Monday, March 30, 2015

Cooper and Penny's church Easter egg hunt

It was a little chilly and breezy for our church egg hunt yesterday, but the kids had a great time nonetheless. They got plenty of candy, even though Penny skipped a ton of eggs so she could get her favorite colors!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Everyone Accountable

My Life Group lesson from March 8 ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Last weekend, the top five movies were "Focus," "Kingsmen: The Secret Service," "Spongebob Squarepants," 50 Shades of Gray" and "The Lazarus Effect." In four weeks, "50 Shades" has earned over $150 million.

QUESTION - What do you believe the most watched movies reveal about our society? Does it say something about the acceptance of sinful behavior in our culture?

Today we are going to talk about Zephaniah prophesying about the sins of the Israelites.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

We are studying the Minor Prophets the next three months. Last week we talked about Nahum. This week we're moving on to Zephaniah.

*** Zephaniah most likely prophesied around 625 B.C. He traces his genealogy back 4 generations to King Hezekiah (ca. 715–686 B.C.), standing alone among the prophets descended from royal blood.

*** Ten of Israel's tribes were already defeated and deported by the Assyrians 100 years earlier.

*** The Assyrians pressured the Southern Kingdom of Judah as well and the kings adopted the pagan values and idol-gods of foreign peoples, imposing those values and idol-gods on Judah (see 2 Kings 21:1-9).

*** King Josiah reigned as king of Judah (640–609 B.C.) and steered the Jews to a return to the worship of the true God. Zephaniah’s ministry overlapped with the early years of King Josiah’s reign. In fact, it is possible that Zephaniah’s prophecies helped lead to King Josiah’s conversion and the revival that started. But the evil kings before Josiah (55 years) had had such an effect on Judah that it never recovered. Josiah’s reforms were too late and didn’t outlast his life.

*** Zephaniah presents an unambiguous denunciation of sin and warning of imminent judgment on Judah. Zephaniah’s message on the Day of the Lord warned Judah that the final days were near, through divine judgment at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, ca. 605–586 B.C.

JUDGMENT ENCOMPASSES EVERYONE (Zeph. 1:1-3)

1 The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah. 2 I will completely sweep away everything from the face of the earth—this is the LORD’s declaration. 3 I will sweep away man and animal; I will sweep away the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth. This is the LORD’s declaration.

*** The End Is Near!

--- How do people today usually respond to "The end-is-near!" messages? (If someone today posted such an ominous threat on a social media site, the authorities would probably run an immediate background check on the person!)

--- Zephaniah is describing the Day of the Lord.

--- In Matthew 24:42 Jesus says that we don't now what day the Lord is coming. So the end could be near. Might not. Depends on what you mean by "near."

*** The Word of the Lord.

--- Zephaniah didn't come up with this on his own. This book is a prophecy of the words of God, revealed to a human messenger.

--- Zephaniah’s opening message from the Lord was dark and threatening.

*** Verse 2 contains three features that make the prophet’s declaration especially ominous.

1) The Promise came directly from the Lord. If the Sovereign Creator says something will happen, it will happen.

--- Isaiah 55:10-11 - 10 For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, 11 so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.

2) The Lord promised that His judgment would be thorough. No detail will be missed. Everything on His list will be dealt with.

3) Third, the Lord described the worldwide extent of His judgment. Many prophecies in the Old Testament were narrowly focused. They dealt with a specific individual, group, city, or nation. Not so this prophecy. Its scope was as broad as the planet and included everything from the face of the earth.

*** Because of God’s goodness, He will not ignore the wickedness of people. While He wants all to find grace and mercy in His Son, a day of judgment is coming.

THE DANGER OF SPIRITUAL COMPROMISE (ZEPH. 1:4-6)

4 I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the residents of Jerusalem. I will cut off every vestige of Baal from this place, the names of the pagan priests along with the priests; 5 those who bow in worship on the rooftops to the heavenly host; those who bow and pledge loyalty to the LORD but also pledge loyalty to Milcom; 6 and those who turn back from following the LORD, who do not seek the LORD or inquire of Him.

*** Zephaniah prophesies about God’s judgment on Judah.

--- For God to pronounce judgment against His chosen people, the Hebrews must have done something horribly wrong.

--- Judah? Gone. The Holy City of Jerusalem and King Solomon's magnificent temple? Gone.

*** God lists specific sins for which the Hebrew people were guilty.

--- The people worshiped Baal and other pagan cults.

