The Power to Believe #TellThe Story #TraditionallySouthside

Everybody wants proof, don’t they? It’s always been that way. I can almost hear Adam those first days as he was walking in the Garden of Eden with God introducing him to all of the new and exotic fruits. “I’m supposed to eat that? Really? You first.” Human beings are skeptical in nature, and sometimes that keeps us out of trouble. It’s kind of like the woman I heard about one time who said that she believed in absolutely nothing. I mean nothing. She was actually so skeptical about everything that it kept her from becoming an atheist. Or like Ronald Reagan when he said that the most terrifying sentence in the English language is, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Being skeptical can sometimes keep us out of trouble, but there are times when we choose not to believe, when we decide that we need more proof than what we’ve seen, and that gets us into more trouble than we could ever imagine especially when we start demanding that kind of proof from God. But we all do it from time to time. That’s why the story I want to tell today is one of those stories that we need to tell our children and our children’s children just like Asaph recommends in Psalm 78. Do you remember what he says will happen if we do this? If we tell these stories that reveal all of our flaws and our shortcomings and God’s gracious response? He says that they will learn to place their hope in God and follow His commands. They need that especially in our 21st century world of cynical debate about everything under the sun, but we need it as well because too often we find ourselves struggling to live the Christian life because of our skepticism. If only we had the kind of faith that trusts in the power of a Holy God knowing that He has a plan for our lives…. If only we had the kind of faith that trusts in the power of a Holy God knowing that He is able to deliver us from whatever prison that holds us in our bondage…. If we had that kind of faith, we could live in victory and not defeat. And that is the story I want to tell over the next several days.

You find the story in the Book of Exodus between chapters 4 and 12, and if you read those chapters, you will see how God’s Plan Affects His People. God had called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, and Moses was perhaps the biggest skeptic of all, demanding proof and offering excuses. “I can’t talk to Pharaoh,” he said. “How can I convince him? Whom will I tell the people has sent me”? And God very patiently – well somewhat patiently – dealt with Moses’ excuses and provided him with the proof that he needed. But when you get to chapter 5, Moses had his first encounter with Pharaoh and makes that most famous pronouncement, “Let my people go! God wants my people to go into the wilderness to hold a feast. Just a 3 day journey into the desert or God’s gonna kill us.” Now some people say, “How come Moses is lying about this?” And I’m saying, “If God told Moses to say it, it’s not a lie. You know what I’m saying?” But Pharaoh refused to let them go, and instead, he increased their work load. Now, not only do they have to make the same number of bricks as before for all of the building projects, the Hebrew slaves also had to go out and find all of their supplies for themselves. The mud, the straw, everything. And when they couldn’t make their quota, it wasn’t just the slaves that were getting beaten. The Hebrew officers that had been set over the slaves were beaten and harshly treated.

And here is what happens when a skeptical people press for proof that God is able to do what He promises, and it doesn’t happen the way they think it should: The People Pouted. That’s right. These are the same people that were crying out to God for deliverance because their sons were being killed at birth, and their lives had been turned into a living nightmare. But when deliverance didn’t happen immediately, they pouted. They blamed Moses and Aaron. “It’s your fault,” they said. “You’ve made us a stench in the nostrils of the Pharaoh, and you’ve given him a reason to kill us.”

Not that the Pharaoh would kill the people of Israel. They were too valuable to the economy, and that is the root of the issue. Egypt could not survive without the slave labor the Hebrew people were providing. More than anything else, for the Pharaoh, this entire situation was about money, greed, and power.

But when God’s people did not get immediate relief, they pouted, and it wouldn’t be the last time that they did this. In fact, even after Moses led them out of the Promised Land, they brought this whole episode up again. Do you remember the story? When Pharaoh’s army was closing in on them at the Red Sea, once again, they had forgotten God’s promises, and they had forgotten what God was capable of doing and they had started to imagine the worst possible scenario. The Jews were sure that they and their children would die in the wilderness as soon as Pharaoh’s army caught up with them. The frightened people reminded Moses that they had told him to leave them alone, but he had persisted in challenging Pharaoh. Israel was now in a terrible predicament, and to them, Moses was to blame.

Unbelief has a way of doing that to us. It erases from our memories all the demonstrations we’ve ever seen of God’s great power. It removes all the instances we know of God’s faithfulness to His Word. Suddenly even our own culpability as to why we are in the predicament in the first place is gone.  We have no idea why God would allow us to suffer or struggle or be where we are (not that this was the case for the Israelites or even for you). That’s why this story is so important. It reminds us. It stirs our memories. It helps us to recognize that God is always there and He is able. It gives us the power to believe.

