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Once Upon a Time…

When we hear the words “once upon a time,” we know that what’s coming next is an introduction. Generally, an introduction that includes the concept of beauty, calm, order, or peace – or maybe all of the above! Whether it’s the character(s) we encounter, or how the setting is described – or perhaps both – “once upon a time” usually precedes a depiction of something good and beautiful and right. Something that is as it should be. We all know from experience with fairy tales that the depiction of the kingdom as a place of goodness and beauty doesn’t endure much beyond the introduction. In most cases, a problem or conflict is described pretty quickly thereafter. But that’s jumping ahead a bit.

This past week, we looked at the “once upon a time” of scripture’s story in Genesis 1 and 2, which shows us the goodness of God both in and toward his creation. In Genesis 1 we see God creating all things by speaking them into existence. Using the repeated pattern “And God said…, And it was so,” Genesis 1 introduces us not merely to a king, but to the High King of the Universe. We are not told that he is the king; we are shown in the depiction of sovereign decree. A king speaks, and his words become law. God speaks, and light exists. Matter is created, set in order, gathered and separated to form heaven and earth, land and sea. God speaks and vegetation springs forth. Sun, moon, and stars are set in the heavens to preside over days, seasons and years. Birds, fish, sea creatures, and living creatures of all kind inhabit the earth. All because God spoke, and it was so. Another repeated refrain echoes through Genesis 1, as well: “And God saw that it was good.” In God’s culminating act of creation, man, male and female, is created in the image of God, blessed, commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and given dominion (authority from God to fulfill his mission) over the other created beings. God’s work of creation is complete, at this point, and declared “very good” in its entirety. (Genesis 1:31) Thus we are introduced to God as king, and the kingdom over which he rules as creator. As king and creator, God is worthy of our obedience.

Fortunately for us, “king” is not the only image of God scripture provides. While we might agree conceptually with the notion that a king’s subjects owe him allegiance and obedience, our knowledge of earthly kings probably doesn’t inspire us to offer that obedience joyfully and unreservedly – nor should it, in many cases. It certainly wouldn’t have done so for the Hebrews, who as the first audience of Genesis, had been cruelly oppressed by Pharaoh as slaves in Egypt. As Courtney Doctor noted in our study book (p. 36), “The kingdom is affected by the virtue of the king.”  The Hebrew people knew this from their experience under Pharaoh, but in hearing Genesis 1, they see more clearly that the God of creation – the God who had called them to be his people – is still (and always) the sovereign king over that creation. The High King of Heaven is not the king of their oppression, but of their rescue! He is not like the kings of man.

Though we will see the image more fully and clearly unfold as we continue our study, even in the garden kingdom of Genesis 1 and 2, we see glimmers of another aspect of God’s relationship with man: God is also our Father. Just as our knowledge of earthly kings might affect our heart’s inclination or disinclination toward obedience, our experience of earthly fathers may give us pause (or pain), as well. But, “when God refers to himself as Father, he is referring, not to our experience of fathers, but to the kind of father we were created to have….your heavenly Father is perfect in his love in every possible way. (p. 42)” We see God’s fatherhood in four specific aspects: presence, provision, protection, and parameters. God is not a deadbeat dad, an absentee father, or worse. Understanding and trusting God as the perfect Father our hearts long for is essential to our understanding of who he is and how we are to relate to him. Though kings and fathers alike are to be obeyed, though kings and fathers alike bear responsibility toward their subjects and children, we do not look for a king to love his subjects in the way that we expect a good father to love his children. Yet scripture speaks plainly of God’s enduring, abundant compassion, tenderness and love toward those who are His. Stop and ponder this for a minute. The God of all creation, the High King of Heaven is and longs to relate to us as our perfect, loving Father!

Whether as a parent, a child, or a keen observer of humanity, I’m sure you’ve realized that having a job to do as a member of the family is more meaningful than simply existing. Every character has to have a purpose in the story. Being the good Father that he is, God didn’t create us simply to exist; he calls us to participate in his work in the world as members of his family and his image bearers. We are to resemble and represent him as we exercise dominion over the creation as he commanded. The authority we’ve been given is not an authority of autonomy, but of stewardship. We answer to the High King of Heaven, who is our Father, as we do the work he has given us to do. Courtney Doctor describes that work, God’s mission, as “the establishment of his Kingdom in all the earth (p. 51).” Simply put, as God has made himself known to us, we are to make him known throughout the earth!

So how are we doing, ladies?

-Are you submitting yourself to the High King of Heaven in obedience?

-Do you entrust yourself (your relationships, your needs, your concerns, your fears) to your loving Father in humility, trusting Him to care for you as you cast your anxieties on Him?

-Are you enjoying and engaging your Father in relationship?

-Are you growing in resemblance to Him as you do so?

-Are you making him known in your arenas of influence and dominion?

