Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Story: The Kingdom Falls - God Gives Tough Love

Focus passage: 2 Chron. 36, Jeremiah and Ezekiel

How many warnings does it take? Watch out for rattlesnakes! Stay away from the fire! Wear your seat belt when driving! We hear the warnings all the time and ignore them. How many warnings does it take from God before people start to listen? The last forty five years of Israel’s history were filled with warnings from people like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. No one seemed to take the warnings seriously. In the end, they paid the price. Yet mixed into those warnings was a parent’s love. God wasn’t angry with the people of Judah, he was just concerned for them. Like any parent whose kids misbehave, you know that someday your child will get hurt. They may not always listen, but you warn them again and again because you care that much.

Countdown to Oblivion

A. 50 years away – Words of warning Jer. 3:6 The first set of warnings would come from Jeremiah and start over 50 years before the captivity would be final. The people talked about God, but worshipped the gods of the surrounding nations. Jeremiah would continue to warn the people through five kings and three attacks by the Babylonians. He would be arrested, beaten and thrown in a well to die. Yet, God would not stop warning the people through this prophet even if his warnings made him a thorn in the side of the kings of Judah.


B. 20 years away – First Captivity warning 2 Kings 24:1 Jeremiah had warned of the “boiling pot facing north (Jer 1:11), but King Jehoiakim refused to listen. In his fourth year of kingship, the Babylonians came and conquered Judah. They took Daniel and the best of the young men. They took the gold of the nation and the temple and made Judah a vassal of Babylon as a warning of things to come. It should have made them turn to the Lord, but they still ignored God’s warnings.


C. 11 years away – Second captivity and more words of warning Ezekiel 6:3-4 After four years of rebellion, the Babylonians had seen enough and came and attacked the nation for a second time. All of the treasures and leaders were taken leaving Judah desolate. They had been a separate nation, now they were a conquered state with a puppet king put in place to rule them. All that Jeremiah had prophesied was coming true. God even added another voice at this time. Ezekiel began prophesying to the Jews in Babylon, but the Jews in Palestine refused to listen. 


D. O years - 586 BC – Judah is taken 2 Chronicles 36:19 After eleven years of the Jews trusting Egypt to save them instead of the Lord, the Babylonians came the last time and laid siege to the city. In the end, they would break down the walls of the city, capture and maim the wicked king and destroy the temple. Judah ceased to exist as a nation for a time. The Jewish people would not have their own nation again for 400 years and would lose that nation to the Romans in the years before Jesus. The powerful nation of David seemed to be gone or was it? The people would not listen so God found another way to teach his children.

Destruction is not God’s final word (Ezekiel 36:24-25). The Lord through the prophet Jeremiah had promised that the people would return to the Promised Land 70 years from the time of the first captivity. In Ezekiel, God promises to bring a revival in the nation of Israel. Not only will he gather them back, the people who come back will be forgiven and taught to put away their idols. In common language today, we would call it tough love. You can talk all you want, but sometimes you have to give tough love. Such is the depth of God’s love for His people. Many will not listen to the Lord even today, but there will always be a remnant who will find the Lord at their side caring for them and loving them no matter how far the nation has fallen. God can’t stop loving even when so many don’t love Him back. He loves even when it gets tough, because He wants as many as possible to be saved.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Faithful Servant - What To Do While Waiting

Focus Passage: Matthew 24:45-51

When the church talks about the last days, people think about crazy people who put on white robes and sit on mountain tops waiting for the last day. Jesus, however, talks about the last days as a time of activity caring for one another and doing the work that he has given us. The church is not just about feeling good or having fun together. The real test of a church should be whether it helps people know God better and help them to serve in ministry well. The church is the place where we confess our sin and see our savior. The church is the place where we grow so that we are ready for whatever comes in the days ahead. The most important thing to do while we wait for the last day is be in God’s word.

Some will lose hope that Jesus will ever return v.48 The last days will be a time of deceit when many are fooled by the glamour and glitter of the age. The servant in the text doesn’t believe that the master will return. He has become so confused that he stops feeding and caring for the servants around him. Without a steady diet of God’s word, people are easily led astray by the world. Without the word, they will slowly drift from the Lord and will lose their connection with the Lord.

