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.