Journey Into God’s Word #5

Journey Into God’s Word #5

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

During the past few weeks, we have gone from creation to re-creation in our Bible reading. In this week’s study of Genesis we have seen this re-creation process at work in Judah, who went from one who remained silent when Joseph was sold into slavery to one who was willing to be a slave in order that his brother Benjamin might go free (Gen. 44:18-34). This re-creation took place in Joseph where he went from being a spoiled kid into a man of God who saved his nation. In Jacob’s life, we see a man who went from being a self-centered deceiver to one who recognized that God was the shepherd of his life (Gen. 48:15). I encourage you to study the lives of each one of these individuals, noticing what events brought them to the “end of themselves” to the extent that they had to turn to God.

Jesus says in John 12:23-25*, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” In Matthew 22-28, we see Jesus giving His life as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. He was resurrected from the dead, in order that we may experience life both now and for all eternity. In order to experience this life, what does Jesus say we must do in Matthew 22:37, 38? How does this relate to Matthew 25:31-46?

“Then He will turn to the goats, the ones on His left and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because – I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, sick and in prison, and you never visited.’ Then those goats are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty, or homeless or shivering, or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’ He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth. Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was overlooked or ignored, that was me – you failed to do it to me.’” (Message Bible) How are we to see Jesus in each poor and homeless person? Acts of compassion are not humanistic efforts but result from dying to ourselves and being resurrected into Christ Jesus. Paul expresses it this way in Gal. 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” The initial sacrifice, before any other sacrifice on our part can take place, is described in Psalm 51:16, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Call it repentance, brokeness or whatever, but before you can really do that which God is calling you to do, you must first be so broken over what you are that you cry out in desperation for what He is. 2 Cor. 10:5 says, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

I know from personal experience that as I bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” I can experience a peace that passes all understanding. The challenge is doing this every moment of every day with the self-demanding it’s own way. That is why I must always remember, “The world’s a huge stockpile of God- wonders and God-thoughts.” (Ps. 40:5, Message Bible) Realizing this, how does Psalm 42 illustrate our deep desire to get to know God better and better? “God is a safe
place to hide, ready to help when we need him.” (Ps. 46:1, Message Bible) That is why I must consistently bring myself to “trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” (Ps. 53:8) Now is the time to obey when it says “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let He righteous fall.” (Ps. 55:22) “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Ps. 56:3,4)

When Joseph and Jesus experienced injustice, what steps did they take to see the fulfillment of Psalm 58:6, 7 where it says, “Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; tear out, O Lord, the fangs of the lions! Let them vanish like water that flows away; when they draw the bow, let their arrows be blunted?” Describe the resurrection that Joseph and Jesus experienced. What impact should that have on our lives today? “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:3,4)

I have found that in the midst of overwhelming odds I must not lose hope. I need to know in the depths of my very being that even though the dark nights of injustice surround me, the bright dawn of deliverance will soon arrive. Archbishop Oscar Romeo declared prior to his death by an assassin’s bullet, “Don’t be led astray either by the allure of power and money or by following false ideologies. True hope is not found there either. True hope is not found in a revolution of violence and bloodshed, and hope is not found in money and power – neither on the left nor on the right. The hope that we must account for and that makes us speak with valor is found in Christ, who reigns even after death, even after murderous death. And with him reign all who have preached his justice his love, his hope, his peace.”

As we study the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, may it impact our lives as it did Oscar Romeo’s who an another occasion declared, “To each one of us Christ is saying: If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I. Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried. Let yourself be killed. Those who shun suffering will remain alone. No one is more alone than the selfish. But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all, you will reap a great harvest. You will have the deepest satisfactions. Do not fear death or threats; the Lord goes with you.”

Pilate’s question in Matt. 27:22 is one that each of us must ask ourselves, “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” We can follow Him from a distance like Peter did in Matt. 26 and end up denying him, or betray Him as a result of our lusts for power and money as Judas did. Another way of dealing with Jesus is to crucify Him as the crowds demanded in Matthew 27:22, 23 by doing our own thing or wash our hands to Him, declaring self righteously, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” as Pilate proclaimed in Matt. 27:24. That’s how most people deal with Jesus Christ in one way or another. The crowds may have mocked Him, but it was our sins that crucified Him. As He died, the curtain of the temple (representing the OT covenant of the law) “was torn in two. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.” (Matt. 27:51) As we read this, does anything beyond a stirring of the emotions take place? I know the time has come for me to ask myself, how does the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ make a difference in my life? For Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. it meant, “the cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community. The resurrection is a symbol of God’s triumph over all the forces that seek to block community.”

The brokenness of our community can be found in the face of each hurting, homeless and hungry person around us. It can be found in the loneliness of the jail cell, the nursing home and the hospital bed. This brokenness is all around us. Dr. King further stated, “We have lived under the agony and darkness of Good Friday with the conviction that one day the heightened glow of Easter would emerge on the horizon.”

