Saturday, March 25, 2017

Victorious Faith

My Life Group lesson for March 26, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

We don’t even know what to believe anymore, from politics to scientific studies on coffee/wine/chocolate/sleep, and everyone says they have their own “truth.”

You wouldn’t know this, but the internet is filled with false information.

I used to listen to the Art Bell Show on the radio in the middle of the night, and it was full of conspiracies about civilizations on Mars, time travelers, Area 51 and everything kooky you can think of.

When you question their facts, someone will inevitably say “I know it’s hard to believe, but just accept it as true. Take it on faith.”

Really? Is faith just jumping blindly into belief?

In the Bible we see a different idea of faith. Hebrews chapter 11 features those with true faith, even when God called them to believe some pretty incredible things.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Last week we talked about victory over sin and repentance. Today we’re talking about victory in faith.

*** Pastor John Harrison in North Carolina combines them: "Repentance is turning away from sin and turning to God. Faith is turning to God in all areas of your life."

*** Our Scripture today is Hebrews chapter 11, the roll call of the faithful. It has encouraged many believers in times of persecution and suffering to have a victorious faith.

TRUE FAITH (Hebrews 11:1-3)

1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

*** A really big bang.

--- Verse 1 is clear on what faith is, how it works and what it does.

--- Faith is an inward conviction.

Faith means trusting God and believing (even knowing) that He will do what He says He will do—because He always does.

--- Faith gives us confidence.

Faith has substance. It’s an assurance based on the reality of what God has already done and said.

--- For example, we know the universe exists. But verse 3 separates believers from unbelievers.

--- Think of all the things scientists theorize about, that the Big Bang started with a tiny speck and somehow it exploded and all of the billions of galaxies are now in existence.

--- For all we’ve learned and keep learning about creation, science alone simply can’t answer the most fundamental questions about its existence—especially the question “Why?” Is the universe merely a giant cosmic accident? Or is there some purpose or plan?

--- As Christians we know the answer to the “why” question because of our faith: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command.”

--- Our universe isn’t some accident of physics; it’s the work of a Creator.

--- God started with nothing and brought all that exists into being from nothing.

--- Therefore, we can be confident and have faith that God will continue to work His will in our world—and in our lives.

*** Question - What helps you have faith in God even though you can’t see Him?

HEROES OF THE FAITH (Hebrews 11:4-6)

4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. 5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

*** Dead men do tell tales.

--- There are many great heroes of the faith in Hebrews chapter 11, people who joined God working in their world.

--- Abel is the first example, who was killed by his brother after Cain’s offering was rejected.

--- It wasn’t the offerings themselves that made them acceptable or unacceptable; it was the attitudes behind those offerings.

--- Cain had no faith in God and, as a result, his offering was a ritual, not a true act of faith and worship.

--- Cain’s offering simply didn’t mean much to him; therefore, it didn’t mean much to God.

--- Abel expressed confidence and obedience through his worship.

--- Abel’s example spoke through the centuries even in death, showing us that living righteously matters in the face of hatred and violence.

--- We say that God alone is God and He affects all of our lives, so why would we want to bring less than our best to Him?

*** For my next trick, I will make Enoch disappear.

--- Enoch was the second example of a person who lived by faith.

--- We don’t know much about Enoch, but in Genesis 5:21-24 we can deduce that he was extraordinary.

--- So much so, in fact, that Enoch never died. God just brought him into eternity.

--- Genesis 5:22 says Enoch “walked faithfully with God 300 years.”

--- Genesis 5:24 says “he was no more” because “God took him away.”

--- That’s all we’re told.

--- He must have had amazing faith and confidence in God’s will.

*** Faith’s rewards.

--- The writer of Hebrews emphasized this point: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

--- The Bible makes it clear that those who live to please God are rewarded.

--- But how? Riches? Fame? No.

--- To quote Yoda: “Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.”

--- The men and women in Hebrews 11 didn’t have easy lives of leisure in mansions given by God. They had difficulties, but they were seen as victorious through their faith.

--- Abel’s faith led him to bring a sacrifice that God approved. It pleased God. But his life was cut short.

--- We want the victory God gave Enoch – an eternity walking with God.

--- But we should be ready to lead any life that offers testimony to a righteous God.

--- The rewards are not earthly and material, but heavenly and eternal.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

When I was little I would study maps. The Rand McNally map was my friend. I knew the ins and outs of roads and mountains and rivers all over America.

Why do we trust maps and GPS?

Someone before us has gone and knows the way.

God will not take us someplace He has not been. When God says “Turn here” we turn because He knows what he’s talking about.

In Hebrews 11 we read about the men and women who did something by faith, obeying God’s instructions.

We should pay attention as well to God’s plan for our lives and have a faith that is victorious.

*** Trust. Take a moment each day to verbally express your trust in God through prayer. Tell God that you will trust Him throughout the day, and tell Him why you will trust Him.

*** Read. Read the Old Testament stories of the men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11. Read about their lives and find out how they expressed confident trust and faith in God. Consider recording what you learn from each person.

*** Encourage. Even as God uses the lives in Hebrews 11 to encourage us, choose to be an encouragement to someone else. Encourage their faith and trust in Christ by telling them how you trusted Christ in a similar experience.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Jesus for the Win

My Life Group lesson for March 5, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Ken Jones (pastor of Worsham Baptist Church in Farmville, Virginia), John MacArthur and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Is there anyone who likes to check out the ending of a book or a movie before you even start?

Some would say that knowing the ending makes the experience more enjoyable.

If you know your heroes survive, when you see the villain doing a dastardly deed you can chuckle and know that he’s foolish and doomed.

In today’s lesson we’ll discuss our future where Christ is shown as victorious in every way and Satan is foolish and doomed.

History flows to that moment when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We know how the story ends. Therefore, we can live our lives in a much deeper and fuller way. We can live with confidence.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
Revelation 1:12-20

*** This spring we will be using Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life curriculum, which is different than the other adults here at FBC. We aren’t going through a specific book of the Bible. It instead focuses on topics to discuss using verses all over Scripture.

*** Today we’re discussing verses from Revelation chapter 1.

*** Late in the first century the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos. While there, John received a revelation from Jesus, and he was given a vision of events at the end of the age, of Christ’s triumphant return, and of the new heaven and new earth.

A STUNNING APPEARANCE (REVELATION 1:12-16)

12 I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven gold lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man, dressed in a long robe and with a gold sash wrapped around His chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool—white as snow—and His eyes like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and His voice like the sound of cascading waters. 16 He had seven stars in His right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from His mouth, and His face was shining like the sun at midday.

*** Dress to impress.

--- When you're job-hunting, experts say to dress for the job you want.

--- John’s vision of Jesus is certainly unlike the happy buddy Jesus that we normally see in pop culture.

--- Jesus appears in stunning and overwhelming glory.

--- Jesus was dressed for His role to win an eternal battle.

--- Certainly there’s nothing wrong with regarding Jesus as our friend, but He is much more than that.

--- He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and as such He is worthy of our worship and obedience.

*** Amazing imagery.

--- Let’s break down the images in these verses and see what it all means:

--- Jesus would later explain that the seven lampstands represented the seven churches in the province of Asia that are mentioned earlier in chapter 1.

--- John saw “One like the Son of Man” similar to Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:13:
“I continued watching in the night visions,
and I saw One like a son of man
coming with the clouds of heaven.
He approached the Ancient of Days
and was escorted before Him.”

--- Jesus often referred to Himself as “the Son of Man”, the subject of Daniel’s prophecy.

--- Dressed in a robe with a golden sash possibly refers to the Jewish high priest’s garments.

--- His hair was like wool, which suggests wisdom and purity.

