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.