Sunday – April 23, 2017 Genesis 36:1-43 “A Successful Man Who Failed with God”

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Genesis 36:31
Now these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel.”

While Esau was out conquering the land of Edom, founding a nation, fathering kings, and making a great worldly success of himself, Jacob was quietly living in a land he didn’t even own, the land where his fathers had sojourned. While Esau’s descendants were mighty chieftains, famous in their day, Jacob’s descendants were down in Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh. By Moses’ day (over 400 years later), Israel was a fledgling nation of slaves, recently escaped from Egypt, owning no land of their own. Edom was an established kingdom that had the power to refuse Israel passage over their land. But this tour through Genesis 36 shows us that God, not man, writes the final chapter of history. These men, successful by the world’s measure, passed off the scene and were soon forgotten as others clamored to take their place. Fame is a fleeting thing.

What really matters is recognition by God, not by this world. We live in a culture that worships fame. If an athlete, a musician, or an actor or actress becomes a Christian, we rush his life story into print and hustle him onto the TV talk shows. The guy may be a babe in Christ, who doesn’t know anything about the Bible, but we listen to his every word as if he’s a spiritual authority. But the recognition that counts will come soon, when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21, 23). In that day, real success and failure will be unveiled. Until that time, we should be careful to not make a big deal about earthly success or failure. Only God knows who is truly successful and who is not.

That’s why it is so important to ask yourself the question, “What am I living for?” What a shame to live your life like Esau, wondering, “What if …?” While we still live, we all have a choice: to join Jacob and his descendants in waiting patiently for God to fulfill His covenant promises to us, as we labor for His coming kingdom, or to look over at Esau, prospering in the world, and join him in the pursuit of secular success. If we succeed by worldly standards but fail with God, we have failed where it really matters. Whether we fail or succeed by worldly standards, if we succeed with God, we will have true and lasting success.

You are writing history. Every day you live, the choices you make, the things you say, and the actions you take are becoming a part of history. You are influencing the eternal destiny of others (one way or the other). How you conduct yourself in your marriage, with your children, in your work, and in the community is incredibly important! You are leaving a legacy for those who will follow in your steps. I urge you, please live your life with eternity in mind.

Resurrection Sunday – April 16, 2017 John 16:19-22 Celebrate the Risen Savior

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John 5:28-29
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

If anyone can speak with authority about life beyond the grave and God’s judgment, it is Jesus Christ. He claimed to be sent from God the Father and to be one in essence with the Father. Either He is God in human flesh, or else He is a first-class liar! Jesus reinforced this statement with many bold claims that would be blasphemous in the mouth of anyone other than God.

He claimed to do everything that He saw the Father doing (5:19)! He claimed that the Father showed the Son all that He is doing (5:20)! He claimed to have the power and authority to give life to whomever He wishes (5:21)! He claimed that the Father had given all authority to judge to the Son (5:22)! He claimed that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father (5:23). As if these claims were not stupendous enough, Jesus continued, “he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (5:24). What mere man could make such claims? Even if Jesus were, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, the first and greatest of all created beings, He would have been blaspheming to make such claims to deity, if He were not fully God!

Maybe you have heard the expression, “going first class on the Titanic.” It describes those who foolishly devote themselves to seeking after pleasure in this life only. This world and all who live for it are headed for judgment. Going first class on a ship that is certain to go down is not wise! And so each of us needs to ask, “Is my hope of heaven based solely on the fact that God sent Jesus to pay the penalty for my sins, and that He raised Him from the dead? Because He has cleansed my heart through His mercy, do I now desire to live in a manner that is pleasing to Him?”

Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:27). Again, what an astounding claim! Jesus offers to give eternal life to those who seek it. The day is coming when you will be raised, either to life or to judgment. In light of who Jesus is, if I may speak plainly, you would be stupid to live for this life, but to neglect the free gift that will prepare you for the life to come.

Sunday – March 26, 2017 Genesis 33:1-20 “Time to Eat Crow”

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Genesis 33:18-20
Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.”

Nothing is more devastating than to be making progress in a particular area and then to be swallowed up by a sense of pride and complacency. The temptation is to rest upon our laurels and fail to press on to greater growth and maturity. The moment we feel secure, we are in the greatest danger. The moment we become aloof to the intensity of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged and the enemy who seeks to destroy us, we are beginning to fall into the enemy’s grasp.

This was true in the life of Jacob and is particularly relevant to 20th century Christians who live in America, for we have been lulled into a false sense of security by our comfortable and easy way of life. We have Social Security and Medicare, welfare and workman’s compensation. We have insurance protection against all kinds of losses. We never wake up in the morning wondering if we will eat or where we will sleep the next night. Christians can feel even more comfortable, for many believe that when things really begin to get severely bad (the great tribulation) they will not be around to face it anyway because of the rapture. In the midst of this kind of artificial security, we begin to live carelessly and find ourselves in danger of some serious spiritual defeats.

