Thursday, September 30, 2010
This should be normal for the Christian life. The telling and retelling of God’s working in our lives not only lifts the hearts of others, but it actually completes joy as well. Consider these verses from the Psalms:
I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.
– Psalm 9:1
Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. – Psalm 66:16
My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. – Psalm 71:15
We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.
– Psalm 78:4
As C.S. Lewis famously said, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” (Reflections on the Psalms)
Today, consider the promises God has made for you, the ways he has blessed you, and find ways to tell and retell these things. Who knows? In doing so you may just complete your joy and consummate your praise.
1. Can you remember the last good story you heard that really moved you? Was it in a book? A movie? Did someone tell it to you? How did it change you?
2. The word gospel literally means “good news”. As Christians we are to be telling and retelling the one thing that has most shaped and changed our lives. Is it one that you tell often? Do you tell it well? Do you love to share the story?
3. Have you experienced what C.S. Lewis speaks of in his quote, an event or experience that was incredible in itself but you only experienced full joy in it after expressing and sharing it with another? Describe.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
When God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son, there is more going on here than a terrible, costly offering. We know this because God later makes it abundantly clear to the Israelites that child sacrifice is utterly detestable to him (Deuteronomy 12:31). Instead, God is challenging his own promise to make Abraham a father of nations through Isaac. God is testing Abraham’s obedience to God –and more importantly his faith in God’s covenant and God himself—because Isaac represents God’s promise to Abraham.
In a sense God was asking, “Do you trust my word? Do you love me more than my blessing?” And centuries later God demonstrated with utter finality that he was worthy of both trust and love. Notice the striking parallel from God’s own mouth between Isaac (God’s promise to Abraham) and Jesus (God’s promise to mankind):
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . .”
– Genesis 22:2
And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." – Matthew 3:17
Just as Abraham prophetically said “God himself will provide the lamb”, John the Baptist prophetically proclaimed of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
If you are in Jesus, if he has taken away your sin and been your sacrifice substitute, then God is worthy of both your trust and love—even when it doesn’t feel like God is blessing you.
The cold, hard fact is that often blessings from the hand of God don’t feel like blessing at the time. But if God did not withhold his own Son, whom he loves, if that Son was the Lamb slain in your place, “how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)
1. What is the last thing you desperately prayed for? Did you receive it or not? How did you respond? How did the situation turn out?
2. What is your initial response in reading the story of Abraham and Isaac? Could you have responded in the way Abraham did?
3. Can you remember a hard time in your life that was a blessing from God when you look back in retrospect?
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
But the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are not the only ones shown to be sinful in these two short chapters. Abraham and his party also repeatedly reveal an ugly, sinful side. See if you can keep up: Lot offers his daughters to the angry mob, Lot’s wife longs for the wicked city of Sodom, Lot’s daughters get their dad drunk and sleep with him and then Abraham tells the half-lie about his wife being his sister (again!).
Yet this is a fitting precursor to the characters we find all throughout the Bible. The stories are almost infamous surrounding David and Bathsheba, Sampson and Delilah, or the entire Israelite people during their wanderings in the desert. Or consider the New Testament example of Peter being told by Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan”. Not exactly good PR for God’s elite.
However, this should be encouraging to us for at least two reasons. First, if there is something in our Bible that would call in to question the character of one of our spiritual heroes, it actually lends an air of credibility to our story as true history. After all, if the Bible were all made up stories and fabrication, who would make up such broken, faltering fathers of the faith? This is what modern-day apologists call the “test of embarrassment”.
Second, it is encouraging to us because we are all of the broken, faltering sort ourselves. As Paul wrote, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong . . . so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:26,27, 29)
1. In what ways did God demonstrate both justice and mercy in his dealings with Sodom and Gomorrah? With Lot?
2. What other embarrassing examples can you think of regarding biblical characters and their moral failings? Have you ever found consolation in God’s dealings with such people? Share an example.
