Sunday, October 30, 2011

Discovery Day

We called today our "Discovery Day" instead of "High Attendance Sunday" because instead of trying to reach some fairly meaningless goal we wanted to put the emphasis on people coming to discover First Baptist and hopefully, if they have not already, coming to discover the Good News about Jesus.  It was a great day in the Lord's house as we had a special guest speaker, Charles Kilgore, and a special guest musician, Pat Waters, to lead us in our worship.

Since I didn't preach this morning I wanted to share here two announcements we had.  We have the almost unprecedented opportunity to start a Sunday evening worship service at another church building in the area and will do so this coming Sunday night, November 6th, at Lake Bridgeport Baptist Church which is located at 1301 N. Main St. in Lake Bridgeport.  It is 5 miles from our church.  No one has used the building in nearly a year and we are super excited to be able to use the facilities.  Please join us at 6 o'clock.

Secondly, we will have my dear friend Jody Kennedy to speak to us next Sunday morning.  Jody is a missionary and he will relay some opportunities for our church to go with him and some others to the white-for-harvest fields of Nicaragua.  I promised Jody I would go and we would take at least 6 people from our church on his trip there June 9-18, 2012.  Please pray about how God wants to use you to fulfill the Great Commission.  This is a wonderful opportunity we have to be, as Jody puts it, at the tip of the spear in spreading the Gospel.

These are exciting times at an exciting place and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else!  God is working in and through our church so be prepared for Him to bless but also be prepared for Satan to attack as well.  Honestly, I would be scared of that if I didn't read the end of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 that says, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  So c'mon!  This will be fun!

PS  And speaking of fun, don't forget that our Fallfest is tomorrow evening from 5-7.  We have the best prizes ever so you don't want to miss it.  I love you all, Todd

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Who Does God Think He Is? Genesis 11:1-9

I'm of the opinion that a good story needs to be told even if it makes me look bad.  One of these days I'm going to have a story where I'm the hero, where I save the day.  This isn't it.

Years ago at another church I attended, I was asked to teach an adult Sunday School class.  I had never done anything like that before but I agreed and even though I was nervous I started to do it.  I found out I really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it and from the response I got other people were enjoying it and getting something out of it so it was working pretty well.  People would tell me they enjoyed it and that I was doing it well.    The problem came when I started to believe them.  You know where I'm going with this but you don't know how bad it gets so allow me to humiliate myself.

One Sunday I was going to teach about Paul being shipwrecked in Acts 27.  I had prepared well the week before.  I had studied the passage, made notes, marked my Bible for the passages to read and marched confidently to Sunday School that morning.  I was about to really bring the freight.  I just knew I was going to do well.  I was really gonna let em have it.  When it was my turn I boldly approached the lecturn where I would teach the students from my vast well of knowledge.

I opened my Bible and told them to turn to the passage and then I had a complete and utter meltdown.  I had notes but got lost.  I had some points to make but had no idea what they were.  I tried to read the passage and couldn't even do that.  I kid you not, I felt like I had brought a Greek dictionary up there instead of my Bible and notes.

I stuttered and stammered around for a while not even able to complete a sentence.  Long pauses with complete silence.  I prayed for God to help me.  Should have done that the prior week, huh?  Absolutely nothing.  I was miserable.  Finally, somebody spoke up and said, "What that passage means to me is..."  Then somebody else said what it meant to them and then somebody else.  Finally, I just sat down behind the podium and quit trying.  It wound up being one of the most meaningful classes I had ever been a part of.

I will never forget that day.  I think about it almost every week as I prepare a sermon.  Now, every week I pray that God will say what He wants said through whomever He chooses.  And if He wants to embarrass me to do it then that's fine.  I bring nothing to the table.  I am totally reliant on Him and I know it.  And God, if today is the day that I need a reminder then so be it.

It's pretty easy to get to that point.  It didn't take me long and now I am grateful that God showed me early that I am nothing and have nothing without Him.  Our passage today is in Genesis chapter 11 verses 1-9.  It's the famous old story of the Tower of Babel.  We are working our way throught the book of Genesis, not necessarily verse by verse or chapter by chapter but just as the Lord leads and I was tempted to just skip this part.  I mean, what can we learn from an old children's story?

I'm very concerned as we go through Genesis that we learn what it is that God wants us to learn from the passage.  Why is this passage in here?  What's God's point?  Is it just history?  Are we supposed to learn more about the people who lived during this period?  Or does God want to reveal something about Himself to us?

