Sunday – January 29, 2017 Genesis 26:1-35 “Walking in Dad’s Footsteps”

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Genesis 26:3-4
Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…”

Have you ever felt that God couldn’t use you to serve Him because you were just too ordinary? One reason the story of Isaac is in the Bible is to show us how God can use an ordinary person. Isaac was the ordinary son of a famous father, and the ordinary father of a famous son. Alexander Maclaren began a sermon on Isaac by noting, “The salient feature of Isaac’s life is that it has no salient features.” Although he lived longer than Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, Isaac’s life is pretty much covered in one chapter whose most exciting feature is some squabbles over some wells.

Isaac was kind of blah. He wasn’t bold like his father Abraham, who made a daring raid against the kings of the east. He wasn’t shrewd like his son, Jacob, or a gifted leader like his grandson, Joseph. Yet God used him to work out His covenant promises. His life shows us that there’s hope in the Lord for all us ordinary people! Moses wrote Genesis 26 mainly to show the nation Israel how God was faithfully working out His covenant promises. Isaac lagged behind God, even as his son Jacob tended to run ahead of God. Yet in spite of Isaac’s slowness—and even sin—God blessed him because of His covenant with Abraham. Abraham’s descendants would be blessed because of their relationship to him; but, like Isaac, they had to grow in faith and obedience.

It was not an instant process. Frankly, I’m not sure how much Isaac understood concerning God’s plan for history. It would be 2,000 years before the Savior would be born as the descendant of Abraham. But through it all, God was steadily moving history forward according to His sovereign plan, using a bunch of ordinary people to bring it all about. Today, we need to see ourselves in the stream of what God is doing in history. He has blessed us, not just so that we’ll be blessed, but so that we can become a blessing to others.

He wants us, ordinary though we are, to be His channel for taking the message of the Savior to all nations. That sounds glorious, but all too often it involves hassles as mundane as digging wells and contending with aggressive people. God didn’t give the land to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob in one magic swoop of His divine wand. Those to whom Moses was writing had to go through the battles of taking Canaan bit by bit. And we have to struggle inch by inch, hassle by hassle, in taking God’s message of salvation. So remember to view the hassles of your life in light of God’s bigger plan for history. If you’ll obey Him, He will use those everyday problems that you, His ordinary child, go through, to accomplish His purpose of blessing all nations.

Sunday – December 18, 2016 Genesis 24:1-67 “A Marriage Made in Heaven”

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Genesis 24:12-14
He said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’ — may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master.”

Most of us have already found the mate for our married lives, but we should consider this passage in the broader context of the guidance which God gives to His children. Perhaps no Old Testament passage illustrates the guiding hand of God as well as this portion in the book of Genesis.

First, we see that God directs men to get underway through the Scriptures. Nowhere is Abraham given a direct imperative to seek a wife for his son, but he does act on the basis of a clear inference from revelation. Abraham was to become a mighty nation through his son Isaac. Obviously Isaac must have children, and this necessitated a wife. Since his offspring would need to be faithful to God and to keep His covenant (cf. 18:19), the wife would need to be a godly woman. This implied that she could not be a Canaanite. Also, since God had promised “this land,” Isaac must not return to Mesopotamia.

Second, we see that God guides His children once underway by “his angel” (24:7). I believe that all true Christians are led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14). He prepares the way for us to walk in His will and to sense His leading. We must proceed in faith just as Abraham did, knowing that God does guide.

Third, the will of God was discerned through prayer. The servant submitted a plan to God whereby the woman who was to be Isaac’s wife would become evident. This was no fleece but rather a test of character. The servant could thereby determine the character of the women he would meet. God providentially (through circumstances) brought the right woman to the servant, and by her generous act of watering the camels she evidenced that she was His choice for Isaac’s wife.

Finally, the will of God was discerned through wisdom. No doubt Abraham sent this servant, his oldest and most trusted employee, because of his discernment. He obediently went to the “city of Nahor” and stationed himself beside the well where all the women of the city must come daily. Humbly he prayed for guidance, but wisely he proposed a plan which would test the character of the women he would encounter. There was no spectacular revelation, nor did there need to be. Wisdom could discern a woman of great worth.

Sunday – December 11, 2016 Genesis 23:1-20 “A Piece of the Promise”

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Genesis 23:1-3
Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.”

No subject is more difficult for us to face than that of death. Writer Somerset Maugham said, “Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” He was probably being facetious, but underneath he was probably voicing a fear that has haunted most of us: How are we to think about and deal with death, be it the death of loved ones, or our own death? But, of course, we can’t dodge it – we must die. But it’s still difficult to think about.

That question has caused some confusion among God’s people. Some have said that since Christ defeated death, we’re supposed to be joyful and victorious through it all. They deny the process of grieving. Others are quick to explain how God will work it all together for good, which is true. But we still grieve and feel the pain. Genesis 23 provides some answers to the question of how believers should deal with death. Abraham, the man of faith, loses his wife, Sarah. His response reflects both realism and faith.

