Leaving Heaven’s Glory for Earth

The house was standing in among many beautiful homes, deserted, but very lovely. The ones we had driven by over the past mile had been large, extra large, and extra, extra large. The landscaping around them was witness to the pride the owners felt in their property’s outside appearance, and without a doubt the inside of each home was impeccable. It had been slightly overwhelming, riding by homes where you knew the occupants made a living that put them in the upper bracket over the majority of people in the world.

We had set a cap on the amount we would spend for a new home, and it also had to meet specific criteria–qualifications we had found, over a long marriage and about 20 moves–that would enable us to enjoy the remaining years in peace and quiet. Or, at least as much peace and quiet as seems to be possible in today’s world. Now, as I woke to a new day, I saw a note from my husband to search out this house: the evening before, the price had been dropped $25,000, putting it exactly at the figure we had set.

After more than two months of house searching, putting hundreds of miles on the cars as we went into every area of the counties around us, we felt we really knew what we were looking for: privacy, space to entertain our church family and friends, the looks of the extended neighborhood or road, and acreage. When a house met those qualifications, we were ready to look inside. Because of the price drop, my husband’s note that next morning said he wanted me to make an appointment to look inside this one, even though it met only three of our four standards.

He was so excited as we got out of the car and started looking inside. It was a great layout, and exceeded our expectations. I personally believe from the moment he saw the listing in the MLS, it was a done deal in his mind. However, we still had to spend a couple of hours there with our realtor, looking at everything. The contract was signed within those two hours, and we gave them until that evening to answer. One hour later we learned they had accepted the contract.

For the next four weeks, the move did not seem real as the business side of a transaction was being conducted. We didn’t even have time to ride by but once or twice, and I had almost forgotten what it looked like by the time the closing was a reality. My heart had gone into overdrive each time I thought of the new “house” (not yet a home.) Those four important qualifications–which were now three–were vital (I thought), but the one at the top of the list was not privacy but acreage: we wanted to be in a rural setting, with enough acres that we were shielded from neighbors.

I realized well what we had done. In the enthusiasm of finding a home worth quite a bit more than the price, in a great neighborhood (a subdivision, or “community,” lest there be any doubt), we had sacrificed the one thing that was most important. I developed a mantra. “I can do this,” I said to myself over and over. Not only was it not exactly what we had been looking for, it would be the first time in many years that we lived with near neighbors, and the thought of that sent me into stress attacks. My mind kept saying I could do this, but my heart was not in it at all. I was not raised to be controlled by wealth, and the thought of being a stand-alone was palatable only when I told myself I could spend each day inside.

The day following the closing a local furniture store brought living room furniture out, and as my husband met them there, I could still remain in my denial state. We were able to spend a few minutes there on Sunday afternoon, and begin taking some of the minor items of our own into the house. Monday he went to work, and I finished tasks at “home” before going to the house. As I pulled into the community with it’s grand, stately homes, tears rolled down my face. “I CAN’T do this!” I cried. I was already grieving the inevitable loss of the place I had called home for fourteen years–longer than any place I had ever lived in my life. It was where I had taken care of my mom til she died, the home where I babysat my newborn granddaughter while her Daddy was on deployment–it was, in fact, HOME in every sense of the word.

A man with long hair standing in a field of dasies.

We didn’t have close neighbors, nor trick-or-treaters. We didn’t have people near us whose families were falling apart, or children screaming, dogs barking, or rich people expecting us to be like them.

Grief I have known only a few times in my life began to sap every bit of the life out of me, and I dreaded the years facing me. I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t tell God how I felt. It didn’t matter–it was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.

He didn’t wait for me to pray. Suddenly, on the way back home late in the afternoon, tore up inside, His presence within the car was felt, as if He had come into the car to talk to me. Even I knew my whining, crying, grumbling, complaining, and hurt had probably deserved chastisement, but instead, “the goodness of God leads to repentance.” He brought to my mind what Jesus had had in heaven: He was with His father, having been alive forever as the Creator, the Omnipotent One, the only one who has the power to conquer death. Angels around the throne room sing Holy, Holy, Holy. He had it all. He is God. John 1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He spoke the world into being.

But God. But. God. Had a plan, which was to send His only Son to this earth, which is cursed, to save mankind from the punishment of his sins. Jesus was the only one who could do that. He came “down from His glory,” to live with sinful man. He came from a perfect place to an imperfect one. He was never alone day after day. People hung onto Him everywhere He went. He was often without food while serving and healing the ones who followed Him. By the time He had finished with my heart, I had gotten the message. My move was nothing compared to His. And not only the move, but in going into a community of wealthy homeowners, I was going to be exposed to the ones who, the Bible says, are the hardest to win for the kingdom of God. Their money is sufficient to get them anything they want, and they don’t want God. Their money can buy them everything–but salvation can’t be bought.

“Love the Lord your God,”–the first commandment–and the other is like unto it: Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Ouch. On my own land, with lots of trees and property, I don’t have to even know my neighbors. In a community, I will. God is putting us there for a purpose. Am I up to it? Probably not. Do I have a choice? No. Is His will more important than my will. Yes, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. Still, it cannot compare to what Jesus had to accept as His purpose.

Get your Bible, a drink and a soft chair, your notebook, pen, and even friends if you can, and watch the sermon from Thomas Road Baptist Church, preached Sunday, December 3. You can find it at http://www.trbc.org/service-archive, and it’s right there! Sit back and worship, then listen as Pastor Jonathan Falwell uses the book of Hebrews to show us the astounding life Jesus had, the coming to earth as a baby, and the sacrifice He paid to save us. Enjoy the service, and absorb the  real “reason for the season” of Christmas!

