The Creator

             I.      In the Beginning

In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw the light was good.  God separated the light from the darkness, and there was evening, and there was morning, and there was the first day.Slide2

And God said, “Let us separate the water below from the water above, and the space between shall be called “sky.”  And there was the second day.Slide3

And God said, “Let dry land appear.”  And God gathered the waters and called them “seas.”  And God caused vegetation and plants and trees to grow and produce fruit with seeds.  And there was the third day.Slide4

And God created sun and the moon to mark the days and years, and made the stars in the sky, and there was the fourth day.Slide5

And God created the fish and the birds and filled the water and the sky with living creatures, and God blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply.  And there was evening, and there was morning, and there was the fifth day.Slide6

And God created living creatures, wild animals and livestock and all the creatures across the earth.  And God said, “Let us create mankind in our image, in our likeness, so they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and the livestock and the wild animals and all creatures that move along the ground.  And God blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply.  And God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Slide7

And there was evening, and there was morning, and there was the sixth day.

          II.      God’s Creation

How often do we stop and consider all that God has made?  Psalm 19:1,

The heavens declare the glory of God;

    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Slide8It’s not as though we have to travel to the ends of the earth to see His creation, or book a plane ticket to the Maldives or the Himalayas or New Zealand.  We only have to look up to see the glory of God.

Everyone who looks up on a clear night sees the heavens and the multitude of stars.  Unless you live in Houston, then you may have to travel outside of the city to see the stars.  But when you see the stars, we cannot help but realize how magnificent our Creator is.  Most of the lights we can see are actually suns, and each sun potentially has its own planets orbiting around it just as those in our solar system orbit our sun. With a high-powered telescope, the number of suns becomes innumerable – billions, trillions?  I checked the NASA website to try and find the number of stars in the universe, and found a few numbers.

First, they qualify the answer by saying “observable” universe.  Due to the speed of light, we can only see 13.7 billion light years.  Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a typical size of 100 billion stars.  Given what we can see, there are around 10 billion galaxies.  Multiplying these numbers -stay will me, we just read in Genesis that we were to go forth and multiply, so that’s what I’m doing.

Multiplying these numbers gives an estimate of 1000 billion billion stars, or 1000 quintillion.  That wounds like one of those made up numbers kids make up.  I plugged some numbers into a calculator for fun, and found that if you made a stack of 1000 quintillion pennies, you’d have a stack of pennies that would go to the moon and back.  261 billion times.

Psalm 8:1,

O LORD, our Lord,

How majestic is Thy name in all the earth,

Who has displayed Thy splendor above the heavens!

 

Slide9God has said in Isaiah 45:12,

“It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it.

I stretched out the heavens with My hands.

 

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God placed the heavens right over our heads and declares that when you see this, you are without excuse.

And not just the heavens, God made the earth.  God has amazing math skills when it comes to creation.  Or maybe He created the heavens and earth to declare His glory, and then created the laws of gravity and other forces to suit His creation.

Our earth has been created so finely tuned in cannot be an accident.  We are just the right distance from the sun with a near circular orbit, so the earth’s temperatures are relatively stable throughout the year and from year to year.  The earth tilts slightly so that we have seasons, the earth heats and cools through the year instead of baking to a crisp on one end.

We have an unusually large moon, bigger than some planets.  Scientists believe it was formed when a planet the size of Mars crashed into the earth during formation.  A direct collision would have annihilated the earth; a glancing blow would have formed rings like Saturn, so the collision was perfect.

This collision also stripped away much of the earth’s atmosphere.  Venus is a much smaller planet with less gravity, but it has a very thick atmosphere.  Below that cloud cover is a runaway greenhouse effect and the surface is a dry desert with temperatures of 800°F.  Earth is larger should have a thicker atmosphere, but scientists think that same perfect collision that formed the moon also created the perfect atmosphere.  Thin enough and at the right density to allow water in all three phases of solid, liquid and gas necessary to maintain life.

The perfect moon tugs at the earth, creating tides that scrub the waters clean.  That collision also helped create a somewhat lopsided earth with land on one side and seas on the other.  Without this, the earth would be more uniform and almost certainly entirely covered by water.

The earth turns at the perfect speed.  If the earth spun faster and we had 8 hour days, wind speeds on the earth would approach 500 mph.  If the earth spun slower, the earth temperature extremes would be far higher with 200°F days and -200°F nights.

The center of the earth is made of a large and heavy metallic core which gives is the largest magnetic field of any of the planets, which creates the Van-Allen radiation shield which protects life on earth from harmful radiation.

The planet Jupiter is our biggest planetary protector now.  Most large planets are closer to the sun, sweeping away planets like earth and Mars and Venus.  Ours is outside the earth orbit at the perfect distance to deflect and sweep away meteorites.  Without Jupiter, scientist estimate up to 10,000 times the number of large collisions of meteorites which would destroy life.

Slide12Romans 1:20,

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

And life on earth is based on carbon compounds that depend on water in a liquid phase that only exists in a very narrow temperature and pressure range, which happens to be exactly what we have on earth.  Sometimes Hollywood or Star Trek will hypothesize life based on something else like silicon, but that’s unlikely because silicon doesn’t form long molecular chains, with or without water.  And life is amazing, far too amazing for “evolution” to be the sole theory for development.

Slide13Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  We all grasp this problem immediately, and there’s no clear answer except God’s creation.  The egg has no purpose unless there was a chicken before and a chicken after, yet the chicken could not exist unless there was an egg.

Or human design.  Ever heard the term “irreducible complexity?”   If we take something simple like a mousetrap, we know the mousetrap was designed and built for a specific purpose, to catch mice.

Slide14.JPGIt’s made of 5 parts, and each part performs a specific function.  If you take away a part, like the spring, it could be a paperweight, I suppose, but it won’t catch a mouse.  We also know that a mousetrap doesn’t naturally form over time; it is created for a purpose.

Here is a human eye diagram:

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It has a great many parts, all specifically designed.  None of the parts make sense by themselves.  Also, the eye itself has no useful function unless it is attached to a brain inside a head attached to a body.

Psalm 139: 13-14,

For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Marvelous are Your works,

And that my soul knows very well.

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       III.      My Creation

My wife and I constructed a new patio in our back yard.  Here’s before I got started –

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And here is after:

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My wife and I worked hard over several weeks to create this, and we look at it and declare it is good.  And when I show the patio to others, I like hearing them say it looks good, and it’s a job well done, and I should be proud.

Let’s look at that last scripture again, Psalm 139:13-14 –

For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Marvelous are Your works,

And that my soul knows very well.

 

I am God’s creation.  It pleases God when I acknowledge His works and to praise Him for what He has done.

My patio is new, but eventually it will age.  I’ll begin to take it for granted, when friends come over they’ll be accustomed to seeing it there.  Instead of saying, “Hey Mike, good job on that patio,” they’ll be saying, “Hey, how about those Texans?”  Other than walking on it, we will barely acknowledge that it is there.   I will take it for granted.

How sad if we treat God’s creation that way.  He makes every day new.

 

          IV.      Worship of Our Creator

Since every day is a new creation, give should give praise and honor to God every day for what He has done, and never take for granted.  I may have made the patio, but God made the stone, God made the sand.  God made me, complete with eyeballs and my irreducible complexities.  Our study verse for today is Psalm 95, but much of the bible is a reminder to us to worship the Lord for what He has done.  Verse 1,Slide21

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!

Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.

 

He is the Rock of our salvation.  For those who place their trust in Him, He fulfils His promises.  Our salvation is secure and we can depend on the Creator of the universe to provide for eternal life.  Many Christians operate in a mode of fear, that they are unsure of their salvation.  The Catholic church teaches that, depending on your state of confession and works in this life, you spend time in Purgatory working out the remainder of your salvation, a time which is shortened by the prayers of relatives.  This is unnecessary fear, for the Lord is our Rock and did not intend for us to guess if our works are sufficient.  1 John 5:11-13 scripture says,

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

 

The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

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So that you may know.  We can have confidence that our salvation is secure.  It is not arrogance to tell somebody that I know for sure that I am going to heaven.  The God of the universe told me so.

Psalm 95 verse 2,

Let us enter His presence with thanksgiving;

let us shout triumphantly to Him in song.

