Last year my BSGs did a study on Revelation. It was a challenging deep dive into one of the most mysterious books of the Bible. Any Hollywood script writer or New York Times bestselling author would probably consider the story told in Revelation to be a pinnacle piece. It weaves its way through the story of the complacency of the times and the coming storm of evil. It has heroes and martyrs. It has all the special effects of world-wide destruction to win an Oscar. And it has a savior. And a beautiful new beginning for the world.
There’s been plenty of apocalyptic movies and stories told in the last 100 years or so that draw upon the themes found in Revelation. Man and satan lead the world in its own inevitable destruction and a savior rises from the ashes. But what is unique about the Bible’s Revelation is it’s all true.
From Genesis to Jude, new beginnings abound. But in this one final book of God’s Word, we see 1,000s, millions even. Martyrs rising from the ashes to take their place near the throne. The 1444,000 appointed Jews who are to be God’s instruments in spreading the word of the final judgement. And of course, the rapture of believers, taken up before the final judgements are passed on this world.
But there are two people that have a special place in this book. Two ordinary people to whom God will speak and send out to the world as prophets or truth tellers. Smack in the middle of the 22 chapters of Revelation you’ll find two people whose new beginnings will send shockwaves around the world.
And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:3
The two witnesses’ identities have long been up for debate. Suffice it to say if they were extraordinary people I believe the text would say so. But they aren’t even given names, just like Naaman’s little slave girl. And unlike Jonah, they appear to walk boldly into a hostile world without pause. Maybe God has a pre-game “pow wow” with them where He explains the plan. More likely, God tells the witnesses, after having been prepared through their own study and trials, to go to Jeruselem at an appointed time and start spreading the Word that judgement time had come. But also unlike Jonah, they will tell how to avoid a terrible death.
“Now when they have finished their testimony,…” Revelation 11:7
Notice the two witnesses won’t go about town crying out, “The end is near!” They instead speak of God’s rescue from sin — their testimony. God will protect them for 1,260 days while they tell the world of the Good News of the Gospel and yes, about the impending judgement. And when God’s time for them is up, they will be killed by evil forces. It appears their new beginning would end there. But their death is just the middle of their story. For all the world to see after three and a half days lying dead in the street of Jeruselem, God will cause them to rise to their feet, sparking terror in the hearts of those who celebrated their deaths. Their new beginning, a reunification with the Lord, sets the world on fire.
At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. Revelation 11:13
Thousands, most likely, will give glory to God. Because of two unnamed people speaking the truth about God’s love, promises, rescue and judgement. Two people that are like you and me – flesh and blood. Two people, who like Noah, heard God’s voice and obeyed courageously. Who like Moses sought out an intimate relationship with God. Who like Queen Esther will stare into uncertainty and know God will not fail her. Two regular humans like Onesimus who studied at the feet of a teacher and then asked for forgiveness from both his spiritual and earthly masters. Like Joseph who stood alone against judgement by his community knowing God was with him. And like the 3,000 who put discipleship at the forefront of their faith.
In my study of Revelation, Warren Wiersbe points out the Gospel of John shows us how and why to believe. The epistles give us confirmation of who God is and what He expects of us. And Revelation is all about being ready. Ready for what? Ready for your new beginning. To be a witness for all of God’s glorious ways.
Friend, we don’t know when the events outlined in Revelation 11 will happen. But we need to be ready, they are nearer today than they were yesterday. You might be one of the witnesses called to be part of this amazing New Beginning for the world. Your name may never be known by man but God has a plan for you. A plan for your new beginning.
So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. Matthew 1:19
We left off our study of new beginnings with a cliff hanger of sorts. There sat Jonah on a hill wishing he were dead. And God reminding Jonah that He cares for all people of the earth, especially the ones “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.” Thank goodness for that because there are many days I feel and act like one of those foolish people! If left to being helped out of my fiery pit by unloving, sleepy Christians, I would surely find myself in the depths of hell. But for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And those that submit themselves not only to their will but do so out of love.
So, we leave the Old Testament with many more stories of new beginnings than I have shared. And with hope that Jonah finally grasped God’s message of works without love is empty and useless. But here’s the thing about our guidebook for life, the Bible, God’s holy Word, there’s 1000s of connections back and forth between the ancient stories in the Old Testament and the newer history of the New Testament. Which leads us to the first new beginning we encounter in the book of Matthew. Another Noah. Another servant of God who is the way maker for the world’s new beginning. The connector from the old ways to the new. A man who, like Noah, was considered “righteous” and faithful to God. But first, let me share with you a modern story of another righteous man who helped shepherd in a new beginning for one small child.
Epworth’s Children’s Home received this first-hand account from a foster parent in 2017 about his experience in becoming a foster father:
“Our family has been fostering a boy since October 2017. Yesterday our foster child had a court hearing to determine what step to take as far as his custody goes. I haven’t shared a lot about the whole foster experience because I have been afraid, to be completely honest. Afraid because fostering has been a lot harder for me than I thought it would be. Not because the child is difficult – it has been hard because of my heart. Ever since he came into our home, I have been terrified of becoming too attached and having my heart broken when he would eventually leave our home. I have been terrified of giving him all of my love, my energy, my grace and my compassion. I was sitting in the courtroom listening to the different parties discussing and debating the best course of action for the child’s future, when I started shaking. I began to realize this is the moment! The moment I decide to completely expose my heart to the potential of pain, or keep my walls up. It was absolutely terrifying! I started hearing a small voice inside that I could no longer ignore, and it was telling me to fight for this child. I realized I was willing to do anything for him.
