Monday, November 30, 2015

God provides

My Life Group lesson for Nov. 29, 2015, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Who here wouldn't be able to find a location if not for your smartphone's maps or your GPS?

Are you the one who follows their GPS no matter what, and ends up in a lake or 900 miles out of your way before you realize what happened?

Back before we had smartphones or GPS, when you were lost you either drove around or asked for help. Sometimes the help was great. Sometimes you had to figure out when to turn at the old farm, past the lake that may or may not have dried up, and the tree that wasn't there anymore.

Your confidence in the directions depended on your confidence in the person giving those directions.

God gave Abraham directions about his future and the future of his family. But there were still details left to work through—such as finding a wife for Isaac. Abraham and the servant he entrusted to find Isaac’s wife turned to God for directions. They had followed God’s directions in the past, and now they sought His guidance for the future. We can trust God to lead us down the right paths.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Genesis 24:1–25:19

*** This is our final lesson in Genesis this fall and our last look at Abraham, whom we've been learning about for several weeks.

*** We've followed Abraham as God established a covenant with him, promising that he would birth countless descendants. Abraham remarried after Sarah’s death. His second wife was named Keturah, and she gave birth to six sons. However, these children were not granted a portion of Abraham’s inheritance. Like his first son, Ishmael, they were sent away before Abraham’s death. Isaac would remain the sole heir (25:1-6).

*** In chapter 24, Isaac is now about 40 years old and in need of a wife who can birth him some kids to fulfill God's promise.

THE ASSIGNMENT (Gen. 24:1-9)

1 Abraham was now old, getting on in years, and the Lord had blessed him in everything. 2 Abraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who managed all he owned, “Place your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will have you swear by the Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live, 4 but will go to my land and my family to take a wife for my son Isaac.” 5 The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is unwilling to follow me to this land? Should I have your son go back to the land you came from?” 6 Abraham answered him, “Make sure that you don’t take my son back there. 7 The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from my native land, who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘I will give this land to your offspring’—He will send His angel before you, and you can take a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to follow you, then you are free from this oath to me, but don’t let my son go back there.” 9 So the servant placed his hand under his master Abraham’s thigh and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

*** Your mission, should you choose to accept it.

--- Abraham's incredibly blessed and taken care of, so now he’s starting to wonder about Isaac, who hasn't married and hasn't had an heir. If God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled, Isaac needs to get with the program.

--- But Abraham's dead set on making sure Isaac doesn't marry a local girl in Canaan, who were all a bunch of pagan hussies. And he didn’t want Isaac traveling willy-nilly to find a bride, either. If Isaac goes to Haran and stays there, then he defies God’s will to establish a nation in Canaan.

Paul also commanded believers not to marry unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14 - Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness?).

--- Abraham commissioned a trusted servant, possibly Eliezer (Gen. 15:2), who was heir before Ishmael and Isaac, to go back to Haran and obtain a wife from Abraham’s extended family.

--- Abraham told him that God would direct him to the right person, because he already had been told that God would “send His angel before” the servant. Once again, God’s got this. Success is God’s responsibility. He’s not going watching and hoping from a distance that His plan pulls through.

--- Abraham knew the servant would be successful, but to make him feel better he tells him that if a suitable mate wouldn’t come, then the servant can return home empty handed.

After all, the servant would be going to a foreign land to talk to people who didn’t know him. He would be asking her to leave her family and move to a distant land to marry a man she hadn’t seen. She and her family would allow this to happen solely on the servant’s word. (And a trust in God, which they may or may not have strong faith.)

*** The right reasons.

--- Abraham was not doing this for himself. He did this in God’s name, “The Lord, God of heaven and God of earth” who spoke to Abraham.

He was full on obedient to God’s wishes. Abraham once wavered in his faith, but now he’s unwilling to budge from God’s plan.

--- If the servant really was Eliezer, his devotion and humility is even more impressive. Isaac’s birth meant that he became Abraham’s heir, so Eliezer was no longer the steward who stood to gain a lot of wealth. A vengeful person might have used this assignment as payback.