Those who crucified Jesus said he was an extremist. Believers today, who have died to themselves and have been resurrected unto Christ Jesus, to the extent that what touches His heart also touches theirs, are also called extremists. Lillian Smith, in her speech on the first anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycotts, declared, “for all America to see that in times of crisis, only the extremist can meet the challenge. The question in crisis is not: Are you going to be an extremist? The question is: What kind of extremist are you going to be? The time has come when it is dangerous not to risk. We must take risks in order to save our integrity, our moral nature, our lives and our country.”

This year as a community of brothers and sisters, we have taken risks. We have taken the prosperity preachers off our stations, knowing it may create financial problems for us. We have stood up to those who fight the integration of downtown St. Louis with shelter for the homeless. We have had, and continue to have, battles on many fronts, but the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ pulses within us until Paul’s proclamation in Philippians 3:7-11 becomes our proclamation. Please read this and apply it to your personal life.

“The angel spoke to the women: ‘There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He is risen, just as He said. Come and look at the place where He was placed. Now get on your way quickly, and tell His disciples He is risen from the dead.”’ (The Message Bible) Where do you find this in Matthew 28? Who have you told recently that Christ is Risen? What great commission does He give us at the end of Matthew 28?

Please join me this week in reading Acts 1-7 and witness how the reality of the resurrection transformed lives. Study Exodus 1-15 and see that when Moses came face-to-face with God, he could not remain indifferent to the suffering and oppression of others. Meditate on Psalms 59-72 and discover daily strength as you move forth as God’s instrument of healing and deliverance under the power of the Holy Spirit.

As you reach out through the love of Christ, I know there will be those moments when you may feel overwhelmed and alone. Please remember, after Jesus gave us the great commission in Matt. 28:18-20, He declared, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Never forget that you are not alone. Christ is Risen and He loves you.

How I thank God for the privilege of being able to serve Christ with such dedicated individuals as yourself. Please be assured of my prayers and don’t forget to keep Penny, me, and the rest of the NLEC staff, in your daily prayers.

Yours in Christ Service,
Larry Rice

Journey Into God’s Word #4

Journey Into God’s Word #4

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Why is it so hard to let go and let God? This past week as I read the Scriptures and tried to live in the light of them, it seemed that a battle raged every step of the way. Paul described it this way in Romans 7:22, 23, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”

Our reading this past week from Genesis 24-38 showed me how I am not alone in my struggle. There is Jacob who deceived and was deceived. In his case, he got into an outright wrestling match with God. (Genesis 32:22-31) Then there is Peter, who one minute declares to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” (Matthew 16:16) and the next minute “sticks his foot in his mouth,” responding after Jesus told him that He would have to die and experience the resurrection, “Never, Lord. This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22) Jesus then has to rebuke Peter, whom earlier He had commended, by declaring “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Paul declares that the answer in this struggle is “Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:25) Now the question is: how do we fully surrender our lives to Jesus? It isn’t long after we think we have done this that the pride, greed and self-centeredness seem to be right back there looking us right in the face. Some have just thrown up their hands in the middle of this struggle and walked off. Yet even as they walked, they found no peace. I truly believe God wants you and me not to walk away from it all, but to remain steadfast, immovable, abounding in His Word and in the peace that comes from abiding in the knowledge of His presence and love. So in the midst of the trials and tribulations, I find myself crying out, along with the Psalmist in Psalms 38:21, 22, “O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior.”

This past week as I struggled over personal issues, the battle raged within. Would God perform the miracle that is so heavy on my heart at this time? I know I must believe and hang on to the promises in God’s Word. I know I must not only read it but also let it go deep into me. Psalms 25 promises in verse 3: “No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame.” Then there is the direction in verse 5, “guide me in Your truth and teach me for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long.”

When doubt strikes, I am left with the choice to either give into that doubt and respond in the flesh or return prayerfully to the Word, seeking God’s direction as to how to respond under His leading. “The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom I shall fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) The answers are in God’s word — See it for yourself by checking out the following: Psalm 27:14, Psalm 31:1,4,5, Psalm 31:24, Psalm 32:7, Psalm 33:4,5,11,18, Psalm 35:10; Psalm 36:8, and then read all of Psalm 37 letting God speak to you through His word to the problems you are facing.