The Point of Christmas:

The Covering

Pastor Jonathan Falwell

Open:

If you are a “to do” person, you probably have a long list of things that need to be taken care of. Often it seems there’s one item that either continually is back on your list, not working, or really needs to be replaced. Can you think of an example to share? If you are by yourself, write your answers in a notebook.

We are beginning a new series for December, realizing that many people ask, “So what’s the point of Christmas?” Today we will look at Hebrews to see what is written as to the reason God the Creator sent His one and only Son to the earth, clothed in human flesh. We are loved so deeply by God, yet so flawed by sin, that Jesus came to be the sacrifice that would pay the sin debt nothing, or no-one, else could satisfy.

Focal Passages: Hebrews 10:1-18; Genesis 3:6-11.

Think About or Discuss:

All have sinned

  1. Read Heb. 10:1. What was the old law, given through Moses? Why was it given? Why were the sacrifices in the Old Testament repeated “over and over,” but never could attain perfect cleansing?
  2. Read Romans 3:23. Paul explained that we all mess up continually. How and why did men reject God’s dominion, and begin accumulating the debt of sin that separated him from God?

We needed an out

  1. Read verse 2. Even the most committed Christians continue to sin. Read 1 John 1:7-9 and Rom. 7:14-25. What hold does sin have over us?
  2. God gave the first covenant to Moses, but what did it show us that we are not capable of doing? Read Judges 21:25. How does this explain why we need a savior?
  3. In the opening, you thought of times when your best efforts provided no real help in fixing some items. How does that illustrate the futility of sacrificing animals to completely remove the debt of sin we owe?

The old way was never enough

  1. Read verses 3-4. If you made yearly trips to sacrifice animals for your sins, then had to do it all over again next year, what would that teach you? How does that explain that the sacrifices reminded the people that animals could not take away their sin?
  2. If you saw that nothing you were attempting was accomplishing a certain task, what would you eventually do?

We needed a covering

  1. Read verse 5. Jesus did not come to the earth against His will, or in ignorance of what He was going to endure. Why would He verbalize His birth to the Father, quoting Psalm 40:6-8?
  2. Read Genesis 3:6-11. Have things changed in man’s nature since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden? Read Romans 5:15b. Our choice to follow God’s will or choose evil will remain in conflict throughout time. Can you think of other verses that confirm His humble birth was to save us?* (end)

Jesus paid it all

  1. Read verse 10, and chapter 7:26, 27. Unlike the priests, who had to go into the Holy of Holies once every year, Christ’s blood was sufficient as a one-time sacrifice. Read Heb. 1:1-3, and 10:11-13. What did He do when He ascended back into heaven?

Close

This past week was the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, listing the offensive doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Particularly, Luther was pointing out the heresy that required monetary payment be paid to the church for forgiveness of sins. This amazing young man—just 33—began the movement that was known as the Protestant Reformation. Protestant Churches owe a debt of gratitude to this man who realized that forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Jesus sacrificed with His life for complete forgiveness in a “once for all” action, available to anyone who believes and repents.

At Christmastime it is unusual to hear a message taken from the book of Hebrews. How fitting that the book contains the story of salvation! We flesh it out with the wonderful Christmas stories found in Matthew and Luke, but the writer to the Hebrews made certain we are aware of the reason for the manger, as he tied together the prophecies surrounding the birth of a Messiah, and the fulfilment of His cry “It is finished” as He died on the cross, once for all. He wrote the life of Jesus, wrapping up His birth, death and resurrection. His death, more gruesome than we—or movies—can ever imagine, was His choice, because His love for us is so incredible. His grace should always amaze us. It should cause us to bow down and worship, overwhelming us as it covers our sin. Have you accepted the truth that He actually paid the price of your sin? Open your heart if you haven’t already, and ask Him in. Find a Life Group where you can grow, and learn to love Him with all your heart.

Key Verse: Colossians 3:17: Hebrews 10:5: Therefore, when He came into the world, He said, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.” (NKJV)

*1 Timothy 1:15; Luke 19:10; Matthew 1:21; John 3:17 (to name a few).

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Do YOU Talk to God?

The waiting room was active as patients impatiently waited for their name to be called. Some came through from the exam doors, with faces reflecting the news they carried: intense concern, relief from stress, anxious about more tests to come…there was no end to the different emotions. After having gone through this same procedure the year before, Christina knew what to expect.

It may seem odd to hear they were unable to do a biopsy on the suspicious activity that was causing concern, but in reality it happens often. Somehow doctors have been placed on that magical stair saved for those we hold in high regard, feeling as though they have extraordinary power. It doesn’t always happen like that, and this was one of the times. Surgery seemed the next best option: it would allow the doctor to remove any tissue or organs that he was concerned about, run a full biopsy, and then, if necessary remove any other tissue that seemed to merit concern. The surgery was scheduled.

As Christina waited for the day to approach, she spent much time in prayer that when the doctor went in, she would find nothing. It wasn’t a prayer with a mountain of surety that God would do a miracle, but one knowing that nothing was beyond His ability, if He chose. She was praying that His will would be done, and was trusting the doctor would have the wisdom from God to remove the problem, and subsequently heal her.

She was prepped for the surgery, and the gurney was rolled into OR. The doctor and assistants, ready for the removal of whatever was the basis for Christina’s problem, got the instruments to begin. When they got into the area where they knew the bad cells lurked, they were stunned: there was nothing–as in nothing–except normal internal body parts! All that had been causing her problems for two years was totally and completely gone. God had honored her prayer with a miracle!

