Tag Archive: Freedom


When Our Best Efforts Are Not Good Enough

God's grace

As a wife and mother, I really don’t like the times I have to admit that my best isn’t good enough. In fact, I wonder how often I really do admit it because as I think about it, it seems like I keep trying an awful lot. That’s our reality though, isn’t it? Don’t quit. Keep trying. Work harder.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not for giving up after one half-hearted attempt. I believe that we can’t succeed if we don’t bother to try. And we definitely learn a lot from the mistakes we make.

But sometimes…our best efforts are simply not good enough.

We can live in guilt and regret over this fact, or we can accept it. I accept it for others without smothering them with a guilt trip. I suspect you do to. We extend grace.

But grace for ourselves seems to be so much harder. So, we keep trying. We work harder. We keep beating ourselves up.

And yet, our best efforts still will not be good enough.

It sounds depressing, but it’s not—it’s freeing.

Because God extends to us His grace—His free and unearned favor proffered to us.

Where we are not enough, He is more than enough. Always.

Our determination, strength, energy, and hard work will never be enough to restore our relationship with God—but we don’t have to—because God already has. (<==Click to tweet.)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

God offered the sacrifice we could never offer. He did the work we cannot possibly do.

He gives us grace.

And through God’s grace, we are able to extend grace to others—and ourselves.

Grace is freedom. (<==Click to tweet.)

Freedom to no longer live in guilt and shame.

Freedom to accept that while our efforts are not enough, God’s grace is more than enough.

Freedom to stop trying to do—and live in what’s already been done.

Freedom to breathe a sigh of thankful relief and live in His grace.

 

In Christ,
Laura
Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith

 

[Photo credit: Stock photo: Alone by lake]

 

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The Resurrection (Bible Study)

He is Risen

Chapter 27 Recap

Ashamed.  Afraid.  Absent.  Mere hours after they pledged never to leave Jesus—even to die with Jesus—the Eleven were nowhere near the cross as the sun began to set.  The Roman soldiers were still there though and pierced his side to prove Jesus was very, very dead.  Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, an unlikely duo, show up at the cross.  These two members of the Sanhedrin shed their secret discipleship and took responsibility for burying Jesus’ body.  Wrapping Him in enough spices for a king, they laid him in a nearby tomb.  Remembering Jesus’ words, the Jewish authorities and Pilate secured the tomb and posted a guard there to keep the three-day resurrection story from gaining any traction.

Early Sunday morning, a small band of faithful women approached His tomb wondering who could remove the rock that sealed the entrance.  Imagine their shock as an angel announced to them that Jesus was not there, “He is risen, just as He said!”  Hearing the news, Peter and John sprinted to the tomb.  They, too, found it empty.  As Mary Magdalene remained weeping, Jesus appeared to her.  Later the same day, an unrecognized Jesus approached two downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Evidently all of Jerusalem was abuzz with the events of the last three days.  The One whom they had trusted to redeem all of Israel had been crucified, and they were disappointed.  Some silly women even had an unbelievable angelic vision, and the tomb was empty.  But what’s a guy to do except head home to Emmaus?  Jesus admonished the two for their unbelief.  Then He used Moses and the Prophets to teach them about the Messiah.  Jesus dined with them that evening.  When their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, He disappeared from their sight, but they finally got it!  So they headed back to Jerusalem at full speed and full of joy to report their experience to the Eleven.  They were interrupted there by yet another Jesus appearance.  An empty tomb and two appearance reports later, the disciples still cowered and mistook Jesus for a ghost when He spoke to them.  “Touch me and see,” He said as He showed them His hands and feet. When Jesus re-explained the Old Testament in light of all that had happened, He opened their minds so they too finally understood.

Thomas was not about to believe these second-hand stories.  He wouldn’t believe it until he saw the nail marks for himself.  A week later, Jesus graciously appeared to Thomas and the others just so he could touch the scars for himself.  Thomas confessed, “My Lord and My God!”  Yes, now he believed that Jesus was the God-man and that He was risen indeed.

Sometime later, Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee.  Having caught nothing all night, Jesus told these fishermen to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  The miraculous catch was so great that they could hardly get the fish into the boat.  It prompted Peter to bail out and head to the Lord.  Over a beach breakfast, Jesus three times asked Peter if he loved Him.  Then He told Peter three times to care for His sheep.  The Eleven met Jesus on a Galilean mountain where He commissioned them to continue to carry out His mission by saying, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

As God, Jesus had all authority to now commission His disciples to carry out the building up of His new community of believers who would be identified with the Triune God.  They in turn could accomplish their mission because, as Emmanuel (Matt. 1:23), He would be with them to do so.  The Resurrection of Jesus Christ vindicated Him as the Son of God.  It is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and the climax of God’s great story of redemption.  The redemptive work was finished, but now there was more work to do to spread the good news, and this ragtag group of disciples were just the ones to do it, armed with the supernatural power headed their way.

Resurrection:  What Does it Mean to Me?

Paul himself had made the resurrection of Christ and, subsequently, the resurrection of believers of “first importance” in his teaching to the Church in Corinth.  Paul had ministered for 18 months in Corinth, probably in 51-52 A.D.  If Paul taught about the resurrection of believers in his 18 month pastoral ministry in Corinth and deemed its connection to the gospel of “first importance,” perhaps we too need to place greater importance on the doctrine.

I.       Resurrection Past (Old Testament)

A. Is the resurrection of the dead a New Testament concept alone?  Is there any evidence that any of the Old Testament believers considered the literal bodily resurrection of people to be in the future for believers?

