
  5. Is there an example to follow?
  6. Is there a command to obey?
  7. What is God saying to me and how does he want me to be obedient from this passage?

By asking these questions of a passage, it not only follows a healthy scientific or inductive approach, it increases comprehension and retention. Even more, it is incredibly simple and allows the Holy Spirit to lead the discussion and learning.

According to Wycliff Bible Translators1, out of the 7,378 languages spoken across the globe, 3,011 possess no Scripture. God’s Word is a gift and we should consistently discipline ourselves to it and by it. While presenting the Bible to every tribe, tongue and nation is the goal, the fact remains the majority of people in the world are oral learners, therefore we must remember the power of Bible storying. By studying and memorizing the Scriptures we are allowing God to talk to us, telling us of his character, purposes, desires, his tenderness and strength, miracles and promises. The goal of disciplined Bible study is to grow in obedience, not to simply store up knowledge. The Word has the power to transform. The discipline of digesting the scriptures provides the sojourning Follower a map and compass of all other disciplines.

The Discipline of Prayer

…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8

Prayer stills and strengthens our hearts. Prayer positions a person in a posture of humility and hope. It is a weapon against the enemy and an ointment to our souls. There are many types of prayer in the Bible. There is the prayer of worship (Revelation 4:11), thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4), faith (Hebrews 11:6), intercession (1 Timothy 2:1), corporate prayer (Revelation 19:1-8), consecration (Psalm 51:10), a prayer of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27) and more.

Jesus modeled the practice of prayer and taught his disciples to pray earnestly and confidently. Jesus taught, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7).”

Prayer is about communing with God and aligning our minds and hearts with his. It is no wonder why every great spiritual awakening throughout history was the result of intentional prayer. Practice praying through the prayers in the Bible after studying and meditating on them to strengthen your relationship with the Lord.

The Discipline of Church

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to myriads of angels in joyful assembly, to the congregation of the firstborn, enrolled in heaven. You have come to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Hebrews 12:22-24

The discipline of church includes covenanting with others in your community for corporate worship, fellowship, discipleship, accountability, ministry, and mission. It is through the discipline of gathering and co-laboring with other believers, true and deep relationships are built. From laughing, crying, praising, and praying with others as we walk alongside them in life, we experience God in fresh ways and strengthen our relationship with him.

We share our greatest hopes and victories through Christ with our believing brothers and sisters. One of the greatest impacts on my relationship with God has come from staying in countless Believer’s homes as I have had the privilege to travel the globe. The reality is that no matter where in the world you are, every believer and church is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, glorifying one God and Father of all… (Eph 4:4-6). Our relationships with God are strengthened because he has given us a family in his Kingdom. God made us for relationship.

Strengthening Your Relationship with God

The discipline of Bible study allows God to talk to us. The discipline of prayer allows us to talk to God. The discipline of the Church allows the marriage of communing with God and kingdom family in concert.  At times, these disciplines come easy, other times it requires the proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears.” The author of Hebrews reminds the disciplined one of the reward, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).”

What fresh practices/activities would you like to experience as you discipline yourself to grow your relationship with God?

1https://www.wycliffe.net/resources/statistics/

 

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Categories
All Spiritual Development

How to Live For God: The Four Spiritual Secrets

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

God will demonstrate His faithfulness by showing you how you can be in Him, and He can be in you…” Pastor Dick Woodward

For over 40 years, Pastor Dick Woodward centered his ministry around four profound truths he called the “spiritual secrets”. These are not secrets in the sense that only a select few special individuals get to know about them. Quite the contrary. They are a distillation of Pastor Woodward’s study of scripture. In a way, they are a core message decoded by a serious student of the Bible walking closely with the Holy Spirit. These four truths, or secrets, can change your life and with them, you can learn how to live for God.

 

The First Spiritual Secret:

“I am not, but He is”

When you truly encounter the One, Holy Creator of everything, you realize what Pastor Woodward calls “the absolute difference between me and the God who calls Himself ‘I AM.’” Like Moses standing before the burning bush, we must understand that, in God’s presence, we are nobody. We bring nothing to the table, even if we are wealthy, powerful, or wise according to the world’s standards. God wants to show us what He will do with somebody who recognizes that he is nobody.

