You Were Once Foreigners…

As God’s people, the Israelites, were finally about to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the desert, God reiterated a warning he made shortly after they had first fled from Egypt a generation earlier: once you’re settled in your new land, you must not forget your history. Remember that you(or your ancestors) were foreigners in Egypt, mistreated by Pharaoh, and that it was my grace—not merely your own efforts—that brought you from that place of desperation to where you are now, to this land “flowing with milk and honey.” Because, if you do forget, you may turn to the foreigners who seek refuge in your new land and treat them just as terribly as Pharaoh treated you.

How many of us have stories in our families that are similar? In the United States, for example, nearly everyone can trace their lineage back to somewhere else, whether those ancestors came on the Mayflower or a slave ship, through Ellis Island in New York Harbor, across a border, or through an airport. Most Americans have at least a basic awareness of their ancestral origins, often maintaining some cultural traditions or family recipes.

Too often, though, we’ve forgotten precisely what God warned the Israelites not to forget: the challenges and mistreatment that many newly arrived immigrants faced, such as the “No Irish Need Apply” signs of the mid-19thcentury. Most are likely unaware of the violence and legalized discrimination against Chinese immigrants that culminated in the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, legally prohibiting all Chinese immigrants for more than a half century. We tend to forget the resentment faced by the Southern and Eastern European refugees and other immigrants who came in through Ellis Island around the turn of the 20th century, or Benjamin Franklin’s incredulity that the Germans arriving in colonial Pennsylvania could ever assimilate.

The lesson of the Israelites is to remember our history—not so that we can treat those who come after us just as badly as our ancestors were treated, but so that we can do better, responding with the love and welcome with which we would want to be received.

Reflection Questions:

1. Are there refugees or other immigrants in your family history? Do you know what their experience was as newcomers?

2. How might remembering your family history inform how you respond to those arriving as newcomers today?

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Doctrine: Atonement; God’s Forgiveness

On August 7, 2007, baseball slugger Barry Bonds hit career home run number 756, the home run that broke Hank Aaron’s record. However, many questioned whether or not the new record should count because Bonds was alleged to have used steroids. Sports buffs said if his name is listed in the record book, it should be accompanied by an asterisk to indicate that the record is a sort-of record, a tainted record.

In 2008 Mark Ecko, the man who bought the ball Bonds hit to set the record, branded the baseball with an asterisk and donated it to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s not unusual for Christians to imagine we have an asterisk by our name. We may be destined for that Hall of Fame called heaven, but aware that our lives our tainted, we’re left with a sour taste in our souls. We’re grateful to enjoy eternal life with God, but we wish there wasn’t that sense of being tainted.

The gospel is hard to believe at just this point, but it is nonetheless the great truth. There is no longer a need for sin offerings. The forgiveness we are offered through Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t just make our sin null and void, it also erases the asterisk. God doesn’t see a fixed sinner, but someone righteous and pristine. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. We are a new creation. The old has passed away — so much so that there is no need for an asterisk — and all things have become new.

God’s Purpose: Giving Meaning to Life

The broad question that the writer of Ecclesiastes seeks to answer is, “Is there any meaning to the time that I spend in this world?” We put on a man’s tombstone that he was born on a certain date and that he died on a certain date. Between these two poles of time we live our lives. The basic question is, “Does my life have meaning?”

A common refrain echoed in Ecclesiastes is that there is futility, vanity, and “nothing new under the sun.” If our lives begin under the sun as a cosmic accident, a result of random collisions and mutations of inert matter, and if our ultimate destiny is to return to the dust that bore us, there can be no purpose.

When we cease to look “under the sun” and seek our destiny “under heaven,” we find our purpose. Our origin was not in the primordial soup but in the very hands of God, who shaped us and breathed life into us. Our destiny is not to return to dust, but to give honor and praise to God forever. Under heaven we find purpose. If we have God as our origin and as our destiny, between those poles there is purpose and meaning.

The writer answers the question with a resounding “Yes!” There is a reason for our lives. There is a reason for our suffering and a reason for our pain. There is also a reason for our joy.

Changed

Being changed by Christ means understanding who you really are in Him. You are His disciple. Over the next four days, you will read from God’s Word about what a disciple is and explore the various things disciples do.

A great example of a disciple can be found in the early church as they worked towards carrying out the Great Commission of spreading the good news of Christ into all the nations.

Jesus’ parable of the vine and branches offers us a perfect picture of what being a disciple of Christ should look like.

As a disciple of Christ you will find a need and meet it, find a hurt and heal it, and Jesus will ask you to do a lot of things that won’t fit neatly into a point on a page.

As a disciple of Christ, it’s important that you publicly stand with Him in celebrating your new life, which is why baptism is a great first step for a new follower of Christ. Over the next three days, you will explore what the Bible has to say about the importance of baptism.