--- His eyes were like a flame of fire, which reminds us that He sees all and knows all.

--- Jesus’ feet were like “fine brass”. That is, it was pure and strong bronze, and symbolized His invincibility. Feet often symbolized conquest and judgment (Psalm 110:1; Revelation 19:15).

--- His voice was “as the sound of many waters.” John was on the island of Patmos when he wrote this, and was likely used to the sound of water, which is loud and powerful.

--- He had seven stars in His right hand to represent seven angels of the seven churches.

--- He had a “sharp two-edged sword” in His mouth, which indicates the power of His words.

--- Finally, Jesus’ face was glowing, which recalls Jesus at His transfiguration (Matt 17:2) and Moses’ shining face after his encounter with God on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:35).

*** Question - What part of John’s description of Jesus grabs your attention?

A STIRRING ANNOUNCEMENT (REVELATION 1:17-20)

17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, 18 and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades. 19 Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this. 20 The secret of the seven stars you saw in My right hand and of the seven gold lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

*** False human saviors.

--- Adrian Rogers wrote of going to see Lenini’s tomb in Moscow. Lenin’s body is still on display in Red Square since he died in 1924. On the tomb these words are written: “He was the greatest leader of all peoples of all countries of all times. He was the lord of the new humanity. He was the savior of the world.”

Rogers writes, “Do you notice it’s all past tense? He was. Jesus is alive. He is the great I AM. It is an encounter with the living Christ that makes the difference in our lives. We serve a Savior who is alive and listening to our every prayer. He is bottling every tear and rejoicing with every victory.”

*** Holy moly.

--- Jesus tells John not to be afraid, which suggests that John fell at the feet of Jesus in terror.

--- This is a typical reaction in the Bible to an encounter with God or an angelic messenger, and as always, the person is told “do not be afraid.”

--- People mock Jesus today, but someday the mockery will cease.

--- The apostle Paul said every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:11-12).

--- John said “all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him” (Revelation 1:7).

*** Jesus gave John some reassurances.

--- He has power over time.

--- He has power over life.

--- He has power over death.

--- Holding the “keys of death and Hades” lets us know that Jesus has power over evil and death.

--- These keys unlock the “gates of death” (Pss. 9:13; 107:18) and “the gates of Sheol” (Isa. 38:10) or “the gates of Hades” (Matt. 16:18).

--- Because Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades, He alone can free those held captive by them.

*** Jesus’ instructions to John.

--- He told him to write down what he had seen.

--- This not only included Jesus’ revelation of the future, but also “the things which are.”

--- John was also to take down individual messages for each of the seven churches.

--- Jesus explained the mystery of the seven stars.

--- They represented “the angels of the seven churches.”

--- The word translated “angels” can also mean “messengers,” so Jesus may have been referring to the pastors of the churches, or to angels.

--- Others believe He was referring to actual guardian angels.

--- The seven candlesticks represented the churches themselves. It is noteworthy that Jesus stood “in the midst” of them.

*** Question - What kinds of things make you question that God is in control? What things reassure you that God is in control?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

We’re only human. We have doubts and especially fears.

A recent survey by the National Institutes of Mental Health shows that “fear of public speaking” is number one. Even above death!

Here are the top 5 fears:

Fear of public speaking – 74%
Fear of death – 68%
Fear of spiders – 30.5%
Fear of darkness – 11%
Fear of heights – 10%

Jesus has gained the victory for us over our fears. Salvation gained is something that can never be lost. The work was completed by Jesus through His death and resurrection. It’s a done deal. But the personal day to day victory can still be lost if we don’t fight to do what’s necessary to think like Jesus and act in faith.

What will be remembered about you? Jesus has won the victory. Your salvation is secure. You obtained it through faith. Don’t lose the daily battle through a life of self-reliance and bravado.

*** Trust. Examine your life for areas where you retain control. Trust Christ to lead you in those areas. Trust Him as Lord.

*** Encourage. If you have friends who are discouraged because of circumstances, pray for them. Share what you've gained from this study and help them see that jesus is present and has authority over all things.

*** Stand. Be bold and confident in those places where your faith in Christ is challenged or ridiculed. Choose to take a stand for His victory at home, at work, and in your neighborhood.

Victory Over Sin

My Life Group lesson for March 19, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Ken Jones (pastor of Worsham Baptist Church in Farmville, Virginia), John MacArthur and Adrian Rogers.

What habits have you been happy to leave behind in your life?

(Could be food, drink, drugs, could be learning to say no or say yes, could be too much time on your phone, could be arguing, could be gossiping, etc.)

A habit is something you can do without thinking--which is why most of us have so many of them. (Frank Clark, Register and Tribune Syndicate.)

Bad habits don’t always feel all that bad. We think: what’s the harm with a little instant gratification, mindless TV watching, or occasional web browsing? But, as we reflect back on the passing weeks, months, and years, all that wasted time starts to add up.

And when it affects our Christian walk, it really feels like a weight on our shoulders.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
Romans 6:4-14

"I’ve been married for over (10 years), and that’s been plenty of time for me to mess up. I mean really mess up. When I do make mistakes, I apologize and ask my wife to forgive me. Of course she forgives me, but there’s more to it than that. She wants more than an apology. She wants my assurance that I’m not going to repeat the stupid thing I did in the first place. She wants repentance."

*** The term repentance literally means to "turn around" or "to change direction." Repentance is that U-turn in life when you realize you’re headed in the wrong direction and you turn around to head back the way you should be going.

*** The Christian life is a life of repentance, but that repentance is so much more than just being sorry for what we’ve done! Seeking forgiveness is only the beginning. Christ has far more in store for us than a repeating cycle of failure and apology, followed by more failure and apology.

*** Christ gives us more than just forgiveness for sin. He gives us victory over sin. In Romans 6, Paul wrote about the difference.

CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST (ROMANS 6:4-7)
4 Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. 5 For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7 since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims.

*** The right model.

--- We don't value baptism because it's necessary for salvation, but because it expresses the meaning of our salvation.

--- It symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus.

--- It also shows that we have died to our old sinful ways, and have been raised to new life in Christ.

--- Baptism shows that we have given our lives to Christ.

--- We place all our dreams, our hopes and our plans before Him, dying to ourselves.

--- It is an act of obedience to Jesus. (Our first one in many cases.)

*** The model of Christ's death.

--- Paul writes in verse 6 that our old self was crucified with Him (Galatians 2:20 - "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.").

--- Paul added in verse 7: "Anyone who has died has been set free from sin."

--- Since your old self is dead, it no longer has power over you.

--- Human bodies are not in themselves sinful, but sin so dominated our fallen beings that our bodies belonged to sin.

--- When Paul wrote that such a person has been set free from sin, he literally wrote, "has been justified [or acquitted] from sin."

--- In other words, the wages of sin is death, but we have died with Christ; therefore, we are free from sin’s debt. Dead people don’t pay bills.

--- Christians can still choose to sin, but the believer is no longer a slave to sin.

--- As Christians, we cannot deny that we still struggle with temptation. However, sin is no longer has the same level of control over us that it once did.

--- Our new lives are no longer dominated by sin, but live empowered by the Holy Spirit.

*** Question - Verse 11 later says that disciples of Jesus are dead to sin. Why, then, do we still struggle with sin? Is it possible for a Christian to reach a state of sinless perfection in this life?

--- Knowing we’re dead to sin and living like it are two different things.

UNDER GRACE, NOT LAW (ROMANS 6:12-14)
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. 13 And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. 14 For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

*** I can't help it, I was born this way.

--- In verses 12 and 13 Paul essentially tells us, "Quit choosing to sin."

--- We can't let any part of ourselves - our bodies, our minds, our hearts - desire things that aren't for God.