“My walls started to crumble around me. Then I heard the judge call my name. He wanted to know if I wanted to adopt this child. I wanted to scream “Yes! He is my son!”, but I think I said something a little less dramatic like, “Yes sir, we are working on becoming licensed for adoption for this child.” I then heard the judge say that he is ordering termination of parental rights and opening this case for adoption. The weight of this decision is not lost on me, but it was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had.”
But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:20
Joseph was our Lord’s foster father. As a devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he had every right to not only publicly shame Mary for her “adultery” but also to have her stoned to death! Before the angel even spoke to him, however, love, kindness, compassion took over and he decided to quietly divorce her. Think of how Jonah would’ve responded. Surely God would’ve had to intervene to save Mary’s life from Jonah’s anger.
After Joseph obeyed God’s urging to complete his marriage vows to Mary, his troubles surely were not over. Like Noah, he would’ve faced public humiliation. The knowledge of Mary’s pregnancy in the small village of Nazareth would have spread like a wildfire. And yet he stayed the course. He stayed faithful not only to Mary but to God. He didn’t, by all accounts do it begrudgingly like Jonah. He took up the mantle of “foster father” and protected his family, raised his son as his own. His new beginning was as father to someone else’s son. An earthly role model. A shepherd, like Noah, for what was to be all of humanity’s new beginning.
Joseph and the unnamed servant girl who helped Naaman (2 Kings 5:3) also have a lot in common. They were faithful. They had a heart for God. They stepped up to help when they could’ve taken a different path. Their small steps were a gift to many. And they both are but a few lines in our history. Joseph’s last mention of him doesn’t even use his name. Jesus is 12 years old, immersed in the teachings at the temple and his parents are frantically looking for him. His mother chastises him and says, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” (Luke 2:48) After that, Joseph fades away. Most likely, he passes before Jesus begins his adult ministry.
And yet we remember him each Christmas for his shepherding, protecting, and faith. We should all add a bit of thanks to Joseph each day we pray in Jesus’ name. Because like so many faithful servants of Christ, He obeyed out of love. He didn’t ask or require that “thanks.” He didn’t harbor ill will for having to endure hardship. He put his head down, his hands out and his heart lifted and said to God, “I will.”
I want to share with you the rest of the letter written to Epworth Children’s Home by the foster father:
“I will end with this. This is especially for you guys and fathers. If you feel God tugging at your heart to become a foster parent, listen! There will always be a reason to not become a foster parent, but if your main reason is that you are scared your heart will be broken, then you especially need to do it. Foster children need someone who will be heartbroken over them. They need someone who is going to stick by them when things get hard. They haven’t experienced that. They need someone to love them and be gentle with them when they come over and hit you in the face with a maraca and break your glasses (not that I have ever had that happen, that is completely hypothetical, of course!). They need someone who is going to be faithful to them and strong for them in their weakest moments. I am by no means perfect in any of those, but I am strong in my faith, and it provides me the love, strength and grace that I need. Fostering has made me more dependent on God, in everything, and that is good. Ultimately, I am a foster child who was adopted into His family, and I am fully loved.”
I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project. When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me. Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill. My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought. What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility. Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.
With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me. I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization. I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily. As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed. Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me. Or I hurt someone’s feelings. Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated. Praying came after the fall, if at all.
But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day. I like to think of God seeing my potential. My new beginning. And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones. Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change. And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3
The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike. Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore. A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right? But in these four little chapters there’s so much more! There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian. Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job. Lessons on how one person can help save so many.
Jonah was actually a man of great faith. He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there. But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith. So, he resigned as God’s prophet. He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home. But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3
So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again. And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.
While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways. But there’s something missing. Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction. You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people. He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause. In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king. Pretty impressive right? And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1
Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration. And he begrudgingly used them. Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame. He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor. He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.
In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on. It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6
So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart. He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn. Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us. He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion. I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:
“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”
When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah. But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”
With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.” He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help. And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch. He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him. He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more. He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision.
Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.” His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.” God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins. Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh. Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge. But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.
Jonah’s faith was a divided one. He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance. It caused him to withhold his love and compassion. When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3
Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” Exodus 1:22
Whenever I picture Moses, Charlton Heston comes to mind. For those of you too young to know that reference, Mr. Heston personified Moses in the blockbuster 1956 movie The 10 Commandments. He was sweaty and swarthy and muscular. He was bold and without fear. Some of his final scenes show him standing fiercely on top of a mountain, wind blowing his impressive white beard and long gorgeous hair as he calls on the name of God. A hero. A rescuer. A man not to be trifled with because God was with him. As usual, the big screen skips over a few of the finer points of history for the sake of the storyline. Like the fact that Moses, even though God Himself had been his rescuer many times, really didn’t want the job of Israel’s savior. Of being the leader of the new beginning for an entire people.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11
That interaction alone might lead the reader to think Moses well, he’s just being humble. But by my count Moses tries to turn God to someone much more suited, much more capable than him eight times! I can’t! What if! I’m not! Why should I? Sound familiar to anyone out there?
Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” Exodus 4:1
My BSGs (Bible Study Girls) and I have embarked on a new study by Shirley Giles Davis called, God. Gifts. You. In our first week we were asked: “Where are you hearing God, but your excuse for delaying sounds a lot like “Lord, I’m afraid.”?” Moses afraid? Not that guy. God saved him from death as a baby. God placed him in the care of royalty. God gave him incredible opportunities for gaining knowledge and physical strength. He saved him from capture. There’s no way Moses was afraid of yet another challenging new beginning, right?
Eight times. Standing in front of bush that was talking to him even! I don’t know about you but if I told my husband when he walked in the door from work that one of my bushes in the yard was on fire and speaking to me about going to the governor’s office demanding, “let my people go!” he’d be very, very concerned. In fact, this was a point of discussion with my BSGs. Not burning bushes mind you but whether or not God still speaks audibly to us. And if he does, do people think we are crazy? It’s an unfortunate state we are in that some pastors and biblical teachers try to assure us that God doesn’t speak out loud to us anymore. We must discern His word in other ways. And while I agree we need to use God’s character, gleaned from His written Word to verify the voice we hear I completely disagree that we no longer hear His audible voice. I know. I’ve heard Him. Some of my BSGs have heard Him. To me the real question is now that you’ve heard Him, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to accept the challenge of this new beginning or find another excuse?
Moses, although a pretty amazing and instrumental piece of God’s plan, stumbled even with God’s past provisions clearly given to him and the promise of God’s presence and help spoken to him. Moses, sometimes called the “Lesser Jesus,” is so often seen in parallel with the Messiah. Their birth stories are almost identical with a king demanding their death. Moses was to rescue people from slavery. Jesus from the slavery of sin. Moses led the Israelites through the parted waters toward the promised land. Jesus is our living water giving us the promised land. Moses was tested. Jesus was tested. So, where’s the problem with his hesitation?
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” Exodus 4:13
If you remember from Noah or even Abraham when called they went. And in Isaiah 6:8 Isaiah raises his hand proudly and says, “me Lord, send me!” It’s hard for a lot of people, I believe to relate to those guys. We regular folks sometimes are more like Moses. We list our reasons God’s plan won’t work. We aren’t smart enough, strong enough, likeable enough, talented enough. But like with Adam, if God wants us in His service He won’t let go. He wants us to be part of a new beginning. And so, he nudges us to the right people and places. He puts other saints in front of us to help open doors. For Moses? He said, “Fine, I’ll give you Aaron to use as your spokesperson.”
But here’s the thing. Even though Moses is the one remembered and exalted, it was Aaron that got to wear the priestly, holy robes. It was Aaron that was allowed into the most holy place. Think if Moses had responded like Isaiah – “Me! Me! I can do it Lord because you have rescued me so many times!” Moses would’ve been allowed into the whole glory of God, the first priest of Israel. True, his relationship with God was pretty amazing. But God clearly wanted even more for him.
His new beginning, as Moses led the Israelites toward the promised land, would require him to call on the Lord for strength and rescue many times. I find it interesting that Moses had to listen to all the people constantly complaining to him about why he took them down this path. Do you think he occasionally thought, “That sounds a lot like I was with God.”?
Friend, whether it’s a nudging or a clear directive from God I want to urge you to step up in faith and raise your hand. To use all your resources (prayer, scripture, pastors, teachers) plus God’s past intervention in your life to discern what He is asking of you. In your new beginning when you step out in faith you can then say “I overcame my fears and allowed God to take my weakness and turn it into strength.” This blog and podcast was my big step. Let Him work a New Beginning in you and He will let His glory shine brightly through you!
Then the Lord said, “My spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” Genesis 6:3
Most people today are familiar with the Wright Brothers – credited with inventing and building the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane. But unless you are an aero-enthusiast you may not know of Karl Wilhelm Otto Lilienthal (died August 1896). He was known far and wide as the “flying man” for his attempts to make successful glider flights. Because of his repeated and public attempts, newspapers and magazines influenced the public and scientific communities into believing flying machines were truly possible.
But imagine walking by his artificially made hill he built near Berlin and seeing this man running and leaping forward into nothingness with a wing on his back. You’d think he was crazy. You’d probably say he was going to break his neck one of these days – which he did. But until that fateful day when his glider took a nose dive, he influenced and educated many who would go on to create our modern “flying machines.”
History is replete with inventors and entrepreneurs who have been mocked, dismissed, and even jailed. Many failed in their endeavors while others succeeded – sometimes only after their deaths. But what they all had in common was their steadfastness. That commitment to the dream which was placed on their mind by some unseen force. In my series, “30 Days of Thankfulness,” I thanked God for placing that desire to create, to invent, to improve our world, on our hearts and minds. And when we look back through the history of the world one man can be described as the Father of Steadfastness to an idea, to a goal of a new beginning placed firmly on his mind – Noah.