Unless we are living in the light of God’s word and the knowledge of His loving presence, we will slip into the restlessness of self-effort outside of Christ. Call it an anti- Christ 666 existence that never moves into the rest of 7 which represents the 7th day when God rested. Now He invites us to abide in that rest, that peace that he provides as we surrender unto Him. II Peter 1:2-4 explains it this way, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us by His own glory and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

Contrast this divine nature with that which Jesus says naturally comes out of the heart in Matthew 15:19. How does Eliezar seek God for direction in finding a wife for Isaac in Genesis 24? When Eliezar arrives with Isaac’s wife, what is Isaac doing in verse 63? When Isaac has a problem in Genesis 25:21, what does he do? What does his wife Rebekah do when she has a question? (Verse 22)

One of the hardest things for me to do when I see a need is to be still and wait. Psalms 37:5-7 commands, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him;” Ok, I am waiting now, what does Matthew 16:24-27 tell me concerning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and what really matters in life? Why is “mountain-moving faith” important in achieving these goals of “denying ourselves and taking up the cross?” (Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, 22) Where are the three times that Jesus speaks of dying and rising from the dead between Matthew 11-17? How does Jesus explain to his disciples in Matthew 18:1-4 the difference between childish and child-like? What steps for conflict resolution does Jesus give us in Matthew 18:15-17?

Prayer has been described as God’s power working through us. What does Matthew 18:18, 19 have to say about the power of the prayer of agreement?

The Bible has answers to the problems presently being debated in society. What does Jesus say about marriage in Matthew 19:4-6? What do you think this has to say about gay marriages? Does Jesus indicate there’s any place for them? What does Jesus say about divorce? Why did Jesus say in verse 12 that some may not marry?

What does Jesus tell the rich young man in Matthew 19:21? How did Jesus say in Matthew 20 verses 26-28 that true greatness is achieved? Why did Jesus drive the moneychangers out of the temple in Matthew 21:12, 13?

The Bible has answers to our questions in life. It tells those who have put first the Kingdom of God in Matthew 21:22 that, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” This is not a magical formula, but a statement of the power of God that releases itself through prayer for those who will believe. In Genesis 24-38 we see this power of God at work in His people. Those like Esau who allowed the immediate gratification of the flesh to prevail had a price to pay. In Esau’s case, what was this price? Others like Jacob saw how their sins of the past could come back to haunt them. How was Jacob deceived by his uncle after Jacob had fled his home, following his deception of his father to get his brother’s birthright? Contrast the morality of Joseph in Genesis 37 to that of his brother Judah in Genesis 38.

One of the things that cause us to be defeated is our negative thinking and negative speaking. Psalms 34:13 says, “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.” That means not to be negative toward yourself or anybody else. Psalms 34:14 says, “Depart from evil.” That includes saying evil words and believing evil thoughts about yourself as well as anyone else. Verse 14 goes on and says “and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”

The words and names given to children can directly affect how they see themselves throughout their whole life. That is why we see Jacob changing his youngest son’s name in Genesis 35. “’They left Bethel. They were still quite a ways from Ephrath when Rachel went into labor-hard, hard labor. When her labor pains were at their worst, the midwife said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid-you have another boy.’ With her last breath, for she was now dying, she named him Ben-oni (son-of-my-pain), but his father named him Ben-jamin (son-of-good-fortune).’” (Message Bible) Maybe when you were growing up you were made to feel by your parents, teachers and others to be a son or daughter of pain. If that is the case, then believe the fact that Jesus has come and changed your name to son or daughter of good fortune. Where does he declare, in Matthew 21, that this transformation happens as you put your faith in God? When you do this, regardless of the circumstances you are transformed from victim (son-of-my- pain) to victor (son-of-good-fortune). Jesus says in Matthew 21:20-22, “Yes-and if you embrace this Kingdom life and don’t doubt God, you’ll not only do minor feats like I did to the fig tree, but also triumph over huge obstacles. This mountain, for instance, you’ll tell, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it will jump. Absolutely everything ranging from small to large, as you make it a part of your believing prayer, gets included as you lay hold of God.’” (Message Bible) To believe, in the Greek New Testament, means to adhere to, cling to, and trust in God totally. It involves child-like trust. How does Jesus describe that in Matthew 18?

Along with faith comes the desire to do God’s will, rather than doing just what we want to do. This often involves self-sacrifice. In Matthew Jesus says, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?’” (Message Bible) What verses in Matthew 16 do you find the above in? As we trust Jesus and are willing to lose ourselves in His behalf we are free to overcome justices and reach out in love to those who are in need.

Joseph is sold into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. Jesus is betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. This week as you read Genesis 39-50 and Matt 22-28 note how Joseph and Jesus dealt with the injustices they encountered. Note how they didn’t apathetically resign themselves to their circumstances with a lot of God-language but at the same time they didn’t fight their battles “in the flesh”.

How did they overcome their adversities? Also, as you read Psalms 39-58, notice how the Psalmist encounters and overcomes the problems he faces in his daily living?

Yes brothers and sisters, I do believe we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus who strengthens us daily. This victorious living involves letting Jesus be Lord not only in word, but also indeed, in every area of our lives. It means surrendering our lives to His will and living in the light of His word.

