Good and Bad Choices

As my mom became more and more locked in the jungle that is Alzheimer’s, I wondered if she was “stuck” in a period of her life, one which I might eventually discover if I asked the right questions. I would constantly ask things I could remember from different eras she lived through, looking for intelligent responses. “What is that beautiful flower, Mother?” pointing to a rose. She wouldn’t know. How could I assume she would? She didn’t know me from the Hospice Aide who came once a week to help with her needs. I would ask if she ever knew a person whose name was (….fill in the blank). She would think hard–even when it was my sister–and finally give up in despair. “No, I think I knew someone by that name a long time ago, but I don’t remember who it was.”

One day I asked her if she remembered the name of her school. She did!! (Hedgeapple–go figure!)  I was astonished and pleased. Later I asked her if she ever knew someone named Ray (to whom she was married for nearly 63 years). She thought and thought. Finally she said, “Yes, I think that was an older boy I went to school with. I didn’t like him at all! He teased everyone [true], and goodness, I didn’t like him.” It was unfortunate that children are forced to grow up in homes where the parents truly not only do not like each other (my folks fit that description, I thought, for they surely didn’t seem to), but who won’t seek help to keep the fighting down. It would probably have been easier on all of us if they had separated, as no one wanted to be around them as a couple, but that generation stuck through everything from abuse to incest–thankfully my parents did neither of those. But families who were happy were rare.

Dysfunctional families, they call it now. Back in those days there wasn’t a term, but everyone knew whose parents were lenient, whose were strict, happy, not happy, etc. This past Sunday Dr. Ben Guiterrez presented us with an inspiring message on the life of the prophet Samuel. Most young people can recite the lesson they learned as children when Samuel was called in the night hours by God. “Samuel!” He ran to Eli, the priest. As God later spoke to him further, Samuel learned that Eli had been a father who knew of evil things his two sons were doing, and warned Eli that He would be taking their lives, because he had done nothing to stop their behavior. The ironic thing was, Samuel, although remaining as godly an example as Moses, David, and others, also years later had two sons who were living so badly that the Israelites did not want them ruling in Samuel’s place when he died–yet he did nothing about them behavior either.

The conclusion is obvious: one can have a wonderful home, and produce children who are rebellious and want to do things “their way,” or a bad home, and produce well-behaved adults with integrity–or more amazing, a solid, loving Christian home where two turn out wonderful, while one doesn’t. Choices. It all comes back to the will God gave us to make choices, and bad ones lead to worse ones. What kind of choices have you made? Have you left a legacy of blaming your parents? I did, for years. Finally I realized my mom had done the best she knew how. I was the one who had made the choices that resulted in long-term consequences.

Grab your notebook, a cold drink, and click on  the sermon for this past Sunday, July 30, at http://www.trbc.org/service-archive and choose the Flannelgraph of Faith: Samuel. Enjoy the worship if you have time, and then go to the study below to see if you can dig a little deeper as you look at the scriptures. It might help if you have time to read 1 Samuel before the study, so that the facts are fresh for you!

Flannelgraph of Faith: Samuel—God’s Way, Always

Dr. Ben Gutierrez

Open:

Many times young people (and older people!), do not have enough experience, or enough guidance, to make the best choices, and our lives are impacted with consequences we can’t undo. Can you think of such an experience? If you are alone, write your answers in a notebook, so you can track your spiritual path!

This week we continue the series, “Flannelgraph of Faith,” taking stories taught to children, but looking for deeper—or underlying—lessons we can use in our own lives. This week we will focus on I Samuel, looking not only at Samuel’s life, but also the far-reaching consequences for Israel that came when they rejected Samuel’s warning. We continue to use the old-school visual teaching of the flannelgraph, as we learn from him.

Focal Passages: Taken from I Samuel

The Background:

In Judges 2:10-15, we read that after Joshua died, God appointed judges who would lead Israel under God’s direction. The people fluctuated between following the Lord while the judge lived, then turning to idols after his death. This pattern continued about 300 years, and caused the word of the Lord to be “rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1).  Judges 21:25 ends this period declaring “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”

Discuss:

Nothing & No One Can Make You Choose the Way You Choose:

  1. Can you remember the overview of the events occurring during the conception and early years of the life of Samuel? Read 3:19, 20. What was Samuel’s position in Israel after God spoke to him?
  2. Read 7:15 and 8:1, 3-7. What event occurred in these verses that changed the course of Israel’s future? Israel had adopted the ways of the heathen nations; what are some reasons this happened? How are we seeing this with Christians today?
  3. Who decides what you wear, watch, where you work, etc.? What do you use as a guideline to establish your boundaries?

Bad Choices Lead to Worse Choices:

  1. The people of Israel wanted a king, like their pagan neighbors. Read 1 Sam. 10:17-19a. What did Samuel tell the people? What was their response?

Only Obedience from a Pure Heart Honors God

  1. Do you remember the story of the anointing of Saul as King? Can you write a paraphrase of it?
  2. Read 15:17-23. Saul started his reign well, but soon got sidetracked with pride. What was the final straw? What does God say He delights in?

To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice:

  1. Read Joshua 24:15. Substitute your country for the Amorites, and read it as a contemporary choice. What is holding you back from choosing to serve God with a pure heart?