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In one sense, we are always in His presence.  There is a time for private worship, but there is also corporate worship when we come together as a group to praise His holy name.  Worship in a group involves song, even if your name is Theresa and claim you cannot carry a tune.  Psalm 100 says all should make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and my singing is sometimes enthusiastic and joyful and sometimes it just sounds like noise, but God wants us to express the joy that is in our hearts with our mouths and sing His praises.

Verse 3,

For the Lord is a great God,

a great King above all gods.

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This is the epic truth that justifies our call to worship God.  He is the One and Only Deity, the First Cause, The First and the Last, Jehovah, Rock, Refuge, High Tower, Salvation, Most High, the Beginning and the Ending, the Creator and Sustainer of Everything in the Universe.  All of the man-made pagan deities are mere colonies of insects in comparison with the true God of Heaven and Earth.

Verses 4-5,

The depths of the earth are in His hand,

and the mountain peaks are His.

The sea is His; He made it.

His hands formed the dry land.

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It took me several weeks to complete that patio.  My back was sore, I scraped my knees and knuckles.  God made the universe and everything in it by speaking it into existence.  The universe is His, this world is His.  The skies and the oceans and the plants and the animals are His.  We are His.  And sometimes we think He is not there, or our sinful ways are hidden from Him, but Jeremiah 23:24 says,

Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?” says the Lord; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord.

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Psalms 95:6-7,

Come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

For He is our God,

and we are the people of His pasture,

the sheep under His care.

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Even those who claim to be atheists and adamantly declare themselves to be independent from Him belong to Jehovah God, and one day every knee will bow.  Some in respect and adoration, others by submission.

For those that seek Jesus Christ, we are His sheep and He is our Shepherd.  We are under His care; He makes us lie down in green pastures, and there is nothing else we need.

            V.      Conclusion

On the 7th day of Creation, the Lord rested.  He declared His creation was very good.  The Lord is Lord of all heaven and earth, and He is our Lord.

Let us praise Him for who He is, His perfect and holy character, who rights every wrong and heals every pain, who declared his holiness with the very stars in the sky.  He created us to love and worship Him.

Let us do so with a joyful shout of adoration.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

The Lord is My Shepherd

             I.      Introduction – Why do We Pray?

First of all, I want to apologize for my absence recently.  It’s been a difficult month for me.  My stepfather was a warm, loving father who taught me much about the meaning of family and forgiveness, and he was also the first close family member to me that passed.Slide2

I learned much about prayer this month.  At the funeral, they handed out this card, and more than one Christian brother remarked to me that the verse on the card and the verse assigned to me to study this week are the same.  There are a total of 31,102 verses in the bible, yet God singled out 6 of them for me.

One of the questions I asked myself is, “Why do we pray?”  We’ve given admonishment before that God is not some sort of magic genie and we are granted 3 wishes, yet in the midst of our trials, we go to God and start asking for our 3 wishes.

Let’s look for a moment at Matthew 6.  In the verses leading up to the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives us much instruction on prayer, but this verse in particular, verse 8, Jesus says this about prayer –

For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

And in Romans 8:26,

In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.

In my case, sometimes I imagine the groaning of the Holy Spirit comes with an eyeroll of the Holy Spirit.  Groan, Michael never gets this prayer right, I’ll have to fix it for him.  Again.

So God, being perfect, knows what we need before we ask, and if we get it wrong, intercedes for us and prays for the correct thing.

So why do we pray?  When we pray for God to do something for us, knows in advance and corrects our prayers, so why do we pray?  Do we think our prayers are somehow going to change God, when it is God who is perfect and we are fallible?

When we pray and ask God to change, then we miss the most powerful aspect of prayer.  Pray doesn’t change God.  It changes us.  It brings us in line with God’s will, His plan, His desire.  Our goal in prayer should not be to put together some sort of compelling argument so that God will answer our prayer.  Our goal should be for God to bring us in line with His will so that our prayer and God’s will align.  When we are in line with God’s will and covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are seen as righteous before God.  And James 5:16 says the prayers of a righteous person is very powerful.  Not because we are powerful or even righteous, but because He is powerful.

          II.      Prayer through difficult times

When we are seeking the very face of God through our prayers, God is pleased with us.  In the Old Testament, the incense burned on the altar represented the prayers of the people, God tells us the prayers are a pleasing aroma.  David wrote a Psalm, essentially a prayer about prayers, where he wrote in Psalm 141:2 –

Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Slide4It’s important that we pray; if we look at the rest of James 5:13-18, James gives a lot of insight into the purpose of our prayers.

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.  Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land.  Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.

We’re not telling God anything that He doesn’t know.  But God wants us to acknowledge Him in all our ways, through good times and bad, through times of plenty and times of famine.

When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer was given as a “model” prayer.  It was never intended to be mere words, quoted over and over; the same chapter two verses earlier, Jesus cautioned us not to let prayer become “meaningless repetition.”  Instead, God wants is to open our heart, go into our closet and have a private conversation.  Just God and me.  What do we ask for if God already knows?  The New Testament has many verses that tell us what God wants us to pray for.

  • Pray at all times —Ephesians 6:18
  • Pray for opportunities to witness —Ephesians 6:19
  • Pray for spiritual wisdom and understanding —Colossians 1:9
  • Pray without ceasing —1 Thessalonians 5:17
  • Pray for knowledge —Philemon 6
  • Pray for good conduct —Hebrews 13:18
  • Pray for wisdom —James 1:15
  • Pray for those who are sick/suffering —James 5:13-14
  • Pray for one another —James 5:16; 1 John 5:16
  • Pray for those who persecute you —Romans 12:14
  • Pray for good health —3 John 2
  • Pray without doubting —James 1:6
  • Pray with the right motives —James 4:3
  • Pray knowing God is listening —1 John 5:15-16

So we should be honest.  We should pray what is on our hearts.  And above all, we pray that it is not our will, but Thy will be done.

       III.      Pray in Life

Because if we’re honest, we don’t always like it when we don’t get our way.  This list above are all good reasons for us to pray, and answers to those prayers seem to be within God’s will, but then sometimes God is silent.  Or God says no.

Sometimes God says no when we pray about our finances.  Sometimes God says no when we pray about our health.  And some of the toughest prayers are when we pray about life itself.

In Genesis 5, the descendants of Adam are listed.  At the age of 130, Adam had a son Seth, and Adam then lived till the age of 930.  Seth had a son Enosh when he was 105, and then lived to 912.   Enosh lived to 905, his son Kenan was just a young child at the age of 70 when he fathered Mahalel.  And so on until Noah; Noah was 500 years old when he fathered Shem, Ham, and Hapheth.

Slide7So why don’t we live until the ripe old age of 900 years?  Why do we die?

The length of our lives have been impacted by our sin nature.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve at the fruit from the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And knowledge of Evil taints us; what we have seen cannot be unseen.  Part of the fall of man included this judgement from God in Genesis 3:22 –

The Lord God said, “Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.”

And Noah, at 500 years old, lived in such an evil, wicked world, that God brought forth a flood to kill all the evil.  After Noah, the Lord said in Genesis 6:3,

And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.”

It seems to me that God has a purpose for death.  We have a deadline sometime in our life to accept the sacrifice of His son.  We don’t know when that deadline is, but it is surely less than 120 years.  And this limit is because of our own sin nature.  We are limited in days because of God’s mercy and protection from this fallen world.

So when my stepfather was moved to hospice last month, there were many days God interceded in prayer.  Maybe I overthinked it.  Overthunked it?  Do I pray for my stepfather to continue living so we can enjoy his company for a while longer?  Do I pray for his release from pain?  We loved him so much none of us wanted to see him suffer, yet we loved him so much we didn’t want to see him go.  And it was at this point, this fork in the road between two conflicting prayers of life and death I found myself, marked with tears of grief either way.  And I know that God answers some prayers the way we hope about health and life and death, but eventually death comes to us all, and we are marked for eternity by the choices we make.

I’m thankful the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans.  And eyerolls.  I know that God provides peace that surpasses all understanding, but I couldn’t figure out how to get from grief to peace.  I needed God’s guidance, I needed God’s comfort, and I realized the fork in the road wasn’t between life and death.  When I prayed for God’s will to be done, I realized the third option was not life, not death, but life everlasting.  There is peace knowing that Jesus Christ rescues us from death and gives us eternal life, and that I know I will see my stepfather again in heaven, where there is no pain and there are no tears to wipe away.