Later, Christina talked to the doctor by phone, asking questions like “is this normal,” “does this happen often,” and more. The doctor admitted to being unable to explain the circumstance except to say she had to believe it was a miracle. As Christina shared her story with the doctor, I personally have to believe that it made an impact on the doctor, that the God Who created the universe, you, me, and everything in this world, finds it easy to do anything that gives Him pleasure, and at the same time demonstrates His grace and mercy on those who love Him. He always has been, and always will be, giving us what we don’t deserve!

This past Sunday, Jonathan Falwell preached on how much Prayer Matters! As Thomas Roaders listened, hopefully many gained insight into the relationship that is possible with our Father in heaven. No relationship can flourish without talking to each other, so listen to the message, do the study below, and get your inner “eyes” open to the dynamic friendship you can have with the Creator. He’s waiting to talk to you! Go to http://www.trbc.org/sermon-archive, and click on “Start: Prayer Matters.” If you are alone, get a drink, an easy chair, and settle in with your notebook to listen to the entire service. If you have a friend or family who can join you, share the answers so that you dig deeper into God’s word. He’s just a word away!

START: Prayer Matters                                                                                                                             Pastor Jonathan Falwell

Open:

Have you ever met someone who was/is well-known and respected, possibly powerful, and became “tongue tied,” not being able to think of something to say? Afterwards, you may have felt foolish, and replayed the conversation in your mind, wishing you had been more ready for the encounter! Can you think of an example you can share, or write down if you’re alone?

This week the series “START” continues as we realize the truth that God—who cannot lie—says He wants a conversation with you on a personal basis. That He would care enough to form you in your mother’s womb, see every detail of your life (good and bad) from birth to death, and still desire a relationship with you, can completely blow your mind. Yet many often treat Him with flippancy, offering “prayers” that are more like a recitation than a conversation. Let’s see what His word says about the importance of prayer.

Focal Passages: 1 John 5:14-15; 1 Peter 5:6,7; Hebrews 4:14-16; James 5:16b; Luke 11:1-4, 17:17.

Discuss:

PRAYER MATTERS:

  1. Read 1 John 5:14-15. What do you mean when you use the word “if,” as in “if I go”? Why, then, do these verses say “if you ask,” and “if you know”?
  2. Assuming your heart is right with God’s heart, what does He promise? Are these verses a blanket promise you will get what you want?

Prayer is talking to God your Father:

  1. God is your Father if you are saved. In that case, how do you view prayer, and your ability to come with confidence before the Creator of the entire universe?
  2. Read 1 Peter 5:6-7. Do you ever wonder if God is like those people you sometimes talk to who give some of their attention to what you say, but not all? Does it astound you that He “hears” you?

Prayer is a conversation:

  1. Read Hebrews 4:14-16. In verse 16, how are you to come to Him? Do your children (if applicable) hesitate to tell you their needs? How does that relate?
  2. There are two sides in a conversation. After pouring out your heart, do you take any time to be quiet and see how He responds? If you don’t, why not?

Prayer is powerful:

  1. Read James 5:16b. Would God have this verse in Scripture if it were not true? How do you demonstrate that you believe it, as you pray?

HOW DO I PRAY?

  1. Read Luke 11:1-4. The disciples asked this question of Jesus. Therefore, you need to internalize it until you know exactly what Jesus meant.

Know Who God is:

  1. In verse 2a, what does “hallowed” mean? If you could describe God with one word, what would it be? Is this how you see Him as you pray?

Recognize the importance of God’s plan

  1. In verse 2b, you are not told that it is your will that will be done. Why is it of utmost importance that you bow to God’s will, both in your prayers, and in your life?

Know that God cares about YOU:

  1. Read verse 3. Jesus Himself says you need to ask for your “daily bread.” God cares so much about you that He wants to satisfy your daily needs. How often was the manna in the wilderness given? Why would He want you to ask daily?

Be in the right spiritual place for prayer:

  1. Read John 9:31. What must your lifestyle be like for God to hear your prayers? Why is it important that your life be “holy” as He is holy? How does 1 John 1:9 fit in here? If you are His child, how does He view you?

Be in the right attitude for prayer:

  1. Read verse 11:4. What happens when you have unforgiveness for others?

Seek God’s leading in your life:

  1. How do you do this? Read 11:4c. Why should you want what God wants?

Be thankful for everything:

  1. Developing an attitude of gratitude is the key to being in God’s will. Why is that true?                                                                                                                               Close                                                                                                                      Cultivating a deep and meaningful prayer life is essential if you want a close relationship with your heavenly Father. As has been mentioned in numerous ways often, no relationship, whether with a spouse, your child, a family member, etc., will ever morph into a quality bond unless time is invested by conversation. If one side does all the talking, without giving the other an opportunity for answering and sharing equally, the relationship is nothing more than a power trip. There is so much to learn about prayer in these passages, but the most obvious is that your heart must be in a condition where sins are confessed, a lifestyle is God-centered, no bitterness resides against your fellow man—in essence, you are in a right relationship with Him.  You cannot be living in sin and present your requests, expecting Him to overlook the things you are doing that are in direct opposition to His word. Paul wrote in Romans 6:1, “What? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” Paul uses the most forceful word in Greek to imply “Absolutely Not” to emphasize that your dependence on the relationship must be clean. “Be holy, as He is holy.” Do you want Him to answer your deepest needs? Then begin by lining up your life with His, desiring His will in all things, and being fervent with your prayer life. Above all, learn to be grateful for everything He blesses you with. As you do, you will find contentment, knowing He hears you, is answering in His time frame, and is doing what is best. He sees the end, not the tunnel you’re in!  Trust Him.