--- The people bowed down to the "heavenly host," which probably referred to the sun, moon and stars.

--- They practiced spiritual adultery, mixing Jewish practices with beliefs from different religions such as Milcom, the national god of Ammon.

--- There were spiritual quitters who stopped following the Lord, and broken off all contact, backsliding so much they couldn't even see the top anymore.

--- In addition, 2 Kings chapter 21 talks about how King Manasseh did "evil in the eyes of the Lord." Among the sins Zephariah mentioned, verse 6 says that Manasseh "sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists."

*** QUESTION - Are we as Christians accountable for the things embraced by our society? Surely there were many Israelites who were obedient to God, but they found their lives in ruin as well when the Assyrians, then the Babylonians conquered the kingdoms of Israel.

A DAY OF RECKONING IS COMING (ZEPH. 1:7-11)

7 Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD, for the Day of the LORD is near. Indeed, the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated His guests. 8 On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the officials, the king’s sons, and all who are dressed in foreign clothing. 9 On that day I will punish all who skip over the threshold, who fill their master’s house with violence and deceit. 10 On that day—this is the LORD’s declaration—there will be an outcry from the Fish Gate, a wailing from the Second District, and a loud crashing from the hills. 11 Wail, you residents of the Hollow, for all the merchants will be silenced; all those loaded with silver will be cut off.

*** v. 7 - Silence speaks volumes.

--- Even though the people were doomed, they still were commanded to keep a respectful silence before God acted to demonstrate His overwhelming greatness.

--- Jerusalem was to be the sacrifice, and His guests were the Babylonian armies coming to conquer and destroy the city in the coming years.

*** v. 8-9 - Zephaniah paints another picture of how God will clearly judge people.

--- Officers and sons of the king were killed. Those who dressed nicely were killed or taken. The pagans were doomed. Hypocrites and enemies of God were marked for destruction.

*** v. 10-11 - The people will cry for mercy.

--- When the judgment came, panic and terror ruled. Wailing and howling would be heard all over Jerusalem. No part would be spared, not the Fish Gate (a market area), not the Second District (a residential area), not even those on the high ground of the hills

*** Lessons for today.

--- The prophecies of Zephaniah remind us that we are all accountable to God. We who follow Jesus Christ must resist the pressure to conform to religious pluralism or secularism. We must maintain devotion to Christ as the only Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6).

TAKE AWAY POINTS

To start today we talked about the top-grossing movies of today and how they seem to show our culture embracing and even celebrating sin.

What are some of the most common sinful activities taking place in the world today? In your community? Perhaps in your own life? (Idolatry? Adultery? Using the Lord's name in vain? Envy?)

What do you think motivates people to live as though no one will ever hold them accountable for their actions?

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “no creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Heb. 4:13). In Jesus Christ, believers no longer have to dread their accountability before a holy God.

What are some ways that we can “push back” against this embracing of sin?

*** As a believer, how can you show that you take seriously your accountability before God for your sins yet rejoice in the peace, forgiveness, and new life that you have in Christ?

*** Take time this week to prayerfully consider the sins in your lives. Place your trust in God to forgive you and develop a plan to ensure lasting change.

*** Know Jesus more intimately by focusing on practicing the disciplines that lead to spiritual growth.

*** Ask yourself and God, how does your life demonstrate that you are trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation? What needs to change in your life in light of the truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Cooper and Penny celebrate Grandaddy's birthday

Thanks to Cheryl for these pics from my dad-in-law's birthday dinner at Casa Mexicana ...

Monday, March 02, 2015

God Is

My Sunday School lesson for March 1, 2015 ...

Sunday we started our three-month study of the minor prophets in the Old Testament, beginning with Nahum ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** God has the last word.

--- Do you know someone who always has to have the last word? Is that you? Think it isn't? OK, how about this? White and Gold? Blue and black?

--- When you argue with God you get nothing but frustration.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** During the next three months our the study will focus on the Minor Prophets, beginning with the Book of Nahum.

--- The Book of Nahum opens with an affirmation of God’s characteristics, specifically His jealousy, sovereignty, goodness, and justice. Nahum used God’s characteristics to assure the Hebrew people of God’s power to relieve the storms they were experiencing at the hands of their enemies.

--- The Book of Nahum is a poem, written prior to the Babylonian exile, to be a constant reminder of God’s attributes and what God will do to unrepentant sinners.