So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. Genesis 6:13-14
What makes this steadfast commitment to following God’s command even more amazing is that scholars believe the world had never seen rain. And here, a man is building a giant boat because something called “rain” or a “flood” was going to inundate the earth. Oh, how the mocking must have been endless! With each day spent placing yet another board on this 350 cubit (510 feet) long ship, Noah was like Mr. Lilienthal on his hill making another attempt at flight while the onlookers snickered.
But Noah wasn’t the only steadfast player in this scene of the world’s eminent demise. His not-named wife, sons and their wives must surely have been the subject of constant ridicule. Each day at the well or in the fields the slurs and evil behavior towards them must have been almost overwhelming. How many of us could say we would’ve remained true to God’s command?
The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Genesis 7:1
As Christians we so often have been asked what we would do or say when we approach the gates of heaven. Imagine, however, being told before we leave this earth that God has found us among the few righteous! Would God say that to you right now?
During the last few years our world has been put to a test. We, as Christians, have been put to a test. A flood of sort began to overtake the earth. Some have fallen away out of the fear of that mocking. Out of fear of being set apart. Many have drawn closer, like Noah, in obedience and steadfastness. And their reward? A new beginning – a renewal of faith. A rainbow placed in front of them reminding us that God always delivers on his promises.
Like Noah, each day we commit to be steadfast in our faith we are renewed with His love and His presence. Noah toiled away for 120 years building that ark, not knowing what the fruit of his labor would produce. He had no idea what his new beginning would be. He just had a dream of a boat. And a promise from God of a new beginning. He put his head down and started building it, as God commanded. He let the mockers and scoffers slide off his back day after day after day. His family toiled alongside him, set apart from the world. And his new beginning was our new beginning. A chance to make the world a better place.
In our modern world we so often overlook the everyday obedience God asks of us as banal. Yet the steadfastness of say, Christian parenting, produces so much good fruit and beautiful new beginnings. When our children become successful, healthy adults we get told it is “luck.” But Noah didn’t go about his work with a rabbit’s foot in his pocket. He was diligent, sticking with God’s plan.
Each day it seems the work of Christian steadfastness gets harder and harder. I’d bet as Noah’s massive ship grew closer to completion and stood out taller than the trees more and more people threw insults at his family. God’s path to our new beginning is rarely easy. In fact, during the Christmas season I kept hearing the same Bible passage over and over:
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. Luke 12:51-52
This message from Jesus makes many uncomfortable. During the last 50 years or so the prevalent message painted of Jesus is as a kindly, gentle god. One who just wanted everyone to get along. But that rejects so much of Jesus’ teachings and life here on earth. It rejects the idea that there will be mockers and scoffers while we seek to be steadfast in obedience to God. The apostles, whom many were surely educated about the steadfastness of Noah, themselves were faced with the same challenge. And while we are called to be peacemakers where possible, when we “go along to get along” we join the audience watching Noah build his ark. But the flood will come – not as water but in the ways as described in Revelation.
Friend, it’s time for your new beginning. It’s time for you to make a commitment to steadfastness. The world, in general, may never know how your heart has changed but God will. Your family will know, your friends will know. Be ready for the mocking, but also be ready to help others board your boat.
What is God asking you to do today that might set you apart? Your steadfast commitment to it may just be your new beginning!
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
During December of 2020 many people kept announcing that “next year will definitely be better.” I could understand the longing, the hope and desire. Let’s face it, 2020 was rife with fear, loss, despair, and worry. I told people around me to be careful romanticizing the turn of a calendar. Who knew what 2021 would bring – floods, fires, more plagues, death, political uprisings? And it certainly didn’t disappoint. A short walk through say, the book of James or Jude, reminds us that trials of many kind befall us each and every year. It’s our response to those trials that set us apart from the world.
So often when we think of “new beginnings” we can think of them as an adventure, something exciting to embark upon. Probably something God will guide you through to success. But what if your new beginning is a result of a terrible trial? A loss? Will you still seek God and see Him at work in the midst of it all?
If there’s one man whose new beginning exemplified having to start all over, having lost it all, it was Adam. He had everything you and I could ever want. A beautiful home, plenty to eat and drink. No worries except what to name the next animal. His yoke was light. He was to be the way maker for all of us.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15
And when Adam failed to honor his end of the covenant he did what so many of us do when we fail God – he tried to hide. Instead of running to God asking for forgiveness He compounded his sins by acting shamefully. But God.
But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9
Millions of Christians and non-believers know the story that took place in the Garden of Eden. But when we look at God’s actions we see His loving care for humans, His unique creation. He knew Adam had failed yet notice He didn’t let him go. He sought Him out with a gentle question. He could have immediately wiped the slate free of humanity after the betrayal. Instead, God clothed Adam in new garments and gave him new skills then sent him off on a new beginning. A chance to be the first step in the long path toward the new Adam – Jesus.
