Monday, January 30, 2017

Thanks a Lot!

Everyday we make many choices.  Some are based on gratitude, other times on greed. These choices can say a lot about us, as well as impact our futures.  With that in mind, lets look at Genesis 13: 8-11where Abram and Lot are deciding who should take which part of the land. They present us with stark contrasts in character that we can learn from.

 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left."10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east.
Things to think about:
  • Just for a little context, consider the following:
    • Abram and his family, including his orphaned nephew Lot, got kicked out of Egypt because Abram got caught in a lie he told Pharaoh about Sarai being his sister, not his wife. (See last week’s study about making decisions based on fear)
    • Interestingly, Pharaoh gave Abram an immense amount of wealth as a parting gift.  Abram apparently shared this with his oldest male relative, Lot.  So when they left Egypt, they had so many animals they each had a VP - Herding and those guys were arguing because there wasn’t enough land for all of the animals to graze.
    • So Abram chooses a peaceful remedy to the quarreling and decides they should split up. He gives the choice to Lot. “If you go left, I’ll go right.  If you go right, I’ll go left.”
    • In what ways does Abram represent God’s character and Lot symbolize the world’s?
  • So Abram gives Lot the honor of choosing even though:
    • Abram raised Lot as his own son since Lot’s father (Abram’s brother) had died while Lot was still a boy
    • Abram was Lot's elder in a patriarchal society and had every right to take whatever he wanted
    • Abram shared his wealth with Lot
    • there was a significant difference in the quality of the choices
    • How do you see the character of Christ in this situation? See Phil 2:6-8
  • verse 10 says Lot looked around and saw the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the Garden of Eden
    • remember when we looked at the original sin recently? Eve looked at the fruit and saw that it was pleasing to the eye and good for food.  How often what looks good on the outside is rotten to the core!
    • and that is just what we find here because the “core” of Lot’s choice was Sodom, of Sodom and Gomorrah fame.
    • At the risk of trying to write something that sounds like it comes from the Bible, Lot could have said, “My master, since my youth and the passing of my father, you have treated me as your own son. You have seen to my every need and I have lacked for nothing. Far be it from me to take from you what is rightfully yours. From a heart of gratitude and respect, I ask you to have the well watered plain. May the Lord’s blessing be on you.” 
      • He doesn’t even fake some sense of impropriety in what he’s doing
  • So Lot gets what he wants, and Abram doesn’t roll his eyes
    • Lot pitches his tent near the gleaming, bustling city of Sodom (which by the way was already well known for its wickedness)
    • The truth is we sometimes are drawn to the shiny object too, just like a bug on its way to the zapper!
  • God goes on to tell Abram in verses 14-16 that the entire land, as far as he can see or walk, will be given to him and his descendants forever.
    • and the first thing Abram did as he settled in his new home was to build an altar to the Lord (v.18)
  • A Study in Contrasts
    • which of the following contrast strike you as the most important in this passage?
    • Which ones do you think God wants to build in you more deeply?
  • Abram Lot
    Parent Child
    Giver Taker
    You Me
    Faith Fact
    Altar Abode
    Eternal Immediate
    Gratitude Greed
    Blessed Cursed

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tower of Power


Let’s look at Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Babel.  As you probably know, this is the story of how it came to be that there are many different languages and dialects spoken around the world.  Prior to this event, since the Creation everyone spoke one common language. According to the definitive source on the subject, Ethnologue, as of 2009 there were a little over 6,900 languages spoken in the world.  Let’s look at what happened from two perspectives, Motive versus Method. 

Genesis 11:4
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Things to think about:

  • Starting with Motive, it’s easy to understand why God would be displeased with the effort to build the tower if we just look at the word choice of the builders - US, OURSELVES, WE, OURSELVES, WE
    • clearly this work could have been code named “Project Pride”. A primary motivation was ”so that we may make a name for ourselves”. 
      • God’s Word tell us in Isaiah 42: 8 - “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
      • in what ways does modern man try to make a name for himself?
    • the people were also operating out of a sense of fear - in this case the fear of being scattered across the globe.
      • unfortunately, being scattered is exactly what God had commanded them to do since this event occurred not too long after the flood and the Earth needed to be repopulated (in chapter 9 God told them to “increase in number and fill the earth”
      • operating out of fear is never in keeping with God’s plan.  1 John 4:18 says “ There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.”
      • Have you ever experienced building your own tower to address fear?
    • the other problem with the tower is that they were trying to ascend to God’s domain, the heavens. 
      • there are loads of verses on this but to pick just one, Psalm 103:19 - "The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” 
  • The other dimension to explore here is that of Method
    • I started with Motive because their motive messed up a pretty good Method. They were focused on an agreed upon goal, working as a team, and communicating well.
      • think about how effective the Church would be if those things could be said of us: “You know those Christians are amazing! They are all focused on loving God and loving people, they work as a team and don’t splinter off into a thousand different denominations, and they don’t split hairs on word choice or other trivial matters.” Oh, wait a minute…
      • How is God’s work hampered by a lack of unity with His children?
      • When have you seen great things accomplished when Christians come together?
    • These builders definitely had God’s attention because He saw the power they were exerting in their misguided unity. 
      • verse 6 - “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”
      • God knows that we have tremendous power when we work together. So what does the Bible say about working as a team?
        • 1 Corinthians 1:10 - I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
        • John 17:23 (this is Jesus praying) - " I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
  • How can we take the lessons on Motive and Method and apply them to our lives in 2017?
    • Love must be our motive 
      • 1 Corinthians 16:14 - Everything you do must be done with love.
    • God has work for us to do
      • Ephesians 2:10 -  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
    • Unity of purpose
      • (this bears repeating) John 17:23 - I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Guest Post - Herman Najoli and Kenya Trip