--- Before we were believers we couldn't help ourselves. We were sinners and didn't know anything else.

--- When we discuss youth crime in Memphis, one of the recurring themes is that the kids just don't know any better.

--- Now that we are alive in Christ our eyes are open to temptation and sin. We have the power to resist.

*** Grace under fire.

--- Verse 14 is a relief. We are not under the law, but under grace.

--- We can't boast about our works and we can't make ourselves self-righteous.

--- We are only saved by the grace of God. We look to Him for forgiveness when we fail.

--- However, this does not give us a license to sin.

--- Paul wrote these verses partly to correct false teaching that said it didn't matter if we sinned as long as we are spiritual.

--- It's that kind of stinking thinking that has us justifying sin to ourselves.

--- We might think, "Oh, it's my private sin, no one will know," or "God will forgive me, so it's OK."

--- In reality sin affects our relationship with God, so don't allow your body to be used against God.

--- You can overcome sin by presenting yourself to God.

--- You must recognize that you cannot live the Christian life in your own strength and power.

--- Ultimately we are to strive to be holy and be more like Jesus.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Have you ever been in a store with your children and they were particularly adamant about asking you for a new toy?

When you explain that you can't afford what they want, they reply, "It's OK, you can just charge it." Everything is free to them because they aren't in charge of the checkbook.

Too many Christians live their lives like our children treat our bank accounts: Everything's free so we can do anything we want.

"I can’t help it. This sin is just a habit in my life that will always be there."

"I know Jesus forgave me, but I can’t keep from sinning."

"I’m powerless to deal with this."

If you are a believer—a follower of Christ—those statements are false.

If those statements are true, then why do I still sin?

As Christians, we sin because we choose to sin. We fail to consider that Christ has given us a way out. He has fully empowered us to stand strong.

Through Christ, we have victory over sin. How will that be evident in your life this week? Consider taking one of these steps:

*** Confess. Give your sin to Christ—no matter how small you consider it. Acknowledge that Christ is your Lord and Master, and choose to live in victory in Him.

*** Remove. Evaluate your life for habits, routines, or relationships that pull you into sin. Create a plan for removing them or limiting their power over you.

*** Team up. Partner with another believer and support each other in saying "no" to sin and "yes" to Jesus. Make a practical plan to connect regularly and remind each other that sin is no longer the master; Jesus is.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Redeemed and Secure

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 26, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway and bits from Jay McCluskey, John MacArthur and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What is your favorite “Happily ever after” story?

Mine is “Return of the King.” I was so invested in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy that I needed every single one of the ten endings to “Return of the King,” and never wanted it to end. That part at Aragorn’s wedding when he tells the hobbits that they bow to no man and all the people bow to them instead, getting chills just thinking about it!

Today we’re going to talk about a happily ever after for Ruth and Boaz, and how their relationship is a metaphor for the redeeming salvation from Jesus Christ.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Ruth 1:1–4:22

*** Having studied the books of Joshua and Judges this winter, we will cram all four chapters of the book of Ruth into one study this week.

*** The book of Ruth took place around the time of Judges and possibly written during the time of King David’s reign, about 1,000 B.C. It is one of the loveliest illustrations of God’s redeeming grace in Scripture.

*** Whereas Judges focuses on leaders and unfaithful people, the Book of Ruth focuses on normal and selfless folks like Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth, living out their faith during trying circumstances.

INTEREST (Ruth 3:8-11)

8 At midnight, Boaz was startled, turned over, and there lying at his feet was a woman! 9 So he asked, “Who are you?” “I am Ruth, your slave,” she replied. “Spread your cloak over me, for you are a family redeemer.” 10 Then he said, “May the Lord bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before, because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you say, since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”

*** Boy meets girl.

--- The book of Ruth starts out with the problems of Naomi, whose husband passed, and then her sons passed, and she was a widow without protection in Moab, a land not her own, with two childless daughters-in-law who weren’t Israelites.

--- All of the these things were sad and seemed against her, and yet all were working for good.

--- Ruth is an unlikely star of the Israelites, a Moabite widow who ends up in King David’s genealogy and thus Jesus Christ’s.

--- When Naomi and Ruth got to Bethlehem, they had nothing.

--- Ruth worked in a field to gather the scraps of grain in what turned out to be a field owned by Boaz, who was related to Naomi.

--- In our “boy meets girl” scene, Boaz notices Ruth.

--- Boaz was impressed with Ruth for her devotion to Naomi and her work ethic.

--- He compliments her, assures her protection and makes sure she goes home with a large supply of grain.

*** Redeemer

--- When Naomi realized that Ruth was being helped by Boaz, her “kinsmen redeemer, or “family redeemer,” she got Ruth to bat her eyelashes at Boaz.

--- As a “family redeemer,” Boaz could choose to exercise responsibility for these two widows.

--- According to their rules of marriage, if a man died without children, like Ruth’s husband had, a kinsman could take the widow as his wife. This would provide care for the widow and carry on the family name. In this context, “redeem” means “to take care of someone or something.”

*** Ruth takes a bold step.

--- In what can be seen as a leap of faith, Ruth sneaks up in the middle of the night and lays at the feet of Boaz and asks him to cover her with his blanket, essentially asking him to commit to cover her with his provisions and protection.

--- Boaz wakes up to discover this beautiful woman at his feet calling him her “family redeemer.”

--- Boaz didn’t turn her away, and was on board. He told Ruth: “I will do for you whatever you say.”

--- Boaz makes clear that Ruth was a good woman and she had an impeccable reputation. Boaz said that “all the people” in his town knew of Ruth’s noble character. And since he did, too, no one in town would question either of them and their relationship.

(The townspeople probably reacted to their upcoming marriage like in every Hallmark movie where a declaration of love is made in front of a group of people.)

--- Naomi had told her daughters-in-law the Lord’s hand had turned against her (1:13). Now, through Boaz, the Lord’s hands were providing.

--- God’s providence is setting the stage, starting the process of putting Ruth and Boaz together for His redemptive purposes.

--- God places us with people who will serve alongside us in His plans.

*** Question - What feelings have you experienced as you began to realize the Lord was working things out in a positive way for you?

INHERITANCE (Ruth 4:13-17)

13 Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he was intimate with her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him. 17 The neighbor women said, “A son has been born to Naomi,” and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. *** A problem to overcome.

--- As in every romantic comedy and lovey-dovey movie, there has to be a bump in the road to keep our lovers apart for an extra hour.

--- In this case, there was another family redeemer who had the first dibs.

--- Boaz doesn’t pretend not to notice this. He’s honest and gives this man his lawful opportunity.

--- But thankfully that guy forfeited his rights, giving Boaz a clear lane to marry Ruth.

--- The other guy is like the Old Testament law. He was in his rights but stayed away. Boaz is more like our New Testament grace, with us seeking salvation and Jesus claiming us as our redeemer.

--- As our Redeemer, He rescues us from the plight of our circumstances, assuring us of hope in a future with Him.

*** Look around once in a while.

--- On the one hand, this is a great love story in the Bible.

--- At the same time, it’s a fantastic metaphor for God’s providence.

--- We see the divine purpose behind Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi and Naomi’s God.

--- I was listening to a podcast by Dr. J. Vernon McGee on Ruth this week. One of the points he makes is that God doesn't give us a road map. If he did you would walk along with your head down staring at it and miss everything around you.

--- John Piper said something similar, that “the life of the godly is not a straight line to glory, but they do get there.” God leads us through curvy roads, warning signs and heavy fog, but He assures us that His hand is guiding us.

*** Here comes the bride.

--- Royal weddings always seem to catch our attention. Ruth and Boaz were royalty; they just did not know it at the time.