We have the protection and provision of a great King, the love of a good Father, and a good work to do as his image bearers and representatives. I’m praying he’ll help us to more fully understand and walk in His light and truth this week!

Cliff’s Notes: A Framework for Understanding

If you’re reading this on the web and would like a copy of our study calendar and schedule, please email Tracie at This week we’re completing Lesson 2, “Once Upon a Time” for our meeting next week. The lessons don’t actually take that long, but if you’re finding it difficult to find that “chunk” of time you’re looking for, I encourage you to start into your study by reading pages 35 and 36. Then, when you get your next few minutes in the day, read through Genesis 1, or Genesis 1 & 2. Once you’ve done that, you’re prepared to answer the questions for Day 1, and can jot those answers two or three at a time as you have a few minutes to do so.

I know “finding time” (isn’t that a curious expression?) to study is challenging when your calling in life includes work responsibilities and/or making yourself available to provide love and care for others through scheduled activities, interruptions and unexpected hiccups in the day’s routine, but I promise that a little bit of strategizing is worth the effort. If you’re like me, and your vision of a perfect “quiet time” includes actual quiet, calm, and enough time to get through the entire lesson, you might rarely have a “perfect quiet time!” But I hope you will join me in endeavoring to let go of perfect and work toward pursuit. Be encouraged: you’ve already started by committing to this study!

Most of us are unlikely to go without eating for days because we simply can’t find time to grab a bite. Whatever is going on in our lives, we’re probably managing to get calories into our bodies somehow, and I’m quite certain we’re not relying on the ones we consumed a few months ago to pull us through and meet our nutritional needs. Yet how often do we view Bible study that way? Jesus calls himself the bread of life; his word is spiritual food for us! If you and I are trying to make do on last month’s time in God’s word, it’s quite likely we’re spiritually malnourished. Jesus won’t love us more because we’re working to prioritize time in his word, but I am confident that we will come to love him more if we do! So I am grateful that we are leaning into pursuit together. I trust we’ll all be better off for it.

Yesterday in our time together we covered Lesson 1, “Cliff’s Notes.” If you’re not familiar with them, Cliff’s Notes are a series of pamphlets that summarize and provide basic analysis of common works of literature. Though some among us might confess to making use of Cliff’s Notes instead of reading the book (don’t do that for your Bible study!), their purpose is not to replace study of the original work, but to enhance it by providing a framework for understanding. Some books are hard to read. But if we have a basic summary, and can identify key themes, we can more readily make sense of the individual chapters.

Lesson 1 helped us to identify a few essentials of scripture:

-Its primary author is God, though his chosen vehicle was “men [who] spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)

-Its setting is history – real time, real places, real people, and real events.

-The primary genre of scripture is historical narrative, though it makes use of many other genres in telling the story of God’s work in the world on our behalf.

-God’s purpose in giving us his word is to reveal himself to us in love, that we might respond to him in relationship and receive eternal life in Christ.

In the video we watched together, Courtney Doctor pointed to our need for God’s revelation, and that it is above all, an act of grace.

While scripture tells us that certain attributes of God are evident in creation by God’s general revelation, that which is made available and should be evident to all in the world God made (Romans 1:19-20), general revelation is insufficient to show us our need for a savior, or to tell us all that God desires to reveal to us about who He is and who we are in relationship to him. In scripture, we have God’s special revelation, his specific revelation of his nature, his character, and his work in and purpose for his creation. Within scripture, we see these things most fully and clearly in the work and person of Jesus Christ. While we cannot know all that there is to know about God from scripture (because he is unsearchable, inscrutable, and incomprehensible), we can delight in the reality that God loved us enough to make himself known to us that we might have sufficient knowledge to respond to him in repentance and faith unto eternal life and fellowship with him.

A few things to remember about special revelation from the video:

-The word of God is not just a revelation from God, but a revelation of God. It is not a to-do list, but a love note!

-ALL of our knowledge of God is dependent upon God’s revelation of himself to us.

-God’s special revelation is a “gracious condescension” in which he stoops down to accommodate our “slight capacity” to comprehend him.

How amazing is it that the infinite, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent God of the universe would pursue you and me in love to reveal himself to us?! I am praying for each of us that our wonder will be increased and our affections kindled as we consider and review this amazing story of God’s work in his world.

Introduction Day – From Garden to Glory: A Bible Study on the Bible’s Story

Last Tuesday in our time together we heard the word STORY quite a bit. It’s there in the subtitle of our book: A Bible Study on the Bible’s Story.

What do you think of when you hear the word “story?” Several years ago, I taught two-year-olds as a member of a Bible study class. In our training, we were encouraged NOT to use the word “story” so we wouldn’t confuse these little ones. “Stories,” to two-year-olds, are most often fun, fictional tales accompanied by bright illustrations, aren’t they? They’re often outlandish or silly. And, of course, they’re not true.