Close:

As we read the life of Samuel, it is hard not to liken the people of Israel to those around us, and across our own land. Immorality, profanity and immodesty is rampant, while crime and unrest is on the increase. Jesus Christ is being confined to the church building, until we have a generation growing up who will not know the Lord (Judges 2:10) or His actions on behalf of settling and ordaining this great country. But our choices are not forced upon us: you may not be able to control the behaviors and values of the citizens of the land, but you have control over your choices for yourself. It may be the only thing you can control!

Learn from Samuel that, amid a sinful country, you can have a relationship with God that is real and personal. He will never forsake you, never leave you on your own, and loves you beyond anything you have ever known. If you get to the end of your rope and cry out to Him for evidence that He is with you, listen and watch for an indication that He has heard your cry as He shows you that He is listening. If He answers no, or seems silent, trust Him. If He doesn’t answer a fervent prayer, will you still love Him? That is the main question, and only you can choose your answer. Commit your life to establishing a closer relationship with Him, and then tell others your story.

Memory Verse: I Samuel 15:22: So Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (NKJV)

Ask Yourself: Are my choices in attitude, clothing, words I speak and my integrity something that brings glory to God? Am I giving “lip service” to God but not my heart? “To obey [His word] is better than sacrifice.” Am I doing life God’s way, or my way?

© Popa Sorin

FEAR: WILL IT RULE YOU?

I stared at the envelope, noting the Green Bay, WI postmark. There was no return address, and it was childishly printed with my name and address. Not that those facts are significant, but they made the letter an “unknown.” I instantly thought of my mom, who would get a letter or card and study it, trying to discern from the outside who it was from. It drove me crazy!! I was always saying, “Mother! Just open it and find out!” I have discovered that we become like our parents as we age, in spite of hoping (as we grow up) that all of their habits will somehow skip us. Alas, they usually don’t.

When I opened the long letter, I found, to my surprise, that what began like a friendly epistle pertaining to the blog, was actually one of the most brutal verbal attacks I could imagine. As I read it, I realized that–as Paul wrote in Ephesians 6–we are not wrestling with people, but with demons (powers and principalities). Indeed, Hannah, the writer, was a willing tool being used for destruction. Had she lambasted me with antagonism regarding my God, or my belief in Jesus Christ, I could have had scripture after scripture (“there is not one person on the face of the earth who is not able to tell, just by observing the universe, that God exists,” Romans 1:21, loose paraphrase, but it makes the point), and hundreds more. But she, supposedly representing an assembly of almost 100 members in a writers group (many PUBLISHED..her emphasis), tore the blog apart, item after item, every piece of punctuation, jot after tittle. She left nothing out, and emphasized that she had enough material to write an “autobiography.” (One of the first rules I learned at the writer’s conference was ‘write what you know,’ so I do!) She finished as she “encouraged” me not to stop writing–it provides too much valuable experience for the group of writers to use as their weekly exercise so they could get more insight in how (not) to write. She even was able to take an old picture of me and pass copies around to the group (can you imagine the amount of colored ink?), letting them furnish cartoon lines, and it was all done as if with a spirit of fun. She knew her knives were going deep, and hastened to tell me that her writing group would have a super time with all further blogs (and sermon studies).

Did she hit the mark? Oh, you bet. What was worse, she calmly told me that the Writer’s group had been introduced to the blog by a graduate of my local university (not hard to figure out if you know Lynchburg, VA), who had moved to Wisconsin and joined the group, bringing the blog along to the group meeting. I’m not sure of his intentions, but I could not help but think of David’s words in Psalm 41, “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”

When Jonathan (Falwell) preached this past Sunday on defeating fear, I sensed God wanted me to intently listen. Hannah had 1) achieved her purpose: I haven’t written the blog for two weeks, feeling it was worthless except to be used as a laughing joke and learning exercise; and 2) even worse for her, she had totally missed the message of the Cross while being so intent on destroying the writer. As the pastor spoke, I searched my heart diligently: was I not writing the past two weeks because she was making a big joke out of me, and because I was now living fearfully that she will write again more viciously (don’t, Hannah, it will just go in the trash), or was it much bigger? Yes, it was much bigger, for I was definitely letting Satan via his demonic activity close down the only way I personally have to impact anyone with the Gospel. It is always my hope each week that, as the sermons from Thomas Road go out with a study attached, some–or maybe only one–individuals will dig deep into God’s word. I had my answer: I had let fear rule me. (And my apologies to all the wonderful people who teach the seminars at the  Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conferences in NC each year, for any writing errors! They have helped me so beautifully as I seek to minister to the ones who have “ears to hear”!)

So, in keeping with the spirit of the powerful sermon preached on “Defeating Fear,” I offer this sermon study, hoping someone will benefit, perhaps watch the service, and learn to love and obey the word of God. Just click on http://www.trbc.org/service-archive, and select the sermon “Flannelgraph of Faith: Gideon” from this past Sunday. Above all, erase from your memory any lack of professionalism with which I write this blog, as the entire reason is to point someone, including Hannah and her 100 writing partners, to the Lord. It is by His grace alone that one can become saved, not through any of our own achievements. And fortunately, He uses the weak, the foolish and the unlearned of this world to teach the proud. Sit back, get a drink of your favorite beverage, and enjoy the service. Take time to check out the questions, and may you have a blessed week!

