Sunday May 10, 2015 “The Woman Who Gave Away Her Son” –I Samuel 1 & 2

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1 Samuel 1:9-11
“Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. She made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.”

Hannah’s story is one of perseverance though adversity. Hannah was a great woman, the mother of Samuel, one of Israel’s outstanding prophets. Had it not been for her agony and the adversity in her life, the birth of her first child would soon have been forgotten. But her years of agony and her tears of distress make the birth of her son Samuel an incident to be remembered. They form the backdrop for her psalm of praise, which has become a comfort and inspiration to saints down through the ages.

Unlike Peniannah, Hannah had the biblical perspective of the goal of motherhood. The biblical perspective sees children as stewardships, gifts from the Lord to be returned to Him. It’s the perspective of preparing children to become servants of God rather than servants of themselves, the parents, or the world. One of the great lessons of this passage is the value of godly mothers, mothers who are devoted to raising their children to know the Lord and who are willing to give their children to God and His service in accord with God’s will for their children.

Hannah’s psalm could not have been written without the suffering which precedes it. It is God who closes Hannah’s womb. It is God who purposes for her to suffer at the hand of her cruel counterpart, Peninnah. It is God who orchestrates all of the painful and pleasant events in Hannah’s life, so that the resulting psalm could become the masterpiece it is. This is the way God employs the human and the divine in the writing of all the Scriptures. While you and I do not write Scripture today, I believe God orchestrates our background and our lives in a way which uniquely prepares and equips us for the ministry He has for us. Let us refuse to see our past difficulties as hindrances to the present or the future. As we look back upon the painful memories of our past, let us look upon them as the foundation stones for our present and future ministry, and then let us rejoice in our tribulations and trials in light of the way God purposes to use them for our good and for His glory.

As Paul makes so clear in his epistles, God’s power is demonstrated at the point of our weaknesses. That is grace. God’s grace does not seek out our strong points and enhance them, so much as His grace seeks out our weakest points so that it may be absolutely clear to all that it is God who accomplishes great things through us. Those things which cause Hannah the greatest sorrow, the greatest pain, are the very things God uses to produce Hannah’s greatest joys. For those who trust in Him, it will always be this way.

Sunday May 3, 2015 “The Man Who Prayed About the Weather” -1st Kings 17-19

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1 Kings 18:36-37
At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said: “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.”

Elijah came on the scene in the midst of the most corrupt reign in Israel’s history. The weak-willed Ahab had married the Phoenician princess, Jezebel, who introduced and aggressively promoted Baal worship on a wide scale (16:31-33). She had exterminated the prophets of Yahweh, except for 100 who were hidden by Obadiah, Ahab’s chief of staff, who was a secret believer (18:3, 13). Though they survived, those 100 prophets seemed to be silenced for the time being.

Certainly our times rival Elijah’s times for ungodliness. The American church desperately needs revival. Although polls show that at least one-third of Americans claim to be born again, a surface glance at our culture tells you that they understand something quite different than the Bible does by that term. Most Americans believe that there is no absolute standard of morality. Church people, including Christian leaders, are falling into sin at alarming rates. Many American Christians are entangled with greed and self-centered living.

I suspect that one of the reasons we are so ineffective in evangelism is that we are so much like the people around us that we have very little to which we can call them. We hang around church buildings a little more. We abstain from a few things. But we simply aren’t that different. As a result of this unfortunate accommodation, Christianity is reduced to little more than a spiritual crutch to help us through the minefields of the upwardly mobile life. God is there to help us get our promotions, our house in the suburbs, and our bills paid. Somehow God has become a co-conspirator in our agendas instead of our becoming a co-conspirator in His.

We desperately need God to send His fire to cleanse our sins and His showers of blessing to refresh us, that everyone would know that He alone is God, so that many sinners would turn to Him. It may not happen dramatically every time. But God wants us to join Elijah in praying about the weather – the spiritual weather – in our land. Though it is an ungodly time, through the prayers of the godly, God can make His glory known by turning many sinners to Himself.