            Jacob was never in greater danger than at those times when he felt most secure. Jacob seemed to feel safest when his brother was out of sight, and yet it seems that Esau came with his armed men in order to provide an escort for him into Canaan. Jacob felt secure when his cattle could feed on the lush grass of Succoth rather than in the more sparse pastures of Bethel. He felt safer near a city of Canaanites than in the seclusion of some place more remote from civilization. But it was in Shechem that the rape of Dinah occurred, and it was there that Jacob could have been killed by the Canaanites.

The reason for this is really quite simple: we are most inclined to trust in God and obey Him when we sense that we are in grave danger and that our only hope is in God alone to save us. It is sad but true that all of us tend to slack up in our diligence and devotion when things are going along smoothly. We think that we can handle things ourselves when dangers seem distant and troubles are far removed, but when there is a crisis or a sudden overwhelming problem, then we rush to God for help. It is a foxhole kind of Christianity, but that is the way we are. Let us seek to learn from the life of Jacob how we can avoid complacency and over-confidence, which can be hazardous to our spiritual health. Let us seek to trust in God and obey Him at all times.

Sunday – February 12, 2017 Genesis 28:1-22 “How God Starts With Us”

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Genesis 28:20-22
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Frank W. Abagnale, in many ways, lived the life of Jacob.  At the age of 16, Abagnale’s parents divorced. Having to choose between his parents was so devastating; he ran away from home and became a con man that circled the globe living the high life by passing bad checks. One of his favorite schemes was impersonating airline pilots so that he could pass fake airline payroll checks as well as “ride the jump seat” for free, to anywhere in the world. From age 16-19, Abagnale also impersonated a medical doctor, a BYU sociology professor, and a lawyer. His autobiography is subtitled “the true story of a real fake.” His life is so fascinating that Steven Spielberg turned it into the film Catch Me if You Can.  In the end, an FBI agent caught Abagnale. Since then he serves as a world-renowned consultant and lectures at the FBI’s Financial Crimes Unit.

In Genesis 28, Jacob runs away from home. The plot to receive the blessing from Isaac was a great success…in one sense. However, in another sense it was a terrible failure. Jacob was forced to leave home to escape being killed by his furious brother. So Jacob gets the blessing but he has to leave the inheritance with Esau. He is a runaway. Fortunately for Jacob, and for us, God loves to chase down runaways. This is God’s defining feature—He comes to rebellious people to be with them and to save them. In fact, when God finally chose to become a person [Jesus], He came to “seek and to save the lost”.

At some point in time, all of us must claim the great promises of God for ourselves and step out in faith, making our own commitment to Him. God has no grandchildren! You may be able to relate to Jacob. Like Jacob, you may have grown up in a Christian home; however, you’ve spent your fair share of time running away from God. Like Jacob, you have to find your own faith. Most people leave the church and then come back when they have children, with the hope that their children get religion.

The assurance of God’s presence should bring about, in every believer, the same response of worship and confidence it prompted in Jacob. This is the message from the beginning: God, by grace, visits His people and promises them protection and provision so that they might be a blessing to others. They in turn were to respond in faith, fearing Him, worshipping Him, offering to Him, vowing to Him, and making memorials for future worshippers at such places.

Sunday – February 5, 2017 Genesis 27:1-46 “Working Like the Devil, Serving the Lord”

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Genesis 27:15-17
Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob.

Frank Sinatra’s well-known song, “I Did It My Way,” is the anthem of many who think that is the life well lived. The words of the song state plainly that his glory was all about how he “did it my way.” A life lived “my way” is true of every person who does not submit his life to Jesus Christ. Most people just aren’t as open as Sinatra in stating the controlling force of their lives.

In Genesis 27, four people sing Sinatra’s song. Isaac does things his way by trying to bestow the family blessing on Esau, in opposition to God’s revealed will. Esau tries to take back what he had already sold to his brother Jacob. When he is foiled, he plans to kill his brother. Rebekah deceives her aging husband into giving the blessing to her favorite son, Jacob. And Jacob lies to his father and outsmarts his brother. Rebekah and Jacob could argue that they were only trying to bring about the will of God, since God had told Rebekah that her older son would serve the younger. But I’m not persuaded by those who attribute high motives to Rebekah and Jacob. I think that what you have here are four self-centered people seeking their own advantage. They all did it their way, not God’s way. In the end they all came up empty and paid a high price for their selfishness.

Every person must have as a theme song in life either “I Did It My Way” or “I Did It God’s Way.” You would think that the lines would be clearly drawn: Every person outside of Christ would sing, “I Did It My Way” while every Christian would sing, “I Did It God’s Way.” But I find that many who profess to believe in Christ are really just living for themselves, often using God as the means to self-fulfillment. But the genuine Christian life is a matter of God confronting our self-centeredness and enthroning Christ as Lord in our hearts. While the process takes a lifetime, I question whether the person who is not involved in the process of dying to self is truly a child of God.

Many Christians are telling hurting people, “Assert yourself. Stand up for your rights. Don’t be codependent. You’ve got a right to some happiness in life, so go for it.” But God’s Word is clear: If you seek your own way, you won’t get what you want and you’ll pay a high price in family conflict. If you’ll die to your way and seek God’s way, He will give you the desires of your heart. You’ve got to decide which will be your theme song: “I did it my way,” or, “I did it God’s way?”