Flannelgraph of Faith: Gideon

Pastor Jonathan Falwell

Open:

Fear can be a mild stress that causes us worry, or a paralyzing dread that almost immobilizes us, often because we have no control over a situation. Can you think of an example? If you are alone, write your answers in a notebook.

Today we are beginning a new series based on the visual teaching from decades ago: the flannelgraph. Although we will use it along with today’s technology, we want to reframe the stories learned from childhood of the heroes of faith, and see how their lives give us lessons to apply to our walk of faith today.

Focal Passages: Taken from Judges 6:1-40, 7:1-25, 8:1-35. When you get time, read all the story of Gideon—it will help you understand what he went through.

Thing About or Discuss:

The Background:

  1. Read Judges 6:1,2. Why did God have to chastise the Israelites, who had been in the Promised Land about forty years? What did they do in verse 2?
  2. When things became even worse, what were their actions (vs 6)? How is that exactly like people today (9/11 is a great example!)?

God’s Solution:

  1. In verses 7-10, God tells Israel why He was upset with them, but in His grace, He promises a deliverer. Read verses 14-17, as the Lord calls Gideon. Who does Gideon remind you of, as he tries to get out of the job of delivering Israel (Exodus 3:9-14, 4:1-14 when you have time)?
  2. How is that like our lack of faith when God calls us to move out of our comfort zone?

God’s Victory:

  1. By the end of chapter 6, how many men did Gideon have, to fight against the Midianites? In 7:1-7, what conversation does Gideon have with God?
  2. How many men did Gideon end up with? Why did God choose those who brought the water to their mouth to drink, to be those who would go with Gideon?

Gideon’s Final Years

  1. Read Judges 8:22-27. Why is it so unbelievable that Gideon “became a snare” to Israel, after all that the Lord had done for him?
  2. Asking ourselves the same question, how many times has God done something miraculous for you, only for you to leave Him for a season?

What Are Some Applications?

  • Defeating fear requires faith
  • Defeating fear requires Focus
  • Defeating fear requires Fidelity

Close:

Israel had turned away from the God who had delivered them from Egypt about eighty years prior. They had begun to worship the foreign gods and live as the heathen nations around them. God had to punish them for their sinful ways, giving them as slaves to the Midianites until they were ready to turn back to Him.

Gideon, a real person in a real-life situation, teaches us that men’s hearts, no matter the lifestyle or when they live, never change. When God chose Gideon to deliver Israel, Gideon begged for a sign that he was doing what God wanted. Today, we also might desire a tangible indication we are in His will, but it is our step of faith that God is looking for. We must discipline ourselves to be in His word so much that it becomes part of who we are, and we should always be listening for Him to speak through the verses.

After Gideon’s miraculous experience with the Midianites, we would assume his time of judging Israel was done with a focus of bringing the nation back to the One true God. But Gideon, in a strange move, took his eyes off God and repeated Aaron’s offense by making a golden object of worship. Letting our attention become misplaced onto things of the world is a sure way to get away from God. Israel went through generation after generation of faithfulness, then backsliding—doing evil, being chastised, and back to fidelity. How much God desires that we remain faithful, trusting Him no matter what comes our way! He is not our God only when things are going well: we must have such trust that the greatest hurts we bear are carried, knowing He is working in our lives.

What are your “Midianites,” and are you trusting the Lord to help you defeat them?

Memory Verse: Judges 6:16: And the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” (NKJV)

 

 

After the hurt, then what?

 

The church sat right on the street, beckoning any who walked by to come inside, sit in the cool air, relax and get calm. Not her! There was no way she was going to enter a church again in her life. All that it stood for was a lie, she was certain of that. For a second, as she walked past the glass windows, she saw her reflection; it took her breath for just an instant. Not that she didn’t know what she looked like, but goodness, that was a sour-faced middle-aged woman looking back at her. How can you feel fifteen or twenty inside looking out, and yet the evidence shows you’re getting past the blush of youth? She hurried on.

The memories, oh, do they never end? How many decades does it take for them to stop overwhelming you? The church had re-opened a cavern where blackness in her soul was usually kept locked. The old questions came flooding back. What must it be like to have been raised by a mom and dad, with happy siblings, with love in the home? To come inside and know that everything bad was being held outside because the door had shut? She had had that for a little while, but the loss of that life still affected everything she did.

She had to sit on a bench for a moment, because she could feel the heaviness of those old memories begin to suffocate her–as they did every once in a while. Breathe. It was like a movie you’ve seen too many times, and it won’t quit. Her mother and father had tucked her in, but they hadn’t gone to bed; there was no yelling, nothing to indicate everything wasn’t good within her family. But when she woke in the morning, Dad was gone, his clothes were gone, his car, and Mom was crying as if she’d never stop. An aunt came by to take her to school, but she could hardly concentrate, wondering what had happened. They were a great family! She was her daddy’s Princess–he always said so. He bragged on her, held her, took her for walks, bought her presents, took her to church–he loved her. He had taught her about God! Now he was gone, and without saying goodbye. The pain was too great to understand.