*** Question - Abraham had to trust this person completely. Is there anyone you would trust to find your son (or daughter) a suitable mate?

THE PRAYER (Gen. 24:10-14)

10 The servant took 10 of his master’s camels and departed with all kinds of his master’s goods in hand. Then he set out for Nahor’s town Aram-naharaim. 11 He made the camels kneel beside a well of water outside the town at evening. This was the time when the women went out to draw water. 12 “Lord, God of my master Abraham,” he prayed, “give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 I am standing here at the spring where the daughters of the men of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I say, ‘Please lower your water jug so that I may drink,’ and who responds, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels also’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. By this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.”

*** A faithful journey.

--- The servant loaded up 10 camels with provisions and material possessions to give the family of the bride.

--- They traveled to Mesopotamia, where Abraham’s brother Nahor and his relatives lived.

--- The journey would have taken several weeks.

*** Praying for success.

--- The servant prays very specifically for a sign. He says, God, if you have this happen, then this and this, then we’ll all know I have found Isaac’s future bride.

Have you done that? “God, if this man is the one I’m supposed to date, have him walk up to me wearing a red shirt, with his right hand in his pocket, with a flag pin on his lapel and have him stop and pick up a penny from the ground.”

--- When we did that we were praying for God to do our will. God defines success as doing His will. This is what the servant was praying for.

--- Where did this servant learn to pray like this? From Abraham! Abraham passed along to his servants and to his son the importance of prayer.

*** A great wingman.

--- The servant has some smarts. He knows that if he goes to the well in the evening that he’ll find all the women of the area coming to get water for their homes. He goes where the ladies are!

*** Question – What was the point of the servant praying so specifically for the right woman?

(The exact words specified a mighty God working to achieve His purposes.)

THE ANSWER (Gen. 24:15-17)

15 Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah—daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor—coming with a jug on her shoulder. 16 Now the girl was very beautiful, a young woman who had not known a man intimately. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me have a little water from your jug.”

*** Servant: “Dear God …” God: "You got it."

--- Have you ever prayed so hard for someone or something that it feels like you are transmitting a signal straight through heaven?

--- Some of God's answers to our prayers may take a long time, but others are instantaneous.

--- Even before the servant had finished he saw Rebekah. She meets all the criteria: She descended from Abraham’s family, she’s a virgin, and for bonus points, she’s a total babe.

*** The servant closes the deal.

--- In the rest of the chapter, the servant goes to Rebekah’s home, details his prayerful mission, lavishes her with jewelry, and her family says if she wants to go, she can go. She indeed wants to leave immediately and she and Isaac were married.

*** Question – Have you ever met someone in an unusual circumstance who had a big influence in your life?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

The servant had the best pickup line ever: "God sent me, and you're the one."

What does it say about Rebekah that she was willing to go with the servant, whom she had never met, to a land she didn’t know, to marry a guy she knew little about?

*** In any situation, God will provide guidance at our point of need. He has a plan for us as well. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man's heart plans his way, but the LORD determines his steps.”

*** If anyone needs wisdom, it is readily available for the faithful. James 1:5-6 - Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

*** Apply faith in every decision you make by taking the decision directly to God.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cooper's first basketball practice

We signed up Cooper for basketball this winter. It's his first time playing organized sports, so we're looking forward to a learning experience!

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Faith Test

My Life Group lesson for Nov. 22, 2015, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

There are many ways that something could test our faith. Consider these scenarios and how we would react:

--- You receive the job offer you’ve been praying about, but you have to take a hefty pay cut.

--- You have never been able to conceive, but after adopting two children you/your spouse gets pregnant—with twins.

--- You accept a missionary assignment to a Third World country where your children are exposed to a disease that is killing thousands.

When you hear the word “test,” what emotions rush through your mind? When is a test welcomed? unwelcomed?

Today we’re going to talk about the ultimate test of faith in the Bible, of Abraham being told to sacrifice his only begotten son by His Lord.

Would he pass the test?

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Genesis 22:1–23:20

*** Last week in chapter 21 we talked about Isaac's birth and how God fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah for a son.