Christ is Risen. May we now let the reality of that resurrection live in us and through us each and every day.

Yours in Christ,
Larry Rice

Journey Into God’s Word #3

Journey Into God’s Word #3

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This is my third letter to you! In this one I want to remind you that true faith results in obedience. It is not an empty shallow response resulting in a simple verbal acknowledgement. James 2:19 says, “even the demons believe and tremble.” Many who claim to believe have a faith that is even less than demonic faith. At least the demons have enough faith that they tremble because they know what a might y God governs the universe. Some believe they are saved because they have verbalized a proclamation of faith. Yet a study of the scriptures reveals that much more is involved.

From our reading of Genesis 1-23, Psalms 1-23, and Matthew 1-14, we see that saving faith results in obedience to the living God. Noah heard the word of the Lord and he obeyed. In Genesis 6:22 and Genesis 7:5 we read, “And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.” Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” True faith results in obedience to the directions of the Living God. Noah in obedience built an ark and he and his family were saved. Abram in obedience left his native country and moved under God’s direction into a new area. God promises Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation only to have Abraham put his only son on the altar (Gen. 22). Why do you think He did this? In Isaac’s case a ram in the thicket became his substitute sacrifice; how can the ram be compared to what Jesus did for all of us?

How did Lot’s greedy desire for the best of everything lead him into captivity and the ultimate loss of everything he owned, including his wife? Some of those caught in the cult of prosperity theology use Abraham as an example of how faith always leads to riches. Cite the example when Abraham was willing to take the worst land so that he would not have to camp near Sodom. How does Jesus respond to the devil in Matthew 4:8 when Satan says, “All this I will give you, if you bow down and worship me?”

Jesus begins his ministry by declaring in Matthew 4:6, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Why is repentance necessary in order for salvation to take place? After Jesus drove the demons out of the man into a herd of pigs in Matthew 8:25-34, we see the people in that town asking Jesus to leave their region. Why do you feel some people value possessions more than the human life that Jesus delivered? In Matthew 9:22 we see Jesus telling the woman who has been healed as a result of touching His cloak, “your faith has healed you” and in Matthew 9:29 Jesus says to the blind man, “According to your faith it will be done to you.” What do you think faith is? In light of Hebrews 11:35-39 does faith always produce wealth and worldly success? If not, then what does it do?

It is fact God cares deeply about the needs of the poor. In Psalms 12:5 we read, “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise, says the Lord.” Read Genesis 21:15-19 and explain how it describes God’s compassion for those in need. God promises in Psalms 19:18, “But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.” Jesus declares in Matthew 11:28, “come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus knows; He cares and has experienced the hardship of life. He states in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”” Now He tells us to trust in Him, remembering that those, “who stand firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22) This means we must do more than just follow Jesus like those who hung around as he traveled. We must dedicate ourselves totally to Him. In Matthew 10:38, 39 he says, “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

You may be asking, but what about those doubts I find myself struggling with? In Genesis 17:22-27 we see that in spite of his doubts Abraham followed God’s command. As Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” In Psalms 19 we see that God reveals Himself in two ways. In verses 1-6 we see God reveals Himself through His creation. In verses 7-11 we see God’s revelation in His Word. The Bible reveals to us Jesus Christ the One who is the way, the truth and the life, (John 14:6). How do you see Christ, His life, death and resurrection spoken of in the following Psalms? Psalm 2:7, 16:8-10, 22:1-21, 22:15, 22:18, 22:22.

We see that God reveals Himself through the wonders of creation, and through His Word which introduces us to the one Mary was to call Jesus, “because He will save His people from their sins.” Realizing this, why do you believe it is so important that we share the scriptures with those who are only relying on the wonders of creation to know God?

Sin involves rebelliousness against God’s purpose and will for our lives. In Genesis 11:3-4 we see the people wanting to build a tower that will reach the sky and make them famous. People today are still making the same mistake of building “towers” to honor themselves. These towers may be big houses, a big name, a big bank account or anything that takes first place in their lives other than God. Abraham chose to make God number one in his life. As a result, God made three promises to Abraham, which included the Land of Canaan, many descendants and a promise to bless Abraham and make him a blessing to the world. Please contrast the results of those who built the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:8, 9) and Abraham’s life of obedience to God.

