Sunday – May 11, 2014 Mother’s Day

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Philemon 15-18
“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.“

Year after year we are flooded with supposedly Christian books telling you how to use God and the Bible to reach your full potential, to boost your self-esteem, and to achieve your best life now. Mankind will speak about good intentions, but they are arguments to make life about ourselves. We have missed the point. These books and sermons convey the worldly message that it’s all about you, when the Scriptures make it clear it all about God and His glory.

The Bible is radically God-centered. It’s all about God and His glory, not life coaching to have health, wealth or success in the home and marketplace. The main reason that you should work through your marriage problems and relate to your children in a loving manner is not so that you’ll have a happy family, although it will result in that. The main reason you should work through your family problems in a godly manner is so that God will be glorified and others will be drawn to the Savior. The main reason we resolve conflicts in the Body of Christ is not to have friendship in the church, but that will happen. We resolve conflicts so that God will be glorified!

Worldly people should look at your marriage and home life and marvel at how you love one another. That’s when you tell them the difference that Jesus Christ has made in your life. He gets the glory and, of course, you enjoy the harmony of a happy home. But it’s all about His glory and the testimony of the gospel first. That’s why when Paul gives instruction to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5:22-3), he says (5:32), “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” Your marriage is to reflect the loving relationship between Christ and His church.

The same is true with regard to unity in the local church. When believers cannot get along and split over minor doctrinal differences or personality conflicts, it is not a great advertisement for the gospel. The world looks at the church, shrugs its shoulders, and says, “They’re no different than we are.” But when we demonstrate the love of Christ, especially across cultural, social, and racial barriers, the world takes notice. And most importantly, God gets the glory.

Sunday – May 4, 2014 Philemon: How the Gospel Changes Us

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Philemon 10-13
“I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel…”

Philemon is Paul’s shortest and most personal letter, written during his first imprisonment in Rome. Philemon, the main recipient of the letter, was a wealthy man from Colossae, about 100 miles inland from Ephesus on the west coast of modern Turkey. The letter was also addressed to Apphia, who was probably Philemon’s wife; to Archippus, who may have been the pastor of the church there (some think he was the son of Philemon and Apphia); and to the entire church that met in Philemon’s house. (There is no record of a church building until the third century.) Paul had not visited Colossae, although he hoped to do so soon. But somehow, perhaps during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, he had come into contact with Philemon and led him to Christ.

One of Philemon’s slaves was named Onesimus. He had stolen from his master and run away. In the Roman Empire, masters had absolute authority over slaves and they often tortured or killed them for minor offenses or mistakes. So Onesimus was a fugitive slave, under a capital offense, running from a household where the gospel was proclaimed. But just as the Old Testament prophet Jonah found out, no matter how far Onesimus ran, he could not outrun God.

In his travels, God providentially led Onesimus all the way to Rome, where he crossed paths with the apostle Paul. We don’t know whether he was imprisoned with Paul or how they met. But the Hound of Heaven was pursuing Onesimus. Although he had undoubtedly heard the gospel in Philemon’s household, Onesimus ran from the place where he easily could have been saved. He traveled hundreds of miles to a large city where he happened to meet Paul. When Paul shared the gospel, God opened Onesimus’ heart and he trusted in Christ. He then stayed with Paul and the two men formed a close relationship as Onesimus served Paul.

Maybe you once heard the gospel before without understanding, but suddenly God opened your blind eyes and it made sense. You never could hope to pay God back for all of the sins that you have committed. But you don’t have to. Christ paid your debt on the cross. Everything that you stole and all the back wages that you owe were charged to His account. You put your trust in the Savior who paid the debt that you owed. You returned to the Master and willingly put yourself under His lordship. For the first time in your life, you were truly free. Now, you live to please Him and do His will from the heart. And to your amazement, the blessed Lord Jesus, who paid the debt you owed, is pleased to call you his beloved brother or sister, just as Paul refers to the slave, Onesimus!

