Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Story 4: What Do You See?

I was thinking about starting off this morning with an illusion. They are popular though more as a dirty little secret than anything else. But then I thought of the precedent that would set because if I change the color of this stick than one might come back next time to see what else I plan to do.  I say that we enjoy this because of the popularity of those like Penn and Teller. They are psychologist who like to trick people. Teller is especially interesting because when in public, he refuses to speak. He wants to see how many lies he can sell without uttering a single word. Why? Because people see only what they want to see.

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3.15 that there is nothing new under the sun. What has been will be again. What will come has already been. It is definitely true of human behavior. Nothing is new in the past 3,000 years and therefore attitudes of the heart were probably the same 4,000 years ago when we come to this morning’s passage.

What do you see, Pharaoh? A staff to snake? Sure your magicians can do the same, but Aaron’s staff became hungry.

The Water has turned to blood? Oh nice! Your wise men found some untainted water for you to drink. Oops, they turned what Moses had missed into blood as well.

If after a week of bloody water and the critters dying, belief is still problematic. Moses summons frogs from the water, frogs that would take weeks to go from tadpole. But in case there’s not enough the wise men made more. 

Then there were gnats, pesky wee flies that drive one insane. But now the magicians and wise men were labeled frauds. They couldn’t reproduce the them or the next plagues. The gnats became flies, then disease landed on the livestock, then boils followed by hail, followed by locusts. 

Pharaoh, what do you see? Nothing? Darkness has settled into the hearts and land of Egypt. Still this wasn’t enough. Goshen, the home of Israel, spared from the plagues. Yet not that wasn’t wondrous enough. The ultimate plague would come. The firstborn will die, including Pharaoh’s son. 

Israel, what do you see? You are being driven out by your neighbors. Of course to make your dislocation tolerable, you are given the finest of material possessions. You see a cloud shading your daytime exit. You see a fire leading you at night. 

What do you see? Do you see the army chasing you or do you see the tomb that God has prepared for the army of Egypt? You must pass through the Valley of Death, fear nothing for the Lord of Heaven is leading you. See His might love.

What do you see? Moses, we were comfortable in our oppression back in Egypt. Let us return. We weren’t without food back there. What did you see Hebrews? Have you forgotten? 

Read Text Exodus 16.1-15

Now behold, Israel. The Lord Almighty cares for you. Look how He’s provided.

What do you see, Christian? God doesn’t move like He did in the days of the Bible. If that is true, why? What has happened that we don’t see God’s moving today? 

It comes down to the level of faith. We have been protected as a Christian nation. Yet we’ve stopped looking for God to bring the miraculous. How many holes had Washington’s coat suffered yet not a single ball landed on his body. I know a man who was an unwanted pregnancy and grew up an unwanted child. Death was near, but God was nearer. Despite his own sinfulness, that God should still loves him humbles him deeply, he says. Even today my friend sees God moving and working in ways beyond comprehension. 

Perhaps we’ve forgotten what God has done in our own lives today. We have become comfortable and stopped looking to the Lord to provide for us. We think He’s the God of the big picture, but not of the details. 

We are afraid to follow because if we recognize that God does move in our lives, then how awesome and how Holy He must be, and how filthy we are in his sight. How can God love us so?

And still despite our desperate blindness and stubbornness, God still loves us. He still declares us pure, sin free if we come to Him. Look back at the last plague. All the blessings that the Hebrews had was because who they were and where they lived, in the land of Goshen. But with the Passover, that changed. Being Hebrew wasn’t enough. Being in Goshen wasn’t enough. They had to now submit to God’s call. They took the blood of the lamb and put it upon the posts and lentil of the homes. The Sign of the Cross two thousand years before Jesus would fulfill that prophesy.

God calls us to turn to Him and submit. He is gracious and accepts you where you are. God will allow us to see His moving if we allow him. Have you turned to Him? If not, come, let’s talk after the service. Let’s get your life together with the Lord’s. He loves us still and works if we but open our eyes.

Now is our time for the song of prayer.  

Benediction: Romans 15.13
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him  so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Story 3: Growing Up Jacobson

“Here’s a story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother, the youngest one in curls. Here’s a story of a man named, Brady, who was busy with three boys of his own. They were four men living altogether, yet they were all alone, until the one day that this lady met this fellow and they knew that it was much more than a hunch, that this crew must somehow form a family. That’s the way they all became the Brady Bunch.” 

