Friday, December 19, 2014

God provides deliverance

My Sunday School lesson for last weekend ...

Sunday we finished our study of Esther. Last week we introduced the Jewish orphan who became queen of Persia. Her cousin, Mordecai, guided her and then through his refusal to bow to King Xerxes' main man Haman, who in return tricked Xerxes into signing off on extermination of the Jewish people.

We also talked about the fact that in the book of Esther, the name of God is not mentioned. Not once. And yet we can see how God is on display throughout as He protects and saves the Jews from annihilation yet again.

Let's go back to the setting. It's about 480 B.C. in Persia, which was the greatest empire of the day. The Persians conquered the Babylonians in 539 B.C., and their rule lasted until Alexander the Great took it all over for the Greeks 200 years later, who in turn saw the Roman Empire take over.

So getting to today, King Ahasuerus, or Xerxes as he's know to historians, has signed off on the villain Haman's plot against the Jews. But we’re going to talk about how Esther was in the right place at the right time to best accomplish God’s purposes.

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** QUESTION - Do you remember a time when you felt you were in just the right place at just the right time?

MORDECAI’S REVEAL (Esth. 4:6-9)

6 So Hathach [HAY thak] went out to Mordecai in the city square in front of the King’s Gate. 7 Mordecai told him everything that had happened as well as the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay the royal treasury for the slaughter of the Jews. 8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa ordering their destruction, so that Hathach might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and command her to approach the king, implore his favor, and plead with him personally for her people. 9 Hathach came and repeated Mordecai’s response to Esther.

*** Mordecai tries to get a sense of urgency from Esther.

--- Mordecai is going ballistic, essentially. Verse 4:1 says he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes and went into the city wailing loudly and bitterly. Jews all over the realm were doing the same. and yet when Esther was told about Mordecai's behavior she was distressed and tried to get him to wear normal clothes.

*** Esther is initially upset at Mordecai’s behavior.

--- 4 When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.

--- Bro. Joseph wrote about this earlier this week. "Mordecai ... becomes very grief stricken over the decree to where his grief is now a public spectacle. He is making a protest against the atrocities that are being exhibited. Interesting in light of recent events. Esther presents though a different reaction in that she has no knowledge of what is going on among the people. She got so caught up in being a queen that she is not understanding of the grief Mordecai is exhibiting. How easy it can be as Christians to get so internally focused that we miss what is happening in the world around us. We miss the opportunity to minister to those around us. We miss why God put us in a particular place for a particular reason. Don't be afraid to speak out today against the devaluation of life. We should be grief stricken at any innocent life that is lost. Also ask God to open your heart to see those around you that need ministering."

*** Hathach had a big job. As a royal servant he was the go-between with Esther and Mordecai.

--- QUESTION: What other times in the Bible did God use seemingly insignificant people to accomplish important tasks for His kingdom?

ESTHER’S HESITATION (Esth. 4:10-12)

10 Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to tell Mordecai, 11 “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned—the death penalty. Only if the king extends the gold scepter will that person live. I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last 30 days.” 12 Esther’s response was reported to Mordecai.

*** Esther had a dilemma. She, like everyone else, knew that if you approached the king without being summoned you could be executed. This was to make the royal court look important, and protect the king from potential assassins.

--- QUESTION - Does Esther’s answer suggest she valued her life above that of her people?

*** Esther’s dilemma reminds us that obedience to God can involve taking risks. However, the risks of obedience are well worth taking. Like Esther, we as believers can encounter the possibility of serious consequences for following God’s commands. However, devoted believers are willing to set aside personal fears as they obey a faithful God.

*** Esther wasn’t trying to avoid Mordecai’s request, but she wanted him to understand the risks involved with his plan.

--- Question: Have you ever experienced a dilemma-of-faith situation in which the risks of action were high? Who or what helped you decide the way to proceed?

MORDECAI’S APPEAL (Esth. 4:13-14)

13 Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. 14 If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”

*** Mordecai challengers Esther with a “stand up for your people” message.

--- QUESTION - What kind of emotion do you identify in Mordecai’s response to Esther?

--- Remaining neutral was not one of Esther’s choices. If she didn't do something about Haman's trickeration and the king's edict, she was in danger as well. Every Jew had a specific date with death.

*** Memory verse of the week, verse 14b: "Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”

--- You are where you are and ready to God’s work, just as you are.

--- Bro. Joseph wrote this week that "Mordecai was showing that God was in control but also that Esther had a responsibility to use her influence for God as well. I have often wondered about why Christians get so caught up with celebrities being Christians. We cling to these people and hope in some small way that they will make a difference. Why? Because we want them to use their influence. We attach ourselves to them because we want to share in their message. Now it is sad to see how many celebrities have started on a path of being outspoken only to see their path take a different road from what they believe i.e. Miley Cyrus initial craze for being such a good girl. The message becomes blurred of what is acceptable in the Christian life when there is no complete follow through. The same though is true for the non-celebrity i.e. most all of us. We have places of influence that God has placed us and we can either take the path of being hesitant or we can take the path to fast and pray for God's direction to be used by Him where He has placed us."

*** Question - When have you sensed that God positioned you (or another believer) at just the right place and time to do something for His glory?

ESTHER’S RESOLVE (Esth. 4:15-17)

15 Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, day or night. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had ordered him.

*** Esther takes the challenge to step out in her faith, but with careful thought.

--- Esther didn't go barging into the king's circle. She knew she needed to handle it carefully.

*** Esther organized a mass fast among her inner circle and all the Jews in the area. This would also mean that they were praying for her, interceding for God’s help.

*** Fasting is a Biblical discipline of self-control. It's a way of showing that we can depend on God alone and draw our strength from Him.

--- QUESTION - When have you engaged in spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting for courage to do something that God wants you to do? What role can spiritual disciplines play in understanding God’s plans?

--- In this case as with most we tend to think of fasting as going without food. But we can fast from anything. If we love music and decide to miss a concert in order to spend time with God, that is fasting. It is helpful to think of the parallel of human friendship. When friends need to be together, they will cancel all other activities in order to make that possible. There's nothing magical about fasting. It's just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with him, sorting out whatever is necessary, and you have cancelled the meal, party, concert, or whatever else you had planned to do in order to fulfill that priority. (James Packer, Your Father Loves You)

--- Luke 2:36-40 - 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. 38 At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had completed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The boy grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on Him.

--- Luke 4:1-2 - Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

--- Acts 9:4-9 - 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

--- Acts 13:1-3 - In the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.2 As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.” 3 Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

--- Esther needed the prayerful partnership of her people to equip her for a life-or-death task. We, too, can and should reach out for spiritual support and intercession from fellow believers as we serve the Lord in our contexts. We can take action within God’s providence, leaving the results to Him. We cannot control all of our external circumstances. However, we can obey and trust our Sovereign Lord with whatever He deems best, knowing that He loves us and wants the best for His children.

FOLLOW-UP

*** Haman’s plan costs him his life, and in one of the greatest turnarounds in the Bible. Before Esther tells the king about the plot, Xerxes has the royal record read to him when he can't sleep (I guess counting sheep wasn't invented yet) and realizes Mordecai was the hero who foiled the assassination plot in chapter 2. Xerxes then has Haman put on fine robes on Mordecai and parade him through Susa proclaiming him to be a hero. And then Esther reveals the plot and Xerxes has Haman impaled on a pole that Haman had prepared for Mordecai's death. Xerxes then issues another decree that allows the Jewish people to defend themselves against anyone who would attack. Jews still celebrate this salvation in the Feast of Purim.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** Esther was in the right place at the right time by divine providence, saving her people, even as she was married to a pagan king in a pagan kingdom during exile from her homeland.

--- We may not be called upon to challenge a king in order to save our people, but God uses us in unique ways to accomplish His plans.

*** Think of any ways God may be calling you to take action.

*** Think of situations where want to be involved but need to let God have control.

*** Ask God for bold obedience and confidence to follow where He is leading you.

*** Who needs you to be a “Mordecai,” encouraging her or him to step out in faith to serve God? How can you encourage this individual?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Deliverance is Needed

My Sunday School lesson from Dec. 7 ...

Sunday morning we started our new session on Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah.