*** Sarah then sent away Hagar and Ishmael so that Isaac would be Abraham's only heir.

*** In chapter 22 God tests Abraham's faith. Would Abraham choose his son, whom he waited for 25 years, or obedience to the Lord Almighty?

THE TEST PRESENTED (Gen. 22:1-2)

1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he answered. 2 “Take your son,” He said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

*** God tested Abraham.

--- God speaks to Abraham, whose ears perk up. His immediate and obedient response is “Here I am.”

--- Abraham probably thought that he had it made; God's his good friend and has promised and given him wealth, land, servants and a long-awaited heir.

--- But Abraham's peaceful life is about to go through one more ordeal, from God Himself.

--- God tests His saints to prove the quality of their faith and obedience, often through adversity or hardship:

Ex. 20:20 - Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Deut. 8:2 - Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

*** A fair test.

--- "Tested" here does not suggest that God enticed Abraham to do wrong.

--- It certainly seems shocking and defies common sense for the Lord to ask Abraham to burn his son to death as an offering.

*** Abraham had faith that God would see this through.

--- Abraham knew that God had promised in 21:12 that "through Isaac shall your offspring be named." God was obligated to keep His promise.

--- Abraham seems to have had so much faith in God is that he didn’t actually think God would leave Isaac – his promised son - dead.

Hebrews 11 - Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

*** Question - God has already promised Abraham that his line will spawn nations, so why is God testing Abraham's faith?

THE TEST PREPARATION (Gen. 22:3-8)

3 So Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took with him two of his young men and his son Isaac. He split wood for a burnt offering and set out to go to the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac. In his hand he took the fire and the sacrificial knife, and the two of them walked on together. 7 Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father.” And he replied, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Then the two of them walked on together.

*** No time to wait.

--- Just as Abraham immediately picked up his family and belongings and moved to Canaan, when God tells Abraham to do something, he does it quickly.

We don't even get a hint that Abraham expressed doubt, protested or did what most of us would do, absolutely freak out.

--- Abraham went with Isaac and two servants on a three-day walk to Mt. Moriah.

--- How old was Isaac? We get an idea that Isaac was not a very young boy during this because Abraham has him carry the wood for the offering up the mountain.

Isaac could be anywhere from a preteen to 37 years old, which is how old he would have been in chapter 23 when his mom Sarah died.

*** "We'll come back to you."

--- In verse 5, Abraham certainly feels that Isaac will be returning.

--- In Hebrews chapter 11, the author writes that "Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death." (v. 19)

*** God doesn't send us out alone.

--- Verse 3 says that Abraham set off for "the place God had told him about."

--- Just as God told Abraham to head towards Canaan but did not reveal the ultimate destination, God indicates that He will be taking his journey with Abraham.

--- When Isaac inquired about the absence of the lamb, Abraham told him the Lord would provide.

*** Question - When we are tested by God, how hard is it to belive that God will provide, especially in the absence of evidence?

(When Abraham and Isaac went up the mountain without knowing how God would provide, the ram started up the other side, unseen by them but known by the Lord.)

THE TEST PASSED (Gen. 22:9-12)

9 When they arrived at the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” He replied, “Here I am.” 12 Then He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.”

*** Isaac on the altar.

--- By now when it was apparent that he was the sacrifice, Isaac could have run away or overpowered his 100-plus year-old dad.

--- Isaac believed his father, submitted to God's will and allowed Abraham to tie him up and get him on the wood on the altar.

*** Question – What does this say about Isaac’s trust in his father? As strong as Abraham’s faith in God?

*** Phew! What a relief!

--- What do you think Abraham’s demeanor was as he went about preparing the altar? Was he resigned? Heartbroken? Confident? Joyful? There’s a lot of drama here!

--- The "Angel of the Lord," a manifestation of God Himself, tells Abraham to stop (collaborate and listen).

--- God’s interruption here shows that He never intended for Abraham to kill Isaac. But Abraham’s actions demonstrated complete trust and submission.