And Adam, by all accounts accepted the results of his sin and moved forward into his new beginning. A life outside the walls of Eden but one in which God was fully present. Adam and Eve didn’t step outside the gates, plunk down and give up. They didn’t choose to live in shame and despair. No, they knew God. They knew God still loved them and cared for them. So they took the new direction God gave them and made a new life. I love the last few lines in Genesis 4 in which Adam and Eve are mentioned:
At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. Genesis 4:26
Adam and his family never stopped worshipping God and talking with Him even though they had suffered a great loss. They brought their first fruits to Him and stayed close to God. And their work, their new beginning, brought others to God as well. If not for their commitment to God’s new beginning laid out for them there wouldn’t have been their son Seth. And Seth led to Noah. Without Noah there wouldn’t have been a righteous man left to continue humanity. God’s plan at work. God’s plan working even when it comes out of sin or loss. It’s our job to keep trusting Him and accepting Him at His word.
I’ll be honest, for most of my life I’ve been an avowed pessimist. It’s taken a lot of work by our triune God to help me see Him in my trials. To see how He is working a good, new thing in our lives. When circumstances go wrong around me my new attitude is that God is in my midst. He does want all things to work for good. I may never know how my commitment to Him will affect the Grand Plan. But I do know He never left Adam and He will never leave you.
Have you been tempted to give up on God after a trial or loss? God is still working in your life. He’s asking you to trust Him. Call on Him today for strength to live in your new beginning.
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. Genesis 1:2
Before Christmas I was listening to an episode of White Horse Inn, a podcast by reformed theologians and pastors. The episode, titled O’ Holy Night, focused on the beauty and glory of what happened that first Christmas night. They started by explaining how Mary was, in effect, barren, empty. God used her barrenness like He did the universe to create something new, something out of nothing. It was the reason a virgin was selected to show how God is the great Creator.
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God. Luke 1:34-35
Each time I hear or read of a connection that weaves through the Bible from the beginning to the middle and to the end I find myself having an “ah, ha moment.” Barring heading off to theology school and learning about all these connections in a short time span, I hope to keep hearing about the Grand Story and all its connectedness throughout my days. It’s like coming upon a complete sand dollar at the beach or a beautiful, out of place flower in an otherwise barren landscape. You, at first can’t believe your eyes; then you stoop down to look closer. And then you pop up looking around to tell someone – because it might not be true unless you can verify it. You want to share the moment, the beauty, the awesomeness of it all. Meanwhile others pass by seemingly uninterested or unseeing.
About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop by Nancy Guthrie on biblical theology. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s taking a theme found in the Bible and tracing its path from Creation to Consummation (typically Revelation). It helps us to see the Grand Story of God and all the tiny threads that create one massive character profile of our Creator. And how all stories lead us to Jesus.
I decided for this next series to take up the challenge Mrs. Guthrie gave us that weekend. To start looking at chapters in this thousands-year old story as one through various themes. And who could resist starting the new year with the theme of New Beginnings?
We live out our own lives through a long series of new beginnings. From the creation of our very being to our entry into society and from there taking on new challenges whether school or jobs, a marriage or even a marriage to the church we look toward tomorrow for that new step.
If we are blessed to live a long life, we will find ourselves with new beginnings in our families and as we reach retirement. And for some, new beginnings may be what it takes to remove ourselves from addiction, abusive relationships, broken marriages, and even criminal behavior.
In the next few months, we will walk through a number of new beginnings found in the Bible. Beginnings, like Noah that needed just one small family to see the entire Earth be reborn. Beginnings like Rahab’s that started out of selfish need and God turned to good. And beginnings like Jonah who ran as fast as he could from starting new but God, when He selects you for change won’t let go. And quiet new beginnings like that of Onesimus who sits in the background of the letter by Paul to Philemon.
We will see how the character of God shows up each time – from beginning to middle and end. How He keeps His promise to never leave us, to never forsake us even when we feel so alone. And we will see how His will is always done and it is good.
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;" Ephesians 4:22-23
My friend, you might be right on the cusp of a new beginning. It might look terrifying. It might look exciting. You might not even realize it at all until you are in the thick of it. Some of you are longing for a new beginning. I can promise you this, God’s plan is at work. He’s right there watching and guiding. So as this new year begins let’s say a prayer to the Creator. To help us hear and see what new things He wants of us. And what old things He wants cast off. He has a story to tell with you. Let’s help Him publish it for all the world to see.
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Luke 2:46
“The teacher encourages the student morphs – moth to beauteous butterfly soars”
Mala Naidoo, author
When God directed me to start the Emboldened blog He also led me to a few simple quotes to put on the homepage. I didn’t know at the time one day I’d be using those quotes for this week’s study on Jesus and His teaching nature! Of the few quotes He led me to, I included this one by Joyce Meyer:
“If you leave church and are not convicted, asking questions, or emboldened then either you are at the wrong church or you weren’t paying attention.”
How many times have you left church and within an hour couldn’t remember what the sermon was about? You couldn’t even pull up the general topic in your memory?