3. Read 2 Corinthians 4:5-9. Do you identify with this imagery of “jars of clay”? Are there times when you don’t act as if your “power is from God and not from us”?
Monday, September 27, 2010
In Genesis 12 God first calls Abram. In chapter 15 God makes a covenant with Abram. Now in chapter 17 God confirms his covenant with Abram. This covenant will so change the lives of Abram and Sarai that God actually gives them new names: Abraham and Sarah (a pattern that we will see repeated in Genesis). God promises that nations and kings will come from the two of them (v. 6, 16) even though Sarah is barren. And as a sign and seal of this covenant, God instructs Abraham and his sons to be circumcised.
A new life, a new name and a sign of promise from God. For many of us, these ideas may seem too good to be true. But God freely gives each of these things to all those who trust in Christ: a new life (2 Cor. 5:17), a new name (Rev. 2:17) and a sign of promise from God (Rom. 2:29).
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to live as if we haven’t been given these things. Too easy to live like we used to, like everyone else. It’s like a lottery winner who just goes back to work the next week after winning the jackpot acting as if nothing has changed—as if their life hasn’t been turned upside down. No celebratory vacation. No spurt of generosity. Gaining unmerited riches and acting like the same old miser.
Jesus told a parable to teach that it should be just the opposite. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:45,46) When the merchant realized the value of what he held in his hands, his whole life changed. What is more, he voluntarily gave up the life that he had to make the treasure he had found his own.
So which do you feel more like, the merchant who gave up all for the treasure he found or the millionaire still living like a poor man?
1. Do you like the idea of getting a new name when you see God face to face? What sort of significance do you think there is in a new name?
2. Read Romans 2:28,29, Colossians 2:11,12 and Deuteronomy 30:6. Is there anything you find odd about the idea of circumcision of the heart and spirit? Considering what you know about what circumcision meant to the Jews, what do you think the biblical writers were trying to convey with this imagery?
3. In what ways do you live your life like a lottery winner who doesn’t live any differently than they did before they won? In what ways do you live like the merchant who found the pearl of great value?
Cain must have married a sister because there were no other options. The text is clear that "Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters." (Gen 5:4) Over the 930 years Adam lived, this may have been a large number of people, but they were all still brothers and sisters.
God did not create other human beings. He designed Adam and Eve for the purpose of reproducing and filling the earth with other people. He also declared that "it was not good for man to be alone," so His desire is for men and women to marry and have children. The only options for this were sisters (or later cousins). This is not the result of them being perverts, but the natural progression of the earth being populated by one man and one woman.
Admittedly, this is weird and gross from our perspective. We feel this way is because God declared that it was wrong. It is one of the many things that we feel are wrong because God has revealed that it is (like murder, stealing, lying or adultery). However, He declares it wrong hundreds of years later (Leviticus 18:9) after the earth's population had developed much further. At the time Cain was living, there was no command from God about this.
The other problem we have with it is that we've heard that incestuous relationships produce genetically defective children. That is true now, however, God created Adam genetically perfect. Genetic imperfections come as a result of the fall and develop gradually over long periods of time. They had not yet developed in Cain's life.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
The enemy of faith is fear. Fear occurs when we take our eyes off God to look at the circumstances and people surrounding us. When we focus on our difficulties, they get bigger and God gets smaller. When we focus on God, we realize that He is bigger than our problems.
Abram left his home and battled four kings, but still God said, “Do not be afraid.” In the middle of those tremendous victories and blessings, fear still gnawed at Abram. God had provided many things, but he had no child, in spite of God’s promise that He would be the father of a nation.
Faith is not a one-time reaction; it is a moment-to-moment journey. Abram lived this out through the worst hurt in his life. He would have traded everything for a child, but he was helpless. It’s far easier to be courageous on the battlefield than the daily grind of life. Fear can be a catalyst in the big moments, but in the face of repeated defeat and continual discouragement, it can become a cancer.
