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Ronny Mannebonia

Reading Plan Reflections – Acts 9

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Paul’s influence upon the early church is so powerfully apparent that non-Christians debate whether Paul was a mere follower of Jesus or the actual founder of Christianity. I debated with a Muslim apologist a few years ago, and he claimed that Paul founded Christianity. They say that because of his influence on the church’s history. Besides writing thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, he was also very effective as an Apostle, missionary, and church planter.

From our reading plan last week, however, when we are first introduced to Paul, he was a violent persecutor of the Christian church (Acts 9:1). Like most today, a “crucified Savior” was a stumbling block and an oxymoron to Jews (1 Cor. 1:23-24). Paul knows God had already expressed his judgment against Jesus by hanging Him on the cross—case closed (Deut. 21:23), so he thought.

However, on his way to Damascus, a bright light from heaven suddenly shone around him at noon with a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul immediately recognized that this heavenly light was the glory of God. Consequently, he responds, “Who are you, Lord?” The answer to Saul’s question came in the divine glory, “I am Jesus.” He thought he was serving God by persecuting Christians. And he is now faced with the Name that he hated the most. Paul’s conversion was so dramatic that his heart, once filled with hatred toward Christians, was replaced with love, peace, and faith. 
In this brief devotion, I want to draw a couple of observations from one verse, Acts 9:4, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”.

First is Jesus’s identification with His people. Before this encounter, Paul had never met Jesus. Did you notice Jesus’s question? Jesus did not ask why he persecuted his disciples. He asked, “Why are you persecuting Me?”. Jesus so intimately identifies with His people that, when they are persecuted, He feels persecuted. Paul understood that our Lord had some kind of intimate connection with His followers, resulting in Jesus sharing our experiences. Isn’t that the best news for all of us? This verse has been the most precious verse to me. It is one thing that we would share in His sufferings (Phil 3:10). It is an entirely different thing that He would share in our sufferings. This kind of relationship is unique to Christianity, while some religions view this as blasphemy. The God who holds all the creation together (Col. 1) is the One who identifies and shares in our suffering and pain.

The second is the principle of sanctification. The truth of Jesus’s relationship with His people would be foundational for Paul’s ethics. Perhaps the most overlooked observation, in my opinion, is the implications of Christ’s union on how we treat each other. This verse has impacted how I view my marriage, relationships, and ministry. The same Lord who identifies with my sufferings also identifies with my brother and sister’s sufferings. When the emotions are high, and it is easy to be upset, I start asking myself, do I treat this person the same way if it was Lord Jesus? The One we love and seek to honor the most loves them and has died for them. Should we not love those whom our Lord loves?

Pauls says to the Ephesians not to grieve the Spirit of God (Eph 4:30). We grieve the Spirit when we are bitter, angry, clamor, and slander one another (Eph 4:31). Rather, Paul tells us to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Eph 4:32. Let’s be a church that is kind and tenderhearted towards one another and seek reconciliation because we are people forgiven by God for our sins. I don’t do it perfectly, but it really changed my relationship with my wife and how I interact with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Everyone who feels dishonoring our Lord is unthinkable should treat one another with love and respect.

We should also view this positively, based on Matt 25:40. If we serve even the least of the disciples, Jesus says, “You did it to me.” And Heb 6:10, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” It is a great honor to serve our Lord by serving one another. 

Meditation and Memorization

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Life is in the Word because it is God-breathed, living, and active. Several falsely assume that the early Church created the Word. But, the Word created the Church and will sustain it until Christ returns. The Church does not own God’s Word; we are its stewards and servants. As its stewards and servants, we must be found faithful. Our faithfulness stems from our understanding and obeying God’s truth.

We have been working through a two-year bible reading plan. As we increase our Bible’s knowledge in terms of its breadth, let’s take it a little deeper with scripture memory and meditation. This Summer, from June through early September, we are memorizing God’s Word together. The small group coaches have prayerfully chosen these passages to help us pray (Matt 6:9–13), help us praise God (Psalm 148), and help us know the gospel (Romans 1:1–7, 16–17).

Psalm 148 is a great praise Psalm. We rarely take time to praise and worship God in our prayers but quickly run to make our needs known. It will be good to memorize this one, so praising Him becomes a part of our life. There is power in us praising and worshipping Him. In fact, it is more powerful than any of our resolutions to battle sin. Just as we worship our way to sin, we must worship our way out of sin. As we memorize this Psalm, worshipping God remains on our lips and hearts.