So let's start with some background on Esther, taken from Rod O'Neil of First Baptist Church of Mt. Washington, KY:

*** Author: The Book of Esther does not specifically name its author. The most popular traditions are Mordecai (Esther’s cousin), and Nehemiah (who would have been familiar with Persian customs), or Ezra who compiled it from another primary source.

*** History: Esther appeared about 40 years after the Temple was rebuilt and about 30 years before the Wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt. Persian records do not contain references to Esther or Mordecai, but the detailed descriptions of practices and customs in the book are archeologically and historically accurate. The action in the book would have taken place around 483-471 BC. The Book of Esther was likely written between 460 and 350 BC. Esther, in all probability, made it possible for Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Wall.

*** Leading Characters:

--- Esther - She saves the Jewish race from near annihilation
--- Mordecai - Esther’s older cousin who raised her & guided her
--- Xerxes (Ahasuerus) - King of Persia who was noted for unruly behavior
--- Queen Vashti - Deposed queen who scorned her king
--- Haman - A power-hungry Persian official who hated Jews
--- God - Not mentioned once, but worked providentially behind the scenes to save His chosen people

Sunday's lesson focused on Esther 3:1-9, the idea being that God can use wicked men, wicked nations, and wicked situations to accomplish His will.

MORDECAI HONORS GOD ONLY (Esther 3:1-5)

After all this took place, King Ahasuerus honored Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite. He promoted him in rank and gave him a higher position than all the other officials. 2 The entire royal staff at the King’s Gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, because the king had commanded this to be done for him. But Mordecai would not bow down or pay homage. 3 The members of the royal staff at the King’s Gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you disobeying the king’s command?” 4 When they had warned him day after day and he still would not listen to them, they told Haman to see if Mordecai’s actions would be tolerated, since he had told them he was a Jew. 5 When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing down or paying him homage, he was filled with rage.

*** Esther is a Jewish orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai. In chapters 1 and 2 we read about how she was chosen to be the new queen to Xerxes, who is referred to as Ahasuerus in the Bible. During the same period, Mordecai is instrumental in foiling an assassination plot against the king. At the same time this period includes the ill-fated Persian invasion of Greece that cost Xerxes thousands of soldiers and much of his fleet.

*** Haman was a descendant of the Amalekites, the sworn enemy of the Israelites. The Jews were supposed to wipe them out after taking the Promised Land:

--- Deuteronomy 25:17-19 - 17 “Remember what the Amalekites did to you on the journey after you left Egypt. 18 They met you along the way and attacked all your stragglers from behind when you were tired and weary. They did not fear God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven. Do not forget.

--- Saul finally desolated their territory and destroyed their power but he lost his kingdom due to failure to annihilate them completely. (1 Samuel 15)

*** Mordecai stood firm in the face of fierce opposition that required uncompromising faith in God.

GENOCIDE PLANNED (Esther 3:6-9)

6 And when he learned of Mordecai’s ethnic identity, Haman decided not to do away with Mordecai alone. He planned to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout Ahasuerus’s kingdom. 7 In the first month, the month of Nisan, in King Ahasuerus’s twelfth year, Pur (that is, the lot) was cast before Haman for each day in each month, and it fell on the twelfth month, the month Adar. 8 Then Haman informed King Ahasuerus, “There is one ethnic group, scattered throughout the peoples in every province of your kingdom, yet living in isolation. Their laws are different from everyone else’s and they do not obey the king’s laws. It is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9 If the king approves, let an order be drawn up authorizing their destruction, and I will pay 375 tons of silver to the accountants for deposit in the royal treasury.”

*** When Haman learns of Mordecai's refusal to bow, Haman wants to destroy not just him but all of his people, the Jews.

*** Haman lied to King Xerxes and said that they Jews did not obey the king's laws.

--- Haman even said he would put up 375 tons of his own silver to pay for the operation.

--- Xerxes signed off on the plan, not knowing that his queen was a Jew.

*** How can believers respond when confronted with conflicting religious and political demands?

--- 1 Timothy 2:1-3 - First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good, and it pleases God our Savior,

--- Romans 13:1 - Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.

*** Three important themes for Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah:

--- Dangerous times call for courageous stands.

--- Dispirited people need hopeful leaders.

--- Difficult situations require godly leadership.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cooper and Penny at Bass Pro

A Christmas tradition, enjoying the fun things at the Bass Pro Santa Wonderland ...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cooper and Penny's Christmas lists

Val transcribed what Cooper and Penny wrote to Santa, and it perfectly and adorably fits their personalities ...

Penny putting her stuffed animals to bed ...

So much excitement this time of year, Penny finally gives out ...

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cooper and Penny decorating the Christmas tree

About 75 percent of ornaments are on the bottom third of the tree.

Cooper got to put on the star this year, but as our trees get taller and he gets bigger we may need a ladder next year!

It may be Christmastime, but we are still wistful for warm breezes and the ocean life.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A New Kind of Community

My lesson for November 24th's Sunday School class, using Lifeway's Explore the Bible resource as my guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

On November 2, Nik Wallenda, of the famous Flying Wallenda family, once again broke world records—this time in two categories: Highest Incline Tightrope Walk and Highest Blindfolded Tightrope Walk. The 35-year-old, 7th generation Wallenda daredevil walked 500 feet above the ground between two skyscrapers in Chicago (the Windy City!), crossing the span in just 6 minutes and 52 seconds. Winds were gusting up to 25 mph. Then, after adding a blindfold, he walked 94 feet between two more towering buildings in a mere 1 minute and 17 seconds! Wallenda did both walks without a harness or a safety net.

These dangerous and hair-raising feats are all in a day’s work for Nik Wallenda. He has previously walked a tightrope over Niagara Falls and last year he became the first person to successfully walk a wire across the Grand Canyon.

--- QUESTION: What is your biggest fear?

Most all of us have fears. How can we take a fear and change it into a celebration?

Share information about Nik Wallenda’s most recent tightrope walk. Include facts about the height, length, wind conditions, breaking the world records, and so forth, as well as insights about his family background and the training he goes through in preparation.

Why does he do these things? Why do you think he refused to use a harness or safety net? Did you watch this event on TV? Why or why not?

For the Wallenda family, Nik’s attempt and completion of these two death-defying walks turned any fears they may have experienced into a time of celebration.

Approaching God under the old covenant was a time of dread and fear. Today’s passage contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant when believers can approach God with joy and live in community with one another.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Last week we talked about running the Christian race, and the endurance, perseverance and discipline that it requires.

*** This week’s verses contrast Mount Sinai with Mount Zion, what the mountains represent spiritually: the old and new covenants. Under the old covenant people approached God cautiously because of fear, but under the new covenant people approach God confidently because of what Christ did for them.

FROM A TERRIFYING ENCOUNTER (HEB. 12:18-21)

18 For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, 19 to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. (Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, 20 for they could not bear what was commanded: And if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned! 21 The appearance was so terrifying that Moses said, I am terrified and trembling.)

*** God’s presence at Mount Sinai.

--- In Hebrews Christians were encouraged to walk in holiness with the Lord. The writer used an Old Testament illustration (Ex. 19-20; Deut. 4-5) to demonstrate God’s holiness and how the Mosaic covenant left people fearful of God.

--- Verse 18 takes the reader back to the time of Moses and when God laid out the covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, rescued them at the Red Sea and provided for them. At Mount Sinai God called Moses up onto the mountain where the Ten Commandments was given.

--- Put yourselves in the place of the Israelites who stood at the base of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20. Based on verses 18-21, what were the sights and sounds?

--- Exodus 19:16 - On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp shuddered.)

--- Deut. 5:24 - You said, ‘Look, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and greatness, and we have heard His voice from the fire. Today we have seen that God speaks with a person, yet he still lives.)

--- Exodus 19:12 - Put boundaries for the people all around the mountain and say: Be careful that you don’t go up on the mountain or touch its base. Anyone who touches the mountain will be put to death.

This would have been a powerful and terrifying phenomena. Because the Lord God’s presence came down onto the mountain, the people (other than Moses and Aaron) were forbidden to even touch the base of it, lest they die (see Ex. 19:12,21-24). The people responded with fear and were afraid to continue hearing from God directly, so they pleaded for Moses to be their go-between.

You know how in “Ghostbusters” when the other guys picked Ray to talk to the library ghost? Yeah, like that.

*** QUESTION - Have you ever felt that you were at a distance from the Lord? Have you gotten “off course” at times? How did the Lord bring you back?