She worked through the problem: Mom was still there, and Grandma and Gramps, but she could see they were hurting just like she was. Eventually Mom told her the truth: Dad had found another family, another woman to be his wife, and he had left. The woman had children: that meant he would have a new princess, and the tears from the pain of that worked their way out until she was sobbing as if she could never stop. Everyone was still the same, but Dad wasn’t there anymore. And the conclusion she finally came to gave a target for her anger and hate: God was the one at fault, for He could have stopped him. If there really was a God, especially one who loved children, He would not have let Dad go. So, either there wasn’t a God at all, or He didn’t love, because He didn’t stop bad things from happening. She was so young, but she shut her heart that day, and it had never been opened again.

Now, as she sat on the bench, the memories slowly began to ebb, just as they always did. She had reached the same conclusion as decades before. The idea of a loving heavenly Father was a myth for weak people, and she hated Him. She didn’t think about the paradox of hating someone who didn’t exist–she just knew she hated Him. She is one of millions who can’t get past the hurt to understand that God has chosen to give people the free will to make bad choices, and the innocent suffer. Would that she had turned to a Bible, and started writing down all that is said about God, His patience, His love, and how much He hurts when sin and Satan triumph over good. How much Satan has gloated at the hate in the heart of the child who has become a woman. And how ready God is to take her in His arms, and sooth away the pain, and heal the heart.

Sunday, May 21, the congregation at Thomas Road Baptist Church heard from the Scriptures as Jesus stated who He is. To believe that He is, you have to hear about Him, either through someone telling you, or reading about Him. To reject Him without checking any of the evidence is not even giving Him a chance. How about clicking on the sermon link, http://www.trbc.org/sermon-archive, and hitting play on “Not My Jesus: Who Did Jesus Say That He Is?” Join Charles and the choir from LCA as they lead in worship, then listen to the message as Jesus emphasized His deity–to men who hated Him with a hatred so violent they were going to take His life. Grab your notebook, a cup of coffee or tea, and sit back, join the worship service, and then do the study below. Without a doubt, you know someone who is intimately hating Jesus Christ because they have been hurt. They badly need Him back in their life. You may be the one God has chosen to help them!

Not My Jesus: Who Did Jesus Say That He Is?                                                                                                                                                                                                 Pastor Jonathan Falwell

Open:

Many people are skeptical of facts presented to them unless they can see for themselves they are hearing the truth. Can you give an example from your own life?

This week we continue to look at what the Scriptures say about Jesus Christ: that He is, indeed, God, who left His glory in heaven to come in the flesh to the earth. We have looked at the doubts surrounding His being the only begotten Son of God, even when He Himself declared that He was the Messiah. Let’s study what Jesus said about His deity to determine if He was a fraud, a prophet or whether “truly, this Man was (is) the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

Focal Passage: John 8:12-58

Think About or Discuss:

The Light of the World

  1. Read verse 12. What did Jesus claim in this verse? Where does this light lead?
  2. Read Isaiah 9:2. How did Jesus fulfill this prophecy of Isaiah? How does He dispel the darkness that is in one’s soul prior to salvation?

God Incarnate

  1. In verse 23, where was Jesus saying He was from?
  2. John 1:14 gives what fact?
  3. Read John 14:9-11. How much plainer could Jesus have spoken?

The Messiah

  1. Read verses 25-28. Jesus knew He was going to be killed because of His claims. Would He have made such statements if He were not the Christ? Why?
  2. Read John 4: 25, 26, and Matt. 8:28,29. Are these two accounts valid? Why?
  3. Why did the religious leaders want to kill Him?

The Word

  1. Read John 1:1-4. Who is being referred to in this verse, and how do we know?
  2. Read Col. 1:15-17: How do these verses about Jesus Christ back up His claims to have been the Creator God?

The Sent One

  1. Verse 42: What does Jesus state to the religious leaders here? Again, did He know His life was on the line with these statements?

Close:

One of the greatest debates in all of history is one simple question: is Jesus Christ who He claimed to be: the Son of the living God? If a person will read the Bible, making notes of the facts it presents, they will find that it states He left heaven to be born of a virgin as a baby, who was fully God and fully man, who grew to adulthood to take on a ministry, healed every kind of disease, raised the dead, taught, lived a sinless life in order to pay the penalty for sin for any who would accept the free gift of grace, was crucified, buried and rose again; was seen by many witnesses after the resurrection, and returned to heaven to wait until it is time for Him to return for believers. That is a lot of facts to reject! Especially so, considering there were witnesses to almost all of it. And yet, people want proof. The Pharisees and Sadducees had followed Him as He did miracles, but they still asked for a “sign”! (Matt. 16:1). As we learned early in this series, no true historian rejects the evidence that Jesus lived. But was He the Son of God, a good man, a prophet, or a fraud? The biggest reason unbelievers reject Him is because they cannot reconcile that He is love, and yet allows evil to exist—or at least to touch them! But proof—which is something that is seen—is not faith, and “without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). In the final analysis of a study of Jesus, it comes down to a decision: will the reader believe that Jesus knows who He says He is—the great I AM—or will they reject Him because life has dealt some hard blows? The biggest proof there will ever be is a wretched soul who turns their life over to Jesus, and sees a new life emerge. What more proof could anyone ask than the complete healing of a soul? Do His bidding: seek those who are lost and introduce them to the Savior!

