People of Unbelief and Rebellion

I. Introduction

Today’s bible trivia question:  Why is our study book called the Book of Numbers? Slide3.JPG

The Book of Numbers is of great historical significance because the Lord ordered the first census of the Israelites.  Numbers chapters 1-10 have an awful lot of “begats” – that’s when most people, reading the bible in traditional sequence, get bogged down, or should I say begatted down – but the book of Numbers also gives us historical and genealogical record of the Israelites.

As the book of Numbers opens, the Israelites have been camped near Mount Sinai for more than a year.  Moses has brought all the laws and regulations recorded in the book of Leviticus, the tabernacle has been built, priests are busy doing priestly things.  The Israelites are well-equipped to be a new nation of God’s chosen people.  It is now time to move into Canaan and take the land.

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To prepare for Canaan, Moses and Aaron were told by God to take a census, number the men who were able to serve in the army, get the people organized by tribe.   This book is named for this census, or numbering of the people.  But the book of Numbers could just as well been named the Book of Grumpiness.  From the beginning of Numbers to the end, it tells the story of rebellion, unbelief, and grumblings.

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As the Israelite set out from the wilderness of Sinai on their journey to the Promised Land, silver trumpets were used to coordinate their stopping and going. God’s presence was always with them – a cloud of shade by day and a pillar of fire as their night light. They were literally guided one step at a time. Each time the cloud or pillar signaled a move, Moses prayed to God for guidance and victory, each time they were signaled to stop, he asked for God’s presence to rest with His people. No matter how many times they started or stopped, Moses would repeat these prayers. Let’s look at the end of Chapter 10:

Numbers 10:33-36, (Chronological Bible page 227, March 1)
So they departed from the mountain of the LORD on a journey of three days; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them for the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them.  And the cloud of the LORD was above them by day when they went out from the camp.  So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said: Rise up, O LORD! Let your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.”  And when it rested, he said: “Return, O LORD, To the many thousands of Israel.”

Moses feared and worshipped the Lord above everything else and put Him first in the life of the people.  The people of Israel?  Not so much.

Since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, man has struggled to live by faith in the goodness of God and by the Word of God.  Instead, we continue to live by sight, trapped in our fleshly existence, blind to spiritual truth and spiritual reality.  In the book of Numbers, Israel has the promises of God regarding their existence and their land, plus the very presence of God in their midst.  But still they walk in rebellion and unbelief.  Today’s lesson will focus on four scenes from Numbers 11-16 that illustrate the depravity of the human heart.

Why do we study the Old Testament?  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 that specifically this Book of Numbers is a warning to believers.  In 1 Corinthians 10:6, 10-11 Paul says:

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted… nor complain and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now all these things happened to them as examples and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

We are to note what God’s people did in the past and how their decisions affected their relationship with Him, in order to move forward with our own faith in the present. So, in looking at our passages for today, we are going to look at what NOT to do as God’s chosen people.  I’m reminded of some sage advice my grandfather gave to me.  He’d say, “Son, if you can’t be a good example, then do your best to be a horrible warning.”

II. #1 on the List of Things Not to Do: Grumble and Complain about God’s Blessings

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Let’s look at Numbers 11:1-2 (Chronological Bible page 228, March 2) –

Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the LORD heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.  Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the LORD, the fire was quenched.

Did your parents ever same something like, “quit whining or I’ll give you something to whine about.”  That is exactly what the Lord did.  Whatever they were complaining about was so insignificant that it wasn’t even recorded.  The Lord send a warning of fire, and the people cried out to Moses and Moses interceded on their behalf.

What did the Israelite do in response?  The continued to complain. Numbers 11:4-6:

Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: Who will give us meat to eat?  We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and then garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!

Whaaaah.  All we have is this stupid manna.  When we are discontented with our current situation, we have troubles remembering how blessed we are.  The Israelites “forgot” they were in bondage and slavery in Egypt and only remembered the “flesh pleasing” things.

Though manna was miraculously provided and was healthy nourishment, they tired of this provision from the Lord and lusted for other things.

Numbers 11:10-11,13-15, page 228:

Then Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families; everyone at the door of his tent; and the anger of the LORD was greatly aroused; Moses also was displeased.  So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you have laid the burden of these people on me? … Where am I to get meat to give all these people? For they weep all over me, saying “Give us meat that we may eat.” I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me.  If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now- if I have found favor in your sight- and do not let me see my wretchedness!

The people were complaining and Moses was complaining about their complaining! “Just kill me now,” he tells the Lord. “This job is too hard!”  And yet Moses is humble and realizes that he is no better than they are!

It takes faith to accept God’s guidance and Israel’s faith wasn’t very strong. Among other things, mixed in among them during their journey were unbelievers that God had warned them about.  The Israelites listed to these unbelievers who convinced the Israelites that maybe God wasn’t all good, maybe God was withholding something good from them.  The people stopped appreciating their blessings and instead focused on what they didn’t have.

Even God’s people too easily forget what God has done and we grumble and complain about what we don’t have.  Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:14-16:

Do some things…. No wait, do a few things… no, Paul says…

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

Complaining is contagious. Discontentment is at the top of the slippery slope of sin. When we rebel against Him, God often gives us our own way, which can lead to our destruction.

Let’s continue in Numbers 11:31-33, page 229

Now a wind went out from the LORD, and it brought quail from the sea and left them fluttering near the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits above the surface of the ground.  And the people stayed up all that day, all night, and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers), and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.  But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was aroused against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very great plague.

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The Lord gave them what they wanted, and it killed them.  Moses called the place “the graves of lust.”  It served as a reminder to the danger of asking for “my will be done” over “Thy will be done.”  In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Lord warned Israel that the way they treated the daily manna would be a test of their obedience to His Word.  By rejecting the manna, by rejecting the blessings, Israel really rejected the Lord and it was this rebellious attitude that invited the judgment of God.

III. #2 on the List of Things Not to Do: Tell God He’s Not the Boss of You

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Everyone in Israel knew that Moses, Aaron, and  Moses’ sister Miriam were God’s chosen servants, but that Moses was designated by God as the leader. This had been evident from before they were brought out of Egypt.  God had used Miriam to save Moses’ life and to lead women in worship.  Aaron was the older brother chosen to help Moses with Pharaoh and to serve as the first High Priest.  But Moses was the one to whom God spoke to and spoke through as the leader of Israel.   But even among spiritual leaders, the sin of envy is ever present.  “Envy” says, “that’s not fair! Why not me?” and it can affect anyone at any time

Numbers 12: 1-10 (Chronological Bible page 229, March 2).

Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.  So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.  (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.)

Suddenly the LORD said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!” So the three came out.  Then the LORD came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward.  Then He said,

“Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house.

I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant Moses?”

So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them, and He departed.  And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper.

Slide18.JPGDespite the Lord clearly talking to Moses, Miriam attempts to be the boss, and convinces Aaron to join her in this rebellion.  The Lord was angry and deals swiftly with her.  At this point Aaron begs Moses to intercede, and Moses cries out to the LORD, saying, “Please heal her, O God!”  So the LORD tells Moses to basically lock her outside the camp for a week and then the Lord will heal her.
God made it very clear that He was in control, God selects the leaders and the people were to respect their authority.  Rebelling against His appointed leaders is the same as rebelling against the Lord.

When you review the history of Israel and their journey from Egypt to Canaan, you see that every time they resisted the Lord’s selected authority, it caused them great trouble.  As the Lord sought to bring them through difficult situations and build their faith, they rebelled against His authority, blamed those He put in charge and made plans to return to Egypt.  No society can function without authority and submission.  God’s plan wasn’t just to free them from slavery but to establish Israel as a nation.

IV. #3 on the List of Things Not to Do: Doubt God’s Plan

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Israel had journeyed from Mount Sinai on their way to Canaan.  Just before they get to the Promised Land, Israel sent out spies to look over the land which they were to possess.

Numbers 13:1-3 (page 230, March 2):

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.  So Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran according to the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the children of Israel.

Notice that the Lord’s promise: I am giving this land to the Israelites.  No conditions attached, it’s yours.  Moses selects twelve men to travel to Canaan to survey the land in Numbers 13:4-16, way too many names to read, but this is where we first meet Caleb.  Joshua we met earlier in Exodus 17 as one of Moses’s generals and Joshua also went up Mount Sinai with Moses in Exodus 24.

Moses sends the twelve spies to the land of Canaan on a reconnaissance mission.  You know, check out the schools, the cost of living, local museums, that sort of thing.  The spies are told to bring back evidence that this is indeed the land of milk and honey.  In Numbers 13:21-25,

So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin […]  When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs.  […]  At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

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Can you imagine a single cluster of grapes so large that two men have to carry it on a pole between them?  At the end of 40 days, the spies return to Moses and say in Numbers 13:26-29,

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.

But…. You knew there was a “but,” didn’t you?

But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.

Caleb demonstrates his faith in God’s promises by saying in verse 30,

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

It’s ours.  What are we waiting for?

The other 10 spies begin to spread a false report out of fear.  The land isn’t good anyway and we can’t move in.  They’re asking for 1st and last month’s rent in advance.  The people doubt God’s plan out of fear.

Which brings us to a question.  Where is your faith?  Is it in God’s promises, or is it your own eyes?  Let’s same your name is John Ruiz, you’re a boxer from the USA, and your opponent on December 7, 2005 is Nikolai Valuev, nicknamed “the Beast from the East.”

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Nikolai is 7’ 2” and weighs 323 pounds.  You look at him like one of the giants from Canaan and you feel like you have zero chance.  You are like a grasshopper in his eyes, and worse, you look like a grasshopper in your own eyes, too.

John Ruiz wasn’t afraid to take the fight to Nikolai.  In that way, he was like Caleb.  I love what John Ruiz said the night before the fight, “I plan on taking the fight to him.  His head is the size of a Volkswagen.  I can’t miss.”

Twelve spies went into the Promised Land. Ten saw obstacles, and two saw opportunities.  It’s a matter of perspective, and it’s the difference between fear and faith. Ten spies looked up and saw giants, Joshua and Caleb looked up and saw God.  And what did the people do?

They freaked out.

In chapter 14 it says they wept all night, then complained against Moses and Aaron. They cried out, “We are going to die!  It would have been better if we had died in Egypt, or in the wilderness.”  And then they started planning to select a new leader and go back to Egypt.

Fortunately, God’s selected leaders stood up to speak in verse 5:

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land.  If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’  Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.”

And what was the people’s response? Were they supportive?  Humbled?  Agreeable?  No, verse 10:

And all the congregation said to stone them with stones.

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After hearing the criticism, the doubts, the fears, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord and prayed for them.   Joshua and Caleb try to encourage the multitude and inspire their faith. “The Lord will do it,” they proclaim. “The Lord is with us!”  But no, fear and rebellion ran deep.

Then the Lord spoke, verse 11

… “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?  I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

Once again Moses prays,

And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying,  ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’  Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

Moses appeals to the Lord based on the Lord’s attributes, reputation, and character.  Moses fights his battles from his knees.
And so, the Lord determined that they would wander in the wilderness until all this faithless generation perished, those 20 years and older, except Caleb and Joshua. Only these two would be able to enter the Promised Land. Why? Because Joshua and Caleb followed the Lord with complete faith and trust.

This story tells the story of many of our lives. It was God’s plan that the children of Israel should go straight into the land He had promised them, the land of Canaan, but the people would not. We can put difficulties between ourselves and God like the people of Israel or put God in between ourselves and our difficulties like Joshua and Caleb. The Lord wanted them to enter the Promised Land, but their fear and unbelief kept them out. Their faith failed. They doubted God’s plan.

Is your fear keeping you from all that God has for you? Fear can paralyze even the bravest of hearts. Joshua and Caleb weren’t blind to the giants in their lives.  They just remembered God’s promise, and God was bigger than any giant.

V. Conclusion

God demonstrated His goodness, grace, and mercy by choosing Abraham and His descendants as His own special people, rescuing them from Egypt and leading them to the Promise Land. And yet, Israel’s response to God’s favor reflects the proud, stubborn, rebellious heart of all humanity.  People haven’t changed in thousands of years.  We continually question whether God is good and whether God keeps his promises.