Let's start by reading the passage and I hope to show that it is the latter.  Read Genesis 11:1-9

The title of the message is, "Who Does God Think He Is?" and in this passage we see who God thinks He is and what He is like, how He works and what His character is.  The first thing I see in here is that God is powerful.  He is powerful enough to cause every person to speak another language.  He is powerful enough to know that this will cause them to stop building.  He is powerful enough also to know the proper discipline the people needed.

The problem with God's power in the eyes of man is that He is too powerful and it makes us uncomfortable and so we try to dilute His power.  Chemicals like ammonia or bleach or vinegar are too strong to use straight and so we water them down to more manageable amounts.  Otherwise they would be too strong.  There is nothing wrong with that.

The people in the book of Genesis show that they feel God's power is too strong and it makes them uncomfortable.  It makes them realize who and what they really are so they try to dilute His power and thereby try to dilute who God is.  Looking at the story again, what seems to be the problem?  They built a building.  Nothing wrong with that, right?

Let's look at it closer.  Biblical scholars, geologists and archaeologists agree that the kind of structure they built is called a ziggurat.  Not a cigarette.  Ziggurat.  Anybody know what that is?  The pyramids are one form of ziggurat.  It was a tiered building with either winding steps or a wide smooth walkway going up to the top.  Usually at the top there would be a place to worship.  So when they say in verse 4 that they are going to build a tower to make a name for themselves they make it plain that they are not building this to worship God.  They are building it to make themselves look good.

Ok, so what's so wrong with that?  Everybody wants to leave a positive legacy.  Everybody wants to be remembered after they die.  The problem is their motive.  They are not saying that there is no God.  They are not even worshiping other gods.  The problem is that God is just not much of a factor here at all.  "Yea, yea, that God stuff is great and all but that's just for Sunday.We are doing our own thing today.  Later on we might do a little bit of that God stuff but right now we are working."

Pretty soon God gets watered down to where He doesn't really factor into our lives much.  I read one man say that to do this was to redistribute God's power.  Let's look at what that means.

In ancient times it was common for people to redistribute God's power by praying to Baal to provide good crops.  They prayed to Ishtar to protect their families and relied on political alliances with other countries for their security.

In more recent history the church redistributed God's power among the saints or Mary or the angels.  Some people today in the New Age movement believe in God but say He shares equal power with Allah or Buddha.  I even heard somebody the other day say their religion was Chrislam, a combination of Christianity and Islam.

I told you last week that every other religion was born from basically some guy sitting under a tree somewhere trying to make a religion that makes sense to him and is not too hard.  Well, there are a lot of people under that tree nowdays.

Even in Christianity I hear people every now and then talking about reading their horoscope or reading a oija board or meditating as they do yoga or Tai Chi.  That is acknowledging divine power but outside of God.  You can know if this is something you do by taking a real easy test.

To what do you turn when you have a problem or question?  When something goes wrong where do you turn?  When you need help where do you go?  If it is a person, place or thing other than God then you may be redistributing God's power.  If you say you don't rely on anything, that you can handle whatever comes along, then you may be redistributing God's power.

The psalmist says in Psalm 102:1-2, "Hear my prayer, LORD;
let my cry for help come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly"

I wonder what we would look like if we left God at full-strength instead of diluting His power by redistribution.  If we turned to God first and only to answer our questions and help us with our problems, what would we do differently?

Would you be more outspoken at work or with friends about your relationship with Jesus?

Would you get out of your comfort zone and serve somewhere in the church?

Would you give a gift on top of your tithe even if it meant you had to cut back somewhere?

Psalm 37:5 says, "Commit everything you do to the Lord.  Trust Him and He will help you."

Have you ever had a friend to tell you, "Let me know if there is anything I can do for you" and then when you ask them for help they don't show up?  Or they say, "Well, I'm pretty busy but ok."  And you know they don't want to help and were only saying it to be nice.

You know what's worse than relying on an unreliable friend?  Relying on yourself and failing.  I'm the only one who has ever done that.  Let me close with a couple of verses.  These should be marked or referenced in the flyleaf of your Bible somewhere.

Ephesians 3:20 says, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight."

