Sunday – October 9, 2016 Genesis 16:1-16 “Beware of Shortcuts”

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Genesis 16:13-14
Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

During World War II, six Navy pilots left their aircraft carrier on a mission. After searching the seas for enemy submarines, they tried to return to their ship shortly after dark. But the captain had ordered a blackout of all lights on the ship. Over and over the frantic pilots radioed, asking for just one light so they could see to land. But the pilots were told that the blackout could not be lifted. After several appeals and denials of their request, the ship’s operator turned the switch to break radio contact–and the pilots were forced to ditch in the ocean.

It’s terrible to feel abandoned. It’s also tough to feel abandoned by God. Most of us have felt that way at one time or another. Maybe things were going well and suddenly the bottom dropped out of your life. In the confusion of the events, you wondered, “Where is God and His wonderful plan for my life in all this?”

That’s how Hagar must have felt when she fled from Sarai. Things had seemed to look up for a brief moment. Her lowly status as a servant had changed when Abram, according to the custom of the day, had taken her to produce a child on behalf of the barren Sarai. But when Hagar became pregnant, she communicated an air of superiority toward Sarai, who then mistreated her. Finally, things got so bad that Hagar took off in the direction of her homeland, out through the desert. It was a dangerous thing for a woman to do. She could have been abused or taken captive by nomadic traders. Being pregnant, she could have lost her baby from the rigors of traveling in that rugged terrain. Having had to escape, probably in the night, she would have had few supplies. But somehow she made it to a spring of water in the desert and sat down exhausted.

Hagar knew about Abram’s God, the living and true God. She must have wondered if that God knew or cared about her situation. No doubt she was confused. What could a pregnant, single woman do, even if she reached her homeland? If she had family there, they would have been too poor to help her. Her future was uncertain, her past too painful to think about. She felt abandoned by everyone on earth and forgotten by God in heaven.

It’s in that context that we read, “Now the angel of the Lord found her” (16:7). What a beautiful picture of our compassionate God, who is concerned even for this poor, confused servant girl! The angel tells her what to do and then promises that he will multiply her descendants through the child she is carrying. Hagar, encouraged and awed by this experience, gives a new name to God–”El Roi,” “the God who sees.” She then returns to Abram and Sarai and Ishmael is born.

Sunday – October 2, 2016 Genesis 15:1-15 “Fear Factor”

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Genesis 15:18-21
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land. From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:  the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite  and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim 21 and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”

Even though we know we’re loved, it’s nice to hear it over and over again, isn’t it? Life is uncertain and unsettling. We need to be assured time and again that we are loved so that we feel secure in our relationships. The same thing is true spiritually. We know that God loves us and that nothing can separate us from His love. But we need to hear it over and over. When things don’t seem to be going as we had hoped, when our prayers don’t seem to be answered, when trials hit, we need assurance that God is there, that He is for us, that His promises will be fulfilled.

We might think that a giant in faith would not need God’s assurance, because his faith would never waver. But that is just not so. Even Abram, our father in the faith, needed to be assured concerning God’s promises to him. By faith Abram had obeyed God’s call to leave his home in Ur and go forth to the land which God would show him. God promised to give Abram a son and to make of him a great nation through which all families of the earth would be blessed. God promised to give the land of Canaan to Abram and his descendants. But a few years had gone by and Abram still had no son and the Canaanites, not Abram, possessed the land.

Also, Abram had some fears. He had surprised the armies of four eastern kings and rescued his wayward nephew, Lot. And he had given up his right to the spoils of battle, lest he be indebted to the king of Sodom rather than to God. But now he feared retaliation from the eastern kings and he worried about poverty as he lived in the barren land of Canaan. So the Lord told him, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; [I am] your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1).  But Abram was still concerned because he had no son. He expressed that concern to the Lord and the Lord graciously confirmed the promise of a son by taking Abram out into the night, showing him the stars, and promising him that his descendants would be as numerous as those stars (15:4-5). Abram “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (15:6)

God wants you to have that same assurance of His promises to you. Perhaps you’re in some difficult trial. Look to the sure promises of God’s Word, not to your own shaky performance. Submit to Him as the Sovereign Lord and repent of any unbelief, because God’s assurance is for believers, not skeptics. And know for certain that His prophetic word will be fulfilled exactly as He has revealed it in His Word. Jesus shall reign! Then, no matter what your circumstances, you can say, the future is as bright as the promises of God!

Sunday – September 25, 2016 Genesis 14:1-24 “The Original Braveheart”

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Genesis 14:21-24
The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me…”

How do you handle praise from men? At the close of Chapter 13, Lot anticipates future prosperity in Sodom, while Abram was content to worship and live in Hebron (13:18). But Lot’s selfish decision gains him a prize soon lost; while Abram’s response places him in a position of honor among the kings of the plain. How the tables can turn! When we are faithful to God, He always finds a way to bless us. It may not seem that you are a recipient for blessing, but God is no man’s debtor.