--- Ruth conceived and gave birth to a son named Obed, who grew up to be the father of a man named Jesse, who had eight sons, the youngest of whom was anointed by God to be a king, David (Ruth 4:21-22).

--- If you look further down the family tree of Ruth and Boaz, you will also find a man named Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ (see Matt. 1:16).

--- Who would have expected a penniless foreign widow to marry an Israeli farmer and establish the family line of King David and Jesus?

*** Question - Do you have a keen awareness that God is bringing about His purposes in your life? Could you be surprised by whom He might use to do it?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

According to Harlequin Publishing House, which has published romance novels for half a century, more than 180 million romance novels are purchased each year, with Harlequin itself selling on average five and a half books per second.

The Book of Ruth includes the courtship and marriage of Ruth and Boaz.

Ruth cast herself at the feet of Boaz and asked him for a commitment.

When we cast ourselves at the feet of Christ, Jesus covers us with the blood of His covenant. He provides. He protects. He calls us His own and makes us His bride.

*** (1) Seek to demonstrate integrity in all of your relationships as a witness to your relationship with God.

*** (2) As hard as it seems, be sure to thank God for the obstacles and challenges in your life that are for your good and His glory.

*** (3) God can surprise us with those whom He chooses to bring about His purposes. He chose to bring about His redemptive purposes for us through Ruth, Boaz, and Obed, who became ancestors of Jesus, the ultimate Redeemer (Matt. 1:5).

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Compromised Potential

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 12, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway and bits from Jay McCluskey, John McClendon, John MacArthur and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

How often do we tell our kids, “You can be anything you want to be?”

Do we tell them that because we believe it, or to make them feel good?

(Do you think your kid can be president? A doctor? An actress? An NBA star? A princess?)

Even as they may not be titans of industry, we pray that our children will become faithful and in part because we as parents trained them in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6).

The reality is, although we set out on a road as kids and teens, circumstances change everything, sometimes by choice, sometimes not so much.

Today we’re talking about Samson, one of God’s chosen judges who was destined for great things but battled many personal failings.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Judges 13:1-21:29

*** We continue our study of the book of Judges, tracking the Israelites as they fall into a cycle of rebellion against God, oppression by their enemies, and rescue by the Lord.

*** This week we come to Samson, who had great promise. He was given to God as a Nazirite even before birth, and he was prohibited from drinking wine, cutting his hair, and touching any dead thing.

*** However, by the time we get to the seductress Delilah, Samson had violated two of the vows, and would soon give in on the third as well.

PLEASE TELL ME (JUDGES 16:4-6)

4 Some time later, he fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the Sorek Valley. 5 The Philistine leaders went to her and said, “Persuade him to tell you where his great strength comes from, so we can overpower him, tie him up, and make him helpless. Each of us will then give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” 6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me, where does your great strength come from? How could someone tie you up and make you helpless?”

*** A hair-raising story.

--- Samson was an imperfect instrument.

--- More than any other judge, Samson experienced the Spirit coming upon him.

--- Four times, the Spirit of the Lord was involved in Samson’s actions (13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14).

--- Yet, of all the judges, Samson was most clearly a rogue.

--- Having taken the vow to be a Nazirite (13:4-5, 7, 14; 16:17; Num. 6:1-21), he kept only the part about not cutting his hair.

--- But God had raised him up to deliver Israel from the Philistines (v. 5).

--- He used even the sins of Samson to deliver the Israelites from Philistine oppression (14:4).

*** World’s strongest man, and weakest man.

--- Samson was graced by God with great physical strength.

--- He killed Philistines by the dozens.

--- Yet spiritually Samson was weak.

--- He could strangle a lion and defeat an enemy, but he could not manage his lusts.

--- Recipients of power and strength can become arrogant and over-confident (just as anyone can be when it comes to what they do well).

--- It ended up costing Samson his physical dominance as well.

--- He repeatedly broke God’s covenant and his vow by seeking foreign wives, sleeping with prostitutes, touching dead things, and drinking wine.

--- He showed no interest in being the deliverer that Israel needed.

--- From the time of his birth, Samson had God’s presence blessing him (Judg. 13:24-25). Yet because Samson did not stand against the temptation that he encountered, he never achieved his full potential.

*** Question - What are some things that keep a person from reaching his or her full potential? What role does spiritual compromise play in failing to reach one’s full potential?

THE PHILISTINES ARE HERE (JUDGES 16:16-20)

16 Because she nagged him day after day and pleaded with him until she wore him out, 17 he told her the whole truth and said to her, “My hair has never been cut, because I am a Nazirite to God from birth. If I am shaved, my strength will leave me, and I will become weak and be like any other man.” 18 When Delilah realized that he had told her the whole truth, she sent this message to the Philistine leaders: “Come one more time, for he has told me the whole truth.” The Philistine leaders came to her and brought the money with them. 19 Then she let him fall asleep on her lap and called a man to shave off the seven braids on his head. In this way, she made him helpless, and his strength left him. 20 Then she cried, “Samson, the Philistines are here!” When he awoke from his sleep, he said, “I will escape as I did before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.

*** The power of nagging.

--- Without ruining your relationship, who in your home does the most nagging? How do you deal with it?

--- Samson was particularly weak when it came to women.

--- He lusted after them, he gave in to them, he abandoned his Godly call because of them.

--- If Samson can be said to have a “type,” it was women of his enemies.

--- Previously he had married a Philistine woman (14:1-7). That marriage did not work out. (To put it mildly).

--- Later, Samson also gratified his lust with another Philistine woman, a harlot (16:1).

--- So by the time we get to Delilah she’s his third Philistine heathen mistress.

--- Delilah was playing him like a fiddle, and he was a fool, playing along for the lust.

--- She kept begging Samson to reveal his weakness so that she could get paid 5,500 pieces of silver by the Philistine leaders.

--- At first he played it like a game and tricked her three times. Still, she persisted.

*** Question - Samson seemed to realize the relationship with Delilah was a trap, yet he did not turn away from the relationship. Why do we sometimes continue to play with temptation even though we know the dangers?

*** Unbe-weave-able.

--- Once Samson gives in and loses his hair and breaks the final Nazirite covenant, God’s patience ends and the Holy Spirit leaves Samson.

--- The actual source of Samson’s strength wasn’t his hair, it was the Lord Himself.

--- Like Saul (cf. Is. 16:14 with 1 Sam. 15:23), Samson lost the power of the Spirit because he disobeyed.

--- Samson was about experience life after the abandonment of God.

--- In the end, however, after Samson hits rock bottom and his eyes have been gouged out and he’s tormented by the Philistines, he renews his faith and gives his life to defeat God’s enemies.

--- Hebrews 11:32 even lists Samson on the honor roll of faith.

--- God gave Samson physical strength. Samson didn’t always use it for God and in the way God wanted him to. But, in the end, Samson leaned on God’s strength. God has given us all strengths. Strengths are things that we are good at. Some people are good at drawing, singing, speaking, etc. Every gift comes from God and should be used for God.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

In today’s study, we saw that spiritual compromise can be a very negative thing.

Instead of keeping his promises to God, Samson gave in to Delilah to make her happy.

He let his temptations keep him from using his full potential.

Jesus calls on us to “salt” and “light” in our world. We have to stand out from the world and be careful that we don’t compromise our faith to “fit in” with our culture.

I read an anecdote this week on sermonillustrations.com about the Little Sisters of the Poor, going door to door in France asking for donations for the poor. One man said he could give 1,000 francs if she would have a glass of champagne with him. She hesitated, because 1,000 francs would feed a lot of needy people. When a servant filled her glass, the brave nun poured it out, and then said, “And now, sir, another glass, please, at the same price.” She got it.

