Sunday – June 14, 2015 “The Man Who Bought Property in a War Zone” Jeremiah 32

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Jeremiah 32:6-8
“And Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, “Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.”‘ “Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the Lord and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.”

Buying real estate is always a speculative idea. Buying real estate after you have been prophesying the nation that land was in would be taken captive by the Babylonians and utterly destroyed is completely insane.  Yet that’s exactly what God asked His prophet Jeremiah to do. Jerusalem was under siege, on the brink of falling to the Chaldeans. Jeremiah was in prison because he had been preaching that the nation was going to fall and that God wanted them to surrender.

Jeremiah obeyed, but then he got a bit confused. Had he done something dumb? If God was going to overthrow Israel by the Chaldeans, as Jeremiah had been preaching and as seemed imminent, then why did God tell him to buy this land? So after the transaction was completed, Jeremiah prayed, and God granted him the answer he needed to endure. His prayer teaches us some lessons on how to pray by faith in a bleak, confusing situation.

Jeremiah wasn’t crazy; he was being obedient to God’s difficult command. The point was to illustrate, by faith, that houses and fields and vineyards would again be bought in Israel (32:15). In Jeremiah 31, God had promised and Jeremiah had proclaimed that the days were coming when God would form a new covenant with His disobedient people, where He would write His laws on their hearts and forgive their sin, where they would be His people and He would be their God. By purchasing this field, God was asking Jeremiah to put his money where his mouth was. To pray by faith that God would fulfill His promises of restoring His people, Jeremiah had to be obedient to this difficult command. The principle is just as valid today as it was then. You cannot pray by faith for God to fulfill His promises to you or to His church if you’re not obeying Him at whatever points obedience is difficult.

Remember, Jeremiah never lived to see those promises fulfilled. But because he believed in a sovereign God who would fulfill all of His promises to His people, Jeremiah could obey God’s difficult commands and trust that God would do the humanly impossible. Through Jeremiah’s prayer in this difficult and confusing situation, God granted him the understanding he needed to endure.

Sunday June 7, 2015 “The Man Who Cried for God to Come Down” Isaiah 63

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Isaiah 63:17
“Why, O Lord, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.”

Through God’s Spirit, the prophet Isaiah saw a desperate future time in Israel’s history. Because Isaiah predicted conditions that would take place about 100 years after he wrote (after the Babylonians conquered Judah), liberal critics have said that Isaiah couldn’t have written this. But I believe that God revealed the future to the prophet and led him to pray this prayer as a gracious way of teaching us how to lay hold of Him and His power in times of great spiritual need.

Isaiah pictures God as shut up in heaven, removed from His people who are suffering because of their sin. In an emotional outburst, the prophet calls upon God to rend the heavens and come down in great power, even as He did at Sinai, to restore His people and to make His name known among the nations. His point is that complacency with the existing low spiritual condition among God’s people is the enemy of revival. Remember the lukewarm church at Laodicea? They were content: “We’re rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” But God’s evaluation was that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

I know of two ways to keep from lapsing into lukewarmness and thinking that it is normal. First, steep yourself in the Bible so much that when you hear of the worldliness of the modern church, you are appalled. God’s Word must shape our worldview.Second, read church history and read some of the great men of God from the past. You will learn how God has worked in history, and you will read men who were not tainted by our modern worldview. But the fact that they wrote in a different time and culture will often jar you to see how far we have drifted. That is the start of revival praying – when some of God’s people begin to feel the lack of His working in our day.

Never before has the church had so many methods available to us, but at the same time, so little experience of the power of God. Christians need to know the living God in a deeper way. Also, we need to entreat God to pour out His Spirit through a revived church, so that His power in salvation would turn millions in repentance and faith to Him.

Sunday May 31, 2015 “The Man Who Won a War Without Fighting” 2 Chronicles 20:1-30

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2 Chronicles 20:5-6
“Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord before the new court, and he said, “O Lord, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You.”

The story of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, provides us with helpful instruction on the subject of prayer and trusting God when we face severe trials. Jehoshaphat was basically a good king who sought to follow the Lord and bring God’s people back to Him (19:4-11). He ruled in the southern kingdom at the same time that the wicked Ahab ruled in the north. But although he was a good king, Jehoshaphat had a character flaw: He made wrongful alliances with the godless Ahab. His motive in these alliances may have been good, to reunite the divided kingdom. But he was unwise and wrong.

One morning Jehoshaphat was shaken when his intelligence sources came running in with the horrifying news: the enemy army was about 15 miles south of Jerusalem, on the western shore of the Dead Sea. Jehoshaphat’s life and his entire kingdom were on the brink of extinction. What would you do if you heard some threatening news that affected your future and maybe your life? This godly king did the right thing: He called a national prayer meeting and encouraged the people to trust God in the face of this overwhelming crisis. They did it, and literally won the war by prayer alone, without swinging a single sword.

It’s easy to read this story and miss what a great thing it was for Jehoshaphat to call the nation to prayer over this crisis. It would have been very human to panic. When he heard the news of this army within his borders, we could understand if he yelled, “Call all my top generals. Get the army mobilized immediately. We don’t have a second to waste.” As soon as the troops were mustered, if there was time, he could have stopped for a quick word of prayer. But for Jehoshaphat to turn his attention to seek the Lord and to call the nation to prayer and fasting was not automatic.

