Independence Day

Did you know that our Founding Fathers didn’t actually declare independence on July 4, 1776?  That actually happened two days before, on July 2.  That day, after fierce dialogue, including a powerful speech from John Adams, they passed a motion, with only one dissenter, to declare independence from England.  In fact, Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that future generations of Americans would remember July 2 as the greatest day in our nation’s history.  The Fathers didn’t even sign the declaration on July 4…that didn’t actually happen until August 2.  But on July 4, they approved the final wording of Jefferson’s document. Immediately, copies later known as The Dunlap Broadsides were printed and sent to every Colony in our land.  They were headed with the date, July 4, which is one reason we associate that day with our freedom.

Those first copies of the declaration had one name printed on them; it was the name of the President of the Continental Congress.  It was the name of the man who was first to sign the copy of the declaration on August 2 (which is the copy in our National Archives today).  That is quite possibly the most iconic signature of all time, so large and flamboyant that today we call signatures by that man’s name: John Hancock.  Who was this man who was so proud of his name? Hancock was one of the richest men in America.  Like all of the Fathers, he had a lot to lose.  It’s one thing to complain about taxes and philosophize about freedom from tyranny; but when they signed their names to that document, they went from being political activists to traitors against their nation.  They were betting their collective fates on a tiny band of militias against the most powerful army on Earth.  Their outrageous boldness changed the world.

Several times, Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.”  If you spend enough time in church, it’s easy to say the right things, to sound committed to Christ.  But our Lord isn’t looking for men and women who know how to play the part.  He is creating disciples.  He is drafting revolutionaries.  You and I should start every day by boldly declaring our independence from the values of this world, from the dictates of our own selfish desires and ambitions.  We should remind ourselves, “Today, I serve my King…that is true freedom.”  And that is how the world truly gets changed.

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Spare change or something bigger

There was a man once who sat on a roadside near Jericho, begging for alms from pilgrims heading to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. One day he heard that Jesus was passing by. He started calling out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” No matter how much people tried to shut him up, he wouldn’t stop. Finally Jesus approached and asked him what he wanted.
 
Think about it. For as long as anyone could remember, this man had been asking people for spare change. But now, in the presence of Jesus, he asked for something much bigger. “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Jesus did what he asked, but this was much more than just a physical healing. First of all, the man had called Jesus “Son of David,” which was a Messianic title. Not many people–including most of the disciples–were ready to go that far. Second, Jesus said to the man, “your faith has saved you.” That’s literally what the Greek word in Luke 18:42 means, even though our English translations tend to say “:healed” instead of “saved.” Third, Luke says he got up and began to follow Jesus. That means he became a disciple that day. So he regained his sight just in time to witness Jesus dying for His sins a week or so later.
 
But here’s the point for us: We each spend most of our lives like the blind man, begging this world for whatever it will give us: Money, sex, pleasure, power, approval. All are good, and all satisfy for a little while, but only for a little while. Then we meet Jesus, and everything changes. He gives us what the world never could. We get up and we follow Him. That’s the story all who are Christians share. But somewhere along the way, too many of us stop following Him and go back to begging the world for spare change. I’m not saying we’re not truly His. He never lets go of His own. I’m saying we live like beggars instead of like disciples. I’m saying we look to the things of this world to bring us happiness, meaning, peace, identity and security, instead of pursuing Him fully, with nothing held back. So where are you? Are you following Him and enjoying abundant life? Is every day an adventure of watching God slowly change you for good and use you to show love for others? Or are you back to living off the scraps this world leaves behind?
If you’re interested in learning more about the idea of giving everything to Christ, with nothing held back, check out our recently completed series: https://fbcconroe.org/sermons/nothingheldback/

Exodus preview

All In Study Notes: Exodus

Exodus is the second book in the Pentateuch (five books) that start the Bible and tell the story of God creating a chosen nation in Israel from which to share His love with the entire world. Exodus is the account of how the children of Israel, some 400 years after Joseph first brought them to Egypt, escaped from slavery.   The main character, other than the Lord, is Moses, the unlikely liberator.  You will read of memorable events like Moses meeting God for the first time, the plagues upon Egypt, the night of Passover, parting the Red Sea, and eating a previously unknown food called manna.  In Exodus, God also makes His covenant with His people, including the Ten Commandments.

 

Themes to look for:

God wants us to know Him by personal experience.  33:11

The Lord is the One True God.  This was a revolutionary thought when Exodus was written.  It still is.

God demands obedience.  The Law is there for our good.  He is a good Father.

God demands exclusivity.  He will not abide competition for our hearts.

God demands holiness.  Two ways this is seen: 1) People could not casually approach God.  Needed a system to get right with Him.  2) He was making a holy people.  But He demanded they be distinct.  That was the main point of the Law.

God demands both justice and compassion.  The Law is a balance between punishing guilt so as to eliminate injustice from society, and taking care of the hurting.  He wants both from us.

Spiritual leadership is hard work.  Moses’ story resonates with anyone who leads.  People are the most frustrating part.  Why don’t they get it?

