Hurricane Harvey dumped over 9 trillion gallons of water over the greater Houston area and Southeast Texas, enough to occupy 33,906 Empire State Buildings, from basement to penthouse. The flooding was the worst in U.S. history!
Biblically, there are 3 explanations for the occurrence of natural disasters.
1) The Natural World – Prior to the fall of man, Adam and Eve walked in a world of perfect harmony and balance, without natural disasters. We live in a fallen world, one that is in the painful process of giving birth to a new creation.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. – Romans 8:22
2) Satan – God has given Satan limited power to affect this world. We see this in the book of Job when God allowed Satan to bring natural calamity into Job’s life.
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD. – Job 1:12
3) God – In order to accomplish His purposes in this world, God also brings natural calamity.
The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these. – Isa 45:7
And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. – 1 Kings 19:11-12. Continue reading →
THE BASICS OF GROWING IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Coming into a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ is a wonderful beginning – but it is just that: a beginning. While it may be the end of the journey called “coming to faith,” it is only the start of another journey that might be called “growing in God.” The apostle Paul claimed that “knowing” Jesus Christ was the great goal of his life. He said, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
Paul saw growing in God as an undertaking that would consume him until death ushered him into God’s very presence! So how do we come to know our great, saving God, and to grow in Him? There are many ways, but time has shown that a few are key. Our knowledge of Him cannot help but grow as we study His Word, communicate with Him in prayer, share life with other believers, tell others about what God has done for us, and follow Him daily in faith and obedience. We’ll examine each of these briefly in turn.
1. STUDY GOD’S WORD
You would never expect a child to grow into a healthy adult without proper nourishment. Children eat to grow. Likewise, the Word of God is the spiritual food that nourishes every growing Christian. The apostle Peter encouraged Jesus’ followers to, like newborn babies, “long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2: 2-3). Just as there are many styles of eating – there are also many ways to “take in” God’s life–giving Word. Consider these to begin:
Reading your Bible daily. Many plans exist for reading a portion of the Bible each day. If you are a new follower of Christ, you might begin by reading a few verses of the gospel of John daily until you have finished the book. Then move to another gospel (Matthew, Mark or Luke), or one of Paul’s “missionary” letters like Ephesians or Philippians. You might also find a “devotional” Bible which selects portions of scripture for you to read daily, and includes thoughts to consider on that particular passage.
Studying the Bible in a group. Studying God’s Word together with other Christians is a wonderful way to grow in insight and in community. Seek out a leader in a Bible–believing church in your area and ask about group studies that might be available to you.
In every instance, the emphasis on Bible study should not be simply academic, or study for study’s sake. You are studying not to gain “head knowledge” but to know more deeply and fully the God whose saving plan has included you. You are a part of His story now!
2. COMMUNICATE WITH GOD
Prayer is simply communication with God – and it is so important. It may seem at times like one–way communication, but it is not. Prayer involves speaking to God and listening for His voice in return – as He speaks through His Word, through His servants, and through the still, small voice of His Holy Spirit. Through prayer we thank God for His goodness to us, confess our sins, praise Him for who He is, and make requests of Him. It is in regular prayer that we grow in our relationship with God and mature in our faith. The Bible says we should pray about everything, and that we should pray “without ceasing.” Truly, nothing is too small to take to God in prayer. He is the Lord of all life.
Get in the habit of spending time each day with God. Learn to listen as well as to speak. Some people call this time with God a “quiet time” – but it may not be quiet at all. You may pray aloud, sing praises, or read aloud prayers from scripture during this time. The important thing is to set aside a time for God that will not be compromised, even if it is just a few minutes of undistracted focus every morning or evening.
Keep a prayer journal. Recording your prayers can help you see how God has led you, and to praise Him for His faithfulness in giving not just what you ask him for – but what you truly need. Be sure and share answered prayer with others, too. God’s faithfulness to you can be used to build someone else’s faith as well!
Study what Jesus taught about prayer in The Model Prayer at the end of this study. When Jesus’ disciples said “Lord, teach us to pray,” this is what Jesus offered in response. Many people say this prayer in a rote, or routine way – hardly thinking of what the words mean. As you study this prayer, consider each part of it, and what it says about God’s constant care and concern for you.