You can listen to this message at this link.

God’s Calling #TellTheStory #TraditionallySouthside

Have you ever gotten one of those phone calls that changes everything? Maybe for good? Maybe for bad? It could be about a job that you applied for, and the call comes in and the person on the other end of the line tells you that you’ve been hired. Or maybe it’s your doctor, and they tell you that the test results are very bad and he needs to see you in his office immediately. There are moments in life when a call changes everything: before — life is great; after — everything is…different. It could be better; it could be worse. That is why I am spending so much time re-telling the great stories of the Bible; they teach us the lessons that help us to cope when we find ourselves on the mountaintops of life or when life plunges us into the deepest valleys. Both of these occasions are fraught with peril. When we experience the highs and the lows of life, we find ourselves tempted to turn away from God – and that is when we get into trouble. Asaph reminded us in Psalm 78 that these stories would help us train our children so that they would set their hope in God and keep His commandments so that they could avoid many of the ups and downs that come from a life lived out of fellowship with God.

For Moses, life was full of those roller coaster kinds of moments. After he was pulled out of the basket by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was raised in the lap of luxury. Nursed by his mother and taught who he was as a Hebrew but raised as the grandson of Pharaoh, he experienced the best of both worlds. For forty years, he lived in the palace, but he grew up watching his fellow Israelites struggle to survive. One day he went out to see what was happening in the world of his people, and when he saw one of the Egyptians beating a Hebrew slave, he became so enraged, he killed the Egyptian and tried to hide the body. I wonder what he must have been thinking. Maybe he thought that he was going to be considered a hero among the Hebrews for defending one of their own. Maybe he even thought about becoming their deliverer – dreaming about the possibility of leading his true people to freedom. But the very next day as he went back out to walk among them, he saw two of his own fighting each other, and when he tried to break them up, one of them mocked him, and asked, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”

Do you see it? Up and down. Living in both worlds. Respected by neither because sure enough, Pharaoh found out about his actions, and Moses was forced to run for his life. But let’s remember that one of the most important aspects of these stories is that when we fall down in this life and we find ourselves in the depths of despair, by God’s grace, we can choose to get back up again. Now it took Moses a while – 40 years in fact. He ran far and he ran long. He ran all the way to Midian on the other side of the Sinai Peninsula. He married Zipporah, the daughter of a priest, and became a shepherd. Understand what that meant for Moses. Growing up as the grandson of Pharaoh, he no doubt picked up the hatred of sheep and shepherds that the Egyptians had, so he had fallen to the bottom of the social scale doing for the next 40 years the last thing he ever imagined he would be doing. And that is when the call came that changed Moses’ life forever. It wasn’t a phone call. It wasn’t an e-mail. It wasn’t even a FaceTime call. This was God coming down from heaven for a face-to-face meeting with the man that would deliver His people.

What can we learn from this story? Three things. We learn that when God calls someone, His calling is personal. He Himself makes the invitation. He doesn’t send someone else to do it – He does it Himself. And His calling is specific. One of the things that impresses me about this story is that you don’t see Him calling out, “Hey, buddy. I’m looking for a shepherd. You interested?” He calls Moses by name because He is looking for Moses. Specifically. And He came to where Moses was. But that’s what God does. He comes to where we are and offers us the wonderful privilege of serving Him.

We also learn that God’s Calling is Powerful. You cannot read this story and not see the power-packed elements. I mean, it’s a burning bush that isn’t consumed. You can try to explain it away, but I see a literal miracle here which by the way is how I describe every experience of God calling a human being because it is God calling a human being. And we need because it is the power of the revelation that prepares us for the mission to which He has called us. You see, God’s call is preparation for ministry. Moses didn’t know it at the time, but God had a plan for him just like he has a plan for each of us. It’s sad that many Christians never realize this truth, but God doesn’t call us into this relationship with Himself without a plan for us to get involved in the ministry – our calling, just like Moses’ calling, is part of the preparation process.

That is the third thing we learn. God’s Calling is Purposeful. One thing is for sure, God never does anything accidentally or coincidentally. There is a plan involved. There is a purpose. God had a purpose when He called Moses. That purpose was to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt. He also had a purpose when He saved you. Yes, He saved you from your sin and He saved you to the promise of heaven, but He also saved you to a life of service just like Moses. He called you to be a deliverer to others who are living in bondage to sin. It is up to you to tell them about Jesus. He has called you to serve – to help them get back up when they fall down – by sharing with them His grace. God has a purpose and a plan for your life. It’s why God has called you and made you a part of His church, but you have to discover where you fit in.