B. Job alludes to such an idea.  Job is one of the most ancient books in the Bible.  He was likely a contemporary of Abraham. He said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

C. Daniel was told by the angel in his vision about a future hope for Daniel’s people.  Remember that Daniel was among those nobles taken in the first siege against Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and lived in exile in Babylon for the entire 70 year period.  He was very concerned about the condition that Israel found herself in.  Was there any hope?  The angel assured Daniel, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake:  some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever,” (Dan. 12:2-3).  Here we learn a further detail about the future resurrection—it won’t be just believers.  “ALL will awake, some to life” refers to those who will enjoy the fullness of life in the presence of Christ.  Others will spend eternity in a resurrected body in shame and contempt.  While Daniel and his people were in humbling circumstances in this life, God assured Daniel that a future life in a literal resurrection of bodies awaited the faithful.  This is God’s Upper Story plan!  While our Lower Story circumstances may be bitter and painful, God’s Upper Story points to a future life even beyond the present heaven.  Daniel’s hope—and ours—is in the resurrection life. Sadly, others will be resurrected only to shame and destruction.

D. Isaiah prophesied that the Suffering Servant Messiah would both die and then live again. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand,” (Isa. 53:10).

E. The religious leaders of Israel at the time of Christ (who only had Old Testament understanding at the time) argued over the resurrection of the dead.  The Sadducees said there was no resurrection but the Pharisees affirmed it.  This confirms that resurrection was not a foreign concept, based on the Old Testament Scriptures.  This also reveals that when the Sadducees questioned Jesus about whose wife a woman would be in the resurrection who had been married to seven brothers in this life, they were asking a bogus question.  They did not believe in a resurrection.  (Matt. 22:24-32).  Nevertheless, Jesus confirmed the resurrection of the dead by noting Moses’ burning bush conversation with YHWH who was the God of Abe, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the living and not the God of the dead (Matt. 22:32).  When Jesus arrived at the home of distraught Mary and Martha, Martha knew that Lazarus “will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” (Jn. 11:24).  Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter were not resurrected in the same way that all believers will be resurrected in the future.  They died again.  Perhaps it is better to say that they were resuscitated then than resurrected.  Nevertheless, Jesus point in resuscitating them was to prove He has the power over death and therefore prove the resurrection hope to be true.

F. David the Psalmist wrote, “For You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay,” (Ps. 16:10).  Peter later referred to this passage in his powerful Pentecost sermon.  Although David wrote it, Peter argued that David looked prophetically ahead to Christ’s resurrection (Acts 2:25-32, especially verse 31).  Peter reasoned that David’s tomb was still with them and he had indeed undergone decay.  Christ, however, had not been left in His tomb.

II.       Resurrection Present (Jesus)

A. In spite of all the warnings that Jesus gave His followers to prepare them for His death and resurrection, they still did not get it.  They were surprised by the empty tomb and they were astonished by His appearances.

B. In John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation, John describes Him as the “firstborn of the dead,” (Rev. 1:5).  He describes Jesus as “a Lamb standing, as if slain” (Rev. 5:6).  Why do you suppose that Jesus in heaven looks like a Lamb slain?  Perhaps because His resurrected human body—which He will spend eternity in—still bears the marks of the cross.  What else do we learn about Jesus’ resurrected body from this chapter in The Story?

  1. He eats and drinks.

  2. He can appear and disappear at will, with no need for doors.

  3. He still speaks and communicates with people who do not seem to sense Him as anything other than fully human, like on the road to Emmaus and on the beach.

  4. He still has flesh and blood.  He made sure the disciples did not think he was a ghost by having them touch His hands and feet (Lu. 24:36-40).  His body was not a ghostly spirit.  It was fully materially real.

  5. He still bears scars.

III.       Resurrection Future (Believers)

A. Nearly every Easter season, magazines, newspapers and various television specials analyze the Christian assertion that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  Reporters look for other explanations for the empty tomb.  Why?  Perhaps it is because resurrection is such an outlandish idea that some other more plausible explanation must account for the empty tomb.  More likely, though, is the millennia-old attempt to undermine the deity of Jesus and the authority of Scripture.  The resurrection of Christ is, after all, a must-have for the gospel.  Without it, the gospel crumbles into just another hyped up tale of a guy who claimed to be a god.

B. The resurrection is more than the cornerstone of the gospel.  It is the inheritance of every believer.  Many Christians look toward the present heaven as a future blessing, and indeed it is.  When we die, we will be absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).  But God has something even better for us—our own resurrection when our disembodied soul will be reunited with our resurrected, imperishable bodies.  While heaven is good, the resurrection is better!   The Church in Corinth had been planted and nurtured by the great apostles.  Peter, Apollos and Paul had all spent time there teaching.  But the Corinthians began to question the truthfulness of the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12).