 

The Gospel in Exodus

Knowledge of Exodus is key to understanding the New Testament from a Jewish perspective.  So many details of Exodus find their fulfillment in the four Gospels, it is hard to list them all, but here are some main themes:

We need a deliverer.  Hebrews 3 talks about how Jesus is the greater Moses.

We need a mediator between us and God.  Jesus is our Great High Priest.

The Passover Lamb: A picture of how God would one day save us through Christ’s death.

The Tabernacle: A place where Heaven and Earth come together.  That is a picture of Jesus.

The Covenant: A reminder that we can’t save ourselves.  Jeremiah 31 foretells a New Covenant in Him.

Acts preview

As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading.  The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding.  It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book.  I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read.  I hope it’s helpful.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!

All In Study Notes: Acts

Acts is the story of the movement Jesus began—the Church—recording the years from Jesus’ ascension (around 28-33 AD) to around 62 AD.  It was written by Luke as a sequel to His Gospel (He mentions his friend Theophilus as the recipient at the beginning of both books).  Luke was a doctor, probably a Gentile, and a travel companion of Paul. He does not mention himself in Acts, but beginning in 16:11, he uses the pronoun “we,” which probably means that is when he joined Paul’s group.

There is a theory that Luke wrote this as a defense for Paul in his trial in Rome.  We know from 2 Timothy (Paul’s last letter) that Luke was with Paul at the end.  The ending of Acts is abrupt, which makes us think it is a story in progress.  And some think that Theophilus, because Luke calls him “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3) may have been a Roman official or Paul’s legal counsel.  A more widely held theory is that Theophilus was a Gentile believer or a “God-fearer,” and that Luke wrote to his friend to help build up his newfound faith. At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, he gives his purpose (Luke 1:4): That you may know the certainty of the things that you have been taught. 

 

Themes of Acts

To the ends of the earth:  This is a book about missions: the mission of God in the world and our part in it.  The story starts in Jerusalem, but shows how a mix of missionary work and persecution brought the Gospel ultimately to Rome (the most important city in the ancient world).

The risen Christ:  For the apostles, the resurrection was the key event in history.  They didn’t preach a new morality or new religious rituals.  Their main message was that God had sent His Son into the world to save us, and that this was proven by the resurrection.  God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it (2:32).  It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed (4:10).  If anyone had offered evidence that the tomb was not empty, or that someone had stolen Jesus’ body, the Christian movement would have died.  But no one could contradict this revolutionary message.

The Holy Spirit:  Some say the name of the book should be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”  He shows up in chapter two, and the apostles are never the same. He empowers the previously timid men to preach powerfully and work miracles.  He calls new men and women to do amazing things in His name.  He pushes the first Christians to take the message outside the Jewish world.  He calls Saul and Barnabas to the mission field.

The Church: In Acts, we see the Church at its best.  In spite of challenges from outside and within, the people of God love each other and represent Christ boldly in a hostile world.

Unhindered:  The last word in Acts is appropriate (28:31).  Throughout the book, people try to stop the Gospel from spreading through legal maneuvers, riots, torture, imprisonment, and murder, but nothing works.  The Gospel is unstoppable.

Matthew preview

As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading.  The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding.  It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book.  I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read.  I hope it’s helpful.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!

Matthew is one of the four Gospels (from a word meaning “good news”) or records of the life of Jesus. Three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are called “Synoptic” Gospels, because they tell primarily the same stories about Jesus in a similar order.  (“Synoptic” is from a Greek term that means “seeing everything together.”)  The Early Church believed this book was written by Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles.   Matthew’s given name was Levi. He was a tax collector.  Both Mark and Luke refer to him as Levi, but in this Gospel, he is called Matthew (which means “gift of God”).  Perhaps Jesus gave him this new name, which would explain why he chooses to call himself Matthew instead of Levi.

This Gospel begins with a genealogy, to show that Jesus is descended from Abraham and David, as the Israelite Messiah.  It tells the story of His birth from the point of view of Joseph, includes the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), and ends with the Great Commission (28:18-20).

Themes to look for in Matthew:

Jesus the Messiah: Matthew points out many ways in which Jesus fulfills the OT promises.  For example: 1:22-23, 12:17-21, 27:9-10.  See also 5:17.

Israel and the new people of God: Matthew is often seen as the most “Jewish” of the four Gospels, because of the many OT quotes and other features.  But it also shows how most of His own people would reject Jesus (see especially Ch. 23, with its “seven woes” against Israel’s leaders).  This had to be a painful truth for Matthew to record.  However, he also shows how Jesus knew He was Savior of all humanity, not just Israel.  From the foreign magi who come to His manger at the beginning, to the words “make disciples of all nations” in the final story, Matthew wants us to see Jesus came to save anyone.