In our lesson today, we have learned that indeed, if one cannot be a good example than one can be a horrible warning.  To stay on the path of the righteous, to walk in the way of the Lord, avoid these horrible warnings:

• Grumble and Complain about God’s Blessings
• Tell God He’s Not the Boss of You
• Doubt God’s Plan

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Or if you want to walk in the way of the Lord, do the opposite –

• Give Thanks and Praise
• Submit to God’s Love
• Trust in the Lord’s Promises

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To God be the Glory.  Amen.

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The God People Want

I.      Introduction

So this week’s lesson finds God’s people in the wilderness worshipping a golden calf. If you’ve been reading along in the chronological bible, you might wonder how we have strayed so far from God’s plan for us in the Garden of Eden. What was God’s plan for Israel?

  • God’s plan: Garden of Eden
  • Israel’s plan: Desert

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II.      Background

But God is faithful and continually rescues us from our own choices.

After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, we then read about the sons of Adam and how they continually chose sin. God literally washed away their sins in the age of Noah, bringing a flood, but even Noah’s children and grandchildren strayed from God’s plan.

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Then we get to Abraham, Adam’s 17th generation grandson. The Lord told Abraham in Genesis 15:3-18 that Abraham’s descendants would be more numerous than stars in the sky, but first, due to man’s choices, they would live as captives in a foreign land for 400 years before God would rescue them, deliver them, punish their captors, and return Israel to the land of Canaan.

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Joseph, through the actions of his jealous brothers, is sold into slavery to the Egyptians, but God brings him through the pit, the prison, the palace, and makes him Pharaoh’s prime minister, second in command. Through famine, Abraham’s family relocates to Egypt. Over the next 400 years, they lived with Pharaoh’s blessing and grew from 70 people of Abraham’s family to a nation of several million people.

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But eventually Joseph dies. The Egyptians forget what Joseph and the Israelites have done for them. Pharaoh enslaves the people of Israel. The people cry out to God for salvation.

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God answers. God raises up a deliverer, Moses, to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham, to bring His people back to the land of Canaan after 400 years. To save His people, God provide amazing miracles. Turning a staff into a serpent, bringing the plagues to Egypt, turning the Nile into blood, parting of the Red Sea. God will do anything to deliver His people.

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The walk from Egypt to Canaan isn’t far. From Cairo to Jerusalem is about 300 miles. At 20 miles a day, should take about 2 weeks to walk there. Or an hour and 20 minutes if you fly Turkish Air. But due to Israel’s unbelief and rebellion, instead of 2 weeks to cross the wilderness, it takes 40 years. Not one man stopped to ask for directions. I just wonder how long it took for one of the wives to say to their husband, “Seriously? You’re not going to pull over and ask for directions?”

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The rest of Israel’s children weren’t any better. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I wanna go home!” Instead of acting in faith and trust, instead of being grateful for their freedom, Israel whined, complained. They blamed God and Moses for their circumstances. They even threated to turn this car around right now and go back to Egypt and live in slavery again.

As we read along in our Chronological bible, this is what’s happened this week –

  • Saturday – Tuesday: God frees the Israelites from slavery after the ten plagues
  • Wednesday: God provides their daily needs, mana and quail, on the journey
  • Thursday: God establishes the Ten Commandments and other parameters for being a free people
  • Friday: God makes a Covenant with Moses which is accepted by the Israelites
  • Saturday: God gives plans for the Ark of the Covenant, the Table, Lampstand, Tabernacle; all items that will point Israel to worship the One True God, Jehovah. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Sunday (today): God is very specific on the elements, craftsmanship, and reverence for the Tabernacle, worship and observing the Sabbath.

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Today’s lesson will actually cover tomorrow’s daily scripture reading. Some of you have asked me how the lessons line up with the reading, so I make this list for this week. Sometimes our lessons will be based on what we just read the previous week, sometimes the lessons will be for the same weekend, and sometimes it will be the day after or even the week after bible study. Don’t let that discombobulate you.

During this week, all of God’s directions, promises, blessings are communicated to the people in specific ways. God spoke to Moses on the mountain, and the people below could hear thunder, see lightening and even smoke coming from the mountain.

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And it becomes a regular pattern. Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God. Moses goes down from the mount to talk to the people. Moses goes up the mountain, comes down the mountain. He goes up the mountain…

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III.      The God People Want

Where is Moses? Why didn’t he come down from the mountain? And that brings us to today’s bible study of Exodus 32. Moses went up the mountain to talk to God. The expectation of the people was that Moses would come back at a specific time. They expected God to do something on their schedule. But Moses is still on the mountain.

This is the same mountain where they had seen fire and smoke, thunder and lightning. They knew God was at work on the mountain in a significant way and been delivering messages, guidance, instructions for a tabernacle and an ark.

They also knew that Moses had a connection with God that was unique and powerful. They had seen this first-hand as they crossed the Red Sea and received water and manna from heaven. They were standing where they were, at the foot of the Mountain, because of the leadership of Moses under the guidance and authority of God.

Not that I am ever impatient when waiting on the Lord.

God to me: Me to God:
Psalm 46:10a Psalm 83:1
“Be still, and know that I am God.” “O God, do not remain silent.”

What was God doing? Exodus 31:18 –

When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

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After all the instructions for building a temple, the ark, the commandments, God write Moses a personal letter. With God’s own finger. From our perspective, maybe not as big as parting the red sea, but God stepped out of heaven to take action in our world and created a miracle and engraved the Ten Commandments into stone.

The fingers of God have been at work since the beginning of creation. We saw it in the Creation Era. And now the finger of God has given us solid instructions in stone on how to live as a covenant people in the Patriarch Era. And Moses was holding that personal letter of stone. Moses was intimate with God; God spoke to Moses in a unique, personal, intense, and extraordinary way.

So, Moses was still on the mountain and the people were down below in the wilderness. We know from Exodus 24 that Moses was up on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights. Before the 40 days were over, the people became impatient that God wasn’t following the expected timetable. The people has become impatient with God.

If you’ve been a Christian a long time, this has probably happened to you. You have a difficult decision to make or a need for an answered prayer. You pray and you study, and God answers. The next time you have a difficult decision or a need for an answered prayer, you pray and you study…

Nothing but silence. Stillness. Quietness. God is not responding the way you expect. God is still on His mountain, and all you hear is the silence.

And the people of Israel waited for Moses and in Exodus 32:1,

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

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Sometime before the 40 days were up, the impatience of the people reared its ugly head. Notice how it says, “as for this Moses.” Not, “I hope that man who led us out of Egypt is ok.” It’s “this Moses. Yeah, I know we saw the fire on the mountain and heard the thunder, but hey. Now it’s this Moses.” What has he done for us lately?

The people “gathered together;” God is too slow, let’s take action. And they didn’t ask Aaron, they demanded, “Come and make us a god.” Exodus 32:2,

And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Slide15.JPGWhere did they get all this gold? Exodus 3:21-22 as Moses was getting ready to lead them out of Egypt, God says,

I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians.”

In order to prepare the Israelites for the journey through the wilderness, the Lord provided everything they needed, and the gold had come from their captors. The Lord has provided these blessings to the people, and the people used these blessings to fashion an idol and blaspheme the Lord.

The people wanted a man-made god. A god that they would have to pick up and carry. A convenient god, there when they need it. One that they could see and feel, perhaps rub it for luck. And lest we think the Israelites are idiots, that’s exactly what we the people crave today. A convenient god, there to fulfill our wishes. A god who has eyes, but cannot see, like Adam and Eve who didn’t want God to see them in their nakedness and sin. A god who appears strong, a mighty bull, but in reality lacks power, unable to punish our sins. A god who is here before us but demands nothing of us. In other words, a god who doesn’t interfere with our lives.

The people want a god that allows them to express themselves sexually, immorally, and without restraint or judgment. A god who only appears powerful.

Not even Christians are immune to this. Many Christians are only familiar with a couple of verse – God makes all things good, God has plans to prosper you, Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. Truth is, though, is that God is far more complex than that. Last month when we studied Job, we studied how God can lift his hand of protection, and God has a purpose for everything, including suffering.

Truth is, not every verse found in the bible can be embroidered on a pillow. Certainly not Judges 19:29,

When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.

Or Psalm 38:7,

For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease, and there is no soundness in my flesh.

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And yet, we just skip over uncomfortable verses because we want to believe our God is only a God of love and mercy, but not a God of wrath and justice. And yet we cannot truly understand His love and mercy without also understanding God’s wrath and justice and how he saved us from our sins.

Aaron was the brother of Moses, a leader of the people, the first priest of the Israelites. And on his first day of the job has already broken the first three commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” and “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Three strikes, you’re out.

Exodus 32:5,

So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

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Now this is a god the people like. So the people rose up to eat, drink, and party.

How long did it take for the people to go from following God out of Egypt to making a false idol and partying? Less than 40 days, barely a month.

Did God notice? Our God sees everything.   Our God is not the God we want Him to be. Our God is the God who is.

IV.      The God Who Is

Exodus 32:7-10,

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now, therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”

God did indeed notice, and God’s holy response to sin is wrath. In barely a month, after all that God had done for His people, they had forsaken God’s commands.

The people are described as “stiff-necked”. It’s two Hebrew words, qasheh `oreph (קָשֶׁה עֹרֶף). It’s literally “hard of neck,” a phrase all-too-familiar to the Israelite. They used an ox for plowing, and the plowman used one hand to guide the plow, and the other hand held an “ox goad,” a light pole with an iron spike on the end of it. He would use the ox goad to tap the ox on the neck to turn it. If an ox was hard to control or it was stubborn, it was “hard of neck.” In scripture, this means the “stiff-necked” people were stubborn and non-responsive to God’s guidance. Oh yes, God knew these people. And He knows you and me. God’s response to sin is not to destroy the calf, but to destroy the idol worshipper.

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And Moses is still up on the mountain, Exodus 32:11-14,

Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Moses’ prayer is not bargaining, it’s intercession. He prays for the people. Verse 11 says Moses “pleaded” and the Hebrew word is חָלָה châlâh and very difficult to translate. Often used to indicate illness or wounded, these are various translations –

  • NASB – Entreated
  • NIV – Sought
  • NLT – Pacify
  • ESV – Implored
  • KJV – Besought
  • HCSB – Interceded

So Moses interceded in prayer for his people. Moses is considered a “type of Christ,” something I didn’t really understand until I spent some time with that phrase. The bible itself defines what “type of Christ” means, but there are 4 different words used,

  1. typos “type” (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6,11);
  2. skia “shadow” (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1);
  3. hypodeigma “copy” (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23); and
  4. sémeion “sign” (Matthew 12:39).

Some Old Testament stories are shadows of prophecy and truth yet to come about our Savior. Moses is considered a “type of Christ,” and as special as Moses was with his relationship with God, Moses himself says a greater prophet will arise. Moses delivered the people from Egypt, but Christ will deliver the people from our sin. And so Moses intercedes on behalf of his people, pleading for their lives. And prayer changes God’s mind.

That always amazed me, that prayer can change the mind of God. But Moses was a high priest, a type of Christ! Well you know what? So are you. And so am I, and all believers. We are the priesthood of Christ, we are to show the light of Christ within us. 1 Peter 2:9 says,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

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James 5:16 says

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

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It amazes me that the God of the Universe loves my prayers and God acts on those prayers.

But the caveat is that it’s the effective prayer of a righteous person. Righteous in Jesus Christ, asking for things that are in God’s will… and I probably resemble Aaron more than I’d like to admit, more than I resemble Moses or Christ. After pleading to God, Moses finally goes back down the mountain, and in Exodus 32:21-24,

And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this person do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

So Moses pleads for his people. Aaron says, “those people are evil. Me, I just threw a bunch of gold in the fire. Whoa, look, a cow came out.”

V.      Conclusion

While we are called to be a royal priesthood, sin is always crouching at our door. We must be vigilant, on guard, and patiently waiting on the Lord.

Remember this?

  • God’s plan: Garden of Eden
  • Our plan: Desert

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Let’s update this photo for today’s world.