Some begin to act like the world and will be punished v.49 The servant starts to change. What had been a faithful servant now starts to have a moral breakdown and becomes just as wicked as the world around him. The ideas of the world are not working. The servant begins to use force to control them as the world tells him to do. When a church becomes lax in their Bible study, they often become places filled with quarrelling and moral breakdowns. They become just like the world around them.

 The faithful are healthy and hopeful v.45a The wise servant knows that feeding himself and others is not an option. He will be different than the world around him having gained wisdom from his time with the Lord. He will be faithful. He will continue to take time for being fed even in busy schedules because he knows that he will not survive without the food that the master has left for him. He will not be led astray by the false claims, but will stay close to what the master has given.

The faithful feed others with God’s Word v.45b Notice that the servant feeds the others with the master’s food. Workers are not expected to go and find or purchase the food. The church is to feed people with the food left by the master in his Bible. They are not to feed people the wisdom of the day or the latest polls. They want to feed people with a wisdom that lasts. They want to feed people based on the forgiveness of the cross of Jesus Christ. They want to feed people so that their lives change and work.

The servant in the text will be rewarded by the master for he has cared for and fed others instead of giving into the world around him. He will be rewarded by giving him further privileges and will be elevated in the household because of his wisdom and faithfulness. The person who continues in the word will find that it will have great rewards as well. They will gain a closer relationship with the Lord. No longer will God be someone far off, but will be someone that you know and who you can rely on to help you in every situation. You will also have a real purpose to life and will have a life that will accomplish great things. You will not look back in your last days and wonder what could have been. You will look at your children and the way that you lived your life and see all the people that the Lord let you impact. As you learn from the Lord and put it into practice, your life will be different.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Story:Judah's Downfall - Watered Down Faith

Focus Passage: 2 Chronicles 29-33 

Judah was warned. The year was 722 BC and the Northern Kingdom was captured never to be seen again. The Assyrians swooped down from the north and after a three year siege destroyed the nation and carried its people off to foreign lands to be assimilated into other nations. 208 years had passed since the death of Solomon and now ten of the twelve tribes were gone. During that time, the people had never worshipped the Lord. They had worshipped the gods of their neighbors like Baal. They had sacrificed their children to Molech. Their evil was so bad, God abandoned them. This is a story to warn what will happen when people forget their Lord. When a nation abandons the true God, they leave themselves defenseless and open to pain.

Hezekiah gives his heart to God 2 Chronicles 29:2-3 At first, Judah was exempt from the destruction of the North. A good king reigned on the throne of Judah whose name was Hezekiah. He began his reign, even as the Northern Kingdom was under siege by reclaiming God’s temple which his father, King Ahaz, had closed down. He also wanted to claim the hearts of the people and so he dedicated fourteen men to teach the people about the God that so many of them did not know. He wanted revival in Jerusalem. He wanted the hearts of the people to be lifted up to the Lord and refused to have empty worship.

In time of danger, God will answer the prayer of the faithful Isaiah 37:14 It has been perhaps ten years since the fall of the Northern Kingdom and Assyria has decided to expand its kingdom again – this time into Judah. They conquer the western part of the nation and then the south leaving Jerusalem as the last bastion of the kingdom of Judah. Yet, instead of fearing the Assyrians, Hezekiah takes the letter and spreads it before the Lord in prayer. Hezekiah and his officers humble themselves before God and seek His protection. Because of their prayer and their submission to God, an angel of the Lord was dispatched who put to death 185,000 troops camped around the city of Jerusalem in a single night.

Forgetting God leads to punishment 2 Chron. 33:10-11 You would think that a miracle like that would cement the people to the temple and to the worship of the one true God. Yet, Manasseh, the son of this Godly king would lead them away from God only fifteen years or so after their salvation. He would rebuild all the false altars that his father had gotten rid of. God sent messengers to warn Manasseh against what he was doing, but the king and the people did not listen to the Lord. The mighty Assyrians came again and they captured Jerusalem and the king. They led him off with a hook in his nose and bound him in shackles. God will not be mocked.