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 – January 1, 2017 “God’s Inefficient Use of Time & People” Ecclesiastes 9:10-18

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Haggai 1:7-9
Thus says the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified, says the Lord. You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts, because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.”

Every day you exchange a day of your life for something. It’s as if at the start of life each of us were issued a certain number of coins. They’re hidden inside a large machine so that we don’t know how many we were issued or how many we have left. Each day, the machine issues us a new coin. It may be the last coin we get, or we may get many more. All we know is that the average person in America gets between 70 and 80 years’ worth, but some get far less; a few may get more.

You take each day’s coin and exchange it for something: a day at work or school, shopping, church, leisure, or whatever. Once spent, you can never get the coins back to spend them differently. The art of living wisely is largely a matter of spending your coins on the things that really matter in light of eternity and not frivolously wasting them. Living wisely is difficult because often the choice is not between the bad and the good, but between the good and the best.

Meanwhile, life continues to move forward. You started a career and a family. You had bills to pay and other demands on your time. Church and the Lord’s work drifted into the background. You still attend church as often as you can, but it has become a slice of life, not the center. You tell yourself that you just don’t have time to serve as you used to. Without deliberately rebelling against God, you have drifted into putting your house above God’s house. When your conscience nags, you have reasons to explain why things are this way.

Twice in Haggai 1 the Lord tells the people, “Consider your ways”. That means to stop long enough in your busy schedule to evaluate your life in the light of God’s Word and fearing Him. How are you spending your time? These people had plenty of time for themselves, but they didn’t have time for God. How are you spending your money, which is really God’s money? These folks claimed that they had to get their own houses built first, and then they could build God’s house. But that was backwards. What are your goals? What is it that you’re aiming at in life? If you live to an old age, what do you want to look back on as far as accomplishments? If God seems distant in your life, perhaps your priorities have gotten mixed up. When you put God truly in first place, you experience a new awareness of His presence. That is true blessing!

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 – October 30, 2016 Matthew 5:13-16 “Salt & Light” Thom Rachford

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Matthew 5:13-16
You are the salt of the Earth. But if the salt loses its saltines, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your life shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Salt & Light

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus says his followers are salt and light. What are we called to do as salt and light? Salt and light can exist without being effective. They only fulfill their purpose and become effective when they are applied. Jesus expects us to utilize our salt and light. First, we must be sure that our salt is salty and our light is shining. How do we do that?

Saltiness comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to apply scriptures we study to our life so our attitudes are obedient to God’s principles and commands. For example, in our food we can readily taste the difference between salted and unsalted butter. The salt of Jesus should be just as distinctive and readily apparent in our lives. And like salt in our food, the Jesus within us should make us more “tasty” to those we encounter.

Our light should reflect THE LIGHT of Jesus by submitting to the Holy Spirit’s direction to make our actions extend from our Jesus attitudes as we conform to God’s word and principles. Light is always very noticeable in dark areas. Our light should be like a Lighthouse in our contact with the darkened world.

Amen

Sunday – October 16, 2016 Genesis 17:1-27 “Believe It – Or Not”

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Genesis 17:1-2
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”

“Jump and I’ll catch you.” Have you ever heard a parent say that to a child perched on some high place? Can you remember one of your parents saying that to you when you were little? Did you do it? Did you jump? In a sense, that is like something that God says to us. God reaches out to us in love. He initiates a relationship with us by making some promises to us. When we believe His promise of eternal life through Christ, we begin a relationship with God. Yet, this is only the beginning. God calls us to trust His promises and dare to live our lives as if we believe He will keep all of His promises. There is some risk involved in doing that. But unless we take that risk, we can never truly live the life of faith that God intends for us. God says, “Jump and I’ll catch you.”

Yet, there is a tension in this. While we are commanded to obey, Jesus works in us, through the Holy Spirit, to accomplish obedience in our lives. Just as the paint brush in the hands of an artist creates something beautiful, we are a small brush in the hand of God following His lead across the canvas of our lives. He leads and empowers and we leave the mark on the people around us.

El Shaddai is a designation, which emphasizes God’s infinite power (Exodus 6:3). Interestingly, the word El means “the strong one,” while the word Shadd refers to the bosom of a nursing mother. This suggests that God is the One from whom Abram was to draw strength and nourishment. By a most tender image, God seems to be saying that we are empowered to live out our responsibilities in the covenant by feeding on Him, just as a child grows by feeding on the milk of its mother.

This is a timely word. Abram had spent the last thirteen years living with the strife and turmoil that his sinful decision had produced in Ishmael. Now Abram was about to learn that God’s promises are fulfilled not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord Almighty (Zech 4:6). It would be El Shaddai who would accomplish His will in Abram’s life! God is able, whatever the circumstance and whatever the difficulty (Eph 3:20). Do you believe this? Is there anything too difficult for God to accomplish in your life? Can He restore your marriage? Can He transform your wayward child? Can He redeem your job? If He truly is a supernatural God, then He can. Will you put your trust in Him to work in your life?