Moses certainly understood this when he stood in God’s presence. He had been somebody, the son of Pharaoh, in line to rule a powerful nation. Instead, God took Moses into the desert to become a nobody; a wandering shepherd. There, through 40 years of losing himself, Moses learned humility. Then, when Moses was, as Number 12:3 tells us, the most humble man on the face of the earth, God was able to use him. As a nobody, Moses did great things because God was powerful through him.

“It’s not about us and our identity, our self-esteem, our success or any feelings of adequacy, inadequacy or anything in between.” Pastor Woodward says. “It’s about God and His identity.”

 

The Second Spiritual Secret:

“I can’t, but He can.”

If you have ever had the experience of coming to the end of yourself, you will be familiar with the words “I can’t.” When you’ve exhausted your own resources, your own power, there comes a point when there’s nothing else you can do. Sometimes you might experience this in response to something God is calling you to do, but something for which you feel entirely inadequate. “I can’t” is not something anybody enjoys saying – it hurts our pride too much. But it can also be quite liberating, letting go of expectations and weights that we put on ourselves. 

Moses came to such a moment when God called him to stand before Pharaoh. God called him to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. Moses’ first reaction was to say “I can’t” (Exodus 4:10). Moses wasn’t wrong. He had tried to stand up for his people his way and only ended up killing a man and running for his life. No, Moses couldn’t, but God could. Once Moses realized he was nobody, God used him to do amazing things. 

 

The Third Spiritual Secret:

“I don’t want to, but He wants to.”

God’s love is strange – mind-blowing might be the better word. He loves people who we don’t want to love. He loves you and me, and we all know how unloveable we are. When we stand before God and utter the famous words of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am, send me!” we are not always prepared for what comes next. Sometimes our neighbor is unlovely. Sometimes the journey is difficult or dangerous. The truth is, when it comes to God’s mission to love people, we don’t want to do it. But he does.

Jonah found himself in exactly such a position when God called him to preach repentance to the Ninevites (Jonah 1:2). These were awful people; the worst of the worst, and God loved them. As the story goes, Jonah refused and ran in the opposite direction, but God followed him and got his attention (to put it mildly). Jonah did not want to do it, but God did.

We find ourselves in a similar situation whenever God asks us to do something, whether it is loving our enemy or repenting of sin – or even something as simple as spending time in the Word. When we follow our own desires, we run from God. Instead, we need to make His desires our own, realizing that our hearts are corrupt. God won’t make us do anything, but he will send a storm to get our attention, and a great fish to bring us to repentance. Far better that we lay down our desire at the start.

 

The Fourth Spiritual Secret:

“I didn’t, but He did.”

At the end of the day, when we have finally understood and applied the first three spiritual secrets, we are tempted to sit back and say, ‘well now I’ve done a great thing.’ But here is a great danger and we risk losing everything. If ‘I am not’, and ‘I can’t’, and ‘I don’t want to’, then how is it that I so often come to the conclusion that ‘I did’? How is it that we take credit for something that is so clearly not our doing?

After Jonah preached to the Ninevites, an amazing thing happened: they actually repented! (Jonah 3:6)  Nobody, especially Jonah, would have expected it. Jonah could never have caused that to happen, and he certainly didn’t want it to happen. (Jonah 4:1) Though he was angry, he rightly credited God with accomplishing such a miracle. How silly would it have been for Jonah to sit back and take credit for Nineveh’s sudden change of heart?

 

How to Live for God

When we finally obey God, after we have become nobody, we become vessels of His love and mercy. It isn’t our love that we show to our neighbor; it’s His. It’s not our Word that changes lives; it’s His. We are like the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. (Matthew 21:7) We merely carry Jesus with us, but He does the work.

These four spiritual secrets are meant to show you how to live for God. I’m not, I can’t, I don’t want to, and I didn’t – this is the necessary starting point for obeying and following Him. When you become nothing, God shows up. When you are nobody, God becomes somebody in your life. Put these four spiritual secrets into practice and you will see God do amazing things through you.

 

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