Samson risked so much for so little. We can do that every day, risking our marriages, our integrity, our spiritual connection with God, for a momentary thrill. Be on guard for what makes you weak. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil” (Eph. 6:11).

*** Wisdom and common sense teach us that it is best not to put yourself in settings where temptation is strongest. Respecting your vulnerabilities is a healthy way to stay on a good course.

*** When we overestimate our abilities, we underestimate the enemy. The New Testament warns us: “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

*** Standing against temptation shows that we love God. Giving in to temptation shows how much we love ourselves. With Jesus we have the power to turn from temptation.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Timid Warrior

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 5, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway and bits from Jay McCluskey and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Have you ever taken a “Before” picture when starting a new diet and exercise routine?

Advertisements for fitness gyms, exercise equipment, and diets often feature “Before” and “After” photographs of people who have utilized their products.

The goal is to show a stark contrast in improvement.

Gideon is one of God’s great “Before” and “After” projects.

He’s known as one of the great leaders of God’s people. But the Gideon we meet at the beginning of the story is in stark contrast to the hero of faith he becomes.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Judges 6:1–12:15

*** Two weeks ago we started our study of the book of Judges, highlighting the repetitive story of the Israelites rebelling, repenting and being delivered by God’s judges.

*** Every victory was worn by the Lord, who worked through the judges on behalf of His people.

*** In chapter 6 we meet Gideon while the Israelites were being oppressed by the Midianites. Gideon would become an unlikely hero.

UNSURE AND UNTESTED (JUDGES 6:11-16) 11 The Angel of the LORD came, and He sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine vat in order to hide it from the Midianites. 12 Then the Angel of the LORD appeared to him and said: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 Gideon said to Him, “Please Sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, ‘Hasn’t the LORD brought us out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.” 14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you?” 15 He said to Him, “Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” 16 “But I will be with you,” the LORD said to him. “You will strike Midian down as if it were one man.”

*** Wanted: Judge Dredd. (Sylvester Stallone isn't walking through Israel's door.)

--- Because of the sin of the people, God allowed the Midianites to oppress His people.

--- None of the other stories in Judges devotes such attention to the details of the oppression as this one.

--- The Midianite oppression was so great that Isaiah mentioned it centuries later (Is. 9:4; 10:26).

--- The Israelites would hide in mountains and caves and fortresses, but it didn’t always work.

--- Whenever the people would plant crops the Midianites would attack and take all their food, their sheep, oxen and donkeys.

--- That’s why when we meet Gideon he is trying to hide his family’s wheat by threshing it in a wine vat.

*** I’m not worthy.

--- Initially, Gideon appears weak and timid.

--- Like Moses did, Gideon gives excuse after excuse: He thinks the Lord has abandoned them; His family is poor (even though he later gets 10 servants to help him); His clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh; He’s the youngest in the house.

--- Throughout his calling, Gideon questions why God would choose him and asks for signs.

--- Gideon put out a fleece asking God to cover it with dew while the surrounding ground remained dry. God complied with Gideon’s request (6:36-38).

--- But Gideon was not satisfied. He asked God to reverse the process, allowing dew to appear on the ground but not on the fleece. God acquiesced to Gideon’s request (6:39-40).

--- When it’s time for battle God reduces Gideon’s army from 32,000 men down to 300 as a way of teaching Gideon to rely on Him (7:1-8).

*** Rely on Him.

--- God simply replies, “But I will be with you.”

--- God’s strength is enough.

--- With God on Gideon’s side, the Midianites could be defeated by one man with no power.

--- The Lord was reassuring Gideon that he could fulfill God’s calling.

--- God was molding Gideon into a mature believer.

*** Question – How can we give up our doubts and fears and rely on God as much as Gideon had to do?

A FIRST STEP (JUDGES 6:25-27)

25 On that very night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s young bull and a second bull seven years old. Then tear down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26 Build a well-constructed altar to the LORD your God on the top of this rock. Take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.” 27 So Gideon took 10 of his male servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it in the daytime, he did it at night.

*** Serious family problems.

--- Before Gideon could deliver Israel from the Midianites, he had to rid his own family of idol worship.

--- We say it all the time, before you can save the world you can start by getting your own family in order.

--- While Gideon’s request for signs might indicate he lacked faith, his willingness to cut down his father’s monument indicates a big step of trust.

--- The scripture makes clear Gideon was afraid of his dad and his dad’s posse.

--- Gideon’s small acts of faith prepared him for greater obedience to lead an army against his enemy.

--- Gideon may have been in the Old Testament, but he’s a great example of someone who came to deny himself and take up his cross as Jesus instructs us to do in Mark 8.

--- Many people think that this means that our “cross” is a sickness, an unsaved spouse, or a cruel boss. However, a cross is not something that is forced upon you, over which you have no choice. A cross is something you willingly take up.

*** A slight overreaction.

--- In the morning everyone discovered what Gideon had done in obedience to God, and the men of the city insisted he be killed.

--- What Gideon did in God’s command and to honor God, these guys wanted to kill him.

--- Gideon’s dad, Joash, however, got the message.

--- Joash said, if Baal is a god, then let him plead his case against Gideon and defend his altar.

--- Joash refused to surrender Gideon, and his own spiritual journey back to God began.

--- When we have strayed from God, look to those God sends to bring you back.

*** Question – When was a time that God drew you closer to Himself by working in the lives around you?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Imagine adding a packet of sweetener to your tea but not stirring the drink.

If you take a sip, you will think you need another packet.

No matter how many packets you add, you will think you need more as long as you fail to stir the drink.

We want more sweeteners, yet what we really need is to simply stir.

We often ask God for new and divine powers.

What He really wants us to do is to “stir” into use the strength He has already granted believers.

God’s discipline and molding of Gideon succeeded.

We read in Judges 7:1-25 that Gideon delivered God’s people from the hands of the Midianites with only 300 men.

He also was victorious over other Midianite rulers before his death (8:1-35). God worked through a timid leader to secure victory.

When his story began, Gideon wanted the Lord to miraculously deliver the Hebrews from oppression.

While He can work through miracles, God often chooses to work His miracles through faithful and committed believers.

*** This passage shows how God took Gideon where he was and began to shape him into the leader he would become. God starts where we are in making us useful servants in His kingdom.

*** Compare your faith to Gideon’s. Are there areas where you are timid? Look for opportunities to grow your faith through acts of service and obedience to God.

*** What first steps has God led you to take to develop your maturity as a believer and signify your commitment to Him?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Rebellion's Cycle

My Life Group lesson for Jan. 22, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway and bits from Jay McCluskey and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Have you ever received a speeding ticket?

Were you really speeding?

If the answer to the first question is “yes,” then the answer to the second question is usually “yes” also.

While we might deserve the consequences we receive, we sometimes mistakenly get upset at the officer giving us the citation.

When the Israelites were falling into rebellion and getting caught, they had a tendency not to understand the lessons learned.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Judges 1:1-3:6

*** We’ve moved from the book of Joshua to the book of Judges.

*** Judges bridges the gap between the Israelites taking the Promised Land and the time of kings.

*** A generation after Joshua passed the Israelites fell into a cycle of rebellion, God’s judgment, and deliverance.

ABANDONMENT (JUDGES 2:11-15)

11 The Israelites did what was evil in the LORD’s sight. They worshiped the Baals 12 and abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They infuriated the LORD, 13 for they abandoned Him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 The LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and He handed them over to marauders who raided them. He sold them to the enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies. 15 Whenever the Israelites went out, the LORD was against them and brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly.

*** History repeat itself.

--- Who has a favorite movie or novel they have watched or read more than once?

--- No matter how many times we watch the movie or read the book, the ending never changes.