  • God’s plan: Heaven
  • Our plan: golden calf

Slide30.JPGThe god people want is a god that tolerates everything the golden calf stood for. Immorality. Selfishness. Irreverence. Impatience. Rejection of God’s teaching so that they can mold a god that is less judgmental and more tolerant of their lifestyle. A god that only appears powerful but cannot see any wrongdoing. A god that answers every sin with, “God just wants me to be happy.”

But we can’t make God into something. God is who He is. He is fire, He is wrath, He is mercy, He is love. He is faithful, He is mighty, He is strong, He is power, He is God of all the ages, He is the truth, He is the light out of the darkness, He is Holy, He is Holy, He is Holy. The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord and who God truly is, and not a golden calf representing our desire to eat, drink, and party.

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After we leave this classroom, after we leave this church, and we return to the world and the worldly ways, don’t let the world tell you who God is. Study the bible, put on the whole armor of God, and let God tell you who He is.

To God be the Glory. Amen.

Faith and the Revelation of God

I. Introduction

A guy named Pete gets a job as a switchman with the railroad, and undergoes weeks of training. The supervisor then takes him into the switch booth to test his readiness. The following exchange takes place:

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Supervisor: “Imagine you were sitting here alone and you learned there was a train coming from the North on that track, and another coming from the South on the same track. What would you do?”

Pete: “I’d throw this switch right here and put one train on the other track.”

Supervisor: And what if that switch didn’t work?”

Pete: “I’d go down to the track and throw that big switchlever there, putting one train on the other track.”

Supervisor: “And what if that switchlever didn’t work?”

Pete: “Then I’d come back here and call the dispatcher to stop both trains.”

Supervisor: “And what if the phone didn’t work?”

Pete: “Then I’d go to that gas station across the street and use their phone.”

Supervisor: “And what if their phone didn’t work?”

Pete: “Then I’d go get Uncle Joe.”

Supervisor: “Uncle Joe??? What would he do?”

Pete: “Nothing, but he ain’t never seen a train wreck.”

Many of us, though, have seen a trainwreck in our lives or the lives of somebody close to us.  Something terrible, something awful, that left us with a feeling of “why me?”  When I was young, and I’m fortunate that I don’t remember this traumatic event, I’m was told that a man in a mask burst into my room, grabbed me by my ankles, lifted me up, and while I hung there naked, he smacked me on the bottom.  They told me he was the doctor, I certainly hope so.  As a newborn, I was already having a hard time maintaining my dignity.  I mean, really, what did I do to deserve THAT?  And it seems sometimes that some people have been trying to smack me around ever since.

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Perhaps you’ve been smacked around, too.  A marriage that failed, a mother or father that died.  I have a friend up in Conroe who has a granddaughter that’s permanently brain damaged since the age of 8 months because of a tragic home accident.  When calamity happens, we want to ask why, we want to question God.  Some may want to step away from their faith in anger at God.  Why do bad things happen to good people?

There are lots of possibilities.  For the unbeliever, God will use pain and suffering to turn the unbeliever away from evil ways.  Repent, turn from sin, and face God.  For the unbeliever, God has only 1 instruction: Believe in Him.

For one who professes Christ but leans on men or perhaps lean on their own understanding, God sometimes uses calamity to strengthen faith.  If a Christian leans on money, God sometimes takes that crutch away through a family emergency, perhaps loss of a job.  If a Christian leans on his own works, God may allow health issues to make him dependent on God.  For a strong, upright and faithful Christian, God uses calamity to sanctify him, to bring him closer to God.

And then sometimes, we don’t have any idea why we suffer.  We look at ourselves for unrepentant sin, something we’re doing wrong, we think God’s trying to tell us something, and we just can’t figure it out.  It’s undeserved.  We’ve been smacked on the bottom and been through a trainwreck, and we don’t know why.

II. The Book of Job

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The book of Job is an illustration of undeserved suffering.  Job is a prominent and wealthy servant of God, and in a matter of minutes, Job loses everything.  Financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, all took a beating.  To Job, it might appear that God had deserted him and offered him no comfort or explanation.  Yet through all of his suffering, Job remained faithful to God and even stopped to worship Him in the midst of suffering.  That’s inspirational, a perfect example of how God wants us to respond in everything.

Let’s walk through Job’s life and see what happens.  If you have your bibles, let’s turn to the chapter on Quality.  You know, Quality.  Quality is Job 1.

Job 1:1 –

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

Job was “blameless and upright.”  He was morally sound, mature, full of integrity.  The Hebrew word for “blameless” is “תָּם tâm” and also means “perfect.”  Job walked the straight and narrow path.
Job “feared God and shunned evil.”  This doesn’t mean he was a coward; a healthy fear and respect of the power of God is necessary for good spiritual discipline.  Proverbs 1:7 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

I think the phrase “feared God and shunned evil” together are interesting – “feared God” meant Job always did the right thing, but more than that he shunned evil, or also avoided the wrong thing.  He was a complete man of God, not one who did good when people were watching and evil when people were not.  Job was not a hypocrite who said one thing and did another, he was a man of perfect integrity, doing what was right and avoiding what was wrong.

He was also a very wealthy, prosperous man.  Let’s look at his tax return –

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  • seven sons, 3 daughters.  Excellent, so he had a lot of deductions for dependents
  •  7000 sheep.  Enough wool to make something good.  Or at least something baaaad.
  • 3000 camels (For the record, I don’t own *any* camels!)
  • 500 oxen (I don’t own any cows, though I’ve eaten a few)
  • 500 donkeys (I don’t own any donkeys either.  True story: my brother once gave his wife a donkey for Mother’s Day.  His life is very different than mine.)
  • and a large number of servants.

Job was like sort of a cross between Billy Graham and Warren Buffett.  In verse 4 through 5, we also learn that Job was blessed not only with material wealth and public prestige, but also a loving family.  Seven sons and three daughters that regularly broke bread together and Job would pray for them and offer sacrifices on their behalf.

Now, in verse 6, we step away from the human world and into the spiritual world where there is some sort of conference going on in Heaven.  The angels of the Lord are presenting themselves before the Almighty, and Satan also arrives in heaven.

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“Where have you been?” says God.

“Checking things out, wandering around, looking for some mischief.”

God says, “Have you considered Job?  He’s the best of the best, blameless and upright, fears God and shuns evil.”

This disturbs me.  I’d like to avoid the devil and stay as far away from him as I can.  Yet here God is saying to Satan, “Dude, are you bored?  Check out my man Job.”  Why would God do this?

The short answer is, we don’t really know.  No one can truly know the mind of God.  Here’s a few things we do know, however – we know that Romans 8:28 says

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

All things, including what’s about to happen to Job.  How could calamity be considered good?  Well, Job wouldn’t know this of course, but he turned out to be an example for thousands of years of God’s power and absolute control.  That’s good for us to know, even if Job didn’t.

We also know that God promises not to give us more than we can handle.  In 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

God will not permit anything to come into our lives that we are not capable of withstanding.  That doesn’t mean tragedy won’t come our way – only that when it does, we’ll either be able to stand up under it or provide a way out.

Job 1:9-11,

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

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I’m not surprised Satan cops an attitude with God.  Satan says that the only reason Job fears the Lord and is a man of perfect integrity is because God pays Job to be a great guy.  God has built a hedge of protection around Job and blessed Job abundantly.

Have you ever prayed for a hedge of protection?  It’s a good prayer, to protect ourselves from evil.  But this verse shows that the hedge of protection is taken down as easily as it is put up, either by God or by a very aggressive landscaping company, but more importantly, if the hedge of protection is taken down, it may not have anything whatsoever to do with our morality.

Are we shallow Christians that believe that if we are doing God’s will, God will bless us?  That’s what the heresy of the Prosperity Gospel teaches, a “name it and claim it” attitude.  Are we making some sort of bartering agreement with God?  OK God, I mowed my neighbor’s yard this week.  I helped a little old lady across the street.  I said, “God bless you” when somebody sneezed.  Now listen God: you owe me.  That is a shallow Christian that misunderstands the will of God.  We do not do God’s will in order to receive blessings.  We do God’s will so that God may do His will.  We may or may not receive blessings on this earth.  In my experience, we all receive an abundance of blessings that we take for granted, but earthly blessings are fleeting.  God’s blessing to us is His son Jesus, sacrificed for our sins and shortcomings so that we may have life everlasting with our Savior.  That’s our blessing.

And yet, on this earth, God *is* a God of blessings, but He is not *only* a God of blessings.  He’s not some magician we produce at parties to pull a rabbit out of a hat for us.  I’ve heard some people give an excuse for their behavior by saying, “God just wants me to be happy.”  That is not God’s primary desire.  The gift of joy comes from the Lord, but God’s primary goal is for us to bring glory Him, to worship He who created us and to point others to the good news.  We cannot excuse your behavior by saying, “God wants me to be happy.”  When you read about the disaster about to befall Job, can you still say God wants Job to be happy?  No, God wants Job to glorify God.

We also know here that Satan badly misjudges Job, and God is perfectly right and accurate.  Satan believes that if Satan is allowed to wreak havoc in Job’s life that Job will renounce God and curse God to His face.  God knows Job, though, just as He knows you and me.  God will be able to use Job’s calamities for God’s purposes.

Job 1:12,

“The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”  Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.”

What would happened if this exchange was about you?  What if God and Satan were talking about you in heaven?  “Have you considered my servant Michael?  Have you considered my servant Gene?  Have you considered my servant Elizabeth?  Put your own name in the blank.  God knows where you are spiritually, and He promises not to give us more than we can handle, but how would you feel about God talking about you with Satan?

God is sovereign, all powerful.  We like to believe that God is all good and nothing evil comes from Him, but that’s an incomplete picture.  God *is* all good, but He is also sovereign, in charge of everything.  Notice Satan has to ask God’s permission before he is allowed to mess with Job.

The humans in us would like to say God’s answer should be, “Nope, don’t mess with Job, he’s mine.”  We like to think of God and Satan as being the great generals of a massive battle between good and evil, battling it out in the heavens and on earth.  Obi Wan Kanobe versus Darth Vader.  Professor X versus Magneto.  Captain America verses Thanos.  Aslan versus the White Witch.

We think Satan is reeking his havoc on Earth from Hell, but that’s not quite right.  From the book of Job and in 1 Peter 5:8, we know that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, and Revelation 20:10 tells us that Satan will not be cast into the Lake of Fire before Judgment Day.  God isn’t battling Satan, God is sovereign.  God is referred to as “The Almighty” in the book of Job 31 times.  When Satan wants to do evil, he has to ask God’s permission.  This is true in the New Testament, too, by the way.  In Luke 22, the disciples are squabbling over which one of them will be considered the greatest in Heaven, and Jesus rebukes them and tells them to be more concerned about serving.  Then he says in Luke 22:31:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.”

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Look, Satan is asking for permission again.

Does it bother you that God gives permission for suffering?  A big mistake in our Christian walk is to misunderstand what “God is in control” means.  We think that since God is in control, we have a right to expect Him to keep bad things from happening to us.  We want to think that because we want to keep bad things from happening to our friends and family, and if we think that, God should think that.  We are children of God, are we not?  How could God let something bad happen to us or our loved ones if He is in control?

But let me ask you some blunt questions.  Did God have a son?  And did that son suffer?  And did that suffering work for God’s glory?  God does have a plan, God is in control, and it is human folly to think that God’s plan does not include suffering.  As Christians, we know that our suffering will be used by God for His purposes.  We know that it is our response to disappointments in life that makes us stronger in our faith to our almighty God.  The sinner doesn’t have this comfort.  To the sinner, suffering is pointless.  Suffering makes a sinner bitter.  Suffering makes a Christian better.

Let’s see what sort of things we’ve learned so far about God.

Lessons Learned about God:
– God is sovereign over all, good and evil.
– God provides hedges and removes them according to His will.

We’ve learned a few things about Satan during this exchange.  I learned Satan has access to God in Heaven.  I read this exchange and thought, Holy Smoke, how did Satan get in there?  That’s not allowed!  But it’s true, Satan has access to God, and must ask God for permission before he can do evil.  We learn that Satan is evil, but not sovereign over evil.  Satan has to ask God’s permission.

