Thursday, January 3, 2019

Judges: Micah and Danites following their hearts

And I finally get gumption to continue my study of the Judges of Israel.  We come to a bizarre story just before the most horrifying story.

In this account of Judges 18, a man named Micah sets up an idol and randomly hires a Levite to be his priest.  A troupe of guys from the tribe of Dan discover Micah's religion and start a war over it.

The text says that Dan's inheritance had not been set up yet.  Perhaps this happened when Joshua was still conquering the land and they couldn't wait to be established.  It had to be before Samson's time since he was from Dan and established that tribe pretty well. 

It certainly happened when the Word of God was not as available or widespread.  But any good Jewish boy would know the second commandment, that you don't worship the true God with images.  He should know the story of the golden calf during Moses's time and the disaster that caused.

Also, Joshua always emphasized that you were not to have a private religion and come to God on your own terms.  You were to come to God on his terms which was to meet at the tabernacle with the sacrifice to atone for your sins.  Before Jesus came to die for our sins, you could not meet with God without having first dealt with your sins.  You are too unholy to survive a holy God on your own.

So, God actually had mercy on Micah by not killing him right away like he did Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10.  He just let him end up in some bizarre skirmish.  This is a rare moment when Israel isn't fighting some oppressive foreigners.  They are fighting each other which is a prelude to the more ghastly story that occurs in chapters 19 and 20.  In those days, there was no king and people did what was right in their eyes.

So, we live in the New Testament now.  Jesus has come and died for our sins and we can come to God because Jesus's blood has atoned for your sins.  Do we still make the mistakes of Micah and the Danites today?

When the Word of God is put on the back burner and people follow their hearts, then yes we do.  We start studying books people wrote in church rather than compare it directly with the Bible.  And then we start reading stories of members of the Trinity portrayed as women who say that God cares too much about free will to call people to justice and that all people will be saved.

Again, the second commandment tells us to not portray God in ways he has not portrayed himself.  He did send Jesus, but he is not to have an image assigned to him.  He's God, so his will is way freer than ours, and if he did not tamper with our wills, then we would not repent and come to him.   And we must never believe that he will save everyone because the letters to the Thessalonians and Revelation say that people who never repent will die in their sins.  And we must never act this way because then there will be no reason to witness to people, share the Gospel, or care for the poor and oppressed or care about justice because God won't punish anyone anyway.

But if people follow this thinking, then they start accepting perverse lifestyles and saying that it's okay to kill unborn children and destroy the women who were their mothers.  And then people start influencing children to change their genders, making permanent decisions they will regret later.  And ultimately, God's name is profaned, and he will not let it slide.

We must get back to reading the Bible in its entirety.  Old and New Testament.  The bad news and the good.  The parts we don't like or understand along with the more common verses.  We have to know God and study his Words as a group and not start our own ideas.  Let us repent and turn to him.  He is so forgiving.  Even perverse lifestyles and permanent mistakes can be forgiven if you would just turn to the Lord to be saved.

Monday, December 24, 2018

SS: Light of the world

Has anybody ever been to Ruby Falls?  In the caverns that go to this underground waterfall, there are lights and interesting rocks that look like steak and potatoes.  I don’t think they really do this anymore, but at some point when you get to the falls, the tour guides would turn the lights off to see what it was like when Leo Lambert discovered it.  What would you feel like in a cave with the lights out?  I already feel nervous being underground because of fears that the ground above me would fall and I’d be crushed.  But in the dark it would feel scarier. 

Leo Lambert must have been a strange and brave guy.  Do you know why we have lights up at Christmas time?  Because in John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

At Christmas, we celebrate him entering the world as a baby.  He is the light.  If he is light, then what was it like before he came?  Dark.  Why was it dark?

I’ll tell you another story.  Greek mythology has the story of Sisyphus, a man who had made the gods mad.  As his punishment, he was doomed to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity.  Once, the rock got to the top, it would roll back down and he would have to start all over.  He would never be able to escape this punishment and please the gods.  The job could not be done.