Wasn’t that an interesting show? It definitely didn’t fit the family this morning. If anything, it was nice goal to have, an escape from our realities. I liked shows along the lines of the Brady Bunch because that wasn’t my family. 

And as dysfunctional your family may seem, and most seem as such in one area or another, they can be a blessing. Yet how do we see the blessings in the family that we have? Looking at how Joseph grew up Jacobson will give us some keys.

1. Check Your Attitude
Unfortunately for Joseph, he didn’t start off with the right attitude. His family is the epitome of dysfunction. Joseph was the eldest of the favored wife of the family. He’s nearly at the bottom of the birth order, but he’s the favorite son. 

This came about when Jacob fled for his life after tricking his brother out of his brother’s birthright and blessing. Being a trickster, he was sent to his uncle, a master trickster. Laban had a beautiful daughter, Rachel, but Laban wasn’t just going to let her go. Instead, her price, the proof of his love would be to serve for seven years. Those seven years flew for Jacob. Then on his wedding night, he discovered that it wasn’t Rachel he had married, but her older sister, Leah. Of course, after the wedding period was over, he was allowed to marry Rachel, his preferred bride, and stay another seven years. Now having children was problematic. Rachel was barren most of the early years. And then she finally did give Jacob two sons, the latter taking her life in the process. So Joe was naturally the favorite. He was given fine clothes, the larger portions. He was spoiled.

When a person starts receiving such treatment, it becomes a temptation to expect it, to become arrogant and haughty, to develop an attitude that thinks that he’s better than. He’s better than his brothers. What he reported, except with the dream, was taken as golden truth by his dad.

Often the church today seems to have this attitude. Christians are clamoring for their rights. People are lost, but the church is quick to tell them how lost they are, to tell them exactly what is wrong with their lives and what they must stop doing so that God will love them. We are called, “judgmental”. And with some examples, like a church in Kansas, yeah, the world is right. Instead of showing compassion and grace to our neighbors who are eternally lost, we fight for our right to not be exposed to lifestyles and/or philosophies that offend our sensibilities.

Problem is that eventually, people will stand up to it, be they right or wrong. That’s what we see now with people turning their backs on the Church today. It’s easier to rid a workplace of a Christian because that Christian might make the workplace hostile, telling people how wrong they are. Imagine losing your job in the Bible belt because you believe the Bible condemns certain things and spoke your mind, but only in your off-hours? (This is why we must be as shrewd as serpents, but as gentle as doves.)

For Joe, though, his brothers had had enough. They were ready to take his life. But Reuben had other plans. He swayed them not to murder their brother and shed blood. Instead while he was gone to get rope to rescue Joe, the rest sold him to a slaver caravan. He would find himself in Egypt, slave to the captain of the guard of Pharaoh. 

2. Cling to God
Joe’s storm was just beginning. He would rise to the top only to be knocked down again, just as he had at home. So what did he do? In the face of the storm, he clung to God. I wonder if as he was his father’s favorite and therefore shadow, Jacob taught him about following God. We don’t see it spelled out that he did, but it seems that his living, now that he went from being the top brother to the bottom slave.

Yet God was with him because he followed God with his life. He rose to top slave in the house of Potipher.  Then, being a young man, caught the eye of his master’s wife. She chased him, yet he never gave in. One day, she devised a plan that had him alone with her, and she grabbed him so forcefully that he fled shedding off his coat. That was all that was needed. Joe would find himself in prison, now lower than a slave.

Yet God was with him. He rose to the top trustee in the prison. I’m not sure what enterprises that the prison had, but God blessed them under Joe’s care. Then one day, a baker and the cupbearer came in. There was a plot. It was unclear if the poison was in the food or in the wine. They spent a few days while the officials investigated. During this time, they had dreams. God revealed what would happed to each, and as Joe gave them the interpretation, he asked the cupbearer to be remembered to Pharaoh. Of course the baker lost his life and the cupbearer lost his memory.

3. Remember Grace
Now we have his rise from top trustee to Prime Minister of Egypt. After the cupbearer was restored, a couple of years passed and Pharaoh had dreams of famine coming. Then the cupbearer remembered Joe. Joe interpreted the dreams. Pharaoh, you have seven years of bountiful harvest, so prepare because the famine will be so severe, you won’t remember these first seven years. 