  1. The denial of the resurrection is a denial of the gospel.  Paul reiterated the main points of the gospel to the Corinthians.  ( 1 Cor. 15:3-4)
    1. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3)
    2. He was buried (1 Cor. 15:4)
    3. He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4).  What Scriptures?  Probably the ones we looked at earlier—Ps. 16:10, Isa. 53.
    4. He appeared to so many.  Paul’s argument is this:  Yes, Jesus appeared to the disciples, but He appeared to more than just them.  While a small group of super-loyal followers could conceivably perpetuate a fraud, He appeared to over 500 people at one time and most of them are still living.  Paul basically challenged the Corinthian doubters to ask any one of them if they did not believe him. He appeared to James and to Paul, neither of whom were followers of Jesus until He appeared to them.
  2. Consequences:  If Christ was not resurrected then your faith is worthless and you and I are still dead in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17).
  3. The resurrection of Christ confirms the resurrection of all the dead (1 Cor. 15:12-13).
  4. Order of resurrections:
    1. Christ the first fruits (1 Cor. 15:20)
    2. Those who are asleep in Christ (1 Thess. 4:14—16) will come with Him at His return.  The disembodied spirits of believers will be reunited with their resurrected, imperishable, immortal bodies (1 Cor. 15:52-53).
    3. Those alive when Christ comes will be caught up to meet Him in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:17) and their bodies will be changed instantly and immediately into imperishable, immortal bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
    4. This is known as the first resurrection.  “Blessed and holy is the one who has part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years,” (Rev. 20:6).  Believers will enjoy eternity not in the present heaven, but in the New Heaven and New Earth in new resurrected bodies.  The joy of the New Heaven and New Earth is that there is no longer any death (Rev. 21:4).  Why?  Because death is a result of sin (Gen. 2:17;  Rom. 6:23) and it is an enemy of Christ (1 Cor. 15:26).  Death was in the power of Satan (Heb. 2:14) and enslaved people through fear (Heb. 2:15).  But Jesus’ death and resurrection now makes Satan powerless (Heb. 2:14).
    5. By contrast, the wicked dead, the unbelievers are also raised to life in resurrected bodies, and will be then given a final judgment and second death (Jn. 5:25-29; Rev. 20:11-15, 21:8).  Jesus taught this to the wicked Jewish leaders who persecuted Him.
  5. The Corinthians had lots of questions about our future resurrected bodies.  Many believers today have similar questions.  Though we do not have too many details, we can put a few Scriptures together to draw conclusions.
    1. “But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, but the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body,” Phil. 3:20-21.  Jesus’ resurrected body is our best model for understanding our own future resurrected bodies.
    2. The resurrected body will be infinitely more glorious and better than our present body, yet organically connected.  It is new but not altogether new.  Paul compares it to the difference between a seed sown and the plant it becomes (1 Cor. 15:37).
    3. The body now is perishable, but raised imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42).
    4. The body now is dishonorable, but raised in glory (1 Cor. 15:43).
    5. The body now is weak, but it is raised in power (1 Cor. 15:43).
    6. The body now is natural, but it is raised spiritual (1 Cor. 15:44, 49).  This does not mean that it is not material, but like Christ’s who had Thomas touch His scars (Jn. 20:20, 27).

IV.       Applications and Implications

A. He is risen!  I worship a risen, living Savior.  The leaders of all other major religions are still in their graves.

B. The great numbers of eyewitnesses strengthen my faith in the validity of the resurrection story.

C. After writing a whole chapter on the resurrection, Paul concludes that in light of our future resurrection, we should “stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,” (1 Cor. 15:58).

D. The future hope of resurrection should deepen our faith and our resolve in the present.  It should motivate us to persevere in the work of the Lord.

E. A better understanding of death and resurrection should help us cope with the grief of passing loved ones, and to prepare for our own death.

F. A better understanding of death and resurrection should help us minister more effectively and sensitively to others who are experiencing grief (1 Thess. 4:13).

G. Because sin changes everything, my body is subject to decay and death.  All the aches and pains that I experience are the result of living in a fallen world and sin.  God’s plan of redemption reverses that.

H. Although when I am absent from the body I will be present with the Lord, I look forward to the full redemption of my salvation that includes the redemption of my body (Rom. 8:23).

I. While my outward change is yet future, my inward transformation is in the present.  I should purify myself in anticipation of Christ’s return (1 Jn. 3:3).

J. Paul concisely emphasized the main points of the gospel.  I too can make them “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3).

K. Knowing that unbelievers will experience a resurrection that leads to eternal judgment and “second death,” I should be more motivated to share the good news of the gospel.

L. While I may have “scars” because of choices I have made, Jesus kept His scars as a reminder to me of the choice He made.

Mary Magdalene: Released                                             Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 27:55-56

Now is the time in our lesson today to take your Bibles out and explore the Word of God. We will be taking a look at Mary Magdalene, as Christ made a big impact on her.

Mary Magdalene became one of Jesus’ disciples as his popularity reached its peak.  During his last year of ministry, she and the other women who followed Jesus witnessed the opposition against him grow to a deadly force.  Chapter 27 of THE STORY relates what very well could have been Mary’s testimony of what occurred three days after Jesus was unjustly crucified.  Mary knew from personal experience that Jesus had the power to release one from cruel bondage; surely she also knew how Jesus had released Lazarus from the bonds of death.  As she remained at Jesus’ side throughout his ordeal she might have been waiting to see if he could also release himself from those bonds of death.  Jesus did not disappoint her (Luke 7:37-39).

I.  The Women Disciples of Jesus.  Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 27:55-56

The New Testament writers openly discuss women who had a part in Jesus’ life and in the life of the early church. Most represent excellent examples of Christian living.  Mary was never mentioned in a negative light in Scripture. It is only a supposition that she is the un-named “Sinful Woman” who anointed Jesus (Luke 7:37-39).

1.  From the above passages in Luke and Matthew, list each woman who is mentioned as a follower of Jesus and how she is described.

2.  What was their service to Jesus and what does this service imply about their resources?

3.  Fill in the blanks. In Luke 8:2, Mary is described as one ‘from whom seven demons had

____________   ______.’

The Greek for ‘went’ is exerchomai.  Another understanding of this wording is: to flow out from, to come forth, to cast out.