Now, back to reality.  Who are our first parents?  Adam and Eve.  They were the first people God created and the parents of us all.  God placed them in a perfect garden for them to enjoy and care for.  He gave them one rule.  What was it?  Don’t eat from the tree of Knowledge.  What did they do?  Eat from the tree of Knowledge.  Since then, they had to leave the garden and God took away their privilege of living forever.  They died and so will we one day.

But even sadder is that all of their children and grandchildren born after them are born outside of God’s will.  We are all people who love ourselves first.  We want to sin because we want our way more than God’s.  And when we disobey God and sin, we have a punishment.  Death and separation from God forever. 

How do we solve this problem?  For the Old Testament believers, God formed the nation of Israel and said you can have someone die in your place.  So they would take a lamb or a goat and sacrifice it at the temple.  But what would happen after that?  Leviticus 9:7 They would sin again and need to do it again.  They needed something better than an animal to take their place.

So God sent Jesus as a baby who would live the only perfect human life, and then as an adult, he was killed on a cross by the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, and doing that, he suffered hell for us so that anyone who believed in him would be saved from their sins and live with him in heaven after they die.  Hebrews 9:11-12

After this we acted out the Christmas story, reviewed the lesson, and played bingo.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

SS lesson: camels and needles

This was over a week ago.  My life gets so busy and I get so tired.  And these lessons work so much better on paper than in real life and I need to start on the next one soon.

I had many glasses and one measuring cup.  They had different amounts of water.  The question was, could it fit in the measuring cup?  Two out of 5 could.

Then we moved on to a needle with an eye.  Can it fit?  A thread could.  A yarn couldn't.  A whole cloth couldn't.  And even with the thread it took me and my assistant and some of the girls many tries before we could get it in.

Jesus actually talked about this in the Bible, only instead of trying to fit yarn and fabric through the hole, He talked about something MUCH bigger.  Let’s read this account.

We acted out Mark 10:17-25.
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
So what was the rich man’s problem?

I’m going to propose that the problem isn’t greed or his riches.  It is that he wanted to follow Jesus using his own means and his own resources.  And we simply cannot be saved from our sins and live with Jesus in heaven using our own skills. 

There’s this story that says the Eye of a Needle was a gate outside Jerusalem that was so short that a camel carrying riches had to kneel down and take all its cargo off to enter through. 

Let me tell you the truth.  There was no such gate.  Nobody would make a gate that way.  People who tell that story make entering God’s kingdom humanly possible.  But it is not possible for a sinful human being such as me and you to see God’s face and be able to live without help.  Jesus said an eye of a needle and meant a literal eye of a needle. 

The disciples give the important part of the story next in verse 26: Who then can be saved?

And Jesus give his glorious answer: With man this is impossible but not with God.  All things are possible with God. 

Let me take you to another passage where Jesus said something that made no sense – John 6.  First, in verse 35 he said, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Skipping to verse 53, Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me.”

So, did Jesus says we have to eat and drink him to be saved?  What did Jesus do to save us from our sins?  He died on the cross.  His body was broken and his blood was spilled and he took the punishment for our sins. 

What must we do with this information?  We must believe in Jesus and accept his punishment for our sins.  We can’t pay our debt against God the Father, but Jesus could.  And Jesus did.  So now we must be friends with him and follow him.  And to do that, we spend time with him.  How do we do that?  Reading the Bible, praying, going to church.  Jesus said that only God is God, and Jesus is God.  So Jesus was good for you, and he came back to life so that he could still be with you. 

After the lesson, I told them that the piece of fabric is really many threads in one.  We unraveled it some and then we could fit it in the eye.  In much the same way, the Lord has to unravel me over and over and eventually I will receive a new body that doesn't want to sin anymore and then I can finally reach the kingdom of God all by his work and not through anything I could do or decide.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

7 ways we can end abortion in churches and society.