In chapter 15, Abram focused on God and responded in faith. He didn’t ignore the facts. He simply understood the reality that they represented. At the age of 85, with no child in all those years, he was beyond hope. But God pointed to the future and His promise. Abram believed “the God who . . . calls things that are not as though they were”. He trusted God’s reality rather than what he saw. (Romans 4:17-25) This is faith and it is the way God restores our broken relationship with Him.
As the years passed and Abram remained childless, old fears arose. Abram’s focus moved from God’s promise to his circumstances. When he focused on the facts, he lost sight of God. Instead of waiting on God and trusting Him, he and Sarai succumbed to fear and decided to help God fulfill His promise. The results were disastrous.
When you try to make it work, you always make it worse. Instead of giving in to fear and devising your own plan, trust God who sees you and knows your pain. Trust Him to provide, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Don’t give in to fear. Instead, go forward in faith.
1. What additional light does Nehemiah 9:7-8 shed on God’s faithfulness to Abram?
2. What additional light does Hebrews 11:11-12 shed on Abram’s faith?
3. Read Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23-24 to discover the implications of Genesis 15:6 for you.
4. What does God’s revelation of the Hebrews 400 years in Egypt tell you about his knowledge and rule of human history?
Saturday, September 25, 2010
The more you have, the more you have to risk.
God blessed Abram. You might think that would make it easier to follow God. With blessing there is more security. Abram is not totally alone anymore. But once you have something, your choices are often bent towards preserving what you have.
Abram learned his lesson in Egypt and seemed to renew His trust in God (13:4). Then he faced another test. He was very prosperous, as was his nephew, Lot. They have to split up. It might appear that the wise thing would be to use his position (since he’s the oldest) and power (since he’s the strongest) to leverage the situation in the interests of himself and his family. But instead of manipulating the situation, he trusted God to direct and provide for him.
Lot chose the more prosperous area and Abram took what was left. Lot found a hidden danger whereas Abram found unexpected blessings.
Abram understood that God was in control of his life. God understands the reality of your situation far better than you do. He knows the hidden dangers, future changes, and potential risks. We usually lament a closed door, missed opportunity, or a bad break, forgetting that God is in control of them all. He may be at work protecting us from an unseen danger, providing in an unexpected way, or directing the timing.
Living by faith does not remove all the troubles and dangers, but it does shift the responsibility for them. Abram obeyed God and God fought for him. Lot controlled his own destiny and had to defend himself.
Obviously, God physically fought for Abram. 318 men routed the armies of 4 kings. What is not so obvious is the number of times God fought for Abram so that a battle never even occurred. God intervened to protect him from his foolish decisions and from Pharaoh. Instead of falling under the sinful influence of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abram found peace and blessing.
The challenges to our faith don’t stop. Even as God grants victory, the temptation arises to trust someone or something else to provide. We see Abram hold firm in his trust that God would continue what He had started.
Faith requires you to trust God to guide you, defend you and provide for you.
1. What do the accounts of Abram and Pharaoh (Gen. 12:10-20), and Abram and Lot reveal about God’s sovereign protection of His people?
2. Was it foolishness or faith for Abram to allow Lot to choose where he would go?
3. Was it foolishness or faith for Abram to refuse any of the plunder from the battle?
4. Is it more difficult for you to trust God to guide you, protect you or provide for you?
Friday, September 24, 2010
Life tempts us to settle for what we have rather than press on for what we still can’t see. We play it safe by holding onto what we have, staying where we are, and finding security in what we can accomplish and provide for ourselves.
God calls us to keep following Him into new areas that we have not seen before, leaving everything that we know, and risking all that we have for a better reward. It’s unsettling for us because everything is unknown. The secret is to focus on the One who is known.
Twice in Genesis, God has made His desire for men known. Both Genesis 1:28 and 9:1 show that the purpose of man is to fill the earth, go out, and keep pressing on. Instead of going out, we want to gather in. Instead of trusting God, we trust ourselves.