Memory Verses: John 8:12: “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’” through whom also He made the worlds.”

Study: Take some time at home to look up passages on “Light,” and find out how many times Jesus is spoken of as the light. Go to www.biblegateway.com or www.blueletterbible.org and find passages that will make the study on Jesus come alive for you! The deeper you go, the more you will want to learn!

Email: sdayfarm@aol.com

© publicdomainimages | Dreamstime Stock Photos

HAS SOMEONE HURT YOU?

dreamstimefree_3437005He sat with his eyes fixed on the judge, the right amount of dignity, honesty and humility showing on his face. He was under oath, and his expression indicated nothing but the truth would come from his lips.  His answers were slightly hesitant, as if he were making certain the facts were presented correctly, and only those who knew him knew this was the biggest act he had ever put on. Well, perhaps the second biggest: the first had been several years before, when he had embezzled something from his employer, and he had fought for his freedom by trying to sway that judge. Experience in this area really helped.

The ones in the courtroom listened as he told lies, one after another. The woman’s attorney tried to gets the facts straight, but the judge was so gullible that he took each spoken sentence as if it had been in the Holy Writ. She could see the handwriting on the wall, and knew he was destroying her family as surely as if he had a smoking gun in his hand. Who wouldn’t believe that baby face? And she knew, just like she had known several years before when he had lied to the previous judge, that it wasn’t about truth, or caring about people, or any other of the myriad of possibilities: it was about HIM being in control, able to have their lives in his hand, to do with as he desired.

He won. The judge couldn’t see through the lies, and swallowed each one. She was left out on a limb, trying to appear as if this was what had been expected. Justice is not served in the courtrooms of America very often anymore, and she knew it.

As I heard this incident, suddenly Scriptures regarding Satan and his dominance here on earth began to flood my mind. He, the father of lies, had been thrilled with the testimony of the person who sat before the judge, tearing a family apart. It would be so easy to get caught up in the anger, hate and bitterness against someone, when it’s really Satan we’re fighting against (Eph. 6).

Satan comes as an angel of light. And just as the judge believed everything the man’s modest demeanor said under oath, it looked like light. Satan is not red, with a pitchfork and long tail: he was made with such beauty that, after a while, he wanted to be given the majesty, honor and glory that belongs only to God. Do you really think he could have persuaded one-third of the angels created by God to fall, unless he is exceedingly able to sway the powers who rule the world?

Are you one of those who has endured pain, agony, possibly the death of someone you love, at the hands of another? Has gossip touched you, tearing down your life? Perhaps a lie was told, believed, and friends left you? Whatever someone has done to destroy you, you probably cannot fix. The only control you have is your own reaction. It’s easy to desire revenge! It’s WORK to rise above the hurt and forgive, pray for salvation for the perpetrator, or move past their actions, back into a right relationship with God.

The sermon preached at Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday, February 12, 2017, was aimed directly at the hundreds in the congregation who have been hurt, seen their family torn apart, relationships damaged to the point of being unable to mend them, and countless other indignities–and undoubtedly it hit a good portion or those attending. For certain, many of us struggle with discouragement because of those who have hurt us deeply, wronged us, or verbally shot us and left us for dead! Do you want to overcome that discouragement? Rise above the anger and let God restore you to a position of joy in your Christian walk? Click on http://www.trbc.org/sermons and pick the last posted sermon (2-12-17) and settle in for a time of searching your heart for any sin that would keep you from a beautiful walk with your Lord. Get your notebook, some friends if possible, and watch the sermon. Listen–if you have time–to the song service, as a special guest blessed everyone with praise focusing on the love and power of God to bring good out of every trial! Then, do the study below, learning what steps can be taken in order to forgive those who have sinned against you. Only by the active, intentional choice to give everything to God, can we gain holy living!

Overflow: Making Room for Life: Forgiveness, Holiness and     Peace                                                 Pastor Jonathan Falwell

Open:

There is probably no one who has not been hurt by the actions of someone else—some very severely, with life-long consequences. Can you think of an example, and how you handled or are handling the situation? If you are by yourself, write your thoughts in a notebook.

Discouragement is a burden that can suffocate our spirit. Last week we looked at that depression which we bring on ourselves, and how we could change our perspective. Today we want to look at the discouragement that comes as a result of actions someone else has initiated toward us, as we choose to take steps to free ourselves from the anger through forgiveness. We want to lay aside the despair, getting our joy and peace back.

Focal Passage: Hebrews 12:14-29

Think About or Discuss:

Forgiveness

  1. Read verses 14-17. What does the word “work” indicate? What other verbs are in these verses? Who is implied as doing the working and watching?
  2. What is the consequence of unforgiveness in 15b? What steps can you take to forgive those who have hurt you? (The Action Points at the end may help).
  3. Read Matt. 6:14,15. What is another result of unforgiveness?

Holiness

  1. Read 14b. What are some evidences of living a “holy life”? What is the consequence of unholiness?
  2. Read Eph. 1:13, Heb. 12:15 and 1 Pet. 1:16. What does God expect of us? What is the verb in 14b? The Greek word meant to go after something in such a manner as to attack it! Is that how you “work” to be holy?

Peace

  1. Read 15a. What are you to strive for? What things are you doing at present to “live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18)?
  2. How does this apply to those who have wronged you?