The Greek for ‘demons’ is diamonian.  It is also translated as ‘devil’ or ‘god’ and refers to a spiritual being that is inferior to God, or ministers of the devil.

“The Devil, or Satan, is the chief enemy of Jesus and the establishing of the kingdom of God. In his ministry, especially in his exorcisms, Jesus engages in the first stage of the defeat of Satan in casting out his evil minions. Jesus’ complete defeat of the Devil and his demons is expected in the eschaton” (the end of history). (Green, McKnight & Marshall 163).

4.  Explain the kind of oppression you think Mary Magdalene endured, and the relief that you think she would have experienced when she was released from the oppression from seven demons.

II. The Loyal Women. 

We can learn who of Jesus’ followers were present at Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection from the four gospel accounts.  Each report differs, not because of discrepancies because the four accounts do not conflict. They are however from different points of view and shared within the context of to whom the writer is speaking and what each writer wants to bring out through his account of Jesus’ life. There are key people and events that do not change.

1.  What did the disciples do when Jesus was arrested?  (Matthew 26:56)

2.  We know that Judas had betrayed Jesus to the authorities, and Peter denied him when he waited with bystanders to see what would happen.  To see which followers stayed with Jesus, review the four accounts and note the names that are mentioned.

At the Crucifixion and Death

Matthew 27:27—55 Mark 15:16—41 Luke 23:26—49 John 19:16b—42

 

At The Burial

Matthew 27:61—28:8 Mark 15:42-47 Luke 23:50—24:1—11 John 19:30—42

 

At the Resurrection Morning

Matthew 28:1-20 Mark 16:1-9 Luke 24:1-12 John 20:1-18

 

3.  How many of the 12 disciples remained at the scene until the resurrection?

4.  To whom did Jesus appear first?                          To whom did Jesus speak first?

5.  How does Jesus demonstrate his compassion for Mary Magdalene?

6.  What does he commission her to do?

The outstanding loyalty of the women followers may have come from the natural caring nature of women.  It may have also come from the fact that most of these women had nothing to lose in being identified as a follower of Jesus.  They may have seen Jesus as a person, where the men might have seen Jesus as their leader.  However the fact is, Jesus first spoke to a woman, and the good news that JESUS IS ALIVE, was told first told by a woman.

 

III. Bondage is Our Choice. Romans 6:15-23

Freedom and slavery are used to explain the purpose of Jesus’ life and death on earth.  We can join Mary Magdalene in rejoicing in the resurrection because slavery and freedom are not just a metaphor, but the reality we live with as human beings. Deepen your understanding by examining the following passages.

1.  How does sin enslave us? Galatians 5:18-21; Romans 8:5

2. If we sin more don’t we show how much grace Jesus has? Romans 6:15

3. To what or to who are we enslaved if we are disobedient? Romans 6:16

4.  What is the end result of sin? Romans 6:16b

5.  If we voluntarily present ourselves as slaves to God, what is the pay-off for us? Romans 6:17-18, 23

6.  Since sin must be paid for by death, whose death covers the cost of our sin if we are slaves to God? Romans 6:23

IV. Release From Bondage is Our Choice

We are created to enjoy friendship with God in His world.  Our sin not only took us out of the perfect place He had created, it prevented God from enjoying His creation.  Through the following passages, discover how God’s solution gave us an even better relationship with Him.

1. What is set free from the bondage of decay through Jesus Christ? Romans 8:19-21

2.  What did Jesus have to share in to set us free?  Hebrews 2:14-15

3.  Since we are no longer slaves, what is our relationship to God?  Galatians 4:4-7

4.  What does our freedom in Christ allow us to do?  Galatians 5:13-14

“For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:22-23).  Freedom isn’t free; Jesus paid the price.  We can use our freedom to return to bondage, or we can use our freedom to remain loyal to Jesus until He returns for us.

Key Question:  How will you use your freedom in Christ?

From the following passages note what things will not set us free from sin:

Philippians 3:9

Romans 7:18, 24

Revelation 3:17

Matthew 19: 24-28

1 John 2:15-16

Chp 6- Wandering (Bible Study)

They traveled up from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh

The people don’t believe they can take out the giants so they wander

After the 40 years of wandering God leads them to the place where Moses will die

Chapter 6 Recap

Within days of receiving the Law, Israel began a downhill slide into all kinds of sin.  The golden calf and the accompanying immorality were just the beginning.  After spending a year at Mount Sinai, the cloud lifted and Israel began her journey toward the Promised Land.

From Kadesh Barnea, Moses sent out twelve leaders to spy out the land.  They returned with a negative report that spread fear throughout the populous.  Only Caleb and Joshua believed God’s promise to give them the land by overtaking their enemies.  God’s anger became a major motif in this chapter sparked by the sin and unbelief of His chosen people.  He punished Israel by confining them to the desert for 40 years until the unbelieving generation died out.  They would never enjoy the benefits of the Land.  Those 40 years were marked by cycles of sin and God’s anger.  We see that, from the Garden, sin leads to physical death.  Understanding the connection between sin and death helps us to understand the magnitude of Christ’s resurrection and the hope of our own.