Memory Verse: 1 John 5:14: Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. (NKJV)

Helpful Websites: www.biblegateway.com; www.blueletterbible.org. Within both of those sites there are resources such as Original Greek or Hebrew, the meanings, Commentaries, and more study materials.

All glory and praise to God the Father for sending a miracle to Christina, and a big thank you to Christina Wolfe-Hillis for sharing her amazing story!

 

TAKE THE NEXT STEP!

Standing in the cereal aisle at WalMart, the first minute seemed easy: pick a good cereal that 7 children under 13 would like. Two minutes go by–the cereal is beginning to fog. Eliminate the ones that are healthy; been there, done that. The box doesn’t get opened except by one, and goes bad before half is eaten. Hmmm. Eliminate the ones that look like candy bars, and the ones that will leave them with sugar overload for the next 72 hours. The longer I stand and look, the more everything seems to blend together and the eyeballs start to cross. I thought I just saw that cereal down at the other end… no, this one has double the raisins. Scratch that. Five minutes turns into ten. How can it take so long to select a box of cereal? Apparently quite a while. I see others looking. “Are all the boxes starting to look alike to you, or is it just me?” I asked the man who is standing with a lost look on his face. “Oh, yes!” he replies. “My wife told me to get Cheerios. She didn’t mention there were somewhere around two hundred varieties!” We begin to pace at opposite ends of the aisle. This could take until breakfast tomorrow to choose.

Finally, I decide there’s a better option. I decide to go to the half-way point of the aisle, turn around until I get dizzy, then take seven steps (hopefully forward, and not run flat into the cereal itself), reach out and grab a box. I do. Wheaties. Forget that bright idea.

The longer I managed this walk-a-thon, the more I saw how it is likened to our daily life. You question that? Polls, though not substantiated, suggest the average adult makes about 35,000 choices a day, and a child makes about 3,000. That means you are faced with the option of doing something for the good of someone else, or the good of yourself, thousands of times a day. It also means your child must choose based on his or her training in good behavior, choices that could change their lives hundreds of times a day. As they grow older, the choices increase. That should scare us all out of our shoes. Think of your teenager making 5,000 good choices a day. How about 3?

How often are you faced with a situation and you’re not sure if it’s right or wrong? We’re currently in the market for a new home (new for us). As we have spent hours and ridden miles on the roads, and put gallons and gallons of gas into the car, we keep praying, “Lord, please give us wisdom about this next house!” So far He has. Some seem perfect, and we’re really interested. Until we see the structural damage. Some seem perfect, and are–and someone gets a contract on it while we’re discussing the pros and cons. He has shut every door so far, and we are slowly learning what we’re really looking for. Our next step is to find the one that fits the criteria we have been working through!

Does it sound familiar? One of the Christian writers about thirty years ago wrote that often it’s okay with the Lord if you choose Option A or Option B. That may be so but I’d rather He slam the door, or leave it wide open with a fruit basket inside.

This past Sunday Jonathan Falwell preached on “START,” a new series that will be taking us to recognizing that no matter where we are in our Christian walk, we are never stagnant, but always have a “next step” to take. Get your Bible, a notebook, a drink, and go to http://www.trbc.org/sermon-archive, and choose “Start” for Sunday, September 24. You’ll find the message inspiring and the sermon study a time to dig deeper to find God’s will for your life. But first you have to know for sure: are you a believer? Will your testimony hold up when you breathe your last? Will you stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ, or with sticky notes of good works pasted to you? Will you be one to whom God says “I never knew you,” or will you hear “Well done!”? Enjoy the worship service, and let the Holy Spirit guide you to your next step!

START: How Can I Be Sure?                                                                                          Pastor Jonathan Falwell

Open:

There are so many decisions that must be made in life, and the right path is not always easy to know. For instance, “Is she/he the right person for me to marry?” Can you think of an example when you struggled with not being certain about something crucial?

This week we start a new series simply entitled “START.” All of us are on different levels of faith, of commitment, or maturity, but we want to know what the next step is for our situation. Dr. Falwell originally wrote a pamphlet, “How to Get Started Right,” outlining those next steps. Before we look at those steps, let’s be positive that we are in a right relationship with God, without any doubt of our salvation.

Focal Passages: Ephesians 2:1-9; John 3:16, 4:14, 8:52,10:27-29; 1 Corinthians 1:8,9; Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 13:5; 1 John 1:3-4, 5-10, 2:3-5, 2:15, 3:2-3, 3:5-6, 3:14, 3:22, 4:1-3, 5:1-2, 5:14-15.

Think About or Discuss: (If you’re not in a group, keep your answers in a notebook!)

Background:

  1. Read Eph. 2:1b-3. What is the condition of the person who has not asked Jesus to save them?
  2. Read verses 4-6. “But God” stepped in and did what? Why (vs. 4)?
  3. Read verses 8-9. How were you saved? Did you do something to merit it? If you had achieved it by being good, could you boast about it?

How You Can Be Sure:

You will want to know Him:

  1. Has there been someone in your life—a spouse or best friend—about whom you had the desire to know everything about?
  2. If you are going to trust God with your life, what are some things you will want to know about Him (for instance, is He always trustworthy?)? Where are you going to find these character traits?

Conviction of your sin:

  1. Read John 14:26. It is said that there is no one more miserable than a true Christian who is living a sinful lifestyle. What can you conclude if you have a sinful addiction, and are not convicted about it?
  2. Read 1 John 3:6. How does the Scripture back up the conclusion you just came to concerning a lifestyle of sin?

Seek fellowship with other Christians:

  1. Read 1 John 1:7. Think of a fire: if you pull a piece of log out from the rest, what soon happens to it? How is that like a Christian who does not fellowship with other believers? Do you get that fellowship watching a service on the television? Do your companions lift you up or tear you down?
  2. At our churches, what is the biggest benefit of being part of a Life Group?