Jesus the King: He is called by the magi “the King of the Jews” (2:2).  At the beginning of His ministry, He is offered the chance to rule the world by Satan (4:8-9), but refuses.  Several times, He talks about the Kingdom of the Son of Man (His favorite term for Himself).  In 22:41-45, He tells the Pharisees He is greater than simply a Son of David.  In 27:42, while He is on the cross, He is mocked by the High Priests as “the King of Israel” while a sign written by the Romans calls Him the “King of the Jews.”  Ironically, it is at this exact moment He is fulfilling His destiny as our King.  The Gospel ends with Him saying, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

 

Psalms preview

As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading.  The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding.  It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book.  I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read.  I hope it’s helpful.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!

All In Study Notes: Psalms

 

Psalms is the longest book of the Bible, and the only one entirely made up of songs: 150 songs, to be precise.  It has been called “Israel’s hymnal.”  The Jews sang these songs in corporate worship, in traveling to Jerusalem, and in times of personal devotion or crisis.

Most of the Psalms were written by King David.  Other authors include Asaph, Korah, Jeduthun, Ethan, Heman, Solomon, and Moses (Psalm 90).

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible.  It is broken into sections that each begin with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Psalm 118:8 is the “center verse” of the Bible: It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.

The Psalms fall into five categories:

  1. Hymns of Praise: Ex: Psalm 8:1-4.
  2. Lament or complaint: Ex: Psalm 12:1-2, 74:1-3. This is actually the most common Psalm.
  3. Imprecatory: These are Psalms which pray for judgment upon one’s enemies. To “imprecate” means to curse. Ex: Psalm 69:1-4, 22-25.  You can find a great article about how as Christians we should see these difficult Psalms here: http://timothytennent.com/2012/11/01/imprecatory-psalms-are-all-the-psalms-suitable-for-christian-use/
  4. Royal: Ex: Psalm 20:7-9. These Psalms are asking a blessing on the King and therefore, the nation.
  5. Wisdom: Ex: Psalm 1. These Psalms give us wisdom about how to live.

Themes to look for in Psalms:

Worship: The fact that the longest book of the Bible is a hymnal should tell us how important our worship is to God.  The Psalms teach us so much about the greatness of God.

Prayer: We think of prayer as asking God for things.  But the Psalms show us how to talk to God about all of life.  One way to grow in closeness to God is to re-write a Psalm in your own words.

Raw honesty: The Psalms say things to God that make us uncomfortable.  We’re used to “pretending” in our Christianity.  But God is not afraid of how we really feel.  We should talk to Him about our sorrow, our disappointment, our anger and doubts.

Comfort: The Psalmists compare God to a shield, a rock, a fortress, and a protective shepherd.  These words brought them comfort in times of stress, and they can do the same for us today.

The Gospel: All of the Psalms ultimately point to Jesus, either directly or indirectly. Psalm 22 is the Psalm Jesus quoted from the cross. Psalm 118:22-23 is the Psalm most often quoted in the New Testament.

 

Genesis preview

As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading.  The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding.  It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book.  I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read.  I hope it’s helpful.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!

 

All In Study Notes: Genesis

Genesis is the first book of the Bible.  Its name comes from the Latin word meaning “origin.”  The Jews called it bere’shith or “In the beginning.”    In Genesis, we read of the world’s creation, the fall of humanity, a worldwide flood, and the creation of a new people who will redeem the world.  There are several genealogies tracing the lines of Adam, Noah and Abraham.

Themes to look for:

  1. We matter to God. We are made in His image, hand-carved from the dirt. In 1:26-28, He gives us a purpose: we are meant to bear His image and rule the world in His name.
  2. We have a sin nature. “East of Eden” is a common theme: Adam and Eve went East, Cain went East, the people who built the tower of Babel migrated East, Lot chose the land to the East. This is the Bible’s way of showing how we tend to run away from God and His will.
  3. God defies our expectations: In the ancient world, the oldest child was considered most important, and was made head of the family. Yet in Genesis, several times God chooses younger siblings over the older ones: Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over His brothers. Ephraim over Manasseh.
  4. Our God sees us. See 16:13. A rejected slave girl (Hagar), a barren woman (Rebekah), an unloved wife (Leah), and a forgotten prisoner (Joseph) all testify of this.
  5. God is in control, wait for Him. Noah waiting patiently in the Ark, Abram and Sarai waiting 25 years for their child, Joseph’s understanding of God’s plan in 50:20.

Hints of the Gospel in Genesis:

  1. The first messianic prophecy in Scripture: 3:15. Jesus is the Son of Man who was wounded, but crushed the head of our enemy.
  2. God clothes Adam and Eve, takes away their shame, just as Jesus would one day clothe us in His righteousness, taking away our shame.
  3. Noah and his family are rescued from the floodwaters by Ark, just as we are rescued by a cross.
  4. In Genesis 12, God’s promise to Abraham is that in Him, “All nations will be blessed.”
  5. In Genesis 22, one of the most difficult stories in the entire Bible, we see this note of grace: “God will provide a lamb, my son.” God provides a lamb in place of Abraham’s son. Later, God will provide His son as the lamb in our place.
  6. Judah goes from being the one whose idea it was to sell Joseph into slavery, to the one who offers to give His life to save Benjamin. Book closes with a surprise: 49:10, God will use Judah, not Joseph, to bring redemption.