Romans 1:1–7, 16–17 concisely summarizes the gospel’s content. We can never take the gospel for granted, as our growth in Christ is never beyond the gospel but in growing deeper into it. As we meditate on the gospel, let our praise and adoration for Christ increase for the ultimate price He paid for our sins. The same gospel that released us from the penalty of sin also releases us from its power.

Memorizing and Meditating on God’s Word

Memorization and meditation are commanded in the Scripture.

  •  Psalm 119:11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
  •  Joshua 1:8 This Book of the Law … you shall meditate on it day and night.
  •  Deuteronomy 11:1819 You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and soul ….
  •  John 15:7–– If you abide in me, and my words abide in you …
  •  Colossians 3:16–– Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….
  • Meditation is crucial to understanding, and memorization makes meditation accessible. Meditation separates us from a pharisee, a Muslim, or an unbeliever. They memorized the Scripture too, only to argue with a Christian. But they don’t internalize or meditate on it and could never reap the benefits of God’s Word. As we aim to wrap our minds around a text, we are greatly aided by already having it in our minds.
  • Meditation is marked by submission to God. Our goal in memorizing the Scripture is understanding and obeying the Word. This exercise is not mastery of God or His Word, but God’s mastery of us through the HolySpirit’s ministry.
  • Meditation aims at communion with God. If we forget that meditation aims at communing with God, it may become transactional instead of relational. Don’t waste too much time thinking about how to meditate or memorize. It is more important to spend more time thinking about God and speaking to God than focusing on how we should do it.
  • Meditation on God’s Word helps you to speak truth into others’ lives. Jesus said out of the abundance of the heart mouth speaks. If we store God’s Word in our hearts, it will inevitably come out of our mouths. Often when you try to speak God’s truth on the fly, the Holy Spirit will call your mind from the toolbox of Scripture you have stored up.
  • Meditation doesn’t always feel awesome. We won’t necessarily memorize much of God’s Word on any given day, and the practice gets complicated, especially during a dry spell. It doesn’t always feel awesome. But, we don’t allow ourselves to believe that reading God’s word and memorizing is “not doing anything.”

How to Meditate on Scripture

  •  Read Prayerfully
  • Read attentively
  •  Read, then write, then recite and call it to mind
  •  Read and memorize it with your small group to keep each other accountable

Reading Plan Reflections – Leviticus

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From CJ Davis:

Well Harvest, you did it! You successfully read through one of the more thoroughly ridiculed books in the Bible; Leviticus! I remember asking a professor, “What should I get out of Leviticus?” and his tongue-in-cheek response was, “Get out as quick as you can!”  Jokes aside, I’m betting a lot of us are breathing a sigh of relief to have this book behind us.

But I have a confession- it’s my favorite book in the Bible. That’s right. My favorite. I doubt I can convince you in a short blog post that it should be yours too, but I at least want to help offer some perspectives that might make the next read through a bit more exciting. So, let’s take a quick look!

First things first, Leviticus is the heart of the Torah. Moses’s 5-part masterpiece has as its literary and theological center the book we just finished reading. It looks like this:


                Exodus                    Numbers

Genesis                                                     Deuteronomy

This alone should warrant some attention from us! Moses was an artful composer of his work, and he intentionally chose to put Leviticus at the central point. Leviticus does something that might have gone unnoticed due to all the blood and lobes and whatnot. It resolves the tension created by Exodus. 40. If you remember, the Israelites had just completed building the tabernacle- the place where God was going to dwell with his people again just like in Genesis 1 and 2. But there’s a hiccup- in Exodus 40:33 it says after the tabernacle was completed, “the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” Sounds good, right? Until you keep reading… the verse goes on to say, “.. but Moses could not enter into it.” THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM! God is now dwelling on earth again as he has always wanted to, but no one can go into his house! This is where Leviticus steps in. Check out the first line of Leviticus:

“God spoke to Moses from the tent of meeting.” Where is God? In the tabernacle. Where is Moses? Outside. How is man supposed to dwell with God? Now check out the first line of Numbers:

“God spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting.” Did you catch it? Moses is now IN God’s house speaking with him! What happened in between? Well, in short, Leviticus happened.

