Yahweh-Yireh – January 9, 2019

Genesis 20.1-22.24
Matthew 7.15-29
Psalm 9.1-12
Proverbs 2.16-22

The story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac is difficult to read, especially if you have children of your own. (I know Abraham does not actually sacrifice Isaac, but scripture tells us that Abraham figuratively did receive Isaac back from the dead (See Hebrews 11.17-19) and as such, can be considered as having sacrificed him.)

Imagine for just a moment what it must have felt like to be Isaac. While we do not have any description of how Abraham treated Isaac, I do not think it is a far stretch to think that he doted on this son, a child he had after giving up on any hope of actually having children in his old age. And here is this loving father, tying his son up and placing him on an alter…

What kind of father willingly, even if it is somewhat begrudgingly, takes his son, his ONLY son, whom he loved, to be sacrificed?

Obviously, the echoes of God our Father, who also gave up his only son, the one he loved, reverberate throughout this story. We can answer our question even more directly, however. Who does this kind of thing? One who is completely and totally confident that God really is Yahweh-Yireh.

Yahweh-Yireh. The God who provides.

You get a sense that Abraham was like those of us who watch a movie where the hero finds himself or herself in a pickle. It would appear that there is no way out. They have gone too far this time, there is nothing that can save them. (In fact, doesn’t the further into the mess they have gone, the better the sense of relief for us when they get out?)

We watch a movie like this and while there are moments of anxiousness, wondering if the hero really will prevail, for most of us there is always a sense of confidence that the hero will indeed find a way out of the inescapable jam. This was Abraham, knowing that even if Isaac was actually killed, God could bring him back to life (again, Hebrews 11.17-19).

The real challenge is for us. We need to move from that movie type of assurance, trusting in a make-believe world on the silver screen, to living and acting on the reality that God will indeed provide for us.

He will rescue us. We have assurance of that. Now, can we act on it?

Questions:

God hears Ishmael crying in the desert, after he and his mother are forced to flee from the house of Abraham. This is actually consistent with God’s nature, hearing the cries of those in need. How have you experienced God hearing your cries or the cries of someone else who was in need?

How comfortable are we with the notion that people can be evaluated by their “fruit?” How comfortable are you with this standard being applied to your own life? How can you be more willing to allow your fruit to speak for your life?

Do you follow God with your full heart? How can we be sure we are not living half-hearted lives?

Reading this section of Proverbs is like watching someone walk toward the noise in a scary movie, all the while the audience is yelling: “Don’t do it!” Why is there such an allure to go toward the noise … or toward evil, represented here in Proverbs by the promiscuous woman? How can we ensure wisdom keeps us on the paths of righteousness?

Blessed Are The… – January 5, 2019

Genesis 11.1-13.4
Matthew 5.1-26
Psalm 5.1-12
Proverbs 1.24-28

In Matthew 5, Jesus gathers his disciples for a time of teaching. While we will discover at the end of this “Sermon on the Mount” as it is called that the crowds were amazed (Mt. 7.28-29), the initial focus is instruction to Jesus’ disciples.

Looking at what he says to them, one wonders: Were these teachings something new or different for these men? Was Jesus reviewing a previous lesson they had received or was Jesus giving them a new direction or understanding? What is the significance of this first teaching of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s gospel?

In the years that have followed Jesus’ speaking this lesson, people have understood his words here as defining what it looks like for people to truly follow Jesus. If you want to know the ethics of the “Kingdom of Heaven” Jesus describes as being near (Mt. 4.17), then look no further than these words spoken to his first followers.

If this is true, and I believe it is, then those of us who continue to strive to follow Jesus and to live our lives as he did need to understand that these people are the people whom God finds valuable and worthy of our love:

The poor

Those who mourn

The humble

Those who hunger and thirst for justice

Those who are merciful

The pure in heart

Those who work for peace

Anyone persecuted for doing right

As you work through your day, how have you focused your efforts on embracing these people, people Jesus tells us God blesses?

Questions:

How wild would it be for God to come tell you to leave everything you know—your family, your customs, your comfort—and simply go to place is his going to tell you? How do you think you would respond? In what ways have you left things comfortable to you to follow Jesus?

List the ways your life is being salt and light to the people around you.

The psalmist describes praying to God then waiting “expectantly” for his response. In what ways does this describe your prayers? How can you wait more expectantly for God to respond?

Have you ever ignored the advice of wisdom, failing to listen to the correction she offered? How’d that work out for you? How can you listen better?