To hear the audio sermon upon which this blog is based, click on this link: https://tinyurl.com/gmz6wkt.

Unsung Heroes and Overcoming Evil #TraditionallySouthside

One of my biggest heroes in the world is a midwife in Pensacola, Florida. That’s right – a midwife. Her name is Jenny Allen, and she saved my granddaughter’s life. If it wasn’t for her, our little Lucy would probably be dead right now. God used her in an amazing way to do exactly the right things in exactly the right ways to keep her alive after she was born, and she is like a part of our family and always will be. She delivered Lily, and came to her birthday party yesterday. She is family. And she is one of my heroes.

She is an unsung hero, not unlike two women in the Bible that most people who upon hearing their names would say, “Who are they?” Shiphrah and Puah. You find their story in Exodus 1. When Joseph died and the years went by, a new Pharaoh came into power, and the good things that Joseph had done were forgotten. The truth is that a new dynasty came into being and there was a concerted effort to remove every trace of the history of that time. Documents were destroyed and all of the evidence of that period was removed. That is why it has been so difficult for historians to prove the existence of the Jewish people in Egypt, but it also explains why it was so easy for the animosity to build against the ancestors of Joseph so quickly. The Egyptians became fearful of the great numbers of the Jewish people and made them slaves, but the Jews continued to multiply. So the order was given to the midwives: kill all of the male babies.

For the most part, the stories in this series of messages have focused on men — men who were constantly struggling to be faithful to God. Falling, but by His grace, choosing to get back up again. We need to recognize that this is a mirror of our lives as Christians. An image of what it means to walk the path towards spiritual maturity, struggling to do the right things, knowing that we fall down and get up only to fall down again. But in the story of Shiphrah and Puah, we find a different kind of story – a story that reminds us about the strength God gives to do the right thing when we walk with Him – strength to overcome evil.

Considering what our children are facing today, could there be any better stories for us to tell? I know that there are no better outcomes than for our children and our children’s children to learn: how to overcome the evil that is running rampant in our society. So just how did these wise women of Israel stand strong against the powerful Pharaoh of Egypt and overcome the greatest evil of their day? The Midwives Overcame Evil By Their Fear of God. Look at v. 17. “The midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them….” Now let’s be careful here. We tend to automatically translate the word “fear” as “awe” and “reverence,” but we have to be careful that we don’t give a New Testament understanding to this Old Testament passage of Scripture. While it is right that the word means to revere God and to have this holy awe of God, that is not completely true for these women. They did not have the same history that we have. They did not have the same relationship that we have. In other words, these ladies did not know God like we know God. Don’t misunderstand. They were honest and upright, and they were religious but only to a certain extent.

We would do well to understand what they knew about the fear of God because it is still true for us today, too. While they did not have a personal, intimate love relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they understood right from wrong. Just like every human being, God had instilled within them that knowledge, and undoubtedly their parents had taught them the stories of their ancestors. They knew enough about what their people had gone through to know that the consequences of disobeying God were serious. If you want to pull an important principle from this, here it is: it is imperative that we teach our children what the Bible teaches about right and wrong. But more importantly in this story, these women were more afraid of what God would do to them after death than what Pharaoh could do to them in this life.

That matches up with what Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 (NKJV).

 28  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

King Solomon said it, too. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s smart to recognize that the One who holds the ultimate key to our judgment is a holy God, and because Shiphrah and Puah did exactly that, they feared God more than they feared man. That is why they refused to kill the male babies. Listen. We ought to obey God because we love Him. We ought to obey God because we revere Him. But if nothing else works, we ought to obey God because we fear the consequences of our actions. Now I know some of you are sitting out there reading this and saying, “Preacherman, we are under grace. Our sins are covered by the blood.” You are absolutely correct, my friends, but understand my heart. While as a child of God, you aren’t going to go to hell for your sins, the last thing in the world that I want to do is to displease my Heavenly Father. What I live for most in this world is to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.” But God does more than that for these Hebrew women. When you read the rest of the story, you find that out.

Pretty soon, the Pharaoh took notice that there were lots of little Hebrew boy babies around, so he called Shiphrah and Puah in for questioning. Notice their response in v. 19. It wasn’t a lie – it just wasn’t the complete truth. “The Hebrew women are stronger than your Egyptian women. They give birth before we get there.” Now look at v. 21. “And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.” Do you know what that means? God rewarded their fear. You see, most midwives of that day were women who could not have children of their own, so because they feared God and obeyed Him, God blessed these women and gave them their own families. That’s what God does. When we obey Him, His blessings follow. Standing up to evil is always the right thing to do, and God will give you the strength to do it when you fear Him. But here is the good news. He rewards those who stand in the end!