Has God proved Himself trustworthy to you?  Like a good friend we can trust Him and rely on Him and turn to Him with our questions and problems but unlike our earthly friends God is all-powerful.  How are you going to respond to Him today?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Flood, Genesis 6

I was driving through Bridgeport the other day and I saw a sign that said, "Talking Dog for sale".  I stopped and knocked on the door and asked to see the "talking dog".  The owner said, "Sure.  Come around here."  We went around to the back of the house and sure enough there was a dog chained to a tree.  He didn't look like much and so I asked the owner if this was the talking dog and he said yes.  So, I looked at the dog and asked him, "So, are you the talking dog?"  And to my astonishment, the dog said in perfect English, "Yes I am."    I didn't know what to say exactly so I just asked him what his story was.  He said he was originally bred by a local policeman and became a K-9 officer.  He would wander around crack houses and find out who the bad guys were and report back to headquarters.  He had gotten several medals of commendation for that but then the Army found out about him and he did basically the same thing for them in Iraq, snooping around behind enemy lines reporting troop movements.  He said he was actually the one to find out where Saddam Hussein was hiding.  I asked the owner how much he wanted for him and he just said, "10 bucks".  "10 Bucks!  Why so cheap?"  The owner said, "That dog's such a liar.  He never did any of that."

I wonder sometimes how much of the Bible we really believe.  Most all of you here would agree with me that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and that all of it is true, without error.  But do you really believe some of the stories in it?  Do you really believe Jonah was swallowed by a whale?  Hard to believe.  Do you believe that a young boy really killed a giant with his slingshot?  Do you know without a doubt that Balaam's donkey spoke audibly to him?

I love the story of Noah and the ark.  Every child knows the story but is that all it is, a child's story like Mother Goose?  Or did it really happen?  I find a lot of the story to be hard to believe.  Noah built an ark 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high with no power tools.  He then loaded it with every kind of animal with his 7 family members and enough food and water for all the people and animals for about a year.  Then God shut the door and the whole earth flooded so high it covered the mountains.  And then Popeye came out and ate his spinach and lifted the ark high over his head, right?

While all of that is hard to believe, some people have a hard time believing another part of this story.  I heard the other day about a couple who enrolled their young child in a Christian school.  The first day after school the child came home telling about how Noah built an ark and God flooded the whole earth, killing everybody except Noah and his family.  The parents were outraged that the school would teach that and promptly withdrew their child saying, "Our God would never do that."

How do you feel about that?  Does God have the right to kill thousands or millions of people because He wants to?  Is He some divine psycho bully who kills everybody when he doesn't get His way?  How can we say He is a God of love if we believe this really happened?

Those are good questions and I hope to show you how the Bible answers them.  Let's read some of the story in Genesis.  Since it takes up over two chapters, we will only read part of it.  I think most of you are aware of how the story basically goes.

I have 3 points this morning.
#1 God's holiness demands justice. 
#2 God's love provides grace.
#3 Our faith determines the outcome.

Read 6:5-7

As we have made our way through Genesis I have told you not to think of Genesis as a novel that will tell you all the details and not to think of it as a book of history with lots of cool stories but instead to think of it as an autobiography about God.  Each passage should tell us more about God and the flood narrative is no exception.

We are left with lots of questions about the flood.  It's hard to believe it rained for 40 days especially when it hasn't rained here but maybe twice in 6 months.  But, what if, in this autobiography we learn something about God that is disturbing?  This passage will be controversial in Hebrew but even more so in English.

The first time I read this it looked to me like God is admitting He made a mistake.  It sounds like he regrets doing something and now He has changed His mind.  If that is the case then I need to rethink some things I thought I knew about God.  James 1:17 says God never changes.  In Psalm 139, David says that God knows everything.  How then can He wish that He had never made mankind?

The key to understanding this is to understand how it was written in the original Hebrew.  I don't know about you but Hebrew is all Greek to me and so I have to rely on some good commentaries written by people who can translate and explain what it means.  The phrase we are looking at is translated to the English language as nhm.  I can't read it in English much less know what it means but I will cut to the chase and try to explain it like this:  it is an accounting term which means to balance the books.  That's as close as we can get to understanding it.