Are halfhearted reforms enough? 2 Chronicles 33:17 God didn’t give up on Manasseh. As a captive, he called out to the true God and was freed by the Lord and brought back to Jerusalem. He then began to prove that his conversion was true as he tried to undo all the evil that he had done and reestablish the worship of the Lord. Yet, the revival was not as full as the revival of Hezekiah, his father. Manasseh allowed the people to continue to sacrifice at the high places. He accommodated the worship of God to the customs of the people. In a sense, he watered down the faith. They worshiped God, but they did so in their own way.

Halfhearted reforms are the beginning of the end. One of the reforms that Manasseh could not make was the reform of his son’s heart. All those years of idol worship had left an impression on his son Amon. The text says that Amon worshiped at the idols that his father had made and that were still up. The watered down religion never touched his heart. He did not humble himself before the Lord, but rejected the Lord and began to re-institute pagan worship the way it was through most of Manasseh’s kingship. The father and son team of Hezekiah and Manasseh ruled Judah at the height of Assyrian power. The revival of Hezekiah brought 100 years of God’s mercy. The halfhearted worship of Manasseh had little impact and the nation was soon on the way to destruction. A nation of halfhearted worship will find that God’s blessings will not last.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Wedding Banquet - The Chance to Live

Focus passage: Matthew 22: 1-14

From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, God had invited his people to a banquet of forgiveness and blessing with his son. It was an invitation that people could accept or reject. It would not come with lightening bolts or legions of angels to force you to accept. God repeated the invitation throughout the centuries with prophet after prophet. God wanted so much to restore the relationship that He had with his people in the garden. He wanted to give them help as they lived in a harsh cruel world and hope for an eternity in heaven. The invitation still divides the people of the world. God wants to give the salvation won at the cross and a new life with him, but many will still reject it and God will not force it on anyone. As you listen to the parable anew, ask yourself what you and those you love have done with the invitation offered freely. 

Some refused the invitation as they put life ahead of God v.5 Many in Jesus day made light of the invitation. They mocked his call for repentance. They were busy and life was going well. They visited the temple at the appropriate times, but they also had fields to manage and families to raise. Life was to be lived not wasted on Jesus. Jesus still doesn’t get that we live in a 24/7 world hooked up with 4g to the internet and working our way to fame and fortune.

 Some grew angry at the thought of needing a new life from God v.6 Some around Jesus grew angry. His teachings were disrupting their world. They didn’t need the new life he offered and they were tired of listening to his invitation. Today people grow weary with the invitation of God. His invitation shows that all religions are not alike. His invitation shows that there is something missing in their lives. People don’t want to hear the truth because it is painful.

The invitation goes out to others who will accept it v.9 Yet the invitation could not be stopped. Jesus would travel through the nation of Judah calling out to those who knew that life was not right. They came by the thousands with their sick and with their questions. Life was not right and they were eager to hear the invitation. The invitation still can not be stopped because so many realize that they need it. Some are broken while others just want something more than the world can offer

God gives people His righteousness v.10 All who accept the invitation soon realize that the invitation is not based on their righteousness. It is the righteousness of the cross that gives entry to this invitation. His righteousness brings salvation to the disciple and to the thief on the cross. No one enters the banquet because they are good enough. Salvation and this new life are all based on the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. His resurrection gives us what we have been longing for and could not find.

Many invited, but few accept the call. The invitation for salvation and a new life goes out to the whole world, but few will accept it. Jesus even calls the way to heaven a narrow path. Many are too busy to really accept the full salvation that Jesus offers. Others will cling to their false gods and their false way of life and get tired of God’s invitation. Yet, there will be those who lives are broken enough or wise enough that they will see the beauty of God’s invitation. These are the ones who will succeed in life for they will have everything that they need from a loving God. The question still is what will you do with the invitation and will you share it with others.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The story: God's messengers - Come Home, Israel

Focus Passage: 1Kings 1-11, 2 Chron. 1-9

It was a Father’s heartache. Tom had been the apple of his father Jim’s eye. Tom was smart and very athletic. Father and son had been so close throughout his high school years. When he got to college, Tom got caught up in a bad crowd and soon he had dropped out and Jim didn’t hear from Tom for a while. Jim finally heard that Tom was out west somewhere and had run on hard times. His friends had deserted him and he was on drugs. Jim called the cell phone that he had given his son in college, but no one ever answered. He finally heard from a friend where Tom was living and went to see him. In the days of David and Solomon, Israel had been the envy of the world. It was powerful and had enormous wealth. It showed the greatness of God to a world that wished they could belong to Yahweh. In the last days of Solomon, the nation ran away from God and worshipped others. God would send prophets to them to demonstrate His power through miracles. He called them and prophets spoke of His great love for them. The message was always the same. Return to me and I will restore you. Here is the story of God’s heartache with His wayward son.