*** Verse 20 says that we cannot carelessly disregard a divine warning. If the Israelites at Mount Sinai were not exempt from punishment for disobedience when warned by Moses (an earthly spokesman for God), how much less will people escape punishment who have been warned by the Son of God from heaven and have turned away from Him!

*** The fear of Moses.

--- Moses was afraid in Hebrews 12:21, even after he had already had interactions with God on a personal level at the burning bush and as he led the people out of Egypt. Relate Moses’ fear when Moses came down from the mountain and found the people worshiping the golden calf made by Aaron:

--- Deut. 9:19 - I was afraid of the fierce anger the LORD had directed against you, because He was about to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me on that occasion.

--- After having learned the people had made a calf-idol for themselves while they waited for him to return from the mountain. Moses was fearful that God in His righteous wrath was about to destroy the Israelites on the spot!

*** Have faith that you are headed in the Godly direction.

---This Thanksgiving Day I will be flying to Florida with Val and the kiddos. While me and Val will be trying to keep the kids happy through whatever means necessary short of duct tape, we trust that the pilots are in control of the airplane. We trust that the plane is going where it says on the ticket, around the timeframe listed, and in one piece no matter the circumstances.

--- As Christians sometimes we travel in which we're not sure where we're headed. Think of Abraham, who is described in Hebrews 11:8 as traveling on God's command without really knowing where he was going. God knew where He wanted Abraham to go, but Abraham didn't. He just walked by faith. As we are to do, so we are told not to lose sight of the big picture of God's purpose. Keep your eyes on Jesus and stay on course.

--- QUESTION - What are some things that can distract believers from the true goal of our faith? Have you ever felt that God was leading you, but you weren’t sure where you were going? How did you keep going in faith?

TO A FESTIVE GATHERING (HEB. 12:22-24)

22 Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, 23 to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the Judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, 24 to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel.

*** Mount Zion, the picture of heaven.

--- The name Zion appears in 2 Samuel 5:7 as a reference to the mountain on which Jerusalem later stood. It referred at that earlier time to a stronghold King David captured from the Jebusites. David made the city his capital, and his son, Solomon, later built the Lord’s temple there (see 1 Kings 8:1). In time, Mount Zion became associated with the coming of the Messiah. In Psalm 110:2, the psalmist declared that the Messiah would come and reign from Mount Zion (see also Isa. 59:20; Micah 4:7; Zech. 9:9). The readers of Hebrews were quite aware of the theological connection between Mount Zion and the new covenant in Christ.

--- Verses 18-21 talked about the Old Covenant and the people at Mount Sinai were kept at a distance to demonstrate God’s holiness and to show the separation between Holy God and sinful people. In the new covenant, God would bridge that distance Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ the Son of God. In contrast to the fear and trembling of Moses, the latter verses paint a much brighter picture.

--- Note the living beings found in these verses: "The living God," "Myriads of angels," "assembly of the firstborn," "spirits of the righteous people," and "Jesus." That's a great group of folks in heaven, especially the "spirits of the righteous people," because that's us!

--- The God who manifested His presence to the Israelites on Mount Sinai is the same God who leads us as Christians toward Mount Zion.

*** We are enrolled.

--- Verse 22 says that believers “have come,” so our names are already on the rolls. God is a God of grace and mercy and we have a place in eternity just as all the Roll Call of the Faith in Hebrews chapter 11 has now. He’s waiting. God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:9.

--- Jesus says in Luke 10:20 – “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

--- Of heaven, it is written in Revelation 21:27 - Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

--- No fear! Romans 8:1 says that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

--- Believers are righteous because of what Christ has accomplished in His once-for-all sacrifice. We will spend eternity together as one big Hap-Hap-Happy family because of the one sacrifice of the one Savior of all.

*** It takes all kinds!

--- 1 Corinthians 1:27 says that God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

Think of the people here at church, the believers we'll be seeing for a long, long time in glory. The people God chooses to do His work are plain, simple folks. All you have to do is look at the twelve men Jesus chose to be His disciples. Fishermen, a tax collector, a “zealot.” What a ragtag bunch! But they ended up “turning the world upside down.” And those who watched them exclaimed, “Why, these are ignorant and unlearned men!” (Acts 4:13). Maybe you didn’t make the “Who’s Who,” or worse, the “Who’s Not”! That’s all right. God has a plan for you. God knows what He is doing. He turns the table on the world’s idea of success. Wealth, fame, acclaim. None of these are necessary for you to be used of God.

--- This week we saw the immigration debate heat up with Obama’s executive order on amnesty for up to 5 million immigrants. It’s easy for us to spend our time thinking about things in our country or world. Many American hymnals include a section for patriotic songs like "God Bless America" and "My Country Tis of Thee." But if we have trusted Christ, our citizenship is in heaven. We are set apart:

1 Peter 2:9 - But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Hebrews 13:14 – For we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come.

*** There's power in the blood.

--- Referring to the "sprinkled blood" in verse 24: On the Day of Atonement the priest would kill an animal at the altar of burnt offering and catch the blood. After offering incense on the altar of incense, they would cross the veil into the holy of holies, where they would sprinkle the blood on the Ark of the Covenant in order to make atonement for the people. In the heavenly picture of Hebrews 12:22-24, that sprinkling had already been accomplished once for all by the death of Jesus. In Exodus, that had not occurred.

--- Also in verse 24 the writer emphasized the blood of Jesus said better things than the blood of Abel. What does that mean? When God confronted Cain about his wicked act, God told him that his brother Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord (see Gen. 4:10). The writer of Hebrews alluded to that Scripture in declaring that Jesus’ shed blood spoke a much better word than Abel’s blood. While Abel’s blood cried out for justice, the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, was necessary to redeem sinners.

*** QUESTION - Based on this study, how would you describe the attitude a person should have when approaching God? What needs to change in your life for you to demonstrate this attitude to a greater degree?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Think about the story we had earlier of Nik Wallenda on the tightrope over Chicago.

Most of the people who gathered in Chicago or watched these events on television did so with a measure of fear for Nik’s safety. Like watching a NASCAR race, some folks were probably just seeing if he would fail.

Hopefully you probably breathed a sigh of relief when he completed the walks safely. But note that the celebration did not begin until the task was complete.

That coincides with the truth of today’s passage as well.The summary statement for today’s study is this: Believers can have joyful fellowship with one another and with God because of the blood of Jesus Christ.

*** We don't have to dread the presence of God. Because of the sacrifice on the cross, our fears have turned to celebration.

*** Consider your personal response to this question: How do I most often relate to God — out of fear or in celebration? Why?

*** Examine your hearts and evaluate your relationship with God. Acknowledging the sacrifice of Jesus Christ allows believers to approach Him joyfully, knowing we are accepted.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Sugar and spice and everything nice

My latest piece for GodlyDaddy.com ...

My three-year-old daughter Penny is already a legend.

Her exploits are so widely known that friends I’ve barely seen since high school will stop us in public and say, “Wow, your daughter is so funny! She must be a handful.”

What they mean, of course, is, “I’m glad I don’t have to deal with all that!”

When Penny was a tiny fragile baby in the NICU for two weeks, we imagined her in a few years as a sweet girl who did nothing but giggle, cuddle and dress like Disney princesses.

You know the joke, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

There’s nothing like a strong-willed child to make you doubt that you’re doing this parenting thing the godly way.

If she was in the Bible, our Precious Penelope would haven taken Esau’s birthright. If she was one of Jacob’s kids she would have tossed Joseph in the well. Delilah? Amateur.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 guides us to share godly thoughts with our kids at all times, “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

I really try. I do. Alas, too many of my words when I’m in my house come out like, “Penny, why did you do that?” “Penny, you’re going to hurt yourself/me/Mommy/Cooper.” “No Penny, you pull the pin and then you throw the grenade.”

When we found out our second child was a girl we envisioned a life of tea parties with stuffed animals. While she enjoys that girly stuff, Penny also likes to leave three inches of water on the floor during baths, climb to the top of her closet, and abandon half-eaten strawberries in every nook and cranny of the house.

When we talk about the “terrific twos,” I mean that she’s been going at it for two years already.

I joke that Penny is a Bond-villain-in-training, which will be funny until I find out about the secret lair she’s been digging under our house that has the full capability of taking over all international intelligence operations.