          IV.      Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd

This life offers many challenges, and when we are younger, I think we believe we can win them all.  But age and experience teaches us that we cannot win over all our enemies, we cannot live without the impact of illness, we do not always feel blessed by abundance and opportunity, and grief and sadness will come to all of us.

Kind David had a full life.  We’re familiar with his childhood, full of braggadocio and power.  His faith was so pure that God enable David to bring down the giant Goliath with just a stone.

Slide10But his life had challenges, especially as he got older.  Despite David’s loyalty to King Saul, Saul kept trying to kill him.  David lived in caves for a while because David wouldn’t harm Saul, yet Saul would try to kill him.  Later, once David was king, his whole family had serious issues that dwarf what you or I face.  David’s oldest son Ammon raped his half-sister Tamar.  Tamar’s brother Absalom was David’s favorite, but Absalom was outraged that King David did nothing, so Absalom ordered the king’s servants to murder Amnon.  Absalom lived in exile and eventually organized a rebellion against his own father, King David.  In 2 Samuel 18:33, David cried out in heartbreak and grief, “O my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”

We’re not sure when David wrote Psalm 23, but no doubt David had already experienced grief and heartache few can bear.  It’s only 6 verses, but they’re powerful verses.

Psalm 23,

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Slide11.JPGSuch a beautiful prayer.  It speaks not just of our life now but our confidence in a life everlasting with our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s interesting to me that this Psalm is part of a Messianic trilogy.

Psalm Verse Time / Image Theme
Psalm 22 / The Good Shepherd My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The Saviours Cross Past His past death for His people
Psalm 23 / Great Shepherd Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Hebrews 13:20-21 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him… The Shepherds Crook Present His present care and provision for His people
Psalm 24 / Chief Shepherd Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 1 Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. The Kings crown Future His future return for His people as the King of Glory!

Past, present and future.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 in a little more depth.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

The Lord.  Every word in the bible is important.  Jesus is Lord.  We sing songs about Jesus being our friend and our savior, and those are true, but he is also Lord.  The Lord’s name is Yahweh, sovereign, almighty, delivering Lord God.  When we seek comfort, begin by acknowledging that He alone is Lord of all.

Is.  Jesus is my shepherd right now.  Yes, he was there in the past, and yes, He will be there in the future, but Jesus is the great I AM.  He is here now within our midst.

My.  Jesus is personal.  He’s not a figurine hung on a cross in the front of a church.  He is not an abstract idea of goodness, He is not simply a long dead teacher or morals.  He is Mine, and I am His.

Shepherd.  Jesus is our shepherd, and we are His sheep.  What’s interesting about sheep is they are 4D.

  • Dumb
  • Dirty
  • Defenseless
  • Dependent

They are dumb; if there was a school for farm animals, sheep would be dropouts.  If there is a wire fence, they will get their necks caught in it, not just today, but tomorrow, too.  Their wool smells like you’d imagine a wool coat would smell if you left it in the rain, they have no ability to defend themselves, they have terrible eyesight, they are fearful skittish creatures that are prone to wander and get lost.  No wonder we need a shepherd who will provide for us, protect us, guide us, and wash us clean as snow.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Don’t get confused; David isn’t saying, “I don’t want a shepherd.”  The word “want” here means “needs.”  If the Lord is my Shepherd, then there is nothing else I need.  The Lord Jesus is all sufficient, and I place my trust in Him.  There may be trials of all sorts ahead for us, but the Lord uses everything for good, and I will trust in the Lord to provide everything I need for the day he has given me.  Everything will be ok.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

When our bodies are tired, we put them to bed.  A nice comfy bed and a soft fluffy pillow, and we rest.  The Lord does this for our soul, if we only let him.  If we follow the Lord, our soul can be still and know that He is God.  When we rest in Him and leave our troubles with Him, He restores our soul.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

God’s word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.  He teaches me to be righteous so that I may bring Him glory.  I cannot do this on my own, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  If I am following my Lord’s direction and letting Him guide my path, then the Lord receives the glory due to Him.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

This world is not the valley of life.  This world is the valley of the shadow of death.  Death comes to us all, no more than 120 years and for most of us a lot less.  My hope alone is in Him so that one day I may walk in new life.

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me.

David has changed pronouns; in the first three verses, David talks to God in the third person and refers to him as “he.”

But when you are surrounded by evil, God is not a distant third party.  We can talk to Him directly.  David talks directly to God, saying, I have nothing to fear for my hope is in you.  You surround me, you comfort me, you love me.  And if you are for me, then who can be against me?

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The Hebrew word here translated “rod” can also be translated as rod, scepter, and weapon.  It is not a “walking stick.”  A shepherd’s rod is about two and a half feet long with heavy pieces of iron embedded on the end, like a mace.  The rod is the shepherd’s primary offensive weapon for protecting the flock from enemies, whether the threats are wild animals or human thieves.  When used as a weapon, it is intimidating and deadly.

Slide14The rod and staff mentioned in Psalm 23:4 represents God’s defense and His divine guidance.  His rod is used to drive off our enemy, Satan and his minions.  God’s staff is used as guidance to us, to lift us back on the pathway after we fall.  The Lord protects me from my enemies, and rescues me from my own mistakes.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

God provides everything I need, despite the efforts of Satan to undo me.  In fact, God provides an abundance for me so that my cup runneth over and I can provide blessings to others.  Even though he is my Lord and my Savior, God treats me as an adopted son and an honored guest.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;

If you trust in the Lord, then no matter how far you stray, the Lord follows you with goodness and mercy.  The Hebrew word used for “follow” is the same word used when Pharaoh “followed” Israel across the Red Sea.  It doesn’t mean goodness and mercy follows from a distance.  God is actively pursuing us daily.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

            V.      Conclusion

God knows our lives.  He knows us before we are born, He knows us through our final destination.  He actively pursued us and rescues us.  And while goodness and mercy may actively follow me, one day I am going to slow down enough so that he catches me, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Forever is a very long time.  It’s far longer than the 120 years allotted to us.  Our prayers bring us in line with the spirit of the Living God who comforts us and provides for all our needs; he is our shepherd, and there is nothing we shall want.  I know that my stepfather dwells in the house of the Lord, and one day, I too, will dwell there, for Jesus promises there are many rooms in His mansion, and one day he will come back for me.  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.

I’ll leave you with these two verses from our hope and future in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 7:17,

for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 21:4,

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

The Lord is my Shepherd.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Denying Christ