*** Question – Does what God demanded of Abraham challenge your understanding of God? How does this become a controversial and difficult story to tell to non-believers and believers?

THE TEST PROVISION (Gen. 22:13-14)

13 Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, so today it is said: “It will be provided on the Lord’s mountain.”

*** A substitute for sacrifice.

--- 2,000 years before Christ was born, God told Abraham to take his promised son to Mt. Moriah, the same mountain ridge where the Temple would be built and where Jesus would be crucified.

--- For Abraham and Isaac, a ram caught in a thicket provided the substitute.

*** Jesus Christ is our substitute.

--- John the Baptist announced that Jesus was “the Lamb of God” because Jesus “takes away the sin of the world” (see John 1:29). This makes eternal life possible for us!

--- Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced at the thought of Him, in John chapter 8, verse 56: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

*** Question - How does this passage in Genesis relate to what Christ did for us on the cross? Why is it important for believers to understand the nature of His sacrifice in our place?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Who here was good at taking tests in school?

Who stunk at it?

What is the value of taking a test? (We show how much we have learned. How much progress we have made.)

In today’s session we learned about a test of Abraham’s faith that was so radical it demanded a complete and utter dependence on the Lord.

*** As believers, we should expect that God will test our faith, and we should pray that we will respond correctly.

*** A test of faith can lead us to spiritual growth, even if we come to understand that we failed the test.

*** Praise that as God’s sacrifice for our sins, Jesus make eternal life possible for us.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Keeping His Promise

My Life Group lesson for Nov. 15, 2015, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

What kind of promises do we make to people? What are the differences in who you are promising – family, friends, work, kids?

Have you ever made a promise you couldn't keep?

(A big promise, not just pinky-swearing that you wouldn't tell everyone who your friend has a crush on in 8th grade.)

Is it ever appropriate to break a promise or not keep your word?

(Note that a child perceives even casually uttered words as promises.)

What happens when we fail to come through with our promises?

There are over 6,000 promises in the Bible, and God has come through on all of them. Today we'll talk about how God's promise to Abraham and Sarah came through.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
Genesis 20:1–21:34

*** After Sodom and Gomorrah got the fire-and-brimstone treatment, Abraham moved a little into what became Philistine territory.

--- Chapter 20 describes how Abraham told some white lies just as he did in Egypt about Sarah, telling the king she was his sister. Just as God told Pharaoh to leave her alone in his harem, God told king Abimelech to keep his hands to himself.

--- Remember, God had just promised in chapter 19 that Isaac would be born in one year, so if Sarah conceived while she was in Abimelech's harem the child wouldn't be Abraham's heir. And if she was pregnant before, the child would be raised as Abimelech's kid.

*** Abraham stumbled in his faith at times. It had been 25 years since God had made His promise to Abraham. But His promise wasn't contingent on Abraham being perfect.

*** Chapter 21 tells us of Isaac's birth, fulfilling God's promise to Abraham and Sarah.

GOD’S PROMISE REALIZED (Gen. 21:1-2)

1 The LORD came to Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what He had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time God had told him.

*** A promise kept.

--- For 25 years and from chapter 12 of Genesis until now, God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son:

--- 12:2 - “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you."

--- 17:19 - But God said, “... Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his future offspring."

--- Through the ups and downs, God kept reminding Abraham of His promise to give him a child, while urging him to walk faithfully with Him and believe (17:1-2).

--- Now He delivers. Literally!

--- Think about the physical and emotional differences that take place in our lives over 25 years. For example, compare and contrast the life of a 25-year-old with that of a 50-year-old.

*** God is punctual.

--- 18:10 - The LORD said, “I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your wife Sarah will have a son!”

--- Abraham tried to create his own timeline with Hagar and Ishmael 15 years earlier, but God made good when it was the right time in the right way.

--- Within the year specified, Sarah became the mother of Abraham’s son.

*** Question - Do you have an example of how God's timing turned out to be better than yours?

(For example, perhaps God did not provide the new job asdesired but another, better position came along.)