--- Almost nothing is known of the prophet Nahum. We do know the book was written before 612 B.C. when Ninevah and Assyria were taken over by the Babylonians.

--- We don’t know precisely when or where he lived. Nahum came from the city of Elkosh. No one knows with certainty where ancient Elkosh was located. The city was probably situated somewhere in ancient Judah. However, another possibility is that Elkosh was located in an area of the Assyrian Empire to which Nahum and his family had been deported.

*** Nahum prophesies against the city of Ninevah, the capital of Assyria.

--- Remember, God was going to blot out Nineveh until Jonah (at first unwillingly) sparked a revival there over 100 years before, but clearly the revival was over.

*** The ruins of ancient Nineveh lie beneath the modern city of Mosul, Iraq. (Now under the control of ISIS.)

*** Nineveh and Assyria were the center of paganism and one of history’s cruelest armies, plundering, raping, pillaging, and enslaving enemies. You know the saying “They needed killing?” Well God decided that Nineveh and the empire was ripe for divine judgment.

JEALOUS (Nah. 1:1-3a)

1 The oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. 2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is fierce in wrath. The LORD takes vengeance against His foes; He is furious with His enemies. 3a The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will never leave the guilty unpunished.

*** v. 1 - Nahum's burden.

--- The literal meaning when it says "oracle" is “burden.” It describes the weightiness of the prophet’s message from God in this brief, three-chapter book - dark and terrifying prophecies that depicted the violent overthrow of the superpower in the world of that day. It is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to refer to various kinds of burdens such as a heavy load placed on the back of a donkey (see Ex. 23:5), sacred items of the tabernacle to be transported by a particular family of Israelites (see Num. 4:24), and the weighty responsibilities associated with protecting or caring for another person (see 2 Sam. 15:33).

*** v. 2 - God's jealousy is different than ours.

--- Nahum proclaims four of the greatest truths of the Bible:

1.) The Lord is a jealous God. - To say that God is jealous doesn't make him sound petty or insecure. God is protective. God deeply cherishes His relationships with us and wants nothing to get in the way, just as a spouse cannot pretend to be unconcerned if their marriage vows are broken. Nahum wasn’t the first or last prophet in the Bible to talk about divine jealousy. That message had been circulating since at least the days of Moses (see Ex. 20:5), and it was affirmed by other prophets (see Ezek. 5:13; Joel 2:18; Zeph. 1:18; Zech. 8:2). The message also carried over into the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 10:22).

2.) The Lord is an avenging God. - He punishes wrongdoing. He still does (Romans 12:19 - Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.).

3.) The Lord is fierce in wrath.

4.) He is furious with His enemies. - The truth is, God counts some people as enemies, and sometimes He acts with rage against them. He did so against Ninevites.

*** v. 3a - God uses his powers for good.

--- The Lord is patient. Thankfully. He’s going to let us pout and fume for a bit. It comes with a purpose. In the New Testament, the apostle Peter declared that God is patient toward sinners, because He does not want people to die in their sins. He wants them to repent (see 2 Pet. 3:9 - 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.).

--- God’s display of patience may appear to us at times to allow shamelessly wicked people to escape His justice. But God’s justice will ultimately prevail (see Ex. 34:7).

SOVEREIGN (Nah. 1:3b-6)

3b His path is in the whirlwind and storm, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet. 4 He rebukes the sea so that it dries up, and He makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither; even the flower of Lebanon withers. 5 The mountains quake before Him, and the hills melt; the earth trembles at His presence—the world and all who live in it. 6 Who can withstand His indignation? Who can endure His burning anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, even rocks are shattered before Him.

*** “The greatest single distinguishing feature of the omnipotence of God is that our imagination gets lost when thinking about it.”

--- God can do it all. ALL. Can we fathom that?

*** Respect the polygon.

--- When there's a killer storm bearing down on the Mid-South, where do you go? Do you have a storm shelter or safe room? Do you go to a community shelter? Yet some storms overwhelm even our best efforts to prepare.

--- QUESTION - Have you ever spent time in a shelter or safe room during a storm? If so, what did you think and feel before reaching the shelter? What did you think and feel while sitting in the shelter?

--- The people of Bible times were no strangers to the destructive power of nature. The same thunderstorm that brought rain for parched fields could also produce a flood that washed away houses and drowned livestock. Whirlwinds, earthquakes, droughts, and pestilence often struck without warning, leaving the land decimated and survivors in distress.