God sees that one side of the ledger is way out of balance and so He adjusts it accordingly.  It says in verse 5 that God sees that every thought man has is evil all the time.  In Jeremiah 8:6 God says, "I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. No one repents of his wickedness, saying, "What have I done?"
God is listening and waiting for them to repent but He will not tolerate evil for long.  Our God is a holy God who detests sin and so we should too.  When God revealed himself to Job, Job replied by saying "I despise myself".  When Isaiah caught just a glimpse of God he said, "Woe to me.  I am ruined!"  God cannot tolerate sin.  Just because God doesn't always punish a sinner immediately we think we have gotten away with it but God is keeping track of it. 
So this passage has nothing to do with God being sorry or regretful or having grief.  As a God of justice, He always balances the books.  Sometimes it is with punishment and sometimes it is with grace and mercy.
Read 8-21.
At one time, a group of theologians from different faiths and religions gathered in London, England, to discuss religion. On one particular day they were considering the question: “What separates Christianity from all other religions?” That is a great question. Is there anything about Christianity that is different or distinguishes it from every other faith? Quite frankly, the theologians were stumped until C. S. Lewis walked into the room. C. S. Lewis had a simple answer when he heard the question: “What separates Christianity from all other religions?” C.S. Lewis said, “That’s easy. It’s grace.”
God’s love provides grace.  God is a holy God.  Do you remember what “holy” means?  And because He is holy He cannot tolerate sin.  Sin is anything that displeases God.  We all have sinned.  Romans 3:23.  The wages of sin is death.  Romans 6:23.  The Bible says we will all be judged so it sounds to me like we are all doomed.  There’s no hope for us!  There is no good news!
Well, for Noah there was good news.  God provided a way for him and his family.  But can you imagine the conversation between Noah and Mrs. Noah after God told him to build an ark?  Hey Honey, God told me to build an ark.  What’s an ark?  Like a boat.  Oh, good I could use some sun maybe a little fishing, some skiing.  That’s good honey.  You can use the wood from the pile behind the house.
We don’t know what they said.  In fact, Noah doesn’t speak nor anyone in his family ever speaks.  Let me see if y’all have been paying attention.  Why do you think the Bible doesn’t tell us what they said or gives us any more details about the ark or Noah?  Because that’s not the point!  If we had more information, it would just distract us from what God wants to reveal about Himself.
And what does God want to reveal about Himself here?  He reveals that through His grace He has provided a way of salvation for Noah and ultimately for us.  I’m sure it was difficult for Noah to understand everything he was being asked to do.  We know from archaeology that most boats built in Noah’s time and even later were considerably smaller, made just for fishing just off shore. 
And when God told him to build it the skies were clear and sunny.  I’m quite sure Noah’s neighbors thought he was crazy.  That doesn’t make sense, Noah!  If you want a boat, just borrow ours for a while.  It works well for us.  It’s a pretty boat and you don’t have to be so radical building your own.
Read 6:22
And in Hebrews 11:7 it says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. “
The task that God gave Noah was difficult physically and spiritually.  It didn’t make sense.  It was hard to believe.  It’s not what other people in the world thought he should do.  And it is exactly where we are today.  The world says it is too hard to believe what the Bible says and so we are going to explain it so that it does make sense.  And that is where every other religion and faith comes from.
I’ll say it again that everybody wants to know the truth.  When the truth of God is too hard to believe or too hard to follow, then they come up with something else that is easier to believe and easier to follow.  That’s where Buddhism comes from.  That’s where Islam, Hindu, Wicca, and yes, Mormonism come from.  They come from some guy sitting under a tree somewhere thinking that it’s too hard to believe what the Bible says so I’m going to make something up.
The flood narrative in Genesis is a beautiful foretelling of the Gospel.  It is what God wants us to see from this passage.  He wants us to see that He is a holy God who hates sin.  He wants us to see that sin is punishable by death but that through His grace and by our faith we can escape that punishment and be saved and unlike Noah’s salvation from the flood, our salvation is eternal.
This simple presentation of the Gospel can be closed with a simple verse.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In the Beginning, Pt. IV Genesis 4

Children's Minute:  What is worship?  To adore, idolize, revere, give glory, time or money to.  What part of worship do you like best?  How old do you have to be to participate in worship?  Coloring pages.

What about the rest of you?  When I say "worship", what do you think about?  Why do you worship?  Is it something you feel the need to do or do you do it because you enjoy it or both?

People ask me all the time how the church is doing and lately my honest response is, "We're just having a good time!"  And I don't mean that we are playing games or being silly.  I mean peoples' lives are being changed.  People are inviting other people.  Our reputation in the neighborhood is improving and all of that is fun to be a part of!  When I worship with this family, it is my favorite time of the week.