Understand the power of prayer:

  1. In your family or environment, how much of a relationship would you eventually have if you took no time to communicate with the others?
  2. The Person Who has taken up residence in your life wants a very personal, loving relationship with you. Do you have a special name for Him that signifies your deepest feelings for talking with Him? What does James 5:16b tell you?

Recognize the importance of God’s Word:

  1. Going back to family again, or even before that, to your relationship as it grew with the person closest to you (if applicable), if you received a letter from her/him, how did you treat it?
  2. How do you view the books of the Bible, in giving you a guideline to know God, His plan, and how to live your life? Read 1 Peter 2:2-3 and 2 Peter 1:3. What do these verses tell you about Scripture? Read Psalm 119:11. What is another reason for memorizing His word?

Close

Have you ever asked people where they will spend eternity? It is very few who will answer “Hell.” Since almost everyone assumes they will go to heaven, you must follow your question up with “What are you basing your hope on?” You already know most will say their good must outweigh their bad. This is so unfortunate and incorrect, and brings great pain to those of us who have tried to reach family members who are in a works-based religion. The START of a journey with Jesus Christ is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were “dead in your sin” and being so, were powerless to resurrect yourself. BUT GOD, through His great love with which He loved YOU, was willing to save you, and give you a new life of salvation. It was Grace—all grace—and nothing that you did. He offered it to you freely, asking that you live your new life with Him at the center. Did you accept that gift? If you did, He adopted you, and nothing you can do will cause Him to back out of this relationship. However, Romans 6 begins by telling us that the adoption by God is not a license to continue to sin. That is why you must do a self-examination with the points outlined above, making certain that your walk is in line with the Biblical precepts. If you have no desire to read your Bible, change your way of a sinful lifestyle, be with other Christians, or pray, you might need to reassess your conversion experience. However, if He is alive and well within you, and you are maturing in your walk with Him, begin by talking aloud with Him every time He crosses your mind! Nothing you say to Him will shock Him, cause Him to condemn you or think less of you, (He knows it anyway,) and the constant conversation will eventually morph into a close relationship that will flood your soul. You will “never find a friend so faithful!”

Memory Verse: Ephesians 2:4-5: But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (NKJV)

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Why Do We Suffer?

Bedtime or not, I couldn’t lay the book down. Dragging in the morning when the alarm would go off was not to be compared to closing the book before I had finished the chapter. The concept was intriguing! A man who was a “lukewarm” Christian had gone to sleep, had a nightmare, and woke hearing voices of people he passed as he started for work. The voices were not those of demonic forces, but it was as if he could hear the thoughts rolling in their very soul. For instance, “I’m so tired of having no one who cares about me. Life is not worth living.” After many agonizing times when he thought someone had spoken to him, he realized their lips weren’t moving, and as we say, he freaked out! He ran to his pastor, who realized–somehow–that God had given the man the gift of hearing the deepest needs of the people with whom he was coming into contact. The pastor was jubilant, and insisted on going out among the people immediately, to see if he was correct. Yes, the man was hearing their unspoken suffering, and in doing so, was able to let his pastor know, so the pastor could minister to the person. It may sound dry, but wasn’t. It was an “I have to know what happens next” kind of book!*

After finishing it, I wondered if I, too, could look at people more like God looks at them, and see if I could discern their feelings by their outward expression. There’s always been a saying, “The eyes are the windows of the soul,” meaning that one’s feelings are generally reflected in the eyes. Smiles that do not reach the eyes are not smiles. I also wondered if I could listen more, and talk less! How many times had I heard someone answer truthfully rather than the politically correct “Fine,” to “Hi! How are you?” Had I ever followed up on it, and given them my time? They don’t really expect a reply, but they’ve answered truthfully because they’re seeking help. I love to listen to someone’s story. Rather than seeing that as a way to pass time, perhaps I could use it, like the man in the book above, to get to the root of their distress and show them there is One who cares more deeply about them than they could ever imagine. Why am I not using my time to make disciples?

How often are people we come into contact with suffering in some way that we can understand and relate to? Perhaps they have a spouse or family member who has just gotten news of a health crisis, or perhaps lost their job, or are having marital problems, and so many more areas of pain. Sometimes they are Christians who cry out to God, and instead of instant relief, there is silence. They may conclude–especially if they are a new Christian, or one who hasn’t been tested much–that He doesn’t really care. As was spoken in a recent movie, “Did you ever notice that the teacher is silent during a test?” Perhaps God is doing a work in their life. It scares me to death to think I should step in and help a need and get in God’s way while He’s trying to bring them closer to Himself. It’s imperative we act only when God nudges us.

This past Sunday Pastor Jonathan Falwell, himself a recent victim of physical suffering while being in the eye of Hurricane Irma, spoke on why there is suffering here on earth. Get your notebook, a beverage, and click on the website for Thomas Road Baptist Church at http://www.trbc.org/sermon-archive, and select “Why Then Do We Suffer?” He gives answers from God’s word, advice to apply to our lives, and hope for a beautiful future. Enjoy the song service if you have time, and then do the sermon study below. God is good–all the time. Even in suffering, even through the evil that breaks His heart as it does ours, even in times when we think He doesn’t care, He’s good.

Why Then Do We Suffer?                                                                                         Jonathan Falwell

Open:

Each day world or national news seems to be filled with crises that would have been unimaginable fifty years ago. Can you think of a catastrophe that has impacted you or your extended family recently?