To live a life of faith is to move into the unknown. It involves surrendering that which is closest to us, as Abraham did in Genesis 22 as he placed Isaac on the alter. A life of faith is resting in the knowledge that God is Love and He has everything under control. “I trust your love; and I feel like celebrating because you rescued me. You have been good to me, Lord, and I will sing about you.” (Psalm 13:5,6)

The tensions I often experience as I try to live a life of faith are expressed in Psalm 22. When I don’t see answers to my prayers right away, I feel like crying out, “My God, my God, why have you deserted me? Why are you so far away? Won’t you listen to my groans and come to my rescue? I cry out day and night, but you don’t answer, and I can never rest.” (Psalm 22:1, 2) For over ten weeks now, I have been praying about something close to my heart that I have not seen answered. Yet I know that faith is the evidence of that not seen. Therefore I can keep on going knowing that, “The Lord doesn’t hate or despise the helpless in all of their troubles. When I cried out, he listened and did not turn away.” (Psalm 22:24) Now I must be patient remaining steadfast in the work of the Lord as I await His answer. But, it seems so hard to wait. To halt particularly when I am hungry for change, angry, lonely, or tired seems almost impossible at times. Yet, how essential it is that we stop in the moment of need and consider our own inadequacy, in the midst of the Lord’s all-sufficiency and find our hope in Him. (Psalms 33:20-22) When we don’t wait for God by trusting Him we forfeit the blessing of His divine provisions.

Prayer is the essential activity of waiting for God. It is the acknowledgement of our helplessness and the need for His powerful divine intervention. Prayer is the antidote for the disease of self-confidence and self-control which opposes God receiving the glory for His miraculous provisions.

In Matthew 7:7, 8, Jesus tells us, “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who searches will find. And the door will be opened for everyone who knocks.” What does this verse mean to you? Please also read verses 9, 10, and 11 and explain what you believe Jesus is trying to tell you at this time.

Faith is absolutely essential when it comes to powerful praying. As Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would. ‘And his servant was healed at that very hour.’” (Matthew 8:13) Yet when the storms of life arise I know its easy to react as the disciples did when they went and woke Jesus as He slept in the boat declaring, “’Lord save us! We’re going to drown!’ Jesus, “replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” (Matthew 8:25, 26) Jesus says, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) If Jesus says this, then why do you think we worry so much? “’Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ He said, ‘your faith has healed you. ’ And the woman was healed from that moment!” (Matthew 9:22) “Then He touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith will it be done to you,’ and their sight was restored!” (Matthew 9:29) Faith calls for absolute obedience. Such obedience can result in even members of our own family opposing us. What does Matthew 10:32-39 have to say about this?

In the midst of rejection by not only the world but even those from our families Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 1:28) How does Matthew 12:18-21 describe the ministry of Jesus? What a joy it is to know that as I come to him like a bruised reed carrying a heavy burden I am told in verse 20, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Jesus is our burden carrier.

Please look at the parables in Matthew 13, which describe the Kingdom of God. After reading them please put into your own words what you think the Kingdom of God is.

Jesus gets word that his cousin and close friend John the Baptist has been killed. He tries to get alone but a big crowd follows Him. Even though Jesus is grieving what does He do in Matthew 14:15-21? After this happens we read, “immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:22, 23) What happens next? What did the disciples do when they saw Jesus walking on the lake in verse 26? Look at what Jesus said. It is the same words He is saying to you and me every time we start to panic. “’Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” Peter responds by getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the water. Everything is all right as long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus. “But when he saw the wave, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord save me!’” (Matthew 14:30) What does this tell you about where we need to focus our eyes and mind when we are walking on the “waters” of life by faith? As Peter cried out “Lord save me,” we read immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. “’You of little faith.’ He said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31)

Let us now continue to journey throughout the Bible by reading this next week. Genesis 24-38, Psalms 24-38, and Matthew 15-21. My prayer is that God will continue to guide you and direct you as you faithfully read His Word. May the Holy Spirit grant to you wisdom as you read to recognize God’s special calling on your life.

Yours in Christ,
Larry Rice

Journey Into God’s Word #2

Journey Into God’s Word #2

Dear Co-workers in the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ,

When everything seems like a mess and the situation appears hopeless, what a joy it is to read Genesis 1:2, 3. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light’ “(NIV). What an assurance it is to me to know that this same Holy Spirit can come and hover over the dark, hopeless situations in my life and create order and along with the Word of God, light, in the midst of the mess. As I feel overwhelmed with assaults from every side, I am strengthened in declarations such as that found in Psalms 3:3, 4 from the Message Bible. “But you, God, shield me on all sides; you ground my feet, you lift my head high; with all my might I shout up to God, His answers thunder from the holy mountain.” As I read the word of God I am assured I do not need to worry. “But seek first His (God’s) kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33, 34 NIV) What a joy it is to know that God has everything under control and He will provide the necessary miracles to provide for that which is necessary in my life.