Sunday – April 27, 2014 Judges chapter 19 to 21 “Saving Private Benjamin”

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Judges 21:24-25
“The sons of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and each one of them went out from there to his inheritance. In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

The final five chapters of Judges function as an appendix to the entire book. Instead of focusing on the sins of Israel or of their judges, these chapters look closely at the lives of two Levites. Levites were the priestly tribe in Israel, the religious leadership of the nation. Sadly, we will discover that the religious leadership is not holding the nation accountable for its sin. Instead, the Levites are as messed up as the people they are supposed to lead. Their small, personal failures escalate to tribal and national dimensions and plunge Israel into political and moral anarchy. Thus, Judges concludes with a finger pointing in the face of the Levites.

When the Scriptures tell us each man did what was right in his own eyes, it is not singling out a single level of society or position of leadership. It was across the board. The surface issue is what people were doing, but the elephant in Israel’s room was the standard by which they governed themselves. It was no longer God’s standard but their own eyes and results in people insisting on following the leading of their own lusts, declaring their independence from God and echoing the lie of the serpent from the Garden of Eden.

The message of the Book of Judges is a message for the church today. How many of us are outraged at the conduct of the covenant people of God? They were called to be the people of God by a covenant but still refused to be subject to His commands. We have been saved by a covenant of God, but in our self piety, reject the rule of God for what is right in our eyes. We come to church on Sunday because it is congenial and find our moral standard commendable in our own eyes. Yet in our hearts we are as stubborn and sinful as the people of Gibeah in our rejection of God’s authority and standards in our lives.

Sometimes matters appear quite proper on the surface, but if we are willing to look past the obvious and dig a little deeper we will find the true enemy. We may be shocked at the author’s selection of Gibeah and their sins to document Israel’s depravity. But do not let the outrageousness of the offense blind us from the point that the Scriptures are making. The root of it all is each man doing what is right in his own eyes. That root may show itself in the grossest of sins as we see here at the end of Judges or in the veneer of righteousness that can be seen with the rich young ruler, but it all comes from the same source.

Sunday – April 20, 2014 Resurrection Sunday CHRIST IS RISEN!

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Luke 24:45-49
“Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

If there is one thing I despise, it is those phone calls that come from toll free numbers, which begin with the assurance that the caller is not “selling” anything. The Bible could not be more open and direct about the purpose of the Scripture. Through it God has one goal for the unbeliever: He wants to demonstrate as clearly and as forcefully as he can that Jesus not only claimed to be the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, but that by many miraculous signs He proved it! The last and greatest of these signs was His resurrection from the dead.

While the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was prophesied in the Old Testament, and by our Lord Himself, the Bible makes it very clear that the disciples – just as many people today – were not predisposed to believe it. Only after the most forceful and compelling evidence that they could see and touch, would the disciples believe Jesus really was alive. And having become convinced of this great truth, the disciples never ceased to proclaim it, first in Jerusalem, then in Judea and finally to the ends of the earth. The resurrection of Jesus is the final and compelling proof that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

Believing in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, is the only way God has provided for the forgiveness of your sins and for the gift of eternal life. By believing in Him, you will be saved: John 1:11-13 “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children – children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.”

In many ways, the Bible is not a simple book. But its message to the unsaved is incredibly simple: Jesus Christ saves from sin, death and hell. If you have never come to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, then this book is addressed to you, and for you, to give you all the evidence you need to believe in Him. Have you believed? This is the most important decision you will ever make. It determines your eternal destiny.

Sunday – April 13, 2014 1st Peter 1:17-19 “The Impartial Judge” Ken McAuley

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 1 Peter1:17-19
And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

Most of the time we don’t want to think of our God as a Judge because that’s ‘scary’; most of the time it means condemnation, humiliation, and penalty to us. But we forget that a judge can also give a reward for work done. The question then becomes: will the judgment be condemnation or reward?

The Impartial Judge judges us based on our status before Him. If we obey Him, He treats us as sons. If we don’t obey Him, it doesn’t go well with us. We have no hope for a good outcome. If we are treated as sons, we can expect grace and mercy. So, how can we tell if we are pleasing to Him? The Word of God says that we must have faith to please God. What is faith? Simply stated it is trusting that God means what He says. If God says that we must trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation, it requires that we look into what He means by that so that we can make a valid decision. What He means is that there is no way that we can accomplish our own salvation without Jesus Christ.

