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.

Value Life

             I.      Introduction

Today’s lesson is going to veer from my normal study.  I like to present God’s Word directly, connect the dots, provide explanation.  And even though we all have a tendency to project biases in our work, I am conscious that that possibility exists and try to make sure I’m as factual as possible.

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But the church is making a coordinated message today on the sanctity of life.  It’s something I feel very strongly about, but my feelings are based on conclusions I’ve drawn from the bible.  In others words, there is no scripture that says “abortion is wrong,” but I think a reasonable conclusion based on statements from God is that abortion is wrong.  So I’m going to tread carefully and try to make sure my opinions are clearly expressed as opinions based on scripture, not a quote from scripture.

Also, I know these topics can be emotional for a variety of reasons, so when I make a case against abortion, I want you to know that I have personal experience with regard to abortion, though in my case, the abortion was stopped and the child is alive today.  That’s not to my credit though, I give glory to God for His work, but your story may be different.  Just know that, regardless of your history with some of these controversial topics today, regardless of your past, it’s not a judgement against you.  As a child of God, you are forgiven permanently, and every day is a new day to live for His glory without living in bondage to your past.

That felt like a legal disclaimer that you see on television commercials.  “Warning, may cause nausea, dry-mouth, head-ache, inability to breathe, temporary tooth loss, minor blindness, imaginary smells, excessive earwax, redundancy, redundancy, and possible death. Consult a lawyer before taking blah blah blah.”

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In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  And He made light and darkness, water and sky, the land and the seas and all the plants and animals.  This took 5 days and after each day, God saw that it was good.

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On the 6th day, Genesis 1:27, 31 –

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

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And of all the things that God created, it wasn’t until God created man and woman did God declare His creation to be very good.

          II.      Evolution vs Creation

Our secular society has diminished and understated this part of creation.  Our public schools teach our children that evolution is a god, that man’s evolution from the apes shows that we are nothing but a random collection of cells that decided symbiotically to live together, our brain cells with our blood cells with our skin cells.  And there is nothing special about any one of us.

I believe this state-mandated doctrine of evolution is responsible for the callous attitude of our young people toward human life.  In 2012 in Missouri, 15 year old Alyssa Bustamante killed Elizabeth Olten by strangling her, stabbing her in the chest, then slicing her throat.  The reason was because “she wanted to know what it felt like” to kill someone.

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Not an isolated case, by the way.  Here in Texas, two teenagers are being tried for murder.  Dakota White and Brandon Warren originally selected a 12-year old to kill, but then killed an 18-year old instead.  Their reason?  They wanted to know what it would feel like to kill someone.

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And just this week, Dylann Roof was found guilty and sentenced to death in South Carolina for killing 9 people at a bible study.  At his sentencing, in front of the jury, Dylann offered no remorse.  He said, “I still feel like I had to do it.”

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We are not just a collection of evolved cells that decided to work together.  We are created in God’s image.  When God created us, He said it was very good.  We have value to Him.  God has a love for us and a yearning for us to be with Him.  But it wasn’t long before we messed that idyllic Garden of Eden relationship.  We disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, and created a problem.  Our God is holy, we are tainted with evil, and like matter and antimatter, they cannot exist in the same place at the same time.

We also created new problems between people.  That, too, started in the Garden of Eden.  God asked Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam through Even under the bus.  “Eve gave it to me, that’s why I ate some of it.”  Eve of course, blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.  I can’t image how the holidays were at the first Garden of Eden Thanksgiving, Adam and Eve glowering at each other, each blaming the other.  “The only reason we have to have Thanksgiving dinner here in this cave instead of the garden is because you had to go and eat that fruit, didn’t you?”

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Of course, their kids had to see this attitude in their parents.  Cain and Abel were probably like, “he’s sitting too close to me.”  And “he’s looking at me.”  And “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you.”  And then one day Cain’s attitude overcame him, and Cain killed Abel.  Now Thanksgiving is really awkward.  It’s not like they could go to their in-laws.

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But it was God that was pained.  Every human life is important to the Lord, and when Cain killed Able, God said in Genesis 4:10,

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

Mankind through the years continued to inflict pain and death on one another.  Family conflict gave way to tribal conflicts.  Tribal conflict turned into national conflicts, then became wars.  Then genocide.  Over the centuries, mankind has become very efficient at killing mankind.