I will show them my power 1 kings 18:38 Fifty years have passed since the days of Solomon and the wicked King Ahab sits on the throne of the Northern Kingdom. Elijah calls a meeting with Ahab and proposes a challenge between the true God and Ahab’s false gods to see who the true God is. 450 prophets of Baal called on their god for hours with no response. God sends fire down from heaven that consumes the water, the sacrifice and the wood. The people cry out that Yahweh is the true God, but sadly their faith doesn’t last.

I will show them the depth of my love Hosea 3:1 Now, a 180 years have passed since Solomon and God calls the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute. It is a visual message showing how much the Lord loves the nation of Israel which has prostituted itself to the false gods around it. Sadly, Hosea would love this woman and have children with her, but she would run away. Hosea was commanded to buy his wife out of the prostitution that she was now enslaved in. It was a visual message about how God had bought Israel out of slavery and sin again and again.

I will give one last warning Amos 9:8 The end is near. Israel is on the verge of destruction and so the Lord sends the prophet Amos. His message is a message of punishment for Israel and Judah. If Hosea shows gospel love, then Amos shows law justice. Israel is within a generation of being destroyed. It is time to repent before it is too late. Yet, the people see no reason to repent. In the end, their rejection of the Lord will put them out of God’s protection and their evil living will bring its own destruction.

This is the story of a God who stuck with His people for over 200 years. It would have been easy to have just destroyed Israel or to have allowed it to fall quickly to its neighbors. Yet God loved them and sent prophets to them with demonstrations of power and a visual demonstration of love. Neither worked. Our God does not give up on His people. He shows them His power and His love. He is a heavenly father who loves his children even when they are in the midst of sin. It is never too late to cry out to the Lord and seek His mercy and His help. His love never ends and never fails. The message of the prophets is still the message of God today. God is calling His people to return to Him so that He might restore them. He loves His church and will not give up on it. Regardless of how far you have strayed, come home! It is the message that God says to us and that we have to be saying to others. It is the message that can change America as it builds families, ends violence and gives people lives that work.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Prodigal Son - The (Self) Righteous Brother

Focus Passage: Luke 15:25-32

Most of us can relate to the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal son. We have looked at a beggar on the street who has two good hands and two good feet and thought him lazy. We have been upset with someone swearing at a ball game and wondered why they have no manners. Such feelings seem justifiable. The world is filled with sinners who are destroying their lives. We have better character and we may be avoiding some of their problems. We are the righteous ones. Yet, that righteousness is not from us. We have been made righteous by our God and by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It is not self righteousness, but God righteousness. When we forget that righteousness is a gift from God we can rob ourselves of all the joy that God brings into our lives.

Over inflated self worth v. 29b His words say it all. The older son has been out in the field working hard. Did anyone notice his hard work given day after day for the months or years that the younger brother was out playing around? He sees how the father and others value the younger son, but do they value him? Where was the celebration for his years of service? His reaction starts with an ego that is crushed. This celebration should be his and not the brother’s.

Misses the blessings he has had for years v. 29a The older brother has begun to think of his service as duty. “This farm wouldn’t function without all the work that I put in day after day. You are lucky to have me. What if we had both run off like that worthless son of yours. You would be in trouble.” He has forgotten all that he received that the younger son missed. He had the father’s love every day and sat at a table filled with the best of food. He had been comfortable while his brother was suffering.

Contempt for others who do not feel our worth v.30 Ultimately, the older brother shows contempt for the father as well as his brother. In his self righteousness, he is angry with anyone who does not feel just like he does. His self-righteousness creates a chasm between the father and him. If the father loves the younger son, then he must not love me. Self-righteousness makes us feel contempt for anyone who does not agree with us. People who have done nothing wrong are suddenly the enemy.