I. Introduction – What Do We Do Under Pressure?
It is easy to be a Christian at church.  We are in our safe place.  We have no triggers.  We are surrounded by brothers and sisters who encourage us.  So, it is easy to stand here and say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
But when we are in a less-friendly environment, do we still profess Christ?  There are good, biblical reasons to share our faith; first and foremost is because Christ Himself calls us to do so.  Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”  You can’t make disciples if you don’t tell them about Jesus.  At least, not any method I’ve found.
We share the gospel because God first loved us, and God continues to love us and forgive us despite our many failings, and wants us to share that love and forgiveness to each other and with the world.  It’s our calling.  Why else would we be here?
And that love from the Lord compels us to extend an invitation of eternal life to a lost and dying world, that others may know eternal life and not be sentenced to an eternity of hell because they choose not to belief that Jesus is who he says He is.
But when I am in the world, there are less-flattering words to describe the demonstration of my faith.  Reluctance.  Shyness.  Embarrassment.  I care too much what people think about me, and I don’t want people to think I’m some sort of religious nut.  And there are far more worldly people ready to judge me than there are sympathetic religious nuts like you and me.
When I was a younger Christian, I was not an example of a good Christian.  You couldn’t tell I was Christian by my lifestyle even though I grew up in the Catholic Church and believed in Jesus.  If I had to fill out a questionnaire and check a box about my religion, I was not afraid to fill in the little bubble that said “Christian.”Slide2
When God is calling you, as I believe God was calling me, He challenges your own belief.  If I say I have faith, then God says, well, let’s see if you have faith.  And He puts me on the edge of that faith to let me honestly see that my view of myself can be hypocritical.  I think I am a good person, but I fall short.
So in 1996, I divorced my wife.  It was, as you can imagine, a most difficult time for me.  I still loved my wife, but I divorced her anyway.  I was scared, I was selfish and I leaned on my own understanding on what I thought was best for me.  And I had trouble coming to grips with my belief that I was a good Christian with the truth that I had divorced my wife.
And I hit my knees for the first time in my life.  No more faking it, no more pretending I was better than I was.  I told God I was finally ready to trust in His ways because my ways sucked.  Whereas before I was going to church for the wrong reason, mostly to improve my social life, now I wanted to get to know God better.Slide3.JPG
Where God challenges, God also provides.  During this time, a pastor took me aside and spent several weeks repairing my foundation.  I’m reminded of this passage from Matthew 7:24-27 –
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
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I didn’t even realize my foundation had been built on sand.  Who does, until the floods came?  But I’m on my knees and studying and trying to figure out what it means for my life to be built on Jesus.
But what held me back from living a new life?  My knowledge that I was an awful Christian.  I spent years chasing women and hanging out in bars.  I was divorced.  The only evidence of my faith was some obscure questionnaire somewhere where I had filled in that little bubble that said “Christian.”  I may want to know God better, but I didn’t blame God if He didn’t want to know me.  I was an awful example of a believer.
Two pieces of scripture were key to my development as a Christian.  First was Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” and second was the story of Peter denying Christ.  Let’s watch a little movie snippet.  This is from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”  Jesus has been arrested and taken to Herod in preparation for the Jews to turn Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion.  Peter had told Jesus that no matter what trouble came, Peter would never leave Jesus.
II. Jesus’ Prophecy
The scene is chaotic; when I was young, I had pictured Peter in a safe place when He was asked about Jesus.  It was far from a safe place; Peter’s own life was in danger.
There are many things I learned from this scene.  The first thing I learned was that my failures were not secrets.  It’s not as though the failures in my life were completely unknown to an omniscient God.  Jesus knows all.  He knows exactly who I am, who I was, who I am going to be.
Theresa said something last week that I thought illustrated me perfectly.  I was frozen in my failure.
In the story of Peter’s denial, I found the story of myself.  I was Peter, and my faith was lacking.  Matthew 26:31, Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7 and tells of a future that has not yet happened.
Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Slide6.JPGBut Jesus is not just going to fulfill this scripture, he tells the disciples that they, too, will fulfill this scripture.  The sheep that follow Jesus Christ will abandon him and scatter.
Peter has a lot of pride in his belief in Jesus.  Pride is putting oneself on the throne of God.  God may have said something, but it doesn’t apply to me.  God may have a plan, but I have something even better planned, and God just has to get on board with it.  I am a good Christian man who drank, chased women, and then divorced his wife.  Peter, like me, has a better plan, and tells Jesus that Jesus is wrong.  Verse 33,
Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”
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What arrogance to tell Jesus that Peter will never stumble, even though Jesus just prophesied that he would.  Peter knows better than God, just like I knew better than God what was best for me.
How is your pride?  Do you ever tell God what He needs to do?  Do you pray for people to change, for situations to change for your benefit, for good things to happen to you?  Do you do things that God disapproves of, but rationalize it somehow that it’s not *that* bad and God put you in this situation in the first place?
Pride is hard to eliminate.  Every time I think I’m getting a handle on humility, I think, “Wow, I’m getting really good at being humble.  In fact, I’m extraordinary at it.  I should get a medal or something.”  For me, it comes up most often when I compare myself to somebody else. Sometimes it’s skills – I am better at math, so I’m a better person than somebody who isn’t.  Sometimes it’s appearance: I may be overweight, but at least I’m not as overweight as *that* person.
Benjamin Franklin once said,
In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.
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Pride is something we all suffer from.  If we think we do not suffer from pride, then it is possible pride is blinding us to our pride.  Pride is real easy to recognize in others, though, isn’t it?  It’s because when we see pride in somebody else, we’re smugly saying, “*I* don’t suffer from pride like *he* does.”  Like Benjamin Franklin, we are being proud of our humility.
C.S. Lewis has this to say about pride:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, grief, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison; it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and, therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see Something that is above you.
Peter’s pride led him to tell Jesus that Peter alone would never betray Christ, even if all the other disciples scattered.
And Jesus response was that, not only were Jesus and Peter going to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, there was a new prophecy just for Peter.  Matthew 26:34 –
Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
III. Peter Denies Christ
You trying telling God you know better than Him and see how well that works out for you.  For me, it didn’t.  My sin led me to my knees, but I didn’t feel like my life was good enough to present to Jesus.  The Catholic Church had taught me to feel guilty, and that divorced people couldn’t receive communion.  I was a non-practicing divorced Catholic that chased women and was not allowed to accept Christ.  Where did I go wrong?
Of course when I was given an opportunity to tell people about Jesus, I hedged.  I changed the subject.  I talked about the weather.  I mean, seriously, I was such a bad example of a Christian there was no way I could tell people that Jesus was part of my life.  It would be an embarrassment to both me and to God.  I would never put a fish on my car because I was such a bad example, I didn’t want anybody to know.   I was afraid they’d look at the fish and then they’d look at me, and see right through my hypocrisy.  “You call yourself a Christian and you drive like that?  You are such a hypocrite.”
After the arrest of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin spit on Jesus.  They called Him names and struck Him in the face.  When they struck him, they taunted Him, saying, “Prophecy to us, Christ!  Who hit you?”
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And Peter was nearby.  Peter was not walking with Christ, but he was walking near Christ.  Peter was in the courtyard.  A woman said, “Aren’t you one of his students?”
Who me?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Another woman said, “Yeah, I’m certain I saw the two of you together.”
Um, nope. You’re mistaken.  I’m not one of the religious nutjobs.  I don’t know Jesus.
Others said, “You know, your accent gives you away.  You have a Nazarene accent just like him.  Your accent gives you away.”
And Peter got so frustrated that he cussed and said some sort of swear word, I. Don’t. Know. Him.
And the rooster crowed.
Of course, the prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled.  Of course, Peter denied Christ.  When the going got tough, Peter wanted to save himself.  He had a better plan than God.  It says in the book of Luke that at this point, Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter.
IV. Peter Weeps
Matthew 26:75,
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.
Slide14.JPGI think many of us get to a place where we are broken.  When we realize we are not the person we wanted to believe we are and our eyes are opened to just how far we fall short of the glory of God, we’re broken.  Peter wept.
I used to look at Peter and say, “Man, what an idiot.    I can’t believe he’d deny Christ like that.  Doesn’t he know who Jesus is?”
And in my bible study with that pastor back in 1998, I realized I was Peter.  I was the idiot that denied Christ.  Despite telling myself that I was such a good person, I finally realized how far short of the goal I was.  I had decided I knew better than God what was best for me and I dragged around my religion like garbage I was ashamed of, and when it came time for me to choose between obedience and selfishness, between trust and pride, I chose me.  I denied the plan Jesus had for me because I wanted to save myself.  My plan was better than God’s.  And when I finally realized I was Peter, I wept.
No wonder Jesus had no use for me.  I was a terrible Christian.  I was lost.  I was on the outside looking in, and that I’d never be one of the sheep that Christ promised to hold in His hands.
Ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re flawed in so many ways?  I wouldn’t blame Jesus if He never spoke to Peter again, completely disowned him.  Just like I felt Jesus had disowned me because I had failed Him in so many ways.
I remember a story about a tribe with some skin disease, maybe it was leprosy, I couldn’t find the story again, but it was on that USB stick the church handed out, the audio version of the New Testament.  This tribe had lived apart, had a unique dialect, so these missionaries translated the New Testament into their language.  And when they got to the part where the unclean woman reached out to touch the robe of Jesus, they were all on the edge of their seats and they gasped.  And Jesus turned around and said, “who touched my robe?”  The unclean woman came and fell down at the feet of Jesus and confessed.
Then Jesus told her, “Your faith has made you whole, go in peace and be healed.
The tribe broke down and cried.  They identified with the woman as being unclean, and when Jesus turned around and said, “Who touched my robe?” they were sure Jesus would call down fire from the sky and punish the woman.  But Jesus responded in love.  Their disease did not prohibit them from receiving the love of Jesus.
I Repeat, have you ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re dirty and unclean?
V. Peter is Forgiven
But that’s not what Jesus did for Peter.  Despite Peter’s best efforts at running from Jesus, Jesus still loved Peter.   After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jesus appeared to His disciples and has breakfast with them after fishing.  And rather than shun Peter, Jesus finds Peter and asks, “Do you love me?”
Slide15.JPGJesus doesn’t hold grudges; that’s what our sin nature does.  We hold grudges.  Jesus doesn’t have a sin nature, and He welcomes us in love, despite our failures.  Sometimes I think it’s actually because of our failures.  If we resist His will, He’s not going use us.  He wants us to go with Him willingly, without resistance.  And it’s only when we realize our failures and that Christ loves us unconditionally that we truly begin to understand the character of God.   It doesn’t have anything to do with us.
Theresa talked about prophecy last week, and I though how insightful it was that Jesus knew Peter would deny Him and yet Jesus took Peter to the Garden of Gethsemane anyway.  God knows we are weak.  He loves us anyway, especially if we agree with God that we are weak.  Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 12 when he pleaded for God to remove the thorn from his flesh:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
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I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Despite denying Jesus three times, Jesus loved Peter.  Not because of who Peter is, but because of who Jesus is.  Not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus is.
VI. Conclusion
Once I realized I was Peter and Jesus still loved me, it opened a door to a way of joy and peace for me.  I learned that my dirty life was not too filthy to be a follower of Jesus.  My filth helped me realize that I was indeed powerless to save myself, that thinking I was a good person was not the same thing as being a good person.  I had sinned, but I was in good company.  All have sinned and fallen short.  In fact, that’s the point, nobody is good enough.  But Jesus died for me, not because I was a good person, but because I wasn’t.  Without Jesus, I was destined for the fires of hell no matter how I tried to fool myself that it’ll be ok.  I needed a savior.
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Wherever you are in your spiritual growth, you’re not too bad that Jesus doesn’t want to get to know you.  There is nothing in your life that disqualifies you from a relationship with our loving, heavenly Father.
Despite our failures, or perhaps because of our failures, we just have to confess our sins to the Lord and he forgives and forgets as far as the east is from the west. Despite our failures, we are adopted children of the Creator of the Universe.
I am not ashamed of the gospel.  And now there’s a fish on my car.
To God be the glory.  Amen.