In the United States of America, we got off to a slow start in killing people.  In the American Revolutionary War, 25,000 American lost their lives. Americans died at the rate of 11 people per day.  By World War I, there were 116,516 deaths at the rate of 279 a day.   World War II, 405,399 deaths at the rate of 297 a day.  But before that, American deaths peaked during the American Civil War, 750,000 deaths at 420 per day.

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Those, by the way, are just American deaths.  World War I killed 17 million people.  The Holocaust, perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews, killed 78% of the Jews in Europe, estimates as high as 17 million.  World War II killed 85 million.  Under Stalin, the Russians killed 10 million in gulags and 20 million through forced starvation.  And in China, Mao Zedong killed 78 million through starvation, forced labor and executions.  Between wars, terrorism, genocide, we humans have become efficient and ruthless at trying to eliminate the human race.

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And of those millions and millions of people in those death counts, each and every one is a soul that God fashioned with love and kindness.  In Psalms 139:13-16,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Before we were even born, God created each and every one of us individually for a purpose.  Our sinful nature and the world ruled by Satan has corrupted that purpose to horrific results.

       III.      Abortion

And not just through wars and genocide.  Oh no, we are far too callous of human life.  We destroy human life from before birth all the way through old age.  That statistic about the worst war, the American Civil War, killing 420 people a day?  Abortion kills 3300 per day in the US alone.  Worldwide, 115,000 per day.  42 million souls per year.  1.3 million already in 2017.

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Roe vs Wade in 1973 divided the unborn human life into 3 trimesters.  In the first trimester, Judge Blackman ruled that since abortion was safer than childbirth, the woman and her physician had the sole decision on whether to abort.  The second trimester until “fetal viability,” the state could regulate abortion as long as the health of the mother was the primary legislative purpose.  And in the third trimester, the state’s focus should switch from the life of the mother to the “potential life” and that abortion could be regulated as long as there was an exception to preserve the life or health of the mother.  This exception, “to preserve the life or health of the mother,” turned out to be big enough to drive a truck through.

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Fortunately for the original plaintiff, “Roe” was a pseudonym, the real “Jane Roe” recanted.  Norma McCorvey wrote a book in 1994 called “I am Roe” and described her reasons for the abortion.  Later that year, McCorvey gave her life to Christ and was baptized in 1995.  She then wrote a second book, “Won by Love,” and has since become an outspoken advocate of the pro-life movement.  She wrote in her second book,

I was sitting in O.R.’s offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. ‘Norma’, I said to myself, ‘They’re right’. I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth — that’s a baby!

I felt crushed under the truth of this realization. I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception’. It wasn’t about ‘missed periods’. It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion — at any point — was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.

She petitioned the Supreme Court in 2005 asking them to overturn Roe v Wade since she had legal standing as one of the original participants, but the petition was denied.  The Supreme Court said the issue was settled.

One of the most common reasons given for supporting a woman’s right to abortion is to protect the life or health of the mother, and also as a remedy against rape or incest.  Rape is a traumatic experience for sure, and I certainly do want to diminish that horrific act, but I heard once a long time again that if one believes that life begins at conception, then why should the baby be punished for the act of the father?  Statistics show that even if you support this exception to abortion, it’s a very minor contributor to the reasons given for abortion.  The Guttmacher Institute  in 2004 anonymously surveyed women after their abortion for their reasons, and the results are as follows:

<0.5% Victim of rape
3% Fetal health problems
4% Physical health problems
4% Would interfere with education or career
7% Not mature enough to raise a child
8% Don’t want to be a single mother
19% Done having children
23% Can’t afford a baby
25% Not ready for a child
6% Other

Over 92% of abortions are not related to health of the woman, health of the baby, or because of rape.  92% just didn’t want a child.  That means of the 1.44 billion babies aborted since 1980 worldwide, 1.3 billion babies would be alive today.  That’s about the same as the entire population of China or India.