Sunday April 26, 2015 “The Man Who Was Always Singing” 2 Samuel 22

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2 Samuel 22:25-28
“Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness according to my cleanness before His eyes. With the kind You show Yourself kind, with the blameless You show Yourself blameless; with the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the perverted You show Yourself astute. And You save an afflicted people; but Your eyes are on the haughty whom You abase.”

David, the man after God’s heart, sang many of his prayers to the Lord. David composed at least half of the psalms, which, we need to remember, were to be sung, not just read. He was always singing, even when he was in a cave, hiding to save his life (Psalm 57). David has much to teach us about prayer and, especially, about the aspect of praise in prayer-our next lesson on prayer from the Old Testament.

Becoming a person of praise may not be at the top of your priority list – you’ve got practical problems to solve – but it ought to be! As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” or, as John Piper rephrases it, “to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” One of the main ways we glorify God is through praise. The brief glimpses Scripture gives us into heaven indicate that a major part of eternity will be filled with praising God. To the extent that that activity strikes us as a bit boring, we lack understanding of the infinite perfections of God and of the tremendous joy of praising Him. We all need to become people of praise.

In 2 Samuel 22 (and Psalm 18), we don’t know whether David was writing about a specific incident, or just lumping together his many narrow escapes from death. In poetic language he describes (18:4-5) a man who is in turbulent water over his head. Weeds or vines are wrapping around him so that he cannot break free. In the terror of the moment, all he can think is, “I’m going to die!” He had come to the end of himself.

God has to bring affliction into our lives to humble our pride. “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). When God humbles us so that we no longer trust in ourselves, then we call out to Him for salvation and He gets all the praise because we know that it was all due to His grace, not at all due to our merit. It’s a lesson we must learn in coming to God: We cannot save ourselves. We must come to the end of ourselves and call out to God. Then, when He saves us, we will sing His praises. It’s also a lesson we must keep on learning throughout our Christian lives. We are so prone to trust in ourselves, but we cannot praise God while we trust ourselves. The lower we see ourselves, the more we exalt God. So, God lovingly keeps bringing us into situations where we are helpless, where we’re forced to trust in Him alone.

Sunday April 19, 2015 “The Man Who Caused God to Repent” –Exodus 32 &33

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Exodus 32:13-14
“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Exodus 32-34 is God’s report on a disaster of literally biblical proportions. Like many stories that end in tragedy, this story begins with great excitement and expectation. Like many tragedies, it ended with horror at the loss of life and with wonder at how such a disaster could have happened in the first place. It was not the failure of an individual, but that of a covenant which the passage describes. And while the covenant had its weaknesses, it was ultimately human failure that was to blame.

God’s words reflect the consequences of sin – a separation from God and the ominous threat of judgment. God spoke no longer of Israel as “His” people, but rather as the people of Moses: “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves” (Exod. 32:7). Both in what God says and in the way He says it, Israel’s sin has put the nation in great danger. God then threatened to annihilate the entire nation and to start over, making a new nation of Moses. It looks as though Israel will be wiped out, and, we must say, God would have been wholly just in doing so, at least from the standpoint of the seriousness of Israel’s sin.

If God had intended to wipe Israel out, what reason was there for Him to tell Moses about it, and then send Him down to the people? God tells of judgment in advance so as to afford an opportunity for men to repent. Furthermore, the words, “let Me alone,” suggest to Moses that if he did leave God alone, the people would be destroyed. The inference is that if Moses did intercede for Israel, God would likely turn His wrath away from His people. The words which God spoke were intended to stimulate Moses to intercede for his people, and thus to bring about forgiveness.

When Moses appealed to God, pleading with Him not to destroy the Israelites as He threatened, he did not make his appeal on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant, just inaugurated; but to the Abrahamic Covenant, made centuries before. Within the provisions of the Mosaic Covenant, there was really only one solution for sin – death. God was right in proposing the destruction of the entire nation to remedy their sin problem. Death was the only way that the Law could remove sin. Only it is not we who have died for sin, but Christ. He died, under the curse of the Law, so that the problem of sin could be removed. He also rose from the dead, giving us a new covenant, and the power of the Holy Spirit, so that sin need no longer rule over us.