What Is Required?

             I.      Introduction

Today’s scripture is a familiar one; Jesus has been teaching and preaching in Judea when He was approached by a rich man, and they had a conversation about sewing and zoo animals.  Let’s read the entire conversation and see if I understood it correctly.  Matthew 19:16-26:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

When I was younger, my entire takeaway from this conversation is that rich people can’t go to heaven.  You can’t take it with you.  Only Mother Theresa can go to heaven because she was poor.  Also, this was a very big needle or a very tiny camel.

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But, as simple as this conversation is, there is so much more here than “you can’t take it with you.”  So today we’re going to do our best to understand all the nuances of what’s going on, one verse at a time.  And we’re going to begin with the question every soul wants to know: what do I have to do to go to heaven?  How much is good enough?  What good thing must I do?

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          II.      Obey the Law

I heard a pastor say recently, “Everything in the bible is for you, but not everything in the bible is about you.”  That’s partially true in this passage if we understand who Jesus is talking to and why.  Jesus is talking to a Jew who is under the Law.

Here in Matthew 19 the man is identified only as “a young man,” but this discussion with Jesus is so important to understanding the New Testament that it’s also reported in Mark Chapter 10 and in Luke Chapter 18.  Luke 18:18 refers to him as “a certain ruler,” so most likely he was a ruler of a local synagogue, a Jewish leader.  And he is asking Rabbi Yeshua about theology, and it sounds to me like he’s asking with brashness and confidence.  Wealth from man’s perspective is often associated with success, so if you’re a religious leader with money, then you must have God’s blessing.  The evidence is all around you.  The Prosperity gospel has a long, long history.

So the man, being a young, rich, religious leader, considers himself pious and full of religiousity and good deeds.  But something gnaws at him, he wants to know of all the good things he has done, what one thing must he do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus’ initial response, though, is not to the young Jewish leader’s question about eternal salvation, but Jesus answers,

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.”

The root word for “good” implies “from God,” although those words are from 12th century Middle English.  But similar words exist in Greek; “agathos” vs “theos” or “ἀγαθός” vs “θεός”.  Jesus’s response is a question that can be rephrased,

If you ask me what is good, do you acknowledge me as God?

Jesus continues then, to answer the question accurately as God would answer Israel:

Be obedient to the law I have given you.

If you want to earn your way to heaven, then earn it through obedience.  Start with the Ten Commandments, work through the 613 mitzvots,

Jesus replied. “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Before sin entered the world, God had one command for man.  “Do not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Just one rule and be obedient.

 

But man was not obedient, he ate the fruit and gained knowledge of good and evil.  Without the knowledge of evil, then our actions before the Lord are innocent.  We are like innocent children that do not know things that are wrong.  We are untainted by the knowledge of evil, so all we have to do is be obedient and we have a close relationship with the Lord.

But once sin entered the world, and we gained a knowledge of good and evil, so did the laws increase.  One of the first sins in Genesis 4 were between the children of Adam and Eve.  Genesis 4:2-8,

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Cain offered “some of the fruits” but Abel offered the best of the best of his flock.  The Lord appreciated Abel’s offering, but knew that Cain wasn’t giving the Lord the best, and gave Cain instructions and a warning.  Do what is right and your offer will be accepted.  Otherwise, sin is crouching at your door.

So we need more rules.  One of the first commandments springs from Cain and Abel, “thou shalt not murder.”  And as man’s sin have multiplied themselves over and over through the centuries, so did the Law with God’s instruction continuing to be: just be obedient.

We have our Ten Commandments, we have our 613 mitzvots.  We have our human governments and our US Constitution and 25 volumes of United States Codes and US Statutes at Large that contain not just an overwhelming number of laws, but every year we pass new laws, some laws are passed to amend existing laws, and some new laws are passed that repeal old laws.  Then we have case law and regulations that have the force of laws.  I checked the US Federal Register ( https://www.federalregister.gov/ ) and there are currently 745,213 pages of laws, rules and regulations that we are required to obey, 109 new documents from 39 agencies are added every day.

My bible has 1,281 pages.  The Federal Register is 581 times bigger.  We’ve come a long way from, “Please don’t eat the fruit.”

       III.      Be Perfect

So Israel asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, “Obey the Law.”  And incredibly, the young ruler responds with,

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

I’m guessing he might be lacking humility.  Or maybe wisdom.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

To be in the presence of a Holy God, have no sin in you.  Be perfect.

If you want to go to Heaven, you cannot drink or smoke or dance.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must belong to a certain church.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must attend church services every week and tithe 10% and attend bible study and sing in the choir and donate shoes for orphans and participate in Serve Houston.  And since we are also supposed to be good citizens, there another 746,213 pages of federal regulations we have to obey.

I thought Theresa’s quote from Mohammed Ali’s eulogy captured our thinking pretty well,

“For his part, he saw the good soul in everyone.  And if you were one of the lucky ones to have met him, you know what I mean.  He awoke every morning thinking about his own salvation, and he would often say, “I just want to get to heaven and I’ve got to do a lot of good deeds to get there.”

Have to do a lot of good deeds, obey a lot of rules.  By the way, I looked up the Bylaws of USA Boxing, and there are 50 pages of Bylaws, 31 pages of Technical Rules of Boxing, 47 pages of Competition Rules, and 35 pages of Medical Rules.

I think sometimes we recognize that it’s not all these laws we have to obey if we want to be a good Christian.  But other people?  *They* have to obey certain laws if they’re going to be good Christians.   My children have to clean their room, my spouse has to do what I tell her to do.  Even if I cannot follow all the rules, it doesn’t stop me from demanding that *other* people have to follow the rules.

 

If you look at this last question and answer between the rich young ruler and Jesus, you may notice that Jesus didn’t answer the question.  The question is wrong.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

It illustrated the central error of the Pharisees, the central error of many legalistic churches.  It is not by *doing* something that man can inherit eternal life, but by *being* something.  The ruler asks, “What shall I do?” and Jesus answers, “This is who you have to be.”  If you want eternal life, you have to be perfect.  And apparently to be perfect, it appears Jesus is saying you can’t have money.

Or at least that’s the way some have interpreted this verse.  Jesus says give away all your money to follow Him, and if you don’t, you’re a camel trying to fit to the eye of a needle.

That doesn’t seem right, though.  What is Jesus saying?

          IV.      But What About the Money?

Is money evil?  Is giving away all our money something Jesus is really asking us to do? Let’s start with this familiar verse, 1 Timothy 6:10,

Money is the root of all evil.

