Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dangers to Avoid

Think about the choices that we make every day: vanilla or chocolate; fried or grilled; spend or save; whether to identify as white or as black; whether to identify as a woman or a man.

Some of these choices may only affect us for five minutes, others for an eternity.

Today we're going to discuss what John wrote about making good choices that lead to life in Christ and walking in the light.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

1 John 2:15-27

*** This is our third week to discuss the book of 1 John, a letter likely written by the Apostle late in his life.

*** John warns his readers about dangers believers face: Our relationship with "the world," and "antichrists." These are dangers to followers of Jesus today as well.

LOVERS OF THE WORLD (1 John 2:15-17)

15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.

*** John implores us to stay away from things that entice Jesus’ followers away from Him.

*** "The world."

--- What God created is good, and we are meant to enjoy the world as such (the beauty, the fellowship, etc.). But in this usage, “the world” refers to things that we do and create ourselves away from God's will.

*** John uses three lusts as examples:

--- Lust of the flesh - Whether it’s lusting over physical desires such as pornography or the Pizza Hut weenie wrap crust pizza, we have a lot of sinful appetites.

--- Lust of the eyes – The desire to acquire things, the fear of missing out.

--- Pride in one’s lifestyle – The search for power, seek your own ambitions or to be seen as better than others.

*** The world and God are at odds, and we must choose which we will follow. Matt. 6:24 - “No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money." To love God is to deny that love to other things.

*** John made it clear in verse 17 that nothing in the world is worth giving up eternity.

*** Ask yourself: With which of the three kinds of temptation do you struggle most? What steps can you take to guard against falling to temptation?

ENEMIES OF THE GOSPEL (1 John 2:18-23)

18 Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard, “Antichrist is coming,” even now many antichrists have come. We know from this that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. 21 I have not written to you because you don’t know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar, if not the one who denies that Jesus is the Messiah? This one is the antichrist: the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son can have the Father; he who confesses the Son has the Father as well.

*** John warned his readers of lusts of the world, then those who promote them.

--- The second danger John warned about was "antichrists."

--- Many Christians view the term antichrist as a single individual near the second coming of Christ who leads people astray. Yet John referred to any person who leads people toward lusts of the world and away from love for Jesus. They are enemies of the gospel of Christ.

*** v. 22 - To deny Him is to be an antichrist.

--- Many “spiritual” persons believe that Jesus had great insight and did good deeds, yet they deny His deity.

FAITHFUL TO THE GOSPEL (1 John 2:24-27)

24 What you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. If what you have heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that He Himself made to us: eternal life. 26 I have written these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as He has taught you, remain in Him.

*** Remain in God.

John 15:4, Jesus says that if we remain in Him then He will remain in us. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

--- Knowing the truth of God helps us remain true to God.

--- Knowing the truth of God helps a believer avoid being swayed by deceitful worldly offers based on the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or pride.

--- Knowing the truth of God enables a believer to have reassurance and confidence of salvation and God’s direction for their life.

*** Understanding our defense to antichrists is important, but we also need to know our offense so that we can advance the gospel.

--- The Holy Spirit keeps believers grounded in what is true. We should rely on the anointing we have from the Holy Spirit that provides guidance and counsel as believers interact with the teachings of others. The Holy Spirit is the Truth that leads us to Scripture and helps us understand God’s truth.

--- Remember last week we talked about recognizing counterfeit money. The key to identifying a counterfeit $20 bill isn’t knowing what a counterfeit looks like; it is in knowing what the authentic bill looks like. Those who chase down counterfeiters spend their time studying the real thing. Encourage group members to spend time studying God’s Word so they can spot the lies of culture.

*** Question – What can Christians do to advance the knowledge of Jesus Christ while defending the gospel in today’s world?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

We get bombarded with promises every day:

“No one can beat our prices and service.”
“It’s so easy a child could do it!”
“Drop 15 pounds in a week!”

Some of them are only telling us half of the truth. They are not outright lying; they just aren’t telling us everything we need to know. Deceitfulness is all around us, to the point that we almost expect it and are disappointed when we don’t encounter it. This same skepticism impacts the church and believers. John gives us some help that will make it possible for us to live a godly life in a deceitful world.

*** Consider how worldly influences impact your life and seek ways to minimize these influences, replacing it with a godly influence.

*** Find ways to stop playing defense with your faith and play offense, taking the gospel to those who would deceive and be deceived.

--- 2 Timothy 2:15 - Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

*** Eternal life is found only in a relationship with Jesus. Period.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Penny's broken arm

June 1 Penny broke her right arm while playing on the church playground. In the next few days she went from hospital to hospital until she had surgery at Le Bonheur to put pins in her arm and a cast. It hasn't slowed her down any, because her spirit can't be broken!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Walking in the Light

My Sunday School lesson for June 14, 2015 ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Have any of you ever seen counterfeit money? Was it obvious like Monopoly money, or so close you'd never know until the Secret Service is busting through your door?

If a fake looks exactly like the real thing and fools a lot of people, why is it inferior to the real thing?

The apostle John began today’s scripture by explaining that some followers of Christ are genuine, the real thing; others are counterfeit. Counterfeit Christians might do a lot of good things and fool a lot of people.

Maybe they don’t believe that the weenie wrap pizza from Pizza Hut is awesome. But that’s not a sin. It’s wrong, but not a sin.

QUESTION - What are some false teachings facing the church today?

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** 1 John was written by John the apostle, author of the gospel of John as well as the three epistles (1,2,3 John) and Revelation.

*** The letter was probably written around A.D. 90, though it is hard to say for certain. The letter doesn't specify any church, location or individual, so it's classified as a "general epistle," which basically means it's a letter written by an Apostle.

--- Although he was pretty old, John was still actively ministering to churches.

--- After the days of Jesus on earth, John spent the next 60 or so years as an ambassador for Christ, spreading the teachings to the far corners of the Roman Empire. After A.D. 70 John settled in Ephesus, one of the most important cities in what is now western Turkey. The apostle Paul had already brought the gospel there, but John had to confront false teachings that had spread.

--- As the last remaining Apostle, John’s testimony was understandably highly prized among the churches. Many eagerly wanted to hear from someone who had first-hand experience with Jesus.

DEMONSTRATE HOLINESS (1 John 1:5-7)

5 Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. 6 If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

*** v.6 - If we claim to be right with God, but then habitually act in a sinful way, we are lying to others and ourselves.

--- Look at how John uses "If we say ..." If we say we one thing and do another, you are a liar. If you say you are always on time for work, but you show up 30 minutes later three times a week, you are fooling yourself and others.

--- False teachers were playing spiritual Calvinball. (From the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” a game in which you made up the rules as you went for your benefit.)

*** Out of the darkness.

--- John encouraged his readers to live in fellowship with God: Be holy, confess your sins, trust Jesus and be obedient to Him.

--- Until believers are persuaded that God is 100 percent right and good all of the time, there is no point in going on. Without this foundation in place, nothing else in Christianity makes sense.

*** v. 7 - Good news!

--- For believers who are indeed "in the light" by faith means we can fellowship with one another.

--- Even better, it means that we are cleansed from every kind of sin!

*** QUESTION - What practices illustrate walking in light? How can you be sure that you are walking in the light of God’s truths?