This morning we are going to look at a passage in Genesis chapter 4 where Cain and Abel participate in what is the first recorded act of worship.  And those of you that remember the story know that there was a slight problem afterward.

How many of you know the feeling of leaving the church after a wonderful time of worship with your wonderful church family and you are feeling wonderful and filled and holy and then you get in the car with your biological family and everything just falls apart?  One minute you are telling people you love them and you're praying for them and the next you wind up in a big argument.  I'll give you one guess who is behind that.  No, Judy.  It's not Jerry.  It's Satan.

Satan can't stand this church and he can't stand when you worship and so the next best thing he can do is to distract you from it and make you think of something else and get you to act differently as soon as possible.  And that's basically what happens in our passage this morning.  I mean, who hasn't had a good day worshiping and then the next minute you kill your brother? I'm probably the only one.   Don't you just hate it when you kill your brother?  It's a bad day.

Well, so that that doesn't happen to us, let's turn to Genesis chapter 4.  We'll read 1-16.

How many of you have found yourselves a little bit frustrated as we have gone through the first few chapters of Genesis feeling like you don't know the whole story?  We've talked about this several times, about how Genesis is not a novel.  It doesn't give us all the details or explain why some things happen.  Sometimes that is frustrating to some of us with that Greek or Roman world-view.

I wish I could tell you that this chapter was going to be better in that regard but actually it is going to be even worse.  I have so many questions about this passage and yet the narrative does not explain a lot of the who's, why's and when's.  One of the things I have learned about the Bible, though, is that there are at least two reasons why the Bible doesn't go into more detail about some things.

The first reason is that we just wouldn't understand it.  For example, I love to think about what Heaven is going to be like.  What we are going to do, what will we look like, which way to the Mexican food buffet?  But, while the Bible talks about Heaven quite a bit, it doesn't answer all of my questions and I believe it is because we just don't have the mental capacity to understand what God has planned for us as long as we live in the physical.

Isaiah 55:9 says, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

The other reason I can think of is that if we had more detail, we would focus on the wrong thing.  Let's use the first 4 words of the book as an example again.  I told you there was a lot of controversy over these first 4 words.  The reason there is so much controversy is because so many people are focused on the wrong part of that phrase.

When it says, "In the beginning God...", on what is the focus supposed to be?  God.  But everybody tries to figure out when this happened.  When was "in the beginning"?  God didn't give us any more detail so that we would focus on who He is and His character and what he expects from us.  Quit thinking about Genesis (especially the first 11 chapters) as a book of history and think of it more as an autobiography of God and you will be better off.

When you say that Genesis is not answering your questions, it's because you are asking the wrong ones.  Do you really want to stand up in front of God and say this book isn't good enough?  I would be real careful on that road.  When I read a passage, I want to know why it was written.  What am I supposed to learn from this?  You can take this passage a hundred different ways but I want to know what God wants me to realize through this certain passage.

You have probably heard lots of different sermons preached from this passage.  Sometimes a guy will preach on how to overcome anger, or the sin of murder, or how to be a good mother or father.  And all of those are worthwhile topics but it's just not the point here.

I have two points to make this morning.  Two things I want us to see from this passagae and while these two points are just my points and no greater than anybody else's, I do believe that these points attach themselves to the reason this passage is in the Bible. 

My two points are simple:  We were created for worship.  Worship involves sacrifice.

Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living."  I would be willing to bet that there has been sometime, somewhere, maybe in the middle of the night or the middle of the country that you have wondered, "Why am I here?"  You have probably come to realize that there is more to life than going to work, coming home, watching the tube and going to bed.

Just a few days ago this world lost what almost everyone would consider to be a great man.  He is called the greatest CEO, the most influential entrepreneur, the most inspiring creator and it was said that he will never be equaled and yet as fulfilling as his work was to him and life-changing to the rest of the world, Steve Jobs was not put here to invent the iPad, iPod, iPhone, ieverything else.  He was put here, like us, to worship God.

I don't have any idea of Job's relationship with the Lord.  I certainly don't use him as a bad example here.  In fact, just the opposite.  I use him as an example of someone whose job was fulfilling and yet that's not why we are here.

