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

Life Isn’t Fair…

                                            

 

 

The odor of stink bug filled the room. If you’ve                    never smelled one, there’s a great reason for it’s name. You can tell instantly when one has invaded any spot in your home–it’s rather like running over a skunk with a car: there’s an odor that permeates everything. Move to Virginia when it’s cool weather.

On this particular morning, chores needed to be done. There seems to be a recurring law that laundry, like dishes, accumulates with regularity, and bits of sticks, leaves, and dirt get tracked onto area rugs, while dust seems to penetrate closed windows in spite of the insulation around the edge, and manages to land right on the pieces of furniture that are hardest to clean. (So far, no little elves in green outfits have shown up at midnight, like the Fairy Tales would have you believe!) Realizing the  stink bug is hiding out in the living room, and there’s no doubt which room will get the first attention.

Dragging the vacuum cleaner to the spot where “he” seemed to be sending the most pronounced smell was not a chore: it was rather like a cat must feel as he/she sits like a statue, watching a bird a few feet away. The end result will be worth the wrestling with the upright cleaner. Bag empty? Check. Ready to go? Check. And suddenly an “Aha” moment as the vile critter is spotted…in this case, laying upside down, feet in the air, (as well as the smell), having just succumbed to the lifetime granted to him by his creator. Fortunately for him.

Powering up the vacuum, it was touch and go as it was pushed over the bug (still there), returned, run over again, repeated several more times, all to no avail. This was getting frustrating! This was not a cheap, Black Friday deal, or a clearance product from the local home supply store, but a top-of-the-line vacuum, one that the manufacturer claimed had the power to inhale a pile of dirt in seconds, let alone a little stink bug the size of a fingernail! But no such thing was happening. This was unfair! It was getting one’s temper out of sorts quickly, knowing the price + the ability = picking up a stink bug! Taking the vacuum back to the store would have to wait, but the feeling that this whole scenario had been totally unfair was uppermost.  After all, how could they make such claims if it wouldn’t do its job?

One finds lessons in so many things, even stink bugs. Suddenly the Holy Spirit softly whispered, “Where did you get the idea that life is fair? Did Jesus get fairness while He was on the earth? Does Scripture say life is fair?” We seem to have accepted the world’s philosophy that everything should be tit for tat: if you have this, I should have it; if Johnny gets a toy, Joe should get one. We’ve let society and materialism infiltrate our minds to the point that we expect things to be just and fair. Wrong. Was it fair for the disciples to be martyred for preaching? Is it fair when people drink, drive, and kill a family? When a child is molested? Life is not fair–but God is still with us.

Picture Naomi for a moment. Surely you know Naomi: she was married, and had two young sons. Her husband, during a famine in Judea, decided to move the family to a heathen country, Moab. Do you think for a moment Naomi was thrilled to leave family and friends? Speaking from personal experience, having moved too many times to count, the feeling of being uprooted, even after a couple of years, is difficult; what must it be like when you’re leaving your homeland? She probably thought, “It’s not fair!” Her life in Moab was not a “happily ever after” either. Her husband died, her two sons married heathen women, and then the sons died. Naomi could have screamed, “It’s not fair!”

Click on the link to the sermon from Thomas Road Baptist Church, http://www.trbc.org/service-archive , for this past Sunday, July 23, and see what the study of Naomi can teach us all. Grab yourself a notebook, curl up in a good chair, and listen to the sermon, putting yourself in Naomi’s place. Afterwards, take a few moments to answer the questions below, as that will cause the lessons to sink deep into your heart. Above all, enjoy the sermon, hunger and thirst for righteousness, and share Jesus with your friends.

Flannelgraph of Faith: Ruth—Everyone Matters                                                                                                                           Pastor Jonathan Falwell

Open:

In almost everyone’s life at some time there has been a woman—perhaps a mother, teacher, or friend—who has made an impact on one’s character. Can you share a memory you may have as you reflect?

We are continuing to examine Bible characters whose lives have left many lessons for us. This week we will concentrate on the book of Ruth, but it will be the life of Naomi, the mother-in-law, whom we will focus on. Her lessons will be as applicable to men as to the women. As we use the old-school visual teaching of the flannelgraph, we will see what we can learn from her life.

Focal Passages: Taken from Ruth 1:1-4:22

Think About or Discuss:

God Uses the Famines of Life to Bring Blessings:

  1. Can you give a short summary of why this family of Judea lived in Moab, and what occurred in the first several years? If not, go back and read through chapter one, until Naomi begins her trip back to Judea. Can you relate to a lifestyle that seems to bring grief every way you turn, and can you share? If you’re by yourself, write down your answers in a notebook.
  2. Read Ruth 1:6 & 14. If you were Naomi, would you have made the decision to return to Bethlehem? Why?
  3. Do you think she saw any blessings in her life during the time she lived in Moab? Why or why not?

God’s Love is Not Exclusive:

  1. In a moment we will read Naomi’s outpouring of grief at her circumstances; however, how would you explain her relationship with both daughters-in-law that they would desire to go with her?
  2. Read 1:19-21. How do you envision the heart of Naomi toward God? Can you share a time when you questioned God’s love for you and your faith was shaken?
  3. Naomi could see only the events that had occurred in Moab; can you think of any scriptures that would have been helpful to her know (both OT or NT)? (There are some cited at the end.)
  4. According to Romans 8:28, what would God do with her life?

God’s Plan is Greater:

  1. Can you give a brief synopsis of what happened after Naomi returned to Bethlehem (leaving out the end)? If not, take a moment to read the short chapters from 1:19 to 4:12.
  2. Read 4:15a. Who were the people talking about? How do you think Naomi felt as she held Obed in her arms?
  3. List some of the miraculous results that God brought about even though the road had been a very painful one.

Close:

One is so focused on Ruth as the main character in this short book that we often overlook the harsh years that Naomi lived through. Her husband (probably) made the decision to move to the heathen land of Moab. Although there is no mention of the age of her boys, they grew old enough to marry while living there. Their marriages to Moabite women, especially after the death of their father, had to have been a trial to Naomi, but we know she must have treated them with tremendous love and respect. Otherwise, they would not have desired to go to Bethlehem with her, although Orpah was, in the end, persuaded to stay in Moab. Although Naomi did not verbalize a bitterness toward God, asking friends in Bethlehem to call her “Mara” (bitter) must have been her heart’s attitude. She could never have imagined that the simple act of bringing Ruth back to Bethlehem would result in her being great-great-grandmother to King David, and Ruth ultimately being in the line of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

In our own lives, we can sympathize with the times of trouble Naomi experienced. We have days of crisis, with a rare day here and there that is peaceful and quiet. And often our valleys get so low, we question God’s love for us, His presence with us, and His plan to bring good out of our situation. Perhaps this story of Naomi will be one that will inspire you to recognize God’s miracles are not confined by our past, our race, or our heritage, and He is weaving a purpose that will result in amazing outcomes. He will use truly unlikely circumstances to bring about a beautiful end and a deliverance.

Memory Verse: Ruth2:10: So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (NKJV)

Ask Yourself: Do you ever fall down before the Lord, bowing yourself to the ground, and asking Him, “Why have I found favor in Your eyes, that You should take notice of me, since I am a sinner?”

Question 6: Encouraging scriptures: Deuteronomy 31:8; 1 John 4:16, 5:3; James 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:7; Ephesians 5:1; Romans 8:28.

ID 2532051 © Natalia Sevriukova | Dreamstime

A big BIG thank you to Kim Dalton for contributing her experience with the stink bug, and the lesson she learned!