Sunday April 12, 2015 New Series OLD TESTAMENT LESSONS ON PRAYER “The Man Who Bargained With God“ -Genesis 18:16-33

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Genesis 18:23-26
“Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

One of the interesting things about traveling in a foreign country is the opportunity to bargain for goods in the marketplace. In America you know that if the price tag says $19.95, you’re going to pay $19.95, so you don’t bother to dicker about the price. But in Mexico, there’s a much better chance that the merchant is willing to haggle over the price. If you’re good enough at the game (and get enough practice), you might only pay $10 instead of $20. You can get some good deals if you’re good at bargaining.

But can you imagine being bold enough to bargain with God? When you’re bargaining with a merchant, you hold the money and he holds the merchandise. You each have something the other person wants, so you have some bargaining power. But when it comes to God, He holds everything. Who could imagine bargaining with the God of the universe? Yet, surprisingly, the first instance of intercessory prayer found in the Bible shows Abraham bargaining with God for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah!

At first you may think Abraham to be a bit brash to do such a thing. But as you examine the story, you discover that God was actually encouraging Abraham in this venture of prayer. God took the initiative by revealing His purpose to Abraham, His friend, who was moved to pray, based on what he knew of God’s character, for a city that teetered on the brink of judgment. In the same way, we who know the character of God and the purpose of God to seek and save those who are lost, are encouraged to intercede on their behalf.

I don’t understand why or how God works out His eternal plan in cooperation with the prayers of His saints, but He does! Knowing God’s purpose, to call out a people for Himself from every nation; and, knowing God’s person, that He is both merciful and just; we who have experienced His mercy have the privilege of praying for a lost world. Someday we will have the joy of meeting in heaven those who were delivered from God’s judgment through our prayers! What could be more joyous than that?

Sunday April 5, 2015 Jude 24 & 25 “The Guarantee of the Resurrection”

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Jude 24-25
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

When we buy something, we ask, “What’s the guarantee?” And somebody says, “There’s no guarantee, it might not work tomorrow.” Will we make the commitment to buy? Or when we enter into a contract of significance, like leasing a dwelling place or a vehicle, we want to see the contract so we know just what kind of deal we are getting ourselves into. But if you heard, “Oh, there’s no guarantee. I might come back and take this house in three days but you have no guarantee.” Only a fool would engage in that kind of commitment.

You have now been told that to follow Christ is a one-way trip, requiring you to pick up your cross daily, to die to yourself in the hope of spending an eternity with Him. You have to give up all to be forgiven, give up all to receive the promise of heaven, only to be told that this deal comes without a guarantee? You’re asking a lot out of me, God. You mean to tell me that I give myself up totally to You to be my Lord and Master that You might not keep me? You might not hold on to me? There isn’t any guarantee? That really makes it even more difficult if not almost impossible to make this level of commitment.

What seals the deal is the guarantee, and that’s true in salvation. Yet it is so sad and tragic and misleading that vast numbers of professing Christians live with the notion they can and may forfeit their salvation and end up in hell if they don’t hang on. So the question is simply this: can one who has been forgiven, justified, regenerated, converted, redeemed, and ransomed yet lose the blessing that came through that saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross? May it never be!

How does God do it then? It is accomplished through the gracious gift of God with a permanent faith, a new heart and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28) Jesus won’t let go. The Father won’t let go. Who has the power to force Him to release anyone? That’s why in Philippians 1:6 Paul tell us, “He that began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Our God who started it will finish it. God did not resurrect His Son to allow anyone to fall through the cracks. Our Lord has the will and He has the power to preserve us.