Lessons Learned About Satan
– Satan has access to God’s throne in Heaven.
– Satan has to ask God’s permission before he can touch God’s people

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What happens to Job after this?  Satan may not lay a finger on Job – God set that boundary and Satan must obey – but Satan sends destruction.  Job 13-19, the Sabeans steal the ox and donkeys, then kill all the servants.  Then lightning strikes and kills the sheep, then the Chaldeans steal all the camels, and then a mighty wind collapses his son’s house and kills all of his children.  In a matter of minutes, Job loses everything.  Everything.

Now I know that in this room, we all have tragedies in our lives.  Death.  Divorce.  Pain.  Unemployment.  Why do we have to suffer?  When we’re facing a calamity, the first thing as Christians that we must do is self-reflection.  We must look inside ourselves for unrepentant sin.  The Old Testament is replete with examples of God sending His perfect wrath in order to turn His people away from evil and toward Him.  We’ll never be 100% righteous, but we know when we are sinning and it feels too good to stop.  God will get our attention one way or another.

But what if we’ve examined ourselves for unrepentant sin and find none?  God did not allow Satan to bring harm to Job just to say to Satan, See, I told you.  God’s not trying to prove a point.  God knew Job’s faith was real, and God knew this before he allowed Satan to do what he did.  God’s purposes in allowing suffering are complex and it is not possible to reduce the purpose of suffering to some simple explanation.  But our response to that suffering illustrates our faith.

I know how I have reacted to suffering in my life.  Anger.  Depression.  A mix of both.  Sometimes it’s been directed at God, how could you do this?  How could you let something like this happen?  But let’s see how a faithful man of God reacts, see what he does and does not do.  Job 1:20,

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.  Then he fell to the ground in worship.

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Instead of tearing robes we wear black, but ancient signs of grief included tearing his robe and shaving his head.  It is ok to grieve.  It is ok to cry.  We are commanded to love one another, and I’ve discovered that love means emotional risk.  The loss of love is most certainly a time for grief.  God gave us emotions, and it’s ok to have those emotions.  But Job didn’t stop at the crying and wailing about his calamities.  Job said,

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Job fell to the ground and worshipped God.  An amazing response.  A teachable lesson to me.

As Christians, we can recognize that everything in this life is a gift from God.  Our possessions, sure, but our relationships, our children, our very breath of life.  We came into this world naked, slapped on the bottom by a strange man in a mask.  We come into this world with nothing.  And when we leave, we take nothing with us.  The Lord gives it all to us, and the Lord takes it all away again.  “May the name of the Lord be praised.”  It is easy to praise the name of the Lord when he gives.  When he takes away, can we still praise the name of the Lord?  Are we only thankful for things he gives?  He may have many reasons for taking away, all according to His purpose.  Can we give thanks to God for taking it away?
How do we remain thankful while suffering?  Rather than blame God for what he doesn’t have, Job thanks God for what he does have.  In 1 Thessalonians 16:18, Paul tells us,

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We recognize that it is God’s will for us to be thankful in all circumstances.  Job could thank God because Job realized that everything Job had didn’t belong to Job; it all belonged to God.  God owns everything.  Job had the privilege of managing it for a little while.  And in Job’s careful stewardship and praise, we learn one more thing about God: When Satan attacks, God uses it for His own good and His glory.  Job 1:22,

“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

It’s ok to be angry.  It’s ok to be depressed.  Our emotions are something God gives us.  Job certainly had intense feelings of grief.  But Job did not sin because he didn’t say God was wrong.  He didn’t say God was neglectful.  He didn’t say God has bad intentions.  Through all Job’s grief, he said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job stayed strong.  He didn’t whine, “Why meeeee?”  His character remained that which God approved, even in the midst of suffering.  Job was strong, patient, even resigned.  And Satan must have been disappointed.  Here was a man who loved God more than money, more than his earthly possessions, more than his family.  Job’s relationship with God was not dependent on his circumstances, his position in society, or his stuff.

In Chapter 2, Satan goes back to God and says, “well, ok, so that didn’t work, but you didn’t let me touch him.  He’s still a healthy person.  Let me take away his health.”  I don’t know what this illness was, maybe he had more than one thing.  In chapter 2, we know he has boils from the sole of his foot to the top of his head, and they itch.  In Chapter 7 through 30, we learn that it also includes a haggard appearance, running sores, loss of sleep, depression, severe weight loss, acute pain, darkened and peeling skin, and fever.  Oh, and bad breath.  In verse 7, Job sits down in the ashes of his life and scrapes himself with a piece of broken pottery.  Sort of symbolic, like his life had now become a piece of broken pottery.

His wife was less than helpful.

“Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die already.”

Slide21.JPGBefore we pick on Job’s wife too harshly, let’s remember that she, too, was intensely affected by all of this.  She, too, had lost all of her children, she’s lost any importance she thought she had in the eyes of the community, and her husband is some foul-smelling creature sitting in a garbage dump scraping sores with a piece of pottery.  So Job’s wife was certainly under a lot of stress.   It’s easy to pick on her, but she’s in pain.  Perhaps she thought her own pain would end if Job would just die.  Perhaps she just loved Job and wanted his suffering to end.

Job still didn’t sin; sometimes it’s easier to remain faithful to God when you’re alone, but remaining faithful to God when you’re with others is harder.   Job tells her that she’s talking foolishly, that her faith is not wise enough.

“Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”

We do not always have a choice in our circumstances, but we do have a choice in how we respond.  Job’s wife responded first with her emotions.  Job responded with his faith.

Job’s closest friends were more helpful.  What did they say when Job first lost everything?  Nothing.  When they came to visit, they were shocked, they cried with him, then sat on the ground with him for 7 days and said nothing.  Nothing.  Just sat and grieved.  Sometimes there’s nothing you can say, so there’s no need to try.  Just be there.

III. Conclusion

I want to close with a few examples.  How many here saw the movie “United 93” about the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania because of the terrorist attack of 9/11?  It’s a powerful movie, mostly for what it doesn’t say.  There’s no commentary explaining people’s motives, just a real-time account of people’s actions.  We see the confusion of the people at the FAA, the hysteria of the passengers, the evil of the terrorists bound on killing as many people as they can.

Many of us have heard of Todd Beamer, who uttered the famous, “Let’s roll” during the passenger’s revolt against the terrorists in an attempt to regain control of the airplane.  What a lot of us may not know is Todd Beamer’s family were devoted followers of Christ.  Can you identify with Todd’s wife, Lisa, the grief she must have suffered?  She turned her faith in God into a powerful testimony and wrote a book that encourages people to build their lives on a firm foundation of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Here’s what she wrote about 9/11:

We all have the choice to look at the things we’ve lost or to look at the things we have, to become bitter or to become better, to live in fear or to live in hope.  I’ve chosen to live in hope, not because I’m a strong person but because of the heavenly, eternal perspective that God has given me.  Lately I’ve been trying to look at the bigger picture, to discover what I’m supposed to learn from all this.  Probably the most important truth is that my security must be in God rather than in anything or anyone in this world.
Think about it: the World Trade Center represented economic power, success, and security; yet it was shaken and destroyed in less than an hour. The Pentagon is the symbol of our nation’s military might; yet it, too, proved vulnerable. Where can we find true security these days?

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I have found safety and security in a loving heavenly Father, who cannot be shaken, who will never leave me or forsake me, and in whom I can trust completely. For those looking for hope, I recommend grabbing the hand of your heavenly Father as tightly as possible, like a little child does with his parent. God is a hero who will always be there when you need him.

And Joni Eareckson Tada who has founded a ministry on sharing the gospel and equipping churches with the tools to evangelize and disciple people affected by disabilities.  Joni said that when she gets to heaven she is going to fold up her wheel chair hand it to Jesus and say, “thanks, I needed that.”

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There’s our example.  Thanks, Jesus.  To truly worship you and bring you glory, I needed that.

To God be the Glory.  Amen.

Authority of Scripture

I. Introduction

There are many sources for inspiration.

Inspirational movies, Like Rocky I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X.  Now they’ve changed the names of the movies to Creed and started over at I.  But the story of a man overcoming all odds to become a winner is inspirational.

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And “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  I watch this every Christmas, the story of a man who feels he has nothing left to live for finds his life worth living in the lives of everyone around him.  I’m not convinced the theological message of angels and their wings, though.  Great story, inspirational.

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There are inspirational books, like “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”.  I love the subtitle, “and it’s all small stuff.”

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Inspirational people like Nick Vujicic.  He was here at Second a few years back.  He’s an Australian man born with Tetra-amelia syndrome, is missing all four limbs and has only 2 small toes protruding from his left thigh.  He graduated at the age of 21 with a double major in Accounting and Financial Planning, he surfs, swims, plays golf and soccer.  And when he’s done describing how wonderful his life is, I remember him asking the audience, “the crazy thing is that you’re sitting in your seats envious of me.  I’m happy; why aren’t you?”

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But the bible is different.  I get more out of a single paragraph from Paul than I do from all the “Harry Potter” movies combined.  And do you know why?  Because the bible isn’t just an inspirational book of sayings.  It’s the very inspired word of God.

II. Inspirational Word of God

Let’s spend some time in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 and see what the bible says about the bible,

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and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

One paragraph from Paul.  If you spend enough time in the bible, the evidence of God’s inspiration is amazing. There’s just nothing else like Scripture in all of literature, in movies, in reality TV. A heart tuned in to God will find inspiration in Scripture that can’t be found anywhere else.

Beginning next week, Second Baptist will start a 52 week series on a chronological study of the Bible. We’ll go through the fourteen eras of the Bible in our quest to understand the overall scope of Scripture like never before.  We will see how God’s plan is rolled out, how man rebelled, how God’s love overcomes God’s perfect justice, and how the End of Days gives final victory of God over evil and life forever with our savior.

I’m looking forward to every bit of it.  Well, with the possible exception of Exodus.  I like the story of how God rescued Israel, but man, that Moses was a basket case.

If you don’t think that was funny, you’re in da Nile.

But before we begin that series of lessons, let’s look this week at how important, helpful, and useful Bible knowledge is.

III. Background

Paul is writing to Timothy at a time when wayward elders and teachers have been deceived and are deceiving others, even to the point of abandoning the truth.  Some of these leaders are twisting the truth for their own ends, teaching false doctrine, and worse, leading others astray.  Those who seek to follow Jesus must remember to keep their eyes on Jesus, and not be distracted.  I think of one of Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter.

I like Peter, probably because he was such a mess.  One minute incredibly devout and trusting, and then the next minute doing some sort of bone-headed move.  Reminds me of me.  Anyway, in Matthew 14, Jesus had just heard about his friend John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod and then beheaded.  Jesus withdrew to a secluded place by Himself, but a huge crowd followed him.  Jesus had compassion, healed the sick, fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish.  He must have been exhausted and sent his disciples into a boat while Jesus went up on a mountain to pray.  When it was dark, the boat was offshore, and Jesus walked across the water.  And all the disciples were like, “Aiieee!  A ghost!”

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Here’s why I like Peter – he said to Jesus, “Lord, command me to come to you on the water,” and then Peter, too walked on the water.  What incredible faith and trust.  But then Peter started looking around, saw the waves, he got frightened, he began to sink, and cried out, “Lord save me!”

Focusing on Jesus gives us the power of the Holy Spirit living with in us.  Taking our eyes off Jesus sinks us.  That’s what Paul was telling Timothy about the false teachers, Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:18-19,

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.

Focusing on Jesus we can walk on water, fight the good fight.  Anything else is a shipwreck.  It makes a shipwreck of our own faith and the faith of others.  Paul tells Timothy to oppose heresy by remaining faithful to what he has learned, both verbally from Paul and from the written Scriptures.

When I was a new Christian, it took a while for me to get pointed in the right direction.  I went to several churches with incomplete doctrines and light Christianity. One of my weirdest experiences was at a church where one of the members told me that the bible had a secret code in it that foretold Martin Luther King’s assassination, the twin towers of 9/11.  You just needed a computer to find the hidden patterns.