--- As a history buff, it never fails to amaze that one of the main points of history is that mankind repeats the same destructive paths over and over again.

--- But as a Christian history buff, it’s much easier to see why our sinful nature gets in the way.

--- There’s a familiar pattern to the Israelites throughout the Old Testament:
The nation first served God, then they forsake Him in favor of fake gods.
God delivers them into the hands of their enemies.
The people wail and moan in servitude.
The people cry out to God in distress and repent.
God hears their prayer, raises up a judge to save them from torment and they win freedom again.
Copy. Paste.

*** We can’t be too quick to judge.

--- How often do we do the same?

--- If we aren’t steadfast and if we begin tolerating sin, how quickly do we fall into a pattern of sin-repentance-forgiveness-sin, and you notice yourself asking forgiveness for the same things over and over again?

--- The Israelites lost the will to drive their enemies from the land, and instead of being steadfast in a pursuit of Godly worship they began tolerating and then following the pagan practices of their neighbors.

--- We can’t let ourselves fall into the same behaviors as our unbelieving friends, co-workers, even family.

--- In 2 Corinthians, when the local pagan religions threatened to corrupt the Christians in Corinth, Paul called on the Corinthian believers to live separate lives (2 Cor. 6:16-17).

--- Paul saw it firsthand, too. Demas began as a devoted partner in ministry with Paul, but sadly he left the ministry “because he loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10).

*** Question - How easy is it for Christians today to get in with friends who don’t follow Jesus, and how much more likely is it for us to conform to their sinful ways?

REPENTANCE (JUDGES 2:16-19)

16 The LORD raised up judges, who saved them from the power of their marauders, 17 but they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to the LORD’s commands. They did not do as their fathers did. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for the Israelites, the LORD was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive. The LORD was moved to pity whenever they groaned because of those who were oppressing and afflicting them. 19 Whenever the judge died, the Israelites would act even more corruptly than their fathers, going after other gods to worship and bow down to them. They did not turn from their evil practices or their obstinate ways.

*** Actions have consequences.

--- Just as God was aware of Israel’s transgressions, even so today the Lord watches over us. When we seek to obey Him, He is aware of our devotion.

--- Unlike your browser you can’t go through life in “Incognito Mode!”

--- And during those times we deceive ourselves into believing we can live in sin and no one will know, the watchful eyes of the Lord still are upon us.

--- God let the Hebrews experience the consequences of their sinful choices.

--- After they had their way, their enemies became their masters.

--- But He also raised up someone to save them from their enemies when the people repented and cried out for help.

--- The people certainly didn’t deserve divine intervention.

--- But the Lord responded in grace with kindness.

--- When they were unfaithful, God was still faithful.

--- Even in our self-imposed suffering, God is good, offering help.

*** Drink your kids’ rebellious tears.

--- Your kids’ moans and sadness at being punished makes you sad, but what if you let them off the hook every time and they never learn their lesson? You’d be a bad parent.

--- How do they react? Usually with panic, right?

--- Every time something doesn’t go right in our lives, we tend to listen to Satan’s lies of fear, discouragement and despair.

--- Corrie ten Boom was a faithful Christian who hid Jews from arrest and deportation during the German occupation of the Netherlands. Even in that awful situation, she would say that “there is no panic in heaven, only plans.”

--- You may panic when your rebellion causes your world to go topsy-turvy, but He hasn’t quit on you.

--- The phrase “in the LORD’s sight” in verse 11 serves as a reminder to all of us that life is lived under God’s watchful eyes.

--- God watches over us just as a loving father keeps an eye on his children to encourage good behavior or to discipline bad behavior.

--- God has never stepped down from His throne. Jesus has not left His right hand, and the Holy Spirit has not stopped interceding for you.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Americans love a good rebel. We are a country founded by rebellion.

In the South there is still a sense of awe for the rebels of the Civil War.

We celebrate rebels in books, on TV, and in movies.

Of course, as a teenager you think of yourself as a rebel without a care, but your parents know that you’re actually a rebel without a clue.

When we rebel against God, however, we need a swift kick in our Biblical pants, so to speak.

Like the ancient Hebrews, we occasionally need to be reminded of God’s authority.

*** (1) God brings righteous judgment on His rebellious people, with the goal of their repentance.

*** (2) Is there any area of rebellion against God in your life? Ask for God’s forgiveness and make better choices.

*** (3) No matter where we stand in our relationship with God today, His desire is that we draw closer to Him.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Challenged

My Life Group lesson for Jan. 15, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway and bits from John McClendon, John MacArthur and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Inauguration Day is this Friday. Donald Trump will be sworn in as president, and Barack Obama will scoot out of office, but not before giving a final talk to the nation last week.

If you were asked to give a speech to define your legacy, what key points would you want to make?

At the end of the Book of Joshua, we find Joshua making his last public address to the Israelites.

Joshua would soon die, and he challenged the Israelites to follow the Lord faithfully into the days ahead.

Having personally witnessed many occurrences, he knew the Hebrews could be unfaithful to the Lord.

He remembered many of them dying in the wilderness because of their unfaithfulness (see Num. 14:26-34).

Joshua undoubtedly knew that faithfulness grows through reflection, evaluation, and renewed commitment to God.

Faithful living can help us become the people God wants us to be.

Joshua challenged the people to move ahead in a dynamic relationship with God in light of all He had done for them.

Today, God still uses the faithfulness of His committed followers to challenge and influence others.

He expects His followers to be fully devoted to Him, with no divided allegiances.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

JOSHUA 23:1–24:33

*** We are coming to the end of our study of the book of Joshua.

*** After 40 years of wandering, Joshua led the Israelites from the eastern side of the Jordan River, through it, over Jericho and throughout all of Canaan. Seven years of war and twenty-three years of settling into the land have taken place.

*** Now at approximately 110 years of age and about to pass on to his heavenly reward, Joshua gathers all Israel and their leaders at Shechem for his final words to them.

THE EXAMPLE SET, A SOMBER WARNING (JOSH. 24:14-15; 19-20)

14 “Therefore, fear the LORD and worship Him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship Yahweh. 15 But if it doesn’t please you to worship Yahweh, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship: the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh.” … 19 But Joshua told the people, “You will not be able to worship Yahweh, because He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not remove your transgressions and sins. 20 If you abandon the LORD and worship foreign gods, He will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you, after He has been good to you.”

*** “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” (Lou Gehrig)

--- New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games, a seemingly unbreakable record until Cap Ripken broke it in the 90s. In 1939 he was diagnosed with ALS, and he benched himself to end the streak, then retired. And yet, in a speech that summer he said “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

--- We’re coming to the end of Joshua’s farewell address, vowing that his family will set a good example, and an important warning if the people don’t keep their faith.

--- Joshua was offering the people choices.

--- First, he challenged them to “fear the Lord.”

--- If your relationship with God is one of awe, you won’t need to fear His judgment.

--- Second, he told the people to “worship in in sincerity and truth.”

--- Third, he challenged the people to “get rid of the gods” to which they still clung.”

--- It’s hard to believe that after all the Israelites had seen that they clung to false gods that their ancestors worshiped before Abraham, or Egyptian gods they adopted in slavery.

--- Believers today can also forget God’s great works in their own lives.

--- We can also place idols in place of our worship of God. (Examples: materialism, sports, recreation, pleasure, comfort, success, careers)

*** Question - Who has verse 15, “As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord,” displayed in your home? What does it mean to you that you want people to see that?

*** Say what you mean, Joshua.

--- In verses 19 and 20, Joshua doesn’t hold back. He says that remaining faithful to God is next to impossible for these guys.

--- God is a “holy God” who is separate from His creation and from our sin.