Genesis 11 shows that tendency with shocking clarity. The primary sin at Babel was not the building of the tower, but rebellion against God’s desire for men. He says scatter and they say gather. He says make my Name great and they say let’s make a name for ourselves.
In contrast, Abram was called to leave behind all human support and follow wherever God led. Abram is called from his home in Ur (Acts 7:2-3), beginning the journey with his father. But Terah became an example of what confronts all of us: He succumbed to the temptation of settling. Rather than press on for what God desired, he settled for what he could acquire. In his life, tragically, we see the results of settling: He lived. He died. (Yawn.)
God wants more than that for us, but it requires us to risk all that we have for all that He can provide. Abram risked everything – he left his family, his country, and everything he had ever known. Essentially, he left all the things most of us find security in. He didn’t leave with a plan or even a clear destination. He just walked into the unknown, following the One who is known. This is called faith and God finds it pleasing.
In fact, it is impossible to please God without faith. It is how we know and follow Him. While we are tempted to settle and be content with where we are and what we have, God calls us to something better.
What is keeping you from arriving where God wants you? Take the first step in faith.
1. What additional light does Hebrews 11:8-12 shed on Abram’s response to God’s call?
2. In what ways did Abram demonstrate faith in Genesis 12:1-9?
3. What did Abram fear in Genesis 12:10-20? What did he gain? What did he lose?
4. What are your biggest fears? If you knew that you could not fail, what would you attempt to do for God with your life?
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Noah was a regular dude, just like the rest of us. He struggled with sin and deserved the death his sin earned, but God chose him and saved him by grace.
This was all theoretical to Noah at some point. God tells him to build the boat because he is going to judge the earth, and for years, Noah built the Ark and preached repentance. Nothing happened.
Then God said, “Get in the boat.” He closed the door, and the rain started. As the waters rose, I’m sure people were screaming for help, beating on the door, and pleading for rescue. But it was too late.
For the next year, Noah was stuck on a poorly ventilated boat full of animals, poop, and eight people. The whole thing smelled worse than a port-a-potty at the state fair. A year with nothing to do but sit, stink, and think.
What do you think went through Noah’s mind as he sat there? I’m sure he thought of the faces of his neighbors, family, and friends. The kids who played ball on his street. The guy he used to race camels with. All the people who mocked him for years. They were all judged for their sins, but he’d committed the same sins.
How would you respond to watching the judgment of God for over a year?
The first thing Noah did when he left the boat was to offer a sacrifice for his sins. He built an altar, took some of the clean animals and offered them as burnt offerings. Noah thought back to his sins and confessed them to the Father.
What was God’s response?
He was so pleased by Noah’s offering that He promises to never flood the earth again as a means of cleansing it from sin. God’s answer to sin became a covenant of grace. Noah’s offering pointed to Jesus’ death as a sacrifice of atonement.
It wasn’t long before the whole sickening cycle began again. Noah was lying around drunk and naked in his tent while his family was falling apart because he was just a dude like us. But there is hope. Jesus is coming and He is not coming to judge the world, but to save it.
1. Moses interrupts his lengthy genealogy between Genesis 5 and 10 to focus on one man, Noah. Why do you think he did this? What was he trying to teach us through the life of Noah?
2. Does Noah’s sin surprise you? Why or why not?
3. If God’s judgment came today, who in your life would be on the outside looking in? How are you “preaching righteousness” to them (2 Peter 2:5)?
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
From the beginning, God planned for his relationship with man to be eternal. His desire was for Adam and Eve to experience eternal life with Him. Their sin brought this to an end, but God demonstrated mercy and did not immediately kill them. Instead, He provided clothing for them, temporarily suspended the death sentence, and told them how His plan would be restored (see Genesis 3).
Now we see the effects of sin. In chapter 4, sin brought death by murder. Chapter 5 shows the inevitability of death by old age. Finally, chapters 6-8 show how God’s judgment on sin plays out on an epic scale. Many are horrified by the account of the flood, but it is simply God executing the consequences of sin for everyone on the same day.