I recently heard someone say that we don’t go to church to sit and put in our “dues” to God. It’s where we should 1) be rejuvenated for the mission and 2) get more training for the mission. And the second we leave the doors of our “God classroom” we should be at the ready to embark on the commission which Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19. When church becomes a place where we leave just feeling like that was a “nice” experience, at best, or an obligation, at worst, we owe it to our personal faith progression to re-evaluate the situation.
When I started going to church my family ended up at a large Presbyterian church nearby. The pastor was just what I needed at the time. He was more counselor than teacher. And when I left each Sunday I felt he had really spoken to the problems I was having and reminded me that God loved me. The sermons were light on scripture, maybe one or two mentioned, and heavy on personal stories. But I soon found that sole message to be not quite enough. I wanted to know more. And the “teaching” sermons were what I gobbled up. As my husband can attest, I’m very curious. He constantly reminds me that I like to ask questions that seem to have no answers.
As a developing Christian, we should all be asking questions about God. If this “almighty being” is to be the center of our universe, the touchstone for how we live our lives, and the message we herald, shouldn’t we know everything we can know so we are prepared when sin enters our sphere? So we can be prepared when a seeking, fellow man starts asking us questions?
From learner to teacher. That’s exactly the path Jesus took. Here’s the rest of the scene when Jesus’ parents found him, as a boy, in the temple courts.
"Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers." Luke 2:47
And so, I constantly seek to learn more about this awesome God. At the beginning of this year my husband and I were directed to a new church. My son-in-law and his friend host a Christian men’s podcast called “Supplement the Faith.” They heard on a local St. Louis radio station a show called “Core Christianity.” The main host is Pastor Adriel Sanchez, who unbeknownst to me at the time, is a pastor in my town. They raved about his sound, Christian doctrine and told us we had to go check him out.
And so we went. The music was not my favorite – very simple and traditional hymns. The style of service was more formal than I was used to. But when Pastor Adriel gave his sermon I realized I was listening to a teaching pastor. That day, my church “program” was scribbled all over with notes!
In a brief period of time, I’ve learned a lot from and about Pastor Adriel. He and his beautiful wife have four little children with another on the way. This young pastor, who has led his fairly recently planted church for only about seven years, can be heard on the radio and podcast throughout the world via Core Christianity – which is a question and answer format. His youthfulness stands in contrast to his calm, confident poise. I recently asked Pastor Adriel if he’d be willing, in his busy schedule, to talk about his pastoral style.
And if you are on your faith journey toward learning more about His Word, I encourage you to tune in to either Pastor Adriel’s sermons at North Park Presbyterian (PCA) or the Core Christianity podcast. The questions asked on the podcast might just be something you get asked one day!
Kris: You seem to be drawn toward being more of a “teaching” type pastor than say a “counselor” type. How do you think you developed that style?
Pastor Adriel: I have a firm conviction that from the pulpit my job is to communicate God’s word clearly, and seek to apply it to the folks that God has entrusted to my care. Teaching or explaining the Bible is really important to me because I know that God’s word is the source of life. I do seek to provide biblical wisdom or counsel at times – but often that happens in the context of one on one conversations within the church.
K: Who are your favorite Christian authors/pastors?
PA: I love reading the Christian classics. St. Augustine’s Confessions, Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, Calvin’s Institutes, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I nerd out on church history, so I really enjoy reading the early church fathers. As far as living authors are concerned, I like books by theologians like Michael Horton, and pastors like Tim Keller.
K: What got you involved in doing Core Christianity and the podcast?
PA: One of my seminary professors invited me to be on a podcast he had hosted for decades called the White Horse Inn. Over time, we started thinking about a new project that would reach a broader audience helping them to understand the core doctrines of Christianity. A lot of research has come out recently highlighting how little Christians know about their faith – so this was a huge need. Our goal has been to answer basic listener questions about the Bible and the Christian life, and in the process to point folks to Jesus and his gospel. As we grow in our understanding of God’s word, we’re enabled to love and serve God better.
K: What do you like most about doing the podcast?
PA: I love the live element. I think it makes the show exciting, because we can’t really anticipate what kind of call we’re going to get. As a pastor, I also love it when I’m able to answer a question for someone and I can tell audibly that they’re encouraged by God’s word.
K: What are the most frequent topics you get asked?
PA: Questions related to marriage, assurance of salvation, finding a good church, and how to properly apply God’s law are common from our audience. Depending on what’s going on in our broader society, we also will get questions on current events.
K: What question have you gotten that “stumped” you? And what was the funniest question?
PA: Never been stumped! Just kidding. Actually, sometimes we get very obscure Bible questions, or questions for which there is no clear biblical answer. I find those questions to be the most difficult to handle. As far as the funniest question we’ve received… not long ago someone asked if there were fish on the ark too. That one made me chuckle.
K: Which book of the Bible do you enjoy teaching the most and why?
PA: I find that whichever book I am preaching through tends to become my favorite book for that season. Believe it or not, I had a ton of fun preaching through Leviticus a couple of years back. I also really enjoy preaching through the Gospels. I preached through Mark early in my ministry, and like to revisit the Gospels from time to time in-between other books.