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Of course, it’s a bunch of hogwash.  The Bible is not to be read to discover “magical number formulas,” hidden scientific discoveries, or as an answer book for every question about the world or God that we might have. The Bible doesn’t tell us all we want to know, but it does tell us all we need to know. The main objective of scripture is to tell the story of God and his people – where we came from, who God is, what went wrong, and how God is setting everything right through Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Bible invites us to join this story by becoming “saved” – people who accept God’s truth in Scripture, people who respond as He asks us to respond, and people who live to proclaim His truth to others.

When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy,

and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Paul presents two central truths about Scripture: its origin and its purpose.

  1. Scripture’s origin is nothing less than the mind of God himself.  God did not “dictate” Scripture in most cases.  There are a couple examples in the Old Testament when God told a prophet to write something down verbatim; also, the original Ten Commandments were written by God’s own finger, but God primarily worked through humans to breathe out truth, instruction, warning, and encouragement.  Scripture’s ultimate author, therefore, isn’t an inspired individual; it’s the Holy Spirit working through different people over the centuries to proclaim one story that tells one truth.
  2. Scripture’s purpose is to teach us truths that ultimately result in salvation and to show us how to live righteous lives.

When Paul says that the Scriptures are useful to make us wise for salvation, this tells us the Bible’s first purpose isn’t history – although the bible is historically accurate.  The bible’s first purpose isn’t science – although the bible does present truth without contradicting known scientific facts.  The bible’s first purpose isn’t a series of object lessons or proverbs or parables.  The purpose of the bible is to show the way to salvation and help us live lives that are pleasing to God.

IV. “All Scripture”

What does Paul mean by “all Scripture?” How can we be sure he’s referring to what we call “the Bible” today?

Let’s just try the two words, “all scripture.”  What does “all” mean?  It means “all”.  Not “some,” not “most.”  Not “the majority” or “the parts I like.”  I might be going out on a limb here, but I believe “all” means “all.”  That includes both Old and New Testaments.
Paul encourages Timothy to receive and stay true first to the teachings of what we today call the Old Testament.  In Romans 3:2, Paul refers to the Old Testament this way,

First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

Paul refers to Old Testament writing as “the very words of God.”  God’s word was relevant to the Jews, but it also means they are relevant for Christians today.

In this same letter of 2 Timothy, Paul reminds Timothy that Timothy learned doctrine from Paul himself and from the other apostles, so it’s also clear that Timothy would understand the word “scripture” to include select writings from Paul and the other apostles.

There are other reasons to consider the New Testament writings as part of scripture, including:

  • Colossians 4:16,

    After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

    Paul tells Timothy to read his letters in public worship, alongside the Old Testament.  Paul says the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 5:27.

  • 1 Timothy 5:17-18,

    The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.  For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

    Here, Paul intermixes Old Testament and New Testament.  The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25:4, the 2nd quote is from Jesus in Luke 10:7.  Paul calls both of them “scripture.”

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13,

    When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

    Paul claims divine inspiration, one who speaks the very words of God.

  • And similarly, Paul tells the Corinthians his words aren’t taught by human wisdom but by the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:12-13,

    What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

    This is a direct claim to inspiration by God, which is a distinctive characteristic of Scripture.

  • Even Peter refers to Paul’s letters as “scripture” in 2 Peter 3:15-16,

    Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

    There’s that shipwreck again when one doesn’t focus on the truth of Jesus.  And Peter also says in 2 Peter 1:21,

    For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

V. Historical Acceptance

It is sometimes taught by the secular world that there wasn’t a “Bible” as we know it until several centuries after the death of the apostles.  But what does history teach us about the early church and the acceptance of the bible?

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Clement was Bishop of Rome from 88AD till his death in 99AD; you can tell from this photograph that cell phone cameras were not very advanced back then.  The apostle John is thought to have died in 100 A.D.  During John’s lifetime, Clement reveals that he is very familiar with Matthew, Mark, Luke, the letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, Timothy, Titus, and 1 John. These were treated by Clement as authoritative Scripture while the last apostle John was still alive, and clearly John would have spoken up if he disagreed.  Clearly the early church accepted these letters and writings as authoritative truth from God.

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Marcion was excommunicated in 144 AD for teaching there was no connection between the Old and New Testaments, meaning the early church already saw this as heresy, so the early church also accepted the authority of the New Testament.

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Polycarp, who lived from 69 to 156 AD was a direct disciple of the Apostle John, and Polycarp referred to Old and New Testament books as “Scripture.”

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The early church had recognized the 27 New Testament books as canon by AD 200, though it’s not likely they were collected as one volume, even though the individual books were regularly referred to as authoritative. They were already being translated into many languages, demonstrating their value, and Origen of Alexandria in approximately 220AD began writing commentaries on them.

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By 367AD, the canon of the New Testament – including the same 27 books affirmed 150 years prior – were officially gathered and recognized as authoritative by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in the East, and the Council of Carthage in the West.  This council didn’t grant new authority to the books we now think of as Scripture as much as it denied authority to other books not considered inspired, affirming the long-held view that there is something distinct about the New Testament books that make up the “canon.” All the books recognized in 367 had been used, studied, and treated as Scripture from the time of the early apostles.  It’s an important distinction to note that the canon was not created in 367AD.  It was rather closed, definitively so.

We can, with confidence, state that Paul’s assertions about the origin of Scripture refer to all the books that Christians today call the Old and New Testaments.

VI. God-Breathed

So when Paul tells Timothy that all of scripture – remember what “all” means?  All of scripture is “God-breathed,” what does “God-breathed” mean?

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Some translations use the word “inspired” instead of “God-breathed” which is more or less accurate, but the original Greek work packs a lot more meaning into it.  The word is “theopneustos,” “θεόπνευστος,” and literally means “divinely breathed by God.”  God spoke His Word to us with purpose for us.

Paul isn’t claiming that there is simply something exceptional about Scripture.  He goes much further than this, Paul claims that scripture is the very breath of God. As B.B. Warfield once wrote, the Bible isn’t so much “in-spired” as it is “ex-pired.”

“God-breathed” does not mean dictation, as if God somehow “possessed” the biblical writers and wrote through them.  When scripture is read in their original languages, the biblical writings clearly display that each writer has different levels of education, style and personality. But God oversaw what they were writing to supernaturally produce completely reliable truth.

VII. Scripture’s Use

2 Timothy 3:16 offers four purposes of Scripture with two positives and two negatives.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

The first two pairs of purposes are “teaching” and “rebuking.”  This refers to Scripture as the final authority on doctrinal truth.  The positive angle, teaching, proclaims Scripture’s usefulness to tell us what is true and what we need to know. The negative angle, rebuking, speaks of what is in error and what must be rejected, so that we believe the right things and reject everything that is false.

The second pair of positive and negative purposes, “correcting” and “training”, refers not to what we believe, but to how we should live. 2 Timothy 3:16 is the only place in the New Testament when the word that is translated “correction” is used; outside the Bible, the Greek word typically refers to helping get someone who has fallen back on their feet.  So the spirit behind the action isn’t to simply condemn people for committing these acts, but to help people get back on the right path.  The negative “correcting” refers to Scripture’s role in moving us away from harmful, sinful, God-dishonoring actions, such as the lists found in Colossians 3:5 and 8:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

The positive “training in righteousness” refers to Scripture’s many admonitions about how to live, such as the list found in Colossians 3:12-13:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Notice that both doctrine and life matter, both thoughts and actions.  Belief alone is not enough.  Consider James 2:19,

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

Clearly Satan believes the right things about God, but Satan’s actions are certainly displeasing to God.  Correct beliefs are not enough.

On the other hand, if we live a “good” life that resembles how Scripture calls us to live but believe lies about God, such as believing that salvation can be gained through anyone other than Jesus, we are also in error.  Salvation is obtained only through trusting in the perfect sacrifice in our savior to pay the price for our sins.  I have met some truly wonderful people over the years with such a wonderful, encouraging, helpful attitude, but have no interest in trusting Jesus.  Our life and our beliefs work together, as Paul tells Timothy directly in 1 Timothy 4:16:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Then, continuing in 2 Timothy 3:17,

So that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The “servant of God,” or in the Greek anthrōpos theos (ἄνθρωπος θεός), means the “one who belongs to God.”  It’s a title of endearment.  We are God’s treasured possessions.

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This means we cannot expect nonbelievers to accept this book or to try to follow its rules just because the Bible tells them to.  The Bible is a love letter to those who love God; it’s not a book of verbal hand grenades to toss at people who don’t yet believe.  If someone doesn’t accept Jesus, obeying the Bible won’t save them.  They need to come to Jesus first, and obey second.

However, Scripture is powerful enough that when it is read correctly and appropriately, it can draw others into a life of faith.  Consider Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

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My wife recently had shoulder surgery; she had some damaged cartilage and a torn rotator cuff.  The doctor would have used a sharp scalpel to cut out the damaged tissue in order to repair the shoulder.  The bible is sharper than a scalpel and helps us cut out the sin and damaged life so that as “servants of God,” God’s treasured people, we can be

Thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I recently read this story in the news, but it’s been around for awhile.

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The Oakland Raiders used their first round draft pick of 2007 to select JaMarcus Russell, a 6’-6”, 265lb quarterback.  In the NFL, he was a mediocre player; coaches suspected he wasn’t preparing for the games like he should.  The coaches sent him home with some blank videotapes, and the next day asked him what he had studied on the tapes.  JaMarcus answered, “blitz packages.”

As Christians, disciples of Jesus, ones who belong to God, we should study the game tapes.

VIII. Conclusion

Scripture gives us everything we need to be thoroughly equipped.  If we read them, meditate on them, listen to them, ask God to enlighten us through them, and then apply them, we won’t be lacking for anything when it’s “game day.” We’ll be thoroughly prepared and have all the wisdom and truth we need as parents, friends, teachers, and workers on behalf of Jesus Christ.

Our Scripture is the very Word of God.  John 1:1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

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Hope

I. Introduction

We are continuing our special series of bible studies on Advent, and this week we are going to study Hope.
I sort of felt like I made a mistake this week studying.  I loved Chris’ lesson on Joy last week.  Chris told us he relied heavily on Brad’s lesson, and he was teaching a lesson that was not his own.  And it was a powerful, well-delivered lesson.
• December 2, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 1 – Joy
• December 9, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 2- Hope
• December 16, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 3 – Faith
• December 23, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 4 – Love
• December 30, 2018 – The Authority of Scripture
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But I had already started studying Hope, and I realized after Chris’s lesson that I wasn’t on the same page.  My lesson was supposed to be about Hope, but also to bridge the gap from the 3 Eras Christ taught in the Creation Era, Patriarch Era, and Exodus Era, and continue through the Conquest Era, Kingdom Era, and Judges Era. 
By the time I figured out my error (not Era, but error), I was sort of stuck between several possibilities.  I could throw away the half-lesson I had partially finished and teach what Brad had prepared.  I could just try to blend the two of them together into a single 90-minute lessons, but then I was certain I’d have to bring lunch for everybody.
I took the 3rd option.  I kept what I had studied, brought in the Conquest Era, ignored the Kingdom and Judges Era in the interest of finishing our bible study in under two hours, and then wrapped up with my original lesson.
Funny thing about trying to teach God’s word.  They only way I know if it pleases the Lord is if the words pour out of me into the page easily.  I pray I’m bringing Him glory and honor with my hodgepodge of blended lessons, but I honestly feel this was the lesson given to me this week, so I also pray you will find the lesson revealing and brings a message from God to you.  And next time I teach, I promise to do a better job of sticking to the agenda. 
So, now we know Michael went off the reservation.  Next week, Theresa will be teaching about “Faith,” and I expect she and I will talk about many of the same things.   Theresa, since I forgot to talk about the Kingdom and Judges Era, feel free to cover them for me.
So, my first question when I started studying while off the reservation is, “what is the difference between hope and faith?”