Men, let me ask you a question.  Has there ever been a time when you looked deep into the beautiful hazel eyes of your adoring wife, and in a moment of love and devotion said something like, "You...complete me!"?  Well if you did, don't tell anybody but just because your spouse gives you great joy and fulfillment doesn't mean that you were created for your family.

God is very generous and he has given us work and family and hobbies and things to keep us fulfilled and enjoying life but that's not why we are here.  Let me read Colossians 1:16.

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

Have you ever thought about that?  You were created by God for God and we see this in Cain and Abel.  In verse 3 we see that they both brought offerings to God.  Now how do you think they knew to bring offerings to God?  Do you think they read Colossians?  Had they been going to a Baptist church there on the outskirts of Eden and learned to tithe from the pastor there?

We don't know.  Genesis doesn't tell us.  Imagine that.  But, in another place in God's word it says that "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."   Romans 1:20

Since the creation of the world, men have had a God-given instinct or urge or knowledge that there is a God and if there is a God he should be worshiped.

We don't know much about this story.  It doesn't say that they brought the offerings at the same time.  We don't even know that they knew the other one was doing it.  It just says that in the course of time they both brought offerings.

The one thing we do know about Abel's offering is found in Hebrews chapter 11, the Faith Chapter.  Verse 4 says that Abel gave God a better offering than Cain did because of his faith.  Abel's offering was from his heart in faith.  Cain's offering was just going through the motions.  Abel's offering was worship.  Cain's offering was not.  There wasn't anything any better about Abel's offering in and of itself.  The difference was the attitude.

And that leads us to the second point.  Worship involves sacrifice.

I remember an old Dennis the Menace cartoon where Dennis was walking out of church holding his mother's hand.  They get to the back door where the preacher was standing and Dennis said,  "Thanks, Preach.  Not a bad show for a nickel."

Aw, pastor, don't compare me to Dennis the Menace.  I give a lot more than a nickel.

Let me read something to you.  It is something a friend of mine wrote many years ago.  This guy knew something about worship.  My friend David  says in Psalm 51 verse 16, "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings

Why would David say this?  Why would I read it after I just said that worship involves sacrifice?  I mean David still gave sacrifices after he said this.  He still gave blood offerings and grain offerings.  Why would he say that God didn't want them?  The key is what he says next in verse 17, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart.  Oh God, you will not despise.

In our worship here today, God still expects sacrifice.  Thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we no longer have to sacrifice bulls and lambs and grain or vegetables but there is still sacrifices to be made. 

Just showing up is a sacrifice.  Just coming to church and being supportive of your church family is a sacrifice.  Tithing is a sacrifice.  We give sacrifices of praise, prayer, time, fellowship, support and love.It's all part of our worship.  It's all part of what we do here every Sunday morning but just as Ron says all the time, God is loaded.  He doesn't need any of it.  We're not here to stroke God's ego.  We're not giving our money because God needs it.  He requires it though to show that our hearts  are broken and contrite.  To show Him that we are repentant and remorseful. 

We all have regrets in this life.  Sometimes I try to convince myself that I have the market cornered on regret but I know some of you have done things you wish you had not.  How many times in your life have you looked back in regret and said something that started with "If only..."  If only I had done this or not done that.  If only...

There is a passage in Isaiah that looks like it could have been written just for Cain.  In Isaiah 48:17-18 it says, "17 This is what the LORD says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the LORD your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go.
18 If only you had paid attention to my commands,
your peace would have been like a river,
your well-being like the waves of the sea.

Did you catch the fact in Genesis 4:6 God warns Cain specifically that sin was crouching at his door?  He tried to encourage Cain to think about what was in his heart and to not kill his brother but when he did kill him and was punished Cain regretted it.  I'm sure Cain said, "If only..."  for years after that.  If only he had listened.

This morning, I'm sure that some of you here realize that this passage could also be written to you.  You know realize that we are here to worship and that worship involves the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart.  Without that, we are just going through the motions.-

Monday, October 3, 2011

In the Beginning, Pt. III Genesis 3

I love a good quote. I enjoy reading wise words from intelligent and brave men. I have several books of quotes from people like Lincoln, Franklin and Churchill. It is especially meaningful to read a good quote when you know the story behind it and you know the author to be wise and honorable. A good quote can be motivating.

