Sunday – August 27, 2017 Genesis 49:1-28 “The Purpose of Prophecy”

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Genesis 49:1-2
Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come. “Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; and listen to Israel your father.”

I have always found it interesting that both Christians and non-Christians are fascinated with prophecy. To be interested in prophecy is good, since much of the Bible is prophetic. But the point of Bible prophecy is not to speculate on various details, such as the identity of the antichrist or the date of Armageddon. The point of prophecy is to motivate us to purity and holy zeal for the things of the Lord in light of His soon coming. And there is a point to these prophetic words of Israel to his son’s. And not just them, but for the first generation who read these words recorded by Moses as well as you and I.

To understand these words, we need to see God has a plan for history. I know this is obvious to some but I lose sight of it so easily in my daily routine and pressures of life. Even as the Lord’s people, it’s easy to fall into the daily schedule of going to work, taking care of the kids, and dealing with all the hassles of life that we lose sight of God’s great purpose for history and how we fit into it. We become spiritually dull, so that we miss opportunities to further God’s plan.

In God’s time and way, these prophecies about Jacob’s sons would be fulfilled, but the individuals within the tribes had a choice about whether they would help to fulfill them through obedience to God or fight against their fulfillment through disobedience. It’s the same with us: God’s plan for the ages will be accomplished, but we have the choice either to be involved in fulfilling that plan or in resisting it. The personal history of Judah ought to encourage us. He was a man who had a dismal beginning, but who repented of his sin and inherited a great future. God offers that same blessing to each of us. If we will turn from our sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, sent from God in fulfillment of this prophecy uttered by Jacob, God will bless us beyond measure.

These prophecies of Jacob remind us that while we may not understand all the details of the plan, God does have a plan. He is moving history ahead right on schedule toward the grand climax when Jesus Christ shall reign supreme, when every knee shall bow to the Lion of the tribe of Judah. We need to live each day in light of God’s great plan for history.

Sunday – May 21, 2017 Genesis 39:1-33 “From the Penthouse to Prison”

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Genesis 39:1-3
Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian.”

Each of us wants to succeed in life. But if we want true success, it’s crucial to work out a biblical definition of the term. Otherwise, you’ll be like the guy who climbed the ladder of success only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. You’ll waste your life pursuing the wrong goals and making wrong decisions. If our target is wrong, we will fail even if we hit it.

Our American culture defines success primarily in financial terms, throwing in, perhaps, the ideas of power, fame, and the elusive quality: “happiness.” As Christians, we can easily see the fallacy in defining success in those terms, and yet often we are influenced by our culture more than we care to admit. Many pastors succumb to the prevailing definition, thinking that if you pastor a large church, or gain national recognition through writing a book or speaking at important gatherings, you are successful. Christians reveal their skewed definition of success when they rush out to buy the latest story of some celebrity who has made a profession of faith, or when they parade famous athletes before the church as if they were spiritual authorities. So we need to bring into sharp focus the biblical answer to the question, “What is true success?”

Was Joseph more blessed by God or more successful when he was at the top of Potiphar’s household than when he was in the dungeon? They were just different phases of God’s training program in which He was preparing Joseph for the job He had for him under Pharaoh. Joseph was truly successful, whether he was in Potiphar’s house or in the prison, because God’s hand was on him. I believe that is the biblical definition of true success. True success is to have God’s blessing on your life. If you have God’s blessing, you have everything, even if you’re poor and unknown; if you lack God’s blessing, you ultimately will have nothing, even if you’re rich and famous now.

I want each of us to covet God’s blessing for yourself. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, we all should say, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). You can live a comfortable Christian life, serve in the church and succeed in worldly terms. But if you lack God’s blessing on your life, you’ve missed true success. True success is when it can be said of us, whether we are in Potiphar’s house or in prison: The Lord is with that man or woman. Being blessed by God, we then will be used as His channels of blessing for the nations through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday – May 14, 2017 Mother’s Day

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Zechariah 8:4-5
Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.‘”

If someone were to ask, “What does the kingdom of God look like?” we might think of heavenly choirs singing praises to the accompaniment of harps. There is no doubt that glorious worship will be an important part of God’s kingdom. But I would guess that few, if any, of us would ever think to describe His kingdom as our text does. This is not Zechariah’s personal idea of what the kingdom of God will look like, but the direct word of the Lord of hosts.

When the Lord dwells in our midst, we will treat the elderly and children properly. Sadly, those words do not describe a large segment of American society.  According to Focus on the Family, child abuse was the leading cause of death in children under the age of 15. Congressional studies have noted that abuse of the elderly occurs with a frequency only slightly less than child abuse. Most such abuse occurs within the confines of the home. Our streets, especially in large cities, are not safe, especially for women, children, or the elderly. Yet we continually comment on how different it had been 25 years before, when children used to play in their front yards, and no one ever gave a thought to any possibility of danger.