I heard a great song this week that speaks to all who are going through the fires. It’s by Mercy Me and it’s called “Even If.” I’ve included the link for you to listen. It’s worth your time. https://youtu.be/B6fA35Ved-Y

Lessons on Leadership Learned From the Bottom of a Well Pt. 2 #TellTheStory #TraditionallySouthside

Understand, Joseph was different. His philosophy of life is given to us in this passage of scripture. It’s possible that at the beginning of all this, Joseph thought about getting even. Who wouldn’t? Thrown into a well? Sold into slavery? Ending up in prison? Perhaps he had harbored some bitterness for a while. Who wouldn’t? But he had learned that there was no reason or place for bitterness because as he says in vs. 20, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”

But Joseph had learned more than that. Joseph had learned that in the midst of suffering and in the midst of adversity, God knows. God knew Joseph. He saw young Joseph in the bottom of that pit. He was with Joseph in Potiphar’s house. God was Joseph’s strength while he sat in that prison. God knew Joseph and exactly what he was experiencing. The truth is, God knows you, too. In fact, He knows more about you and your situation today than you know about yourself. The Bible says that God knows us intimately. Jesus said that God knows us so intimately that the hairs of our head are numbered. Now folks, I’ve got a lot of hair. My kids say it isn’t as much as it used to be, and if you could see my senior pictures from high school you would agree, but it’s still quite a bit. And God knows exactly how many there are.

Some of you might say, “Preacher, that’s silly. God has more important things to do than to count the hairs on my head.” Read this next statement very carefully. Nothing is more important to God than you! He created you. He knows the best there is to know about you, and He knows the worst there is to know about you, and in spite of it all He still loves you.

Do you want to know something that is incredible? God knows about you in times of trouble. In the midst of adversity and suffering — whatever it might be — God knows. Just as God knew every time Joseph was in trouble, the Lord God almighty knows your problems. We need to make sure that every young person hears this just like Asaph tells us in Psalm 78: when you’re out with your friends and they’re trying to talk you into doing something stupid, God is right there with you. He understands peer pressure. He knows temptations. In fact, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus Christ experienced every possible temptation that we would ever face. He knows what it’s like. And by the way, the very human Jesus faced those temptations without sin. And by the way, Senior Adult, when it seems like you’re about to give in and lose everything, God is there with you, too. He knows.

But sometimes it seems that it isn’t enough to know that God knows. There is another truth that Joseph learned in the midst of his suffering. Joseph learned that God cares. Joseph had learned it years earlier in that pit and in that prison. Just three chapters away in the book of Exodus, an entire nation learned that God cares. As the Egyptians forced them to work harder, as the Egyptians put their babies to death, the people of Israel began to cry out to God and there are three Hebrew words that are used to describe God’s response. He gazed intently at their sufferings; He heard their strangled cries of oppression; and He knew intimately their sorrows. You see, God cares.

God cares enough about you to get involved in your pain. He got involved in Joseph’s situation and worked in it for good. His brothers thought they were getting rid of Joseph. They were going to teach that arrogant, insolent teenager a lesson he would never forget. But God used it to get Joseph where He could use him. Potiphar’s wife thought she would teach this proud young man who refused to sleep with her a lesson, but God used it to put Joseph on the fast track to the palace. See, if Joseph had not been sent to prison, he would never have met the Pharaoh’s chief steward who would introduce Joseph to the Pharaoh in God’s timing. Joseph had learned that God cared for His children even in the midst of adversity.

I know that many people have been through things far worse than I have, but when a doctor tells you there is nothing more they can do for your granddaughter, it is easy to question whether God cares or not, but I promise you that He did. God demonstrated that care through His people. It was evident through the people reaching out to minister to our children and to us in that hospital waiting room three years ago. But even better, God demonstrated His care for us 2,000 years ago when  He gave His Son, Jesus, to die on Calvary’s Cross, to pay the price for your sin and for mine so that if we should believe in Him, we can have everlasting life and that is worth more than anything else in this life. That brings me to the third truth Joseph learned in the bottom of the well.