Pharaoh instructed him to carry out the preparations. And famine came. And it affected even more than just Egypt. Jacob hears that Egypt had more than enough so he sends his sons, save the youngest, to purchase grain. Here in the grain house, the brothers bow, just as the dream, “Your sheaves will bow to mine.”

Though he had the moment to tell them off, he reveals himself, but only after they bring back Benjamin. Instead, he embraces them. He reveals that though they thought they were getting rid of a bother brother, the big picture was that God was moving Joe into a position that would allow him to serve and save Israel. He repeated this message after his father died and they lied to him because they feared their sins. They still clung to their guilt.

So let me read the text again - Genesis 50.15-21

That is our take home today. Not only do we have our attitude to constantly check, but we need to cling to our Heavenly Father, both in the good times and in the bad. Storms come. Sometimes we brew the storm, and sometimes, not nearly as often, they are storms that we had no control or influence. Storms happen and they are not necessarily God’s retribution. So it is important that we cling to the Father. This also means that we don't need to hold onto that guilt from our stumbles. When our Father forgives, He forgives perfectly. 

And when the storm passes, we need to remember how God stayed with us, even perhaps blessing us so that we can bless even our annoying family. The world is lost, is seeking, trying to find meaning in the midst of the lies that it’s bought. Our neighbors will do things that won’t make sense and might even offend us. I would like to be naive and say that they don’t mean to offend, but they don’t know any better.

They have no idea that we serve a loving Father who removes our guilt as easily as He removes our sins. He doesn’t and isn’t in the business of doling out diving retribution. Nor should we. 

Instead, let us remember that God is perhaps preparing us to be a beacon of light and encouragement for someone who needs it. And if you are struggling with this, with God and how He can forgive you, talk to me. He truly does care and loves you. 

And let us remember, we are also family, you and I.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Story 2: Could You?

Remember back to the day of your coming to Christ, of being clothed in Christ?
God gave Abram a plan to follow. Trust Him. 
Can you imagine what that must have been like for him? Here he is, his family has relocated half way between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. First, one of his brothers dies, and then his father. His dead brother also had a son, so Abram takes to raising the boy, though still his own father’s heir, Abram is concerned later that his servant will inherit all that Abram has instead of his own son, his own legacy.
But God called him to go, and he gave him a promise. Go and I will make you into a great nation. Here he is, in his mid 70s and his wife, in her mid 60s. “You shall be a great nation.” It’s that promise that people can become tired of hearing. You will have kids someday, don’t you worry! Could you leave your comfort zone?
Abram tried to fulfill the plan, messing it up. 
You see, God was on Abraham’s side. This empowered Abraham. Who wouldn’t be? If God is on your side, how can you falter? Perhaps it’s because we forget the proper perspective. President Lincoln was once asked about the Civil War, on whose side is God? He said that the real question is, are we on God’s side?
Abraham would then show himself to be a force to be reckoned with. He was generous in his judgment. The camp was too big for both Lot and Abraham so they parted company. Abraham even allowed Lot to take the Valley of Sodom and Gomorrah, which was greener to graze the flock.
Then after Lot left, Lot was taken captive along with many of his neighbors. With the help of 318 men, Abraham is able to rescue everyone and restore the loot to the rightful owners. He refused to take anything that wasn’t his. Even afterwards, he gave a tithe to the priest of the most high God. (Here we have the introduction of two terms, Hebrew and tithe.)
Though God was guiding him, that promise was still weighing on him. How? When? Sarah was barren. But she came up with a plan, to give her husband her maid so that the maid can become the surrogate in Sarah’s stead. She’d forgotten the promise that their offspring. Of course we know the mess that came, from Ishmael being kept by his mother instead of being given to Sarah. Then their relationship later...
Even with God on their side, they acted apart from God. They saw the promise. They knew God’s word. But instead they thought they knew better. God was acting too slow. By the time the Lord would act, they’d likely be 100 years old. It’d been 10 years since the promise was made.
Yet that wasn’t the only time they messed up. Trusting God is easy to do, intellectually. It’s harder to let that trust affect your actions. I am with you. Another promise. Tell them that you are my sister because they will otherwise kill me because of your beauty.
God still worked the plan to the good of those who love Him. 
When they make a mess of life, they make a royal mess! Yet God doesn’t chastise Abraham and his impatience. He didn’t save him from the consequences of those actions, either. It is claimed that Islam comes from the line of Ishmael. Yet God is gracious. At 99 and 90, Isaac is now on his way. One son is all that is needed. One son, and Abraham’s faith stops becoming an intellectual construct and becomes real. It was tested.
When Isaac was older, we aren’t sure how much older he was, but perhaps a young man since he was carrying the wood to consume his body by fire. When asking about the sacrificial lamb, Abraham replied, “God will provide the lamb.” Even in his mind, he committed that either God will indeed provide the lamb or He would raise Isaac back to life. Could you take such a step of faith?
So what is our take-home from this story? God has called us, just as He called Abraham. He’s given us a mission, just like Abraham. That mission is to convey the Good News to those we meet. Oh indeed, that very likely will mean that we must leave our comfort zone.
For when we are comfortable, we allow God to become an intellectual construct. Yet God wants us to live a different life, a life that is full of grace and love. He wants us to make disciples.
And yet, no matter what is in your life, look at Abraham or any of the other people God uses in the Bible, New Testament and Old. Save Enoch, everyone has a failing. Some could be graded worse than others. But God doesn’t look at what we’ve done. He sees us through whom we’ve trusted. He sees us pure. He gives us not only strength but also power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the mission that we’ve been called.
So the question is, can you leave your comfort and live by a little more faith? Have you been living a life of faith? Or, as important, do you have a relationship with the Father? If not, come let’s talk afterwards.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Melchizedek - Communion Meditation