In some ways this brother was just as lost as the younger brother. His heart is in a far country far removed from the Father’s love and character. The cure for his self-righteousness begins with the father’s love (v.31). In the text, the Father came to the older son to plead with him. The father is loving and gracious with this son. It is obvious that he values the older son and sees this son as important to him. It is only the love of the Lord that can break into a selfish heart. The story ends with the older brother standing outside the house. His anger has robbed him of the joy and celebration with family and friends. His bruised ego causes him to stand isolated from others grumbling and complaining. His pride won’t let him celebrate for his brother. When we see someone trapped in self righteousness, we need to love them with God’s love, but most of all we need to pray for them. We need to help them to know that they are valued and appreciated for all that they do. Every child of the Father is special.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Christmas Stories - Jesus in the Temple: What is Growth?

Focus Passage: Luke 2:39-52

In our culture growth usually implies learning facts and passing tests. So let’s do a typical growth activity and see if you can guess who this famous person is. He was born on Feb. 12, 1809 and was assassinated on Good Friday 1865. He was born in Kentucky and was 6 ft. 4 inches tall. Finally, he was president during the civil war. You guessed it. It was Abraham Lincoln. Now I know a lot about him yet, I would never say that I know how the man thinks or what he would do in a situation. The Bible is about growing in your relationship to the Lord, not just learning facts. You can marshal all the facts you want to about God and the Bible, but it won’t change a thing if you don’t know Him. When we talk about spiritual growth, it is not Bible knowledge that we seek. It is growing in our relationship with the Lord. Growth comes when we know and are known by God.

Make time with Him a habit v.41 The text says that every year Mary and Joseph went up for the Passover. Can you imagine how hard it was to make the 70 mile journey with kids in tow on foot? Sure you do, many of you travel hundreds of miles to be with family. There is sacrifice in such a trip, but you make a habit of it. You want to be with your parents on that special day. Ironically, our relationship with the Lord often starts with a habit. Parents bring their children to church every Sunday till they don’t feel like it is Sunday if they are not in church. It is the start of a relationship with the Lord.

Spend extended time with Him v.43 Passover was a week-long celebration, but that was not enough time for Jesus. Mom and Dad went home and Jesus decided to stay for a couple more days. He wanted more time with the Father. Even as an adult, Jesus would go up into the hills for hours to pray to the Father. Faith grows as you spend time with the Lord in bible study and prayer. It is getting close to His heart and feeling His pulse. The more time you spend with the Lord, the more comfortable you are with Him.

Dialogue with Him v.46 When his parents find Him, He is asking questions and dialoguing with God and with others. Shouldn’t He be giving the lecture? No, the man Jesus had to have His relationship with the Father grow. Their relationship had changed. He knew what it was to be God. What was it like to be Savior? God wants us to dialogue with Him. He wants us to find out what your role in God’s great plan is to be. See how the Lord has gifted you and given you opportunities. This is the time when we apply what we have learned and let Him change our lives.

Others will notice that you have changed. Anyone in Jesus’ day could spout back rehearsed answers or quote established ideas. Yet, here was a 12 year old actually talking like he knew God and knew what God would do in a given situation. God’s will and wisdom stand out in anyone who has spent the time to let the Lord teach them. You may think that such understanding can’t happen for you, but God wants you to know Him and the Holy Spirit can teach anyone. People will show you respect because you live the character and values of God. God’s character wipes off on those who spend time with Him. Just remember that spiritual growth isn’t about facts, it is about relationships. Those who have a relationship with the Lord will find that the Lord will mentor and teach them all through their life. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Prodigal Son - When Freedom Goes Too Far

Focus Passage: Luke 15:11-24

We pride ourselves on being the land of the free and the home of the brave. Yet, freedom can be taken too far. We feel we can do anything we want to. We want to play our music as loud late at night or have a dangerous dog. We want to shout profanity in the streets or wear clothing that others find offensive. Freedom can be abused. People think that they have a right to tell God what is right and fair as well. Surely, a loving God would never let anyone go to hell. We try to set the rules for life and ignore what our heavenly father knows is best for us. Sadly, that isn’t freedom, it is rebellion. Such rebellion will crash our lives and chain us to our urges and emotions. Jesus tells a story about the cost of rebellion and the path to real freedom.