CONFESS SIN (1 John 1:8–2:2)

8 If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 2:1 My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. 2 He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

*** Confession is good for the soul.

--- In verse 8, the false teachers in their arrogance were denying that they had any sin to confess.

--- Today we see this in two ways: (1) People believe that humans are by nature morally good and don’t need salvation; and (2) The belief that salvation means a Christian never sins again. Either way, John says these people are deceiving themselves about sin.

--- The reality, as written in Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

*** v. 9 – When we confess we declare that sin is hateful and wrong.

--- Sin separates us from a pure and holy Lord. Confession means that we agree to abandon sinful attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

--- We received judicial forgiveness for all time when we believed in Jesus as our savior. However, we still falter, so when we confess our sins, God forgives us, purifies us and restores us.

*** QUESTION - Why is ongoing confession of sin important in a believer’s relationship with God?

(In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus tells us how to pray, and it includes "forgive us of our trespasses." So it must be important.)

*** v. 2:1 - John deals with certainties in this epistle, not opinions. He's warm, conversational and loving, written from the heart of a pastor who has concern for his people. John knew the people needed to hear vital truths regarding the basics of the faith.

--- God is encouraging us not to sin, but when we inevitably do sin, we have an advocate in Jesus Christ who has conquered our sin.

--- The Good News comes from Romans 5:20 that says “… but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

--- When John referred to Christ’s death as being for the sins of the whole world, he didn’t mean that everyone will be saved. But everyone can be.

SEEK TO OBEY (1 John 2:3-6)

3 This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: 6 The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked.

*** John says that we can be sure we have salvation.

--- John’s teachings do not imply that a believer can lose his or her salvation, nor do they offer a license for believers to commit habitual sins.

Rather, John’s message is that although we all sin, God forgives those who come to Him through Jesus. Our initial confession of Jesus as Lord is sufficient to receive eternal life. Continual confession of our sins is important for maintaining healthy fellowship with God.

--- (1) Obedience demonstrates our genuineness. Keep the commands of Jesus in His teachings.

--- (2) Walk as Jesus walked. Are you living your life by walking in the light?

--- Is it possible for a saved individual to be caught up in sin and sinful addictions? Yes, unfortunately.

*** QUESTION – Without naming names, can you give an example of someone in your life who is flaunting their sin? Believer or non-believer?

--- We can, and should, help. Galatians 6:1 – “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

TAKE AWAY POINTS

*** Gnosticism.

--- John used the words “If we say” (1:6,8,10) to note what some people were wrongly saying about living in the light, and to knock them down.

--- As predicted years before by the Apostle Paul (Acts 20:28-31), false teachers came from within the church’s own ranks and began infecting the church with false doctrine:

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

*** John was battling an early form of Gnosticism, the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first three centuries.

--- No doubt you've heard the term before, but let's see what they believed that was so heretical:

These false teachers advocated new ideas which eventually became known as “Gnosticism” (from the Greek word “knowledge”), influenced by such philosophers as Plato.

It had been decades since Jesus lived on earth, so it’s not difficult to imagine why some people might have wanted to deemphasize the historical Person of Jesus.

The error of Gnosticism was dualism: the teaching that the immaterial world (“spirit”) is inherently good while the material world (“matter”) is evil merely because it is physical.

Since the physical body was inherently evil, then they claimed that God's Son could not have had a real body without having been sinful. The false teachers claimed that Jesus had not truly come “in the flesh.”

Gnostics said that they had the deeper knowledge required to understand this truth and achieve salvation. (They thought that they were smarter than the average bear, obviously.)

John had to put down this nonsense by pointing out that he was with Jesus during His ministry, death and resurrection, and that Jesus really was a flesh-and-blood human.

*** (1) Think about your actions this past week. What do they reveal about your beliefs? Do people see Jesus in you?

*** (2) Examine your own lives for ongoing sin that is not in keeping with walking in the light. Note areas you'd like to improve.

*** (3) John’s writings explain that our belief in Jesus as our Savior is demonstrated by our obedience to God’s commands. Walk in the light this week.

*** (4) If a lesson about sin gets you worried about where you stand, read Romans chapter 8.

--- In this chapter, Paul wants the glory of our salvation, rather than the depressing reminder of their continuing sinfulness, to fill our readers’ minds and bring joy to our hearts.

Monday, June 08, 2015

A Pure People

My Sunday School lesson for May 31, 2015 ...

Have you ever looked ahead to what was next to come? All through high school you looked forward to graduation? Ladies, you played out your wedding day years in advance?

Now that you are supposedly grown-up, are you already looking forward to the kids moving out, then retirement?

When you were kids, did you look ahead to your birthday months in advance? Halloween? (Did you have your costume picked out in July?) How about Christmas?

Throughout our lives, we’re constantly eyeing some time or event in the future.

But here’s the thing: we have a limited view of what the future holds. Sometimes that wished-for day or event finally arrives, and we discover it’s not all that we dreamed. In fact, sometimes it turns out to be quite the opposite of what we imagined.

*** Question – How about a day or event that you looked forward to that turned out differently than imagined? Also, what turned out just as you imagined?

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** This week we end our study of the minor prophets and the book of Malachi, which closes out the pre-Messianic history of God’s chosen people.

*** Previously, in chapters 1 and 2, the people of Israel and the priests had become careless in their godly responsibilities and sinful in their actions.

*** For much of the Old Testament, the Israelites were disobedient to God. To end the OT, Malachi warns them and then gives them hope of being purified.

GOD’S MESSENGER (MAL. 3:1-5)

1 “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the LORD of Hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye. 3 He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4 And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the LORD as in days of old and years gone by. 5 “I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner. They do not fear Me,” says the LORD of Hosts.

*** Two messengers are coming.

--- Matthew 3:3 identifies the first messenger in Malachi 3:1: This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

--- Question - Who is that messenger reported to be? (John the Baptist)

--- The second messenger is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, will come to purify the people of God.

--- 1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

*** Malachi wonders if the people are truly ready for the Day of the Lord: “But who can endure the Day of His coming?” Clearly reality would be different than their expectations.

--- In the Scriptures, three elements comprised the Day of the Lord:

1) God would judge the sin of unbelievers. Those who opposed Him would receive their due.
2) God would cleanse His people’s lives. He wanted a pure and holy people to worship Him.
3) God would save His people. He would act in history once and for all to rescue them and to bring His victory.

*** Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do when He comes for you?

--- God’s judgment against sin would be swift and impartial against the wicked who did not fear Him.

--- The Lord condemns sorcerers, adulterers, liars, those who cheat widows (see Isa. 1:17,23), don’t pay their workers (see Lev. 19:13) and those who deny justice to strangers (Lev. 19:33-34).

--- There was a common problem with all of these evildoers. They did not fear God, so they disregarded His Word and lived as they pleased. God said that they would get what was coming to them.

GOD’S UNCHANGEABLE CHARACTER (Mal. 3:6-7)

6 “Because I, Yahweh, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed. 7 “Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of Hosts. But you ask: “How can we return?”

*** God hasn't changed.

--- If we aren't as close to Him as we need to be, it's our fault, not His. The same Lord who punished Israel for its sins also gives us a chance to be purified.

*** Question - Why should believers today be thankful that God doesn’t change?

(The same God who loved us enough to put His son on the cross 2000 years ago loves us just as much today. We don't have to worry when we come to God in prayer that we might catch Him in a bad mood.)