Joseph learned that God delivers. God delivered him from the pit. God delivered him from Potiphar’s wife. God delivered him from prison. And God delivered him to a place of power where he could save his people from starvation. So understand that if God can deliver Joseph from all of that, He can certainly deliver us from the petty little things that bother us. And if He can deliver us from the petty little things that bother us, He can deliver us from the major things that happen to us. And if He can deliver us from the major things that happen to us, I know that He can also deliver us from sin. Listen, we have a sin problem. It is all around us and it is within us, but praise God, He can help us to deal with it by His forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Do you know what it means to confess? It means that we agree with God that we’ve done wrong. It’s not enough to say, “I did it.” We’ve got to say, “I did it, I know it was wrong, and with your help I’ll never do it again.” And He will help. The Bible tells us that God strengthens us and empowers us so that we can live without yielding to the temptations that come against us. “Resist the devil and he will flee.” “Flee youthful lusts.” “Take on the whole armor of God so that you can fight.” God can deliver us from sin.

Not only can God deliver us from sin, but also He can deliver us from suffering. Understand, suffering is an inescapable fact of life. It’s inescapable because we live in a world poisoned by sin. But Jesus experienced suffering. He can identify with our pain – whatever it may be — because He’s been there. The truth is, a lot of people have been there. If I’m sinking in a pit of quicksand I don’t want someone to stand there and say, “I’ve been there, man.” And I don’t want someone to jump in with me and say, “I’m here for you” while he sinks to the bottom with me. I want someone who’s been there and overcome. Jesus Christ is that man. He is the good Shepherd who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. But the truth is He is the one who has conquered death. They nailed Him to Calvary’s tree. He died there, bruised and bloodied for our sins. It was necessary for Him to die, so that on the third day He would rise from the dead taking the sting out of death and the strength out of sin so that you and I could know that God knows, God cares, and God delivers.

Lessons on Leadership Learned at the Bottom of a Well #TellTheStory #TraditionallySouthside

There is a story in the Bible about a young man who probably felt a lot like that “old donkey that fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out a way to get him out. Finally, he decided it was probably impossible and the animal was old and the well was dry anyway, so it just wasn’t worth it to try and retrieve the donkey. So, the farmer asked his neighbors to come over and help him cover up the well. They all grabbed shovels and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, when the donkey realized what was happening he cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down and let out some happy brays. A few shovel loads later, the farmer looked down the well to see what was happening and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was shaking it off and taking a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he continued to shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, to everyone’s amazement, the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off! Moral: Life is going to shovel dirt on you. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Every adversity can be turned into a stepping stone. The way to get out of the deepest well is by never giving up but by shaking yourself off and taking a step up. What happens to you isn’t nearly as important as how you react to it.” (http://www.naute.com/stories/donkey.phtml).

The young man’s name was Joseph. He was the son of Jacob, the supplanter, who became Israel, the overcomer. Joseph was the youngest of 11 sons at the time, and he was the obvious favorite of his dad. The only son of the favorite wife, Joseph was treated better than all of the rest of the sons to the point that his father made him a special coat – the coat of many colors. Some say that the coat indicated that Jacob had named Joseph as the supervisor over his brothers and had even named him as the future tribal leader. That may be supposition, but there is no supposition in this one area — it says in ch. 37 that Jacob loved Joseph more than all of his other sons, and it was so obvious that the other brothers hated him for it. Can anybody here say, “spoiled rotten?” Joseph tattled on his brothers, and they hated him for it. Joseph breathed the same air as his brothers, and they hated him for it. Actually, he had a dream about them bowing down to him – it was a dream from God – but he made the mistake of telling them about it, and they hated him for it, and the plan was made. They would get rid of him.

I imagine that Joseph probably felt like that old donkey many times in his life. He probably felt that way for the first time as his brothers stripped away his prized coat and dropped him in a pit. When they pulled him out of the pit, his spirits were probably elated as he thought the game was over; but only for a moment as all hopes were destroyed when they sold him into slavery. For years Joseph worked as a slave, and again his spirits must have soared as he gained prominence in Potiphar’s household. Joseph was in charge of everything, trusted by his master, until Potiphar’s wife leveled false charges against him and he landed in prison. Joseph knew what it was like to be back in the well with the dirt raining down. Then he was back on top again when the Pharaoh’s chief steward remembered that Joseph could interpret dreams, and he became the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. He saved millions of lives, including his own family. And then perhaps the cruelest blow of all landed him back in the well, and the shovels began making those awful noises again. And the dirt began to fall when, after many years, Jacob died. Back in the well.