--- God is a “jealous God” who insists on absolute allegiance from His people.

--- Joshua isn’t literally saying that the Lord won’t forgive them, but that they should talk their walk with Him very seriously.

--- Sometimes people think all they need to do is make a profession of faith and all will be well.

--- But God cares a lot about our daily walk with Him.

--- Like the Israelites, we shouldn’t take our commitment to Him lightly.

--- Our relationship with Him doesn’t only make life better – our relationship with God is life itself.

A PUBLIC DECLARATION (JOSH. 24:21-28)

21 “No!” the people answered Joshua. “We will worship the LORD.” 22 Joshua then told the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you yourselves have chosen to worship Yahweh.” “We are witnesses,” they said. 23 “Then get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and offer your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 24 So the people said to Joshua, “We will worship the LORD our God and obey Him.” 25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people at Shechem and established a statute and ordinance for them. 26 Joshua recorded these things in the book of the law of God; he also took a large stone and set it up there under the oak next to the sanctuary of the LORD. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “You see this stone—it will be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words the LORD said to us, and it will be a witness against you, so that you will not deny your God.” 28 Then Joshua sent the people away, each to his own inheritance.

*** Be prepared.

--- When the reality show “Survivor” premiered, I was hooked for the first few years. Take these people of different backgrounds, throw them into a tough situation and make them compete against each other. It seems like even after the first few seasons, contestants still acted like they didn’t know what they were getting into. They act surprised about the hunger, the rain, and the gamesmanship.

--- God’s people in chapter 24 certainly replied by saying the right things.

--- They promised to worship the Lord and not worship other gods.

--- Joshua gives them one of those “Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?” statements.

--- For the third time in this speech he asks them to make a public commitment.

--- This could reminds us of Jesus giving bold advice about what it takes to join Him:

Luke 14:26-27 – “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

--- Living a life for Christ isn’t just whistling Dixie.

*** Renewing the covenant.

--- In verse 25 Joshua takes the next step in their commitment by making a covenant for the people with God.

--- There’s no halfway doing this. The Scriptures challenge us to offer our hearts completely to the Lord:

Romans 12:1-2 – “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”).

--- Once everyone agreed what had to be done, Joshua put it in writing and marked the occasion with a memorial.

--- We sing it all the time: “I have decided to follow Jesus ... though I may wonder, I still will follow … though none go with me, still I will follow … No turning back.”

--- Today’s culture presents believers with many opportunities to compromise their faith, and many lesser things try to take God’s place in our lives.

--- Don’t turn back. Keep your commitment to God.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

If you ever talk with nurses or hospital chaplains who talk with patients who are on their deathbed, they’ll tell you that what sick and dying people talk most about are their families.

They talk about the love they gave, the love they received, and regrets for the love they did not give or receive. We believe that God is love, and we learn about God when we love. The first and usually the last example of that is how we treated and are treated by family.

If we post a plaque that says “As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord” and follow it, we should be able to speak well at the end of our journey.

*** (1) Joshua didn’t say, “if you will, then I will follow the Lord.” He drew a line in the sand and said “choose.” He was determined to follow God, even if he and his family were the only ones who would make this commitment.

*** (2) Just as we have been called to share the gospel, we are also telling others about the work of God in our lives. Our testimony can help others to see the redemptive power of God and the forgiveness that He offers.

*** (3) As we reflect upon God’s goodness in the milestones of life, our focus should be on seeing God’s call for devotion and choosing to serve Him daily. We are to serve God alone. He is worthy of all our worship.

Conquest

My Life Group lesson for Jan. 8, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway and bits from John McClendon, John MacArthur and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

We like to root for the underdogs. People - especially Rebel Alliance soldiers – who know they’re going into a battle and that they have to win no matter what but otherwise are outnumbered and outgunned by an evil Empire.

Our heroes in “Rogue One” didn’t have to die for the cause of getting the secret plans to destroy the Death Star, but they made a commitment to do so if necessary. For them, they sought to do the will of the mystical Force.

That’s all make-believe Hollywood magic.

In real life, a long time ago in a country far far away there was another group that had to choose to follow the commitment they had made to follow the Lord’s commands. They were looking back at the Jordan while staring at a large fortified city, Jericho.

The good news for the Israelites is that they had already been promised victory if they fought according to God’s will.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

JOSHUA 2:1–6:27

*** This is the second lesson in our study of Joshua. Last month we talked about how we are to be strong and courageous as we choose to follow God’s path.

*** In Joshua chapters 3 and 4, God stopped the overflowing Jordan River to allow the Israelites to cross safely into the Promised Land. In their path was the fortified city of Jericho.

*** Today we’ll talk about Jericho, and how God’s people had to trust in an unusual strategy to win victory.

PATIENT OBEDIENCE (JOSH. 6:12-14)

12 Joshua got up early the next morning. The priests took the ark of the LORD, 13 and the seven priests carrying seven trumpets marched in front of the ark of the LORD. While the trumpets were blowing, the armed troops went in front of them, and the rear guard went behind the ark of the LORD. 14 On the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

*** “We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope.” (Jyn Erso)

--- The Israelites were preparing themselves for war, starting with trusting in God.

--- After the Lord led them across the Jordan River, in chapter 5, the men reestablished the rite of circumcision.

--- Even though those who left Egypt were circumcised, none of the men were circumcised in the Wilderness during the 40 years of wandering.

--- After celebrating Passover, the manna ended and they would eat from the Promised Land.

--- God then sent an angel to show Joshua how God would fight Israel’s battles, starting with Jericho.

--- The instructions were a bit unusual, but the people followed them.

--- Each day for six days they circled the city once with the priests blowing the ram’s horns, and then the seventh day it would be complete.

--- The number seven, used no fewer than fourteen times in this chapter, is the number of divine perfection or completeness. We have seven priests, seven trumpets, seven days, and seven trips around the wall on the seventh day.

*** “Make ten men feel like a hundred.” (Cassian Andor)

--- Walking around a city until the walls fall down is not a tactic you’d probably see in modern warfare.

--- It probably took a lot of trust in God to follow through with this command, but they did so.

--- Notice that there’s no indication that the people complained or questioned this.

--- Think about the maturity the Israelites showed here compared to previous times they had been asked to obey God. (Grumbling, golden calf, doubt, etc.)

--- If God instructed our church to do something that was totally radical compared to the norm, do you suppose we would respond as the Israelites did?

--- Believing in what God says should include the confidence to obey Him, because if we don’t then we may not truly believe.

--- When believers obey God’s commands, they demonstrate their trust in Him.

*** Question - Can you think of any times you trusted that God was working for you, but you didn’t truly believe what He promised would happen?

OBEDIENCE REWARDED (JOSH. 6:20-25)

20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets sounded. When they heard the blast of the trumpet, the people gave a great shout, and the wall collapsed. The people advanced into the city, each man straight ahead, and they captured the city. 21 They completely destroyed everything in the city with the sword—every man and woman, both young and old, and every ox, sheep, and donkey. 22 Joshua said to the two men who had scouted the land, “Go to the prostitute’s house and bring the woman out of there, and all who are with her, just as you promised her.” 23 So the young men who had scouted went in and brought out Rahab and her father, mother, brothers, and all who belonged to her. They brought out her whole family and settled them outside the camp of Israel. 24 They burned up the city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD’s house. 25 However, Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, her father’s household, and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent to spy on Jericho, and she lives in Israel to this day.

*** “I fear nothing. All is as the Force wills it.” (Baze Malbus)

--- On the seventh day, the people walked around the city seven times, the trumpets blasted and then the people gave a great shout to herald the impending victory.

--- The wall fell, and it’s important to note that it was caused by God.