Bitterness

  1. Why is it so hard to forgive those who have hurt us (verse 15b)?

A matter of the heart

  1. Read verse 28. What has God prepared for us? What does God deserve from us? Why?

ACTION  APPLICATIONS:

  1.  Make a list of those whom you need to forgive;
  2.  Put them in order as to the length of time since it happened, or the greatest in pain;
  3. Do whatever is necessary to actively forgive that person; if you no longer know where they are, ask God to bring them to you, praying for their salvation daily, and sincerely repent and realize you are cleansed;
  4. Seek to live a holy life, putting the past behind you (Phil. 3:13,14);
  5. When a new hurt comes along, take care of it immediately;
  6. Always keep in mind that, as God has forgiven you, so you must forgive others;
  7. Move on with joy!

Close:

As Paul tells us in Romans 17, our sinful nature is at war with our new nature in Christ! It is not natural for us to easily forgive those who hurt us, or worse, hurt those we love most—it takes “work.” Not forgiving leaves us open to the enemy, giving Satan a foothold in our lives, and we can become bitter, which then defiles others. It is imperative that, just as we have been forgiven, so we must forgive those who have sinned against us. It takes prayer and a heart that truly desires a close relationship with God to live in peace with all men. As you saw in the opening verses of this passage, the Christian life is not passive but active; it is not easy, it is “work!” It is not natural, it is godly, and comes from a yearning to be holy. Pray for those on your action list, that they would be saved, coming to a right relationship with God. The more you pray for them, hopefully the more you will find love growing in your heart, and a desire to see them as a repentant Christian brother or sister. Pray for yourself, as well, that you will be the example that others can point to as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Memory Verse: Hebrews 12:14: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”

© Denis Makarov | Dreamstime Stock Photos

TEST: ANGER OR FAITH?

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The farm lay between two mountain ranges, with rolling hills in every direction. A river ran at the back of the thousand acres, wide and beautiful. Barbed-wire fences separated fields, all designated by names for the various pastures or corn fields.

The farmhouse was a dream come true. Since my earliest memories of the times spent at my grandparents’ and other family members’ homes, farming had been a constant love. It was so deep in my soul that it was part of my “bucket list” long before the term was invented. It was my answer every year for what I wanted for Christmas: a farm.

Graduation came and college was on the horizon. My focus got off-whack, and I ended up choosing a path that was vastly different from the one that I had had all my life. I didn’t get my farm at that time due to my own choices.

Years went by, and it was my solace at night as I drifted off to sleep to imagine “my” farm, complete with orchards, barns, cattle and gardens. I can still see the one I invented every night until sleep overtook me. Life and years kept passing by. Eventually my husband was transferred, and on the trip to a state a thousand miles away that would become our new home, looking to rent a home until we knew if we would stay in that area, I scanned the “For Rent” ads. There, newly placed that day, was a farm. As I drove up the long drive to the house, I felt I had come home.

Recently a Christmas party was held. As is common in situations like that, you circulate among people that are casually known, but conversations are surface: the weather, the job, children, previous places of residence. As I spoke to one couple, older than middle age, but not “old,” I asked about children. The pain in the woman’s eyes immediately seared my heart: I had stepped on an issue better to have left unasked. “We never had any,” she replied, and there was no mistaking the pain she felt, even after decades of barrenness. We who have had no problem conceiving seldom think about the pain and suffering couples go through when they cannot have children. I was so sorry I asked. At the Christmas season, with the focus on the manager of Christ, babies mean even more than at other times. And we all know that prayers don’t always get answered. The subject was changed.

The move to the farm was everything I hoped and dreamed it would be. All the years of longing were like flowers bursting forth, and I became a person obsessed. I couldn’t get enough of the outdoors, the work, the completeness to my life. Soon it began to be an idol. I stopped going to church on Wednesday nights so I could work outside. Having resided in hot Florida for many years, just being outdoors was a joy in itself. Adding the farm was better than winning the lottery. But the day arrived when I “came to myself,” just as the prodigal son did. I cried out to God to take me away from the place that I had always wanted to be. The next day, He did.

The lady at the Christmas party soon started sharing her memories of the years they had tried to have a baby. It was plain that she felt that God had completely let her down. She had probably been angry in the past, but that anger had cooled to a feeling of disinterest: God was not interested in her feelings, so she would write Him off. There was no opening to share His love for her at the party. In the same way, although I had cried out to God for a way of escape from the very thing I had wanted all my life, I saw it becoming more important to me than my heavenly Father, so you would have thought I would be happy now. Not so. My anger was so hot that He had given me what I wanted more than anything, and now I was having to give it up. That it was my own prayer to Him didn’t matter. I screamed at Him until I lost my voice. It took several years before I was able to appreciate that what He had given me in the deepest part of my being–a calling to be a farmer–was something I had to give up because it became an idol. Does that make sense? My relationship to Him had to come first. Now, all I can hope for is that someday, perhaps in heaven, He will have a farm for me, but if not, He knows best.

That is probably how Elizabeth and Zacharias felt those two thousand years ago, when for decades they cried out for a child. In their culture, to be childless was a stigma, and to not have a son to carry on one’s work was painful. Elizabeth carried sorrow in her heart daily, but at the same time, she and her husband had a faith so huge that they were able to trust that God knew best in His plan for their lives. We might be angry, but they were not. They were righteous in God’s sight. Would that I had been!