One thing that I had had to adapt is my attitude towards patience. I don’t mean my patience, but yours. You need more of it to deal with me dealing with her.

You know that child on the playground that is into everything, and every other parent knows their name because her parents keep yelling it? Yeah. Penny.

Of course, I say this mostly in jest, and while there’s a lot of truth in what I write about living with Penny, I’m also so very thankful for her. She may be wild, but she’s my wild child.

And after all, it’s up to me and Darling Valerie to set her straight. We’re the example. Proverbs 20:7 says that when the righteous live blameless lives then their children will be blessed.

Hopefully someday this will going beyond people watching us struggle and shaking their heads saying, “Bless their hearts.”

Proverbs 22:6 famously says to “train up a child in the way he should go,” but it does not go on to explain what to do in the moment your daughter rips up all of your son’s Thomas the Train tracks and tosses shoes in the toilet.

Maybe that’s in Habakkuk. I’ll check that later but right now Penny is under the Christmas tree and I foresee a National Lampoon disaster coming.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Run for your life!

My lesson for November 16's Sunday School class ...

We continue our study of Hebrews, this time turning to chapter 12 as we talk about Jesus being the strength we need to persevere. The key words are "endurance" and "discipline."

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Besides running, what kinds of things do we endure on a daily basis?

--- How about traffic to work and school after a surprise wintry mix comes through!

--- On the extreme, two women started camping out in front of a California Best Buy 22 days before Black Friday. Now that's endurance!

Now let's get to Hebrews and what it tells us about endurance:

*** Understand the Context:

--- The writer of Hebrews gives a pep talk to followers of Jesus suffering persecution for their faith. The believers in this time weren't the first to experience spiritual dullness, and we won't be the last to fight the fall into false comfort.

--- The Scriptures teach us that the Christian life is more like a marathon than a sprint.

--- The goal is to have endurance and finish well. The prize is to hear the Lord Jesus Christ say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

ENDURING (HEB. 12:1-3)

1 Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

*** It's a race!

If you have ever trained for a marathon or know someone who did, then you know that competing well in such a race does not happen by accident. No one wins a marathon—an endurance run of over 26 miles—by just showing up on the day of the race without training. Those who win marathons do so because they have trained diligently.

--- The author of Hebrews use an endurance race to describe our Christian walk.

--- Last week we talked about the Hero Hall of Fame in the Old Testament in Hebrews chapter 11. These are examples of people with great faith who had died and their race was finished.

QUESTION – Think of people who are encourage you while running their race in difficulties? What are some of the speed bumps that you have to endure to live the most effective life for Christ?

*** Developing endurance during spiritual opposition:

Nationally known Dr. Charles Stanley in Atlanta writes of four things that play a role in developing endurance during spiritual opposition:

(1) Receiving encouragement from others. The writer of Hebrews refers to “a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1). Think of the crowds cheering you on, the crowd being the Roll Call of the Faithful as in Hebrews 11.

(2) Getting rid of hindrances. Hebrews tells us, “Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (12:1). This means we need to identify those things that could slow us down, including any sin God brings to our attention.

(3) Running the race. When the going gets rough, we don’t run away. We can’t be quitters. Rather, we continue on confident that the longer we persevere, the stronger our faith in Him becomes.

(4) Fixing our eyes on Christ. Nothing helps us endure like seeing the final prize before us—and that prize is Christ Himself. Fix your eyes upon Jesus, look to Him for guidance and wisdom.

---God knows the Christian life is not easy. And it never will become easy, no matter how long we live. In this world, we will face opposition, both from the world and from the enemy of our souls, the devil. Jesus told us, “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33 - "I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.").

--- This race isn’t about beating the other runners around us, more like a “fun run” together. Our competition does not involve other believers but rather the sins and spiritual distractions that so easily entangle us. We battle not against flesh and blood but against the great enemy of our faith who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy:

John 10:10 - The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Eph. 6:12 - For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

*** Joy of the cross?

--- Verse 2 has an interesting wording, that Jesus endured the cross "for the joy that was set before him," in other words, in anticipation of the joy of being our Savior. Jesus knew that when the necessary suffering of a shameful form of execution was over, the reward was to follow.

--- Acts 20:24 – “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

--- We can endure most when we are confident in what lies ahead. Few people will endure anything in the absence of hope. But to have the faith that endurance will lead to something great is necessary to hold on a little longer. Or as a great poet once sang, “if you hold on, for one more day, things will go your way.”

DISCIPLINED (HEB. 12:4-7) 4 In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or faint when you are reproved by Him, 6 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives.. 7 Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?

Were the greatest opponents to the Christians in Hebrews external or internal?

*** Sin is your biggest obstacle.

--- In the ancient world, runners would remove anything that added weight. Often they ran practically naked. It’s hard to run in a toga. How much more important is the spiritual race that is set before us?

--- Verse 4 says that the struggle against sin is the biggest obstacle hindering the runners and can trip us up. The writer makes a point of saying that even though persecution was great, the readers had not yet suffered death.

*** God’s discipline.

--- "If it's from the Almighty it's alrighty!"

--- The image shifts from a runner enduring a race to the finish line to the discipline that it takes to finish the race.

--- The writer quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 here, a passage about a wise father instructing an eager son. The word for discipline in Greek is the usual word for the instruction of a person raising a child.

--- As parents, we are expected to endure a lot from our children, and sometimes even those who may not understand our children. This week we had a story out of San Francisco about a woman in a department store who told a mother to control her tantrum-throwing child. When the mother basically told the woman to mind her business, the woman said to "Go to Hell." Well, that really, really didn't go over well. The mother followed the woman into the parking lot and broke a few teeth from the woman. I admit, my first instinct would also be to tell the woman that I'm doing my best and to essentially mind her business. When you're trying to endure your children acting badly in public, you don't need an outsider to point it out.

--- QUESTION - Think of the purpose of discipline in a parent/child relationship. If parents refuse to discipline their children, what does that say about their relationship? If the discipline is not redemptive, what does that say about the relationship? How can discipline be both painful and productive at the same time? How does your trust in God help you endure discipline when it occurs in your life?

*** Discipline, not punishment.

*** Verse 6 is out memory verse for the week – “for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives”

--- Pastor John MacArthur compares punishment to discipline: Punishment has one purpose, discipline another. Punishment is a severe penalty. And punishment from God is eternal. The purpose of discipline is to produce virtue and discipline is only for a season. In punishment, God is the judge. In discipline, God is the father. In punishment, condemnation is the goal. In discipline, righteousness is the goal. God’s discipline is out of love.

--- Discipline is also for prevention, to prevent sin. The Lord demands that you stay away from evil company because evil company corrupts good morals.Any good parent understands that you put restrictions on your children for their own good.

--- Education is also a reason for God's discipline. It teaches you the experiences of life that you can extend to others and feel more sympathy for their suffering. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that he had all these sufferings so that he might be comforted by God so that he might comfort others.”

--- Verse 8 continues that “if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” So if you haven’t been disciplined then you aren’t Christian.

--- The believer who is most obedient is living the Christian life at its max. The more rebellious you are, the more undisciplined you are, the more disobedient you are, the less you enjoy life.

--- QUESTION - Do any of you have any examples of how God’s discipline has helped strengthen you as a Christian?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** Identify what's holding you back in your race, think of what you can do to improve in those areas.

*** Think about when you've had to be disciplined, and praise God for how He can train us for our ultimate good.

*** In the end I hope we can all say, like Paul did in 2 Timothy 4:7 - "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Faith Defined

Here's this weekend's Sunday School lesson on faith!

Sunday we continued our study in Hebrews by checking out Hebrews 10:19-11:40, focusing on 11:1-7 in the lesson. The main idea is that it is impossible to please God without faith.

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Who are your heroes?

--- Researchers James Patterson and Peter Kim report in "The Day America Told the Truth" that 70 percent of Americans say they have no living heroes.

---You could also ask what makes a hero? R.W. Emerson. wrote that "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer."

--- When columnist Sydney Harris noted that when kids are asked their heroes, almost every one is an entertainer or athlete. You won't see on the list any politicians, authors, artists, doctors or even astronauts. Harris suggested the heroes created by our society are people who have made it big, but not necessarily people who have done big things.