By way of contrast, the picture of our text is a city where the elderly are at rest and the children at play, unafraid of attack or harm. Since these two groups represent the most vulnerable in any society, if they are securely at rest, everyone else will also enjoy peace. How a society treats its elderly and its young children may be a good measure of how close that society is to the Lord. When He dwells in our midst, He describes the result as this scene of peaceful joy for the aged and the young. These verses imply that relationships are one of God’s most precious blessings.

While Mother’s Day may not be in the Bible, God’s love for the barren is. Defending those who cannot defend themselves is. Comforting the hurting is. Caring for orphans is. Loving one another is. I think Mother’s Day is a great thing and I certainly don’t want to rid the church of it, but it’s not the only ministry opportunity today. Churches can compete to be one more float in the happy mother’s day parade, or they could be the ones seeing the trampled, and lifting them up. God gives us this simple snapshot of a community where Jesus Christ dwells in their midst. The most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and the children, are treated with protection and respect. If God took a snapshot of your family or our church this past week, how would it compare?

Sunday – May 7, 2017 Genesis 38:1-30 “The Skeleton in Jacob’s Closet”

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Genesis 38:1-3
And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her. So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er.”

The well-known writer, Ernest Hemingway, was raised in a solidly evangelical home in Oak Park, Illinois. His godly grandparents had graduated from Wheaton College. His grandfather, Anson Hemingway, shared a close friendship with the evangelist, D. L. Moody. Ernest’s physician father had wanted to be a missionary doctor, but his mother was too much of a city girl, and refused to go. But Ernest was raised in the church where he tithed his allowance, sang in the choir, and read completely through his King James Bible and passed a comprehensive exam on it.

After high school, he moved to Kansas City to become a reporter. He stopped going to church and began drifting from his upbringing. He enlisted in World War I, was wounded, and took to drinking to ease the pain. He married a worldly woman and moved to Paris to further his writing career. Totally alienated from his parents, eventually he would go through four wives. He was notorious for his drunkenness. In his late years, “he grew distant from everyone. He would not stand up straight and, he stopped communicating verbally.” A friend said that his “every hour was filled with the pain of being truly lost and alone.” Hemingway’s own description was, “I live in a vacuum that is as lonely as a radio tube when the batteries are dead and there is no current to plug into.” Finally, on a sunny Sunday morning in Idaho, at age 61, Ernest Hemingway put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. (Culled from, “Ernest Hemingway: Tragedy of an Evangelical Family,” by Daniel Pawley)

Hemingway’s tragic life did not have to go that direction. He made some bad choices: to distance himself from God’s people; to marry outside of the faith; to be conformed to this corrupt world. He could have availed himself of God’s grace and been conformed to Jesus Christ. His godly children and grandchildren could have followed in his steps. Instead, his beautiful, famous granddaughter Margaux took her own life in 1996. His descendants are far from the Lord.

We all are prone to corruption. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on [Christ]” (Isa. 53:6). We don’t have to be conformed to corruption. If we avail ourselves of God’s grace through the descendant of Judah and Tamar, the Lord Jesus Christ, He will keep us from the corruption of this evil world.

Sunday – March 19, 2017 Genesis 32:1-32 “Unfinished Business”

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Genesis 32:9-10

Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant…”

The prayer of Jacob in Genesis 32 is one of the greatest lessons in prayer in all of Scripture. Even before Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, Jacob gives us an outstanding template to approach our Heavenly Father in our time of need. Reflecting on Jacob’s prayer, I see four elements for us to implement in our prayer lives. First, Jacob addressed the Lord as the God of his “father Abraham” and his “father Isaac.” This is significant. Jacob was beginning to understand more fully his place in God’s divine plan. His prayer is the divine pattern of many biblical prayers — to acknowledge who God really is. When Nehemiah prayed about the sad condition of his people in Jerusalem, he lifted up his voice to God and said, “I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God” (Nehemiah 1:5a). He is a king to be honored and we must acknowledge Him as such.

Jacob prays on the basis of two things: God told him to return to his homeland, and God promised to bless him. He isn’t appealing to God on the basis of his own performance, but solely on the basis of God’s promises. Jacob stands on the promises of God because he knows that God keeps His Word. Many of our prayers fall short because there is none of God’s Word within them. This is because there is so little of God’s Word in us. Yet, both prayer and God’s Word are essential.

Now Jacob’s arrogant self-confidence is gone and he finally acknowledges that he is completely unworthy of God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness. This is a big step for Jacob. He has come to the point of recognizing that he stands by God’s mercy alone. Sometimes we have to hit bottom before we can see our true condition. Only as we recognize that we stand by mercy will we be prepared to act mercifully toward others. When you pray to the Lord, it is critical that you confess your sin, keep short accounts with Him, and acknowledge that you are undeserving and nothing without Him.