And as if it were not enough that Joseph had cared for his brothers and their families for all those years in Egypt, the brothers began to fear that Joseph might retaliate against them for what they had done to him. And maybe they would have had the situations been reversed. Maybe we would have given the opportunity, but not Joseph. Not Joseph – because he had learned some things from all those times in the well. You see, that’s where we learn the best lessons, and that’s where we learn the lessons that we can teach our children and our children’s children and their children that will help them to break the cycle of sin and rebellion. Our time in the pit is where we learn how to lead – at least when we trust God to do what only God can do. Not all of the stories we tell are about men who keep falling down and having to get back up again. Some of the stories are about men and women who remain faithful to God, and He remains faithful to them, but they still find themselves in the bottom of the well because here is the truth: life is hard no matter how good you are. Did you hear me? Life is hard no matter how good you are.

For the rest of the story, come back and read part two tomorrow, or you can listen to the sermon by clicking on this link: https://tinyurl.com/jueon45.

The WWE Gets Its Start Pt. 2 #TraditionallySouthside

So, you are probably wondering about the title – where the WWE got its start? I promise that I will get to that in this post. But once again I am amazed at the faithfulness of our covenant-keeping God who is willing to use people like you and me and Jacob (yes, we need to include ourselves in the same category with a man like that) to accomplish His purposes. As we conclude our story today, I want you to notice something about this covenant that God made with Jacob – it is completely unconditional. You go back and read it. No “ifs” are added. It’s a done deal. So, when the dream is over and Jacob wakes up, he realizes what has happened, and he worships God for the first time in his life. He memorializes the place. He names it Bethel, which means “house of God” because he recognizes this is a special place. Then Jacob did what so many of us do when we encounter God for the first time. He sang, “I surrender all,” right? Or “Just As I Am?” Or maybe he put his all on the altar of sacrifice? Look at the story again in Genesis 28:20-22. He at least made a commitment, right? Nope. He made a deal with God. He said, “If you will be with me and take care of me, and give me food and clothes, and bring me back to my dad’s house, then you will be my God.” That’s right. God made an unconditional covenant with Jacob, and Jacob made a deal with God.

And nothing much changed in his life. Jacob continues on his journey, and he marries and has lots of children and becomes very wealthy through his scheming, and understand, God continues to bless because the covenant is unconditional. Remember the point of all these stories – even when we are not faithful, God is. And when Jacob realizes that it is time to return home, he is still the man that he has always been. He’s afraid. He’s afraid of his father-in-law, so he sneaks away. And even after Laban reveals to Jacob that God is supernaturally protecting him, Jacob is still afraid. When he hears that his brother is coming to meet him, he sends gifts ahead hoping they might appease his brother’s wrath. Then he sends all of his possessions ahead including his servants as a barrier hoping that by the time his brother works his way through them – interpret that however you think best – his anger will be satisfied. Then he puts his own family between him and his brother while he stays on the far side of the river. A plea for mercy? Maybe. An act of cowardice? I think so. But God used this time alone with Jacob so that the man can get the full benefit of the blessing.

You see, it’s one thing to meet God, and that’s what happened to Jacob at Bethel. He met God. He heard from God. He developed a head knowledge of God. He told God, “Okay, God. If you do all these things for me, then we’ve got a deal.” And God held up His end of the bargain. Now, read this carefully, folks. It was time to pay the piper. God had come to collect. You might not like this kind of language, but when you make a vow to God, He expects you to keep the vow, and so now, instead of just meeting with God, Jacob has an encounter with the living God. Look Genesis 32:24 very closely. In my Bible, it says that he wrestled with a Man, capital M, until the breaking of a day. Now lest you think that the capital M is just a man-made thing, look down at v. 28, and read that Jacob “struggled with God” and at v. 30 where it says that he has “seen God face to face.” If that doesn’t convince you, look at Hosea 12:3. Understand, this is God in the flesh, and He has come down to meet with Jacob.

Now, don’t get caught up in the details. Yes, God could have beaten Jacob in this wrestling match in a heartbeat. That’s not the point of this story. The point is in Jacob at some point recognized that he was wrestling with God, and he was willing to struggle with God all night long knowing that He could kill Him instantly. In the midst of the struggle, something happened to Jacob. Jacob was transformed by his encounter with God from a coward to a warrior. In fact, the change was so drastic, so apparent that the Lord changed his name from Jacob, “heel-grabber,” to Israel which means “he struggled with God and men and has prevailed.”