I ran across a quote this week from the Roman poet Horace who lived just before Jesus did. Horace's quote goes like this, "Sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country." That might bring patriotic goosebumps to your arms if you love your country. A swell of pride might come over you if you are a young man or woman about to enlist in the military. Those of you here this morning who have served honorably in the military, whatever branch, we are honored for you to be here this morning and your country will be forever in your debt.

When I saw this quote from Horace I did a quick Google search and found out that Horace did indeed join the army. He also saw combat in the Battle of Philippi. But what caught my attention after reading this great patriotic quote was the fact that in that battle Horace admits to throwing down his shield and turning around and fleeing for his life. Not exactly sweet nor fitting.

I also have to wonder how sweet and fitting it was for thousands upon thousands of mothers and fathers to get a letter from the War Department in WW II saying they regret to inform you your son will not be returning home. If you have ever lost a loved one in war you have to come to grips with the question, "Was it worth it?" I doubt many would actually say it was sweet and fitting.

Every good soldier hates war and will do anything necessary to keep from it but also does everything necessary to prepare for it. You might be wondering why I am bringing all this up today and it is because we are in Genesis chapter 3 where we find out that the war has begun for us. I would love to stand up here this morning and tell you that when you give your life to Jesus then all of your problems are going to melt away and now you can relax and live the easy life but that's not true.

In fact, the longer we live through this age the more intense the battles are going to be and the higher the stakes become. As horrible and deadly as the physical wars our country has fought have been, the stakes are even higher for us in our spiritual fight. If you don't think we are in the middle of a universal fight to the death I hope to show you the Bible says differently.

It is a battle that has been going on quite literally since the beginning of time as we will see in Genesis chapter 3 but I first want to read, for context, what God said about the tree in 2:16 and 17. Now skip over to 3:1-6.

An old cowboy went to his insurance agent and asked to get health insurance. The agent asked him if he had had any accidents the previous year. No sir. The agent said, "You didn't get sick or hurt or anything last year?" "Well, I got bit by a rattlesnake and that laid me up for a while." "You don't call that an accident?" "No sir. Pretty sure he did it on purpose."

When you tangle with a snake you can expect to get bitten and when you tangle with Satan you can expect to pay the price for that as well. And he does it on purpose. One more time, what is Satan's ultimate goal for you? To devour you. To kill you. And when he can't kill you what will he do? Distract you or confuse you. And if he can't distract you he will let you work real hard to try to be a good person.

All of that is a success for the devil. And he does it all on purpose just like he did with Eve in the garden. We talked about that last week. We don't see the serpent for a few verses after verse 6. I'm sure he went off to the side and had himself a real good laugh at what he had done. He had successfully destroyed God's plan for man to live in perfection and in a few verses we will see him again as God responds to what he has done.

I have another joke for you to illustrate something I want to talk about.
A first grader was sitting in class as the teacher was reading the story of the Three Little Pigs. She came to the part of the story where the first pig was trying to acquire building materials for his home.

She said "...And so the pig went up to the man with a wheelbarrow full of straw and said 'Pardon me sir, but might I have some of that straw to build my house with?'"

Then the teacher asked the class, "And what do you think that man said?" and a little boy raised his hand and said "I know! I know! he said..... 'Holy smokes! A talking pig!'

I tell you that because no where in here does it specifically say that the serpent was Satan. All it says is that the serpent was crafty and that it could talk and that's the way the Hebrew people would have accepted this. I told you last week that they would just accept things at face value and so that is how I want us to read through Genesis as well. When it says the serpent talked, just say holy smokes a talking snake and go on.

Now I have some bad news, some good news and some eternal news and it all comes from God's response to all of this coming up in chapter 3 verses 14 and 15. Read.

I said I have some bad news, some good news and some eternal news. The bad news is for us today and for Satan as well. In fact, the bad news for Satan is that there is no good news. That word "cursed" in verse 14 is "katara" which means something that pays a price. The same word was used for Jesus himself in Galatians 3:13 where it talks of Jesus paying the price for our sin. It says He was cursed.

But here the serpent is cursed. He pays the price for his role in the fall of man. And whether that serpent was actually the devil or if it was a demon or just a really crafty legless, carnivorous reptile, it doesn't matter the really bad news comes in verse 15 where it says "I will bring enmity" which is a word that means basically "war" and in that war we as Christians are going to be bruised and bloodied. We are going to have lots of heel-strikes.