*** "Return to Me, and I will return to you." Praise God that He allows us to come back when we mess up!

--- The Israelites thought that as long as they went through the motions of the law that God was cool with it. Similarly, today too many think Jesus is like Austin Powers: "Whatever's your bag, baby! That's groovy, yeah!"

--- James write, however, in chapter 4 verse 8, that it's up to us to make the first move: Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

--- QUESTION - Why do people so often resist being repentant for their sins?

GOD’S RECORD (MAL. 3:16-18)

16 At that time those who feared the LORD spoke to one another. The LORD took notice and listened. So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Yahweh and had high regard for His name. 17 “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of Hosts, “a special possession on the day I am preparing. I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. 18 So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.

*** God keeps a record of the righteous and the wicked.

--- Revelation 20:12 - And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

--- Revelation 20: 15 - Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

--- He knows who serves Him and who does not.

*** Question - How can knowing God has a book of remembrance encourage believers?

*** It appears that some God-fearing individuals were encouraging each other to stand strong and trust in God.

--- QUESTION - How would an observer in Malachi’s day know the difference between the righteous and the wicked? How do we know today?

(The one who served God was showing his faithfulness through his service. The one who did not serve Him showed he had no relationship with God. The Day of the Lord will bring purification, but it will also bring separation—separation of God’s people from those who do not know Him.)

HOPE FOR THE FAITHFUL (MAL. 4:1-2)

1 “For indeed, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the LORD of Hosts, “not leaving them root or branches. 2 But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall.

*** If you are with God, you're OK. If you're not? Ouch.

--- The proud and arrogant who reject God will face judgment in the end.

--- Fire can be both refining and destroying. Fire refines precious metals, but it also burns up the chaff.

*** God offers hope to all who place their faith in Jesus.

--- We don’t have to wait for the Day of the Lord to experience joy in Christ. And all are invited.

--- Five pictures from verse 2:

1. A rising sun - He brings light where there was darkness.
2. Beams of righteousness. - Jesus makes things right so that we don't have to carry the burdens of the world.
3. Wings of healing - Jesus was a great healer. Jesus meets the tremendous need we all feel for hope beyond the grave—that all sickness and pain and sorrow and crying will be gone forever.
4. Breaking out of a stall - The coming of Jesus means freedom not bondage.
5. Leaping like calves - Jesus said once (Luke 6:22-23), "Blessed are you when men hate you . . . Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven."

*** QUESTION - How does the word-picture in 4:1 motivate you to tell others about Jesus? How does the word-picture in 4:2 encourage you to live for Christ today?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Have you ever played hide-and-seek with your kids, or someone else’s?

They don’t always count to ten in the same way, do they? Sometimes they’ll go super slow, other times super fast. If they’re going faster than you’d expect, by the time they hit seven you’re yelling out, “Hey, wait, I haven’t had time to hide yet!” Your heart beats a little faster when you hear “Ready or not, here I come!”

When it comes to the Day of the Lord, or our short journey here on Earth, we don’t know when we or others will meet God and see if our names are in the Book of Remembrance. Does it feel like God’s counting too fast sometimes, and you aren’t ready?

*** Our ways are not His ways.

You can try to make sense of God with all your ingenuity, creativity, and intelligence, but God says we will never know Him that way. We will never know Him just by studying history—by simply studying what He has done. His ways are mysterious. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, “declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

*** It’s up to us to let people know that following Jesus is the winning side. Jesus comes to give light, truth, healing, freedom, and He will set everything right.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cooper and Penny at the Pink Palace

Cooper, Penny and Levi enjoying the Pink Palace!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cooper and Penny playing at the mall

What to do when the women shop? Play! Levi joined Cooper and Penny to ride some rides, go for a ride around the mall on the train, and go for a spin on the carousel!

Faithful

My Sunday School lesson for May 24, 2015 ...

Have you ever done something online where you had to click on one of those "I Agree" buttons?

Like everyone else, you probably just click “Yes” and ignore the terms and conditions.

By clicking that box you promise to abide by the terms of use for that product. But have you ever read it? Usually there is a LOT of text, all of it written in legal jargon.

For Apple’s iTunes, that's a lot of pages. I printed out 24.

If it’s just for an app, then you can probably safely ignore the confusing legal stuff, but if something goes wrong with, say, buying plane tickets and then your flight changes, or if you have a dispute with your cable company or on your credit card bill, then you had better know what it said.

But one thing is for sure: entering into agreements is a big part of our everyday lives.

God set the terms of His covenant with Israel from the start. The problem was that the people ignored it and had to suffer the consequences.

One of the biggest ones was "Til death do us part."

Under the new covenant followers of Christ also must guard our hearts so that we won’t be led astray by sin’s deception.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Last week we introduced the book of Malachi, the last of the minor prophets in the Old Testament.

*** In chapter 1, the Lord through Malachi chastised the priests for dishonoring God during worship. They allowed people to bring in animals that weren't the best of the best, and God wasn't pleased.

*** This week in chapter 2 we see how Malachi described the unfaithfulness of the people. The people weren't following the covenant God had given their ancestors. They treated the Lord’s sanctuary with contempt and intermarried with people of other faiths. Others were divorcing their wives and marrying other women. God called it all unfaithfulness.

*** At the same time, Malachi said that people seemed to long for justice (see 2:17), but they apparently did not really want it in their own lives.

IRRESPONSIBLE BEHAVIOR (MAL. 2:10-12)

10 Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why then do we act treacherously against one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has acted treacherously, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the Lord’s sanctuary, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 To the man who does this, may the Lord cut off any descendants from the tents of Jacob, even if they present an offering to the Lord of Hosts.

*** We are family, all my brothers, sisters and me.

--- Malachi appeals to the people's heritage. They shared a common ancestry bound under one Father, and that's God.

--- They also shared in the sins of the nation.

(Is that fair? Surely there were many pious Jews there. Would we want to be punished for the sins of America?)

*** Malachi says the people acted "treacherously."

--- That's a strong term, suggesting willful irresponsible behavior.

*** They profaned the covenant.

--- Again, this is a serious charge, saying that the people have disregarded God's laws and dishonored God's promises.

*** Marriage to pagan women was a problem.

--- God established marriage. God loves marriage. But it is clear in the Bible that marriage to unbelievers violates God's covenant and thus our relationship with Him.

--- This isn’t some Old Testament law to keep the Jews’ ethnic bloodline pure. After all, Joseph married a believing non-Israelite. Boaz married Ruth, who was a Moabite. Moses married a Midianite and an Ethiopian.

This is also in the New Testament and it’s about keep ourselves pure. Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16a:

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?

--- Our relationship with our Heavenly Father impacts all that we are and all that we do. They were also reminded that negative consequences that one generation’s bad teaching can have on the next generation.

--- Marrying a non-believer who doesn’t share your faith is almost always bound to affect your faith for the worse, just as spending time with friends and co-workers threatens to drag you down.

THE MARRIAGE COVENANT REAFFIRMED (Mal. 2:13-16)

13 And this is another thing you do: you cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because He no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands. 14 Yet you ask, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant. 15 Didn’t the one God make us with a remnant of His life-breath? And what does the One seek? A godly offspring. So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth. 16 “If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously.