Today the severe challenges we are facing—whether from health, financial, family, sin or dozens more—inevitably lead us to the point of suffering where we cry out to God, “Why, Lord?” This week we are going to look at life from God’s perspective, as well as our own personal standpoint.

Focal Passages: Romans 5:12-25, 8:31-39; Job 5:7, 14:1.

Think About or Discuss:

This World Is Not What God Intended:

  1. Read Genesis 1:31. What did God say about His creation at the end of Day Six?
  2. Read Genesis 2:15. What did God give Adam the ability to do in this verse?
  3. Why would God create Adam, knowing he was going to bring sin—and therefore death—into the world? Can we not relate to some extent, wanting children even while knowing there will be very tough times with them?

Even Still There is Hope:

  1. Read Romans 5:18. What are some of the tribulations you face daily (you don’t have to share if you’d rather not)? Does God hold these against you if you confess them? How can you back that up?
  2. Read Rom. 5:19-23. How did the fall affect God’s creation?
  3. Read verses 24-25. Why do people hold so tightly to hope? Read 1 Peter 1:3. (Is this your hope?)

Our God Is Still in Control and Taking Care of Us

  1. How do you know that God is still in control? Read Col. 1:16-18 (in a translation that is more modern, if possible.)
  2. Think back over the recent events in your life; has God done anything that would indicate to you that He is caring for you? Read 1 Pet. 5:7.
  3. Why do we so often take matters into our own hands, trying to do the job in our strength, without letting Christ take the lead? Can you share your thoughts?

Close

Almost all the New Testament writers warn that this life comes with trials and troubles. If you thought when you received Jesus as Savior that life would be easy, the truth is, since evil and man’s choice exists, it won’t be. Suffering is a by-product of the fall, bringing sin and natural disasters. Those who trust Him fully have learned that Jesus is the only One you can depend on through the storms. This past month we have witnessed miracle after miracle as God brought people safely through tragedies that should have taken thousands of lives, but did so with minimal loss of life. “Things” can always be replaced, but people cannot. God is your only hope.

It was His desire that the creation would be a place of perfection, beauty, and happiness. Adam chose to disobey God, and man has been full of sin ever since, bringing suffering into creation. Had He made us robots, worshiping Him like puppets, there would be no relationship of love. If you have children who obey you for any reason other than a genuine desire to show their love, you know there is no satisfaction in outward obedience. Yet in giving us choices to do good or evil, sin enters our lives through the actions of ourselves or others. If you want evil to stop, choice must stop. Where would you want your ability to make choices end and you have none? You wouldn’t. The good news is that Jesus, dying on the cross to pay the debt of those sins, stands ready to forgive and give new life. That new life will include the transition from earth to heaven one day. Will you make mistakes—sometimes willfully—between now and then? Will suffering continue until He returns? Yes! But He loves you with a love so huge it is not able to be explained in human terms, and as a God of forgiveness, He will never disown you. One day, life will be exactly what God intended. Let us all be sure we are ready for that day!

Memory Verse: Romans 5:18: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Book: The Miracles, by Terri Blackstock

© Lisa F. Young

ID 442336 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

With God, Nothing is Impossible!

Sales were pouring in, and often I wondered  how I had gotten myself into a business that was growing larger than I could manage. Trying to get packages ready for mailing was taking most of the day, and listing new merchandise could also take most of a day–together making a twenty-four hour day with no time for sleep! Well, I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know it was time to hire help. A friend came on board, then another, then someone to list, and meanwhile there was the job of buying new inventory. I questioned my sanity, but I was also having fun. It was nothing to grab my daughter and go on a buying trip, spending several thousand in one day. When the income from a side business is in six-figures, life seems pretty good.

About the same time, we learned a new little grandchild was “in the oven.” The problem was, there were already three other little ones, along with the parents, living in a very small house. It seemed obvious–and providential–that the income was there to save a sizable down payment and look for a large home. The fact that the economy was taking a slight downturn didn’t bother me, as it actually gave us a perfect time to look for a house someone really needed to sell. We were able to get a much bigger home for the money than would have been possible a year earlier .

We talked it over with the kids involved, and came to an agreement that, in three years, they would have sold where they were, and take over the mortgage. It was an unwritten agreement, not even the shaking of hands–this was family, and trust was implied.

For the next year or so, sales were still good. Not as great as they had been, but good. Nothing seemed to be happening concerning the unwritten agreement, but we ignored it. About year three, sales were beginning to show a major decrease. Every month I was stressed to the max, wondering if there would be enough, knowing that–had I foreseen the economy drop to new lows–I would never have taken on this responsibility. It took another year before I realized that, although sales had gone down drastically, God was still bringing in just the amount needed for the mortgage and utilities. When that realization hit, the relief was incredible. I had felt as though I was the one responsible, when all along He had been watching over me, and we never once went without enough to make their payments. On my own, I could not have done it; with Him, it was happening. No, sales were hardly coming in, but there was always just the right amount. It was a huge lesson in my God supplying ALL my needs, through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19)!

This past week, actually a week ago today, our church learned our Senior Pastor, Jonathan Falwell, had taken his wife, Shari, to St. Martins Island for an anniversary surprise. Hurricane Irma turned that surprise into a nightmare, but at the same time used their presence there to bring the love of Jesus Christ to a people who probably had passed Him by. After prayers on social media reached into the thousands, they got safely home on Saturday. Sunday, Dr. Ben Guttierez preached on the situations we find ourselves in which seem impossible to face or accomplish, only to find out that with our God, nothing is impossible! Join the ones who will be watching the service by way of internet on http://www.trbc.org/sermon-archive, and click on “Nothing Is Impossible With God!” If you have time, worship as the church sings and welcomes Jonathan and Shari back among us. Get a friend, a drink, and settle in for a time with the Lord. If you are alone, grab your notebook and do the study below, taking time to learn more of the mighty power of our awesome God!