More and more, I feel led to be a better voice in advocating for the life of unborn children.  While we debate the place of guns, war, or capital punishment, another life is snuffed out, dismembered, and vacuumed down a tube in the name of women's health and reproductive rights.  We can't overturn Roe v. Wade until we change the culture.  But we must change the culture and I need people with better EQ than me to help me.  Here is how we can start.

1. Talk about sex regularly in church.  Do you know that 1 in 4 women in your church pews have had an abortion as regular church-going Christians?  This needs to stop.  We need to reduce this number.  If churches were more open about sex and its results and the positives of marital sex, maybe our culture would not be so confused.

2. Promote adoption, share positive stories, and even champion open adoptions where the birth mother can watch her child grow up and have a relationship with the adoptive parents of her child.  We need to erase the stigma that was attached to adoption before 1973.  Before then, if a child got pregnant, they would take her far away for her to have the baby and then take the child away and send it to be adopted before she could even decide what to do.  This should not be. It doesn't happen any more, and people need to continue to make this possible.

3.  Recommend abstinence over contraceptions.  Just because people in your church are going to have sex no matter what does not mean you need to say, "Kids will be kids" and give them birth control.  They need to learn self control and their rights to not be used by their friends to satisfy sexual curiosity.  Contraception actually increases teen pregnancy and is promoted by the abortionists so that they can get teens pregnant and to come into their clinics.  Let’s tell the kids both young and old that they don’t have to follow their strong desires and to deny themselves of things they don’t need, and they will be happier and less heart-broken.

4. Support Pregnancy Resource Centers.  PRCs debunk the argument that pro-lifers don’t care about children after they are born.  They provide clothes and diapers and food for the kids, classes for the mothers and even GED classes and job-hunting skills.  No we can’t end war or crime.  We can barely keep our lights on sometimes.  But churches need to promote these centers the way they promote other charities and without shame. 

5.  Let’s get political.  Don’t vote democrat.  You don’t have to vote Republican, but don’t vote for the party that takes my tax money and gives it to Planned Parenthood, wants to remove all restrictions on abortions we’ve made thus far, and also believe in socialism.  It’s not the government’s job to solve everything.  It’s the church’s.  If the church isn’t doing it, it should, but the government cannot solve the problems.  But don’t vote for the Democrats.

6.  If there are parents in the church who have a girl in their house who is pregnant, tell them to not go for abortion as the first thing in their minds.  Shame the dads who want to kick their girl out of the house if she continues in her pregnancy.  They parents did not get the girl pregnant.  The girl made her own decision.  They should be proud for loving their girl anyway and promoting life.  They should not be in an environment where they feel like they have to hide the situation.

7.  The intersection.  If you care about the intersection, you should care about ending abortion and voting pro-life.  The intersection is the meeting of any class of people who have been considered oppressed.  Secular society considers black people, women, and even gay people to be oppressed.  If there is a black woman who happens to be a lesbian, then society considers her to have the greatest voice in matters. Abortion attacks both black people and women the most.  I will talk about that in later blogs. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

SS lesson: Unknown God

Today we went around, said our names and somebody we like best in the world and why.

God is like that but much more.  For example, one of my favorite people is a woman named Debbie.  She would call me and have lunch with me and do things for me.  She gave me my green hoodie and her late husband let me be a children’s minister at his church for three years, and she even did the major job of helping me plan my wedding.  She knows about all my problems and loves me anyway.  Jesus is even better than that.  Debbie can’t always be there for me.  She has two kids and two grandkids, one of which should be born the next month.  She has a job and is always traveling.  Since I moved to Locust Grove I haven’t seen her in over year though I have talked to her.  

Jesus can always be there for me even though I’ve never seen him.  He will never die or change or not love me as much as before.

We don’t know how wonderful he is and won’t until we will finally see him.

Next we started a KWL chart.  It has three columns: Things you Know, things you Want to know, and things you Learned.  The subject is God.