II. Faith vs Hope

That’s wasn’t easy for me to answer.  I mean, try out these two phrases –
• I have hope the Texans will win this weekend.
• I have faith the Texans will win this weekend.
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What will be difficult about today’s lesson is that, over the centuries, the English language has completely obliterated the difference between “hope” and “faith.”  And what I’ve discovered is that in many bible translations, even the translations often exchange the words “hope,” “faith,” and even the word “trust.”
So today, we are going to take a closer look at the word “hope” and see if we can understand and apply it to our lives in the way meant in the original scripture.  Let’s start with 1 Corinthians 13:13 –
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Clearly “faith” and “hope” are different things since both words are used here, but again, we’re trying to get away from the English connotations of these words and get back to the original meaning.  Here’s the same verse in the original Greek,
νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις ἐλπίς ἀγάπη τὰ τρία ταῦτα μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη
The word “faith” is translated from the Greek, πίστις pístis, which means assurance, belief, believe, faith, fidelity.  The word “hope” is translated from the Greek confidence, ἐλπίς elpís, to anticipate, usually with pleasure.
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What I found interesting when I was researching “faith, ἐλπίς elpís” is that it’s not always a good thing.  In James 2:19, scripture says,
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
The word for “believe” is πιστεύω pisteúō, the same root word translated as “faith” in 1 Corinthians 13.  In this context we can see pisteúō faith is confidence, but not the kind of “pisteúō faith that brings joy.
So “faith,” “hope,” “trust,” and “belief” are all very closely related.  And I’m going to stop with the study of “faith” now because that’s really next week’s lesson, and instead focus on hope, a confident and joyful expectation of things to come.

III. Hope is Not Wishful Thinking

Let me return to an earlier example –
• I hope the Texans will win this weekend.
• I hope you have a good day.
• I hope it doesn’t rain.
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That may be good English, but it’s lousy Greek.  Over the centuries, the English version of “hope” is just wishful thinking.  To desire something.  But no real assurance, just unfounded optimism.  Compare that to –

• I hope my boss will pay me Friday.
• I hope the sun will come up tomorrow.
• I hope Christmas is coming.
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Will I get paid Friday?  Sure.  Based on the fact Friday is payday and there is history that I get paid on Friday, I have a confident and joyful expectation the same will happen on Friday.  I have a confident and joyful expectation the sun will rise tomorrow, I’ve seen it in the past and it’s never failed.  My entire life, Christmas has come on December 25, and I have a confident and joyful expectation that it will happen again this December 25.
A Christian’s definition of hope is far superior to the world’s definition of hope.  Our hope is based on the promises of God and those promises will be fulfilled because they are a promise.  God never lies.  Hebrews 6:18 says in part –
…it is impossible for God to lie…
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So if God says it, by definition it must be truth.  We can trust in it, believe in it, have hope in it.

IV. Biblical Hope

The hope of Christians is found in a study of God’s Word to see a glimpse of God’s grand plan and how we fit into it.  When we begin to understand God’s plan, we see promises He’s already fulfilled, giving us faith that He will fulfill all His promises, including all promises He’s already given to us.  When we know God will fulfill His promises, we have confidence and joyful expectation for His plans for us.  We have hope.
Let’s look at Romans 8 for a while to see how Paul taught us about this hope, beginning in verse 22 through 25 –
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
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Biblical hope is the joyful expectation of the future that we cannot yet see.  It encourages us to look to the future instead of today, and to place our heart on heavenly things instead of earthly things that perish.
I think this describes hope and God’s purpose for hope very clear.  Is there a tangible or material thing you’ve longed for?  You saved for a car, some jewelry, a house or apartment?  I discovered I like wanting things more than I like having things.
A few years back, I had worked a lot of overtime in single year and saved a nice little down payment for an SUV I wanted.  I’m an engineer, so first I made a spreadsheet, listed all the pros and cons, and finally whittled it down to a specific model.  One of the key features I wanted was a diesel engine.
You know why?  A co-worker bought a diesel and told me something interesting I didn’t know:  Diesel engines go 50% further than gasoline engines.  If your car gets 300 miles on a tank of gas, the exact same car would get 450 miles on a tank of diesel.
That means instead of filling up at the gas station every 10 days, I’d only have to go every 15 days.  Over a year, instead of 36 visits to the gas station, I’d only have to go 20.  I had to have a diesel.
So armed with all this spreadsheet information, I went to the dealer to go buy a diesel SUV.  And he said, “We don’t have any diesel SUVs.  But we can order one for you.  It’ll be 8 weeks.”
So I put my deposit down and waited and waited and waited.  And waited.  I was going to have the best diesel SUV on the planet.  And when the day finally came, I excitedly went to the dealership and drove off in my shiny new diesel SUV.  The thrill of having a new car lasted nearly 8 weeks until somebody ran a shopping cart into the passenger side door.  And then I started wondering what kind of SUV I was going to get to replace it.
I realized I enjoyed the anticipation, the waiting, the hoping for the arrival of something new.  And I realized that’s how God wants us to live.  This verse says
But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
I believe that every Christian goes through tough times.  What sustains us?  What keeps us from becoming mired down in depression and darkness because this world has dished up something cruel and cold to us today?  Hope.  Hope, joyful confidence and anticipation that God has something better for us in the works.   Romans 8:28 and 8:31 says,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
God has a plan, and He is invincible.  If I am a child of God, He is with me, and no enemy shall ever prevail.  God tells me in Jeremiah 29:11,
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
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God gives me hope.


V. Hope of the Resurrection

Whatever this world throws at me, I have hope for a future because Jesus is not just my Lord, but my Savior.  He rescued me from death and gave me eternal life.  He proved He defeated death by His resurrection, and appeared to hundreds of people.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 –
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;  then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
The early church suffered some horrendous persecution, but Peter reminded us that Christ proved who He was by fulfilling scripture, His death and resurrection, and that Christ our Savior died to save us.  Us!  He is coming back for us to gives us that hope and a future we so eagerly desire.  1 Peter 1:3-5,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
That’s our hope.  God has reserved a place in heaven for those who place their trust in Christ Jesus, and that reservation in heaven for us is protected by the very power of God.

VI. Hope in God

The world has a different definition of hope.  “I hope you have a nice day.”  But the world is without the hope Christians have.
Sometimes I wonder about people that have placed their hope elsewhere.  I don’t know much about the eastern religions – I don’t know where Buddhists or Hindus et their hope.  In the case of reincarnation, maybe they just have hope it’ll be better next time around.  But we know we have one life to live and then we appear before our Maker to explain how we used this life.
There are atheists.  I suppose they have hope in this life, but I’ve never met an atheist that expressed hope for the future.  Their hope is in this life.  And when health issues or money issues or relationship issues come into their lives, where is their hope?  This life, at best, has temporary blessings, but eventually moths and rust destroy everything in this life.  And eternity?  In the future of the atheist, the best that they can hope for is… nothing.  They hope nothing happens, there is no eternal judgement for sins.
And I know people who think they are Christians without hope.  Yes, there are people who think they are Christians.  Look at this survey –
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Although it varies by age, only 2/3rds of Christians “who have made a personal commitment to Jesus”, believe they will go to heaven. 
Their hope is somewhere other than the promises of God.  Perhaps if they refrain from cussing, God will think they’re good enough to go to heaven.  Or maybe if they refrain from road rage.  Or they give to the Red Cross.  Or they toss their spare change in the Salvation Army bucket.  They are trusting in their own works instead of Jesus who did it all for us.  And if we trust in own works, how can we ever be sure our works are enough?  But if our hope, our joyful expectation is in God’s works and the fulfillment of His promises, well, God’s works are always enough.  His grace is always sufficient.

VII. Hope Through the Ages

Through the Ages, God’s plan has always been our joyful expectation that we trust in the Lord.  Last week Chris brought us the message of Joy, God bringing Light to a dark work, using stars to provide a promise to Abraham that would be passed on to Isaac which was passed on to Jacob and all generations to follow.
When times are tough, trusting in God’s promises yet to come bring us joy.  At the end of the Exodus Era, God provided light to Moses in the form of a burning bush.  Among many promises given to the people of Israel was hope in a new land.  But as we enter the Conquest Era, the Israelites find that before they could enter the Promised Land, there were difficulties ahead.  Moses had brought them so far, but when Moses died, a new leader arose to complete the Journey.  The promises of God can be found in the story of this new leader, Joshua, in Joshua 1:1-4 –
Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.  Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.
Joshua’s people had joy, but not in their present circumstances.  Their joy was in the confident expectation of God’s promises fulfilled.  In the present they had difficulties – the land promised to the Israelites were occupied by people who did not believe in God and they didn’t like the people who did.  But God gave them a promise for the future in Joshua 1:5-9 –
Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Hope begins when we realize victory is in the Lord’s hands, not ours. Joshua realized he could not conquer the people occupying the land of promise based on his own skills and abilities.  However, victory is in the Lord.  To be in the Lord, Joshua realized meant he needed
  • to be connected to God through scripture (vs. 8a, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night…”)
  • to be obedient to what scripture says (vs. 8b, “so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it”)
  • to live a life of hope which is exhibited by being strong and courageous (vs.6, 7, 9, “be strong and courageous”)
God used Joshua to sneak into the land to spy to see what they were up against.  They met a prostitute named Rahab, who helped the spies and kept them safe by using a signal of a scarlet colored rope hanging from her window.  When the spies returned to Joshua after receiving the help from Rahab they had news for him.  Joshua 2:24,
They said to Joshua, “Surely the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.”
God’s promises were now a reality. The hope they placed in God led to joy, because God always fulfills His promises.

VIII. Christmas is Hope

We approach the Christmas season, and the celebration of the birth of our Savior gives us hope, joy in the promises we are certain will be fulfilled.  The hope we have is confident, the hope we have is joyous, the hope we have strengthens our faith. 
Over the Eras, God made numerous promises about sending a savior for us, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  The savior would be a man, born of a virgin woman, who will crush Satan and his power.  He would be a Jew, son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He would be the son of David.  He would be born in Bethlehem.  And in Matthew 1:1-16 we see 14 generations leading up to the Messiah,
The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.  Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.  Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon.  Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.  Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.  Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa.  Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah.  Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.  Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah.  Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel.  Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor.  Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud.  Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob.  Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
God’s delivery of our Savior was centuries in the making, but God is faithful and never forgets his promises.  We can see in the lineage Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.  We can even see  Rahab, the prostitute from the Conquest Era, in the lineage, both showing us the magnitude of the sins that can be forgiven and the reminder that God’s plan has always been for us to have Hope in Him.
God keeps His promises and uses very flawed people like Rahab, like you, like me, to accomplish His purposes.  He uses imperfect people because that’s all He has to work with.  In the end, the only name in this genealogy that matters is Jesus.
And in the end, in the future, the only name that matter is Jesus.  This world would be a very dark place without our future hope of our Redeemer.  But one day Jesus will return, and sin will be eliminated, and Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer will be eliminated.  Death itself will be destroyed, and Jesus Himself will wipe away every tear.  Our present hope is in our future glory in Christ Jesus.
During my study, I came across a study of a painting called “Adoration of t by the Dutch artist Rembrandt.  It was painted in 1646, and it’s a very dark painting, imagining a night scene inside a barn as the shepherds gather round to see the newborn king.
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The dark tones encourage the viewer to slow down and study the images carefully.  The savior is in the middle, in a manger.  Mary is there, Joseph is there, and the shepherds are gazing with love at the birth of their savior, announced by the angelic choir and heavenly hosts.  In the back is an old wooden ladder leaning a crossbeam, and it takes a moment to realize the ladder and crossbeam make the outline of a cross.  Even in this joyous moment, the cross looms over the baby Jesus.  The description I read about the painting then says,
“But the most significant feature is the light. Unlike other Renaissance artists, Rembrandt didn’t paint Jesus as an angel with a halo. He is a very normal, very human baby. All is dark in the painting except for the baby in the manger. The light isn’t shining on the baby; it’s shining out from him. This was Rembrandt’s way of saying that all hope and light shines from the manger, lighting up a darkened world.”
All of our hope, perfect grace and salvation for all of us, in a humble manger.
IX. Conclusion
Hope conquered fear and hate 2000 years ago at Bethlehem.  To receive that hope, like the shepherds did, we must come to Bethlehem and bow before the newborn King.  Hope is freely given to those who humble themselves and bow in faith before the Lord Jesus Christ.
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
Hope is Born.
To God be the Glory.  Amen.