Get your notebook, a pen, perhaps something hot on a cold winter–almost Christmas–day, and sit down and watch the sermon preached at Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday, December 18, 2016 (if you didn’t see it already). If you have time, watch and sing with the congregation as they worship. Then get ready to do the study below, answering questions and digging deeply to discover how different our lives would be today if Elizabeth, and then Mary, had not borne these two special babies. Above all, appreciate the sacrifice Jesus Christ made when He came to this earth to offer salvation to all of us. Click on the link http://www.trbc.org/sermons and hit the play button in the center. Enjoy the study! If you have friends, family or a group, take as long as you’d like to finish, but let it be your “daily Bread” of life that God has given you today.

Self on the Shelf: The Christmas Calling,  Matt Willmington, Dec. 18, 2016

Open:

If you have lived very long, you have seen the word “calling” constantly change to mean many different actions. Write out as many examples as you can think of!

During this Christmas season, we have attempted through this sermon series to take the focus off ourselves and concentrate on the true message of Christmas. It is the time of year when we reflect most on the coming of Jesus the King, who left heaven to enter the world as a baby, being born of a virgin. We began this series studying the birth of another baby three months earlier, that of John the Baptist, who was the one God had chosen to announce the coming of the Messiah.

Focal Passages: Luke 1:57-80

Think About or Discuss:

Answer God’s Call

  1. Take a few moments and re-read the earlier verses of Luke 1, writing down or discussing the events that took place when Zacharias and Elizabeth learned they would be parents. Can you envision their surprise? How would she tell her friends? What about her family? Do you think she understood who John would be?
  2. Read Isaiah 40:3. What had been prophesied of John, about 700 years before his birth?
  3. When he was born (verses 67-75), what did his father say of him in verses 76-79?
  4. Have you ever felt God moving in your life, so that you knew how to respond in a particular situation? Zacharias and Elizabeth knew this baby was special.

Announce Jesus

  1. What was John’s “calling?” How did this fulfill God’s purpose for him to be born at this time in history?
  2. Was John’s childhood very different than that of Jesus’ (verse 80 compared to Luke 2:40, 52)?
  3. In Matthew 28:19-20, how does John’s calling differ from yours? What do you think your calling may be?

Accept His Timing

  1. Think back to the years when Zacharias and Elizabeth were of child-bearing age and praying constantly that God would bless them with a child; what if John had been born then? Was Mary even alive then? About how long would it have been before Jesus would be born?
  2. What do you find yourself doing when God’s timing is not yours? Do you usually take over and try to manipulate circumstances, or patiently wait for Him to act?
  3. What season are you in now—a waiting period, or is everything going well?

Close:

It is a magnificent lesson to all of us to reflect on the high calling of John the Baptist. In Esther 4:14, it was pointed out to her that she was possibly raised up for the time that she would be needed to save her people from annihilation. John was born at a time in history in order to fulfill prophecy that he would be the one who would announce that the Messiah had come to Israel. But think of his parents: they had prayed long and hard—for many years—for a child, and still Elizabeth remained barren. Did they think God had forgotten them? They kept their faith, but sorrow still had to have been present in her heart. Yet had she been able to see her role from God’s perspective, she would have realized she was going to bear the forerunner to Jesus Christ, and that joy would have taken away all her pain! Perhaps when we have prayers that are not answered in a timely manner, we need to read this passage, asking God for the patience and trust to believe He is working out purposes that are far beyond our ability to grasp, and have faith that He is arranging everything for the good of those we love. Pray for the insight to have a great confidence in Him who created you! And realize that, like John, you have been called to announce to your world the good news of Jesus Christ. What a mighty message you have!

Memory Verse: Luke 1:76: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.”

Focal Passages: Luke 1:57-80, Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1 and 4:5.

 

 

 

 

 

Pulling Out a 4th Quarter Win!

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She was one of the “greats.” You know the type, they dress casually but always look classy, she could sing off the charts, and did so very often, glorifying God with her beautiful voice. She spoke to groups, always encouraging them to stay in the fight, cling to God, home and family. She was everything I wished to be. Yet her home life was a different story. Who knows why a husband who “talks the talk” doesn’t “walk the walk”? Perhaps he was intimidated by his wife’s popularity, or perhaps jealous. There are always two sides to the story, of course. We never discussed his. All I knew was that he verbally abused her beyond what any woman should ever have to take, stopping short of physical abuse, but the look in his eyes often said he wished she was dead. She looked terrible, (he would yell), the song stunk, her presentation was awful, the kids hated her, she was stupid, a terrible housewife, horrible mother, etc. etc.

One evening a neighbor heard the verbal barrage, heard the door slam off the hinges as the husband grabbed their child and left in anger, and couldn’t stand it. He just wanted her to know she was doing everything right. It was so wrong, but he held her just a moment for a non-threatening hug while she sobbed her heart out. His concern took a different turn, and one moment of what should have been a consolation from a friend turned into a very short time of intimacy. Now–added to her life of hell in the home–she had failed her God. She had heard His quiet voice when the comfort started, but somehow, in the despair of the few moments, it became quiet. Her repentance was genuine, her grief over the short brief coming together sickened her. One month went by, two… and there was no denying it: she was pregnant.