He’s a figure of mystery, this Melchizedek.  Some say he is the pre-incarnate Christ.  Others take him at face value;  he is the king of Salem (which means peace; shalom).  The theories abound.  But we may note two things about him:

· He greets Abram (Abraham) with bread and wine, the same elements used in Passover and in the Lord’s Supper.

· Abram tithes to him, thus marking him as superior. 
The event then seems to disappear.  There is no mention of Melchizedek in the Scripture until about a thousand years pass, when he is mentioned in one of the prophetic Psalms.  The explanation, such as we have, is found in the book of Hebrews.  So it seems that he remains a mystery—until you consider what happens next.

The chapter divisions don’t help us much here.  For the very next thing to happen to Abram is that God establishes his covenant with Abram.  It is a covenant of promise and prophecy.

· Promise.  He promises Abram three things
1. God will be his shield and reward.  Protection from evil and reward for righteousness will come from God.

2. Despite his age (about 99) he and his wife will have a son.  This, of course, is Isaac.

3. His descendants will be as numerous as the stars.

· There is prophecy also:
1. His descendants will return to the land of Canaan in four generations—because of the sins of the Amorites.

2. His descendants will be enslaved for 400 years—but at the end of that time God will lead them out of slavery into the Promised Land.

3. Then, there is The Land.  A large section of the Middle East is promised to his descendants.

Is there a connection?  It seems so—for bread and wine mediate two more covenants, the one with Moses and the one from the Messiah.  It seems God has a menu for the occasion.  He also insists upon a priest, evidently.  Abram had Melchizedek; Moses had Aaron; we have Christ.
What does a priest do?  May I suggest these three:

· The priest intercedes—speaking on behalf of the others to Almighty God.

· He also is to bring God’s will to man, so that we might learn obedience to God.

· And, the priest is empowered to pronounce God’s blessings upon us.
Your priest, Christ, does all this for us and more. The name of Melchizedek did not vanish with Abram; in David’s time his name is recalled—so that we might understand that Christ is our High Priest.  This priesthood was bought with a price at Calvary; what He paid, we could not.  Let us remember His intercession for us in the simple elements used by Melchizedek so long ago.

-- borrowed from   http://www.becomingcloser.org/new_communion/Melchizedek.html (delivered orignally April 20, 2006)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Story 1: Laying the Foundation

What would you say that is one of the biggest problems in Christendom in America today? I wonder if it isn’t that we have allowed God and even Jesus to become intellectual constructs in our lives. Sure, we know our Heavenly Father exists and that if we’ve been clothed in Him, that we have the hope of salvation. Yet then we are mired by all that we see in the news. There is wars brewing, enemies being embraced as long, hearty friends, and those who’ve been sworn to protect us now are popular targets.