With Submission

I. Introduction

I’m going to share a something I’ve learned about my own spiritual growth. I have a lot of spiritual shortcomings, and I hope I’m growing in Christ a little more every year. But I’ve learned a little, only a little, about our wants and desires.

When I first became a Christian, I can’t describe the excitement I felt about belonging to Jesus for the first time. But while I may have been enthusiastic, I wasn’t very knowledgeable. If fact, one of the greatest impediments I had was just understanding how much I didn’t understand.

I had wants and desires, and I thought somehow that being a Christian, signing up for God’s team, meant God was on my side. Whatever my wants and desires were, He would fight for me. The bible told me I would be able to move mountains if I just had enough faith.

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It took me years to begin to understand that becoming a Christian didn’t turn me into some sort of religious superhero, able to leap tall buildings and move mountains with my new faith.

It is true that God will fight for me. But God really wants to fight through me to accomplish His will. When I get distracted by my own desires, God patiently waits for me to align with His desires. Not my own desires.

What are my desires? Who knows what hedonism is? According to dictionary.com, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; or, devotion to pleasure as a way of life.”

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What I found interesting is that when you lookup the word “hedonism” on dictionary.com, you also get advertisements. “Come to Hedonism Resorts of Jamaica! Book Today!” “Enjoy Tampa Bay’s Luxurious Adult Only Resort, Book Today!”

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Hedonism is essentially a love of the world and all the things in it. We want the latest iPhone, we want a better car, we want hot stone massages, we want the thickest, juiciest steak, we want to look young forever, we want designer clothing, jewelry, babies, marriage, we want, we want, we want.

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Was it just last month they had that lotto drawing worth $1.6 billion? With $1.6 billion, you can sure buy a lot of lotto tickets. Did anybody here daydream about what they would do with $1.6 billion? I know I did. I even enjoyed daydreaming about what I’d do with the winnings, and I didn’t have to pay a dollar to do it. I daydreamed for free.

What we’re going to study today in James 4 is that this spirit of longing has been placed there by our Creator, but the object of our longing is misdirected. Hedonism is rampant in the “keep up with the Jones'” world, but it also exists in Christians. It’s the battle of the flesh we all face, and a battle that we learn to fight as we grow in Christ. We learn that it’s not through our own strength that the successful battle is fought, but by learning to trust God and leaning on Him and relying on the Holy Spirit to fight the battle through us.

God wants us to long for Him. Longing for worldly things is the source of trouble and argument and is in opposition to the longing that God wants us to learn.

II. James 4:1-3, The Pleasures of the World

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I read a story about an argument in an old tribal village. Two men had completely different opinions and they could not resolve their differences. They decided to see the village elder who was very wise and they believed could see through the problem. The first man visited the village elder, told his side of the story, what had happened, and why the other man was wrong. When he finished, the elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

The next night, the second man visited the village elder and explained his side of the story. When he finished, the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.” When the second man left, the village elder’s wife said, “What’s wrong with you? Those two men told two completely different stories, and you agreed with both of them. They both can’t be right!” And the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

When did you last have an argument with a friend? What was the cause of the argument? Our relationships with each other are how we demonstrate the love of Christ within us, and Christ values our relationships highly. In fact, Christ values our relationships far more than He values our tithes and offerings. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says,

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

The first problem with hedonism and selfish desires among Christians is the strife it causes among the church body. According to James, fights break out when selfish pleasures motivate us. The NIV says “your pleasures,” King James says “your lusts,” but the Greek word is ἡδονή (hēdonē), the root word for “hedonism,” selfish pleasures. Sometimes, we don’t even realize our own hedonism, but it’s expressed through our frustration in not getting our own way. It may be related to power, prestige, position, dominance, financial gain. We just want our own way.

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This hedonistic desire is not a one-off event; hedonism describes a lifestyle of living selfishly. The result is that our prayer life suffers. Verse 3 says, “we ask with wrong motives.” The Greek word for “wrong” is usually translated “miserable, to be ill.” It implies a sickly prayer life. When hedonistic attitudes dominate our spirit, we go to God with a sickly attitude and pray for the wrong things.

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III. James 4:4-6, Our God is a Jealous God

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Our God is a jealous God. He made this clear all the way back in Exodus 20:5 when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, one of the first words were,

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

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There are many ways to misunderstand God’s jealousy. Oprah famously rejected orthodox Christianity when she said that God was jealous of her. She said, well, let’s just hear it from her:

But God is not jealous of Oprah. That’s a complete misunderstanding of God’s desire for us. God is jealous *for* Oprah. God is pure and holy and wants the best for us, especially encouraging us to find our heart’s desire in Him, not someplace else. There is a place for sanctified jealousy and it revolves around broken holy covenants. A wife can be jealous if her husband’s affections are not for her. Likewise, if our affections are not for God, God is jealous. There is no other worthy object for our affection other than God; the jealousy of God wants us to desire what is best, which is Him.

The scripture here in James 4 implies that God himself placed a spirit of envy within us, a deep spiritual longing.

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

Part of growing up in faith is recognizing when our longing is misplaced and focused on worldly, hedonistic things, and turning from worldly things and turning to a deep spiritual longing for God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-24 not to store up treasure on earth, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also. We cannot serve two masters. James tells us that God considers our love of worldly things to be spiritual adultery, trying to love two competing things. What did it say in Exodus 20:5?

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

God created us with the ability to love Him, and He also gives us the ability to choose whether to love Him. Our fights among ourselves and our sickly prayers are based on love of the things of this world and not the love for Him. Can we recognize that the worldly things we covet are themselves created by God? That we covet the creation instead of the Creator?

This can be a difficult thing to learn and practice. Aligning our spirit with God’s spirit takes a lifetime of practice. We will mess up, our own ego will cause us to trip. But God gives grace to us to those that humble themselves before the Lord.

James talks about “friendship with the world.” In reality, most of us have only a few close friends. To develop a friendship takes time and sacrifice for the one we wish to know better. How much time do we spend being friends with the world? Spending time on Facebook or Instagram or Spotify? And how much time do we spend being friends of God? Being a friend of God takes time, there are no shortcuts. And when we spend our precious time on worldly things, our love of selfish pleasures spurs our God to jealousy.

IV. James 4:7-10, Draw Near to God

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

There are several commands in a row – boom, boom, boom – in avoiding the attitude of hedonism.

1. Submit yourselves to God. We must recognize that God alone is worthy of honor and praise. How could we be fooled into offering praise and worship to things? We are urged not just to place our faith in the Lord, but to submit to His authority. In other words, do the Lord’s will. Learn and study, then apply.

2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit to the Lord and resist the devil, it is an awesome combination. The devil will flee from such opposition. I have noticed that when I am tempted by sin, the best defense is a good offense. It is difficult to sin while praying. Pray. Pray without ceasing.

3. Come near to God and he will come near to you. This involves praise and worship, recognizing God as our only sovereign Lord. As we seek Him, He will make more of Himself known to us.

4. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The wording here reflects the language of a religious ceremony and reflects the words in Psalm 24:3-4, admonishing us to have clean hands and a pure heart. Notice the words apply to both the outside and the inside. Our hands should not be involved in evil actions and compromises. Sometimes it’s easier to have a pure heart but our hands are dirty doing ungodly things. Perhaps that is why James calls us double-minded when we say one thing but do another. Remember Paul, and how he sang songs in prison because he knew he was doing the Lord’s work? And out of prison, he noted that he did not do what he wanted to do, and did do what he didn’t want to do. And then he cried, “oh what a wretched man I am!”

5. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Is James telling us that perhaps all Christians ought to be miserable? Or perhaps not. In context with the rest of the verse, James is again warning against hedonism. Materialism is fun. Who doesn’t like to shop? Who doesn’t like to have fun? James isn’t telling us to be miserable creatures, but what he is doing us is reminding us that if we are neglecting God and finding sin fun, then we ought to examine ourselves more carefully. If we find ourselves in sin, it’s not a cause for celebration. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and it’s cause for serious contemplation instead.

6. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. When we are prideful, God will cause us to stumble. And when we are humble, God will lift us up. When we believe that on our own that we are good, decent people, we take pride in ourselves. On our own, though, we are nothing. It is through grace of our Lord that we are sons and daughters, not through our own actions.

V. James 4:11-12, Do Not Judge Others

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James reminds us that the Word of God is for us to learn and apply to ourselves. We are not the judge of whether a brother or a sister has the proper heart for God, that role is reserved for God and God alone. If I see a brother driving a brand new Tesla, a sister wearing new diamond earrings, my initial reaction might be hedonistic – I want one of those, too. Or my response may be the opposite; “well, I certainly wouldn’t spend my money on that. He shouldn’t either.” The proper spiritual response is not to covet something worldly, but James warns against going too far in the opposite direction. Our job in the spiritual growth of others around us is to encourage them in truth and love, not to judge them and speak ill of them.

VI. James 4:13-17, Who’s In Charge of Your Life?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

I am particularly guilty of this, and something I’ve struggled with all my life. I go when and where I want to go, and then I attempt to drag God along behind me. My actions in and of themselves may not have been wrong, but my heart satisfied my own desires, and then I expect prayer and worship to cover my attitude. I spent most of my life living that bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot.”

 

Slide27.JPGAnd then one day, I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat.

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We do not know the future. We do not know if God will present an opportunity to us or whether tomorrow holds a catastrophe. Our attitude, though, should be one of seeking the Lord’s will and depending on Him, not one of self-sufficiency.

A hedonistic lifestyle says that we are in charge of our own lifestyle. We make the plans, we execute the plans, we reap the rewards of our own plans. I can’t tell you how many advertisements I see on television that include the phrase, “go ahead, you deserve this.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to receive what I deserve. In Christ, I receive what I don’t deserve – His grace. God wants us to live for Him first. And James is asking, who’s in charge of your life? You, or God?

We assume too much about our own future, making our plans for tomorrow and the next. James starts verse 13 with “Listen closely.” Pay attention. We do not know the future. We don’t know what will happen in a year, much less tomorrow or even later this afternoon. Verse 13 describes a hypothetical businessman who has made plans a year in the future, and even presumptuous enough to claim what he will accomplish.

What is it about human nature that leads us to assume we know more about the future than we actually do? If we knew the Rapture will come tomorrow, how would that change our action today? And yet, that is precisely the way Jesus calls us to live.

When we assume we will live forever, we become lazy about today. We will seek the Lord’s will…. Tomorrow. Not today, I’m busy. Seeking the Lord’s will is not a particular event that we can plan for. Seeking the Lord’s will is a process, a practice.

Verse 14 says that not only do we not know what will happen a year from now, but we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.

Now, James isn’t advising us to be paranoid about the future. We are to live each day as a child of God, seeking His favor. But we will not live forever. Every year, to me, goes faster and faster. When I was a child, the week before Christmas lasted approximately 3 months, or so it seemed. Now, it seems 3 or 4 years pass in a blink. God is forever, eternal. Our lives on earth are mist. Poof. And then we are gone, and the items of hedonism we so cherish on earth are gone, just like us. Where is our eternity? And where should we be storing our treasures?

We are just a mist that appears for a little while. William Beebe was an explorer and American naturalist and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote, “After an evening of talk we would go out on the lawn and search the heavens until we found the faint spot of light mist in the constellation Pegasus and one of us would recite: That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750 thousand light years away. It consists of 100 billion suns – each larger than our sun. After a moment, Col. Roosevelt would grin at me and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

Also, James isn’t telling us not to make plans for tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. The arrogance is making plans without God. These businessmen in James’ example made their plans without any regard to God’s desires. Embracing God is not an event, it’s a lifestyle.

So how then shall we live? James tells us to consider the Lord in everything we do. “If it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.” In both cases, plans are made. They may even be the same plans. But one is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life, the other is claiming the sovereignty of us.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge we do not have control over our own future? Think back on your life when you were a teenager. Did you imagine the life you have now?