While scripture does present us with a story, I assure you that everything we find in its pages is true. Referring to scripture as a story does not cast a shadow on its reliability as truth, but points us toward the fact that it presents us with a narrative arc. When we first learned to write stories, our teachers taught us they had to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Further along in our education, we might have learned a more sophisticated version of this general structure. Simply stated, this included exposition, complication or conflict, rising action, climax, and conclusion. I’m sure you can see where I’m headed with this. While scripture is no work of fiction, it is indeed a story in the highest and truest sense. It has all the essential elements, and the knowing the grand story of scripture gives us a framework for understanding how the varied books, authors, and genres we encounter within it contribute to the big picture. It also shows us that scripture, by design, has a purpose, and a point! It isn’t just a random collection of varied writings of different genres by a group of people separated by time and space.

We talked a bit yesterday about how knowing the story gives us much-needed perspective. I can follow the turn-by-turn directions of a GPS, but they make a lot more sense to me if I’ve consulted Google Maps and checked out the satellite view of my route ahead of time. I can put together the pieces of a puzzle, but I MUCH prefer to do so with the picture on the lid as a reference! Whether this is our first experience learning the meta-narrative of scripture or a refresher course, each of us will benefit, I’m sure, from a studied consideration of God’s story. As Christians, such perspective is essential, because this is not only God’s story, but OUR story, as well.

I appreciate Courtney Doctor’s words from her video introduction, reminding us that our part in this story is not performance, but faithful participation. Using the words of author and seminary professor Michael D. Williams, she encouraged us to realize that we are heirs of the story, actors in it, and bearers of it.

With her, my prayer is that through this study we will…

-love scripture more

-see more clearly our purpose in God’s plan

-be captivated by the love of our Heavenly Father, and

-respond to God’s gracious and lavish affection with increased love and faith

As I might have said to those little ones many years ago, “This is God’s word. Everything in it is true.”

I hope you enjoy your first week of study, and are blessed as you lean into the work of understanding the true word of our infinite, inexhaustible God as He has revealed himself to us.

Luther and the Reformation – Notes and Tidbits

This October 31st, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg Chapel that started the Protestant Reformation. For many of you, this has a lot of significance, for others maybe not so much or you are not very familiar with the origins of the Reformation and its importance today. So I wanted to take just a brief moment to give you some bullet points on the context, and maybe give you a few tidbits you may not be aware of! This October I will be preaching a sermon series on the Five Solas (Alones) of the Reformation, so hopefully, this peaks your interest.

ALSO: This October I will be preaching a sermon series on the Five Solas (Alones) of the Reformation, so hopefully, this peaks your interest!

– Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a Catholic monk who taught theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. It was in his own study of the book of Romans that he began to change his views about God’s grace, Christ, and faith. Instead of seeing salvation as something that he had to work toward, he found that the Bible clearly taught it was by God’s mercy in Christ that we are saved.

– He did not see himself as a revolutionary, but he wanted the church to be corrected and uphold good, Biblical practices. Hence the movement that resulted is referred to as the ‘reformation’ rather than the ‘revolution’ because Luther (Calvin and others) saw themselves trying to correct the church universal rather than starting a new one.

– The ’95 Theses’ were 95 sentences that were up for academic debate at the university. Pinning articles of debate on the chapel doors was not all that unusual. It was similar to maybe an academic blog of today. Luther wanted to debate the points, but it was quickly taken and printed by unknown printers who distributed the work.

– The ’95 Theses’ were not full-fledged Luther in the sense that he was very much still reflecting many Roman Catholic doctrines. The issue that caused Luther to write the 95 Theses was the sale of indulgences.**

– At the time, the Roman Catholic Church taught that Christians who had not done their best to live righteous lives had to ‘burn off’ their impurities in Purgatory after death. This process could take hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years, according to church tradition. But the extra merits from the good works of Jesus and the saints were stored in heaven, and the Pope could distribute these merits as ‘indulgences’ for a person’s sins or for a loved one who is stuck in Purgatory. Pope Leo X needed funds to pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, and he began a campaign of selling indulgences to raise the funds. A man named Johann Tetzel had peddled indulgences throughout Germany with some pretty underhanded fear-mongering, which Luther took exception to.

– But remember, Luther still (at this point) had the belief the Roman Catholic Church could be reformed and returned to its original orthodoxy. In fact, he believed that if only the Pope knew the abuses that were taking place, he would denounce the sale of indulgences. Thesis #50, “Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.” If anything, at that point, Luther was defending the Pope!

– Yet, in response to the 95 Theses, Roman Catholic officials, and the Pope refused any debate with Luther but told him to recant or be condemned. It was Luther’s refusal to recant because Scripture compelled him was the beginning of the Reformation, of which we are inheritors of.


Next Week:

Why preach on the Five Solas of the Reformation?

** The Council of Trent (1563) abolished the selling of indulgences for money, however, the council also stated the practice of printing and giving of indulgences was ‘most salutary to Christians’.