*** The people don’t get it.

--- The Israelites continued to offend God. The men of Israel had rejected their wives, so God rejected their sacrifices.

--- Bringing a sacrifice didn't automatically make up for the people's disloyal behavior when their hearts weren't full devoted to the Lord.

*** "For what reason?"

--- When the people ask that in verse 14, they reveal severe spiritual ignorance. They didn't see the disconnect between what they were doing in their lives and their worship. They were clearly just going through the motions.

--- When Malachi refers to the "wife of your youth," suggesting that they had been married young. But the men started going through a mid-life crisis, getting a sports chariot, etc. And divorcing their wives for a trophy wife who probably was a pagan. (Starring on “the Real Housewives of Judah.”)

*** Christ as our example.

--- Paul teaches us that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-32):

31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.)

--- Couples who marry for life have the opportunity to experience a great depth of love. As Christians, our marriages are a testimony to the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

*** Still, Christians are not immune to failed marriages, and not always at fault.

--- Just among ourselves in our class we see the effects of divorce, and if you haven't then you've been touched by it from your family and friends.

*** QUESTION - Why do you believe the divorce rate is so high among believers?

*** Since God loves marriage, it makes sense that he doesn’t like divorce. God really does not like it when people treat marriage flippantly.

--- This cuts against the grain of our culture, but the reality persists. Divorce severs relationships and shatters lives.

--- It is true that divorce was permitted in the Mosaic law, but only as Jesus later said, “because of your hardness of heart:”

Matthew 19:8-9 - Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

--- A wise man once said marriage is like gluing two pieces of cardboard together. You can pull them apart, but they are both torn, with pieces of each other permanently attached. One cannot be divorced without leaving some of yourself with your former mate, while you always carry some of your former partner with you.

*** QUESTION - What can we do to demonstrate God’s mercy toward someone who has been wounded by divorce?

GOD BRINGS JUSTICE (Mal. 2:17)

7 You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you ask, “How have we wearied Him?” When you say, “Everyone who does what is evil is good in the Lord’s sight, and He is pleased with them,” or “Where is the God of justice?”

*** God was tired of the big hot mess that was Israel.

--- God cannot actually become weary, but He was tired of the whining, of the complaining, of the rebellious attitudes.

--- The culture had been tainted so much that the priests were allowing people to bring inferior offerings and to abandon the marriage covenant.

--- The more the culture disregards God's commandments, the further we decay spiritually.

*** Israel’s doubts continued.

--- According to Malachi, the people were accusing God of injustice for not punishing people whom they considered to be evil.

--- QUESTION - With these conditions, what did the Israelites believe about God? What realities in today’s world cause some people to ask “Where is God?”

--- How can we respond? Start by reading them 2 Peter 3:9-13: 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

--- As marriage goes, so goes the family; as the family goes, so goes the culture; as the culture goes, so goes the nation.

The 2012 report on Marriage in America from the Institute for American Values reveals that the health of family life has declined over the past several decades. For example:

• More than 40% of children in the late 2000s were born outside of marriage.
• Over the last forty years, the annual number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried adult women has dropped by more than 50%.
• The current divorce rate for an average married couple now stands between 40-50%.
• In 2011, 26% of all children lived in single-parent homes, a sharp increase from 9% in 1960.
• Since 1960, the number of unmarried cohabitating couples with children has increased fifteen fold.

Sadly, some marriages do end in divorce, and not always because of a casual attitude toward marriage.

When possible we should strive to avoid it and encourage others to work through their problems when possible rather than to give up on their marriages.

The church today must deal compassionately with those who have experienced this tragedy, while at the same time must uphold the biblical standard.

*** Lack of faithfulness toward God leads to breakdowns in human relationships.

*** Ask yourself, how would Jesus want you to treat those who have been through divorce?

*** What can you do to encourage the marriages around you?

Notes are taken from Lifeway's Explore the Bible as well as Grace to You Ministries, Love Worth Finding ministry and other sources.

Monday, May 18, 2015

True Hope

My Sunday School lesson from May 17, 2015 ...

What's your favorite movie about love? "The Notebook?" "Titanic?" "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days?" "Star Wars?"

What's the same about all these lovey-dovey movies? To me it's that every one of them would be only 15 minutes long if there wasn't any conflict. They would "meet cute," fall in love and that would be it. But there has to be something unsaid, a dumb argument, or misunderstanding that makes the movie 90 minutes long.

Today wer'e going to talk about how God’s love has everything to do with His message to the Israelites through the prophet Malachi.

If the Israelites had just followed God’s will and if they’re hearts were pure in worship, their movie would have been 15 minutes long without conflict.

What really happened is that in their story, in spite of a history of disobedience and His need to correct their disobedience, God continued to be faithful to His people.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Malachi is the last of the minor prophets and the end of the Old Testament canon (though not the last book written). Jewish tradition identifies him as a member of the Great Synagogue that collected and preserved the Scriptures.

*** It is unclear when Malachi was written. Clues probably put it around 450-430 B.C. during the times of Ezra's and Nehemiah's ministries.

*** The exiles returned 100 years earlier and rebuilt the temple, but in the decades since the people were slow to show faithfulness by embracing God's commands. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah reveal that the people struggled with marrying pagans, violating the Sabbath, and many more issues (see Ezra 9:1-2; Neh. 13:15-27).

TRUE LOVE (MAL. 1:1-5)

1 An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you ask: “How have You loved us?” “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” This is the LORD’s declaration. “Even so, I loved Jacob.” 3 “but I hated Esau. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.” 4 “Though Edom says: “We have been devastated, but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of Hosts says this: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called a wicked country and the people the LORD has cursed forever. 5 “Your own eyes will see this, and you yourselves will say, ‘The LORD is great, even beyond the borders of Israel.’”

*** God’s love.

--- The history of Israel is important for understanding the Book of Malachi.

--- God promised great things to Abraham for his people, and delivered over and over again despite their unfaithfulness.

--- Even still, Israel is still not convinced that God loves them. These verses are His response to their doubts.

--- QUESTION - Why would the people doubt God's love?

*** God can also hate?

--- It's Biblical:

Psalm 5:5 - The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;
Isaiah 61:8 - “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.”
Amos 5:21 - “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.”

The Scriptures teach us that God hates wickedness because it is against His nature - holy, pure and righteous. And yet He loves believers with the love of a father for his children, the love of a groom for his bride. "'As I live!' declares the Lord God, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'" (Ezekiel 33:11).

*** QUESTION: What is the difference between God’s hate and people’s hate? (Does it bother you to say that God hates?)

*** Jacob and Esau, a rivalry through the ages.

--- Jacob was chosen to be the ancestor of Israel while his twin brother Esau was rejected. (Before the twins were born, even, the Lord had revealed to Rebekah that her younger son would receive God’s covenant blessing. Gen. 25:23. Nevertheless, God did bless Esau with numerous descendants (see Gen. 36:1-30).)

--- God is not a fan of Esau's descendants. (“Hate” in this case could also have the sense of “second best” or “not loved as much.”) The context suggests it means active rejection and displeasure that demanded judgment.

--- Remember our study of Obadiah, when the prophet delivered the message to the Edomites warning of their destruction. Esau’s descendants were prideful and arrogant during the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and the exile of the people.