God wants us to confront the effects of our sin and the inevitability of our death. Everyone in chapter 5 dies with two exceptions – Enoch and Noah. God provided these two examples so that we can escape eternal death and experience eternal life. The only way to escape death is to walk with God. You either walk with God or you die. It’s that simple. Enoch walked with God and experienced eternal life as a result.
Noah demonstrated that the only way to walk with God is through His grace. Noah wasn’t chosen because he was a good guy. Notice the events of his life:
- Every person was focused on evil all the time, including Noah. God was grieved and pained that He ever created them. (6:5-7)
- God chose to save and bless Noah. He was a wicked, sinful man, just like everyone else. The only difference was that God gave grace to Noah. The word translated “favor” is the Hebrew word for grace. (6:8)
- “Noah was a righteous man . . . and he walked with God” but that was the result of God’s grace, not the means by which he earned it. (6:9)
This is how God works in each of our lives. We are not saved by our own righteousness, but, rather, by God’s grace. Salvation comes through grace alone through faith in Jesus alone. It is not the result of our righteous acts. Once we are saved by grace, we are given the power to live a new life and obey God. The only way to experience eternal life is to walk with God by His grace.
1. How does it make you feel to read about God’s judgment on sin through the flood? How is this affected by Genesis 2:16-17? What impact does it make that God suspended the immediate execution of that judgment on Adam and Eve? That the judgment by flood is God imposing that sentence on everyone on the same day?
2. Compare Genesis 6:5-8 with Paul’s teaching in the New Testament that we are saved by grace to do good works in places like Ephesians 2:8-10. Noah was chosen by God to build the Ark because of God’s grace, not because he was a better person than his contemporaries. Why is it so vital to the gospel to understand this?
3. What does it mean that Enoch and Noah walked with God (see Hebrews 11:5-7; Jude 14-16 for further insight)?
4. In light of Genesis 6:5-7 and 2 Peter 2:4-9, why did God send the flood? What does the flood reveal about the inevitable fate of those who persist in sin without repenting?
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
If you start with the idea that men are good, then the problem is always “out there” somewhere. If we can just create the right environment or address a few basic issues, then we can fix it. The problem always belongs to someone else.
D.A. Carson sums up the Christian perspective on the problem this way:
“The Bible insists that the heart of all human problems is rebellion against the God who is our Maker, whose image we bear, and whose rule we seek to overthrow. All of our problems, without exception, can be traced to this fundamental source: our rebellion and the just curse of God that we have attracted by our rebellion.”
The Bible shows that our struggle is not “out there,” but inside our own heart. This is the fatal flaw with which all men must wrestle. Adam is our representative and his sin condemns us all. He sinned first, but each of us has sinned since. We are born in sin; there are none who are righteous and none who seek God. We have all gone astray and turned to our own way. We are sinners by both nature and choice.
Our struggle with sin shows up early and often. God tells Cain, “. . . sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." (Gen. 4:7) Rather than fighting sin as God intended, Cain succumbed to it and suffered for it, just as we do. As you read Genesis, notice the wreckage that sin brings.
God knew that we would not master sin on our own, so He promised another representative. This one did not represent us in sin but in righteousness. Rather than sinning, He lived a perfect life and died as our substitute, His perfect life paying for our sin. His name is Jesus and He defeated Satan, sin, and death on the cross.
Jesus redeemed all that Adam lost. Through faith in Him we can move from being under the condemnation of Adam into the salvation of Jesus, the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
1. How does your sin affect you personally? How does your sin affect others? How does the sin of others impact you?
2. What do you learn about temptation from Satan’s interaction with Eve? How do we see similarities between Satan tempting Eve and the way he tempts us (see 1 John 2:16)?
3. Are attitudes or actions more important when you worship God? Why?
 D.A. Carson, For the Love of God, from the entry January 3rd.