The book of Leviticus provides the answer to the problem presented at the end of Exodus- “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?”

To understand how Leviticus helps solve the problem of how man is to be in God’s presence like back in the good ol’ days of the garden, we need to spend a minute talking about sacrifice.

This is a big leap for us in our context because it’s so foreign to our everyday experience. But there are a couple of helpful truths that will hopefully clear up some confusion!

There are 5 sacrifices in Lev. 1-5 and they might not mean what you think they mean. The first 3 are the burnt offering, the grain offering, and the peace offering. Essentially 3 ways of saying “thank you.” The other 2 are the purification offering and the reparation offering. Essentially two ways of saying, “I’m sorry.”

Typically we think of animal sacrifice as the animal taking the punishment for sin on themselves and the blood of the animal purifying the offeror. The problem with this is it isn’t what the Bible says. As you read through, you might have noticed that the text never says the animal is punished for sin. There is no transference of sin onto the animal in any of these sacrifices. In fact, the only animal that does have the sins of the people placed on it is the “scapegoat” in Leviticus 16 and it’s the one animal that doesn’t die! The sins of the people being placed on an animal would actually make it unclean and not able to enter the presence of the Lord. So if the death and blood of the sacrifice don’t “take away sins” (Heb. 10:4), then what is it doing? In short, the blood of the animal is purifying the tabernacle to create a clean space for God to dwell. If you noticed, the blood of the animal is never sprinkled on the offeror, it is only ever applied to different elements in the tabernacle. Why is this? Because of verse 17:11, “the blood of the animal is its life.” Essentially, blood represents life and as such acts as a detergent to clean God’s house from the pollution of sin and death.

The next thing to notice about these sacrifices is that they result in God’s presence showing up in deeper and deeper places. When God shows up in the Bible to people, the nerd-word for it is “theophany.” And in Leviticus, we get 3 theophanies that help us move “from the tabernacle” to “in the tabernacle.”

The first one happens in Leviticus 9:23. After the priests have been ordained, God shows up in front of the tent of meeting. This is outside the holy place and all the people can see it! Then Aaron’s sons create a bit of a problem by offering “strange fire” and now God’s house is dirty again. So what is to happen?

Enter the laws about clean/unclean in Lev. 11-15. This culminates with Lev. 16 where we get the second theophany. After the sin of Aaron’s sons has been cleaned up, God shows up again in Leviticus 16:2 but this time it is in the holy of holies ! We have moved inside the holy place! Getting to the heart of things.

After the regulations for holy/common things, we get the 3rd and final theophany in Leviticus 24:1-9. This one is the coolest. It’s inside the holy place, and it is represented by the Menorah and the showbread. The Menorah was a lamp that looked like a tree (think Tree of Life in the garden) with 7 branches and the flames of the candles represented the flames of God’s presence. The showbread, or the bread of the presence, was twelves loaves of bread that represented all of Israel. This bread was to remain in front of the Menorah every day, 24×7, 365. The arrangement of the Menorah and the showbread is super intentional- it is meant to depict the presence of God shining on his people all the time. That’s why Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6 says “Let his face shine upon you” – it’s a blessing that comes from God dwelling with his people in the most intimate way possible!

This is how the gap is bridged between the end of Exodus and the beginning of Numbers. Because the offerings and sacrifices have purified a place for God to dwell with sinful humanity, he now speaks to them and is present to them as he once did with Adam and Eve. This all points us to Jesus, whose blood (life) provides the necessary purification so that God can not only dwell with humanity, but IN them! As Paul says, we are the temple of God. His presence is able to dwell with and in us because the blood(life) of Jesus cleanses us from the pollution of sin and death.

Maybe you still don’t like Leviticus, and that’s ok. My hope is that by looking at what the sacrifices are really doing, and how they moved ancient Israel into closer proximity with the living God, we will see how the work of Jesus does the same for us!

A Week of Prayer & Fasting For Family Church

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Let us pray fervently that God would help Family Church as they are about to launch on Apr 10th. Prayer combined with fasting declares our desperation for God more than the basic need for food. If you are physically able, you could abstain from food one meal a day or one meal for several days. Allow the hunger to remind you to seek God in prayer. Let this week of prayer and fasting serve you as a time of adoration and seek God’s help and guidance rather than impressing others or for self-serving purposes. 