Finally, Jacob asks God to specifically save him from the hand of his brother. He doesn’t mince words; he’s clear and specific. Unlike his actions before going to live with Laban, when he took matters into his own hands to wrest away Isaac’s blessing from Esau, Jacob now realizes that he must depend totally on God in order to secure his own well-being. It is worth noting that Jacob requests God’s protection for himself and his family. He’s showing some semblance of concern for someone other than himself. We must follow Jacob’s example and learn to pray specific requests. When we do so, God tends to respond with specific answers. Today, will you make a commitment to pray for yourself and others in this way? Will you also pray first, instead of as a last resort? As you do, it will go well with you.

Sunday – March 5, 2017 Genesis 30 :25-43 “Jacob Gets Laban’s Goat”

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Genesis 30:33
So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages.”

America takes pride in the “self‑made man.” The American dream is that if you work hard and smart enough, you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and make a fortune. But the teaching of the Bible is clear: Prosperity comes from the Lord, not from our ingenuity, hard work, or lucky breaks. If we prosper, it is because God has prospered us. We don’t have anything except that which we’ve been given by the Lord. All we have belongs to Him and must be used as He directs.

The Bible commends hard work. But even when we work hard, we need to realize that any success we enjoy comes from the Lord, not from our hard work. Let’s face it, some people work hard all their lives and never get rich. And while integrity is important for our testimony as God’s people, rather than fostering success, integrity often militates against it. The scoundrel often prospers, while the man of integrity misses out on some easy money. So the bottom line is always the same: Prosperity comes from the Lord alone.

This applies to us as well. It’s the principle of stewardship, that we are not owners of anything, but only managers. God owns it all and as owner, He directs how it should be used. We tend to think that whatever we have is ours because we worked hard for it, and so we have the right to spend it as we please. If we’re real generous, we’ll give God ten percent. Then we squander the rest on ourselves. Perhaps we may try to excuse our deceitfulness by insisting that we live in a “crooked and perverse generation” (Phil 2:15). We have come to believe that the only way to survive in such a society is to out-con the cons. Jacob may well have thus satisfied his conscience, reminding himself of the fact that Laban could not be dealt with on a straightforward basis.

Many of us, like Jacob, fail to “adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10) in our work lives. We enter into an agreement with our employer but then conclude that he is not as interested in our future as we are. We begin to look out for our own interests at the expense of our boss. We begin to spend an enormous portion of our time trying to figure out how we can get more of what belongs to the company. Rather than working diligently and leaving our well-being in God’s hands, we take matters into our own hands. While we may, like Jacob, stay within the letter of the law, we get ahead at the expense of another. Such conduct is not to the glory of God. Such does not “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). May God enable us to trust in Him and in His grace rather than in our schemes and in the work of our hands.

Sunday – February 19, 2017 Genesis 29: 1 to 30 “I Led Two Wives”

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Genesis 29:18-20
Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

In Genesis 28, we saw God’s beginning with Jacob. At his time of great need, the Lord broke into Jacob’s life, promised to bless him and to fulfill with him all of His covenant promises to Abraham (28:13‑ 15). In 29:1, the Hebrew says that Jacob “lifted up his feet,” an expression which means that he had a new bounce in his steps as he continued his journey. God was with him, his guilt from the past was gone, and his fear of Esau had subsided. Things were looking up.

What Jacob didn’t realize was that he had just entered God’s boot camp. He was in for a difficult 20-year term under God’s unwitting drillmaster, Laban. God would use these trying years to knock a lot of rough edges off Jacob. Ultimately, yes, God would bless him. But part of the process involved breaking Jacob of his selfish ways. The readers of Moses were there. They had followed him out of slavery in Egypt, expecting to move right in to their luxury condos in Canaan, with milk and honey flowing from the tap. Instead, they had endured 40 difficult years in the wilderness and now faced the frightening prospect of fighting the giants who occupied those cities.

God arranges our circumstances to shape us into the image of Jesus Christ. We all tend to see God’s hand in the big crises, but we need to see His hand in the little irritations ‑‑ car trouble, the sick child who forces you to change your plans, interruptions. When we recognize God’s hand in those things and submit to Him, then we can grow through it. But if we grumble, we are “regarding lightly the discipline of the Lord” (Heb. 12:5), and we miss the opportunity for growth.

God promises to bless each person who trusts in Christ. Like Jacob, we say, “Sounds like a great program! Sure, I’ll let You be my God if You’ll bless me!” But we don’t read the fine print that tells us that God’s blessings always come through His discipline. To bless us and use us to bless others, God has to break us from our dependence on the flesh and shape us into the image of His Son, who learned obedience through the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8). So God enrolls us in His boot camp. Christianity isn’t a 100-yard dash; it’s a marathon. A lot of people want instant answers to their problems, and when they don’t get them, they bail out and go looking for some other solution. When you become a Christian, you’re in for life, so don’t faint when you are reproved by the Lord (Heb. 12:5). Settle in for the long haul.

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 – 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 – 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!