But there is more evidence of his change. Look down to chapter 33. Instead of sending his family before him to meet his brother, Jacob is changed into the leader God intended him to be. No longer afraid, he boldly goes out to meet his brother, Esau. No longer arrogant, he bows himself to the ground 7 times demonstrating his humility. But let me show you a little bit more of the contrast brought about in this transformation. After his encounter with God at Bethel, he walked with arrogance. After wrestling with God at Jabbok, he walked slowly and with a limp. Could there be a spiritual implication? I think so. When we truly encounter God, we find ourselves broken and humbled. Encountering God changes us forever. For Jacob, he became Israel, no longer a deceiver, now an overcomer. No longer a man afraid, now a man filled with courage. And for the rest of his days, we see a man becoming the man God always intended him to be. He fell down, again and again and again, but by God’s grace, he got up every time, and that is the key.

Listen to me. You may be just like Jacob, and the enemy is whispering in your ear, “You are no good. You are too sinful. You’ve messed up too many times for God to ever forgive you again. Just forget it. Stay down this time. Don’t even try.” Let me tell you something. Remember Jacob, and get up. Remember God’s grace, and get up. Listen to my voice this morning, and get up because my friend, God loves you and He is telling you to get up and come home today because His grace is amazing and His love is great. Get up, and let Him show you today.

The WWE Gets Its Start Pt. 1 #TraditionallySouthside

I don’t know about you, but I grew up watching “rasslin’” on TV. Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream, was just about everybody’s hero with his bionic elbow. I can remember dishing out a few of those with my friends, and getting a few in return. I mean, you couldn’t very well dish them out without taking a few in return. The thing about wrestling on television is this: it doesn’t matter whether what you see is real or not — it is just great entertainment to us. Am I right? Choreograph it all you want; we eat the stuff up. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t watched wrestling in decades. I couldn’t even name a current star in the business, but there’s a good “rasslin’” story in the Bible that is more than just entertainment. It isn’t choreographed, and there is a very important message here.

You find it in Genesis 32. It’s the story of a man by the name of Jacob. Back in those days, you could tell a lot by a man’s name. His meant “supplanter” or “heel-grasper” because he came out of the womb holding onto his brother’s heel. The idea is that he would be someone who would constantly trip up or deceive other people – a pretty apt description of Jacob. He was a man that made his life out of deceiving others. He conned his brother out of his birthright. He knew that when Esau came in from his long days of hunting, he was tired and hungry, so he made sure to be there waiting with a bowl of his favorite stew. In fact, I can just see Jacob, waiting at the door of his tent, with the stew bubbling just right watching for Esau, and just as he passes by, fanning the aromas just so they catch him as he passes by. So, he tricked his brother into trading a bowl of stew for his birthright as the firstborn son. Later in life, he worked with his mother to deceive his father Isaac to get the preferred blessing before Isaac died. Jacob was a man who knew how to scheme and to plot. He truly was a heel-grabbing, birthright-supplanting, father-deceiving conman.

Now before I go on with this story, let me remind you why I am re-telling these stories: they are life changing. Asaph told us in Psalm 78 that if we tell these stories to our children for 4 generations that they have the potential to change their lives and break the cycle to the extent that three things will happen: they will set their hope in God; they will not forget the works of God and keep His commandments; and they will not be like their stubborn and rebellious fathers. In other words, we can completely break the cycle of sin, oppression, repentance, and forgiveness. Now, of course, that means telling the whole story complete with all of the warts, all of the nastiness, all of the flaws, reminding our children that yes, we all make mistakes. Yes, we all sin and come short of the glory of God. But even when we who are the children of God are not faithful, God is faithful, and that when we fall down, by His grace, we can choose to get back up again. And we see that in the life of this man named Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham.

So, in spite of the fact that Jacob was one of the biggest conmen of Bible history, he gets the blessing of a lifetime. It hardly seems fair, but in our story, Isaac pronounced the blessing on Jacob thinking he was Esau. He made him the master over his brother and gave him preeminence, but you gotta understand something. God was still on the throne of heaven. God was not taken by surprise. He knew what was going on here, and He used the sinful actions of this man and incorporated them into His plan because He knew what Jacob could and would become. He knew that Jacob would fall down many more times in this life, but by His grace, He would get back up again. But because of his deception, Jacob was forced to run for his life. Esau was out to kill him. But on the way, Jacob encountered God at Bethel in a dream. So, think about this. As part of the blessing of a lifetime, Jacob gets to meet God for the first time in his life (see Ge. 27:20 and 28:13).