As we journey into God’s Word we see His great desire to express His love through the wonders of that which He has created. 1 John 4:16 declares, “God is Love.” Since God is Love, He desires to express that Love. In Genesis 1, we see this expression of love through all that God has created. In order to appreciate this expression of love revealed through creation, we must ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to see not just animals, birds, people and the rest of created life as a group, but also recognize the wisdom and beauty in each created form of life. Adam saw this and as a result under God’s direction named each of the creatures. (Genesis 2:20) Reflect on the example of the wonders of creation found in Genesis 1:20, where it says, “And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.'” Looking at just one of the living creatures in the water, the dolphin, shows a fish that has a brain that instantaneously calculates the nature of the surrounding environment from the reverberations from the ultrasounds produced by a specialized organ in the front of its skull (200,000 vibrations per second). Or notice for a moment a flock of geese and their V-shape formation as they fly through the sky. The leader, the strongest bird, uses his strength to shield the birds following from opposing air currents, enabling the entire flock to gain an improved efficiency and speed of up to 23%. Volumes could be written on the very subject of examining the miraculous in each particular species. Humanity, which Genesis 1:27 speaks of being created in the image of God, has the ability to also create and reflect on the purpose and meaning for life. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” What does this mean to you? How does it relate to the fact that we are to reflect the glory of God? ‘” God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”‘ (Genesis 1:28) Mankind was ordered to rule as God ruled with love and caring attention. Truly we are ordered to be earth keepers not earth breakers.

In Genesis 1, we witness a precise order of creation establishing time. There we see God creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh. Genesis 2 emphasizes the aspect of place, which is the Garden of Eden. Here we see, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:6) Animals and Eve are also created. Genesis 2 does not give us the precise order of creation that we find in Genesis 1. Instead we see as mentioned earlier the emphasis on place or space given. This brings out the fact that like Adam and Eve you and I have been placed in this particular time and space in order that we may seek God as Acts 17:26, 27, 28 explains. Please read these verses and in your own words write what you believe they express for your life in the here and now.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord god commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:15, 16) In Genesis 3 we witness Satan coming in the form of a serpent and tempting Eve (the woman) using the same tactics he uses today by saying “‘did God really say … ?'” Questioning if God really means what He says is one of Satan’s tricks that he continues to use today to get people to disobey the word of God. Eve eats of the fruit and then gives some to Adam. Please read Genesis 3:8-13 and explain the blame game that follows? Why is it so much easier to blame someone else when you do wrong than confessing that wrong and asking God for forgiveness? What were the results of the sin that took place in the Garden of Eden according to Genesis 3:14-24?

The results of disobeying God were not only limited to Adam and Eve, but directly affected all of creation. Sin brought pain and death. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19) That is the message of hope that we will discover as we study the book of Matthew.

As the creation of the universe reveals the power of God, the creation of Adam and Eve reveals the compassion and love of God. A love which motivated Him to perform the greatest miracle of all, after sin invaded His wonderful creation. This greatest miracle is when God became flesh through the Holy Spirit conceiving Jesus in the womb of Mary. Jesus, who was fully God and man is called in Matthew 1:23, “Immanuel… ‘God with us.”‘ C. S. Lewis writes, “In the Christmas story, God descends to re-ascend. He comes down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb of ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created.” This miracle resulting in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ made possible the recreation of an initial creation that sin had infected. Jesus invaded Satan’s territory and Satan tried to kill Jesus. (Matthew 2:16, 17) How does Jesus escape? (Matthew 2:14, 15) How does John the Baptist describe Jesus in Matthew 3:11, 12?

In Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus who was also tempted by Satan, shows us how to victoriously overcome temptations. ‘”Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written. ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”‘ (Matthew 4:1-3). Satan tries to get Jesus to question who He is by using the word if. Then he goes on and tells Jesus, you don’t have to be hungry you have got options. These options or alternatives seem to increase the more we turn away from trusting God. The lie of the devil is that these options will bring us what we need. The fact is they won’t because every idol is an impostor. If we are going to be victorious we must believe and declare to the devil that God is in control. He is the one we will put our trust in not the devil’s alternatives. Jesus made this declaration by stating, ‘”It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”‘ (Matthew 4:4)

“Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”‘ (Matthew 4:5, 6) Again Satan uses the word if and tries to move Jesus from the realm of faith into the world of presumption. “Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test”‘ (Matthew 4:7 NIV)

“For the third test, the devil took Him on the peak of a high mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, ‘They’re yours -lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.’ Jesus’ refusal was curt. ‘Beat it
Satan!’ He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and only Him. Serve Him with absolute single-heartedness.'” (Matthew 4:8-10 Message Bible) What have you learned from Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11 as to how to resist the devil?