*** Likewise, the birth of the Messiah would occur at the time established by God:

--- Galatians 4:4-5 - But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

GOD’S PROMISE REMEMBERED (Gen. 21:3-7)

3 Abraham named his son who was born to him—the one Sarah bore to him—Isaac. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 She also said, “Who would have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne a son for him in his old age.”

*** Abraham's obedience.

[Abraham’s journey began when he obeyed God by departing Haran for an undetermined destination (12:1). Abraham was circumcised in obedience to God just a year before Isaac’s birth (17:24).]

-- Note the two ways that Abraham obeyed God: by naming his son Isaac (Genesis 17:19 - Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac) and by circumcising him on the eighth day (Genesis 21:4 - When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.).

*** God is capable.

--- Abraham was 100 years old. Sarah was 90. It is not biologically possible. God can do anything He chooses.

*** Laughter is the best medicine.

--- Genesis 17:17 - Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

--- Genesis 18:12 - So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

--- Sarah's laughter here in verse 6 is probably a joyful chuckle at an act of grace, whereas when God told her in chapter 18 it was more of a skeptical snicker.

--- Genesis 17:19 "Isaac" means "he laughs." Isaac’s circumcision and name would be a constant reminder of God’s covenant and faithfulness.

--- Her lack of children fostered a lifelong stigma (see 16:2). Deep inside, she harbored a sense of great personal failure. Not only did motherhood satisfy her inner aspiration for children, it gratified her desire to please her husband.  

*** God is bountiful. (Gen. 21:6-7)

--- God lavished blessing after blessing on an elderly couple: land, wealth, and now a son in their old age!

--- Put yourself in Abraham and Sarah’s shoes. Imagine you are holding Isaac, a child you thought you would never have. (We certainly have experience with that in our class.)

What emotions would accompany that experience? What kind of impact do you think the birth of Isaac had on Sarah’s faith in God?

(Every time they reflect on Isaac, they would know that nothing is impossible with God.)

GOD’S PROMISE REJOICED (Gen. 21:8)

8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham held a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned.

*** Party time! Excellence!

--- Nowadays we celebrate potty training as a rite of passage, but back then they celebrated when toddlers were no longer nursing.

--- This could be anywhere from age two to five years old, as cultures of the day varied.

--- Infant mortality was high in ancient days, so this was a big milestone to make it thus far, plus Sarah didn't die in childbirth, which was also a big possibility in those days.

--- One thing it marked was the beginning of Isaac's independence. He no longer depended on his mother's milk.

--- I don't know about you guys, but at 40 years old and two kids under 7, I'm exhausted. Abraham was 100! Sarah was 90!

*** Salvation is not a funeral, but a feast!

--- The Bible is a continual feast from Genesis right through to Revelation. Covenant meals and meals of fellowship are frequent occurrences in Scripture.

--- Thankfully, Christianity is not a religion for eating at a table alone. Think about the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers," where it says "We have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail."

We're here to stick together and win the battle together!

*** Question - How does our church celebrate God's faithfulness?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Who has done trust falls? Either at work, at church camp, anywhere?

What is the importance of having a good track record when it comes to trust?

God’s past track record serves as a source of confidence for us and Abraham learned that the hard way.

If we believe that God doesn’t keep His promises, then we believe God is a liar just like us.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:20 - For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.

Christ fulfills all the promises of God to us, and all our confidence in God’s promises must come from our trust in Jesus Christ as a person whom we know and can rely on.

*** God asks us to trust Him with our lives. He is strong enough to take care of us. His Word is dependable and trustworthy. Be patient and confident.

*** We have an obligation to go with God's promises. We are to be obedient, and we are to trust in Him. Our faith should be easy to see.

*** We should delight in God’s character. We discussed today four things about the character of God: He is reliable, punctual, capable, and bountiful. (What a mighty God we serve!)

Monday, November 09, 2015

Where Wickedness Rules

My Life Group’s lesson for Nov. 8, 2015, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" as our guide …

FIRST THOUGHTS

Finish this sentence: “What happens in Vegas…” (“...stays in Vegas!”)