*** Understand the context.

--- Hebrews chapter 11 is called the "The Roll Call of the Faithful," or "Faith's Hall of Fame," a compilation of the best-known heroes of the Old Testament.

--- These Old Testament examples and went out on a limb for their faith even when they could not see the results! And that's why they're heroes.

--- The author of Hebrews was trying to encourage discouraged Christians from wavering in their faith in Jesus. God’s children are saved by His grace through faith; thus they also live by faith.

--- Real faith leads to actions that demonstrate trust in God and His promises.

Faith Described (Heb. 11:1-3)

1Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. 2 For our ancestors won God’s approval by it. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible.

*** Public faith.

There was an article in The Atlantic online this week that asked, Are Americans Afraid to Talk About Their Faith Online?

According to a new report from Pew Research, the way people talk about their faith online actually is different from how they talk about it in real life. In a nationally representative survey of more than 3,200 Americans, only 20 percent said they had "shared something about their religious faith on social networking websites/apps" in the past week. Twice as many - 40 percent - said they had talked about faith tom someone in person within the same period.

35 percent said they attended a religious service at least once a week.

Although people from different religious backgrounds reported different levels of what one might call faith-sharing, this relationship between on- and offline sharing was roughly the same across Christian denominations and the religiously unaffiliated: Twice as many people talked about their religious beliefs offline vs. online.

Are people afraid of offending people? Or is it just a matter of keeping their religion private?

And in case you're thinking, "Hmm, I feel like I see plenty of my friends share religious views," well, in our circles it's true. White evangelicals are most likely to share faith online and offline.

*** "Have faith!"

--- Sometimes when someone says that to you it is uplifting. Other times you grumble and wish harm on that person. After all, it’s not like you don’t have faith in Jesus, it’s just that you can’t act on it when you don’t trust something will get done. After all, if you are working on a project with five other people, and you don’t trust the other four to get the job done, do you “have faith” that it will get done?

--- Personally, I had faith that the new Star Wars movie would have a cooler title than “The Force Awakens,” but sometimes you put your faith into the wrong things.

--- Have you ever tried to pull yourself up just by thinking Oprah-fied thoughts that you are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it people like you?

--- When have you noticed people putting too much faith in self, or in others, or even in positive thinking? Does it work or ultimately lead to disappointment?

*** Saving faith.

--- Hebrews shifts from trying to keep believers in the fold to showing them why, because of the superiority of faith in Jesus Christ.

--- "The reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen." Faith is confidence that God will do what He says He will do, even when it doesn't happen on our timetable.

--- God promised Abraham he would have as many descendants as the stars in the sky even though Abraham and Sarah were old and childless. In Genesis 17:17 it says Abraham falls facedown and laughs to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” But then Abraham goes and acts like what God said was going to happen.

*** Even when we are living in faith, we still need the Lord to strengthened it from time to time.

--- In Luke 17:5 the apostles - those who walked with Jesus and saw Him nearly every hour of every day - say to Jesus, "Increase our faith!"

--- Jesus responds with the analogy that even if you just have the faith of a tiny mustard seed you can move mountains. The point is not the amount of faith but that the object is a great and powerful God.

--- The more we believe, the more confidently we do God's work, the better our Christian walk will be. David Jeremiah writes in the guide that: “For the unbeliever, ‘Seeing is believing.” For the believer, ‘Believing is seeing.’”

*** Do we act like we truly believe that as the Bible says, "With God all things are possible?"

Faith Demonstrated (Heb. 11:4-7)

4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith. 5 By faith Enoch was taken away so he did not experience death, and he was not to be found because God took him away. For prior to his removal he was approved, since he had pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. 7 By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family. By faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

*** Cain and Abel: A study in faith.

I admit, for a long time I would read about Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4 and think, that doesn’t seem fair that Cain’s offering wasn’t as acceptable as Abel’s. I mean, Cain’s a farmer, so why wouldn’t it be okay for him to offer his crops?

The answer is in Hebrews 11:4, where it says that Abel’s offering was done in faith, implying that Cain’s was not.

Abel worshiped by bringing the first and the best of his flock for a sacrifice; it appears that Cain did not bring either his first or his best crops, so we can deduce that his heart was not in the right place. 1 John 3:12 says Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.

Abel’s faith — the faith that trusts in God’s provision — is the kind of faith that will endure even in the midst of adversity. If we do not trust God to provide for us even before He has done so, we will certainly not trust Him under duress.

*** Enoch “walked faithfully with God.”

--- Genesis 5:21-24 - 21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

--- Enoch is a descendant of Seth and the father of Methuselah.

--- Twice the Bible says that Enoch "walked faithfully with God," indicating they had an intimate relationship. Enoch so trusted in God and lived in obedience to Him that Enoch didn’t have to experience a physical death. God just took him. Of all recorded Old Testament saints, only Enoch and Elijah did not experience physical death.

--- One thing that I get from reading this chapter of Hebrews is that the heroes in the Old Testament are very much real and lived. The stories are tossed aside by so many as ancient history and fable, but to the writer of Hebrews they are examples of faithful living.

*** Memory verse, Heb. 11:6 - Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.

--- Three parts of importance here: 1) You must believe God exists; 2) Without faith you can't please God; 3) God rewards those who want more.

--- These Old Testament examples of faith didn’t even have the New Testament like we do. They didn’t have the gospel message and the knowledge of Jesus. And yet they believed and persevered.

--- Believers trust God’s Word, even though to an unbeliever the gospel message might sound foolish.

--- 1 Corinthians 1:18 - For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

--- What are some difficulties Christians face today that require them to display strong faith in God?

*** Noah was found righteous.

--- Noah found favor with God and was chosen to restart civilization from destruction.

--- Having faith in what God said, Noah built a giant boat nowhere near water.

--- Those without faith rejected Noah's warnings and thus rejected God, leading to condemnation. Remember this when you hear people say that they don't think a loving God would send people to Hell. He has invited them, but they've rejected God and Jesus their savior.

*** Who are some New Testament-age “heroes of faith” (including from modern times) that you would include on a “Hall of Faith” list?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

--- When we follow Bible stories we relate a lot to David and his triumphs and his failures. But when it comes down to it, the reality is that we are more likely to feel like Uriah. We serve someone in a higher authority, we try to stay true to our values, and sometimes we end up with the short end of the stick.

*** A lot of Hollywood insiders called 2014 the “year of the faith-based film.” We say movies such as “Son of God,” “Heaven is for Real,” “Mom’s Night Out” and “God’s Not Dead.”

Of course, while they may be labeled faith-based because they reference Scripture, audiences need to be discerning because for every “Son of God” is a “Left Behind” or “Noah.”

How would you explain to the average man-on-the-street what exactly constitutes a faith-based film?

Can you think of an example in a film you’ve seen where the gospel was clearly presented or where a character unashamedly exemplified a life of faith regardless of what was going on around them?

--- Real faith is trusting God with our life, including our future. Real faith leads to actions that demonstrate truth in God. When we act on our faith in God, it pleases Him.

*** The Faith Hall of Famers weren't extraordinary supernatural believers. They were just like us, and they stepped out on faith to follow God no matter if or when they were rewarded.

*** Think of people you admire for their faith.Why? What actions can you take to grow your faith?

*** Evaluate your faith in God and where your trust level is that He will provide all of your needs.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Perfect Offering

Here's the lesson I had for Sunday's class ...

Sunday we continued our study of Hebrews and the truth that it is only through Jesus' perfect sacrifice that we are made right with God.

First Thoughts

What motivates you to give to a specific group or cause?

Sunday we had our Harvest Offering, a time we give above our normal tithe to First Baptist to help the church make up for any shortfalls in the budget and pay off the building debt. It's a worthy cause, for sure.

This is also the season of giving. Besides trick-or-treaters coming to your door, what are some of the types of giving people have asked you to participate in over the past few weeks? You might get asked by charitable organizations, college alumni funds, civic groups, etc.

How about this - Do some people give with the hope that it will somehow purchase approval or tip the scale their way in God’s eyes? If you thought that giving would somehow earn you a better life after death, would you give more and more often?

Understand the Context

*** Review: Hebrews in context:

--- Jesus is our eternal High Priest who is at the right hand of God to make intercession for believers.
--- Jesus is our once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice.
--- Jesus established the new covenant between God and His people through His life, death and resurrection.