What advantages does Psalm 1 point out results from not sinning? Sin is standing “against the Lord” as Psalms 2:2 declares. Sin is rebelling against the Living God. How do you think sin keeps one from experiencing the miraculous as it is defined earlier? What miracle conquers the power of sin? See Psalm 3:3,4 in the light of Romans 6:23: Why is it important for those who meet Jesus to “return a different way” like the wise men did by living a different life in contrast to their previous sinful life? John the Baptist says in Matthew 3:1 “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” and in Matthew 3:8, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” What do you think John the Baptist meant when he said in Matthew 3:11, He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire?” Matthew 4:17 declares, ”’From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,”‘ To repent means to turn around to march to God’s “drumbeat” rather than that of the world’s. How does Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, 7 turn this world’s practical philosophies upside down with His revolutionary teachings? For example in what is commonly referred to as the beatitudes we see Jesus declaring, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) This sharply clashes with the world’s values of pride and personal independence. Then in Matthew 5:4 Jesus states, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” What a contrast this is to the world’s philosophy of happiness at any cost. In Matthew 5:5 Jesus declares, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” How different this is to the world’s attitude of happiness at any cost. Please examine the rest of what Jesus says and contrast it with the world’s philosophy for living. Why is it impossible to accept and apply the teachings of Jesus without faith?

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”‘ (Matthew 5:13 Message Bible) What do you think Jesus is saying in this verse? “You know the next commandment pretty well, tool don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices, they are also corrupt.”‘ (Matthew 5:27, 28 The Message Bible) Please read the next 2 verses and state what extreme action Jesus mentions should be taken before lust takes over and casts one into hell. In what way does Jesus say we should help the needy in Matthew 6:2-4? What does He say about money in Matthew 6:19-24 and worry in Matthew 6:25-34? In Matthew 7:1-6 what does Jesus say about judging others? Please describe His teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15 and Matthew 7:7-12. Jesus makes it perfectly clear that knowing what to do is not enough. Obedience involving acting on the knowledge is absolutely essential. “‘Knowing that correct password-saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance -isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience-doing what my Father wills. I can see it now-at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, “Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects have everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use Me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.”‘ (Matthew 7:21-23, The Message Bible)

Cain had such a message directed at him. His offering wasn’t accepted. He ignored God’s warning, when “the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it!” (Genesis 4:6, 7) How did Cain respond to this warning? What can you learn from Cain’s mistake?

‘”God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil – evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that He had made the human race in the first place; it broke His heart. God said, ‘I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds­ the works. I’m sorry I made them.’ But Noah was different God liked what He saw in Noah.”‘ (Genesis 6:11-13) What did God do through Noah as described in Genesis 6:13- Genesis 8:20? Please explain the covenant God made with Noah in Genesis 9:1-17?

When we feel totally overwhelmed we must also call out upon the Lord as the Psalmist does in Psalm 4:1 “Answer me when I call to you, 0 my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. “In the Psalms we see that prayer is the language of desire. Jesus prayed like the Psalmists with passion. In Hebrews 5:7 (NLT) we read, “While Jesus was here on earth, He offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could deliver Him.”‘ Please read Psalms 5-10 and note the earnest prayers that are shared there. Psalm 7:1, 2 gives us an example of such a prayer. “0 Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” The Psalms have been the prayer book for thousands of Christians for many generations. Your personal prayer life will be deeply enriched as you utilize these prayers in your daily living.

Now let us continue our journey through the bible by reading this week Genesis 11- Genesis 23, Psalms 11- Psalms 23, and Matthew 8- Matthew 14. Continue to observe the miracles of God in both the created order and in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in the lives of those in the scriptures and in your own life.

Yours in Christ,
Larry Rice

Journey Into God’s Word

Journey Into God’s Word

Dear Brother and Sister,

You are about to begin one of the most exciting journeys of your life. I call it exciting because if you faithfully continue this journey of reading through God’s Word, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, you will be discovering treasures you have never before experienced.

As we begin our reading in the Book of Genesis we discover a Master Artist at work. This Master Artist is God. It is God who is the foundation of life. He is the subject of life. As we journey into His Word we see that unless He is the
center of life, the center of our life, everything will be out of balance. As we study the Bible we see that this being out of balance, is rebelliousness against God and His purpose for life, and is called sin. Sin destroys all that it touches including God’s creation. Yet in the middle of such destruction God provides hope through the restoration provided by His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we make our journey we will actually start from three different points and read forward from these positions at the same pace. The first starting point is Genesis. As indicated earlier Genesis shows us how God is the source of all life. God speaks and life is created. Now as we study the written Word of God let us believe His life will bring forth faith in our lives in a new and powerful way. Genesis makes it clear that you have been created in the image of God (Gen.1:27). Being created in God’s image means we are reflecting God’s nature. Reflecting this nature of God causes us to seek our satisfaction in God the Giver of life.

The second place we will start our journey from is the Psalms. In the Psalms we see the passionate prayers of those who desire to find their satisfaction in God. As we study the Word of God my prayer is that your desire for Him will grow like never before. When your desire grows and you draw closer to God you will see that even though life at times can seem unfair, the fact is God is faithful. This is a
message that appears over and over in the Psalms.