Can He really be that restrictive? Surely there is something that I can do. I mean, I am a good person after all. Didn’t He make me this way? The problem is that we inherited an evil nature from Adam when he sinned and disobeyed God and God had to ban him from the Garden. Since then we have a tendency to displease God just as Adam did. We can’t do anything about that. That means that anything we do is tainted by evil motives. We’re always looking to get around having to obey God. We want to do everything our own way. If that condition isn’t fixed, God can’t accept anything we do as good. He compares our good works to “dirty rags.”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” That confirms that we must trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation, as stated earlier, which He states in John 3:16. There is nothing else we can do to get to heaven – it is God’s place by the way – except trust in what God says is necessary. It cost Him the precious blood of His only begotten Son to make it possible to restore the relationship that He intended to have with us before Adam sinned. Why should we think that our desires must override His at such a cost to Him. He not only offers Salvation but adoption as sons and an inheritance.

What more could we ask for in exchange for perishing in a Lake of Fire and eternally suffering apart from the presence and power of a good, kind, righteous and loving God who is not merely loving but just and holy.

Accept God on His terms since He is the potter and we are only clay. After all, He is the Impartial Judge.

Sunday – April 6, 2014 “Signs in the Heavens” Thom Rachford

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Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years”

The Lord has used His handiwork in the heavens to display His glory and provide for time keeping and for seasons and for signs. Times are easy to understand. We mark days by the rotation of the earth and years by its movement around the sun.

Seasons are more difficult to understand. Yes, seasons can mean winter, summer, fall and spring. We do mark them by the positions of the sun and earth. But seasons are more than that. Consider, the horse breeder’s statement that the mare is in season, or consider the baseball season, or a season of peace. Webster’s Dictionary defines season as a time characterized by a particular circumstance or feature. The time itself is undefined. It may be long or short. For example, The church age may be said to be a season of Grace.

What about the term sign? A sign, per Webster, is something that gives information through a motion or gesture by which thought is expressed or a command or wish made known. The Lord placed the “lights” in the sky to make known His thoughts, commands and purposes (wishes). The Star of Bethlehem is such a sign in the heavens. The wise men saw the sign and interpreted its meaning. According to Matt 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” They followed up by taking a 700-mile trip extending about 2 years including the preparation.

Are there other signs in the Heavens the Lord has used to fulfill His wishes? Yes, in Joshua 10: 12-13 the Lord made the sun and moon stop in the sky until His purpose (wish) was accomplished and Israel won the battle.

Also for King Hezekiah. When, in 2 Kings 20:9-11, Hezekiah asked for a sign to certify he would live, God said He would move the shadow from the sun forward or back which ever one Hezekiah wished. The shadow moved back. You can also read about this in Isaiah 38:8.

At the crucifixion of Jesus – the sun was darkened. Matthew 27: 45 tells us, “Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.” That was three hours, from noon to 3 p.m. Was it only in times past that God caused signs in the heavens for man’s information? Does He do the same today? Yes, tetrads (blood moons) are a modern example of God’s signs in the heavens. How should we respond? Will we be like the wise men who saw the sigh of the Star, recognized it was from God, interpreted the meaning and followed it? Or will we be like the leaders and King of Israel who either paid no attention to the sign in the heavens or if they did observe it, they ignored it for it did not suit their purpose? By ignoring the Bethlehem star, the leaders of Israel put their purpose above God’s.

We are now entering a season of signs in the heavens. Watch and be ready in Christ.

 

Sunday – March 23, 2014 Judges 18 “The Danites Promiseland Part 2″

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Judges 18:30-31 “The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.” The subject matter of the Book of Judges can be very difficult for our generation to study. Many want a technical commentary to simply explain the tradition and history of this book in hopes of finding the background of ancient Israel. They avoid wrestling with the text, having chosen to be distracted with the possibility of a textual problems or reading into the Hebrew idioms so they do not have to hear the clear teaching of the text. The question we need to ask ourselves is why are we so afraid of the Book of Judges?