*** Last week we talked about how we need to change our hearts. Jesus offered a new covenant based on relationship, not rules.

This week we are looking at Hebrews 9:11-15 as we explore the flaws in thinking that anything we offer can pay for sins.

CHRIST’S ENTRY (HEB. 9:11-12)

11 But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), 12 He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.

*** In the Old Testament believers atoned for their sins by using animal sacrifices. The first-century hearers of the Book of Hebrews would have understood that a blood sacrifice was required to enter a covenant with God. This understanding went as far back as Genesis 15 and God’s covenant with Abraham.

--- The reality is that the Old Testament priesthood pointed to Christ, and the Old Testament sacrifices foreshadowed Jesus’ saving blood that He shed for sinners.

*** What is flawed about trying to offer up something as a payment for sins?

*** Reflecting on what Jesus did through His crucifixion and resurrection, the writer reminded Christians of the good things that had come their way because of Him.

--- This is NOT an endorsement of the so-called prosperity gospel! It does not mean that if you have just 24 percent more faith you'll get a house that is 24 percent larger, or that God is happy because we're happy, as the Osteens like to say.

--- But let's talk about the good things that have indeed come. How has knowing Christ changed your life? Your work? Family? Your words? Your choices?

--- Jesus changed not just us, but all of history by fulfilling the prophecies, living a perfect life, dying on the cross and raised to life.

--- Philippians 2:5-11

5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, 8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death-even to death on a cross. 9 For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow- of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth- 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

--- The world and the old covenant cannot return to a time before Christ. Sacrificing goats and and calves won't remove your sin. Only God's grace and your belief in Jesus' sacrifice can redeem us.

CHRIST’S SUPERIOR SACRIFICE (HEB. 9:13-14)

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?

*** The perfect sacrifice.

--- We have a lot of respect for those who sacrifice their freedoms and sometimes even their lives. The public bickering over benefits for police and firefighters in Memphis is because of the balance we have of figuring out a budget that still respects those who protect and serve.

It's not just public servants who sacrifice. During World War II everyone on the U.S. supported the war through sacrifice, a range of volunteer efforts, plus rationing and price controls. Millions of students, retirees, housewives, and unemployed moved into the active labor force. Hours worked increased as leisure activities declined sharply. Most families were allocated only 3 gallons of gasoline a week. Production of most durable goods, like cars, new housing, vacuum cleaners, and kitchen appliances, was banned until the war ended. Meat and clothing were tightly rationed. Americans bought war bonds to fund the effort.

--- We are captivated by stories involving sacrifice. It captures the essence of what we are capable of doing under extreme circumstances.

By using those examples we can share with non-believers how Jesus is the only perfect sacrifice, and He did it for all of us. Dying on the cross for us he made a personal relationship with God possible for us.

--- In verses 13 and 14 we see that while animal sacrifices were good enough to cover sins externally in the old covenant, Jesus cleanses our hearts internally.

*** What are some things that people have done in efforts to make themselves right before God? (More works? Be nicer? Make deals with God?) Why are such efforts futile?

CHRIST’S MEDIATION (HEB. 9:15)

15 Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

*** This is our memory verse of the week! Let it serve as a reminder of all Jesus has and is doing on your behalf.

--- Jesus is a Mediator who willingly died to bring about an agreement between God and man. To mediate something means to bring it about, to put something into effect. In this case we’re talking about getting into a right relationship with God.

*** What is the value of Christ being our Mediator? Does it impact your understanding of Christ?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** In sports perfection is measured by statistics.

--- Peyton Manning set the NFL record for touchdown passes. But he has also thrown over 220 interceptions.
--- Michael Jordan is remembered for making countless shots to win games. He also missed the game-winning shot 26 times.
--- A Hall of Fame baseball player could have 3,000 hits. But if they are .300 hitters that means they get out 7 out of 10 times.

What rituals or practices do you think a quarterback like Peyton Manning goes through in preparation for a football game? Reviewing films, rigid workout routine, proper rest, and so forth.

Are these rituals or practices important? Why or why not?

Consider these questions:

--- What rituals do you depend on in your spiritual life?

--- How does knowing Christ has paid for our sins take the pressure off spiritually?

--- What prevents you from fully trusting in the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ?

*** Hebrews 9:11-15 will confirm for us that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, surpasses all through His atoning sacrifice. He is perfect — and only He can claim that.

When we confess our sins and trust in the perfect offering of Jesus through the cross, we receive forgiveness and grace.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Cooper and Penny's Halloween 2014

For FBC's Trunk or Treat on Wednesday and around the neighborhood on a chilly Halloween night, Cooper was a big strong Spider-Man and Penny the most adorable Tinker Bell ...

We are called to encourage one another

My latest column for Godly Daddy ...

Do you know someone who needs to be encouraged?

As Junior Asparagus said on “VeggieTales,” their life should be a party but the hot dog fell out of their bun?

There is a Peanuts cartoon that showed Lucy in her psychiatrist booth, giving advice to a bummed out Charlie Brown as usual for five cents. She tells him, “Life, Charlie Brown, is like a deck chair on a cruise ship. Passengers open up these canvas deck chairs so they can sit in the sun. Some people place their chairs facing the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been. Other people face their chairs forward. They want to see where they’re going. On the cruise ship of life, Charlie Brown, which way is your deck chair facing?”

Charlie Brown, instead of thinking about how things used to be or will be, sighs, “I’ve never been able to get one unfolded.”

Earlier this year I took over as the teacher of my Sunday School Life Group class.

It is a humbling experience, especially when you make what you think is an amazing Biblical point, only to be met with silence and stares.

I would put in an “applause” sign, but then that would mean that I’ve forgotten that it’s not about me.

At least three times a week I wonder how I can keep the privilege without being seen as a raging hypocrite or at least a terrible example, whether it is:

A. When I am making Cooper cry after sending him to his room for copping an attitude with Darling Valerie, or

B. When I just want to lay my weary head on the floor and go to sleep, right after I scrub the poop off the floor that Penny wiped on it (“because I wanted to”), or

C. When Darling Valerie has to get onto me because I am stuck on No. 1 of my six-page Honey Do List, currently renamed the Honey Doesn’t Have The Energy To Do Jack Squat List.

In many Bible stories we relate a lot to David, his triumphs and his failures. But when it comes down to it, the reality is that we are more likely to be Uriah. We serve someone in a higher authority, we try to stay true to our values, and sometimes we end up with the short end of the stick.

If not for the encouragement of my church’s education minister, Brother Joseph, I would never have even imagined I could teach a class of full-fledged adult Christians who have probably been going to church far longer than I have, won trophies for Bible Drill as kids and are active in missions and discipling. But Bro. Joseph knew that I needed to, and could, take that step of faith.

It’s that kind of encouragement that we all need. It’s when we are doing this that we show what Jesus called the new commandment in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

That can be tough when you’re dealing with adults who should generally know better and take responsibility for their actions. When it comes to our kids, encouragement comes naturally. It’s hard to fault a three-year-old for throwing a tantrum, so you forgive quickly and love unconditionally or you will never be able to take enough Calgon baths to sing of the mercies of the Lord.

But if you’re looking for that kind of love for everyone then the Bible makes it clear that if we abide in Christ then you will naturally bear the fruits of the spirit, love will flow and you’ll be the light on the hill.

As believers were are to encourage one another. To do so glorifies Jesus. Peter tells us that “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:8-19)

Key word there: Grumbling. How easy is it to be as stiff-necked as the Israelites, murmuring under our breaths as if God doesn’t know what’s in our hearts?!

I made it a point recently to be better at encouraging after a co-worker made an offhand remark who accidentally made it clear that I was not following Hebrews 3:13 to “encourage each other daily.”

In a joking Facebook post my co-worker said something about me being bitter while working and I thought, “Wait, I come across as bitter?” I mean, sure, there was that time recently when I was literally banging my head on the desk, and the time I slightly exaggerated that things were going so bad that I was going to stab myself in the knee just to feel something real, and OK that all happened within 15 minutes, so yeah, I could work on my attitude.

Even when everything is a little crazy I don’t want to be seen as angry or unhappy, so I decided to take the initiative to be more positive and encouraging. It’s a work in progress, of course, and even more difficult at home.

What I realized that first week at work is that the more encouraging I was, the more positive my job became. It was easier to deal with setbacks, and if I was treating people in an upbeat manner they reacted to that.