Rest Well – January 4, 2019

Genesis 8.1-10.32
Matthew 4.12-25
Psalm 4.1-8
Proverbs 1.20-23

“How long will you people ruin my reputation?” Psalm 4.2

Is there any worse feeling than the one you get when you discover people are talking bad about you, perhaps even ruining your reputation? How do you react? What do you do to correct the wrong committed by this slanderer?

Truth be told, I … and I think most of us … tend to be ready for a good fight when people speak ill of me. If we can prevent people from speaking poorly of us, then perhaps we will look better to others. Achieving this is worth whatever fight needed to accomplish it, isn’t it?

On the other end of the spectrum, we might want to work extra hard to prove by our actions that others are wrong. We see this in the stories of individuals who in unhealthy ways obsess with doing the very thing someone said they could not do. A small, offhanded comment about being overweight, lazy, or good-for-nothing changes the entire trajectory of someone’s life, and not for the better.

The author of Psalm 4 gives us another option, which I would outline as follows:

First, he appeals to God, asking God to declare him innocent.

Second, he admits that his trust and confidence is in the Lord. The Lord is the one who will provide the proof of the writer’s innocence. (Perhaps we need to be less about our Father’s business and more about letting God do what he does best.)

Third, he pauses. How much better would our reaction to the “wrongs” against us be if we regularly made “think about it overnight and remain silent” our go-to response for people who bring accusations against us? It’s hard to do, no doubt, but it also shows our full commitment to the second point: we trust that God will prove us innocent and therefore we do not have to do so.

Last, the writer recognizes the joy that comes from God, joy that far exceeds what others have, even when they have it in abundance.

So, the final result for this writer: he lies down in peace. He knows the Lord will keep him safe and so has no need to worry or fret. Anyone who has tossed and turned throughout the night recognizes the significance and blessing of being able to lie down and actually sleep.

When people bring false accusation against you, how do you sleep?

Praying that you find rest and sleep in the middle of the accusations.

Questions:

When something good happens in your life, you come through some sort of trial or challenge, what is your first response? A pat on your own back? Praise to God for what he has done? How can we remind ourselves to praise God for bringing us through the trials of our life?

If you were asked by someone to “tell them something good,” what would you tell them? Make a list of ways God has been good news for you.

Here’s a challenge for you this week: When someone says something about you or in such a way that your first response is to fire back a harsh response, say nothing and think about it overnight. If necessary, respond to their comment at that point, but not before then.

How do we ignore the wise counsel that if often right in front of us? How can we be sure to listen to this counsel?

All Seek No Hide – January 2, 2019

Genesis 3.1-4.26
Matthew 2.13-3.6
Psalm 2.1-12
Proverbs 1.7-8

Where are you?

It’s the first question we have recorded in the book of Genesis that God asks Adam. And there is a whole lot of irony in the question. Where is Adam? Well, he and Eve are hiding in the bushes … covered by the bushes … because of their shame once they found out they were naked. Don’t think for a moment that God did not know where the pair were or that he had no idea what had transpired just prior to his inquiry. No, he was waiting to see what Adam had to say about his new-found circumstances.

But the question is still put out there. Where are you?

I can remember playing hide-n-seek around the house as a child. You would yell out the numbers as you leaned against the tree that was base, anxious to go find your fellow game-players. But on occasion, the hiding spots would be too creative and after a few moments, the seeker would just give up. One time, the one hiding was left for a considerable amount of time (5 minutes if you had a clock, 2 hours if you were the hider…) because the one seeking simply went inside to play a different game.

Here’s the thing. For the rest of our reading through Scripture, we are going to hear God ask and see him demonstrate this question over and over again. Even to this day he continues to ask: Where are you.

It isn’t because he doesn’t know about you.

It is because he longs for you to know him.

Where are you?

 

Questions:

Someone has said that all sin is basically the result of our idolatry: we want to put ourselves in the position that only God has a right to occupy. How do we see that in the life of Eve? What examples can you give that support this idea in your own world?

What do you make of John the Baptist in Matthew’s gospel? Is he crazy and seemingly out of his mind? Or, is he simply fulfilling the role (in both words, actions, and dress) of the prophet seeking to bring people back to the Kingdom of God? Why is understanding John the Baptist important?

The kings of the nations are said to be angry and against God in Psalm 2, seeking to throw off his rule. The suggestion they are given, however, is to “act wisely!” How can we equip and encourage our civic leaders to act wisely, even when they may not be followers of God?