--- The battle was too great for God’s people, but it was not too great for God.

--- One of our first theological lessons as kids is in “Jesus Loves Me” when we sing “I am weak but He is strong.”

--- While it takes courage to fight our battles, it requires even more courage to let God fight our battles for us.

*** “Congratulations. You're being rescued. Please do not resist.” (K-2SO)

--- They destroyed the city but as instructed did not keep the valuables, instead putting them into the Lord’s treasury. (Except for one doofus, but everyone else followed directions.)

--- This demonstrates faithful obedience. It’s hard to keep thousands of excitable soldiers from seeking valuables during a war. (Even just a cool shield or sword, or pots and pans when you know your wife needs a new set.)

--- God was showing that the victory was not for the soldiers to have the spoils of the war; rather, the victory was His. It was a testimony to the fact that the soldiers were not only fighting for God but also fought with Him on their side.

--- In addition, He was protecting them from the influences of the pagan society of Jericho by not allowing them to have any interaction with anyone or anything from that society.

--- During the raid the Israelites also spared Rahab’s family as promised after she hid the spies. (This becomes very important when Rahab is in Jesus’ genealogy.)

--- Her act of faithfulness was rewarded and recorded as a great testimony to God’s grace on her life.

--- Not only was she an ancestor of King David and of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews highlights her in the Roll Call of the Faithful for honoring God (Heb. 11:31), and James uses her example (James 2:25).

--- No one’s life is beyond the touch of God’s grace if they are willing to repent and place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

*** Question - How does obedience demonstrate what we really believe? Can we have genuine belief or faith without obedience?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

"Be careful not to choke on your aspirations."

Darth Vader in “Rogue One” is a bad dude, reminding us how evil he was before Luke turned him good at the end of Return of the Jedi.

His warning here in “Rogue One” is that evil General Krennic is full of pride and seeking glory for organizing the building of the Death Star.

So Vader actually has good advice, albeit for evil reasons.

We are supposed to be humble before God, to give glory to Him, and obey His commands.

In “Miracle on 34th Street,” Santa Claus defined faith as “believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”

Actually, true faith is doing things when common sense tells you otherwise.

We do it because we trust that in God.

Do you believe that God gives His people victory when they trust Him and obey His commands? If you believe this, then obedience comes easy. If you don't, then it is difficult to experience the work of God in your life.

*** Take time today to thank God for His faithfulness in what seemed impossible situations. Be an encourager to someone who you know is facing a spiritual battle.

*** If we truly believe in God, we will submit to His counsel and follow His commands. Anything less suggests we don’t really believe in Him as much as we say.

*** The question as you face battles is not whether God is on your side. The greater question is to ask whether or not you are on the Lord’s side.

Commissioned: When it's time to move forward

My Life Group lesson for Dec. 11, 2016, using Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway and bits from John MacArthur and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

When you watched “Forrest Gump,” did you think more like Lieutenant Dan, who was hanging on the sail during a hurricane yelling at God. He thinks all of life is predetermined?

Or were you more like Forrest, whose mom always told him that “life is like a box of chocolates” and “you never know what you might get.”

The Bible affirms both.

Jeremiah 29:11 makes it clear that God has a plan for our lives: “‘For I know the plans I have for you’—this is the LORD’s declaration—‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”

The Bible also says that we have a choice that influences how well our lives go.

As the book of Deuteronomy ends, the Israelites have wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. God says they have a choice.

While God alone directs the ways of history and our individual lives, there remain some wise decisions to help us move forward down His path.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

JOSHUA 1:1-18

*** For the next few months we’re going to study the books of Joshua, Judges and Ruth.

*** Joshua was a trusted military leader under Moses from Exodus 17 and through the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, and was commissioned as Israel’s next leader (Deut. 27:18-23).

*** Joshua 1 is shortly after Moses as God spoke to Joshua and encouraged him to set his sights on the task of settling the lands that God had promised for His people.

A NEW LEADER (JOSH. 1:1-5)

1 After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, who had served Moses: 2 “Moses My servant is dead. Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving the Israelites. 3 I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will be from the wilderness and Lebanon to the great Euphrates River—all the land of the Hittites—and west to the Mediterranean Sea. 5 No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you.

*** Ch-ch-changes.

--- God’s people faced two big transitions as the book of Joshua begins:

--- 1) New leadership, as Moses dies and Joshua takes command;

--- 2) Israel was moving from the wilderness into the promised land.

*** Trust.

--- As the people prepared to cross the Jordan River into Canaan, God speaks to His new head honcho.

--- Moses had been willing to surrender his life to whatever God wanted.

--- Would Joshua do the same?

--- It’s hard to imagine the emotion Joshua felt, moving from a serving role into a leadership position.

--- It certainly helps that God assured Joshua of a lot of promises:

--- 1) They would inhabit all of the land that God had promised to Abraham centuries earlier (Gen. 12:6-7).

--- 2) They would defeat their enemies.

--- 3) God would not forsake them.

--- 40 years earlier Joshua was one of the spies sent to check out Canaan. Except for Caleb, the other spies made the people too afraid to trust God’s promises. Now they would have to take that leap of faith across the Jordan River.

--- Today we as believers often face challenges that seem beyond our ability to handle, but we need to trust in God’s grace. He can accomplish more than we ask or think. (Eph. 3:20 – “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us.”)

*** Been there, done that.

--- Notice in verse 3 that it’s in past tense: “I have given you.”

--- It’s such a certainty that the writer writes as if it has already been accomplished.

--- In His mind and purpose, the task is as good as done.

--- Paul said that God has raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). We are not yet in heaven, but God’s salvation is so certain that Paul speaks of it as a past event.

*** Question - How can knowing that “God will never leave you or forsake you” help you remain strong when faced with new challenges?

A NEW TRUST (JOSH. 1:7-9)

7 Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go. 8 This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. 9 Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

What are your kids’ greatest fears that leave them stuttering like the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz?”

*** Never fear, God is here!

--- 14 times the Bible uses the phrase “be strong and courageous,” including a handful of times in Joshua.

--- Fear is a strong motivator, and the devil knows how to cripple us with it.

--- To take a stand for God you have to defeat fear.

--- We do not need courage for what we know we can handle. We need courage for something we know we cannot do alone and must have faith in God to complete.

*** Do as He says.

--- While God commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous, success would be based on his obedience.

--- God had sovereignly worked to bring the people to this place of entering the promised land, yet He was allowing them to choose whether or not to obey Him.

--- Joshua and the Israelites were on the banks of the Jordan, looking over into the Promised Land. Now they had to choose.

--- 40 years before they chose fear and ended up wandering the wilderness.

--- Joshua was the only other person on the mountain when God gave Moses the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

--- To be witness to that awesome experience gave Joshua the courage and determination to inspire his people to take the leap of faith.

--- The same word God gave Moses would now empower Joshua.

*** Think of someone who has inspired you. (A boss, a coach, a family member, etc.) Do you look to their actions? What they say? Or both?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Two weeks ago the Gatlinburg area was ravaged by fire.

Homes, vacation retreats, stores, were all lost.

There’s a lot of people who don’t know what’s the next step in their lives.

As Joshua begins, the Israelites had lost their beloved leader in Moses.

God’s encouragement to “be strong and courageous” meant Joshua and the people had a decision to make – to obey or disobey, give up or move forward, to trust or turn away from God.

*** (1) The Bible again and again affirms that what God calls us to do, He equips us to do.

*** (2) Here are two keys to stepping out in faith: 1. Remember that God is with you; 2. Remember that God keeps His promises.

*** (3) Are you seeking to be strong and courageous? What hinders you from this? What do you need to do to grow in strength and courage? How can you be reminded of God's presence today?