It is interesting that only two verses deal with Sarah’s death and Abraham’s grief, whereas 18 verses deal with his negotiations to secure a burial plot –  but all of it is testifying that Abraham believed in more than a piece of real estate. They testify that God’s promises do not end with this life. God is going to do far more than He has done for us in this life. As the author of Hebrews says, they were desiring “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). Abraham was “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:10). His faith looked beyond the grave to the promises of God to send the Savior, and through Him to bless all nations.

Death, even for believers, brings hard realities. It always hurts, it always leaves us with a lonely spot in our hearts. It often brings hard financial realities. The Lord does not spare us these things just because we believe in Him. But with the pain, which reminds us of our sin as the reason death entered this world, He gives us the hope of His promises. Christ died for us, so that the sting of death is gone. Yes, we grieve at the death of loved ones, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. He has gone to prepare a place for us. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

Sunday – December 4, 2016 Genesis 22:1-24 “The Lord Will Provide” Part 2

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Genesis 22:9-11
Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.”

I believe many have read this account in Abraham’s life and concluded that God tests us by directing us to do that which is totally unreasonable. The danger is that we will tend to assume that whatever does not make sense is likely to be the will of God. Many critics have suggested that Christians are those who take both their hats and their heads off when they enter the church, and nothing should be further from the truth. On the other hand, we must acknowledge that what Abraham was commanded to do appears to be unreasonable. Through Isaac, Abraham was to be the father of multitudes. How could this be so if Isaac were dead? Putting a son to death must have seemed totally beyond the character of God. Was God not asking Abraham to act on faith without reason?

The world likes to believe that they act upon reason while Christians act without thinking. That is wholly false. The truth is there are two kinds of reasoning: worldly reasoning and godly reasoning. Peter, when he rebuked our Lord for talking of His sacrificial death, was thinking humanly. Abraham was making no blind “leap of faith,” as it is sometimes represented, but acting upon godly reasoning about who God is and what He had promised to do for Abraham. Faith always acts upon facts and reason.

Christian reasoning is based upon the pre-suppositional belief that there is a God, Who is both our creator and redeemer. Christian reasoning is based upon the belief that God’s Word is absolutely true and reliable. God had promised a son through Sarah through whom the blessings were to be given. Abraham believed God in this (Genesis 15:6). God also commanded Abraham to sacrifice this son. Abraham believed God and obeyed Him even though human reasoning would question the wisdom of it. Abraham’s reasoning was also based upon his experience with God over the years. God had continually proven to be his provider and protector. God’s sovereign power had repeatedly been demonstrated, even among the heathen such as Pharaoh and Abimelech. While Abraham and Sarah were “as good as dead” so far as bearing children were concerned, God gave them the promised child (Romans 4:19-21).

Abraham did not understand why he was told to sacrifice his son nor how God would accomplish His promises if Abraham obeyed, but he did know Who had commanded it. He did know that God was holy, just, and pure. He did know that God was able to raise the dead. On the basis of these certainties Abraham obeyed God, contrary to human wisdom, but squarely based upon godly reason. Godly reason has reasons. We may not know how or why, but we do know Who and what. That is enough.

Sunday – November 27, 2017 Genesis 22 :1-24 “Final Exams” Part 1

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Sunday – November 20, 2016 Genesis 21:1-34 “He Who Laughs Last”

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Genesis 21:9-10
Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.  Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my Isaac.”

Fourteen years earlier, Hagar had given birth to Ishmael and for most of the intervening period Abraham had treated Ishmael as the heir. By now Ishmael was a teenager (15 or 16). As a growing and alert teenager, he in no way would miss the message he was hearing. His parents had often told him that he was the promised seed and now he gradually began to realize that his folks were in error. They had deceived him as well as themselves. Bitterness and anger began to well up in Ishmael as Isaac, little by little, began to replace him. And no doubt the great feast and the glad speeches in Isaac’s honor caused these feelings of bitterness to reflect themselves in ridicule and persecution. What he did and how he did it, we can only conjecture. But one thing is sure: Ishmael’s jealousy turned into mockery.

Sarah forcefully gave Abraham an ultimatum. Sarah was ticked off! She doesn’t want to share her husband with her servant girl. Sarah recognizes that it is impossible for a man to enter into an intimate relationship with a woman and then simply walk away. The relationship that Abraham had with Hagar was more than just physical. Abraham and Hagar became one. The evidence of the sexual union between Abraham and Hagar was Ishmael. Not only did Sarah not want to share her husband, she also does not want to share Isaac with Ishmael. Sarah recognizes that Isaac is the promised seed, so she doesn’t want anything or anyone to adversely affect him. Of course, all of this “distressed” Abraham (21:11-12). Yet, God reassured Abraham that He was divinely guiding Sarah’s counsel.