--- In Scripture, the fury of nature is often described as nothing less than the power of Almighty God on display. God's power to enforce His commands is staggering.

--- v. 4 - Bashan and Carmel were symbols of agricultural prosperity in ancient Israel (see Jer. 50:19; Ezek. 39:18; Zech. 11:2). Lebanon, a fertile land situated to the north of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea, was also idealized as a place of great forests and fields (see 2 Kings 19:23; Ps. 72:16).

--- When Jesus died God showed His power and control as "darkness came over all the land for three hours," and in Matthew 27:51-53 - At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

*** QUESTION - In what ways do the sovereign acts of God cause fear today?

GOOD (Nah. 1:7)

7 The LORD is good, a stronghold in a day of distress; He cares for those who take refuge in Him.

*** Acts of God cause fear, so Nahum shifts to focus on the Lord's radiant qualities:

1.) The Lord is good. - This truth was so valued by the ancient Israelites that it was mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament (see Pss. 25:8; 34:8; 100:5; 135:3; 145:9; Jer. 33:11; Lam. 3:25).

2.) The Lord is a stronghold in a day of distress. - Earthly fortresses may fail to protect those who hide in them, but God’s strong presence will not fail in times of trouble. God never promised to put some kind of magical dome over believers that protects them from every sort of physical, financial, and emotional trouble. However, just as an ancient rock fortress was large, strong and protective of the one who stayed in it, so we who are believers will find God to be an unfailing source of strength and confidence as we live in faith.

3.) The Lord genuinely cares for those who take refuge in Him. - He knows every detail of our lives, inside and out, past, present, and future (see Ps. 139:1-12). More than that, with the utmost of sensitivity He takes all of who we are or will be into account as He works out His will in our lives.

*** He does all this even though He doesn't have to do anything to prove Himself to us or to be worthy of our worship. His promise is not that we will have riches in this world, but that if we believe in Jesus and glorify Him that we will spend eternity in heaven.

--- God is aware of those who trust Him.

*** God's goodness to those who are repentant is evident in Joel 2:12-14 -

12 “Even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the LORD your God.

--- QUESTION - How has the Lord been good to you? How has He cared for you in a time of distress?

JUST (Nah. 1:8)

8 But He will completely destroy Nineveh with an overwhelming flood, and He will chase His enemies into darkness.

*** God doesn’t bluff.

You know those Grizzlies growl towels that say “We don’t bluff?” Well, God doesn’t bluff.

--- Verse 8 presents a harsh ending for the Ninevites, as well as for unbelievers who turn away from God. More complete and accurate than any security camera’s videotape, God keeps a record of every person’s words, actions, and thoughts. Everyone is accountable (see Eccl. 12:14; Matt. 12:36; Luke 12:2).

--- It wasn’t long after that God the Babylonians in bringing the capital city of the Assyrian empire to a catastrophic end in 612 B.C.

TAKE AWAY POINTS

We talked about chapter 1 today, but chapters 2 and 3 of Nahum remind me of "The Princess Bride." Do you remember when the Dred Pirate Westley insults Prince Humperdink? The prince says that no one has dared to talk to him that way, like when Westley says, "I'll explain and I'll use small words so that you'll be sure to understand, you warthog faced buffoon" and "It's possible, Pig, I might be bluffing. It's conceivable, you miserable, vomitous mass, that I'm only lying here because I lack the strength to stand. But, then again... perhaps I have the strength after all."

Check out Nahum 3:5-6 when God speaks against Ninevah, he tells the Assyrians in terms they aren’t used to hearing:

“I am against you,” declares the LORD Almighty.
“I will lift your skirts over your face.
I will show the nations your nakedness
and the kingdoms your shame.
6 I will pelt you with filth,
I will treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle."

*** God doesn’t bluff. Today we learned that God has revealed His characteristics so that we can know Him and trust that He is in control.

*** What are some ways that you and we can serve as a God-given place of refuge for someone experiencing a storm?

*** To be against God is to be damned, and yet for those who seek Him we read in 1 John 4:8 - Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. God is holy and He is love, but not in the sense that we are holy and loving. His holiness and love are perfect. Because of His perfect love, God has provided a way for the sinful world that He loves to escape His vengeance and wrath. That way is through His Son, Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus can we find refuge from the storms of life.