Actually, that’s not what 1 Timothy 6:10 says.  The full verse is,

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Money by itself is not evil.  Jewish teaching establishes that your own needs are your primary concern, but not your only concern.  Caring for your own needs is essential to survive, but not to thrive.  Therefore, helping to provide for the needs of others is an essential part of living a fulfilling life.  The Jews celebrate this idea at the end of each Sabbath on Saturday night with a Havdalah service.  They fill a cup of wine to the brim and then let it overflow into a saucer beneath the cup.  The idea is to continue to fill your own cup so that it overflows even after it’s full so the excess can provide for others in need.

How big is your cup?  Our modern society tells us our cup is huge.  Fill it with everything you can get your hands on, look out for yourself.  All of your wants are needs.  And the cup never overflows because you are constantly trying to satisfy all of your needs and all of your wants.

But some say Christians should give away everything and have a small cup, live poorly.  But that’s not biblical, either.  1 Timothy 5:8 says,

 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Ultimately, the size of the cup is between you and the Lord.  Your cup must be large enough to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but small enough to allow the blessings God has provided to overflow to those around you.

There have been plenty of people, both Old Testament and New Testament, that had money.  David, a man after God’s own heart, had a palace and a kingdom.  Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was also the wealthiest who ever lived.  But Solomon said this about money in Ecclesiastes 5:10.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.”

And Joseph of Arimathea is described in the book of Luke as a “good and upright man” and a follower of Jesus, who donated the use of his wealthy family’s tomb after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Interesting to me was that the wealth of Joseph was part of prophecy, Isaiah 53:9 –

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Slide24Besides, the absolute worst way to care for the poor is to give away all your money and become one of the poor that need help.

 

            V.      It’s About the Heart

So it’s not about the money.  It’s about the heart.  Do you treasure the things of God, or the things of this world?  Matthew 6:21,

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Slide25That’s the central point of Jesus’s message to the rich young ruler.  If you want eternal life, where is your heart?  Is it with your possessions, or is it with heavenly things?  And the ruler went away sad because he was a wealthy man.

If one problem with money is that it becomes our idol, our focus in this world, then another problem is that money keeps us from remembering that all blessings come from God.  I have this passage from C.S. Lewis, and it’s a little on the long side, but I think very appropriate to the dangers of complacency when one has too much:

C.S. Lewis – “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give, and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God. Now, quite plainly natural gifts carry with them a similar danger. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex or dipsomania or nervousness or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap, and between ourselves, you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing, and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until one day, the natural goodness lets them down, and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are rich in this sense to enter the kingdom.”

 

          VI.      Old Testament Vs New Testament

So money can’t buy you a ticket to heaven, but then neither can a lack of money.  So neither wealth nor poverty leads to eternal life.  Who then, can be saved?

And that’s exactly what the disciples of Jesus asked after the ruler went away sad.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I spent a lot of time on this last sentence, and one of the things that dawned on me is that this is the line that separates the Old Testament from the New Testament.

You see, God made a unique covenant with Israel.  Be obedient and the Lord will deliver you to the Promised Land.   But those 745,213 federal regulations turned out to be too hard to follow, and the only reason there are so many regulations is that sin had entered the world and the wages of sin is death.

What’s the right size of your cup to make sure it’s overflowing?  That’s between you and God.  But what if you get it wrong?  What if getting the size of the cup built to the right size as specified in the regulations was necessary for eternal life?  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is to get my cup and your cup sized perfectly.  Man’s heart is full of deceit and we will get the size of the cup wrong, even if we give all we have to the poor and become a pauper for Jesus.

But the Lord can accomplish His will.  And with God, all things are possible.  Instead of trying through our own efforts at complying with all the regulations, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  The rules I don’t satisfy?  Christ paid the cost for me.  The rules I break?  Christ paid the punishment for me.

For Israel, it was indeed about “What can I *do* to inherit eternal life?”  But for those of us who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus, it’s now, “Who can I *be*?”  We can be believers and trust that Jesus Christ, our Advocate, will satisfy all the requirements for us.  That’s what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:17,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Christ satisfies every federal regulation we have to meet.  And now the laws we have to follow now are simple:

Romans 13:8-10,

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Galatians 5:14,

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 6:2,

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Jesus somehow takes those 745,213 federal regulations and reduces it to this:

Love one another and carry one another’s burdens.  Let me handle the details.

 

       VII.      Conclusion

So let’s remember today that in order to inherit eternal life, we have to be perfect.  In order to be perfect, we have to cover ourselves with the shed blood of Jesus Christ because He alone is perfect.  And that on our own merits, we cannot work our way to eternal life.  We cannot be perfect at fulfilling the Ten Commandments and 613 Mitzvots and 745,213 Federal Regulations, not to mention the boxing rules.  But we believe the Lord fulfilled the Law and took our punishment.

Pray that the size of your cup if large enough to enjoy this world and what God hath created, but small enough that it overflows.  Love one another and carry each other’s burdens.

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They say you can’t take it with you.  However, if you trust in Jesus, you can let Him take you with Him.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Redeemed & Secure

             I.      Introduction – A Love Story

Last week, Chris introduced us to the book of Ruth.  Now, he stopped at the end of Ruth chapter 2 as Ruth and Naomi were headed back to Bethlehem.    We’re going to pick up in Ruth chapter 3, and will read about the love story about how Ruth met Boaz and they married.  That’s right, the principle difference between Chris’ lesson and mine is that in Chris’ lesson, Boaz is ruthless.

But today we are going to discuss the love story and marriage of Ruth and Boaz.

I encourage everyone to read the books of Ruth 1-4 to get familiar with their story, it is a love story, and let me give you the overall snapshot so you understand what’s going on.  Chris taught an excellent lesson last week about the decisions Ruth made that affected our lives today; Ruth was the great grandmother of King David and by her example showed us how to have a winning walk toward the promised land and how important our decisions are.

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In Ruth chapter 1, Elimelech and Naomi were living in Bethlehem when there was a great famine.  Elimelech and Naomi decided to move with their two sons to find food.  They moved to the land of Moab, which apparently were populated by Moabites, who knew.  The Moabites did not worship the Lord and treated Israelites poorly.

While living in Moab, Naomi’s husband Elimelech died.  Naomi’s two sons married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth.  After 10 years, both of Naomi’s sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws, all 3 widows.

The famine ended, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, and urged Orpah and Ruth to stay with the Moabites.  As we learned last week, Orpah was stiff-necked and stayed behind, but Ruth said to Naomi, “Your God will be my God,” and Ruth and Naomi traveled to Bethlehem, arriving just at harvest time.    Naomi returned to the promised land but changed her name from pleasant to bitter.  Ruth, who’s name meant “friend” or “companion,” was willing to give up everything, little as it was, to be a gentile with a heart for the Lord.

Now, Naomi and Ruth are both widows, and in the days of the Old Testament and Judges, widows were not treated well.  There might be plenty of food at harvest, but not for the 2 widows.

In Leviticus 19:9-10,

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

God’s people were not to harvest the outer edges of their fields because they should leave that for the poor.  So when the harvest was done, Ruth went to the leftover crops and picked grain for herself and for Naomi.  It so happened that the field Ruth went to belonged to Boaz.  Boaz was a distant relative of Naomi’s deceased husband Elimelech, and Naomi discovers that Ruth has been harvesting in the field of a distant relative.

Naomi is pretty excited about this news – she tells Ruth that Boaz is a relative and is obligated under the law to be a “kinsman-redeemer.”  Here we pause in our love story and discuss some biblical terms because, after all, this is a bible study.

There are several passages in the Old Testament that talk about the kinsman-redeemer, and the Hebrew word is “גָּאַל gâʼal” which means a relative that delivers, avenges, ransoms or purchases something.  Think of it sort of like a pawn broker who hold something of value of yours.  If you want that valuable, you redeem that item and it belongs to you again.  A kinsman-redeemer is based on Leviticus 25:47-49.

If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves.

Naomi and Ruth are in this position, poor widows, and Naomi is excited that Ruth has found favor in the eyes of Boaz.  Naomi gives Ruth a series of instructions –

  1. Wash, perfume yourself and put on your cloak
  2. Go to the threshing-floor
  3. Do not let Boaz recognize you during the feasting
  4. When he sleeps, lie down at his feet and uncover him
  5. Do whatever he tells you to do

          II.      The Seduction of Boaz

It appears that Naomi has a plan for her daughter-in-law to get rich.  The phrase “uncover him” is a euphemism for sexual relations, the same phrase is used throughout Leviticus 18 about unlawful sexual relations.  If Ruth seems enticing to Boaz, perhaps he will have sexual relations with her, get married, and they will both be saved.  Ruth is obligated to obey Naomi, but not at the cost of obeying God’s law.  How will she be both obedient to Naomi and to God?