          IV.      Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

And the human race isn’t content with ending life at the front end, we’re also trying to end it early at the back end.  Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicides are on the rise since countries such as Belgium and The Netherlands and now the state of Oregon made it legal.  Statistics are harder to come by since it’s not legal everywhere – yet – but the legal early terminations of life are already in the thousands per year.

I haven’t even gotten to all the other ways we humans destroy life.  Terrorism.  Murder.  We are proficient.  And if this all sounds depressing, it’s not supposed to be.  It’s realistic.  The number of lives that never even have an opportunity to have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is staggering.

This is not what God created us for.  God has given us purpose and meaning.  He created us in love.  God created us to know Him and resemble Him as our heavenly Father, created with moral and spiritual capacities and creativity.

Jeremiah 1:5,

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

Genesis 9:6,

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

Psalm 127:3,

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Isaiah 49:16,

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

How much does God value us?

John 3:16,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

             I.      Conclusion

Look, I’ll make it simple for you and me.  Here is our life’s purpose, beginning with John 3:16.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

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We live our lives according to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20,

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We do this because of 1 John 4:19,21

We love because He first loved us. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

And time is running out, for you and for me and for the entire world, 2 Peter 3:9,

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 wants no one to perish, but to have everlasting life.  Our purpose is to value life the way our heavenly Father values us.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Freedom

  I.      Introduction

Two hundred and forty years ago, our nation was in bondage.  Made up of 13 colonies of the British Empire, the colonies were governed by rules from far across the sea.  Twelve years prior to that, the British and the French were in a great race to colonize the Americas, leading to a great amount of tension.  In 1754, the British, under the command of 22-year old George Washington, ambushed a French patrol and set off a war against the French.  There were about 2 million British colonists and only 60,000 French colonists, so the French enlisted the help of the native American Indians.  This French and Indian War lasted 9 years before the British finally defeated the French, and the French ceded control of all of land east of the Mississippi River to the British. Slide2

This was an expensive war, and the British felt the American colonies should pay the brunt of the expenses.  The British levied higher taxes against the 13 colonies to pay off the war debt, and also imposed other rules that were very inconvenient, such as if the British felt the need to guard your town, you were required to house British troops in your home at your own expense.

The colonies had no say in these taxes.  But of particular irritation was the monopoly given to the East Indian Tea Company.  No tea could be imported to the colonies directly; instead, The British imported tea to Britain, marked it up 25% to pay for war debts, then sold it to the Americas.  In 1773, the Sons of Liberty raided a shipment of tea and threw it all into the Boston Harbor with the rallying cry of “No taxation without representation.”Slide3

Three years later, in 1776, the Thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Britain.

II.      Independence

Slide4What does it mean to be independent?  The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, or aid of others.”  When the young American Colonies rebelled against the British, they wanted representation, they wanted a say in their own fate.  They wanted to govern themselves.  Others were not going to dictate their day-to-day lives; the colonists were going to choose their own way.

From a historical perspective of developing countries, this was unique.  It had never been tried.  No country had ever attempted self-governing rules.  No country had ever tried a system where the governed were also the governors.

But in the history of mankind, this attitude is hardly unique.  The ultimate authority is the God who created us, and we (the creation) have always wanted to govern ourselves.

It seems like every time I teach a lesson, I go back to Genesis 1:1 again.  But today, in a fantastic improvement over that record, we’re only going back to Genesis 2.  Verses 16 & 17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

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And man joyfully obeyed and enjoyed a sinless and holy relationship with God the Father.  And that lasted maybe a day.  After that, we decided we wanted to govern ourselves, and we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

III.      Bondage

When we ate, we rebelled.  We looked to our rebellion and said, “See?  We are free to do what we want.  We don’t allow anyone – including God – to tell us what to do.”  We believed that this rebellion was the same as independence which was also the same as freedom.

But these three words are not the same.  Yes, we rebelled and declared our independence from God.  But were we then free?  What did we gain by rebelling from God?

In our rebellion, we decide to go our own way.  In our rebellion, we decided on our own not to follow God’s plan.  Since God is holy, and God’s plan is holy, our rebellion is… unholy.  It is a sin.  Our sin separates us from God.  In the Old Testament, Isaiah laments this rebellion in Isaiah 63:10 –

Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.