What are the ramifications of living by that slogan?

Who saw the new Bond flick this weekend?

I’m not blaming Bond, but right about the time he hit the scene started a 50 year period in America that has seen immorality embraced in the popular culture and religious morals on the decline.

The sex industry alone is bigger than the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball combined. Many of our sitcoms are a string of vulgar sex jokes.

I have heard preachers refer to the U.S. as a modern Sodom and Gomorrah, but I'd like to think that God could find 10 righteous people in order to keep us from being destroyed.

America may not be a runaway train towards God’s judgment. But as we’ll see today, sins have consequences, and extreme sin ends up with tremendous destruction, whether on a personal level or nationwide.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Genesis 18:16–19:38

*** The last two lessons we've talked about Abraham's faith and learning to trust and obey God in a new covenant.

*** In Genesis 18, God and two angels spend time with Abraham. God confides in his "good friend" Abraham that the vile cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed.

*** We'll see how Sodom and Gomorrah lacked even ten righteous people who would make their cities worth saving.

MAN’S SIN (Gen. 18:20-21)

20 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious. 21 I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the cry that has come up to Me. If not, I will find out.”

*** Sin and consequences.

--- Sodom and Gomorrah were prominent cities in Canaan, probably located in an area now covered by the Dead Sea.

--- The people who lived there were cruel, murderous, idolatrous, and especially perverse. Sodom and Gomorrah are synonymous with unchecked and community-destroying sin.

--- Ezekiel chapter 16 defines Sodom's sins: “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."

--- Jude verse 7 describes the sins of the cities thusly: "In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire."

*** God's gotta see this.

--- A month ago we talked about the Tower of Babel and how God "went down" to take a look for Himself.

--- Similarly, God tells Abraham He will "go down to see" just how bad things have become in Sodom and Gomorrah.

--- Did God really have to visit the cities? Of course not. He knew what was going on. But this showed Abraham that God wasn't making a snap judgment. He does not punish without warning (Amos 3:7-8 - Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared—who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken— who can but prophesy?).

God is just in his decision to destroy the wickedness.

*** Question - How is God’s view of sin different than the world’s view of sin? What happens when a culture ignores sin to the point that sin becomes the norm?

ABRAHAM’S INTERCESSION (Gen. 18:22-25)

22 The men turned from there and went toward Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will You really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will You really sweep it away instead of sparing the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people who are in it? 25 You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

*** 50? 40? 30? OK, 10? There's gotta be 10!

--- Abraham intercedes on behalf of the people there, either due to sympathy for the righteous who would suffer with the wicked. However, the more likely reason is that he knew that his nephew Lot (who was his brother from another mother) and his family lived in Sodom.

--- Lot continually made bad choices that gave Abraham grief. From choosing the finest pasture land to buying a place in Sodom, Lot was a pain. No doubt Abraham looked forward to family reunions with less than unbridled joy. (Love Worth Finding)

--- If God hadn’t told us Lot was “righteous” (2 Peter 2:7, 8 – “delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day be seeing and hearing their lawless deeds.”), it would be very difficult to identify Him as a citizen of God’s kingdom. The story of Lot is a classic example of how easily the world is able to pollute and corrupt a righteous mind. (Grace to You)

--- When is the last time you prayed over a city or for a person that they would be saved? In our "me" culture we can forget easily to pray for salvation to happen in a city but only with the power of God can it happen. Pray today for salvation to ring out in our city. Then go and share the good news today! Don't get to the place where you have to barter for souls. (Bro. Joseph)

*** Question – God listened to Abraham, but what about us? Do prayers change a situation, or just help us to understand God?

GOD’S GRACE (Gen. 19:12-16)

12 Then the angels said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here: a son-in-law, your sons and daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of this place, 13 for we are about to destroy this place because the outcry against its people is so great before the LORD, that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” 14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were going to marry his daughters. “Get up,” he said. “Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. 15 At daybreak the angels urged Lot on: “Get up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.” 16 But he hesitated. Because of the LORD’s compassion for him, the men grabbed his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters. Then they brought him out and left him outside the city.