We will have heel-strikes at us as individuals, at our church, at our society and at the world as a whole. We see individual strikes when we as individuals allow it to happen. "Oh, Pastor Todd, I would never allow myself to be bitten by sin and Satan." You may not think you allow it but when we allow ourselves to be like the world instead of being holy, that's when Satan prepares to strike.

1 Peter 1:13-16, Peter writes to believers, "Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.

We allow ourselves to be struck when we start to debate about the temptation we are going through. Eve stood there and talked it out with Satan. You know what she should have done? She should have done what Joseph did in Genesis 39:12: when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him, he ran away. He didn't try to talk her out of it or explain his side of the story. He didn't even try to witness to her. He ran.

That's what we need to do today. When we are tempted to gossip, just get away from that person. Say excuse me and leave. When the computer tempts you, turn it off and leave. When you are tempted to cheat on your taxes, turn 'em over to Jackie! God didn't tell you to be holy just for grins, He told you to be holy (set apart, different) because He knows we are easily tempted.

We also will see heel-strikes at our church. It's just part of the bad news and it should be expected. "Oh", you say. "our church is small and Satan has bigger fish to fry. He's not going to mess with us." I don't know about you but I'm already feeling it and I know that some of you are too whether you realize it or not. Satan hates this church and wants nothing more than for us as a church to die.

Do you remember a few months ago when we went through a series in Acts and we saw how the first church got started after Jesus left? I told you there was a cycle that you see the church go through. The cycle was obedience, blessings, attack. When the church was obedient to God, God blessed it and then Satan attacked it. Over and over again you see it in the book of Acts and you will and are seeing it in our church today.

The last part of the bad news is that we see these heel-strikes in our society and in our world today. Some real obvious heel-strikes that I see would be the acceptance of abortion, homosexuality, and divorce. These are accepted as "alternative lifestyles" in our society despite the Bible specifically teaching against them.

So, the bad news for us is that we are at war with Satan and his demons and we will suffer because of it. We will not get out of this battle unscathed. Job said "man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble." We will have many heel-strikes and they will be painful.

The good news for us is that we have the power to crush the heads of Satan and his demons. In fact, we know how this story ends and we win the war. Satan will be crushed completely in the end but in the mean time he still has a lot of fight left in him and will continue to strike at the heels unless we continue to crush his head.

When I say "crushing his head" I don't mean just surviving the heel-strikes. It means taking the offensive and making inroads into the strongholds of Satan and we can do this individually and as a church. The battle referred to in our passage is framed in potentially mortal blows being exchanged and that means that poking it with a stick doesn't qualify. So, as individuals, what can we do to cause the enemy to retreat or reel back?

We can start by being the people God asks us to be instead of following our selfish, Adam and Eve-type selves.In November of 1994, Pastor Duane Willis, with his wife Janet and 6 kids were on their way from Chicago to visit realtives in Wisconsin. As they drove along I-94 near Milwaukee, a semi-truck lost part of it's taillight assembly. As the Willis's van ran over it, a sharp edge scraped a gash in the gas tank and the van caught on fire. Pastor Willis and his wife could only look on as the flames took the lives of their 6 children.

In the following days and weeks, the news coverage was massive. The Willis's didn't hide their grief or try to put on plastic smiles suggesting everything was ok. But they gave consistent and credible testimony in news program after news program of God's love and provision for them in their deepest distress. The simple trust of these godly people struck a significant blow as millions of onlookers were introduced to what faith on trial looks like. (John H. Walton, Genesis commentary)

We have no more power and no more opportunity to crush the head of Satan than we do as a church. When we as individuals put on the full armor of God as talked about in Ephesians 6 and join together as a family and as soldiers we can do serious damage to the cause of Satan and the best way to do that is to be obedient to the Great Commision in Matthew 28. Go and make disciples! Tell others! It's a command.

I'm excited about some opportunities our church is going to have next year to go on some genuine mission trips to other countries but right now we have several opportunities right here in our neighborhood. The mens' movie night or the chili cook-off might not sound like very good spiritual opportunities but that's on purpose. You see, we have to be intentional about everything we do. Just like that snake bit that cowboy on purpose, we have to purposefully go about our lives ready to strike a blow to Satan and hopefully every outreach opportunity we have will be succesful in that area.

You can poke at the snake with a stick or even throw down your shield and run or with God's power and authority you can be a warrior. What's it going to be? Will you enjoy the benefits of obedience or suffer the consequences of disobedience?