After the old generation died in the desert, God and Moses began to prepare the new generation to enter and conquer the Land.  This new generation continued in the same cycles of sin as their fallen fathers including idolatry and immorality at Shittim.  Israelite men were indulging in immorality and Baal worship with Canaanite women.  But unlike his grandfather Aaron who willingly participated in the golden calf incident, Priest Phinehas was zealous for the LORD and put to death the idolaters.  Again, their sin was directly tied to the plague that killed 24,000.  This helps set the foundation to understand Moses’ farewell address to Israel.  We see from their example that being righteous under the Law was impossible.  This nation was far from holy.

Israel is God’s chosen nation by covenant.  They were chosen to be a blessing to all nations.  Moses had to remind the new generation of all that God had done for them since Abraham’s call.  After leading this people through the wilderness and investing his life in them, Moses imparted his God-inspired message:  Choose life.  They were to believe and obey God.  Belief and obedience carried with it covenantal benefits of prosperity and life in the Land.  Unbelief and covenantal disobedience carried with it the consequences of cursing and death.  Two choices, but only one leads to life.

There are three separate themes that run through the chapter this week. We will take each one separately. There is also some bonus material on Miriam at the end of the lesson.

Freedom vs. Familiarity

No less than six times in the chapter, the people pine for “the good old days” in Egypt:

a)      “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord” (p.57)

b)      “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost…” (p.58)

c)      “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (p.58)

d)     “If only we had died in Egypt!” (p.61)

and 40 years later…(!)

e)      “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place?  It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates.  And there is no water to drink!”  (p.63)

f)       “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread!  There is no water!  And we detest this miserable food!”  (p.65)

It’s always striking to watch how people cling to the familiar, however damaging and unhealthy, over freedom from that bondage.  A poorly fitting shoe, over time, conforms to the foot so that when you try on a properly fitting shoe, it feels foreign and out-of-place.  In fact, when given an opportunity to choose health or disease, the unhealthy is often chosen because it involves far less risk and engagement.  Why take a chance on a potentially positive relationship, when a poorer choice would remove any possibility of future disappointment?

Why do we naturally long for the things of the past instead of focusing on the future?

Satan convinces us that no matter how traumatic our wounds, the sting of an antiseptic is not worth the long-term effect; no matter how heavy our baggage, we dare not off-load it.  It’s the old devil-you-know ploy that traps people in a closed, spiraling loop of faithlessness.

Wandering was this chapter’s manifestation of God’s concession to their self-absorption.  A couple of practical applications:

Who among us has not experienced an “in-between” time of aimlessness and lack of direction?  Is it possible that unbelief in God’s grand Upper Story is the source of our wandering no less than it was for the Hebrews?

Ecclesiastes, the Gospels and Romans, to name a few, all deal with retreat to the comfortable yet unhealthy.  The Bible is full of examples of the cycle of deliverance and then relapse…victory followed by defeat…freedom overshadowed by recidivism.  How great the grace of God that His salvation is perpetual, enduring, and new every morning.  Aspects of these cyclical patterns, and the power of grace over them, can be much more deeply explored. What can you do to help remind yourself of his ever-present mercy?

Leadership Issues

The chapter illustrates not just the burdens of leadership, but its pitfalls:

  • Lesson #1:  Moses, predictably, gets fed up with the whining, fussing and griping of the people.  If this is my burden, just kill me, he says.  But Lesson #1 for leaders is that even when you reach exasperation trying to “herd cats on linoleum,” trust that a) God gets no less fed up but never fails to apply mercy, and b) he will often allow the consequences of the people’s misery to be visited upon them “until it comes out of their nostrils.”  Thus, they become their own punishment, so you, as a leader, can take that off your plate and focus on mercy.
  • Lesson #2: This leadership lesson is about leading in the role God gives you.  Aaron and Miriam were leaders, but did not have Moses’ mantle.  They begin to sound a lot like James, John and their mother in the NT:  “What about us??”  Lesson #2 on leadership is to bloom where God plants you.
  • Lesson #3: The same story contains the next lesson: let God do the defending.  Moses’ humility was the key, and as far as Scripture records, he let God do all the talking – in fact, p. 59 says after the Lord heard Miriam and Aaron, “at once” the Lord jumped in the fray.  We must focus on humility and leave the defense to God.
  • Lesson #4: The the conventional wisdom of a leadership community is frequently off base.  Of the twelve spies (a leader from each tribe), ten of them responded in fear, and only two in faith.  The “road less traveled” – an out-of-the-box approach – is especially applicable to those who have the responsibility of leading others.
  • Lesson #5:  If you’re in a leadership role, God’s expectations of you go way up.  You’d think Moses’ striking the rock instead of speaking to it could have been explained by exuberance and maybe a little grandstanding…but as the leader of the people, his example sent a message that no other person’s disobedience would – and so he lost the capstone of the journey: crossing the goal line.  In the NT, Jesus talks about servant leadership, and James warns teachers (influencers) as well about the gravity of authority.  As this story demonstrates, we dare not take it lightly.
  • Lesson #6: As a final tribute to his humility and leadership ability, Moses saw the absolute necessity of Succession Planning.  Real leaders never fail to equip their people to do without them, and so his prayer on p. 67 is especially poignant:  “May the Lord, The God of every human spirit, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”  He knew his work wasn’t completed without ensuring sound leadership for his flock after his departure, even in the face of his punishment.  No wonder God thought so much of him.

From the list of leadership lessons to learn from, which ones are the ones you want to never forget? Which ones do you struggle with? Which ones would you leave behind?

Parting Words

This can be the most personal part of the lesson.  If you were leaving a church or a company or a family for the last time, what would you say?  What words would you want echoing in their ears long after your departure?