*** Angels among them.

--- Abraham had been visited by two angels who went on to facilitate Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction. They went in to get Lot out. (Or as in "The Bible" series, slice and dice the Sodomites.)

--- A mob of men - young and old - surrounded Lot's house. They weren't there to make new pen pals. They wanted to have their way sexually with the angels.

--- Lot tried to protect them, even to the point of offering his virgin daughters in exchange. (For real. Clearly God saving Lot wasn't because Lot was a man of perfect ethics and common sense.)

--- But the men weren't interested in ladies, so the angels blinded the men, who still tried to break down the door!

*** It's for your own good!

--- The angels tell Lot that the cities were judged by His wrath, but God was offering grace to Lot and his family.

--- Lot hesitates. Unlike Abraham, who picked up everything to move to Canaan when God said to go, Lot was afraid to give up his home, his things, and his standing in the community. It’s so hard to give up our sins and trust God, even when you know the consequences are eternal.

--- The angels then have to physically drag Lot's family out of their home to safety.

--- God's compassion spared Lot from destruction, an act of grace to save Lot from himself.

*** Only four left Sodom.

--- Despite Abraham's pleas to save the cities if even ten righteous people were found, only four left. His daughters' fianc├ęs laughed off the warning. Ultimately only three made it to safety because Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.

--- In the next scene, Lot’s daughters get him drunk and have sex with him to have children. (Seriously, these people were saved by grace and grace alone!)

*** How is the enemy infiltrating Christian homes (e.g., immersion in modern technology, exposure to secular entertainment)?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

What are some of the most creative ways you or someone you know punished a kid or were punished as a kid?

Except for the nightmares on Super Nanny, children hopefully learn early in life that actions have consequences.

If they disobey their parents, they get in trouble. If they run across the street without looking, there are dangers. Learning about consequences is one of the most important lessons they learn.

As Christians we are also to be careful about the temptation of pitching our tent towards Sodom, and the consequences of our actions. God both rewards and disciplines believers.

We were all headed to a personal Sodom and Gomorroah until we were saved from sin. Thankfully God took us by the hand so we would realize we needed a Savior!

*** The good news is that God – the righteous judge - always attempts to offer us grace before judging sin.

*** God does not act according to our whims, petty complaints, or perceived slights but responds with justice to the plight of the oppressed, victimized, and broken-hearted.

*** Sin happens, and the consequences are very real, but be assured that between our sin and the consequences we experience is God’s offer of grace.

Monday, November 02, 2015

A New Name

My Life Group lesson for Nov. 1, 2015 ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Many celebrities go by different names than their parents gave them. Check out this short list of folks:

Marion Morrison (John Wayne)
Peter Gene Hernandez (Bruno Mars)
Mark Sinclair (Vin Diesel)
Samuel Timothy Smith (Tim McGraw)
Paul Reubenfeld (Pee Wee Herman)
Paul Hewson (Bono)
Gordon Sumner (Sting)
Julia Elizabeth Wells (Julie Andrews)
Eilleen Regina Edwards (Shania Twain)
Terry Jean Bollea (Hulk Hogan)
Declan Patrick McManus (Elvis Costello)
James Todd Smith (LL Cool J)
Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra (Meg Ryan)
Stevland Judkins (Stevie Wonder)

In today’s verses we will see how God changed Abram and Sarai’s names. Even though they'll have to change all their stationary, they'll do so with joy because it shows how God can remake a believer in God’s glory.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Genesis 16:1–18:15

*** Two weeks ago we introduced Abraham, a man of great faith who became the father of Judaism and Christianity.

*** 13 years after God told Abram to move to what is now Israel, God again appeared to Abram and clarified that Ishmael wouldn't be the rightful heir, but Sarah would have a son of their own.

GOD’S PROMISE RENEWED (Gen. 17:1-8)

1 When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him, saying, “I am God Almighty. Live in My presence and be blameless. 2 I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell facedown and God spoke with him: 4 “As for Me, My covenant is with you: you will become the father of many nations. 5 Your name will no longer be Abram, but your name will be Abraham, for I will make you the father of many nations. 6 I will make you extremely fruitful and will make nations and kings come from you. 7 I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you. 8 And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.”