Nothing Is Impossible With God                                                                                          Dr. Ben Guttierez

Open:

Have you ever taken on a task—or made a decision to do something big—only to find sometime later that it is too much for you, and you want to give up? Can you think of an example? Write your answers in your notebook if you’re alone, or discuss it with friends if you have a group with you!

These past few weeks, we have come through catastrophes that have left millions destitute, and they no doubt wonder if they will survive the stress of these crises. At the same time, we have witnessed God showing His mighty and awesome power, bringing about miracles that man could not—under any imagination—have orchestrated or performed. Nothing is impossible for Him to accomplish, and as His child, nothing is impossible to the believer whose life is rich in faith. We are promised that God will do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think!

Focal Passages: Matthew 9:1-13, 10:2-4; 16:26; Luke 3:12-13, 5:27, 7:34, 18:10-11, 13a.

Think About or Discuss:

Background:

  1. Matthew, the tax collector, was someone the Jews would have gone out of their way to avoid. In that day, tax collectors ranked with the lowest of the low in terms of character and integrity. Read Matthew 18:17, 21:32, and Luke 7:34, to see how they were lumped in Scripture with those whom no one would believe could be saved.

Who Can God Use?

  1. Read Matthew 9:9. What would make a wretched sinner, tax collector and outcast obey Jesus when He said, “Follow Me”?
  2. How do you know that Matthew’s new-found faith was real?

God—the Forgiver of Sins

  1. Read Matt. 9:1-6. What is Jesus saying in verse 6?
  2. Can you think of an acquaintance that you have felt, perhaps for years, they were too “bad” for God to save them?

No One is Too Wayward That God Cannot Use Them

  1. Read Matt. 9:10-13. Who was Jesus seeking as He went through the towns preaching, teaching and healing?
  2. Read Mark 12:37. Who embraced Jesus and His teaching?
  3. How does this compare with 1 Corinthians 1:21?

God Changes Hearts

  1. Read Luke 19:7-9. Zacchaeus was also a tax collector, like Matthew. What showed his humility when Jesus went to his house?
  2. Read 1 Sam. 15:22. How high does God place obedience to His word?

Can God Use YOU?

  1. Read Matt. 18:4. What does God desire from you? Read Matt. 22:36-38. What else?  Can He use you?

 Close:

Satan can so easily get any of us tied up in regret, doubt or lies, bringing up the past and reminding us of it. How many times have you thought, “God can’t use me, because I have ____________”? Or perhaps there is an acquaintance that you know who has made life a living torture for someone you love, and you feel they are so far beyond the possibility of salvation that God will never write their names in the book of Life (Rev. 20:15). The truth is, no one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy and grace, unless they choose to ignore the call of Jesus. It takes a repentant heart and an act of turning from sin to obeying the voice of God to become His child. “He is the forgiver of sins and the determiner of one’s mission in life. God will use any heart that is submissive to His will.” (Sermon). He does not desire anyone to perish, but all to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

With the number of catastrophes coming one after another, examine your heart closely (2 Cor. 13:5) to see that you are His child, lest you be caught unprepared! Once you know that you are His, without any doubt and with a faith that will not be shaken, tell your story as often as God gives you opportunity, as the time may be short. He can use you no matter what you’ve done, if you ask forgiveness and repent, just as He can use those whom you continue to lift to the throne, no matter how hopeless the outlook! Do so this week!

Memory Verse: Matthew 19:26: But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

© Rahjahs

ID 6792838 | Dreamstime Stock Photo

TRIALS BY FIRE

 

Fire. Cars. Storms. TV. Friends. Wind. Crowds. What do these things (and many more) have in common?

This past weekend in Charlottesville, VA, we saw the horrific explosion of a police helicopter. Their riot gear, bullet-proof body armor, nor any other man-made protection could stop the fire the ripped their lives away. Yet in the middle of winter, while snowflakes are swirling outside, sitting in front of a beautiful fireplace, feeling the warmth from the burning logs, perhaps having hot chocolate–that is a picture of comfort for an evening’s enjoyment.

Cars are so necessary to get us places, taking us quickly to people or areas that would have been unbelievable a century ago. But put a drunk driver behind the wheel, or a texting driver, and an innocent family could be snuffed out in the flash of a second. All of these things have one common denominator: they can be used for good, or they can bring chaos, pain, or death. Evil exists. Can you accept that?

It seems on every side we are being inundated with a gigantic move to take our freedoms away. After a while, one begins to feel there is no media that can be trusted, and few journalists who will stand alone and report truth. Most of the “facts” are fabrications, as in the interview recently when so many statements by the POTUS were answered by a reporter as “Are you saying….?” You wanted to just shout, “Why don’t you just write what was said, rather than changing the wording to something else that continues the hatred, the intolerance, the division?” Few there are who will stand alone and be heard without being ridiculed.

Times haven’t changed in the millennia since man was created. We saw hatred and jealousy from Adam’s two sons, one murdering the other, the evil never stopping, continuing through the  seconds we are living in right now. On every side people ask, “Why does God permit this??! If there is a God, why does He allow these things to happen??” Ask yourself, in your own life, where do you want Him to put the barrier that will stop you from doing the things you do that are not pleasing to someone else? Perhaps even hurt someone else? What do you want to do to the person who is slandering you all over town, controlling you by evil actions? Get revenge? Sure. That’s (unfortunately) a human reaction. But if God takes away the free will of someone who is evil, where do you want Him to stop YOUR free will? The door that closes shuts both sides. Making choices that result in consequences that hurt us or someone else, was still a choice we were able to make. Making the choice to stand alone against hatred, bigotry, intolerance, evil men, takes a person who is giving God their heart, and letting Him control it. It is loving your enemy, praying for their salvation–not doing the same things they do, or siding with them so that you don’t draw attention or ridicule.