This parting must have been excruciating. I’m sure that Abraham never dreamed that sleeping with Hagar would lead to so much heartache and confusion. In fact, I’m sure he justified it in his own mind as the best way to make his wife happy and also to “help” God keep His promise. But it didn’t work out that way. Sarah was wrong to suggest the idea and Abraham was doubly wrong to act on it. If he had been the proper kind of spiritual leader, so much heartache would have been avoided.

When we compromise our standards, lower our convictions, or when we try to take a moral or ethical shortcut, it never works out in the end. Choices have consequences…and sometimes they are painful. As believers, we need to learn this lesson well. We also need to make sure that our children and grandchildren learn this lesson early in life. Choices have consequences. When we sin and confess that sin we are forgiven but the consequences of those choices often carry on. Please don’t learn this lesson the hard way. Determine today that you will learn from the experiences of Abraham and Sarah. Do not sow your wild oats and then pray for a crop failure- it is unlikely to happen.

Sunday – November 13, 2016 Genesis 20:1-18 “Been There, Done That”

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Genesis 20:2-3
Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

As you eyeball Genesis 20, you may be having an experience of déjà vu. Previously, we looked at a very similar account in Genesis 12:10-20. In that passage, Abraham and Sarah devised a scheme to avoid problems with Pharaoh in Egypt. Abraham asked his wife to lie and tell the Pharaoh that she was his sister. Now, eight chapters later, the names and places are changed but the results are nearly identical. This has led some to say it really was the same account recorded twice. Yet, clearly these are two different accounts. The reason we take up this second account is because it speaks to an issue that is relevant to all of us: recurring sin. Here, we see Abraham making the same mistake again.

This is not a surprise, it parallels our own experience. Aren’t there things in your own life that dog you relentlessly? Are there sins that you have taken to the Lord and said, “Never again?” Only to find you return to the Lord to confess the same sin again and again. It may have to do with substances (drugs or food). It may have to do with interpersonal relationships (gossip or anger). It may be physical (some habit you can’t shake). It may be mental (lust or anger). It may have to do with money (lust for the material or reluctance to give to the Lord). It may have to do with time management (wasting time or neglecting time for God). Whatever the sin, I suspect you don’t have to look very far to find one or two that you struggle with constantly.

It is so common to think that God will love us more if we perform some great work, some external achievement. But the Bible focuses on making a great heart. Here God was working with Abraham to create an unusual dependence upon Him. He does the same with us today. Abraham needed to learn that God can be trusted to take care of him. He needed to learn that lesson well, because there would be an exam – a test of his faith, coming up. God would take him back to the same hurdle over and over again, so that he would be prepared to jump over it with flying colors.

This is also true for us. Today, you may feel like giving up. Repeated failures always tempt us to give up. But that is exactly what the devil wants us to do! Therefore, focus on the goal and not the obstacles. Remind yourself that growth takes time. If you have children, you remember when they first learned to walk. How often they would fall. Sometimes they banged their head. Other times they cut their lip. But one thing is certain … they kept getting up. We need that same kind of focus as we learn to walk by faith. There will be falls. There will be times of frustration but keep getting up! When you have drifted, come back to the Lord. When you have sinned, confess it. When you have fallen, get back up and begin again!

Sunday – August 28, 2016 Genesis 11:27-12:9 “The Great Adventure”

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Genesis 12:1-3
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you, and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

We don’t know much about most of Shem’s descendants but we do know something about Terah, Abraham’s father. In Joshua 24:2 the Lord says, “From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.” Abraham came from a pagan family, and was probably an idolater himself when God called him. In fact, even three generations later, when Rachel stole her father’s household gods, the family was still into idolatry.

God’s sovereign choice never depends on human merit. He didn’t look down from heaven and say, “There’s a good man; I’ll choose him.” Rather, God only chooses and calls sinners to Himself. Abraham was a sinner. God chose him simply because of grace, apart from anything God foresaw in Abraham. If God chose Abraham because He foresaw that Abraham would believe, then Abraham could boast in his faith as the reason God chose him. But salvation, from start to finish, is all from God, not at all from man.

  1. H. Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the past century, was once preaching to a Methodist congregation. During the first part of his sermon, the people were nodding in agreement and saying, “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” Then Spurgeon came to the doctrine of election and noticed a distinct change in the mood of his audience. (Methodists do not accept that doctrine.) So he proceeded to put it to them this way. He asked, “Is there any difference between you and others who have not been converted?” They responded, “Yes, glory to God! There is a difference.” Then Spurgeon asked, “Who has made the difference, yourself or God?” “The Lord,” they said. Spurgeon shot back, “Yes, and that is the doctrine of election; that if there be a difference, the Lord made the difference.”

The point is, God didn’t choose Abraham because he was a good man. He chose Abraham to demonstrate His grace. He doesn’t choose anyone because they deserve it. He only chooses sinners who deserve His judgment. And while that’s a blow to our sinful pride, it is actually very good news. It means that you cannot do anything to qualify yourself for God’s salvation. You can only come to God confessing your sin and asking for His mercy, and He will grant it because He is a merciful God. God’s plan of salvation involves His choice according to His grace.

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?