*** God works on His timing, not ours.

--- Abraham is now 99 years old. It's been 24 years since God gold him to move to Canaan and over a decade since God established His covenant with Abraham.

--- Many would give up after they didn't see God appear every six hours, let alone decades. But the reality is that sometimes the Christian life is mundane and God is silent. We are called on to trust and obey.

--- Question - What happens to our faith when we think God isn't listening or watching?

*** “I will.”

--- Twelve times in Genesis chapter 17 God says “I will.” God does what He promises.

--- God establishes a new covenant with Abraham. He doesn’t negotiate the terms. He presents it and Abraham must follow just as God will do as He says.

Through Isaac Abraham becomes the father of Israel and in turn Christian nations and people:

Galatians 3:7-9 - "Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith."

*** God also says that if Abraham lives with an awareness of God being with him, then Abraham will be “blameless.” It’s as if God is telling Abraham that he gets a fresh start, even at 99 years of age!

*** Question – What would it mean to you to get a fresh start today? (In your career, in your relationships, and with God?)

ABRAHAM OFFERS AN ALTERNATIVE (Gen. 17:15-18)

15 God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, do not call her Sarai, for Sarah will be her name. 16 I will bless her; indeed, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will produce nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 17 Abraham fell facedown. Then he laughed and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a hundred-year-old man? Can Sarah, a ninety-year-old woman, give birth?” 18 So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to You!”

*** Seriously, Sarah's going to have a kid.

--- God again tells Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son for themselves.

--- Abraham is 99, Sarah is 89 at this time. You can see why Abraham chuckled at this. He hadn’t seen how God worked with human biology to do the miraculous, such as virgin birth.

In fact, Isaac means "he laughs," because both Abraham and later Sarah laughed (chapter 18) when told they would have soon a son.

*** Abraham then offered an alternative with Ishmael as his heir.

--- Think about it – Abraham tried to impose his opinion on God. Was Abraham just amazed that God would make such a promise, or didn’t believe it was possible?

*** Question - Why do we try to offer alternatives to God’s plans?

GOD’S POWER DECLARED (Gen. 17:19-22)

19 But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his future offspring. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father 12 tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will confirm My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” 22 When He finished talking with him, God withdrew from Abraham.

*** God gives Abraham a big “N-O spells no.”

--- The good Lord didn’t go with Abraham’s plan, but went ahead with the covenant in place.

*** Question – Have you ever tried to explain something to a child using what you think is airtight logic, only to be disappointed at their answer?

--- God’s ways are not our own, and sometimes “Because I said so” is sufficient.

--- He doesn’t dismiss us outright, though. Note how God says “I have heard you” and responds with compassion for Abraham by blessing Ishmael with many important descendants, including 12 tribal leaders just as Jacob's would.

This, even though God already declared that Ishmael's descendants would cause headaches for Abraham and Isaac's descendants.

Despite the ill-conceived way that Ishmael came into the world, God loved him and had a good plan for his life.

*** Question - Why is it in our best interest that God sometimes says “no” to our plans?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS:

Who had a nickname as a kid, in college, or even today?

Why do we get nicknamed? It is a way for our friends, parents or even employers to define who we are.

In today’s verses we read how God changed Abram’s name (“Exalted father”) to Abraham, which means “father of multitudes” or "father of nations." Sarai became Sarah, both meaning "princess."

--- By changing his name, God is showing that he has the ultimate authority over Abraham's identity, even his very existence, to fulfill His promises.

*** Question - What is the significance of God changing the names of people in the Bible?

(Other Biblical examples: Jacob/Israel, Simon/Peter, Saul/Paul.)

*** You’re never too old for a fresh start with God.

*** Our impatience can make us try and impose our own plans for God's plans. Don't set limits on what God can do!

*** Trust in God. Don't give up. He will show you truly that with Him all things are possible for His glory!