I’m honored to have the opportunity to share a testimony regarding the Kenya 2016 Mission trip that you lifted in prayer for many months on my behalf. Many thanks to all who prayed and gave financially. May the Lord richly bless you.

For a foundation passage, I want to start with Psalm 22:22:

I will praise you to all my brothers; I will stand up before the congregation and testify of the wonderful things you have done.

Things to think about:
·  Share some wonderful things that did God do in your life this past holiday season.
·  Discuss the role that a testimony plays in your walk with God and in the life of a brotherhood and/or congregation.
·  I want to share my wonderful things in a seven-point format:
o  WHAT did happen: Kenya 2016 Mission
o  WHERE did it happen: Wamage Village
o  WHEN did it happen: Nov. 21 to Dec. 30
o  HOW did it happen: The Soccer Tournament
o  WHO was involved: A Team of Missionaries
o  WHY was it necessary: Life Change
o  WHOSE life was changed: Groups and Individuals
·   Rudyard Kipling, in his ‘Just So Stories’ said, “I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who”.
·   Well, I went the extra smile and found a seventh servant J!
·  WHAT did happen: Kenya 2016 Mission
o   Since coming to the US in August 2001, I have traveled back to Kenya eleven -11- times (2002, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010 - twice, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016).
o   Many of these have been personal trips but I have incorporated faith-based ‘Christian-mission’ in my visits.
o  What is Christian mission?

·  WHERE did it happen: Wamage Village
o   Wamage is a small village in Viyalo sub-location (population 3,200; area 3 sq. km), which is part of Vihiga County (the world’s most crowded rural locality) inhabited by the Maragoli sub-tribe, one of 18 sub-tribes of the Luyia people in Western Kenya. Why Wamage?
o  A fire breaks out in the village - the Power of Collectivism
o  How would you respond to a fire in your neighborhood?
§ Why are relationships critical in an individualistic society?

·  WHEN did it happen: Nov. 21 to Dec. 30
o  Nov 21-23: Travel to Kenya
o  Nov. 24 - 26: Thanksgiving in Nairobi city?
o  Nov 28 – Transporting suitcases from city to village
o  Dec 3-10 – Recruiting, Practice, and Teaching
o  Dec. 12 - Fire in the village - the Power of Collectivism
o  Dec. 13-17 – Soccer Tournament – the Power of Relationships
o  Dec 18-25 – Christmas Festivities
o  Dec 26 – Travel back to Nairobi
o  Dec. 28-30: Travel back to the US
o  Question: What role does timing play in missionary work?

·  HOW did it happen: The Soccer Tournament
o  Boys under 12 – Wamage United Blue: Cultivating teachability
o  Boys under 15 – Wamage United Red: Enhancing talent/gifts
o  Neighboring village – Lunyerere Grey: Developing compassion
o  Girls – Starlets Blue and Starlets White: Empowering equality
o  Youth - Neighboring Vigege village boys: Encouraging inclusion
o  Youth – Neighboring Bethefage village boys: Inspiring outreach
o  Youth - Wamage Stars Green (team B): Building solid character
o  Youth - Wamage Stars Orange (team A): Modeling vision
o  Security, Referees, Linesmen, Fans – Practicing responsibility

·  WHO was involved: A Team of Missionaries (Phil. 2:13)
o   David M. at Kings Hammer in Wilder – 21 boxes of t-shirts
o   Rex O. and Play-it-Again Sports, Oakley – Kenya Relief Box
o   Mark K. at Cincinnati United Soccer Club – Soccer equipment
o   St. William School in West Price Hill – Penny Wars
o   Tuesday Morning Kroger Group – Prayers and Giving
o   Neighbors and Friends – In-kind/Financial donations
o   Others? Wife, Children, Mom, Sister, and Relatives in Kenya

·  WHY was it necessary: Life Change through Soccer Ministry
o  Jesus IS the life changer – Phil. 2:13!
o  Why does he change lives: John 10:10 – Abundant Life
o  The Three Enemy Tactics: Steal, Kill, Destroy
o  The Three Soccer Tactics: Protect, Birth, Develop
o  Abundant Village Life as the Mission of Our Savior

·  WHOSE life was changed: Impact on Individual Lives
o  Tournament participants!
o  Broad groups of villagers.  
o  Individual village residents.