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Jeremiah 29:11-13,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

VII. Conclusion

A hedonistic lifestyle bumps God out of His rightful place in our lives. We make his creation #1, and put God #2. Or worse, even lower. Our God is jealous for us, He wants us to desire what is best. And yet, we are so easily satisfied by pretty trinkets. C.S. Lewis once said,

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

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When we seek pleasure for its own reward, we will find it’s an empty lifestyle. When we seek God’s will in our lives, not just once or twice but as a lifestyle, we will find that joy in the Lord surpasses anything the world can offer. Which will it be? Joy in the world, or joy in the Lord? The choice is ours.

Matthew 6:33,

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

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Let’s enjoy the day the Lord hath made, and give glory to the One who made it.

To God be the Glory. Amen.

With Perseverance

I. Introduction

In our recent study of the Book of Galatians, Galatians taught us a lot about what it takes to become a believer, and all the misconceptions that people may have about what it takes to get into heaven.  It’s not following certain rules, it’s not performing certain rituals, it’s not anything we do.  All God asks of us is to believe in Christ Jesus, and even that ability to believe comes from God.  Remember, it is faith alone, through Christ alone, by Grace alone.  Nothing else.
We’re starting the book of James today and much of James talks about what is expected of us as Christians.  In fact, it is so much about works that you may begin to wonder what our study of Galatians was all about.  Are we contradicting ourselves, first by saying “faith alone” and then talking about works?
So before we actually start the book of James, let’s see if we can understand some of the differences between these books.  Galatians, addressed to the church of ….
… that’s right, Galatia.  Man, we are one smart group today.  In Galatians, Paul was talking primarily to the Judaizers, those teaching a “Jesus plus Moses” philosophy.  In other words, the Galatians were teaching that Jesus had done 95% of the work and we have to chip in the other 5%.  We are saved, but we still have to be circumcised, follow Jewish festivals, follow all the Jewish rules, etc.  These requirements were obstacles to new believers, and Paul was saying that circumcision, festivals and rules had nothing to do with obtaining salvation.  Jesus did it all, 100%.  Faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.
The book of James is written to different audience – believers that are already saved.  James 1:2 begins,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Who are the brethren?  Right, believers in the church, brothers and sisters in Christ.  And James is talking to believers about the spiritual walk, how to understand trials and tribulations, how to grow closer to God.

II. Salvation vs Sanctification

So I want to bring this chart back up, I showed it briefly a few weeks back:
Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10
When we say, “faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone,” we are talking about what it means to be saved.  It is a one time event at the moment we trust in Christ, with ongoing effect.  But once we are a Christian, we become aware of God’s purpose for us, and aligning ourselves to that purpose is our spiritual walk.  We grow in Christ.  And this process continues until we die or are raptured.  I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.  All three tenses are true.  And James is focusing in today’s lesson on our progressive sanctification and understanding the events in our lives.
The book of James contains 50 different commands for Christians, “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.”  Are these things we must do to be saved?  It depends on which definition of “saved” we are talking about.  It has nothing to do with going to heaven and spending eternity with Jesus, but it has everything to do with understanding the loving God that created us and how we as believers are to live our lives.
So with all that behind us, let’s begin.

III. Purpose of Testing

So far we nearly finished studying 6 words in James, so let’s look at them again,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Of the 50 commands to Christians in the book of James, we’ve already discovered the first one.  The word “consider” is an imperative, something we are commanded to do.  Let’s read the entirety of our verses for today, and then go back and study them individually.  James 1:2-15,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Whew.  Ok, this looks easy.  James is teaching us about the purpose of trials in the life of a Christian.

A. Joyful Attitude

First of all, we are to have a joyful attitude.  Verse 2,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
Various trials are hard to define.  Is James talking about running out of money?  Getting sick?  Dealing with people that mistreat you?  And the answer to all of that is yes.  Specifically, the Greek word for “trials” is peirasmós,
πειρασμός peirasmós, pi-ras-mos’; a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity:—temptation, × try.
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Basically, anything with the potential to be drawn toward sin and away from God.  While I was contemplating this and thinking of an example, I could hear my wife in the next room bawling her eyes out.  She was ok, but she was watching a NOVA special on organ transplants, and an especially touching event where a mother had to let her son, traumatized by a brain injury, be released for organ transplant.  The mother, obviously a Christian believer, was holding her son’s hand as they were wheeling him away so that his organs could be harvested to save somebody else’s life, and she was crying out, “I’ll see you soon!”
I can’t even imagine what this mother was going through.  And is this verse from James telling her to be happy about it?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
How does one “consider it all joy?”  First by understanding that “all joy” is not the same thing as happiness.  James isn’t a masochist.  James is telling us to continually seek the mind of God and how God will be able to use the trial for His purpose.  If we understand God is all good and in charge of all things, then all trials accomplish His purpose.  And if we know that the trials are accomplishing the will of God, then we can have an attitude of joy even in the midst of pain or suffering.  Chuck Swindoll put it this way –
“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
― Charles R. Swindoll
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We are to live our lives for the things that matter most.  If we get to thinking that our suffering is more than others endure, or more than seems fair, we can remember our savior on the cross.  Did Christ suffer pain?  Yet Hebrews 12:2 says,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
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If Jesus can have joy during His crucifixion, perhaps we can find joy in our trials.

B. Endurance

How do we find this joy?  By seeking God’s purpose.  Let’s continue with verse 3,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
We are to know that God has a purpose to our trials.  God always tests our faith.  It doesn’t way “if” we encounter trials, but “when.”  Christians are not sheltered and pampered.  Some trials come because we are human – sickness, accidents, disappointments.  Some trials come because we live in a fallen world – earthquakes, hurricanes, floods.  And some just because we are Christians.
These trials work for us, not against us.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17,
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
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We tend to think trials are inflicted upon us, but this scripture says even the worst trials we endure are fulfilling a purpose that brings glory to God.  Satan tempts us to bring out our worst, but God tests our faith to bring out our best.  James says it produces endurance in us.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Endurance leads to perfection?  We’re to be perfect?
Trials help us mature.  It’s easier to trust in God when things are going great, but I’m not sure that’s really trust.  It’s when times are tough that we learn if our faith is genuine.  Paul says the same thing in Romans 5:3-4,
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Perseverance.  Endurance.  Patience.  Waiting on God.  Patience is a foundation of our spiritual journey.  Patience is the key to receiving God’s blessings.  God told Abraham to be patient and God would give him a child.  At some point, Abraham and Sarah decided God needed help, so Abraham produced a son with Hagar.  It brought great difficulties in Abraham’s life, difficulties that have endured through the ages and affect us today.  Eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a son of their own.  How much more blessed their life would have been if they had been patient, endured, persevered.
Impatient children never learn, never mature.  They want it now.  And patience can only be learned by waiting.
Patience has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of my pride.  I thought I was patient.  Meeting somebody at a restaurant and they’re an hour late?  I can do that.  Waiting for my birthday to arrive and it is months away?  I can do that.  Waiting on the Lord to answer prayers for my wife’s health or for salvation to come to some members of my family?  What is taking Him so long?
But patience isn’t a specific length of time.  Patience is waiting.  Why hasn’t the rapture come yet?  2 Peter 3:8-9 says it’s because the Lord is patient –
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The Lord is patient for as long as it takes.  I have prayers in my life I’ve been praying for decades.  Unanswered prayers teach me what real patience is.  So I keep praying, and I’m learning patience, perseverance, endurance.  And there’s a purpose to learning this, James 1:4,
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
To make me perfect.  I certainly don’t feel perfect.  But “perfect” here doesn’t mean without any flaws.  The Greek phrase “perfect and complete” means one who fulfills the purpose for which God created him or her and are fully attaining their higher calling.  In other words, we are content to be in Christ, we are fulfilling Christ’s will for our lives, and we need nothing else.

C. Wisdom

Am I perfect and complete?  I don’t think so.  I’m at the point in my life, though, where I see more and more how my own will for me sometimes stands in opposition to God.  God wants me to have joy, patience, endurance, produce fruit in accordance with His will.  But I want a boat.
See, my will for myself continually misdirects me from what God wants for me.  I want a boat, I want to win an argument, I want to watch television, I want a raise, I want I want I want.  If I am to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, then I want what God wants.  How do I figure out what that is?
James 1: 5-7,
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
I can trust in this promise.  Believers in Christ, if they ask for wisdom, they will receive wisdom.
I don’t think God is satisfied with the unfinished Christian.  He has a purpose for us that starts with our character which is perfected through our joy in our trials, endurance through our patience, and wisdom through prayer and study of His Word.
Unanswered prayers teach us so much besides patience and endurance.  God desires for us to trust in Him alone.  What do we do when a prayer is unanswered?  Are we patient and do we endure as God asks us to do?
I’ve experienced this in my life first-hand.  When I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I felt like maybe God didn’t hear me.  I listened, I waited, and there was no answer.  And I decided on my own that I didn’t need to wait on God, I could fix the problem on my own.  I could choose a course of action that I felt was best for me.
And I remembered how Abraham and Sarah didn’t wait on the Lord.  They, too, felt the Lord had forgotten His promise.
James says that if we aren’t patient and trust in the Lord’s promises, we get only the reward of our own effort.  Trusting in the Lord gave me a foundation of solid stone.  Trusting in myself gave me a foundation of shifting sand.
I still wrestle with this, trying to do things on my own instead of relying on God.  And I learned that when I do things on my own, I fail.  But when I rely on God, He never fails.  I learn through these trials to endure, be patient, ask for wisdom, and listen for His still small voice.  And every time I listed to Him instead of me, I know that He is perfecting me for His glory.
Why does God want all of this for us?  God wants to build our Christian character so that He can use us according to His purpose.  God works in us before He works through us.  And at the end of the trials, what then?  Let’s look at James 1:12.

IV. Crown of Life

James 1:12,
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
I mentioned a few months back about the 5 crowns available to believers, and I hope you will indulge a few minutes of exploring in more detail these crowns.
The Crown of Life is mentioned here as a reward to those who endure trials and are perfected by God.  This same crown is also mentioned in Revelation 2:10 when Jesus talks to the church at Smyrna–
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
There are 5 crowns available to believers, each one as a reward for different aspects of the Christian character –
Scripture’s Five Crowns
Crown Scripture Purpose
Life James 1:12; Rev. 2:10 Enduring trials
Incorruptible 1 Cor. 9:24-27 Gaining mastery over the flesh
Rejoicing 1 Thess. 2:19-20 Winning Souls
Glory 1 Pet. 5:2-4 Shepherding God’s people
Righteousness 2 Tim. 4:8 Longing for His appearing

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  • The Crown of Life.  Joy in our trials, knowing that God has a plan.  Spiritual growth through our adversity.
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  • The incorruptible Crown.  We have eternal life that can never be destroyed, we have life forever in Christ Jesus.  Believers that endure to the end and pursue God-given ministry and triumph over sin are given an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
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  • The Crown of Rejoicing and Exultation.   These crowns come from others we minister to in this life; those believers believer become “our glory and joy” before the Lord.  We rejoice in heaven upon seeing and talking with our loved ones who we shared our spiritual growth.  (1 Thess. 2:18-20)
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  • The Crown of Glory.  Jesus promises that those who leave everything to follow Him receive a hundredfold reward in addition to eternal life.  As Christ is our Great Shepherd, those who shepherd His flock while waiting for His return are given the Crown of Glory.  (1 Peter 5:2-4, Mark 10:29-31)
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  • The Crown of Righteousness. The reward for living righteously and giving Christ the glory when facing temptation or hardship. (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
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In heaven, what will we do with the crowns God has given us? We will cast them before Jesus’ feet (Revelation 4:10), laying them down as a tribute to the One who saved us, gifted us, equipped us, and lived in us. Everything good and right comes to us through the Lord, so He deserves our crowns.

V. Conclusion

So
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Life is hard.  It’s full of trials and difficulties.  There’s pain and persecution and loss and suffering.  But God has a purpose for each of us, and it starts with our sanctification, our spiritual walk.  We can consider it all joy knowing that God is in control and He has a plan.  Romans 8:28,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
We can’t understand everything that God is doing, but He promises to provide wisdom if we trust in Him and pray to understand.  In other words, when life is too hard to stand, then kneel.
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To God be the glory.  Amen.