Since I have found so few Christian teachers who have willingly attempted this task, forgive me if I step on a few toes. The general theme of this book is God’s dealing with false religion. On one hand, we can intellectually agree that God would be upset with false religion and with so many warnings in the preceding books of the Pentateuch and Joshua; we jump on the band wagon and condemn Israel for surely they should have known how stupid false worship is and where it leads.

Do not pat yourself on the back and think how wise you are to see the failure of the Israelites. We are afraid of the Book of Judges because we do not want to see the stupidity of our own false religion. We may not make molten idols but how different are we than Micah, who thought he had the favor of Yahweh because he had an actual Levite as his priest? We have our own forms of such “magic.” For example, by thinking a child is a member of the kingdom because they were baptized as an infant or because they went forward while they were at youth camp. The person who assumes they have entered the kingdom of God because they completed a task is engaging in a false religion and that is just stupid. It does not differ from Micah’s religion in principle or form, only in the details. So our folly remains invisible to us.

We have traded idol worship for subjectivism, but it is still a false religion. The people of Dan made their own convenience store of worship where they could remain in control and worship how and when they chose. They were convinced God was not picky when it came to glory, honor and praise. Modern day Danites tell us worship is an individual affair, and like our toothbrush, a very personal thing. When they come to worship it is not Yahweh, the all powerful saving God they praise. Instead, they want a blob of molten silver that they can squeeze and shape the way they want God to be. And that is self-serving idolatry, unworthy to be called worship.

Sunday – March 16, 2014 Judges 17 “The Danites Promised Land Part 1″

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Judges 17:4-6
“His mother took two hundred pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons that he might become his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

We are introduced to a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim. Micah was not the model son, but then neither was his mother a “Proverbs 31 kind of woman.” Micah had stolen 1100 pieces of silver from her, and she had pronounced a curse on the thief in his hearing. (One has to wonder if she knew – or at least suspected – that it was her son who was the culprit.) It seems to have been the curse which prompted Micah to confess, and not his conscience. She receives back what her son stole, but then sets a portion of it aside for the creation of false idols to be a blessing to her son. Micah went on to make other “household gods” for his private collection.

Micah is a tragic example of the person who has placed their trust in a false religion. During the good times, they feel as though their religion is the cause of their success and prosperity. And then, suddenly, disaster comes their way which their gods are powerless to prevent. They are left with nothing other than a feeling of emptiness and helplessness. Sadly, for many, this realization comes without any repentance and faith. But there are others whom God graciously brings to the end of themselves so that they will repent and embrace God’s only means of salvation.

Micah and his mother are yet another example of doing what is right in their own eyes. Doing what is right in one’s own eyes is living by one’s own assessment of good and evil, of what is right and what is wrong. Doing what is right in God’s eyes is living in obedience to God’s revealed Word. The Israelites, much like men and women today, were “doing their own thing.” If one reads our text in Judges with God’s law (as revealed in the Pentateuch) in mind, it is obvious what evils are being committed – by Micah, by Jonathan, by the Danites, and by virtually all of the Israelites.

All too often people discern God’s will by what they want. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone practicing adultery or any other form of immorality looking to justify their sin with the statement, “I know that God wants me to be happy.” Thus, even though the Bible explicitly forbids their behavior some practice it anyway, convinced that God looks on them with favor because their personal satisfaction supersedes God’s clear revelation. God’s Word is the basis for discerning God’s will. When favorable circumstances accompany clear biblical approval, then we can rejoice. But when circumstances are favorable and the Scriptures are not, we must go with what the Scriptures say, not what circumstances permit.