It’s easy to forget that God didn’t just set this world up and then walked away and is watching from a distance. No, He’s every bit as involved in the daily affairs of man. And our series that we are starting has that for the goal, that we hold onto a book that tells the story of a God who loves His children, who established them for the way of salvation, and provided the route for salvation. We will be reminded that He is the God who speaks, the God who acts, the God who listens, and the God who, to have a relationship with us, to redeem our banishment, sacrificed His Son as an atonement for yours and my sin. This morning we take a look at the Creation to the Flood, or the first 6 chapters of Genesis.

First, I take the Creation literally. I reject what the world tells us. The other day, the cub scouts went to Coronado Memorial Park. The pack master described how the plates over time shifted, slowly making mountains as one plate shifted onto the next. With us covering creation and the flood this morning, I can easily see that as the springs of the deep, as Scripture calls it, breaking forth threw one plate onto another, and viola, a mountain is formed.

I take it literally because the writer of Hebrews, chapter 4, takes it literally. It is logical because the ion theory, the sun was created after the plants. They’d not survive without light for millions of years. Also as evolution being the only opposing theory, why would God contend with Adam’s sin and not just start with the next couple? 

1. We were created with purpose. 
You see, we were created with purpose of mind. We were created because our Heavenly Father desires to have a relationship with us. Yet He didn’t want one as we might have with our pets, without real free will. He wanted us to freely love Him, to choose to be with Him. Yet in that free will, in that not wanting to mess things up, Man added to what God has said. 

    God said, “Don’t eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Man said that they must not even touch it, or they would die. Seeing that touching it, they didn’t die, they ate it, thinking that that too, was a myth. 

Satan comes in and lies to us. It’s what he does. He tells us that what we read in the Bible isn’t accurate, isn’t trustworthy. He gives us in the guise of science more lies and doubts. If the earth is only around 6,000 years, then why do some systems of dating yield ages in the millions? 

Empirical science is trustworthy. But for creation, for evolution, these are a matter of faith. And if Satan can get us to reject the creation account because it doesn’t line up with geology, then it doesn’t take long before we question the rest of Scripture. 

        We doubt that God loves us, that He meant for us to live in a perfect world, yet we blew it. We’ve become so good at blowing it, that we no longer need Satan’s help. I’m not saying that Satan isn’t at work, but quite the opposite.    

2. We were allowed to do things our way .
Yet our proclivity is to decline. After man was driven from the Garden, as the earth filled with people, we didn’t get better. We know that after the lie, 2 brothers made an offering. One thought of God first. The other gave as a second thought. Remember, we were created with a purpose. God didn’t condemn Cain because Cain didn’t think first of God. Rather, Cain became jealous because God looked with favor at Abel’s offering. Not that it was salad vs. steak, but that God wants to be first, not hind thought. 

God allowed man to continue on. Sure, some were good to the point that they were called sons of God. But they didn’t make the right choices. They married those who didn’t care for God, but rather themselves. Even the godly can be corrupted by the ungodly. Paul told the Colossians that truth. By chapter 5, Moses records that man was entirely evil, entirely self centered, caring not that God created them for a purpose. 

Another side note here: Did you know, mathematically speaking, Noah, the man who found grace in the eyes of the Lord, was around 50 years old when Adam died? All these people who did evil in the sight of the Lord, though they could not talk to Him, they could have talked to Adam. Perhaps that is why Noah found favor with the Lord. He actually talked with Adam, learned from him. It’s speculation, but reasonable.

3. God gave a better way.
It’s because Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord that we have a shadow of salvation. Now Noah wasn’t a perfect man. He continued to sin as you can read further in Genesis. But for our account today, he found favor in the eyes of the Lord. He was given a method of salvation.

Peter then takes this and likens it further. Just as Noah was saved through the flood, so does our submission in being baptized into Christ saves us. Mind you, this is a work, baptism, but not a work of the one coming to the Father. It is the work of the church. It is a lesson that Peter was intimately familiar with. While learning from Jesus, Peter once had opportunity to walk out on the water to meet Jesus. Tradition tells us that he took 3 small steps and began sinking. I wonder if maybe he made 6 yards before he started sinking. Point is, when his focus was on Christ, Peter could do anything. But when he took his eyes off of Jesus, he found his life in danger.

So what is our take-home from this? God created us. He desires to know us. But we really aren’t inclined to do it, to make it on our own. Time shows that when man is without God, man tends to focus on himself. We need God, who is also ever patient with us and full of grace, to save us. Just has he saved Noah in the ark, so He will save us when we trust in Him through Christ Jesus.