Sunday – March 29, 2015 Jude 20 to 23

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Jude 20-23
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Every thinking person sometimes wrestles with doubt. That’s true not only for thinking Christians, but also for atheists and agnostics. They sometimes wonder, “What if I’m wrong and there really is a God?” And every thinking Christian sometimes wonders, “What if I’m wrong and Christianity is not true?” For some, the bouts with doubt are short and relatively minor. For others, the doubts are deep and disturbing. But wherever you are on the spectrum, if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you have gone through battles with doubt.

The sources of my personal struggles with doubt vary. Sometimes it stems from wrestling with certain difficult theological issues. At other times the problem of unanswered prayer has tripped me up. And I’ve had to face doubts related to the age-old problem of suffering: Why would a good and all-powerful God allow His people to die in the prime of life, while the wicked prosper? How can a loving God allow sweet little children to suffer?

While there are different biblical answers to all of these sources of doubt, there is one answer that under girds them all. I usually come back to it when I’m struggling with doubt. The apostle Paul said that the entire Christian faith rests on one foundation, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Cor. 15:13-19). If that fact of history is true, then our faith has a solid footing in spite of our doubt that we cannot fully resolve. perhaps ever in this life. On the other hand, if Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead, then the strongest faith in the world is useless, because it rests on a faulty object.

If you wait to trust in Christ until all of your doubts are cleared up, you’re not an honest doubter. Rather, you’re using your doubts as an excuse so that you can hold onto your sin. If you don’t repent, you’ll go to your death alienated from the Savior. There is more than adequate evidence to support a reasonable faith that Jesus Christ is the risen Savior. The question is: will you lay aside your doubts, which serve only as excuses, and trust in Jesus as your Savior and Lord?

Sunday – March 22, 2015 Jude 17 to 19

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Jude 16-18
“These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”

If Jude were written in article format and submitted to the leading evangelical magazines of our day, there’s not a chance that it would be accepted for publication. The rejection notices would say, “Too harsh and judgmental!” and “Too negative!” and “Too critical of others’ ministries!” “Where is the grace?” “Rewrite in a kinder, gentler tone!” Because tolerance has become the chief virtue of our culture and because the culture always creeps into the church, the church today is decidedly against anything that smacks of judgment or criticism of those who claim to be evangelicals. I often hear the mantra, “They will know that we are Christians by our love, not by our doctrinal correctness.” The implication is that love and correct doctrine are somehow opposed to one another.

Also, our evangelical culture has followed our morally lax worldly culture by mistaking God’s grace to mean that we get a daily allotment of free passes for sin. We wrongly think that grace means that God is like an indulgent parent who isn’t bothered by our sin. Just this week Presbyterian Church (USA) will now define marriage as a “unique commitment between two people,” rather than a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman. Where has the biblical teaching that salvation results in a life of obedience to God (Titus 2:11-14); or a lifestyle of sin is evidence that we are not truly saved (1 John 3:4-10) gone?

In contrast to our culture’s emphasis on being nice to everyone who calls himself a Christian no matter what he teaches, the Holy Spirit saw fit to put Jude in Scripture. In case we missed it, He virtually repeats it in the letter of 2 Peter. Both passages give us this extended portrait of false teachers so that we will study it carefully, like a Most Wanted Poster, so that we will be able to spot these guys when they show up and avoid them and their teaching.

So, is Jude too harsh and judgmental of these false teachers? Should he join us more enlightened 21st century evangelicals in joining hands with them and singing, “We are One in the Spirit”? Or, did the Holy Spirit inspire Jude to give us this sad portrait to study so that we will be able to spot such false teachers and avoid following their sins? Why has Jude expended so much condemnation on the false teachers? Because he is primarily a pastor. He is concerned to feed his Master’s sheep and he is furious to find them being poisoned by lust masquerading as religion.” Study this portrait carefully!

Sunday – March 15, 2015 Jude verses 13 to 15

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Jude 14-16
“It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”

The Apostle Paul wrote, regarding the Old Testament, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). The use of the Old Testament Scriptures by the church of Christ has been the subject of some debate from the early church fathers up to the present day. The debate is primarily concerned with the question of what writings are truly in the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures. The word “canon” is from a Greek word that means a “rule” or “standard”.