Train yourself to maintain a running dialogue with God throughout the day. Some call this “practicing the presence” of God. Simply remind yourself that God is with you all day, every day – and that you are free to speak with Him about anything, at any time.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…
– Matthew 28:19
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
– Mark 16:15
…repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
– Luke 24:47
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.
– Matthew 24:14
And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.
– Mark 13:10
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
– 2 Peter 3:9
OBSERVE & CONSIDER
In the previous lesson we considered the final goal of God’s grand story as it has been revealed to man: “That God might be worshipped with white–hot affection by a redeemed company of countless persons from every tribe and tongue and people and nation”1 (Revelation 5:9, Revelation 7:9). From 1 Corinthians 2:9, we saw that what God has prepared for those who love Him is too wonderful for us to even comprehend. We also saw that those who love God will dwell in a new heaven and a new earth where they will reign with Him and glorify Him forever! (Revelation 22:5, Psalm 86:12).
But when will these things take place? If you recall from Lesson 60, we read that just before Jesus ascended to heaven, He gave his followers some final instructions. These instructions are commonly known as the Great Commission and may be found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. (They are listed at the beginning of this lesson.) Notice from Matthew 24:14 that “the end” (the final goal of God’s grand story) will not come until the gospel is “preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations.”
Recall from Lesson 25 that a nation, in the Biblical sense of the word, is not simply a geographic country, but rather a people group that is distinct from other people groups by virtue of language, culture, tribal affiliation, etc. Immediately after God’s judgment at Babel, 70 nations were born. In our world today there are thousands of nations. Many of them have yet to be reached with the Gospel. And until they are reached, the end (or the beginning depending on how you see it) will not come. Continue reading →
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.
– Ephesians 5:25–27
OBSERVE & CONSIDER
Have you ever known anyone whose reason for rejecting Jesus was that, “the Church is just full of hypocrites”? It is a common sentiment. When you consider some of the weird things going on in the Church today or when you consider Church leaders who have not been good examples of Jesus followers, it is not difficult to see why people are turned off by the Church. But is that a good reason to reject Jesus?
In the world of music, classical composers like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven are considered to be masters. It is enthralling to experience one of their works performed by a world class symphony. However, when a fifth grade orchestra attempts to perform the same work, the results are dramatically different. No one judges the genius of Bach when the fifth grade symphony falls short of perfection. It is almost expected. But when the Church falls short of perfection, many people question the value of following Jesus.
The person who rejects Jesus because of the Church needs to be aware of two things. First, Jesus is perfect regardless of how well the Church represents Him. And two, just because Jesus has not yet “perfected” the Church, or those who make up the Church, doesn’t mean that He is not able to do so, or that He won’t. The Church is a work in progress. Continue reading →
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
– Acts 2:41–47
And from that day, His followers went out into the world sharing God’s truth, and love, and forgiveness with others. By His Spirit, they did the works that Jesus did when He walked among them: healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, and reconciling people to God. And their number increased daily.
– The HOPE, Chapter 12
OBSERVE & CONSIDER
On the day the Holy Spirit filled the followers of Jesus, something extraordinary was born. What is known to most people as the Church, the Bible calls a mystery. In Ephesians 3:9–10, Paul writes of “the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
The Bible uses several metaphors to describe the relationship between Jesus and His Church. Some of these include:
The Church is a living temple and Jesus is its chief Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-8).
Each of these metaphors is rich with descriptive imagery, but perhaps none more so than the one we find in 1 Corinthians 12. This scripture describes the Church as the body of Christ Jesus, with Him being the head (as we read in Ephesians 5:23). At this present time, we know that Jesus is with the Father in heaven. He is preparing a place for those who believe in Him (John 14:2) and He is praying for them (Romans 8:34). His presence on earth is now manifested by the Holy Spirit through His body, the Church. In this sense, the members of the Church are His arms, hands, feet, eyes, and lips in the world. As the Head of His body, Jesus is directing the activity of the Church on earth through the Holy Spirit.
As we compare the metaphor of a physical body to the relationship between Jesus and His Church, consider these two truths:
All the parts of a body are necessary to form a complete functioning unit. If any member of the body is weak or missing, the entire body suffers.
It is only in the context of a functioning body that each member discovers his or her identity. Just as a finger cannot fulfill its function apart from the hand, so a follower of Jesus will never know (walk in) his or her identity in Jesus apart from a right relationship with the Body of Jesus.