Abram headed back from his great victory and was met by two kings, the king of Sodom and the king of Salem. Apparently the king of Sodom came up to him first, but before he could speak, the king of Salem arrived. Only after Abram had dealt with the king of Salem did he deal with the king of Sodom. There are two battles in this chapter: Abram’s battle with the foreign kings, and his battle with the tempting offer of the king of Sodom. The second battle was the greater, because it was the more subtle of the two. Abram’s fellowship with the king of Salem strengthened him to resist the temptations of the king of Sodom. In these two encounters we find Abram honoring God and holding to Him, not yielding to the temptations of success.

Melchizedek, the king of Salem, is one of the most intriguing men in the Bible. He seems to come out of nowhere and returns about as quickly as he came. He was the king of what later became Jerusalem. He brought out bread and wine to refresh the weary warriors. And “he was a priest of God Most High.” This is the first mention in the Bible of anyone being a priest. We don’t know for whom he was a priest or how he became one or how he learned of God. We don’t even know his name, since Melchizedek is probably a title. It means “king of righteousness.” Some have speculated that he was an angel or possibly a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, but those views are not likely.

We do know, from Psalm 110 and from the Book of Hebrews (the only other places in the Bible Melchizedek is mentioned) that he was a type of Jesus Christ, who became a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. We also know that even though Abram was one of the greatest men of faith in the Bible, Melchizedek was even greater. This is proved by the fact that he blessed Abram and he received tithes from Abram (Heb. 7:1-10). This is a perfect picture of how Jesus comes to our aid and rescue when we need Him. After periods of conflict and testing, Jesus Himself has a habit of coming to visit us. He brings encouragement. Jesus is our sympathetic High Priest in a unique order; there is no one like Him.

Sunday – September 11, 2016 Genesis 13:5-18 “A Tale of Two Men”

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Genesis 13:11-13
So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom.”

There is a point along the Continental Divide high in the Rocky Mountains at which the waters of a small stream separate. It would not seem to matter much whether a drop of water goes to the left or to the right. But the outcome of those drops of water is totally different. One drop goes to the west and eventually flows into the Colorado River and empties into the Gulf of California. Another drop goes east until it flows into the Mississippi River and dumps into the Gulf of Mexico. Two drops of water, two entirely different destinations, but one small turning point that determines the outcome.

Many choices in life are like that. At the time they don’t seem significant. But those choices set in motion a series of events which shape your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren after you. If we could share how we all came to know Christ as Savior, I would guess that many of you chose to go somewhere where you met someone who started talking to you, which led to a chain of events resulting in your salvation. The original choice wasn’t a big deal, but the outcome was life-changing. Or if we all shared how we met our mates, many of the stories would begin with seemingly insignificant decisions to attend some social event. That decision led to a relationship which forever affected our lives, not to mention our children’s lives.

We tend to think of Christian commitment as a bold decision to forsake everything and follow Jesus. There is a sense, of course, in which that is true. We must make that once and for all commitment. But Lot had done that. He had left his family and friends in Ur to go with Abram to the Promised Land. Lot’s problem, like many Christians today, was in not following through, walking step by step in dependence upon the Lord, saying no to the things of this world based on faith in the promises of God.

Someone has said that we tend to think of commitment to Christ like laying a $1,000 bill on the table: “Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.” But the reality is that God sends most of us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there, in small deeds of faithfulness and obedience. But it’s right there, in those little 25 cent choices, that our lives take their direction. So make your choices based on God’s principles: Relationships over rights; godliness over greed; fellowship with God over the world’s approval; and, faith in God’s promises over immediate pleasure from the world. So seek Him first, and all else is yours.

Sunday – September 4, 2016 Genesis 12:10 to 13:4 “From Faith to Fear”

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Genesis 12:10
Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.”

I’m glad that the Bible is not a fairy tale, but a true-to-life book. If it were a fairy tale, we would read of heroes of the faith like Abraham, how they responded to God’s call and never stumbled after that. They always trusted God, they never sinned, they overcame every hardship. But I couldn’t relate to that, because that’s not how my walk with God has gone. But thankfully, the Bible is written honestly, to show the faults even of the greats, like Abraham.