Sunday – March 9, 2014 Judges 16 “Bringing Down the House”

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Judges 16:20-21 “She said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” Let’s face it, from what we have read in Judges, we might not expect to see Gideon, Samson, or Jephthah in heaven, but the writer to the Hebrews tells us that they will be there. These men are listed among those who are included in the hall of faith, and faith pleases God. I am inclined to read Hebrews 11 in such a way as to conclude that it was Samson who, by faith, “gained strength in weakness.” Never was Samson weaker than he was as he stood between the two supporting columns of that Philistine “temple of doom” in Gaza. Here is the time when Samson really gained strength in his weakness.

I fear that Samson’s power along with divine intervention only caused Samson to feel invincible, so that he became more and more reckless. Samson actually began to believe that no matter where he went or what he did no Philistine could do him any harm. Thus, rather than return to Israelite territory and hide from the Philistines, Samson boldly remained in the land of the Philistines, in plain sight, almost daring them to try to do him harm. Samson’s arrogance was about to get him into deep trouble.

And Samson’s silence about where his strength comes from is a far cry from that of David when he confronted another Philistine (Goliath). Why shouldn’t the Philistines know that they are fighting against the Lord when they oppress God’s people? Why shouldn’t they be given the opportunity to recognize how weak and powerless their god, Dagon, is? Samson’s silence is not golden, it is sinful and self-serving. Because Samson has chosen to remain silent about His relationship to God and the source of his power, Delilah sets out to loosen his lips. Through her persistent efforts, she evokes four different “confessions” from Samson, all in the name of proving his love for her.

What a tragic picture Samson was. The power and the presence of God departed from him, and he didn’t even know it. I fear that Samson was not only a picture of the person who turned away from walking with the Lord, but that his example may also be a prophecy for a church today that relies on the world’s means and mechanisms, rather than upon God’s Spirit. How easy it is for Christians to follow the fads of the secular rather than to rely on the power of God’s Spirit. We are weak in the power of the flesh. That is why He gave us His Spirit, dwelling within us and His church. Do not presume to think the successes God achieves in and through us by means of His Spirit are somehow our works, for which we can take the credit. If we do, there may very well come a time when the Spirit has departed from us, and we don’t even know it.

Sunday – March 2, 2014 Judges 14-15 “The Lion, The Wench, & The Wardrobe”

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Judges 14:3-4
“Then his father and his mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” 4 However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel.”

Have you ever known anyone who wasted his or her life? Someone who, based on the subjective standards of the world, appears to have great potential because of their intelligence or creativity or personality and yet never lived up to your expectations of those qualities? Samson is perhaps the most well-known of all of the judges. There have been times when he has been held up as a hero, but in reality he may be the worst of the judges recorded in this book. If anyone knew what Samson’s potential was, it would have been his parents.

Think of the anguish Manoah and his wife experienced as they observed Samson’s disdain for his calling as a Nazirite. How many sleepless nights were there for these godly parents when they realized that in spite of their desire to raise Samson to be a godly young man, he had every intention of going his own way? While some might argue that they did not do enough to stop him from marrying a Philistine wife, they did clearly express their displeasure and sought to persuade him to marry an Israelite woman. In spite of their efforts, Samson was intent on going his own foolish way, more interested in satisfying his desires than in fulfilling his spiritual calling.

Here’s the beautiful thing: Samson’s sin would neither hinder nor thwart God’s purposes. Samson would be a deliverer, or, in the words of the Angel of the Lord, he would “begin” to deliver Israel from the Philistines. God’s purposes are vastly greater than anything we can imagine. What Samson’s parents could not see at the moment was that God would use Samson as an unwilling instrument, and thus He would accomplish everything that He had purposed.

In times like ours, things certainly look bleak, spiritually speaking. Our nation has forgotten and forsaken its spiritual roots. Christians are no longer respected as they once were, and there are indications that greater persecution is coming for those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and believe that the Bible is His inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word. We see Congress out of control, proposing legislation that would have seemed preposterous only a few years ago. Are we as Christians wringing our hands, as though God’s promises and purposes are at risk? Unlike Samson’s parents, we have been told what God is going to do in the future, and we have also been assured that no power on earth can thwart His plans and purposes. The very things over which we may be agonizing may be what God is using to accomplish His sovereign will.