--- Therefore, although Israel has experienced the Lord’s wrath for just a little while, Edom is a “people with whom the Lord is angry forever” (1:4). Furthermore, while Israel is heir of the everlasting promises of their covenant Lord, Edom will never rise again. And it was indeed judged and wiped out.

*** “Beyond the border of Israel.”

--- The Bible asserts again and again that the Lord God of Israel is King of kings and Lord of lords (see Rev. 19:16). He is sovereign over the other nations whether they know it or not.

TRUE WORSHIP (MAL. 1:6-10)

6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.” Yet you ask: “How have we despised Your name?” 7 “By presenting defiled food on My altar.” You ask: “How have we defiled You?” When you say: “The LORD’s table is contemptible.” 8 “When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the LORD of Hosts. 9 “And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?” asks the LORD of Hosts. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

*** Corrupt spiritual leadership.

--- These verse concern God's rebuke of the priests.

--- Here we go again. During the time of Malachi the people became complacent again. They thought their relationship with God could be maintained by formal ritual alone, no matter how they lived.

--- Apparently the people weren't bringing their best animals for sacrifice, and the priests were allowing it. This is a big-time offense to the Lord and showed that their hearts were impure.

--- The Lord says that if they won't bring that mess to their governor, why with Him? If your boss is coming over for dinner, do you give him the juiciest steak or do you give him pig lips and whatever potato chips were at the bottom of Aldi's bargain bin?

--- In verse 10 God even says that the priests might as well just shut the doors to the temple rather than burn another lame sacrifice.

*** QUESTION - How might we feel today if God closed the doors of the church because He longer respected our worship? What are some evidences that a person has fear and reverence for the Lord?

*** When we come to worship and we don't bring our best - whether it's our tithes, time or talents, then we're not doing any better.

--- 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul sums up our attitudes of giving: Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

*** QUESTION - Why do you suppose the Hebrew people showed respect to one another—a son to a father and a servant to a master—but God, who is also the Father and Master of the Hebrews, received no respect?

TRUE GREATNESS (MAL. 1:11)

11 “For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.”

*** His name is great!

--- Worship of God is useless if it is not rooted in humble adoration of God, who is our source of all things great and small.

*** QUESTION - How does God want to be worshiped?

--- John 4:24 - God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

--- Years ago, Henry Ward Beecher, was one of the most famous preachers in America. People from all over the nation came to worship at his church. One Sunday he was absent, and a visiting preacher substituted for him. When the visiting minister came to the pulpit the people realized that Henry was gone. Some of the people started for the doors. The minister said, "May I have your attention. All those who came this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may now withdraw from the church. All who came to worship God may stay."

People may come to a worship service for many superficial reasons: to hear a certain preacher, to watch their children perform, to visit with their friends, to fulfill an obligation, to enhance their business opportunities, to see what everyone else is wearing. But only one reason is acceptable - to give honor and praise to God. Worship is not an attempt to entertain worshipers or to stir their emotions. Worship is not an attempt to manipulate minds and hearts. Worship is not an attempt to indoctrinate. Worship is, first of all, an attempt to focus our attention on God, to honor Him.

Would that describe our worship today? Do you come to church and say: "How long is this going to last? Do we have to sing so much? Why is the preaching so long?" Do you come to worship and make a mental list of what you're going to accomplish when you get home?

What can you do to change?

*** The new covenant.

--- If the priests and the people of Israel would not worship God in spirit and truth, then God would find His worshipers among the Gentiles, beginning 450 years later.

--- Jesus first came to secure our salvation through His death and resurrection. He will come a second time to establish His kingdom over all the earth.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Think of when you grew up and your parents took you to extracurricular activities. We, as our parents were then, are their coaches, teachers, mentors. The emotional connection is important to how kids grow up into well-adjusted adults.

All too often we have a sentimental grandfatherly view of God. We think He winks at our sins, and no matter what we give Him He says, "Oh, that's great. Thank you so much."

But God doesn’t deserve our leftovers, the time we only give when we feel like it.

What does it mean to give less than the best?

--- It's when I spend an hour in an evening playing Words With Friends on my Kindle Fire and then in the five minutes before I fall asleep I read God's Word.
--- It's when we focus on our careers and think nothing of working overtime, but when it comes to serving in the church we either sit on the sidelines or look for something that requires the least amount of energy.
--- It's when we spend a lot of money on ourselves for a summer vacation, but when it comes to giving God an offering we look at the budget and say the cupboards are empty.
--- It's when we watch Memphis score a touchdown and jump up and down to celebrate, but in worship we sit passively.
--- It's when we love our kids so much there is nothing we wouldn't give them, but if we're honest our heart doesn't beat that fast for God.

*** Think of any part of your worship that is lacking before God. Find what you need to change to be pleasing to Him.

*** Read Psalm 96 this week, a joyful song of how great it is to worship the Lord.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Seek Him First

My lesson for May 10, 2015 …

Be honest: do you have some books on your shelf that you started, but have not finished?

Are there half-complete craft projects on the work table in your garage?

Did you start a blog with the intention of updating it regularly, but forgot that it exists until this second?

Sometimes we start things with great zeal and then lose our enthusiasm. This is similar to Israel’s work on the temple when Haggai was first written.

"Every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. … Usually the first one to lose out on your crowded time is God." – Francis Chan

Thankfully, God finishes what He begins.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Haggai [HAG -eye] prophecies in the period after 40,000 exiles returned from Babylon in 538 B.C, and faced troubles in rebuilding the temple that was destroyed in 586 by Nebuchadnezzar.

*** In 520 B.C. Haggai and Zechariah were commissioned by the Lord to stir up the people to not only rebuild the temple, but also to reorder their spiritual priorities. As a result, the temple was completed 4 years later.

*** Haggai is the second shortest book in the OT (Obadiah is the shortest). It takes place over just a four-month period.

REALITY DEFINED (HAG. 1:1-9)

1 In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: 2 “The LORD of Hosts says this: These people say: The time has not come for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt.” 3 The word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” 5 Now, the LORD of Hosts says this: “Think carefully about your ways: 6 You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to become drunk. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it.” 7 The LORD of Hosts says this: “Think carefully about your ways. 8 Go up into the hills, bring down lumber, and build the house. Then I will be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. 9 “You expected much, but then it amounted to little. When you brought the harvest to your house, I ruined it. Why?” This is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts. “Because My house still lies in ruins, while each of you is busy with his own house.”

*** 1:1-2 - God asks Haggai to speak to leaders first.

--- Recall the context here. God used the kings of Persia to release the Israelites, but once they reached Jerusalem they found the city in ruins. When they began to rebuild the temple they faced opposition and stopped.

--- Haggai brought God’s direct message to two key Jewish leaders: Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest.

--- The objections to rebuilding may have been economic, because their land was in trouble; or religious, because they thought the Messiah would rebuild the temple; or even timing, they thought they weren't supposed to build it yet. Such excuses showed that they were not pursuing God’s kingdom and righteousness.

--- QUESTION - What are some common ways we fail to put God first in our lives?

*** 1:3-9 - Now Haggai speaks to the people, giving them a message that God is not pleased.

--- QUESTION - What did the people choose to do instead of rebuilding the temple?

(Spent their time on their own desires like material things that never truly make them joyful; it's never enough. Verse 4 says they were living in paneled houses while God's house lay in ruins.)