K: Which book seems to be the most misunderstood?
PA: As I field questions about the Bible, I think one book that’s frequently misunderstood is Galatians. Many believers don’t have a proper understanding of the distinction between the law, and the gospel, and they struggle to understand how God’s law (and various OT commandments) are to be applied today. Galatians is helpful because it speaks to this kind of problem.
K: Do you see value in studying the entire Bible — not just the New Testament — and why?
PA: Absolutely. Jesus said in John 5 that Moses wrote of him, and in Luke 24 that the entire Bible was about him. The entire Bible gives us a glorious picture of redemptive history, and each story in that history is meant to instruct us in one way or another (1 Cor. 10:11). If you don’t study the Old Testament, you’ll miss out on so many of the riches in the New Testament, and you’ll miss out on Jesus as he’s revealed in the types and shadows of the Old Covenant.
K: What are your overall personal goals as a pastor for say the next 5 years? 10 years?
PA: Honestly, I just want to be a good husband, a good dad, and a faithful pastor. My goal is to grow in that for the next 5-10 years.
Thank you to Pastor Adriel for his time! Whether it be through a teaching pastor, Bible study groups/individual, Christian authors, a radio show or Christian podcast, these days we have so many resources at our fingertips to get to know God. As Christians, we must make it a priority to place this knowledge of His ways firmly at the forefront of our lives.
I wanted to leave you today with this quote about being a learning and then teaching Christian:
He who asks will have; what more did he ask for? But he who seeks will go further; he will find, will enjoy, will grasp, and will know that he has obtained. He who knocks will go further still, for he will understand, and to him will the precious thing be opened. He will not merely have the blessing and enjoy it, but he will comprehend it.
“At this they tried to seize Him but no one laid a hand on Him because His hour had not come.” John 7:30
“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Exodus 6:22
My church is in the midst of a study of Genesis and a few weeks ago we landed on the story of Noah. Christians and non-Christians alike are very familiar with this famous Bible story. How often do we see cute children’s books, artwork, decorations that take up this story showing all the cute animals piled into a tiny boat riding out the storm with a rainbow overhead?
During the sermon I was struck with the thought that this is not a sweet story at all. It’s a story of total depravity on the part of man versus the faith of one warrior for God. The face-off between a world bathing in the flesh and one, lonely soul swimming against that tide. The ark was a last chance lifeboat built by a soldier, an obedient servant who loved God.
For anyone who has ever seen the movie, “Evan Almighty” – a theatrical depiction of a modern-day Noah – the result of being a warrior for God, even a reluctant one, is shown in all its technicolor truth. Friends, family, neighbors, the media, and even the government may come against us.
“When you give your best to the Lord, it’s not unusual to be criticized by people who ought to encourage you. Moses was criticized by his brother and sister. David by his wife, and Mary of Bethany by an apostle.”
Warren Wiersbe commentary on 1 Samuel
During the extreme lockdowns of 2020 there were many “warriors for God” who found themselves on the receiving end of much criticism from Christians and non-Christians. Pastors and even Catholic bishops who insisted that churches needed to remain open and serve their flocks were impugned by church authority, the media, non-believers, and parishioners. In some states the government brought the full force of the law down with arrests and extravagant fines.
Now, some might still say churches should’ve been closed to protect people from illness. But these flock protectors felt called by God to bring healing to people’s hearts and minds and souls. Church attendance has never been a requirement for anyone. And they believed those who needed church should be allowed to partake in its offerings. Parallel arguments about keeping people from getting sick included the admonishment to obey governments based on Romans 13. And yet the clarification of hierarchy of obedience is spelled out in Acts 5.
"The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Acts 5:27-29
About a few months into the lockdowns, I started seeing a confident warrior for God pop up in my Instagram feed. This young man had originally run for a state office in Northern California. He ran as a conservative Christian in a heavily liberal area and lost. I had donated a small amount to his campaign about a year before and had apparently “followed” his account. He is a musician by trade, a devout family man, and a fervent follower of Christ.
And when our churches shut down in California, he stepped out onto a stage bigger than he’d ever imagined. Compelled by visions given by God, he would show up at a beach with a local pastor, his family, a few other musicians and put on a revival meeting of sorts. As word grew, each time he held a “Christ concert” more people would find their way to listen. More people asked to be baptized in the cold ocean waters. And more people started harassing them. And fines by local authorities started piling up. And he wouldn’t stop.
You may have heard by now about Sean Feucht and his merry band of “Let Us Worship” team. They’ve since led large worship services all over the United States, including Washington DC. Sean may have lost a politician’s job but he gained so much more. Throughout the pandemic their small pastoral team helped lead thousands to give up fleshly addictions and find Christ. All the while, others would show up at these events screaming demonic words, throwing blood on them and even accosting his pregnant wife.
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Matthew 4:10
I can only imagine how many times Sean and his family have reminded themselves of this statement by Jesus to Satan. I’ve watched the videos of Sean’s meetings in Portland and Seattle. It’s some of the most disturbing things I have seen in terms of demonic possession of people. You may raise an eyebrow at that statement but truly, I have never seen anything like it.