Now, the next challenge is to transfer that to my home life, and to be able to generate a joyful attitude even when Penny has thrown Cooper’s shoes into the toilet, or Cooper throws a tantrum because I told him we wouldn’t get ice cream at Chick-fil-A later after he threw a tantrum for not getting it last time for throwing a tantrum.

If you have felt lately like you are crashing and burning, I implore you to watch this interview with Texas high school running back Apollos Hester, who seems to have a clear grasp of what it means to have an inspirational attitude. Here’s what he tells the reporter at the end:

“It’s a mindset, yes ma’am, Hey, you can do anything you put your mind to. Never give up on your dreams. Keep smiling. No matter what you’re going through, you fall down, just get up. If you can’t get up, your friends are there to help you up, your mama’s there, your daddy’s there, God’s there, hey I’m there to help you up, you’re there!”

You know that poem “Footprints in the Sand,” hanging in every grandmother’s bathroom? It says, in part, “During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

There’s a cartoon playing off of “Footprints” that shows a set of footprints next to two lines in the sand and Jesus saying, “Over there is when I dragged you for a while.”

Can you think of at least one way you can be used by God to carry (or drag) someone through difficult times by encouraging them in the faith this week? Whom do you know who needs a call, a visit, an email, and your prayers? Make it so!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Only Jesus Transforms

My lesson for Oct. 26 ...

Sunday we talked about the new covenant established by God through Jesus and how it was all promised centuries before.

Our memory verse is an awesome one and why you should live your Christian life as if you are already forgiven. Hebrews 8:12 says "For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins."

FIRST THOUGHTS

Think about any self-improvement plans you might have tried over the years. Lose weight? Manage finances better? Were you able to stick with them?

What do self-improvement plans reveal about our ability to completely change our lives on our own? How much self-improvement would it take in order to get to heaven?

Spiritually, when we leave things up to ourselves there’s no change we can make to get right with God except to trust in Jesus as our Savior.

Let’s understand the context …

*** We’ve been talking about the key points in Hebrews:

--- Jesus is the Eternal High Priest.
--- Jesus is our atoning once-and-for-all sacrifice.
--- And today we’re talking about how Jesus brought the new covenant with God.

THE NEW COVENANT NEEDED (HEB. 8:1-6)

1 Now the main point of what is being said is this: We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord and not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; therefore it was necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if He were on earth, He wouldn’t be a priest, since there are those offering the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle. For God said, Be careful that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain. 6 But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises.

*** We're talking again about how Jesus is our Great High Priest, our representative in heaven interceding on our behalf. You might think that the author of Hebrews kept harping on the same topics over and over. There is a good reason - Just like the original readers of Hebrews, we are forgetful, or we don't pay attention. Who remembers what we studied last week? Do you remember what Pastor David preached about the first Sunday in July? The writers of the Bible have to include redundancies to remind us of God's promises and our responsibilities as believers.

*** QUESTION - Have you ever searched for a product that was touted to be a new and improved version of the product you already had? How many different iPhone versions have you been through? How many times did you run into trouble?

*** The salvation we have in Christ can never be improved on. During the Old Testament the priests appointed by God were still sinful and imperfect as we were. The people looked for a new covenant, and that came with Jesus. Verse 6 says that Jesus "has now obtained a superior ministry."

THE NEW COVENANT PROMISED (HEB. 8:7-9)

7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there
would have been no occasion for a second one. 8 But
finding fault with His people, He says:
Look, the days are coming, says the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah—
9 not like the covenant
that I made with their ancestors
on the day I took them by their hands
to lead them out of the land of Egypt.
I disregarded them, says the Lord,
because they did not continue in My covenant.

*** Are rules meant to be broken?

--- QUESTION - Think about how many rules you have broken over the past five days, at work, at home, laws, Biblical even. Are there such things as little and acceptable rule-breaking?

--- In verse 7 the author of Hebrews is saying is that the people weren't changed. Change must take place from the inside out. While rules are necessary, a changed heart is imperative.

If salvation was based on keeping rules, how many rules would we need to keep in order to be saved? If good works were to be used to offset the rules we break, how many good works would be needed to earn or keep eternal life? Parents, or those who have had parents, what are some of the rules you have or had? Have your children kept all the rules?

If you hope your children will embrace a Christian life on their own, will it take a change of heart or additional rules? If they were to follow your rules completely, does it guarantee they will live the same way when they aren’t at home?

*** In verses 8-12 the writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34. This is a prophecy that takes place 600 years before Jesus.

--- This is a good time to remember that God doesn't work according to our schedule. His plans are deliberate and the timing is perfect. The people Jeremiah talked to had no idea that it would take another 600 years before this new covenant would be revealed.

*** A covenant is an agreement or a contract between two people.

--- God established the first covenant with His people on Mount Sinai. This covenant proved to be inadequate. While he was writing the commandments to Moses, the stiff-necked Israelites were already crafting cow idols of gold for a swinging house party down below.

--- In TV we have what we call "make goods." This is when something happens with an advertiser and we make it up to them with a free placement of their product in another commercial. This could happen if there is breaking news such as a tornado warning.

QUESTION - Was God doing a "make good" with us? Was it God’s fault or the people’s fault that the original covenant was inadequate?

How did God’s people ignore His covenant after it was given to them on Mount Sinai? If you were God, would you have initiated another covenant? Why or why not? We can be thankful that God, through His love for us, provides second, third, fourth chances!

*** This new covenant is not about following the hundreds of rules in Leviticus but in a relationship, something the Pharisees and Saducees couldn’t understand. Through Jesus, this new covenant focuses on transforming the heart, producing much different results.

THE NEW COVENANT DESCRIBED (HEB. 8:10-13)

10 But this is the covenant
that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws into their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be My people.
11 And each person will not teach his fellow citizen,
and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,”
because they will all know Me,
from the least to the greatest of them.
12 For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing,
and I will never again remember their sins.
13 By saying, a new covenant, He has declared that the first is old. And what is old and aging is about to disappear.

How would you describe the difference between keeping rules and a covenant? Rules are often imposed while a covenant is offered and accepted.

Do rules change behavior? This week we saw the doctor in New York. He did heroic work in Liberia for Doctors Without Borders treating Ebola patients. But when he got home, instead of isolating himself for three weeks - the time we're told that Ebola can sit in you before symptoms show up - he went to a bowling alley, rode on the subway and all but licked every doorknob in the city the day before he noticed he had a fever. He knew better, but he didn't want to follow the rules, essentially breaking the contract between doctors and patients to "do no harm."

*** “BUT”

--- In verse 10 there is a very important word that describes God’s grace. The word is “but.” This indicates that God had a plan that was provided through the new covenant. This plan was fulfilled in His Son Jesus Christ. It would not just change behavior but change hearts. Sin is carved deep into our nature, so none of us is righteous enough to spend eternity with God without grace.

Check out the different wording in verses 10 through 13 that show that the new covenant is more than a rule book:

"I will make," "I will put," "I will be their God," "I will be merciful," "I will never again remember their sins." For our part, "They will be my people," "Each person will not," "they will all know Me."

We have a contract with God. He keeps his end, will we keep ours?

*** Memory Verse: Hebrews 8:12 - For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins.

--- Well that’s a relief!

Once God forgives our sins, there is no possibility of you being charged with them again!

Have you ever had someone close to you do something wrong, and you know they feel bad about it, and instead of bringing it up and making them feel worse, you act like it never happened? “Did you do something?” “No big deal.” “Whatever.”

All those regrets you have, God is all, “What are you talking about?”

*** Since we are under a new covenant, the old covenant is gone. Within a few years of Hebrews being written, in fact, the city of Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in A.D. 70 and the temple was destroyed, so the old covenant sacrifices were ended. It was another sign to the Jewish people who weren’t sure of following Jesus that the church building and a guy in robes wasn’t going to save you.

TAKE AWAY POINTS

There’s an old joke that goes:

A man died and approached the Pearly Gates.

St. Peter told him heaven was getting crowded so he had to test people with the point system. If he got to 100 points he could enter.

The man told Saint Peter that he gave to the poor. Peter marked him down for 3 points. The man thought again, then said that he tithed. Peter added one point. The man, desperately searching his memory, finally said that he never cussed. Peter added 1/2 a point.