--- Not rebuilding the temple was no little thing. The temple was the dwelling place of God’s special presence with His people.

--- 1 Kings 8:27-30: 27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

--- As important as building God’s temple was, what God really wanted was a change of heart for His people. He wanted the people of Judah to reflect on what they thought was more important. Matthew 6:25-34 in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of the same issue: priorities. We the people get focused on the little things. We do not put God’s desires and the things of God first. It speaks to our spiritual health.

*** QUESTION - Consider the motives of the Israelites. Were they procrastinating or disobedient? What is the difference? How does the difference matter to God?

DISCIPLINE DEFINED (HAG. 1:10-11)

10 “So on your account, the skies have withheld the dew and the land its crops. 11 I have summoned a drought on the fields and the hills, on the grain, new wine, olive oil, and whatever the ground yields, on man and beast, and on all that your hands produce.”

*** "Acts of God" get the Hebrews' attention.

--- In Deuteronomy 7:13 God promised that as the people followed Him that He would bless them and increase their numbers: He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

--- Just as He could use nature to bless them, God used drought and other natural disasters to discipline the Hebrews because they arrogantly stopped rebuilding the temple and instead began to restore their own houses and land.

--- Today, as then, not all natural disasters are God’s discipline (see Luke 13:4-5). In the case Haggai described, however, God revealed that He was using the people’s difficulties to prompt their thinking about priorities.

GLORY TO COME (HAG. 2:5-9)

5 “This is the promise I made to you when you came out of Egypt, and My Spirit is present among you; don’t be afraid.” 6 For the LORD of Hosts says this: “Once more, in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all the nations so that the treasures of all the nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD of Hosts. 8 “The silver and gold belong to Me”—this is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts. 9 “The final glory of this house will be greater than the first,” says the LORD of Hosts. “I will provide peace in this place”—this is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts.

*** A call to spiritual restoration.

--- Haggai’s initial speech to God’s people brought results (see Hag. 1:14-15). The Lord stirred up Zerubbabel’s spirit, along with Joshua’s spirit, and all the people joined in to work on God’s house.

--- God promised that because the Hebrew people finally got their priorities back in order and returned to rebuilding the temple, He would fill the temple with His glory.

*** The power of God’s help.

---Verse 5, God reminds the people that He is just as much with them as when He brought the Israelites out of Egypt 900 years earlier: Exodus 29:45-46 - 45 I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. 46 And they will know that I am Yahweh their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, so that I might dwell among them. I am Yahweh their God.

*** The provision of God’s assets.

--- Verses 6-9 promise that God will provide the things they desire now that their priorities are in order. He affirms that He alone has sovereign control of all the nations and the ability to “shake all the nations so that the treasures will come.”

--- All we have comes from God. There should be no sense of entitlement that God has to meet our wants. We are stewards of His resources.

*** The promise of God’s affirmation.

--- Verse 9, what the people really want, peace. This is more than the absence of war, but also shows that the people will feel completeness, wholeness, life as it was meant to be. ((Isn’t that what we all really want?))

--- What ultimately gives us that peace? In the new covenant we can look to Jesus Christ, the greatest manifestation of God’s presence and glory.

As Christians, we must rise above the mere pursuit of happiness in this world and live for an even higher purpose, loving God and using the things He has given us to seek His kingdom. This is the real secret to satisfaction, fullness, and lasting joy.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Today we talked about Haggai’s message to the people about their choosing to focus on self-centered pursuits and not work on the rebuilding of God’s temple.

Think about these if/then statements:

If the Hebrew people had their priorities in order in the first place, then _____.

So, if my to-do list was organized by God, then I would do ______ more.

We have a tendency to become confused about the things that really matter. A recent news story illustrates this well: in January 2014, a 26-year old man dropped his cell phone into the frigid waters of the Chicago River. He climbed over a fence to retrieve it and fell into the icy water. His two friends climbed over the fence to help, but they fell into the water as well. By the time authorities arrived, the first man was dead, and one of his friends, a woman, had disappeared into the water. Her body was found two days later. Only the third friend survived. Speaking to the media, one passerby made a profound comment: “I guess I can understand the impulse. You cell phone is sort of part of you, [and] we are kind of tied to it. But it’s only a cell phone. To risk your life is incredible.”

Life is too short and too fragile to spend it chasing after the wrong priorities. This is why Jesus encouraged his followers to make God’s kingdom our greatest priority.

*** Think about your priorities. How high is God on your list?

*** Is what you believe displayed in how you live?

*** What difference would quick obedience to God make in your spiritual life?

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Cooper's tumbling class

Earlier this week Cooper had parent day for his tumbling class as the Mother's Day Out year comes to a close. Penny did it, too, but Val went and I forgot to give her the camera. :(

Monday, May 04, 2015

Awestruck

My Sunday School lesson for May 3, 2015 ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** What is awesome?

This week, everyone in the Mid-South decided that was is truly awesome is the $191 million renovation of the Pyramid to put in a 535,000 square foot Bass Pro superstore.

In addition to the sales floor, there is a cypress swamp with live alligators, a bowling alley, archery and shooting ranges, a restaurant, an observation deck and a hotel. Ducks Unlimited has its own space for a museum. Right in the middle is the tallest freestanding elevator in America.

Today we’re going to continue our study of Habakkuk and figure out what is truly awesome.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Habakkuk prophesied about the same time as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zephaniah, around 600 B.C. as the Babylonians were taking over the region.

*** The book is essentially a dialogue between Habakkuk and God. Habakkuk had some hard questions for God, and God responded with even harder answers.

--- The prophet struggled to understand and accept the answers God gave him - namely that God would use the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment against Judah.

--- Habakkuk had two choices: he could either become proud and arrogant, refusing to believe God’s way was best, or he could choose to live by faith In the end, Habakkuk chose to believe God’s way was best and to live by faith in God.

STAND IN AWE (HAB. 3:1-2)

1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. According to Shigionoth. 2 Lord, I have heard the report about You; Lord, I stand in awe of Your deeds. Revive Your work in these years; make it known in these years. In Your wrath remember mercy!

*** The persevering prayer of Habakkuk.

--- Even as God in chapters 1 and 2 told Habakkuk of His judgment on Judah and the prophet has trouble accepting it, in this prayer poem we find how Habakkuk learns to praise the Lord anyhow, no matter what.

--- The meaning of the expression according to Shigionoth [shig ih OH nahth] is unclear. Some Bible students suggest that it designates a musical notation. It may be an instruction to recite the prayer with feeling or with a free flowing melody and rhythm.

*** Habakkuk reflects on God's past works.

--- Using the Holman Bible transition I looked up “awe,” “awesome,” awe-inspiring” at Bible Gateway and got 56 results, including:

Isaiah 8:13 - You are to regard only the Lord of Hosts as holy. Only He should be feared; only He should be held in awe.

Exodus 34:10 - And the Lord responded: “Look, I am making a covenant. I will perform wonders in the presence of all your people that have never been done in all the earth or in any nation. All the people you live among will see the Lord’s work, for what I am doing with you is awe-inspiring.

2 Samuel 7:23 - And who is like Your people Israel? God came to one nation on earth in order to redeem a people for Himself, to make a name for Himself, and to perform for them great and awesome acts, driving out nations and their gods before Your people You redeemed for Yourself from Egypt.