The third place we begin our journey is in the New Testament from Matthew. In the Book of Matthew we discover the antidote to the sin that we saw tainted creation in the Book of Genesis. This cure for our fallen world is Jesus. Matthew shows us how this heavenly King can revolutionize our world and enable us to participate in the Kingdom of God both now and for all eternity. This participation provides us a satisfaction that nothing in this world can offer.

To help you get just a taste of what a journey into God’s Word can provide, let us spend some time in exploring this satisfaction that comes from being in fellowship with the Creator of the universe. This is possible through the life that Jesus provides (John 10:10).

In the Psalms we are told to “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps.37:4) NIV. This Scripture points out if you get the desires of your heart before you delight in the Lord these desires can easily become idols.

Delighting in the Lord involves experiencing a satisfaction in Him you can find in no one or anything else. As we journey into God’s Word we discover that being satisfied with the fact that God has everything under control frees us from anxiety and fears. Now continue the journey and you will discover passages like
I Peter 5:7(NIV) which says, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for
you”. As I read the Scriptures and apply what I read, I discover I can remain satisfied in the power of the Almighty God who is Love. As this happens, I know I do not need to live in fear of the future, for His grace is all sufficient. In passages such as Isaiah 41:20, He declares, “Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand”.

Our battles are not with other people but are within us as to where we will find satisfaction. That is why Paul prayed in Eph.3:16-19(NIV) that each of us would be strengthened in our inner man to the extent we would find complete satisfaction in God and His love. “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”. Wow! Now that is satisfaction, and we are told how to get satisfaction, by reading the Bible.

This satisfaction comes from abiding in God’s love and grace “the fullness
of God” each and everyday. As we do this our work for the Lord becomes worship to the Lord as we discover joy and satisfaction in all we do for Him.

Journeying through God’s Word teaches us how to handle problems. Did you know that even Jesus was troubled? In John 12:27 we hear Him Saying, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, “Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour”. In other words, the distressing, troubling temptation for Jesus was to despair and give up not carrying out His mission. The flaming darts were thoughts like “it’s not worth it or it won’t work or just give up”.

John 12:27 and John 13:21 say Jesus was troubled but He did not give up. He found satisfaction in the Father and told His disciples in John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me”. Jesus was warning the disciples against giving in to despondency and depression and letting it fester and spread – so He says fight back: believe God, believe also in Me. The first shock waves of depression are temptations not sin, but Jesus knew how quickly
they could become sin if allowed to grow unopposed. When you read Matt.26:36-
39 concerning the agony in Gethsemane, you see how Jesus fought off the depression of unbelief and found satisfaction in God the Father. Look at the following five steps to victory we can find in the Scripture selection.

1st You see He chose some close friends to be with Him in verse 37 we read
“He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee”.
2nd Jesus opened His soul to them and said in verse 38 “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death”.
3rd As we study this scripture we see Jesus asked for their involvement in the battle to intercede through prayer and be watchful in verse 39, He is requesting “Remain here and keep watch with Me”.
4th Jesus poured out His heart to His Father in prayer “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me”(verse 39).
5th He finds satisfaction in the will of the Father by resting in it and
knowing God is in control. The rest of verse 39 shows Jesus declaring, “Yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt. Then we read in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus looked to the grace that existed beyond the cross, “For the joy set before
Him (He) endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

Only as we read God’s Word and apply it to our personal lives will we discover the victory that can be ours. This is the journey that we are about to begin together. This week let us read Genesis 1-10, Psalms 1-10, and Mathew 1-7.

Before I conclude this first lesson into the Journey of God’s Word let me share with you from the first 16 verses of Psalm 119. Please read these verses carefully, as they are taken from the Message Bible, and then state in your own words why you believe this journey is so important for you at this time. “You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You blessed when you follow His directions, doing your best to find Him. That’s right—you don’t go off on your own; you walk straight along the road He set. Your God, prescribed the right way to live; now your expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I’d never have any regrets in comparing
my life with your counsel. I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;
I learn the pattern of your righteous ways. I’m going to do what you tell me to do; don’t ever walk off and leave me. How can a young person live a clean life? By carefully reading the map of your Word. I’m single-minded in pursuit of you; don’t let me miss the road sign you’ve posted. I’ve
banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself Bankrupt. Be blessed, God; train me in Your ways of wise living. I’ll transfer to my lips all the counsel that comes from your mouth; I delight far more in what you tell me about living than in gathering a pile of riches. I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you, I attentively watch how you’ve done it. I relish everything you’ve told me of life, I won’t forget a word of it.”

How wonderful the Word of God is and what a privilege it is to journey into it under the leading and anointing of the Holy Spirit. I pray a special blessing will come upon you as we now begin this journey together into the wonderful Living Word of God.

Yours in Christ Service,
Larry Rice