If you want some practical tips on structuring your prayer time here’s a link to Pastor Mike’s Meeting with God Outline.

Sunday: Pray for a healthy launch of the Family Church.
Monday: Pray for the spiritual health of the core team. 
Tuesday: Pray that God would provide the necessary finances for ministry needs.
Wednesday: Pray that God would bring more co-laborers.
Thursday: Praise God for answered prayers.
Friday: Pray for God’s protection from the enemy’s attacks.
Saturday: Pray for Unity

Reading Plan Reflections: Mark 10:35-45

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Mark 10: 35-45

Oswald Sanders says, “Because we children of Adam want to become great, Jesus became small. Because we will not stop, He humbled himself. Because we want to rule, He came to serve.” 

The greatest contrast I have noticed in my Christian journey is the contrast between the humility of my Lord and my sinful pride. In the last week’s Bible reading from Mark 10:35-45, Jesus for the third time predicts his death. Without any respect or concern towards the Lord, the disciples argue over who will be the greatest after Jesus’s death. James and John decide to settle this issue with a blatant request for seats, one at His right hand and one at his left hand. To sit on his right hand and his left in the Kingdom would not only be an honor, but it would give authority. They wanted the status, honor, recognition to be the best in the Kingdom, right after Jesus. This request is interesting because they are not asking this to be closer to the Lord and have a deeper relationship. How easy it is to blend worship with self-interest, or worse, disguising self-interest as worship. They sought praise marked by self-interest (v. 35-37). 

One of the greatest losses to usefulness for God’s Kingdom is pride, thinking highly of ourselves than we ought. For this is the man whom I will look, says the Lord, he who is humble and contrite in spirit and tremble at my word. Christian fellowship ought to be one of the chief blessings in this life, and because of our pride, we cause disunity. It caused disunity then among the disciples (v. 41). It still causes disunity today among the believers. John Stott says, “the church is full of Jameses and Johns, go-getters and status-seekers, hungry for honor and prestige, measuring life by achievements, and everlastingly dreaming of success.” We want to do well for sure (and be recognized for it). The issue here is not, am I pursuing greatness? The issue here is, am I pursuing things that Jesus says are great? In the next verses, what’s fascinating is that Lord never rebuked his disciples for their ambition to be great. He patiently clarifies and redefines their ambition. 

His patience towards them/us should humble us and give us hope. Jesus says you know how the world’s rulers are; for them, greatness is about exercising authority and exaltation and status. When people get a little power, how quickly it may go to their heads. But, He says, it shall not be so among you. Instead, you must be a servant of all and a slave of all. According to Roman standards, the word servant (diakonos), the Greek word for waiting tables, prevalent and humble task, nothing you would associate greatness with, and the slave (doulos) had been forced into service. These were two of the lowest positions on society’s scale. Jesus was speaking of being a faithful servant, not a fake. In the eyes of God, Genuine greatness means serving others. The ideal servant lived to care for, protect, and make better the lives of those over them. He spoke of an entirely different kind of greatness pleasing to God because it is humble and self-giving rather than proud and self-serving.

True humility doesn’t kill our dreams; it provides a safe zone based on the Word of God to navigate in the direction to bring God Glory. As we grow in the Lord, we will be less shaped by our culture, and we will not value the same things that our culture values. 

Reading Plan Reflections: Mark 1

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Last night I received an email from the Islamic Association of Raleigh’s chairman inviting me to their annual open house to learn about Islam and observe their prayer, which reminded me that a faithful Muslim prays five times every day. A habit they developed whether they feel like praying or not. Is there any habit you have developed that you do religiously every day? Is prayer a part of that habit?

In this week’s church reading plan, Mark records, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35. It may not sound like a big deal that Jesus prayed, but when we read from verse 21, Mark describes what Jesus did the day before. The first task, Jesus taught with authority (v. 22). The second, Jesus casts out demons (v. 25). The third, starting from sundown, He healed many sick (v. 34). We know that Jesus doesn’t perform a miracle without a cost to Him (Mark 4:30). After all this, Mark doesn’t say, Jesus took the next day off. But, He rose early in the morning to pray.

If that ever happens to us, we serve or even work all day until late at night. It is easy to feel like we did a lot for the Lord, and the last thing we are worried about the following day is to pray. We like busyness, and we like people needing us and giving us attention. But our Lord prays early in the morning because He knows that there is no substitute for our time with the Father.