She never told anyone the baby did not belong to her husband. Very fortunately, the adorable girl looked like her mom, acted like her, and only if you knew who the father was, would you have connected any dots. The child is grown, happy, loves her family, and would be devastated to find that she was the product of one moment in time. She is now looking forward to her own ministry, never knowing the past.

Did our women’s leader blame God for her pregnancy, for the lack of strength to resist comfort which she so desperately needed? No, she blamed herself. Took upon herself the mantle of responsibility, and did not let bitterness take root in her heart. But be warned, husbands, a wife looks to you for her affirmation; she needs to know that she is loved in your eyes. Without it, a woman is vulnerable to the comfort of others, even while she’s desperately trying to keep the enemy away.

I have watched her grow more and more in her faith, have seen the strength she gets only from the Lord. I’ve seen the love she pours out to her children, and yes, even to her husband who has continued to belittle her. Many years have passed, but she is hanging in there, witnessing, watching her children grow into responsible adults, and yet that terrible scar of a deep wound is part of her heart. Many people cannot understand how God can be holy and still forgive sins so great, but He can, does, and will still use the sinner. No sin is too great that He cannot or will not forgive. Hers was just one that He died for.

Take your Bible, your note book, and sit for a few minutes to listen to the sermon from Sunday, August 14, 2016, at http://www.trbc.org/service-archive, preached at Thomas Road Baptist Church. Select the correct sermon, then work on the questions below, writing out your answers, or–if you’re in a group setting with a friend or even several friends–talk about the lessons that can be applied to our lives.

We will look at Moses, finishing the series that has taught us so much over the past few weeks. Moses obeyed God in all He told him to do–except one incident recorded in Numbers, chapter 20. Moses exhibited frustration, anger, perhaps a bit of pride, but definitely he felt “fed up” with the people who constantly belittled everything he tried to do as they lived in the wilderness for forty years. In letting his anger rule, rather than God’s command, it cost him the opportunity to accompany the people into the land that God had promised them. Did he become bitter about it? Wouldn’t we have said, “God! How fair is that, that I’ve done everything You asked, and You let this one time be such a huge punishment??” Bitterness, turning away from God, giving up on what He did for you in dying–all that is something that happens to thousands every day; it is only the ones who pick up the pieces, and determine to “finish strong” that find God will and does still use them in His great work. It is, after all, HIS work, not ours!

Open:

It takes only a fraction of a second to make a choice that has consequences that can last for the rest of your life. You know, however, that you have the choice to let the past go, and finish with integrity. Can you think of an example? Talk about it, or write it down.

Over the past several weeks we have learned lessons from the life of Moses, starting with his birth until, at 80 years of age, he led the children of Israel out of Egypt, where he guided them for forty years. Today we focus on one incident when his disobedience to God cost him the reward of going into the promised land. Still, he did not become bitter, but continued to be passionate in serving God.

Think About or Discuss:

  1. Read Numbers 20:1-12 for a background of Moses’ act of disobedience. Keep your notebook handy to write down things that come to your mind.
  2. If God had ignored Moses’ action, what lessons would that have taught Israel about disobeying and dishonoring Him? Would the importance and authority of the Ten Commandments have been treated with respect? Which commandment did it violate in particular (Exodus 20:1-17)?

He didn’t let his past failure keep him from his future obedience

  1. In Numbers 20:12, how do you think Moses felt when God reprimanded and punished him in front of the multitude?
  2. How would you have felt if it had happened to you (perhaps a large group, or your company)? Would you have been angry at God, or understood He chastens those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:7-9)?

He continued to lead

  1. Afterwards, God continued to give Moses instructions in Numbers 20. What does verse 27 say? What does this tell you about the heart of Moses?
  2. Think of a time when your own disobedience caused God to have to discipline you. Did you let the bitterness give you a reason to walk away from God for a season, or did you trust Him enough to continue to follow Him?

He continued to bless those around him

  1. If you go back to Deut. 31 (read it on your own), you will see Moses pours his remaining days into blessing the tribes of Israel, mentoring Eleazar to take the place of Aaron, and preparing Joshua to take his own place. What do these actions tell you about his inner character?
  2. Ask yourself a very serious question: in the same circumstances, would you (or have you) continued serving God with a passion, or shut Him out of your life?

Key Point: It was GOD’S work, not Moses’

Close:

It would have been so easy to let the humiliation of the one act of disobedience take root and grow a “root” of bitterness. Read Hebrews 12:15. Most believers have had times of God’s disciplining, and have sometimes felt it unfair (from our perspective). As you go into a new week, think about the things in your life that need to be dealt with so that you let the past go, and finish strong.  Also, most everyone knows someone who feels they have been hurt or treated unfairly, and have turned away from God (read James 5:20).  See if they will be open to talking with you about their actions. Pray this week that you will examine your heart, being certain that God has first place in all you do and say, and that you are committed to serving Him until He calls you home.

Memory Verse: Deut. 31:6: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Focal Passages: Numbers 20:1-12, 27; Deut. 34:1-8.

Quote for finishing strong: Having a “4th Quarter Ministry!” Jerry Falwell, Sr.