*** QUESTION - What were some of the deeds of God to which Habakkuk stood in awe?

*** Mercy!

--- At the end of verse 2, Habakkuk adds a little note to say, "God I want You to do Your work," and then he sort of adds a P.S. "God in wrath remember mercy." He says, "God I know You've got to do it, but could You just remember mercy?" You want to know something? God always does, doesn't He?

TREMBLE IN HIS SPLENDOR (HAB. 3:3-6)

3 God comes from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His splendor covers the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise. 4 His brilliance is like light; rays are flashing from His hand. This is where His power is hidden. 5 Plague goes before Him, and pestilence follows in His steps. 6 He stands and shakes the earth; He looks and startles the nations. The age-old mountains break apart; the ancient hills sink down. His pathways are ancient.

*** "Theophany."

--- Theophany means a visible representation of the presence of God using the highest human terms possible.

--- His majesty is described as a brilliant glory of light and brightness. The mountains tremble violently; the earth quakes; the people are afraid.

--- The power of nature is one of the easiest ways we can understand the omnipotence of God. If He can control the force of a hurricane or destruction of an earthquake like the one that killed thousands in Nepal last weekend, then He can take care of me and you.

--- David wrote in Psalm 19:1 – “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.”

--- As the VeggieTales sang, “God is bigger than the boogeyman, He's bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV, oh God is bigger than the boogeyman and He's watching out for you and me!”

CELEBRATE HIS VICTORY (HAB. 3:11-13)

11 Sun and moon stand still in their lofty residence, at the flash of Your flying arrows, at the brightness of Your shining spear. 12 You march across the earth with indignation; You trample down the nations in wrath. 13 You come out to save Your people, to save Your anointed. You crush the leader of the house of the wicked and strip him from foot to neck. Selah.

*** God is a Mighty Warrior.

--- Habakkuk knows that God would conquer His enemies, make everything right and vindicate His people.

*** The sun and moon obey Him.

--- Recall when Joshua prayed for the sun and moon to hold in place so that Israel might completely defeat God's enemies (Joshua 10:12-13).

--- The Lord had promised David that if his descendants were faithful, He would preserve David’s dynasty (see 1 Kings 2:4). This led the line of David to pass to Jesus, the Messiah. In contrast, God's wicked enemies would be crushed.

*** God battles on His terms.

--- He never tires, he never lets His guard down. Whatever the enemy is God's ready, God is vigilant, God is ready. It’s a tremendous picture of God's defense of His people.

--- We should never rely on ourselves to fight His battles. We get tired. Our determination wanes. Remember the song "The Warrior is a Child" by Twila Paris?

Lately, I've been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I'm amazing strong beyond my years
But they don't see inside of me, I'm hiding all the tears

They don't know that I go running home when I fall down
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
'Cause deep inside this armor the warrior is a child

Unafraid because His armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I'm amazing never face retreat
But they don't see the enemies that lay me at His feet

They don't know that I go running home when I fall down
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and and cry for just a while
'Cause deep inside this armor the warrior is a child

They don't know that I go running home when I fall down
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and look up for a smile
'Cause deep inside this armor, deep inside this armor
Deep inside this armor the warrior is a child

*** QUESTION - Does it scare you more or encourage you when God talks about leaving His throne to come down to earth and do battle?

REJOICE IN FAITH (HAB. 3:16-19)

16 I heard, and I trembled within; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness entered my bones; I trembled where I stood. Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us. 17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls. 18 yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! 19 Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights!

*** Habakkuk rejoices in faith as he commits himself to God's purposes.

--- The Book of Habakkuk began with Habakkuk questioning God because of injustices but closed with Habakkuk praising God and recommitting himself in faith to trust God in the difficult times to come.

--- Think of Job 13:15 when Job said, "Though He slay me, what, yet will I trust Him."

*** Trembling.

--- Habakkuk confessed that the thought of what God's judgment would do to him and to Judah shook him to the core. His lips quivered, his bones ached, he trembled. Have you ever literally felt sick about something troubling you?

*** No matter what.

--- Even under the worst possible scenarios, Habakkuk chooses to triumph in God and rejoice.

*** QUESTION – What scenarios today can we choose to walk in faith and trust in His plans, no matter what?

(Financial troubles, failing marriages, job losses. Nationally, the gay marriage debate, religion under attack in the schools. Internationally, Christians killed for their faith.)

--- Follow up question - When we choose to trust God in all our circumstances, how will it impact our attitude and actions?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Sometimes your life can seem like a Memphis Grizzlies game. Sometimes you're Vince Carter diving for a loose ball, sometimes you're Courtney Lee draining a critical three-pointer, and sometimes you're Mike Conley getting your face broken by a dude's elbow.

Whatever adversity the Grizzlies find, they know you have to grit and grind to win. Nothing's handed to you.

Habakkuk stood alone against the injustices of his day, but he realized God was in control and is worthy to be praised and worshiped.

James writes in chapter 1, verses 2 and 3: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Someone once wrote, “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.” There will be trials, oppression, and misunderstandings. And when you become a Christian, you do not become immune to these things.

Trials are a part of life, but how Christians behave in response is what causes an unbelieving world to sit up and take notice.

Now, open yourself to some accountability and get someone to judge you honestly: “How would you rate the way I have responded to trials in my life this year on a scale of 1-10? ‘One’ means I’ve been thankful for the opportunity to learn patience, and ‘10’ means I’ve been resentful for every speed bump my vehicle of life had to pass over.”

How are you responding this week to the difficulties in your life? Thankful for the opportunity to learn patience? Or resentful for every speed bump your vehicle of life has to pass over? You can tell the size of a Christian by what it takes to stop him.

*** Do we act as Christians like we truly believe God has the power as described in Habakkuk's prayer? If not, what would it take for their belief in God’s power to grow?

*** What insights into God’s power do you have? What is some of the awe you have experienced?

*** It is a challenge for believers to choose to trust God when they look around and see virtually no reason to do so. But when they do so, they have won the victory.

Say it loud and proud: "I don't care what happens, I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation."

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Refined People

My Sunday School lesson for April 19 ...

Back in 1990, Iben Browning received notoriety for his erroneous prediction that a major earthquake would occur on the New Madrid Fault around December 2 and 3, 1990.

His prediction freaked a lot of people out. I remember having earthquake drills specifically for this prediction.

Of course, no earthquakes occurred.

The Jehovah's Witness cult is popular for their specific dates for the end of the world and Jesus' return, especially in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975.

The book The World's Worst Predictions lists some of history's all-time prophetic goofs:

--- King George II said in 1773 that the American colonies had little stomach for revolution.

--- An official of the White Star Line, speaking of the firm's newly built flagship, the Titanic, launched in 1912, declared that the ship was unsinkable.

--- In 1939 The New York Times said the problem of TV was that people had to glue their eyes to a screen, and that the average American wouldn't have time for it.

--- An English astronomy professor said in the early 19th century that air travel at high speed would be impossible because passengers would suffocate.

Prophecy is hard. And false prophecy is punished harshly.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** After two weeks in Luke to talk about the resurrection, we’re back to study the minor prophet Zechariah.