Do you despise wisdom? How can be sure we are not doing so and as a result, becoming fools?

Beginnings – January 1, 2019

Genesis 1.1-2.25
Matthew 1.1-2.12
Psalm 1.1-6
Proverbs 1.1-6

Beginnings are important. Often, how you start something can predict how successful you will be at completing that particular task or event.

Given that truth, it is interesting how each of the four areas of the Bible we will look at every day throughout this year (Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs) begins.

Our Old Testament readings begin with the creation of the world. How did all of this get started? What should we understand about the one who made us? We discover that God created the world. If you take nothing else from these first chapters of Genesis, know this: “In the beginning, God created…”

But we also discover something about God’s concern for us, his creation. Notice that he cares that Adam is alone, that he has no suitable partner. Relationships are important to God, not just our relationship with him, but also our relationship with others. God doesn’t just place us in the world to fend for ourselves, he places in the world in the midst of others with others with whom we have relationships.

Matthew begins with a listing of the genealogy of Jesus. It is an indicator of his roots, his background, where he’s from. It places him firmly within the line of Abraham, God’s chosen person from long, long ago.

We will discover that God makes a promise to Abraham that he will become a great nation. This man Jesus, who comes to earth under a star and is searched out by wise men, is the culmination, yet also the beginning, of that great nation in its fullest sense. God still is seen as active in moving toward people to draw them into a relationship with him.

Psalms serve as a songbook of God’s people. It describes the praises of God’s people to God and their response to his actions in their lives. Is it any wonder then that the first psalm in the book reminds us that those who “delight in the Lord” and his laws are the ones who are blessed, the ones who find joy in their lives?

Finally, the Proverbs remind us of the instructions important to following God. Want to find that good life the writer mentions? It is found in the wisdom of God’s word.

As we begin a year of reading through Scripture, allow today’s readings to remind you of the importance not just of the habit of daily reading, but also the value of that which you will be reading throughout the upcoming year.

Let these readings be the first day of great beginnings.

Questions:

Genesis shows us that God had concern for Adam, specifically that he had no one with whom to have a relationship and as a result, he was alone. In what ways have your relationships with others been “sacred,” that is, helped you strengthen your own relationship with God? How can you develop relationships that help you do this better?

What sort of joy do you feel when you discover signs that point you to Jesus?

Do you delight in the law of the Lord? What are some ways you might be able to delight more in his word and allow his word to guide you even more than it does now?

We often find ourselves seeking ideas or knowledge that help us live a better life. What sort of things have you seen recently (especially around this time of resolving to better ourselves) that people use for their own betterment? How do these compare to the things the Proverbs writer lists as how to live “disciplined and successful lives?”

Making Countries Great

20170312 - 1HBS

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.

No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
(Psalm 33.12, 16)

What does it take to make a country great? No, not to make a country great, again. To make a country a nation that is held in high esteem and seen as one who is run with wisdom and Godly guidance. What does it take for us to be a part of the people of God?

You often hear people calling for our country to return to its “Christian roots,” that is, to be a Christian nation as our forefathers intended it to be. One could argue the validity of the latter point, but I do not think anyone would question that our sense of morality has waned over the years. It’s not even on the fringes where we find people’s action running counter to the things that just a few years ago most people would consider “wrong.” So how do we return to being a nation centered on Godly living?

If you take the four passages we find in our reading for this week, you discover four things that I want to list here.

First, our military power does not make a great nation, just like brute force is never the answer for Godly living for each of us individually. The psalmist says that you may have strong horses (perhaps today the psalmist would write: you may have powerful weapons), but their strength cannot save the ruler. I think what is most ironic is that we lament the fact that America is no longer a Christian nation, yet most of what America espouses as greatness centers on those things that are completely self-reliant. It is no wonder that our strength does not save us. We were created to be dependent on God, not ourselves.

Second, from the Genesis story, we discover that strategic planning does not make us a great nation. Again, this seems counter intuitive. Were you to seek a loan for a new business, you would be asked to provide the lender with a “business plan,” which would include the strategies you would use to go about creating this wonderful—and for the bank’s sake, profitable—business. Abraham wasn’t given a plan. His plan was just to pack and walk until God told him to stop. God, however, used Abraham’s willingness to go (even if Abraham did at times question God’s promise) to create through him a great nation.