Ruth does everything Naomi tells her to do.  That night, Ruth returns to the threshing floor – remember the threshing floor from a few weeks back, when Gideon was hiding from the Midianites?  Ok, he was hiding in a hole in the ground, but the threshing floor is a large flat surface used for separating the wheat from the chaff.  There must have been some sort of after-harvest party because Ruth 3:7 says Boaz had finished eating and drinking and went to lay down near the grain pile.  Ruth follows Naomi’s instructions and lays down at the feet of Boaz.

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Boaz wakes up and there’s a a young woman lying at his feet.  Boaz is shocked and asks Ruth what’s she’s doing.  Ruth is truthful and says she belongs to Boaz if only he will redeem her, and Ruth promises to do whatever Boaz asks.  She has placed her trust in Boaz as her redeemer, and fortunately, Boaz is a righteous man and Ruth’s chastity remains intact.  Boaz is touched.  He says to Ruth that there are plenty of younger men available, but he is flattered Ruth chose him.  And Boaz will indeed redeem her, but there’s a catch – Boaz is not the closest heir.  Boaz will redeem her, but because he’s a righteous man, he will make the offer to the closest heir first in front of the town elders, then leave the outcome up to God.

             III.      The Redemption of Ruth

At the beginning of Ruth chapter 4, Boaz finds the closest relative and asks him to sit at the gate while Boaz gathers ten of the town’s elders.

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In early Israelite towns, the town gate served as the center of public business.  Heavy wooden double doors were hung on large posts and were secured by bars and locks during the night.  In front of the gate entrance there was an open space lined with benches where the elders sat.  Matters of commerce were discussed and trade transactions were made, and the local judicial court of elders met to decide business and legal transactions.  It was also where elders delivered judgments in violation of the Law, and it was outside the town gate that the guilty were punished.

So in front of the elders, Boaz tells the other relative (who is not named in scripture), “Naomi is selling the land that belonged to Elimelech.”  Because of Jewish law, the closest relative had the right to redeem it, and the other heir says, “excellent, I will redeem it.”

Boaz then tells him that the property also comes with Ruth the Moabite, which the heir also must redeem if he is to accept the property.  At this the heir says that’s a problem and he cannot redeem it, it puts his own estate at risk.

Think back on our pawn shop example, you’re trying to redeem something of value that the pawn shop owner has.  In order to redeem it, there are 3 requirements –

  1. You have the right to redeem it. It rightfully belongs to you.  The heir in our story has the right as a blood relative to redeem the property and Ruth.
  2. You have the means to redeem it. You are willing to pay the cost.  The kinsman had the financial means to buy the property from Naomi.
  3. You are willing to redeem it. You actually want it back.  The kinsman has a concern about his own estate and decides he is not willing to redeem the property if Ruth is part of the bargain.

So the right of redemption falls to Boaz.  Boaz has the right as a relative, he has the mean to pay the price, and he is also willing to redeem Ruth.  Ruth 4:9-10,

Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”

Our love story today is possible because of the righteousness of Boaz and his redemption of Ruth.  And they all lived happily ever after.

 

             IV.      The Redemption of You and Me

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Now if this was just a love story between Ruth and Boaz, it’s a beautiful story, and nobody dies at the end like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Titanic.”  But I believe God’s word has more meaning than that, and is applicable to us, today.

So, through decisions at forks in the road that Chris mentioned last week, Ruth is born a Moabite in a foreign land, but follows the God of Israel back to Bethlehem, respects her parent Naomi, and she is a widow and considered part of the property her father-in-law had.  Due to somebody else’s choices, Ruth is in bondage, is lacking freedom, and cannot free herself.  All she has is her choice on whether to be obedient to her mother and whether to follow the God of Israel.

Can Ruth free herself?  Is there a future that is in her control?    No; she is in bondage due to her ancestor’s choices, she is unable to free herself.  She needs a redeemer.

Who are we?  Who are you and who am I?  Can we free ourselves from the bondage of sin?  Is there a future that is on our control?  We are in bondage to due to the choices of our ancestors, and we are unable to free ourselves from the bondage of sin.  We need a redeemer.  Who will redeem us from this bondage of sin?

Where does redemption fit in our theology of eternal salvation?  We talk about our assurance of eternal life because of the blood of Jesus, but there are actually several things that happen in quick succession when we profess our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus.

We are born into sin; because of our sin nature – thanks a lot, Adam – but we ourselves make poor choices, and sometimes we make downright bad choices.  Our sin nature puts us in the family of the devil who rules this world.  And our Holy God has promised to right all wrongs and will eventually destroy all evil, including the evil that is within us.  A Holy God will not permit the unholy.

On our own, it is hopeless.  Romans 3:23 says we are all sinners,

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

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We are subject to the wrath of God, unless somebody purchases us, redeems us from our sin.  This scripture, Romans 3:23, may be familiar to us, but this verse in contexts says,

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

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In order to be saved, we must belong to Christ, but at sinners, we are in the possession of the devil.  When we repent and turn to Jesus Christ, Christ redeems us from the devil, his death on the cross atones for our sins, and we are then accepted as righteous and have eternal salvation.

Does Christ meet the three requirements as our redeemer?  Let’s see, Jesus must have the right, the means, and the willingness to redeem us.

We are created in God’s image, but we are in the possession of the devil.  As the Son of God, Jesus have the right to claim what he has created, to free us from the sinful choices we made.  Because Jesus is the Son of our Creator, he does indeed have the right to redeem us.  The Old Testament qualification for our redeemer (Dueteronomy 25:5-10, Leviticus 25:25, Ruth 2:1) says that our redeemer must be related to us by blood.  Jesus fulfills these as described in Galatians 4:4-5,

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Does Jesus have the means to redeem us?  To be able to redeem us, he has to pay for all of our sins, past, present and future. In this world, when we do wrong, we may be able to find a good friend to bail us out of one bad problem, but not a lifetime of problems.  Our hypothetical friend has his own sin issues to deal with.  But Jesus has no sin and can freely pay for the sin we commit.  And as deity, Jesus can take away the sins of the world.  Jesus alone has the means to redeem us, Jesus and no other.  1 Peter 1:18-19 puts it this way,

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

But these two requirements we met by the unnamed heir who refused to redeem Naomi.  The heir had the right and the means, but not the will.

In John 10:14-18, Jesus said,

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

The price was steep, but in perfect submission, Jesus surrendered His will to that of His Father.  As steep as the price was, costing Him his very life, Jesus paid it all for us.

          II.      Conclusion – A Love Story

In Ruth 4:13-17,

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.  The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.  The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

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So King David, a man after God’s own heart, was Ruth’s grandson, and David of course is in the lineage of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  When Boaz redeemed Ruth, He did more than accept her as His own.  Boaz married her and accepted her as his bride.

In Revelation 21:2 at the beginning of the eternal kingdom, Jesus accepts us, the church, as His bride.  In John’s vision:

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

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Our sins are washed away, we are righteous and beautiful before the Lord.  And in our love story, somebody does indeed die at the end.  Jesus gave up His life so that you and I could live.  And now, I know, my redeemer lives.

And we all lived happily ever after.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

The Timid Warrior

             I.      Introduction

Let’s open our bibles to the book of Gideon.  Or if you don’t have a book of Gideon, let’s open our Gideon bibles.

We’re going to look today at a warrior named Gideon in the book of Judges chapter 6, so let’s turn there.  Your bible should have a book of Judges.  It’s just after the book of jury selection.

The year is probably between 1045 and 1000 BC, and the book of Judges does not name the author, though the prophet Samuel is the likely author.  The book begins with the Israelites defeating the Canaanites and ends with the Israelites defeating the Philistines and the death of Samson.  We can summarize the entire book of Judges with these three verses,

Judges 2:16-17,

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.  Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.

Judges 10:15,

But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.”

And Judges 21:25,

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

The Lord has never failed to rescue His people when the repent of their ways, but Israel has fallen into a destructive pattern.  Obedience led to disobedience.  Disobedience led to destruction.  Destruction led to repentance.  Repentance led to rescue.  Rescue led to obedience. slide4

But enough about Israel.  Let’s talk about us.  Well, actually, maybe I already am talking about us.  We want to be good Christians, but when the Lord cares for us, it’s easy to get complacent and take the Lord’s blessings for granted.  We fool ourselves into thinking that a little misbehaving is ok, but then our misbehaving leads to trouble that we get ourselves into.  Then we cry out to the Lord, please save me, I’m in trouble.  And this time I’ll promise I’ll be good.