There is spiritual power in baptism. This spiritual power is experienced in the fact that you are publicly standing with Christ. You are being baptized into Christ’s death and you are also being raised into new life.

Baptism is a symbol of your being changed by Christ. If you have never been baptized, let these verses serve as encouragement to you in taking that very important next step.

Being changed means reading and studying His Word regularly. Over the next seven days, you are going to explore verses related to understanding what the Bible is, where it came from, the power of the Bible, the reliability of the Bible, and the importance of mastering the text and being mastered by it.

God’s Word is eternal and has and will continue to withstand the test of time. It is absolute and we must submit to His Word in the way the writer of Psalm 119 explains.

Where did the Bible come from and how do we use it? Paul answers these questions in 2 Timothy 3:10-17.

We know the Bible is reliable because it passes the internal test in answering the question do the writers of the Bible claim their writings are true? It also passes the external test in answering the question what does outside evidence say about the Bible? Finally, it passes the bibliographic test by answering the question how well were the original documents translated to today? Today’s scriptures give answers to these questions.

God calls us to master the Bible and to be mastered by the Bible. As a follower of Christ, we must read the Bible regularly so that we can learn what it says, understand what it says, and do what it says. More importantly, we must allow His Word to transform and change us.

In order for God’s Word to change us into what God desires us to be, we must read His word regularly. Today, you will learn what the Bible says about the importance of reading and studying His Word on a regular basis.

There are four things the Word of God brings us: power, healing, direction, and freedom.

Being changed means understanding who God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are and how they interact in your life. This week you will read passages that will help you understand more about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Today you will read about God being your spiritual father.

Not only does the Bible show us that God is our spiritual father, but it also illustrates three characteristics of His fatherhood: He is a patient father, a forgiving father, and an intimate father.

Jesus is Immanuel meaning God with us. God came in the form of His son Jesus to live among us so that He could ultimately provide us eternal life by dying on the cross. Today you will explore what the Bible says about Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.

Jesus is Immanuel, and as Immanuel the Bible tells us that He comforts the afflicted and He afflicts the comfortable.

God sent the Holy Spirit to be our counselor. Being our counselor also means that the Holy Spirit serves as our intercessor, our advocate, comforter, and helper.

The Bible says there are three things the Holy Spirit does for you: He comforts you, counsels you, and convicts you.

You are empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit gives you the power to share Christ boldly, gives you power when you are weak, gives you power to have hope in a hopeless world, and gives you power to experience all the fullness of God.

Being changed means you connect with God through prayer. Our relationship with God is like any other relationship we have. We must spend time and connect with God and we do this through prayer. Over the next seven days you will spend time reading what God’s Word has to say about the importance and the power of prayer.

How should we talk to God? The Bible shows us that we should talk to God with gut-level honesty and talk to Him about everything that matters to you.

How should we talk to God? The Bible also says we should talk to God continually and that we should listen for His response.

Not sure how to pray or where to start? Start with Jesus’ example that He shared with His disciples, which is known as The Lord’s Prayer.

What matters to God when you pray? The Bible says your relationships and motives matter.

What matters to God when you pray? The Bible says the way you live matters, your faith matters, and God’s will matters.

Jesus encouraged us to pray without giving up. He illustrated this through the parable of the persistent widow.

Being changed means supporting and regularly attending your local church. Over the next seven days, you will read what the Bible says about what the church is and how you should support the local church through serving and tithing.

The church is not just a building. We are the church and each one of us is called to be ministers.

God has called you to meet the needs in your church.

God has given you both talents and spiritual gifts to use in serving His church and in ministering to others.

We support the local church through the tithe. All throughout the Bible God asks us to give Him a tithe, which is 10 percent of our earnings. In fact, the only time God ask us to test Him in the Bible is related to the tithe in Malachi 3.

Not only does God ask for our tithe, but He also desires us to be cheerful givers beyond the tithe.

During His ministry, Jesus often discussed the importance of tithing and giving generously.

Being changed means engaging in Biblical community. God did not design us to do life on our own, which is why it is vital that we engage in Biblical community with other believers. You will conclude this reading plan over the next six days by reading about the importance of Biblical community from God’s Word.

You’ll never do all God wants you to do without the right people around you. You need people in your life that are with you heart and soul. A great example of this can be seen with Jonathan and the armor-bearer.

One of the benefits of Biblical community is being around other believers that help you grow both spiritually and relationally.

Biblical community comes in many forms, the most common of which is within your local church in the form of regular church attendance and in small groups.

One of the greatest benefits of being in Biblical community with other followers of Christ is having people that support you during difficult times.

Biblical community can occur within a group of believers or between two people. In fact, some of the strongest forms of Biblical community happen between just two people. It’s important that we have believers in our life that can mentor and counsel us, as well as keep us accountable.

On this final day, you will read about the life change that has taken place inside of you as a result of your accepting Christ as your Savior. You have been forever changed as a result of your decision to follow Christ. The old is gone, and the new has come!