By now the man got very frustrated and said that at this rate he could only get in by the grace of God.

Peter replied: "Come on in!"

*** In Christ, God transforms our wants. Changed on the inside by God's grace, we live out God's ways on the outside

*** We are unable to keep God’s law on our own. Only through faith in Christ we can be set free from sin to live a life that demonstrates righteousness. As Christians, we know this, yet we still live life as if we are living by rules that must be kept in order for us to get to Heaven instead of a covenant based on the promise of eternal life.

*** Our memory verse, Hebrews 8:12, shows how God has made a covenant with us that He will be show us mercy and never again remember our sins.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cooper and Penny at the double bonfire night!

Saturday night we had two bonfires, one for our Sunday School class and the other the annual Howell Weenie Roast with family and friends. Cooper and Penny had a blast, of course. First up is the one for Sunday School. Only Penny joined us while Cooper stayed with Val's family at the other one ...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Don't Walk Away

Our Life Group's lesson for Sunday, Oct. 19 ...

Sunday morning we talked about spiritual maturity and the deep topic of "once saved, always saved." Our memory verse for the week is Hebrews 6:10 - God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

There's a difference between being grown up and being mature. I have no doubt that you can think of many adults who don't act their age.

Think back to when you were younger. You couldn't wait to be old enough to hang out late with friends, to get a driver's license, to graduate high school, etc. Scientists have said that young adult brains don't fully mature until age 25.

As parents, we now have to think about when we let our girls wear make-up, when they are old enough to date, or like "Finding Nemo," when they're old enough to go to the drop-off at the edge of the coral reef.

How does this relate to our spiritual life? The author of Hebrews is trying to reach believers who were being tempted to walk away and compared it to being a spiritual baby:

11 We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand. 12 Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. 13 Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

No matter what your physical age is, or how developed your brain is, growing in Christ and maturing in your spiritual walk with the Lord should be a priority in your life. Spiritual maturity is not an endpoint, however; it’s an ongoing journey.

Is spiritual maturity one of your goals as a believer? If so, are you still on spiritual milk, or are you ready for spiritual steak?

Grow in Faith (Heb. 6:1-3)

1 Therefore leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, 2 teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And we will do this if God permits.

*** Spiritual maturity.

--- The author has some words for his readers. Their attention span was short. He was talking to them and they were staring at their shoes with their hands in their pockets, rocking back and forth, hoping not to get called on.

--- These Christians were still acting like spiritual kids when they should’ve been mature enough by this time to teach others about the gospel and faithful Christian living.

--- Have you ever felt spiritually dull and prone to drift from your devotion to Christ? What brought you back? Are you drifting now?

*** In verses 1b-2, the writer listed six truths that encompass the Christian’s life:

--- Repentance and faith. - These two terms refer to the first steps in the Christian life—turning from sin (repentance) and turning to God in faith.

--- Ritual washings and laying on of hands. - The first term could but probably doesn’t refer to Christian baptism. Notice that the term is plural. Thus it likely refers to the various cleansing rituals in Judaism that only foreshadowed the true cleansing accomplished by the Holy Spirit (see Ezekiel 36:25-27). The second term of this pair refers to the confirmation of the gift of the Spirit to believers and the Spirit’s anointing for ministry (see Acts 6:6; 8:17; 13:3; 28:8; 2 Timothy 1:6).

--- Resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. - These truths ultimately point to the end time. We will all stand before our Righteous Maker in judgment at the end of time. Those who are in Christ will be raised to be with Him (and with one another!) for eternity. Since God is holy and just, unbelievers will stand condemned to everlasting punishment in hell. On the one hand God delights in His justice, but on the other He takes no delight in the death of the wicked (see Ezekiel 33:11).

*** God is in control.

--- Hebrews 6:3 affirms that believers can have great confidence in pressing on, because God is faithful.

--- Philippians 1:6 - being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

--- Philippians 2:12-13 - Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Lest You Walk Away (Heb. 6:4-8)

4 For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, became companions with the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, 6 and who have fallen away, because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up to contempt. 7 For ground that has drunk the rain that has often fallen on it and that produces vegetation useful to those it is cultivated for receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and about to be cursed, and will be burned at the end.

***Once saved, always saved?

--- Verses 4-6 are among the most challenging to interpret in the Book of Hebrews, if not the entire Bible.

Bible scholars differ in their views about whether these verses describe persons who profess to be believers but prove not to be, or who are genuine believers but in a dangerously backslidden (disobedient) condition, or whether the passage is a hypothetical example of apostasy (falling away from the faith) and what the consequences of such would be if it were possible.

Around these parts we hold that it is not possible for genuine believers to lose their salvation. This is based on Scripture passages that teach salvation is the work of our sovereign, gracious Redeemer from start to finish:

--- John 10:27-29 - My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

--- Romans 8:1,38-39 - Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, .... For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

--- Ephesians 1:13-14 - And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

--- Philippians 1:6 - being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

--- 1 Peter 1:5 - who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

--- Hebrews 7:25 - Therefore, He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

*** Adrian Rogers wrote about the question if someone could lose their salvation:

“Imagine a child whose family standing depends on his behavior. If he is good today, he stays; but if he misbehaves tomorrow, he has to leave. The love of his father is conditional. This child would be a neurotic mess. Unfortunately, there are some Christians walking around in near despair because they fear losing their salvation, being kicked out of the family.

“If you have been born again, you are part of God's family regardless of your behavior. But if you are born again, it will show in your behavior. If you belong to Christ, you are part of the family and can enjoy the emotional security our Heavenly Father wants us to experience. ...

“Believing that one can lose one's salvation is saying that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was inadequate. On the cross, Christ said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). These words also mean "paid in full." He paid the full price. If you truly have accepted the gift of salvation, you are fully forgiven - for sins past, present and future. There is a difference in relationship and fellowship. Relationship is established by birth, and fellowship is established by life. A Christian out of fellowship may be chastened, but he cannot lose his relationship established by the new birth. ...

“If you have salvation, you know it. And if you have it and know it, you can never lose it.”

*** We are called to bear useful fruit.

--- In verses 7 and 8 the writer of Hebrews described a plot of land that on the one hand produces useful vegetation and is blessed. Then the writer described land that brought forth only weeds and briers and was about to be cursed and burned off. The fruit of the land revealed it as either useful or worthless. Thus we are warned not to be like those who profess Christ for a season and later walk away from Him. We are urged to cling to Christ and to persevere in faith.

--- It is possible for congregations to consist of not only genuine believers but also of some who give lip service to Christ yet do not have genuine faith.

--- Matthew 7:21-23 - “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

*** Only God truly knows the heart of an individual.

--- It is tempting to assume that, when someone professes to know Christ, yet walks away from their faith, they must not have been saved in the first place.

--- 1 Samuel 16:7 - But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

--- This doesn’t give anyone a free pass to rebel. The writer of Hebrews still reminds us that maturing believers will produce fruit. Those who aren’t maturing and who respond to Christ in a disobedient manner will devalue the cost of salvation and the work of Christ to the world.

--- In John chapter 15 Jesus talks a lot about bearing fruit.

Verse 5 - “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me."

Verse 8 - "My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples."

Verse 16 - "You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you."

--- Those who fall away from devotion to Christ because of life’s difficulties or because of opposition to the faith prove one of two realities. One: they show that they are spiritually immature and thus are easily drawn into disobedience; they need to grow in their faith. Or two: they show by walking away from Christ that they never have truly received salvation in Him; they need to be saved.

TAKE AWAY POINTS

*** LifeWay researchers asked more than 4,000 people about their spiritual lives and level of maturity. Those "attributes of discipleship" that consistently show up in the lives of maturing believers are:

Bible engagement
Obeying God and denying self
Serving God and others
Sharing Christ
Exercising faith
Seeking God
Building relationships
Unashamed transparency

--- Think about how you have matured physically over the years. Then, think about how you have matured spiritually.

*** Are you spiritually mature? A work in progress? Or an infant?

*** What does this reveal to you? What actions can you take to improve?

*** The challenge the writer of Hebrews gave to his readers is still true today: “Don’t walk away from your faith but, through obedience, build upon the foundation, a faith that will endure.” He then turns his attention to the fact that, if you don’t build on the foundation, you will most likely drift away.