*** Zechariah was a priest, a member of the Great Synagogue, a council of 120 originated by Nehemiah and presided over by Ezra. Zechariah was born in Babylon and was part of the group of 50,000 exiles who first returned to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. when the Persians allowed it.

*** Zechariah chapters 1-8 were written about 520 B.C., while chapters 9-14 are thought to come from later, about 480-470 B.C.

--- Up til now, Zechariah prophesied about the coming Messiah. Today Zechariah reveals the Lord’s cleansing and restoration. No matter what the Israelites have done, God is still a God of forgiveness if the people will go to Him.

THE FOUNTAIN THAT CLEANSES (ZECH. 13:1-6)

1 “On that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the residents of Jerusalem, to wash away sin and impurity.” 2 “On that day”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts—“I will erase the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered. I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.” 3 “If a man still prophesies, his father and his mother who bore him will say to him: You cannot remain alive because you have spoken falsely in the name of Yahweh. When he prophesies, his father and his mother who bore him will pierce him through.” 4 “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies; they will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive.” 5 “He will say: I am not a prophet; I work the land, for a man purchased me as a servant since my youth.” 6 “If someone asks him: What are these wounds on your chest?—then he will answer: I received the wounds in the house of my friends.”

*** “On that day.”

--- Used 20 times in Zechariah. Chapter 13, verses 1, 2 and 4 all begin with that phrase, and it indicates the fullness of God’s judgment of the world and the final salvation of His people.

--- God has in mind a wonderful day coming for Israel. Zechariah calls it the cleansing of Israel, for the wealthy and the everyday people alike. In chapter 13 and verse 1 he says, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness."

--- Wednesday night in 180, Daniel talked about Jesus as the living water, pouring ourselves out and filling up with the Spirit. He then played the Casting Crowns song “The Well”. My favorite part is near the end, when the lead singer sings "Leave it all behind," and the woman sings these lines between:

Your pursuit of perfection
Your fear of rejection
Your temporary pleasures
All of your earthly treasures
Dried up empty religion
Rusty chains of addiction
All that guilt that weighs you down

--- The picture of a cleansing fountain indicates forgiveness of sin and impurity. Ultimately we find that abundance of forgiveness in Jesus and his blood shed on the cross, as he said in John 7:37–39 - 37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

*** What are the two sins singled out to be cleansed?

--- False idols and prophets did a lot of harm to the Hebrews. They seemed to fall for it hook line and sinker over and over again.

--- The Bible provides us with several instances of false prophets who misled the Israelites. The people too often loved to hear the lies promised by the false prophets (see Jer. 5:31).

For example, during the days of King Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel, the queen hired 850 false prophets—450 devoted to the male god Baal, and 400 devoted to the female deity Asherah [uh SHEE ruh] (1 Kings 18:19). These and other false prophets were ultimately discredited and dealt with severely (1 Kings 18:40).

*** “On that day,” the false prophets will shrink into the background and try to hide his shady past.

--- “Oh no, I didn’t say that. I’m just a farmer. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

--- These pagan prophets would even lacerate themselves to gain favor with their false gods. But in the day of cleansing they'll have to pretend that they ran into a wall at a friend's house or something else.

*** QUESTION - The major sins of the Hebrew people were the worship of false idols and following false prophets. There was also an unclean spirit that dwelt in the land. Are these issues of concern today?

THE STRIKE THAT FREES (ZECH. 13:7)

7 “Sword, awake against My shepherd, against the man who is My associate”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will also turn My hand against the little ones.”

*** God strikes His own chosen Shepherd.

--- Jesus called it:

Matthew 26:31-33 – 31 Then Jesus said to them, “Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written:
I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.
32 But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
33 Peter told Him, “Even if everyone runs away because of You, I will never run away!”

(Peter, of course, denied Christ three times and then went into hiding.)

--- Jesus used Zechariah’s prophecy to refer to what would happen to Him and predict the disciples’ reaction.

--- Zechariah gave no clear identification of the little ones against whom the Lord would also turn His hand. Since “the sheep” is a reference to Jesus’ disciples, the phrase “little ones” probably foreshadows the early converts to Christianity who also faced trials and persecutions for their faith.

THE FIRE THAT REFINES (ZECH. 13:8-9)

8 “In the whole land”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“two-thirds will be cut off and die, but a third will be left in it.” 9 “I will put this third through the fire; I will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say: ‘They are My people, and they will say: Yahweh is our God.’”

*** I've got good news and bad news. I’ll give you the bad news first.

*** "Two-thirds will be cut off and die."

--- The judgment sifts the true believers from the untrue.

--- It’s hard to nail this down. Could it refer to Greek or Roman conquest, or Nazi gas chambers? Anyone’s guess. Or, this is still a future event of the Great Tribulation, God’s divine judgment on sin at the end of time.

--- To gain a sense of the scale of this destruction, compare it to the pandemic bubonic plague that struck Europe in the mid-1300s. That massive outbreak of disease was responsible for about 20 million deaths, one-third of Europe’s population at that time.

- In the 1800s Memphis had six outbreaks of yellow fever. The 1878 outbreak was so bad that 30,000 Memphians fled the city (that was half the population), and of the 19,000 left, 17,000 caught the fever and 5,150 of those died. Twelve Catholic nuns, 9 priests, 4 Episcopalian nuns and 10 Protestant ministers died. Survivors had to face the city's bankruptcy and the loss of its charter. It wasn't until 1900 that it was figured out that yellow fever was brought on by evil mosquitoes. Memphis began to recover quickly after 1878. Its artesian water supply was discovered and turned into one of the purest water supplies in the nation in the 1880s. Its charter was restored. Its sanitation and sewer systems became models for other cities. Between 1900 and 1950, Memphis almost quadrupled from 102,350 to 396,000 residents.

*** QUESTION - Why do you suppose there are so many in the two-thirds group?

Jesus was honest about the prospects of saving the majority of the world:

Matthew 7:13-14 - 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Ask yourself, which road do you tend to walk on?

*** The good news: Out of this judgment emerges the true people of God.

--- God uses the fire of adversity to purify us like silver (“as silver is refined”); God uses the fire of adversity to prove us like gold (“test them as gold is tested”).

--- The process of refining silver means that the metal is crushed, melted to nearly 1,800 degrees, cleaned of impurities, heated again (over and over) and removed of impurities until the refiner looks into the pot and sees his reflection.

*** QUESTION - What tools does God use to refine believers? What factors impact how a person interprets God’s use of those tools?

TAKE AWAY POINTS

Think of your favorite shirt that is stained, or those work pants you only use when you are working in the yard.

What would you recommend to remove the stain and clean the clothing?

Why is the stain of sin so resistant to cleansing that it requires God to do such a radical act of sacrificing His Son?

What are some long-lasting effects of sin?

*** The message of God through Zechariah is a message of hope, forgiveness, grace, and refinement for His people.

*** No matter how far you wander from Him, no matter how great your sin is, and no matter how much you have followed other gods, His message today is the same message He gave through the prophet.

*** But don’t be surprised when the fires of refinement come your way. It is the forging of your faith. It is God shaping, cleaning, and testing you in order to strengthen your relationship with Him.

*** Peter said it this way: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cooper and Penny's Easter

Every year we take an Easter picture at Val's grandmother's before the annual lunch and egg hunt. Here's how our family has progressed since Cooper was six months old ...