Read Moses’ final speech to the people Deuteronomy 33

Moses’ final words were those of great encouragement:  the Lord is God and trustworthy; love him completely; teach your family to do the same; remember his chastening; and finally, in a very Messianic tone:  as you enter into the Promise, be of good cheer, for God has overcome already.  In John 17, just before Gethsemane, Jesus said basically the same thing.

What would be your closing statement or farewell address?

Words to Live By

Identify who said these words and when:

  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.—John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 20 Jan 1961
  • Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal.  Abe Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 19 Nov 1863
  • From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.  Sir Winston Churchill, Westminster College, Fulton, MO, 5 March 1946
  • I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.— Martin Luther King, 28 Aug 1963
  • Love always hurts.—Mother Teresa, Nat’l Prayer Breakfast, 4 Feb 1994

Few people’s words are truly, historically memorable.  Fewer yet affect true change in others.  From the 40 years that Moses led Israel in the desert, only his final speeches/sermons are recorded to live on in history, changing hearts as God’s inspired Word.

I.       Wrongdoings to die for

Israel spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness for their unbelief.  God told Israel to go into the Land that He would give them.  But they did not trust Him.

A. Israel grumbled about their hardships  ->  God’s anger burned.

B. Israel and the Egyptian rabble complained about the manna  ->  God’s anger burned.

C. Israel wanted meat so God gave them quail and a plague  ->  God’s anger burned.

D. Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses  ->  God’s anger burned.

E. Israel’s leaders brought back a bad report from the Land and refused to enter as God instructed  ->  God’s anger burned.

– Because Israel refused to go into the Land that God had given them, He disciplined them with 40 years in the desert.  The unbelieving generation would die in the desert and never enjoy the benefits of the Land given to Israel by covenant.

– The new generation would be led into the land by Joshua and Caleb, the only two leaders that believed God was able to take the Land.

F. 40 years later, the new generation was repeating the sins of their fathers.

– They grumbled for lack of water.

– They grumbled for lack of food  ->  God sent snakes.

– They worshiped Baal and indulged in immorality  ->  God sent a plague.

II.    Words to live by

A. Moses had spent 40 years investing his life into the Israelites.  He had faced down Pharaoh and seen God face to face!  He listened to their grumblings with exasperation.  He watched the old generation die in the desert with grief and frustration.  His unchecked frustration resulted in God’s discipline so that even Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land.  But Moses was a faithful leader to the end.

B. Moses had begun his ministry worried about his inability to speak well.  Through his 40 years of leadership, only his final three sermons are recorded in the Bible.  (These make up the Book of Deuteronomy.  In The Story they are summarized on pp. 68-70.)

C. Knowing that he would die soon, Moses must have had a heavy burden on his heart for these people.  He needed to impart wisdom and instruction to his children.  He needed to pass on to them their own history so that they could learn from their fathers’ mistakes.  Most of all, Moses desperately needed to convey to them the work of God on their behalf and encourage their appropriate responses of trust, love and obedience.

D. The message is summarized as follows:

– There is only one God, the LORD.  He loved you and redeemed you.  Therefore, believe and obey.

– Obedience from the heart will result in prosperity in the Land.

– Loving God results in obedience; obedience results in life.

– Turning away from God results in disobedience; disobedience results in death and you will not live in the Land.

– The LORD is your life–choose life!

III. Implications and Applications

A. I should learn from the Israelites’ examples and not grumble, commit idolatry or immorality.

B. God provides for my needs.  I should be thankful.

C. There are consequences for my choices of unbelief.  I choose wisely.

D. Sin leads to death, but Christ overcame death!  I should trust Him for my life.

E. Moses’ final words were God-inspired and important.  Therefore, I should listen carefully to the message.

F. There are still only two choices, but only one leads to life.

G. I choose life when I believe and obey God.

H. Obedience is an outward expression of an inward faith.  My motivation is from my heart that loves God.

My Words to Live By

With a small group, or with a partner, share what you might say if you knew this would be your final opportunity to speak with your family and friends.

  • What would be your message to your spouse?
  • To your children?

After you have done that, consider this:

  • If this is the most important message that you could pass on, are we communicating that message now in either word or deed?
  • How could your “words to live by” help guide your priorities in the present?

Bonus material if you want some more study on a character:

Chapter 6 of THE STORY reveals Miriam as a qualified leader whom God provided, along with Moses and Aaron, to deliver His people from bondage.  But God showed Miriam that he was deadly serious when he taught her a most important lesson about his leaders.  Their relationship with Him is what matters.

I. Miriam as a leader.

1.  What do these events from Miriam’s life reveal about the kind of person she was?

Exodus 2:4- She watched her baby brother in his basket in the Nile.

Exodus 2:7- She offered their own mother to Pharaoh’s daughter as a nurse.

Exodus 15:20- Miriam was called a prophetess.

Exodus 15:20, 21- All the women followed her with tambourines, dancing, and singing.

Numbers 12:1- Miriam led in speaking out against Moses.

Numbers 12:15-16- The Israelites waited for 7 days when Miriam was confined outside of camp.

Numbers 20:1- Her death is recorded.

Micah 6:4- Miriam is named with Moses and Aaron as leaders that God sent to the Israelites.

2. Word Study:

Exodus 2:4- The term “stood at a distance” implies taking a stand, or positioning oneself.  What would that imply about how the young girl, Miriam, watched her brother.

Exodus 15:20- The word prophetess in ancient literature refers to a woman.  It can mean a poetess, or an inspired woman.  How do we know that both things apply to Miriam?