We know that prayer offers unique strength to our walk with the Lord. Prayer gave Jesus direction and purpose and helped Him prioritize His yes and no. He said no to something good and prioritized His mission even when everyone was looking for Him (v. 37-38). Though we could articulate the importance of prayer yet, many of us are dissatisfied with our prayer life if we are honest. And one of the common excuses I noticed in my life and often heard from others is, “I am busy,” or taking Paul’s expression of “prayer without ceasing” too far by multitasking our prayer time with other essential things, like driving, working out, cooking, etc.”

It is not about waking up early in the morning. The point is about sacrificial and undistracted prayer. Jesus sacrificed His sleep and went into a lonely place to pray. If anyone could be busy or be in constant commune with God, it was Jesus. Yet He took time off from His schedule to pray. The busyness will not disappear, but we will need to learn to control our time. We just don’t drift into disciplined prayer unless we plan to pray. If you struggle with your prayer time, start slowly, but maintain the discipline of prayer. Ask God’s help, practice, and grow upon it. Is there anything in your life that you could set aside (sacrifice) so you could commit to the discipline of prayer? What we do echos our highest priorities. 

Reading Plan Reflections: Genesis & Matthew

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Genesis 1-5, Matthew 1-5

By CJ Davis

Happy New Year, Harvest! So excited for those of you who are following along in our Reading Plan – these next two years, by God’s grace, are really going to be a blessing and even on day five, I’m already experiencing that!

I wanted to share some reflections on these opening chapters of Genesis and Matthew as we begin our journey together. Instead of focusing on one interesting thing in one particular chapter, I’d like to try and highlight how all of Scripture is in communication with itself. The New Testament writers were steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures and it really shows! So let’s look at a couple of the ways that Matthew’s Gospel parallels the opening chapters of Genesis.

For starters, Matthew’s genealogy begins with the word “genesis” twice! Once in verse 1, “the genesis of the genealogy of Jesus…” and again in verse 18, “Now the genesis of Jesus Christ was as follows…”. There are six sets of seven generations, culminating in the life of Jesus and his people, just like there are six days of creation culminating in a seventh day where God dwells with his creation. Genealogies are peppered all throughout Genesis and Matthew roots his presentation of Jesus in a genesis, a beginning – but this time it is a new beginning in Jesus!

There are similarities as well as differences in these chapters too. Take Genesis 2 and Matthew 2 for example. One is a picture of pristine abundance, safety, security, and the presence of God with his children. Matthew 2 however, seems like the world of Genesis 2 is a distant memory – a faraway dream. Fear, deceit, anger, fleeing a homeland, and the murder of children dominate the narrative. Matthew 2 is the world of Genesis 2 gone wrong – but the promise is still protected!

Genesis 3 promises that the descendants of the serpent would war with the descendants of the woman and in Matthew 3, John calls the religious leaders the descendants of serpents! The great irony here is that the leaders of God’s chosen people have themselves become the seed of the serpent instead of the image-bearers they were called to be.

Genesis 4 is the first story told outside the protection of the garden where sin and the serpent can run wild. This wilderness is the same place Jesus is led out to in Matthew 4 and confronts the one who tempted the first humans – but this time the New Adam does what the first didn’t – he trusts totally in God’s provision. Cain and Abel are two brothers offering sacrifices and one becomes a killer of man, but in Matthew 4 Jesus calls two sets of brothers to be sacrifices and become fishers of man!

Lastly, the Sermon on the Mount maps on to the beginning chapters of Genesis: Jesus references the light of the world, salt of the earth, fulfilling commandments, what it looks like to be an image-bearer, and what it looks like to be fruitful and multiply. It’s no surprise then that after a description of what the blessed person looks like, we get a story about brothers in the context of offering sacrifices and the command to not murder in 5:21-26. Lamech in Genesis 5 brags to his two wives about avenging his enemies, and the rest of Matthew 5 is focused on adultery, swearing vows, forgiving, and loving enemies.

These are just a few examples of the ways in which the texts of Scripture “talk to each other”! As you read through the Bible these next two years, think and reflect on how the entire Old Testament is a story that culminates in Jesus and how the New Testament writers try to show us this! Let the journey genesis (begin).