Slide6In other words, our sin nature, passed along from the first rebellion of Adam all the way to us, vexes the Holy Spirit and makes us enemies of God.  In our study of Samuel this summer, Chris taught us about the rejection of God in 1 Samuel 8:6-9 when the people of Israel – people supposedly free since they had rejected God – demanded somebody to rule over them.  It seems they recognized they needed somebody to lead and guide them, but they just didn’t want that somebody to be God –

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Slide7Next week, we will study 1 Samuel 15, and our rebellion is described like this in verse 23 –

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.

Slide8Our rebellion against the Lord doesn’t lead to freedom.  Our rebellion makes us enemies of the Lord.  We align ourselves with forces that oppose God.  As enemies of the Lord, we become family with a relative we don’t really want, but we share a common goal with him.  John 8:44, Jesus tells us who we are when we are in a state of rebellion –

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Slide9

Yuck.  I don’t like this family.  So my rebellion against the Lord didn’t lead to freedom, it led to sin.  To oppose God’s plan, I have to align myself with the devil, and I am in bondage to this sin because I am rebellion.  I cannot escape sin because I am in rebellion which is sin.  Instead of freedom, I am in bondage.  I am in bondage to sin.  In John 8:34,

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

And Romans 7:14-15, Paul recognizes this bondage –

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

We all sin.  We are in bondage to that sin.  We’re going to look at 2 verses that describe just how awful the rebellious bondage to sin looks to our Lord.  First, let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:1-7 –

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

In that description, I see my own bondage to sin, and I see that our great United States of America has rushed from independence into bondage to sin.  From “loving ourselves” on social media like Instagram and Twitter, to “loving money” and our fascination with pop culture and the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Allowing men to use women’s restrooms if they “identify” as a woman and then brutally verbally bashing those who are trying to promote a chaste and safe public restroom experience.  Over a half-million abortions in 2016 alone because having a baby is inconvenient.  In my lifetime I’ve seen this nation go from prayer in schools to prosecuting people who pray in schools.  Our national fascination with sex.  Did you know there’s actually a reality show on television called “Love Island” that puts 6 men and 6 women in a house strewn with over 1000 condoms and they compete to see who is the sexiest couple?  And that in order to move up in the rankings, they keep changing partners until they’re considered the winners?  The winners have sex with each other during the show, sometimes being watched by other contestants?  Our nation is in bondage to sin, and we celebrate it and put it on the television for everybody to see.

Romans 6:16 also points out that ultimately we only have 2 choices –

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Slide12

Our rebellious sin nature is a trap.  We are stuck in our sin nature and we cannot free ourselves.  Romans 1:24 says that God eventually gives us over to the sinful desires of the heart.  There is no middle ground.  There is no “mostly obedient” state.  Giving to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or the Star of Hope or tithing to the church cannot save us if there is one little speckle of disobedience in us.  And this verse tells us that we are either trying our very best to find God’s will in our lives, or we are not.

We’d like to believe there is a middle ground, where we can be good people and go to heaven.  We’d like to have compassion on good people that aren’t Christians.  Surely good people go to heaven?  Isn’t that fair?  Isn’t that nice?  Since God is such a nice guy, surely He’d see it my way?

But that misunderstands God’s purpose in our lives.  God loves all His children, and He wants what is best for us.  And that means voluntarily giving up our own independent rebellion and agree with the Lord that His will is the best way, and ultimately is the only way.  And God tells us that there is one way to gain the promised land, and everything else belongs to sin.  Galatians 3:22,

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Slide13

IV.      True Freedom

So our rebellion gives us the illusion of independence, but in reality we are trading our allegiance.  I pledge allegiance to God and His ways, or I pledge allegiance to our father the devil.  There is no third option.

So here’s an interesting quandary.  Can we be in bondage, and yet be free?

We make a mistake when we confuse our independence with what we truly desire.  We desire freedom.  Freedom to follow our God-given passions and desires, to seek for God in all the wonderful places He designs for us, to seek His will and find that His plan for us is far, far better than our own independent plans.