So what makes the cut in terms of Old Testament Scripture? Should it encompass all the books read in the church for edification, which would include the Apocrypha and sometimes the Pseudipigrapha (anonymous apocalyptic writings). Or should it be the Jewish Bible, representing also the Protestant Bibles of today. It was not until the age of the Reformation that the debate began to rage. In 1546 when the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent made a formal statement accepting selected Apocryphal writings, the Protestants retorted with an equally resolute voice: So should we include books like Enoch because Jude 14 quotes it?

The inter-testament saints held there was a known Scripture. In their writings they would often refer to it with the authoritative phrase, “as it is written,” or “according to Scripture,” or “it is written.” In fact, references to almost all of the books of the Old Testament are considered to be Scripture by the writers of the New Testament period. Jesus Himself, the most authoritative witness for the Christian, states in Luke 24:44 the three sections of the Old Testament as “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and Psalms.” “Psalms” undoubtedly means the whole Hagiographa, for Christ often referred to Daniel, which was a part of that third section, as well as the book of Psalms itself, after which the section was named. Even non-biblical writers such as Philo and the tenth century Arabian writer al-Masudi both refer to the Hagiographa as the “Psalms.”

The quote in Jude 14 of 1 Enoch 1:9 does not require that 1 Enoch be included in Scripture. To quote what is true in Scripture is different than saying that what is quoted is Scripture. Even Paul quoted a pagan poet in Acts 17:28, yet he certainly did not regard it as Scripture but as simply true. The Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes also all recognized a closed canon and generally saw that prophecy had ceased before the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha were even written. None of the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha were in the canon of the Jews and it was to this canon that Jesus Himself and the Apostles appealed.

Sunday – March 8, 2015 Jude verses 11 to 13

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Jude 11
“Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.”

I’m quite sure I know the reason why the Book of Numbers is so often ignored. People think it is boring. Let’s face it; there are some portions of the Old Testament that appear to be irrelevant, and that are commonly considered boring. Having admitted to this, I now wish to point out that one of the most fascinating stories in the Bible is found in the Book of Numbers. I am speaking of the story of Balaam, the “diviner,” who was hired to curse Israel.

Balaam was merely a well-known “diviner,” with a reputation for effectively cursing nations. I do not mean to say that he was a complete fraud, and that his “curses” had no effect on others. His reputation seems to indicate otherwise. I believe that his powers did not come “from above,” but “from below,” that he was “connected,” but not to the God of Israel.  It wasn’t that Balaam did not know the will of God; it was that he did not want to do it. When Balaam asks the men to spend the night so that he can inquire further of the Lord, it is clear that Balaam does not want to do what God has commanded. The money and fame which Balak offered Balaam was too much for Balaam to turn down. He was intent upon getting around God’s will.

Let there be no doubt that God is not pleased when men do the evil that He permits. God sometimes allows men to sin, even though He has condemned and forbidden it. This is a good example of what we might call “God’s permissive will.” God forbade Balaam to go with the delegation that had come, and also He forbade Balaam from cursing Israel, the people God had blessed. When He permitted Balaam to accompany these men to meet with Balak, it was His permissive will. God allows men to do those things which He has forbidden. Woe to those who persist in their path of sin, for it is surely the road to destruction. Just because God allows men to sin does not mean that He approves of sin.

It is fairly easy to see the folly of Balaam’s ways, and yet many Christians seek to use God, rather than to serve Him. We try to convince God that our happiness is more important than our holiness, that our pleasures are more important than pleasing Him. How often we know that what we are pursuing is in violation of His Word, and yet we persist at seeking to change His mind, or at least in seeking to convince ourselves that what we want is not really that bad. The pagan gods were not real, but the product of man’s fallen imaginations – “god” the way we would like him to be. We serve the God who made man, and who will not be manipulated. It is our duty and privilege to conform to Him, rather than for us to seek to conform Him to our wants and wishes.