I had two very insightful young ladies in my class today and one brilliant teen helper, and among the four of us, we Know that God is our Savior, that he died on the cross, that he made us, and that he knows everything.  We Want to know how he is God and what he looks like.  We held off on the "Learned" column for later (and I remembered it at the end.)

Next we talked about Paul.  He was on a mission trip to Athens, Greece.  He wanted to teach them about God and Jesus who he sent.  The people in Athens believed that God was real, but they also believed that all of the other gods of false religions were real as well.  When Paul arrived in Athens he called the people out and taught them that there is only one God. 

My teen helper mentioned that the Greeks believed there was a god for every town.  I think that is insightful for what Paul says next.  Next, I showed the kids a graphic of the altar to the "Unknown God."  The Greeks had an altar just in case they missed some God.  And Paul said, "I'm going to show you this God."

Starting in Acts 17:24 -

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

So from reading this, what are things that we can know about God

-Made the world and everything in it (creator)
-Lord (he rules) heaven and earth (ruler)
-Is not confined to temples or altars (this would go with my helper mentioning the local gods for each town.  The true God is God of all of them)
-He doesn’t need people to serve him
-He gives all people life and breath and everything (He sustains us)
-He made from one man and woman (Adam and Eve) every person on earth. 
-He decided how long everyone would live and where they would live.  (Judge)
-He decided that they would seek God and find him. 
-He is near everyone. (Father)

Next, I had the girls make a mobile out of hangers, string, and paper about who God is.  While they were working, I moved on to a lesson from John 4. 

Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Samaria, a land they didn’t like.  His disciples went to get food and Jesus rested at a well.  He spoke to a woman who was there by herself in a time when good Jewish people didn’t talk to Samaritans, and good men did not talk to women.  While they talked, Jesus made known that he knew about her five husbands and now a man who is not her husband is in her life.  She was impressed and decided to ask about where it was alright to worship. 

John 4:19-24
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus saw a woman who didn’t know God and showed her God, himself.  People who don’t know our God imagine that he is this distant entity beyond the mountains who doesn’t really care what’s going on.  But he does, so he sent Jesus.  Jesus is the Messiah who would solve the problem of our separation from God.  Why are we separated?  Because of sin.  What did Jesus do?  He died on the cross to take that sin for himself.  Then he came back to life, giving us his righteousness.  Since he was God, he was the only good human being to ever live.  And you can only come to God by knowing and loving Jesus.  

Finally, we filled in the Learned column.  We learned that God is our Keeper, our Father, and that he decided where and when I would live.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Reckless Love and My Reformed Presbyterian Beliefs - how I reconcile them

The song, "Reckless Love", causes many passions in the Christian world these days.  There's people that love the passionate lyrics of God's relentless love and people who don't like that it describes God as reckless and relies too much on emotions.  I echo all sentiments but I mostly like the song as a Reformed Presbyterian Christian.

Why?  Mostly because it captures in lyrical form God's irresistible grace, the concept of Reformed soteriology that if God has called you to salvation, then he will send his Holy Spirit to change your heart until you come to believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him.

It also debunks the false notion that God will not tamper with your free will.  I tell you, I'm glad that he very much does that, and here's the lyric from "Reckless Love" that backs it up:

"There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me"

and you also have the verses that say, "Before I spoke a word, you were singing over me."  "Before I took a breath, you breathed your life in me."

My beliefs aren't really popular.  One, people love their free wills and protest, "So we don't have a choice in our salvation?"  I say that people have wills and will follow them, but our wills aren't free.  Without God's intervention, we can choose God, but we won't because we love ourselves and our ways so much more.  Our hearts need to be changed by none other than the Holy Spirit.  It's like and illustration I've used before of me going to a graveyard and inviting people there to a party.  They have the choice to go, but they can't make that choice - they're dead.  They must be made alive.