·  Takeaway:
o   What is your mission, Who is your mission, Where is your mission field, When is your mission, Why are you on mission, How do you live as a missionary, Whose life are you changing?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Yes and Noah

For our passage, let’s look at Genesis 6:22:

Noah did everything just as God commanded him

Things to think about:
  • Let’s look at a few other passages where Noah is called by name:
    • Genesis 6:9  - “...Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”
    • Genesis 7:5 - "And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”
    • Genesis 7:9 - “...male and female came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah”
    • Genesis 7:16 - “The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah”
    • Our focus verse in 6:22 is preceded by the instructions to build the ark and fill it with the animals, his family, and food.
      • Bonus question: do you know how long it took to build the ark?
  • You don’t have to be a Big Data expert to see the pattern here!
    • Noah followed God’s commands to the letter, consistently, over time
    • We don’t see that he questioned, argued, negotiated or anything else.  He "did everything just as God commanded him."
  • I believe there are three factors at work here that we can all learn from
    • Faith
    • Obedience
    • Character
  • Faith
    • This is the Why
    • In Hebrews 11:1 it says that “Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for, the assurance of things not seen.”
    • In Hebrews 11:7, Noah is commended for his faith, "By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.”
    • Noah spent 120 years building an ark in a desert because he believed in God and His righteousness.
    • What social pressures do you think Noah might have been facing?
      • When do you feel like an ark out of water in our culture?
  • Obedience
    • This is the What
    • The crux of the issue here is to apply what we say we know and believe.   We do not suffer from a lack of information. 
      • Mark Twain is famously quoted as having said, "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”"
    • We saw above how many times it says Noah did as God commanded. 
    • As a counterpoint to Noah’s obedience, see King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22
      • But Samuel replied (to King Saul): “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
      • Sometimes our “sacrifices" are really works trying to mask disobedience
    • Why do you think obedience is more valued than sacrifice?
  • Character
    • This is the Who
    • Who we REALLY are is the sum total of our actions. Character is built over time. It’s not what you say or even portray (sorry, social media), it’s about what you do consistently over time.  
      • Romans 5:4 says that perseverance produces character
    • Why does character development take time?
    • Who do you know that you would say personifies Godly character?
  • Payoff
    • We read in Genesis 9:1 that after this crazy ordeal with 120 years of preparation and over a year on the ark, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons…”
    • We saw in Hebrews that "he became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith."
    • Going back to Romans 5, in verse 5 the dividend of Character is Hope
      • "And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
  • How does Noah’s story inspire you?  Challenge you?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Designer Clothes

Recently, we looked at the fall of man when Eve and Adam gave into temptation from the serpent. After they had eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they immediately were aware of their nakedness.  Because their sin caused them shame, they made coverings for themselves out of fig leaves.  We’re going to look at how man deals with his sin and how God handles it in His perfect way.

For our study, let’s look at Genesis 3:21:
"The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”  

Things to think about:
  • Our sin oftentimes creates a sense of shame and/or embarrassment.  It makes us want to hide from God and cover up what we have done. It also can make us develop compensating behaviors and mind games (see the different models of fig leaves below)
    • We know we ought to have done better but have succumbed to a temptation or weakness. When Adam and Eve gave into their curiosity (tempted by the serpent which led to disobeying God), they were immediately aware of their nakedness and sought to cover it up. Before then they had no idea they were naked and therefore felt no shame. 
  • Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to cover up their shame.  Like them, we frequently resort to works to cover up our transgressions.
    • God says our works are like filthy rags. Interesting that it is a clothing metaphor He uses.
    • The fig leaves were convenient, temporary, acquired at no price, and represented man’s solution to his problem
  • Here are some of the fig leaves we sew. Which ones of these sound familiar? What else might you add to the list?
    • Rationalization - If you really understood, you’d see the good reason I did this was…
    • Religion - I’ll volunteer at church/ministry, write a check, definitely read the Bible more…
    • Deflection - Well, nobody's perfect and besides, look at all of the good things I do
    • Comparison - In the grand scheme of things, it’s not as bad as what he/she/they are doing
    • Blame - It’s not my fault, they’re really the ones responsible for this
    • Victim - I can’t help it, it’s just my personality, my past, ...
  • God saw them in their utter state of helplessness and showed them mercy by making garments of skin to clothe them
    • The skin used had to come from animals that gave their life in order to provide the solution. They came at great cost and represent God’s answer to the problem.
    • Our sin does have consequences (See verses 14-19)
    • But thanks be to God, mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13)
  • What are the marks of God’s clothes?
    • Made specifically for the purpose. Jesus came that He might die a sinner’s death on the cross so that we could have eternal life with Him.
    • They are really expensive. In fact, they cost so much that they were purchased with the blood of the Lamb of God.
    • One size fits all. No one’s sins are worse or less egregious than another’s.  Therefore, the design fits all of us the same.
    • Made to last. Adam and Eve’s were made of flimsy fig leaves, God’s design is enduring.
    • Once clothed in God’s wardrobe, we don’t have to be ashamed before God or man
  • When you’re tempted to be your own tailor, remember your Designer already has you covered!
    • Psalm 132:9 - Let your priests be clothed in righteousness.

When you notice someone’s clothes today, be they humble or haute couture,  see that as a reminder that Jesus wants to cover them with His love and grace (just as He has done with you).