Sean is just a man. A man with a family to protect. A man who is trying to make his way through this world just like you and me. He didn’t start serving the Lord suddenly during the pandemic, he has a quiet history of spreading God’s Word including countries outside the United States. He has led missionary trips to Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He is obviously a man used to trusting God. And isn’t it fascinating to know that he went to those dangerous places to share the gospel seemingly as preparation to lead thousands into worship in a “safe” place like the United States?
We won’t all be warriors for God just like Sean but every person who chose to attend one of his meetings during these difficult times was a warrior in their own way. Today, every person who hears God’s urging to step out in faith and stand for Him takes up the armor and can call themselves a warrior. We have a lot of good soldiers who have paved the way for us, to drawn on how they trusted God to protect them until their time was done.
As God always does, He has placed quite a lot of podcasts, sermons, and Bible studies in front of me in the last few weeks on this very character trait of Jesus. I wanted to share with you a prayer from Sparkling Gems from the Greek to help spur our warrior character on.
Lord, help me start seeing myself as a might soldier in the army of God. You have provided every weapon I need to prevail against the enemies that come against my life, my family, my business, my friends and my church. I want to stand tall and firm against the wicked plots the devil tries to exert against people’s lives whom I love and need. Holy Spirit, give me the power and strength I need to successfully resist every attack and to drive all dark forces from my life and from the lives of those close to me! I pray this in Jesus’ name!
From the west, people will fear the
name of the Lord, and from the rising
of the sun, they will revere his glory. Isaiah 59:19
I admit it. I have a difficult time with authority. I don’t like being told what to do and when to do it. I’m not sure how this developed in me. It’s not like, as a child, my parents encouraged me to question. In fact, we weren’t to question at all for fear of punishment. I’ve heard it said that we either grow up to be like our parents or work so desperately to be the opposite. For me, I think I so wanted to be heard and to be “right” for once that the desire became my personality.
This desire has helped me in many ways. At work I was always seen as someone with new solutions and ideas. I could cut through red tape and simplify processes. And until I garnered some maturity, I did all that like a bull in a china shop. But this way of living life can make it difficult to submit, especially to a force that is unseen.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of
knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and
When you read Proverbs the very first words are about wisdom and instruction. And sure, we can study our Bibles, listen intently to our pastors while scribbling notes in our Bibles but true submission to our Lord is more than that.
For a long time, I really just didn’t understand the concept of “fearing the Lord” and submission. Of course, given my nature it wasn’t like I was interested in the first place. I also wonder how many pastors these days even talk about “fearing God?”
If God is love, then why does He command us to fear Him? The fear of the Lord isn’t about being afraid of God; it’s about revering Him above all else. When we do that, we position ourselves to receive all the benefits that come with putting God first in our lives.
Dr. Charles Stanley
We humans are afraid of a lot of things – some of which we don’t even realize. We fear being made fun of, we fear being left out, we fear being unloved. I saw a movie that really brought this concept home called Defending Your Life. The main character, played by Albert Brooks, is a worrier. His fears become so overwhelming that he is stuck in a never-ending loop of inaction and regret. And then he gets hit by a bus. He finds himself in a waystation of sorts where he needs to defend the pitiful life he had on earth. And he meets a wonderful woman played by Meryl Streep. She’s opposite of him – jumped in on all that life had to offer.
It struck me that our days are filled with decisions that are made either based on fear of the world or fear of God. Do we go about our lives trying to keep our head down so the world and people around us won’t take issue with us? Or do we acknowledge that our Lord is sovereign over all and He has behavioral and moral requirements of us? Do we submit to the flesh or to the spirit?
Jesus calls us to his rest, and meekness is His method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.
I’ve come to acknowledge that while it is okay to call Jesus, “Rabbi,” or teacher I also need to call Him, “My Lord.” Because when I do it places Him above me, above all. When I call Him, “My Lord,” it means I need to submit to His will. My fear comes in as a concern that I want to be sure to serve Him and Him alone. Am I living a life that would please Him, not the world?
I don’t want to be like that Albert Brooks character when I face my Lord. Full of regret for having missed opportunities to place God as my life director.
I have a friend who is fascinated by all things British royal family. She knows just about everything you’d want to know about the monarchy. Shouldn’t we be that way about our one true Lord? Sitting in awe at His feet. Anxiously awaiting His orders. At the ready to do His bidding. Hoping to please Him at every turn. And fearing His disappointment.
By faith Noah, when warned about things
not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark
to save his family.Hebrews 11:7
If there were ever a man who had a lot to fear when it came to being judged by the people around him it was Noah. I mean, what a lunatic! Building a giant boat with no water to be seen. His “holy fear” kept him aligned with the will of his Lord.
It’s so easy to fall into a humdrum world-centered life. And it’s easy to make our prayer and worship life be rote. But if we can just picture that each morning when we rise, we step into our Lord’s magnificently built palace. Are you ready to approach His throne and submit to His Holy authority? Are you sitting in awe at His feet today, marveling at His awesome power and might? Let’s all sing at the top of our lungs today in worship of our Lord — and let the world tease us. We know who is smiling.