Abram came from a pagan background, but he responded to God’s call. By faith he left his home in Ur and headed for Canaan. He got as far as Haran and stopped for a few years. Then the Lord called him again, and Abram moved out toward Canaan, not knowing exactly where he was going or what he would find when he got there. But Canaan wasn’t a lush, uninhabited paradise, just waiting for Abram and his family to move in. There was a severe famine in the Promised Land! Abram had always lived in Ur and Haran, which are both on the banks of the Euphrates River. They never lacked for water. But now he sets out by faith to the land of promise, and the first thing he encounters is a severe famine. Can’t you hear the critics in his household grumbling, “So this is the land of promise, huh? Nice, really nice! Are you sure God told you to come here, Abram?”

To survive, Abram journeyed down to Egypt. There was nothing wrong, per se, with going to Egypt. On at least two occasions God directed His people to Egypt for temporary protection. The text says that he went to “sojourn,” not to settle, there. The problem was, there is no indication that Abram sought the Lord’s guidance in this situation. It never seemed to occur to him that God was sovereign over the famine and that he needed to seek His direction. Abram built altars in Canaan, but there were no altars built in Egypt. Instead, we find him scheming about how to protect himself from the Egyptians who might kill him and take his wife. He falls into a desperate situation where Pharaoh takes Sarai into his harem. At this point, God’s promise to make a great nation out of Abram and to give the land of Canaan to his descendants hangs by a thread, humanly speaking.

But shining through the whole story is God’s faithfulness. Even though Abram was faithless, God was faithful. A recurring theme begins here and runs throughout Genesis, where God’s promise to Abram (12:1-3) is threatened by someone’s sin. But in every case, God overrules man’s failure to bring about His sovereign purpose, to show us that God’s promises and purpose do not depend on fickle man, but on the faithful God.

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 – August 14, 2016 Genesis 10:1- 11:9 “The Spread of the Nations”

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Genesis 11:4
They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

During the nuclear arms race with the former Soviet Union, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops drafted a pastoral letter condemning the U.S policy. One sentence read: “Today the destructive potential of the nuclear powers threatens the sovereignty of God over the world he has brought into being” Imagine! God’s sovereignty over His creation threatened by the plans and programs of world leaders, as if God were sitting in heaven, wringing His hands, crying, “What can I do! I never knew they’d build the bomb!” The bottom line is that if God’s sovereignty is threatened by what man does, then man, not God, is sovereign.

For centuries, men have deluded themselves by thinking they could determine their destinies apart from God. As William Ernest Henley boasted in his poem, “Invictus,” “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Proud men think that they can call the shots. What they forget is that one little virus, one diagnosis from their doctor, one “freak” accident, is all it takes to end their proud plans. For people who desire to be masters of our fate, we are puny gods.

Every generation seems to builds towers. Whether they are actual skyscrapers or mega corporations that circle the globe, the idea is the same—to be strong and leave their footprint in history. The university professor who dismisses God without a second thought has placed his intellect on the throne instead of God. But human intelligence is woefully inadequate to be our god. Over and over again the intelligence of man has been supplanted by more sophisticated people and their theories of the world. If man’s intelligence can be supplanted by other men’s intelligence, how inadequate is it to try to displace God’s intelligence? You cannot build your own tower in your heart or in your head and replace God by doing it. God will not be subject to our folly.

The Bible declares, “There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30). Concerning world rulers, a later king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was humbled by God until he learned that “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes” (Dan. 4:17, 25). As the psalmist expressed God’s response to proud kings who challenge His rule, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps. 2:4). Concerning the plans of proud man, the Bible declares, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand” (Prov. 19:21). These verses are a commentary on Genesis 11:1-9, where we find proud man planning to thwart the purpose of God.

Sunday – August 7, 2016 Genesis 9:18-27 “The Rest of the Story”

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Genesis 9:20-23
Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.”

In Genesis 9:18-29, the history of Noah and his family moves from rainbows (9:12-17) to shadows. Paul Harvey would say, “Here, we learn ‘the rest of the story.’” Yet, one of many reasons I am convinced the Bible is God’s Word is because its authors never covers up the sins of the saints. They refuse to pull punches; instead, they flat-out tell it like it is! When Noah and his family were introduced for the first time, Moses wrote, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9). In the New Testament, Noah was called a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5). He is also included in the hall of faith of Hebrews 11. Noah was a great man of God. If Noah can sin, anyone can sin. This includes you and me. But the point of this story and the whole of Genesis is not merely that anyone can fall but that everybody does.

The time when most Christians fall is on the heels of a great victory. Man’s tendency is to ease up when the conflict lessens.  If it happened to Noah, it could happen to you. Whenever you feel like things are going especially well, beware. Stay humble. The apostle Paul says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12). We are very vulnerable people. Every Christian is capable of committing even the most heinous of sins. This is why we so desperately require the accountability of a local church and a small group of believers.