The other objection is the idea that not all people will be saved.  What about 2 Peter 3:9 which says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance"?

I honestly believe Peter is directing that sentence to all people that God has called to salvation, the elect.  He will not will any of them to perish, and they won't perish.  But if God means that he wills all people everywhere to be saved, then everyone will be saved.  But not everyone will be saved, so he must just mean that God doesn't will his elect to perish.  This idea is backed by Jesus's prayer in John 17:9, "I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me."  

God wants us to share the Gospel of Jesus to all people, but only those he has called will respond and believe, and those are the people he will chase down recklessly until they turn to him.  And he will wait until the last one of them repents before he finally sends Jesus back and ends this current age.  

And if you are one of the believers, you have a lot to be thankful for.  You should not be proud or complacent.  You must be humble knowing that God's grace is not obligated, and you must not be complacent because you must still work your salvation with fear and trembling.  You must spread the Gospel to all people and you must work for justice and you must watch yourself so that you don't sin, but you go knowing you won't be alone and that you will see the fruit of your labors because God plans the means as well as the ends.  The idea of a universe where something is outside of God's control is not possible because God must be absolutely sovereign, even when we don't understand it or are comfortable with it.  But he's also good and loves his creation more than we ever could.  These things we will never quite understand because we are not him.  And for that I am glad.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

SS: Ananias and the need to obey

I write these down as the way I want them to go, now how they actually did go.  This lesson went will despite one child wanting to talk recess and nothing else and all of them learning the need to obey, not necessarily the need to follow Jesus.  Now, the lesson:

First, we played "Simon Says."  Obeying is easy when it's a game.  Why is it important to obey?  Why is it important to obey God?

Think of a carousel.  It's colorful, has music, and you get to ride animals.  You seem to be moving, but really, you are going nowhere.  You are going in circles and stuck in a rut.  Disobedience, like the ride, seems fun a first, but in the end, your life is meaningless and you are stuck.  When you start to obey God, however, life may seem more difficult, but you have more options in life and will thrive.

Next, we turned to a sheet that had a list of things to obey, and the kids had to rate whether it was easy to obey or not.

Finally, we got to the good part, the Bible story.  In Acts 9, the man who became Paul, was on his way to put Christians in jail.  Then, Jesus stopped him and his buddies with a blinding light and asked, "Why are you persecuting me?"  "Who are you?" asked Paul.  "I am Jesus, who you are hurting."  Jesus told him that he must now follow Jesus and tell non-Jewish people about him.

Then Jesus visited a Christian named Ananias to go to this house to Paul, yes that one, and pray for him to see again.  He will be a Christian now. 

Ananias had a choice to make.  He knew that Paul had been putting Christians in jail and attending their executions.  Why would he want to pray for him to see again and to become a Christian?  But Ananias went and prayed for Paul.

After that, Paul came to tell many people about Jesus, made most of Europe Christian, and wrote half of the New Testament.  If you are not Jewish, then chances are you are a Christian because of Paul. 

Luke wrote the book of Acts and told this story to show how the work of Jesus continues after he left the earth and until he comes back.  Does he need us to help?  No.  But he wants us to help, and we do that by obeying him.  Just like Ananias kept on obeying, YOU can keep obeying. 

Here is one more story of a man who obeyed God even when it was hard: John the Baptist.  He had many followers.  But God told him that when Jesus comes, he is to tell everybody to follow him because he was the one that people have to believe in to have their sins forgiven and to go to heaven.  And what happened?  More people followed Jesus than John.  In John 3:30, John tells people, "He must become greater, and I must become less."

Would it be hard to tell people to follow Jesus only to know that it will result in them loving him more than you?  It is hard for me because I like having people listen to me and follow me.  I like my fans.  But if they follow Jesus in a way that leads them away from me and to thrive more, then I will have to cheer them on even though I miss them greatly.  But I hope to talk and interact with them forever in God's completed kingdom, and maybe even for a time in the here and now.