Third, when we fast forward to the time of the Apostle Paul, we discover he wrote celebrating Abraham’s faith. Trust in God, rather than our associations with the right people or a glorious upbringing, is essential for God to be able to use us to make a great nation. Paul’s argument in Roman’s 4 is essentially that the people who were that great nation of Abraham (this would be the people of Israel) could not claim that their privileged status was the result of following the rules and regulations applied to God’s people from the time of Abraham. Abraham was not a good person and the nation he was promised was not built because of the way he followed all of God’s rules, but because Abraham believed that God said he could do what he promised. Whether you think you have your life under control or not, your trust in God versus your status or privilege indicates your willingness to allow him to work in you.

Last, being a member of God’s kingdom happens as the result of belief in Jesus, who was lifted up as a sacrifice for our sins. It is not a physical thing, like the rebirth Nicodemus was confused about in John 3, nor is it something we are able to do (Nicodemus, you were right. An adult cannot start the birth process over again). No, our inclusion into that great nation that is the kingdom of God happens through the Spirit of God. That Spirit comes only through a belief in Jesus to give eternal life.

I hope you recognize that this idea of “great nation” really has very little to do with a physical, tangible kingdom, like America, or Canada, or Mexico. It instead has everything to do with being a part of the people God calls to himself through his Son. The real question is: Will you believe in the power of God to bring you into his kingdom with him? That is what makes you a part of a great nation.

 

Questions:

•What sort of things do people use to show their power and worth? Why are these things considered valuable in the world we live in? How are they viewed in light of God and his kingdom?

•How willing would you have been to pack up all your stuff and head out to an unknown place like Abraham did? What do you think would have been Abraham’s biggest challenges in doing this? What things did he have to help him trust in God’s instructions?

•How well do you have faith in the promises of God? What events in your life have proven those promises to you?

•John tells us that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. How well do you think that message has been proclaimed to the people around you? In what ways do you think the opposite message has been communicated? What can you do to ensure the proper message about Jesus is told to others?

•How can you live a life that demonstrates your faith in God as the ruler of your kingdom, even if that means living a life counter to the values of the world around you?

Vacation – June 1

Text: Genesis 1-2 (Read it here.)20160601

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2.2-3, NIV)

God and Us
Author: Charles Stephenson

In Genesis 1:1 God makes the move from no material existence to the material existence we now share. In this chapter “create” is only used in 1:1, 21, and 27. Each time marks a major move of significance for our creation. Yet, nothing in this text attempts to give a modern scientific explanation for our universe. Here, God is explaining our relationship to the world around us and with him.

Genesis 1:1 brings before us our material existence, which is then organized over the first four days of the creation story. Day five (Genesis 1:21) brings the second use of create. Here the move is from inanimate nature to animal life. This gives us living, breathing, eating, digesting, and reproducing-after-its-kind animal life. All of this animal life shares in the material existence around us.

Day 6 starts with the introduction of more animals. “Create” is not used because nothing new is introduced that had not already come into existence. These are only different forms of animal life, which share in the previous creation of the material and the previous creation of animal life.

Genesis 1:27 introduces a different form of animal life, which shares in the previous creation of the material and the previous creation of animal life, which also has a very significant difference from all previous creation, the image of God. This last move in the creation is signaled as the most significance move in our creation story. Here “create” is used three times to indicate the significance of this move. We human beings share in the creation of all material and animal life. But, far above all of that, we have the very image of God. Just think about the majesty and power of the creation! Then, note that we are the crown of God’s creation.

As we look into Genesis 2 we see human beings as necessary for bringing out the very best in creation. Genesis 2:5 points to the need for watering the garden and for a man to work the garden. We get to work with God to complete the potential of his creation!

Please read again Genesis 1-2. Now think about other things in these chapters that point to our place in creation and before God. Discuss implications for how we should live in God’s creation.

Questions:

In the beginning, God created the earth from a world that the author of Genesis calls: “formless and empty.” How difficult do you find creating order from chaos?

Throughout the seven days of creation, God calls each day of his created work “good” until he gets to the creation of humankind, to which he announces: “It is very good.” Why do you think the creation of humankind evokes this response from God? In what ways was creation incomplete until humans were created? How is humankind different from anything God had created prior?

Do you sense your life is one of chaos or one of peace and rest? Which describes your story: a world without form and empty, or one in which everyone lives together in peace? Why do you think this is the case? How would the peace of a regular rhythm of rest help move you from a world of chaos to a world that reflects “Shalom?”(Shalom is the the Hebrew word for peace and a description of the scene we see of Adam and Eve in the garden in Genesis 2.)