This account also serves as a reminder that it is possible for seasoned saints to stumble in the sunset years of their lives. Moses sinned late in his life by striking a rock and taking some of God’s glory to Himself; as a result, he was not permitted to enter to Promised Land. David sinned with Bathsheeba when he was in his fifties. Solomon departed from the will of God when he was old. Past successes do not provide power for future victory. The Bible teaches again and again that godly people can be tripped up before the finish line. This means we must recognize that the greatest of all believers have weaknesses.

The Christian is not a super saint. He is an ordinary person saved by grace. The people of God are upheld by God’s grace. If we are different it is because of the powerful support of God. If we are not upheld we can fall away at any moment. This reality should encourage you and me. If great men and women of God committed sin and God still used them, He can use you and me as well. We need to be honest and acknowledge that Christians are far from perfect but God always uses us in spite of ourselves. The only thing that makes us different is that we are sustained by God’s mercy. If God should let us go we could slip badly. Who can say what we would do if God lets us go?

Sunday – July 31, 2016 Genesis 9:1-17 “A Fresh Start”

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Genesis 9:8-11
Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Ours is not an age that desires to make long-term commitments. The covenant of marriage is often avoided, and vows that are made lack the permanence and commitment of former days. Guarantees are given for a very short period. Contracts are often vaguely worded or are undermined by loopholes and fine print. Strangely, Christians seem to think that clear, contractual agreements are somehow unspiritual, especially between two believers. ‘A man should be as good as his word,’ we are told. And so he should.

This Noahic Covenant is important to us for a number of reasons. If the Noahic Covenant were not still in effect, you and I would be greatly concerned every time it rained. The calm which we experience is a direct result of the covenant God initiated centuries ago with Noah. The Noahic Covenant, in addition to the fact that it is still in force today, also provides us with a pattern for all of the other biblical covenants. As we come to understand this covenant, we will more fully appreciate the significance of all of the covenants, and especially the New Covenant instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ.

A biblical covenant usually involved three things: parties, terms, and promises. Suppose that you were a painter and I wanted my house painted. We could make a covenant together. You and I would be the two parties involved and the terms would include what areas were to be painted, what color, and when the job should be completed. The promise I made to you would be in the amount of money I was going to pay you when the job was finished. Your promise to me would be that the job would be completed as originally agreed. The agreement that we make concerning these elements: parties, terms, and promises, would be the covenant that we made with each other.

When God makes a covenant with us, it normally involves these three elements. The difference is that God alone determines the terms of the agreement, and that God always comes through on His end of the deal. If God is willing to make a covenant with us, and He is willing to bind Himself to that covenant no matter what, what does that say about the relationship God wants to have with us? It says that we can be hopeful about the future, because we worship a God that not only desires our companionship, but who is willing to take the steps necessary to obligate Himself to that relationship.

Sunday – July 24, 2016 Genesis 6:9-8:22 “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, But God Is Not Snoring”

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Genesis 6:9
These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.”

To be faithful as a Christian in an evil day, you must learn to stand alone. You will repeatedly face pressure to violate your Christian standards and go along with the crowd. As a Christian teenager, you’re with some friends who are passing around a joint. What will you do when it comes to you? All the other kids are experimenting with sex and talking about their adventures. Will you go along with the crowd? Everyone has an illegal copy of an upcoming test. Will you join them in cheating?

Christian adults also face constant pressure to compromise their faith. At work, the boss expects you not to be totally honest in dealing with customers. On a business trip, your associates are all going to a porno movie and want you to join them. At family gatherings over the holidays, the rest of the family are gossiping about another family member. No one likes to be ridiculed or rejected. We all want to be liked and included. We don’t want others to think that Christians are a bunch of prudes who can’t enjoy life. So we’re easily tempted to go along with the crowd rather than to stand alone for Jesus Christ. But if we yield, we dishonor God and lose our distinctive witness for our Savior.

Let me put it plainly: If you don’t consistently spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, you don’t have a walk with God! If you don’t have a walk with God, you will not be able to stand alone as Noah did. You will be more conformed to this evil world than you are to Jesus Christ. Peter writes that just as the early world was destroyed by the flood, so “the present heavens and earth by [God’s] word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). His conclusion is, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (3:11).

If you worked for a company that you knew was going to be dissolved by bankruptcy, your attitude toward that company would change. You wouldn’t put your future hopes in it, because it has no future. If you heard that the government was going to shut down a bank because of insolvency, you wouldn’t rush to invest your money in that bank. God has said that this evil world is doomed. He has promised “a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Like Noah, we must redirect everything in our lives – our time, our money, our goals – in light of God’s warning of judgment and His promise of deliverance in Christ. We must stand alone in this evil day by walking with God.