The young Israelites, Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, stood alone under the great king Nebuchadnezzar. If you listened to the sermon from Thomas Road Baptist Church for Sunday, August 13, you will have learned that they would not give in to disobeying God’s commandment just to save their lives. And they were willing to die (Daniel 3:17,18)! They were thrown, if you remember the story, into a furnace of fire, heated seven times hotter than normal.

Are you going through a fire? Perhaps so–most people are. The difference in the outcome depends on your relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are not His child, why would you expect Him to act on your behalf? If you are in a lifestyle of sin, you need to repent and turn away from it–perhaps the fire is to get you to turn back to Him. Or, as with a beautiful vase, perhaps the fire is to refine you, so the impurities and dross can be removed. Whatever the reason, get in a right relationship with Him, and ask Him to bring good out of the situation. He would love to. He wants a sweet relationship with you.

Go to http://www.trbc.org/service-archive, and select last Sunday’s sermon if you haven’t already heard it. Grab your notebook, perhaps a friend, and answer the questions below, all designed to help you dig deeper into the lives of three young men who were willing to stand alone at a time when it was not popular. Apply what you learn to your own life, and discard those issues that may be causing fires. And just as with the Israelite boys, you know you will have Him with you, right beside you, as you go through the trial.

Flannelgraph of Faith: Prayer and His Presence

Pastor Jonathan Falwell

Open:

There are many interesting studies that have been done in order to determine the amount of people who will stand alone when in a crowd; the percentage is very small. Have you ever had an experience of being the last person still holding a certain position when everyone else had chosen another option, and can you share with a friend, or if you are alone, write your answers in a notebook.

The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is one taught to most Sunday School children—by way of a flannelgraph. We listened with sympathy to their punishment of being thrown into a fiery furnace for not bowing down to a golden image, and the miracle God brought as He delivered them! These three brave young men left us lessons that helped teach us courage and how to grow strong in our faith. We want to glean more truth that will increase our confidence as we go through our own fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12), and grow in our relationship to God.

Focal Passages: Daniel 1, 2, 3

Think About or Discuss:

The Background

  1. Daniel and his three friends were brought to Babylon as prisoners of Nebuchadnezzar. Can you write a short overview of the early years of their life there? If you are unfamiliar with the lives of these four youths (including Daniel), read Daniel 1 and 2. In Daniel 1:17, how did these four cope in Babylon? Because of their wisdom, they advanced in authority, although they were about to go through a trial that would seem impossible to overcome.

Pray Like It Matters…Because It Does!

  1. Before we get to the golden image, read Dan. 2:16-19. Verse 18 gives you a picture of their lives, and the source of strength for these young men. What was it? Do you feel this was a habit or a one-time occasion, and why?
  2. Why does it seem to take a crisis to bring you to prayer? Prayer should be your first line of defense; why? If you don’t pray often, is it possible God may be giving you a reason to do so? Why? Read James 5:16b. He wants us to talk to Him!

Compromise Will Never Deliver 

  1. Relate or write down the demand Nebuchadnezzar made of his people when he built a 90 ft. high statue. What happened when all the people bowed down?
  2. Recall the opening Ice Breaker; who will be the one(s) left standing alone against the majority during testing?
  3. Read Dan. 3:17-18. What was on the line when the men did not bow down? Did they have any reason to assume they would not die? As a Christian, have you ever folded when you should have stood alone (don’t answer aloud unless you choose to).
  4. If they had bowed down, what would it have cost them?

The World’s Power Is No Match For His

  1. What initially happened when the three were thrown into the fiery furnace? What did the king witness, as he looked into the fire?
  2. Read Dan. 3:27. What was Nebuchadnezzar’s conclusion when they came out?

We Have His Power

  1. Read John 14:26. Do you have the same power available to you after salvation? How do you know you can trust Him when you’re in a trial?
  2. Read Isaiah 43:2b. You are the only one who can truthfully answer this question: can you look back and see that your faith is increasing, and that you are trusting Him to be with you every step?

Close:

Standing alone is hard. In the opening, if you thought of an example from your own life, you possibly sensed that same twinge of unease that you had felt then, and wonder now where you got the nerve to step away from the crowd—or wished you had. The decision to not bow to any god but the true God seemed as if it was going to cost them their very lives. They had not read the end of the story! We can see from chapters 1 and 2 that prayer was a part of their daily routine; in this case, they probably had time only for a short plea for God’s help and His will, but if He had different plans, whether He saved them or not, they would be faithful to Him until death took them.

We need to ask ourselves the same question. Will you stand regardless of the outcome? If you are praying for a loved one to survive a disease, for an end to a financial crisis, for help in your marriage, for a wayward child—will you still stand with Him and trust Him if He is quiet? Remember, too, that those who are going through trials usually need others to intercede for them—which not only keeps you in a state of prayer but also gives strength for the burden for those in the trial. If possible, seek out a Life Group and get with others who are going through crises, and let the burdens be shared by brothers and sisters (Gal. 6:2). We need to know that we know the Holy Spirit is with us as we go through trials. Sometimes He walks with us, and sometimes He carries us. Trust Him. You will find He is trustworthy.

Memory Verse: Daniel 3:17: “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.”

Ask Yourself: Is my faith in God strong enough that I would stand against enemies of Christ? Do I trust Him to bring me through the trials of life? How can I develop a closer relationship with Him?

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