Monday, September 20, 2010
In the beginning there was . . . community. Before God began the work of creating the earth, sun, moon, stars, seas, and all the critters, the Father was there in perfect community with the Son and the Spirit. The idea that God created us because He was lonely and needy is a great heresy. God did not create us to enable Him to experience community, but, rather, so He could share the joy that flows from the three-in-one community of the Trinity.
We see this in Genesis 1:26 - “Let us make man in our image . . . “. This means that God exists in perfect community. Each person of the Trinity is known to the others perfectly and completely, and we are created to mirror that. Therefore, we were created to know each other and God without hiding and pretending.
In the first two chapters of Genesis, everything that God did was good. He created Adam with his hands, getting them dirty while shaping Adam rather than simply speaking from afar. God put him in a garden to meet all his physical needs and gave him the job of cultivating it to give his life purpose. He walked and talked with God face to face, so his spiritual needs were fulfilled. Still, something was missing: Adam was alone and that was not good (Gen. 2:18). God was aware of that, even if He had to help Adam see it (Gen. 2:19-20).
We have been created for community: to know both God and our fellow men. Tragically, our culture teaches us that anyone who needs either of these is weak. It tells us to be a self-made man. Be tough, strong, a rock. Never let your guard down. Never ask for help. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. This way of living is opposed to how God designed us. We were created to connect with God and others.
I hope to accomplish many things on this journey. I hope you learn the character of God, the work of Jesus, and the truth about yourself. I want you to discover the excitement of hearing God through the Bible, but I also want you to experience fellowship with others who are part of God’s family.
Some of you are thinking, “I’ve got the Bible and I’ve got the Old Testament Challenge book. That’s all I need.” I hope that you’ll understand that God has designed you with other people in mind. Take this challenge to get involved in a Community Group and journey with others for these nine weeks. Don’t try to do it alone. You miss the benefits of community and others miss your input.
Find a Community Group and get involved in the journey.
1. What does John 1:1-3 add to your perception of Genesis 1:1-3 and 1:26? What is Jesus’ role in creation? How does this help you understand the idea that God existed in perfect community as the Trinity? What about Genesis 1:2?
2. According to Romans 1:20-25 and Hebrews 11:1-3, what should be our response to God’s self-revelation in the created order? What are the consequences for refusing to praise our Creator?
3. How do you feel when you hear that you were made in the image of God? Does knowing this help you feel better about yourself? Why or why not? How should this affect your relationship with God? With other people?
Here's how you can get started:
Read the passage for the day and the devotional. Answer the questions that follow.
Each day, we will read 2-3 chapters of the OT and a one page devotional. There are 3-4 questions that follow. You will discuss these questions in your Community Group.
You can pick up to OTC book at Redeemer or we will post the entries each day on the blog. You can comment on the blog entry to interact. We welcome your questions, comments, and insights.
1. Start by praying. Ask God to help you understand what you are reading.
2. Get a modern translation of the Bible. We use the NIV at church (and have free copies available). Another really good one is the New Living Translation. The Message is also helpful. It is not as accurate as the others but is the most readable. You can access all of these for free at: http://www.biblegateway.com/
3. If you have a hard time reading, why not listen to it? There are several places where you can download or listen to the Bible. Many of them are free.
Here are two I found:
http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/audio/?source=3&aid=4 (listen online)
4. Keep going! If you miss a day (or a few), don't quit the whole challenge. Just start with the current day. If you have time to go back and make up the missed days, that's fine, but don't try to make them up first. Keep current. Reading some of it is better than none of it.
5. Don't do it alone. Join in with a few others. They can help you when you have questions, encourage you when it gets hard, and make the journey a lot more fun. We have several Community Groups meeting, pick the best one and join them:
- Sunday night (for Middle School and High School students) - 6:00-7:30
- Monday night - 6:30-8:00
- Wednesday night - 6:30-8:00
- Thursday night - 6:30-8:00
All of the groups meet in the 180th and Harrison area.
To sign up, email Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let's do this!