Monthly Archives: April 2015

Little by Little

In Exodus 20, with the Children of Israel gathered around Mount Sinai, God launches into a rather lengthy discourse with Moses covering a wide array of topics. Nestled in the heart of that oration, in which God institutes the very framework through which He would relate to and separate His chosen people, He provides an interesting insight into what lies ahead for Israel. With the eyes of the people trained on the promised land, God not only reminds them of where they’re going but how they would get there. Describing how He would drive out the inhabitants of Canaan and give Israel their long-awaited inheritance, God says, in Exodus 23:30:

“Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land.”

I can still recall being taken back by how strange that sounded when first reading this passage. “Little by little” … why would God do that? Wasn’t God eager to drive out His people’s enemies and give them the land He’d promised them? Didn’t He want them to start enjoying its goodness right away? Wouldn’t it be safer, and more loving, for God to hand Israel a land free of enemies and conflict? Based on human logic, these certainly seem to be legitimate questions.

After all, little by little appears to be at sharp odds with our great and awesome God: the God that called light out of darkness in an instant, the God that made both seen and unseen in only six days, the God that, not long before this, destroyed an entire army in the Red Sea in a matter of moments. Compared to this, little by little sounds almost disappointing and underwhelming. It seems reserved for those who lack the firepower to get it done in one shot. It smacks of a strategy born of weakness and limitations. But it certainly doesn’t sound like something an Almighty and all-powerful Being would restrict Himself to. Yet, little by little is precisely the pace and exactly the manner God arranged to drive out Israel’s enemies before them.

While it might seem counterintuitive at first glance, God just handing Israel the land and its plenty would have actually been extremely damaging to them and their inheritance in the long run. It would have been a hindrance to them ever possessing it to the degree God intended in the first place. As strange as it might seem, God simply giving them the land would have ultimately positioned them for failure because it would have taught them nothing about themselves, the land, their God, or how to trust Him. In fact, God was very merciful to Israel in allowing them to observe His destruction of their enemies and participate in that process … little by little – and He is merciful to us in much the same way today.

Surrounded by a culture addicted to instant gratification, the idea that it might actually not be in our best interest to have it all right now is likely both foreign and unpopular. Thankfully, God sees the entire picture; and instead of always giving us what we want, He gives us what is good for us. Just like Israel, what seems to be good for us is “little by little.” Little by little is the process God chose to drive out Israel’s enemies, cause them to increase, and give them their inheritance – and, praise God, little by little is how He accomplishes His sanctification in our lives today. It’s little by little we face our many sins and shortcomings. It’s little by little we’re shown just how miserable and helpless we are without Him. It’s little by little we’re tested and refined. It’s little by little we’re taught to stop relying on ourselves and start trusting Him. Little by little is the very means God often teaches us the valuable, yet difficult, lessons we wouldn’t seek out on our own. While the conflicts, trials, and obstacles in our life are often lamented, sometimes that’s exactly what it takes to know just how genuine our faith really is.

Jumping ahead in Israel’s history to the book of Judges, we find an entirely new generation from the one that crossed the Jordan to carry out the conquest. One, it says, that did not know God or the works He had done in Israel. Obviously, a sad description, yet one I find telling. Having not gone through the process of driving out the inhabitants of the land themselves, this generation didn’t know God like they should have and it was evident in their idolatry. As a result, as Judges 2 ends and Judges 3 begins, God says He’s going to put them to the test. He’s no longer going to drive out the nations before them in order to test Israel and teach them to know war.

I don’t find it a coincidence that this generation that hadn’t fought in the conquest, that hadn’t watched the Lord drive out their enemies, that hadn’t participated in that process were doing evil and chasing the gods of the nations around them. Nor do I find it a coincidence that the method of their testing and training was essentially the same as that of the previous generation – to face their enemies and the conflicts around them by trusting the Lord and obeying His words. It sounds like such a simple lesson. Yet for most of us, it takes a lifetime of “little by little” to learn. My encouragement for us is simply to appreciate and embrace the process by which God is sanctifying us and preparing us for our inheritance. It’s not easy or fun. We often make it more difficult than it needs to be. But, ultimately, it’s for our benefit. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Don’t be afraid. Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart.

~ Zach Crane

Composing The New Testament

The New Testament of the Bible consists of twenty-seven “books” written by several authors including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James and Jude. It isn’t clear who wrote the book of Hebrews, and some of Paul’s letters include Silas and/or Timothy as co-writers, but altogether we have about a dozen human authors who produced the gospels, epistles and other volumes in the New Testament. These were individuals recognized as apostles and prophets, or men closely associated with the apostles whose authority and inspiration were accepted by the churches during their lifetime, when they were writing.

For Paul’s part, thirteen of the New Testament letters have his name on them, 23.5% of the total text (words) of the collection. Timothy is not the primary author of any New Testament book, but he was the recipient of two written by Paul, was with Paul when he wrote Romans, and assisted in writing 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Luke was a close associate and coworker with Paul, and the two books attributed to him from the earliest days in the churches, Luke and Acts, happen to be the two longest (by word count) books in the New Testament. His contribution to the New Testament amounts to about 27.5% of the total.

The gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four gospels, and amounts to about 8.2% of the text in the New Testament. Mark’s involvement, though, included a close association with Peter, and he was very likely with Peter in his last days in Rome during the reign of Nero (1 Peter 5:13). Peter’s two letters comprise about 2% of the New Testament text. Together, Paul and Timothy, Luke, Mark, and Peter wrote about 61% of the New Testament, leaving John, James, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews as authors of the other 39%.

When Peter wrote 1 Peter he seems to have been in Rome (referred to as Babylon) along with John Mark, the author of the gospel which ancient testimony described as Mark’s account of what Peter preached about Jesus. Numerous references in 1 Peter indicate it was written during a time when the church was suffering, which was probably during the reign of Nero, who persecuted the church from 64-68 A.D. Then as Peter wrote his second letter he anticipated death being close at hand, and was purposefully working toward making sure the church would have an enduring account of the truth after his “departure” (2 Peter 1:12-15). Additionally, Peter mentioned his familiarity with “all” of Paul’s letters, referring to them as “Scriptures” like the writings of the prophets (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Paul was in Rome in the same time frame as Peter. Paul, expecting to be condemned and executed, wrote 2 Timothy while a prisoner of Nero in about 67 A.D. When Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he mentioned that Luke was with him, asked Timothy to come as quickly as possible, and requested that Timothy bring along Mark “because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:9-13). Whatever Paul’s ministry was at that time in Rome, it involved “my scrolls, especially the parchments,” and the help of Timothy, John Mark, and Luke.

According to the New Testament, Paul, Timothy, Luke, and John Mark were together in Rome, and Peter as well was in close proximity of time and place. Both Paul and Peter were much concerned about the continuity of the doctrine after their own imminent departure from this world. This handful of men who were together in Rome in those challenging days had written 61% of what the church knows as the New Testament, and it seems very likely the project of collecting and endorsing the Scriptures for the ages was much on the minds of Paul and Peter at that time. By the providence of God, they were in the right place at the right time with the right help to be able to set the churches and the next generation of leaders on the path toward knowing God’s will firmly, confidently following a collected body of writings known to have the inspired seal of approval of men known to be led by the Holy Spirit.

~ Charles Fry

A Living Hope

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Peter begins this letter addressing Christians as pilgrims, “travelers in foreign lands” (Webster’s 21st Century Dictionary). This world is not our home. We, like Abraham, long and wait for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (1 Peter 1:1; Hebrews 11:10).

Through the Father’s great and abundant mercy Peter says He has “begotten us again.” The Father did not have to do this; but by His good pleasure and wisdom He provided a plan for us, who had no right and no hope, to become His spiritual children. Those who have been born again (John 3:5) have been born into a living hope!

It is in Christ and through the gospel that we have access to this living hope (Colossians 1:23). Consider what it means to be born again. We are a new person, born into the family of God—one of His own (1 Peter 1:22-23). This new birth and living hope is made possible and certain through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Living hope is more than a wishful fleeting thought or moment. It is a firm conviction trusting the faithfulness of Him who has promised—that He is able to do and fulfill every word that He has spoken. In living, it is active, growing, moving forward toward its source.

The power of such hope is evident in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the power that raised Christ from the dead is the very same power that shall raise our bodies from the dead. The power is found in the Son of God, who became one of us (John 1:1, 14), that He “might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). Jesus was in all points tempted as we are, yet He chose not to sin (Hebrews 4:15, 2:18). For this reason He conquered death; death and the grave were not able to hold Him.

“ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:55-58).

For those who put their trust in God, we do not hope in the futile things of this world. We do not hope in politics. We do not trust in chariots and horses or military might. Our hope is not in Wall Street. Our hope is in the living God! “But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jeremiah 10:10a).

This is a hope that we can safely build our lives upon. This is the firm foundation that the wise man built his house upon (Matthew 7:24-28). When trials and difficulties come, this living hope is real and made secure by Jesus Christ. It will not fail, because He never fails.

As children of God, we are promised an inheritance that is the substance of the living hope. It is an inheritance that is not subject to decay; it will never perish. It is clean and pure; death cannot touch it. It is eternal; time cannot prevent it.

This inheritance is in heaven, being kept safe by God in heaven for those who have right to it. No one can rob you of the hope that you have in Christ and the eternal inheritance God has reserved for you in heaven, except you. The heirs must cooperate by being faithful until death and He will give us the crown of eternal life (Revelation 2:10c).

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

Everyone who has this hope of seeing Jesus and being like Him has such an incentive to cleanse himself or herself and strive to be like the Lord. We shall see the King!

If you have never trusted the Savior and His promises in obeying the Gospel of our Lord, why not? What is holding you back? This is the most important decision you will ever make in your life. If you have drifted away from the Lord and His plan and people, why not turn (repent) from your sins to serve the Master (Romans 6:17-23), firmly taking hold of the living hope He offers?

“but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

~ Dan Huff