God never fails those who trust Him and obey His Word. That is not to say that He delivers everyone who trusts Him from suffering or even death. There are many who have trusted God and lost their heads (Heb. 11:36-40)! But this earthly life isn’t the final chapter. All who suffer loss for Jesus will be richly rewarded in heaven or God is a liar. Just as Israel was enriched literally by the spoils of victory, so we will always be enriched spiritually through our trials if we recognize our great need, pray to our great God, and trust in Him alone, not in the arm of the flesh.

Sunday May 24, 2015 – Thom Rachford “Illusion or Reality”

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Illusion or Reality

The word illusion is from the Latin illusio, which means “the action of mocking”. Illusion is defined as the action of deceiving, the state or fact of being intellectually deceived or misled or the perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature. Deceit is the core present in all Illusion.

Reality on the other hand is defined as the quality or state of being real; a real event, entity or state of affairs; something that is neither derivative nor dependent but exists necessarily in actual fact. Truth is the core present in reality.

In today’s world Illusion is presented as the norm. At all levels of society from the government, the media, education, and from people in general conversation we hear illusions presented as fact or truth. And we like the illusions. Illusions usually make the world and our lives seem better, easier, less troublesome, more comforting and less requiring of action, some times difficult action, on our part. In general, we like to hear the illusion, we want to believe the illusion because the illusion seems to be more fun or more fulfilling, or more safe or satisfying than the reality.

The problem with illusion is that it is not only false but it is only temporary. For example, the illusion that there is no Hell or that everyone who is “good” goes to Heaven. For the person who does not know Jesus these illusions are comforting. Illusion frees the mind and spirit from restraints. If there is no Hell, that implies that there are no spiritual consequences to actions. If there is no Hell, there are no absolutes that govern whether or not I go to Hell. This allows me to do anything as long as I can stand or better yet, avoid societies’ consequences. And if there is a Heaven, I certainly am good enough to go there. After all, I am better than Hitler, or Stalin, or a mass murderer, etc.

No matter how “bad” we are, we cling to the illusion that “the good/bad line is drawn just below just us. It is people below the line who don’t qualify for Heaven. I am always above the line. This illusion is comforting until the day you die.

Then the temporary euphoria disappears as the reality becomes strikingly apparent in a nano second.   At death, the reality of Heaven (being with the Lord) with all its reward and blessings, or the reality of Hell (being without the Lord) and all Hell’s consequences, rushes upon us. The reality or truth of Heaven or Hell is immediately evident and unfortunately for those in Hell recognized as unchangeable. Every person who ever lives will experience the reality of Heaven or Hell, whether you physically die or you are among the raptured.

Believers in Jesus can rely on being in heaven. In John 14:6 Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me”. Where is the Father? Heaven.InJohn 14:3 Jesus said “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also”. Where is Jesus? Heaven. Mark 16:19 So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God”.

Sunday May 17, 2015 “The Man Who Saw the Unseen” 2 Kings 6 verses 8 to 23

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2 Kings 6:15-17
“Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Each time the Syrians would make a raid into Israel their plans were spoiled through the revelation given by God to Elisha. Elisha would inform the king of Israel who would then take precautions against their invasions. This naturally enraged the heart of the king of Aram (Syria) who first thought that he had an informer in his camp. When he was then told of Elisha’s ability as a prophet of Israel to know of the king’s plans, the king of Aram knew that if his plans were to be successful, he would have to do away with Elisha. This meant the prophet became the object of his attack.

This event shows us the omniscience of God Who knows the plans of the enemy and has provided special revelation for us that we might be informed to protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks. If, when we are warned, we do not appropriate God’s provision and armor against Satan’s devices, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Unfortunately, though the king of Israel was quick to listen to the warnings regarding the physical attacks of the Syrians, he was slow to heed the warnings of Elisha regarding his sin and refusal to truly follow the Lord. I am always amazed at how people are ready to heed the counsel of doctors regarding our health, but slow to listen to the counsel of the Word of God.

Elisha’s attendant went out seemingly oblivious to both the fact of the enemy and of God’s provision. As is the case for many Christians, the new day simply meant business as usual for the attendant. He was going to take care of his chores and with no concern for the spiritual battle around him, which meant he was also completely unprepared for what he faced. Christians can be the same way. Too often we don’t take our spiritual warfare seriously. We act as though Satan and his kingdom were asleep or posed no problem to us. We go out unprepared spiritually. Consequently, when faced with some form of spiritual warfare, as Elisha’s attendant was, our response is consternation, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

How can we minister to the fears of people? Just as Elijah did! We need to show personal concern and involvement, provide biblical instruction, and go to the Lord in personal dependence on Him to illuminate them to His resources and sufficiency. Unless the Lord prospers our ministry, our work is futile (1 Cor. 3:7). Our tendency, however, is to neglect one or the other of these important ingredients. Whether we are impersonal and cold in our teaching and relationships with people or we are warm and personable, we may still fail to communicate God’s truth because we are trusting in our personality or skill as a teacher and we fail to pray. We need to grasp the balance here. God uses people. And God uses His Word because it is alive and powerful in spite of us. Yet, it is prayer that gives power to our personal love and teaching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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