Numbers 8- Levite refers to the descendants of Levi.  This tribe was assigned by God with the task of caring for all the duties of the Tabernacle.  As a descendant of Levi, what duties did Miriam perform that might correspond to the Tabernacle worship?

II. Miriam and Aaron criticize Moses.  Numbers 12

The opposition of Miriam and Aaron to Moses came at a difficult time in the life of the Israelite nation.  Chapter 6 of The Story relates the events from Numbers 11, just preceding the challenge to Moses’s authority. The constant complaints had angered God so much that he sent fire from heaven and consumed some who were positioned at the edges of the camp.  Only Moses’s prayer on their behalf saved the rest of them.  Next they drove Moses to distraction because they were hungry for meat.  God sent such a quantity of quail that measured three feet deep around them, and then he served a plague for dessert!  The truth is they had replaced the respect and honor that they’d had for God during the building of the tabernacle with disrespect and scorn.  Even with these images fresh in mind, Miriam and Aaron added to Moses’s burdens with their personal criticism.

What did Miriam and Aaron challenge? (v. 1)

What was the real reason for the opposition? (v. 2)

How did Moses react? (v. 3)

What did God do? (v. 4-5)

What was the consequence for Miriam? (v. 9-13)

What was the consequence for the Israelites? (v. 13-16)

The friendship between Moses and God was foreign to Miriam and Aaron.  They were uncomfortable with it. Describe this relationship from the following passages.

Exodus 33:17-23

Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:6-9

III. Leadership Challenge

Miriam and Aaron started their opposition with an excuse.  But the complaint reveals the real problem.

The Complaint:  Consider Miriam’s grievance in Numbers 12:2: “‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked.  ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’”

  • What do these words imply about how Miriam and Aaron had been used by God?
  • What do these words reflect about Miriam and Aaron’s attitude toward God?
  • What would it mean to you if you knew that God had spoken through you?
  • To what extent do we have the right to evaluate how God chooses to work with those who serve him as Lord and Master?

Both Miriam and Aaron had demonstrated great leadership.  They had also shown terrible lapses of judgment.  Moses too, had led well and he had made grave mistakes. Each one had an important role in God’s plan.  To our knowledge, God had not distinguished Miriam’s nor Aaron’s contribution as less meaningful than Moses’s.  But there was a difference.

Key Question for us:  In what areas are you prideful in your position rather than pleased to contribute in God’s Kingdom?

Be a blessing this week as you have been blessed!

“The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.” Exodus 19:8

Can you imagine telling God that you are willing and ready to do everything he has commanded…and say it with a straight face?

The Israelites are free from Egyptian rule, free from slavery, and free from brutality. They left Egypt and have been out in the desert for weeks. The people are tired, thirsty and hungry. They start to wonder if God brought them out to the desert to kill them. Then they start longing for home…not the home God is leading them to, but their homes back in Egypt. They would rather return to a place of slavery and brutality because it is what they know versus staying in the desert with an unknown future ahead. They would rather trust in their slave masters than trust in God who delivered them. Sounds like a sad place to be.

Finally we come to the base of Mt. Sinai as Moses goes up to talk with God. Moses comes to the elders and the people and reminds them of what God has done for them. He tells them all that the Lord had commanded. Instead of taking time to think over the proposal and think about the cost of their decision, they jump right in and say they are going to do everything that God has commanded. Huh?

The question is, can we trust these people? They only stopped grumbling for a moment after being freed from slavery, how long will this relationship last? Let-down after let-down God still chooses this people because of his Upper Story. In the lower story we see whiners and complainers, but God sees a people who will be used to proclaim his message to all nations, a people who will eventually bring forth his Son.

I learn a lot about myself from these people in the lower story. I think how easy it would be to long for the security of what is known, instead of listening to the call into the unknown. How easy it is to trust in my own ways and means instead of the plans that God has for me. I even think about the life of sin that was formally my master. When sin was my master, I indulged every temptation. It was a life that looked like ease, but in reality it was a life being ruined by sin.

Christ has freed us from the chains of slavery. He has set us free, so why would we ever long to return to it. But the reality of this is that we are a people no different from the Israelites. It is a different time and a different setting, but we continue in the same pattern. We have moments of pure clarity where following God is the only thing we want to do and will whole heartily say I will do everything…but we have moments that following God is the furthest from our minds. How do we get to that place?

We have a God that even when we turn our back, he never will. No matter how many times we turn away, he will continue to pursue us. God has been reckless with his grace. Time and again in the scriptures, God shows his reckless grace for all of his people, even those that were enemies of God’s people. It’s amazing that God takes us back…but that’s why grace is so amazing!

Be blessed today as you are a blessing to others!

Are All Religions the Same?

The answer to the question posed above is Yes and No.

America is built on the constitutionality and the tradition of religious freedom. Our ancestors who first came to this land to escape religious persecution.  It is an important truth that we never forget. Toleration of one anothers’ faith is part of who we are as a people. If Muslims, Jews, or Native American faiths are subjected to restrictive laws by our government, it is a threat to all religions. That is one reason that our LCMS President, Matt Harrison, was willing to go to Washington and sit at table with Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic leaders speaking in defense of religious freedom in our country.  Just as thousands of Christians in Germany in the mid-twentieth century provided protection for the Jews, we also are obligated by Constitution and tradition to support any religion under attack. That is why part of the answer as to whether all religions are equal is Yes.