Why should we trust this freedom to God?  How many hairs do you have on your head?   Is it 1000?  100,000?   I have no idea.  But this is how well God knows me: Not only does He know how many hairs are on my head, but he’s numbered them.  1, 2, 3, 4…. Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Slide14

A very good reason for trusting the Lord is that He knows me far better than I know myself.  Should I continue to maintain my independence of God?  I certainly have that choice; I can choose to be independent of my creator.  But it turns out that is the same as the sin of rebellion, which means independence from God is bondage to the devil.  Or I can be independent of Satan, and choose to be in bondage to God.  I am in bondage either way.

What does this look like, being in bondage to God?  Do I just follow the Ten Commandments?  Do I just avoid the Seven Deadly Sins?  Do I follow all 613 mitzvots?

Let’s go back for a moment to 2 Timothy 3:1-7 and look at what bondage to sin looks like.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

These things that bind us to sin are lovers of ourselves, lovers of money, proud and boastful and abusive and disobedient and ungrateful and unforgiving… and if I am honest with myself, I can see my own sinful nature in this description.  These descriptions of the last days.  It’s what the Father of Lies would call love.  It’s a perversion of what God calls love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Slide16

I don’t know how to do this.  Not on my own.  At least, not at the level necessary to meet the standards of a Holy and Perfect Lord of All.  I’m going to fail.

So the answer to whether I have to follow the Ten Commandments or avoid the Seven Deadly Sins is… all of them….  And none of them

You see, since God knows how many hairs I have on my head, He knows me better than I know myself.  And even when I try to run, He knows me.  Jeremiah 23:24,

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

Slide17

God is everywhere I am.  I cannot hide.  Even in my rebellion and my so-called independence, I cannot escape.  The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins judge me and my shortcomings.  They show me how I fail, they show that despite my own efforts, I’m going to fail at being holy.  And that’s ok, because God has given me a solution.  God has given me His Son.

We don’t just “stop sinning” by trying to stop committing the Seven Deadly Sins.  Obeying the Ten Commandments doesn’t stop us from sinning.  This is “legalism,” this is “works.”  We stop sinning by recognizing that we are in rebellion, that our entire lives have been devoted to bondage in sin, and remembering that there is no halfway decision, we choose to be bondservants of Christ.  We choose to cease our rebellion against the Lord.

What about the Ten Commandments?  The Seven Deadly Sins?  These give us insight and direction as to what pleases the Lord.  For those who have had children, if your child takes a cookie before dinner after you expressly told him not to, do you say, that’s it, I’m done.  You’re on your own.  Go outside and never come back.  Is our own identity dependent on whether there is an extra cookie in the pantry?

Of course not.  We set rules for good behavior for our children, we discipline them when they are disobedient so we raise them well, we forgive and love them.  God does the same for us, and all our sins are forgiven when Jesus took them to the cross.  We just have to choose to be in God’s family.  Then if we are imperfect, if we only follow eight-and-a-half commandments, our Father still loves us.

So our goal then, is to recognize our rebellion against God did not lead to freedom.  It just led to a different sort of bondage.  This is where we once were, from 2 Peter 2:17-19 –

These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.  For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

When we accept Jesus, then this is who we become from 1 John 1:12 –

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name

And when we are children of God, then there is no condemnation for falling short of God’s perfect will.  Romans 8:1,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

 

  V.      Conclusion

When mistake rebellion and independence with freedom, we wallow in a lifetime of sin.  The rebellion against God results in death and misery and frustration.  Or we can attempt to save ourselves by doing good, but the rules we set for ourselves are burdensome and joyless.  Worse, we try to set rules for others so we can be better people.  God’s way is to accept that we are powerless on our own and full of sin, but His Son will take the punishment for our rebellion so we can be slaves to righteousness and serve one another in love.  It’s not rules imposed from the outside, but the power of the Holy Spirit from the inside that brings glory to God, peace and joy to us, and blessings to others.

There is a song by Watermark that I love, called “Captivate Us.”  During the chorus, she sings, “Let every chain be broken from me as I’m bound by your grace.”  Choosing to be a bondservant of Christ Jesus doesn’t restrict our freedom, but quite the opposite.  When a train that has fallen off the tracks, it’s powerless, useless, stalled.  When the train is put back on the track, it is free to do what it was created to do.

This is the truth that brings glory to our Father in Heaven.  John 8:32,

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Slide19

That is true freedom.

To God be the glory.