          II.      Gideon’s Condition

There’s got to be a better way than falling in the steps of the Israelites.  We’re going to focus on Gideon in Judges chapter 6, and this is what the land of Israel was like in those days, Judges 6:1-6,

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.  Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.  Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country.  They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys.  They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it.  Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

The Midianites had oppressed the Israelites, and that doesn’t really describe how bad things are.  The people of Israel were vastly outnumbered, forced to live in caves, and anytime the enemy showed up, the enemy killed the Israelite’s sheep and cattle and donkeys.

When it appeared that life in Israel was completely hopeless, then Israel turned to the Lord.  Not as their first response, but only after they had tried everything else and lost.  Not that we would ever do such a thing, take things into our own hands until we’ve made a complete and utter mess of things, and then finally turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, where are you?”  No, of course we would never do that.

When we are discouraged or in pain, of course we cry out to the Lord for help.  And God in His great mercy and love for us often helps us, but we have to acknowledge that sometimes we create the problem ourselves, and the solution begins with obedience, finding the path the Lord has set before us and walking that path.  God does not appear like a magic genie and pluck us out of our difficulties; our spiritual growth and discipline comes first and then the relief comes later.

And it’s not enough for Israel to be sad and upset with their condition.  But if the only thing Israel is sorry for is that they are living in caves, then they do not yet understand what the problem is.  If we spend all our money on clothing or boats or travel or eating out and the credit card collectors begin harassing us, can we go to God and ask for financial blessings to rescue us?  Are we sorry we are broke, or are we sorry we were not good stewards of God’s blessings?

2 Corinthians 7:10 puts it this way,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

God’s response to Israel was to send a prophet and clarify to Israel what the problem was, Judges 6:7-10,

When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.  I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

       III.      Gideon’s Complaint

So the Lord sent a message to Gideon who was hiding in a basement somewhere so the Midianites couldn’t find him.  Verse 11-12,

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.  When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Usually wheat or corn is threshed on a threshing floor to remove the husks and straw, a flat surface is best.  Slide9.JPGBut Gideon was hiding from the Midianites in a winepress, a hole or a pit.Slide10.JPG  So when the angel of the Lord calls Gideon “mighty warrior,” Gideon probably looked around to see who the angel was talking to.  And it didn’t take very long to look around, because, well, Gideon is in a hole in the ground.

Gideon’s response to the Angel of the Lord is to complain, Judges 6:13,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

So we know the answer to Gideon’s question – Israel is in this mess because they turned their backs on the Lord and worshipped false idols and other gods.  Gideon though is questioning the Lord – if the Lord is really with us, why do all these bad things keep happening?  Seriously, Lord, I’m in a hole in the ground trying to thresh wheat, so where are you?

But you know, it’s ok to bring our complaints to the Lord.  If we are in prayer with the Lord, we should be as honest with the Lord as we possibly can.  We do not need to feel we have to pray a certain way or pray only how we think the Lord wants us to pray.  We don’t need to be phony and pray the way we think Christians should pray.  Scripture is consistent that the Lord wants us to approach Him in pray with honesty, open our hearts completely, even if it is a complaint.

Remember David, a man after God’s own heart?  Here is his Psalm 10,

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Be honest with the Lord.  If you have a complaint, bring it to the Lord.  Question the Lord and see if He will answer.  That’s what Job did – Job lost his health and his family and his friends and his livestock.  It must have been a mystery to him since he was a righteous man, and he took his complaint to God.  Job told God he wished he had never been born, that he has no peace and no rest and he has unending troubles.  And the Lord answered Job.

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

          IV.      Gideon’s Reluctance

In answer to Gideon, the Lord didn’t bother to recap Israel History 101.  The Lord tells Gideon in verse 14,

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

If we have a single scripture to remember today, it’s this verse from Judges 6:14, “Go in the strength you have.”  Gideon was a timid man, hiding in that hole in the ground so his enemies wouldn’t find him, and the angel of the Lord called him, “mighty warrior.”  Gideon’s response shows that Gideon didn’t feel he was the right man for this job.  Verse 15,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

Gideon feels inadequate because he is the runt of the litter.  Gideon’s error is that Gideon seems to think he has something to do with the Lord’s victory.  The Lord doesn’t need our help, but He desires our heart, our willingness, our obedience.  God wants us to step out on His behalf, to be His ambassador, but the victory is the Lord’s, not ours.  The Lord’s response in verse 16,

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

God calls us to lead a godly life of repentance, obedience, love and joy and peace and sometimes it seems like it’s just too hard to do everything we are supposed to do.  It’s just too much.  It’s too stressful, I can’t be sure I’m doing it right, I don’t see it working, we find a myriad of excuses.  Gideon’s excuse is that he was too little.   He’s little enough to hide in a hole.  He’s the runt of the litter.  He’s the smallest of the small.  Other people are better suited.

But that completely misses the point of what God is asking of us.  He’s not asking us to be victorious, he’s asking us to be obedient and then God will be victorious.  Go in the strength you have.

Remember when God asked Moses to lead His people out of Egypt?  In Exodus 3, God appears to Moses as a burning bush and says to Moses, “Go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  Moses’ first response is, “Who am I to do these things you ask?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And Moses says, “What if they don’t listen to me?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And then in Exodus 4:10-13,

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

One thing I know about each and every believer: God has a plan for each one of us, a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future.  And I cannot fulfill the plan God has for you, and you cannot fulfill the plan God has for me.  The plan God has for you can only be fulfilled by the one person God created to fulfill that plan.  Moses finally recognized that God had a plan for him and became obedient.  When Moses finally appeared to Pharaoh and began to lead the Lord’s people out of Egypt, there was quite a few obstacles, including that inconvenient Red Sea obstacle.  But when it came time to overcome that obstacle, who parted the waters?  Was it Moses?  Or was it God?

When Peter walked on water, was He enabled by Jesus, or did he walk on water on his own power?

God doesn’t ask us to be victorious, He doesn’t ask us to move mountains, He doesn’t ask us to perform miracles.  He just asks us to be obedient.  Use the mouth the Lord gave you to speak and do not be concerned whether you speak well.  Use what the good Lord gave you, and that’s more than enough.  The Lord has already equipped you for the work He has given you.  It’s not about us, it’s about the Lord, and the victory is already His.

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In the next chapter of Judges, Gideon finds out he is massively outnumbered before the battle with the Midianites.  Gideon has 32,000 men, the Midianites have 135,000 men.  The Midianites outnumbered him four to one.  And the Lord says to Gideon, “You have too many men,” and Gideon’s army was reduced to only 10,000, or 13:1.  And the Lord says, “You still have too many men.”  And Gideon’s army was reduced to 300 men.  He’s now outnumbered 450 to 1.

Why does God drastically reduce the size of Gideon’s army?   If Gideon is outnumbered 4:1 or even 13:1, Israel might boast of their victory.  But when they are outnumbered 450:1… Israel would not boast.   It is apparent that with such overwhelming odds there was no way Israel could win.  The victory belonged to the Lord.  It could only have been victorious because of the Lord.

That’s why it doesn’t matter what you think about your abilities.  If you speak well, or you’re unable to speak.  If you can lift 1000 pounds or 10 pounds.  God created you for the task He gave you and you are already perfectly equipped to fulfil that task.  Just be obedient to the call you hear.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it like this to the body of Christ.  You do not save yourselves, there is nothing you can add to or take away from your salvation, it is a gift and all of the glory belongs to the Lord.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

             V.      Conclusion

I’ve got a snippet of a video that sort of illustrates this point, and I hope you’ll bear with me.  It’s not exactly the best illustration of today’s lesson, but I baked my brain in the sun this week and I was a little incoherent.  But I went with the strength I had and the victory belongs to the Lord. Here’s the setup:

When Barney sings under his own power, the result is, shall we say, acoustically challenged. Andy comes up with a plan but it requires Barney getting out of the way:

So the day of the performance arrives, and here’s the result:

God wants us to open our mouths, then get out of the way and let Him sing through us.

Judges 6:14 –

Go in the strength you have.

And the victory belongs to the Lord.

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.