On the other hand, the answer to the question is No. This is adamantly true because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me.”  Note that Jesus did not say that He is “a” way to the Father, but “the” way; “the truth;” “the life.”  There is no other, so while tolerating other religions in our midst, we do not agree with their teachings.

We are not even called to avoid contact with these other religions–for a very simple and logical reason. Our non-Christian friends may see the love of Christ through us and be drawn to Him. Our belief that He is the only way to the Father means that we cannot allow our friendship and Christian caring to pull us in the other direction.

The world will find this “Yes and No” answer hard to understand. According to the world today, tolerance must include agreement and approval, but this is a new and inaccurate definition of the word. To tolerate something means that we accept its right to exist; that we may even love the practitioner of a lifestyle or religion with which we absolutely disagree. It is a word that expresses Christian love–continuing genuine relationships with others in the hope that Christ’s love will shine through us.

Religious freedom is a tenuous thing. It can seem unending one day and gone the next. It can be real for one religion and denied another. We see both of these scenarios around the world, and each would love to invade our own country. We are right to be both the watchmen of religious freedom and watchmen of the absolute truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Sue Wilson

SIN SUCKS!

We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. His sacrifice paid the price of our atonement. We were bought back from sin and the power of the devil. This has all been done for us and it was nothing that we deserved. It is easy to talk about the freedom that we have from sin and death; we celebrate it every Sunday. The problem that exists is that we still have sin that likes to hang around with us still. It would be nice to believe that we confess our sin once, receive forgiveness, and then we are clean, free, without sin forever and we can be perfect today until the day Jesus returns. The fact of the matter is that we struggle with sin still today. We are never at a place where we are free from our Savior.

Listen to the frustration in the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7:14-16 (MSG)

“I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.”

I just have to say it because it is the way I feel. SIN SUCKS! Yes, I wrote it in all caps and bold because whether it is my sin or the sins of others, it causes hurt, pain and more brokenness in our world. Almost everyday I see the disaster that is left after sinful acts are carried out. My heart grows tired and weary of the constant sight of it. This can easily lead me or others to despair.

We still live this side of heaven and will continue to struggle with our sinful nature. The sinful nature that leads me to do the things “I absolutely despise.” What then shall we do with this mess? This could lead all people to either be utterly lost in hopelessness or grow apathetic to sin and the sinful nature. Paul also gets to this point in 7:24,

“I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?”

Is that the question you are asking at this point? We can come to our wits end and find that we have no power over any of this stuff in our life. Honestly we don’t have the strength to carry this out alone. Maybe we need to hear how Paul resolves this issue. Romans 7:25,

“The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”

Perhaps we all need to be reminded that we are not alone in our struggle and that we should not give up. The ultimate victory is still ours in Christ. At our very nature we must constantly rely on our Savior. He alone has the strength and power over sin and the devil. It is a life devoted to the Savior, not just one moment, but a whole life lived relying on Jesus.

How have you dealt with this struggle to do what is right but being drawn to sin?

How can we be resistant of temptation? How can we consistently strive to do the right thing?

Look forward to hearing from you. Have a great day!

I’m Free at last…but still a slave?

For the last two weeks we have been talking about Freedom; freedom from yourself and freedom from sin. I love the idea of being free, there is nothing better than doing things on your own terms. But, have we taken our freedom in a completely different direction than what was intended? Have we been set free only to return to enslavement?

We continue our exploration of Romans chapter 6 to find out that our Freedom is not freedom from law or a freedom to do whatever we please. The Apostle Paul expresses this as the opposite of freedom. He talks about two different types of Slavery. There is the slavery of sin, which leads to death, and the slavery of righteousness, which leads to eternal life.

I don’t know about you but I am not thrilled that freedom doesn’t mean freedom to do whatever I want. Plus, I don’t like the pictures and images that come to mind when I think of slavery. When the master treats me as less than human, beats me and uses torture tactics to make sure I work hard and do whatever it is that pleases them. I do not want this life for me or my family. Is this the kind of slavery Paul is talking about? If so, count me out!

Paul breaks it down for us when he basically says that all people will be slaves to something, what will you be a slave to? Have we gone from one slave master to another? No way! Paul wants the reader or hearer of Romans to understand the differences between being a slave to sin and being a slave to Christ. The two are completely different outcomes, let me show you.

Being a slave to sin means that freedom has gone away for good. I like how Romans 6:15-18 reads in the Message translation. “You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and its your last free act.” Being a slave to sin is having tunnel vision for the things that will benefit you. Seeking out pleasure because it benefits you. Living for the world and all of its toys. This life breeds more selfishness, greed, and Paul says eventually death. It is doing the same thing over and over again, like spinning your wheels, but never going anywhere. Do you know people around you that are spinning their wheels in life and not going anywhere? Dedicating their life to their profession, living life for all it’s pleasure, living up life with one goal in mind; getting more.

The second type of slavery is to righteousness. Christ Jesus bought us at a price. The price was not with some precious stone or large currency or piece of real estate. We were bought by his blood and it wasn’t cheap, it meant his death. As he bought us we belong to him. He says in Matthew 11:30, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus declares he is a different type of master. Paul confirms it when he says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”

As slaves to God we follow in the ways he would have us go. We look to Jesus as our master and find that just as he came to serve, we too are free to serve one another. Our freedom is slavery, I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but one that we can feel comfortable about. It is a freedom to not indulge the sinful behavior, but serve one another in love.

If we are truly slaves to Jesus Christ, what does that mean to our daily lives?

Let me know what you think.

Have a great day!

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