What an awesome moment. He lays down that night – exhausted emotionally and physically. All he really wants is to sleep, and he encounters God in a dream, but this is not the kind of dream that most of us have. This is God truly visiting Jacob. Can you imagine that? He sees the literal stairway to heaven, and God comes and introduces Himself to this sinful man. But that’s not all. He makes promises to Jacob. In Ge. 28:13, This heel-grabbing, father-deceiving, birthright-stealing con-man meets God at Bethel and gets the title deed to the Promised Land. And as if that isn’t enough, he gets the promise of God’s everlasting presence and protection. Are you kidding me? This guy? What’s he done to deserve the same kind of promise that Jesus made to us in Matthew 28:20? About the same things that we have – cheating, stealing, lying, add your favorite sin to the list.

Isn’t it amazing how judgmental we can sometimes be? We fall down, and by God’s grace, we get back up, but we sure don’t want certain other people to be able to do the same. They don’t deserve it – I mean, look at who they are or look at what they have done. But those kinds of attitudes really say more about what we believe about God’s grace than what we believe about their sin, so we need to be very careful to examine our own hearts. But the story doesn’t end there. More tomorrow.

Some People Are Afraid of Everything Pt. 2 #TraditionallySouthside

This is part two so that means you need to go back and read part one if you haven’t already done so. Otherwise, this might not make a whole lot of sense. We’re talking about overcoming fear. Some people are chronically afraid. Some people worry. Some people just haven’t learned to trust God like they should. So just to remind you of what I you read in part one, here is the outline:

Knowing God is the Key to our Future.
    When you know God, you trust God.
     When you know God, you trust Him to provide.
     When you trust God to provide, He does.

Abraham could be obedient to God even when God’s commands didn’t seem to make sense because he believed God more than anything else in this life. He knew God, and that meant God would provide for Himself the lamb. Abraham needed a sacrifice, and he had finally learned. He hadn’t always known. Remember those early years as he and Sarai had traveled through Egypt. “Tell everyone you are my sister so they won’t kill me,” Abraham said. Sure enough, Pharaoh took Sarai for himself, but God protected her and provided for Abraham. And he did it again with the King of Gerar, and God provided again. When told they would have a son, they doubted his promise, but God provided again because even when we are not faithful, God always is. We fall down, but by His grace, we can get up if we so choose. That’s what we have been talking about as we have shared these stories, isn’t it? Because Knowing Our Stories is the Key to our Confidence. Knowing our stories is what reminds us that it is our choice to get up every time we fall down.

You see, the essence of faith is trusting in the provision of God. God was not afraid, so Abraham was not afraid. As believers in Christ, as Christian families, as a church, we must trust God to provide always remembering that God provides for all our needs. Listen. Let me let you in on a little secret. God’s people have always had needs. You see it in all of the great stories of the Bible. Isaac needed a wife. Jacob needed food. Moses needed a parted sea. Joshua needed a victory. Samson needed strength. Ruth needed a home. David needed a prophet. Solomon needed wisdom. Nehemiah needed workers. Daniel needed protection. Ezekiel needed a vision. Peter needed faith. Saul needed a blinding light. John needed a revelation. And we needed a Savior. And God provided them all. This story of God’s provision of the ram shows us the truth. For Abraham, the future was now.

Want to know the truth? God always provides for the needs of His people. In our lives today, there are many needs, and God is acutely aware of our needs. None of our needs surprises God. He has not been toppled from His throne. He is not wringing His divine hands in worry. He is not overcome by anxiety. On the contrary, God is absolutely in control. Do you remember what Jesus said in Mt. 6:26? “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” God knows you need money. He knows you need rest. He knows you need peace. God knows, and He is intimately involved. Think back over your life as a Christian. Has there ever been a need that God has not met? Has there ever been a time when He was unfaithful? The answer to those questions is, “NO!”

As Abraham climbed Mt. Moriah, surely he remembered God’s faithful provision. He remembered that God gave him land when he needed land. He remembered when God gave him a son in his old age. Romans 4:3 says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And know this. God has not changed. He who was faithful in the past will supply our needs today. The question is, “Do we trust Him?”

Here is the key to God’s provision. God provides through our obedience. Look back at verse 1 for a minute. “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham….” Now hear me. God tests our faith just like He did with Abraham. Ps. 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous.” Ps. 17:3 says, “You have tested my heart.” Jer. 17:10 says, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind….” Job said, “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (23:10). 1 Peter 1:7 says that our faith is tested by fire.

If there is one truth that we need to get through our thick skulls it is this: God tests our faith today — not because He doesn’t know us. Not because He isn’t sure how strong we are. No. God tests our faith to show US how strong WE are. Or how weak we are. What did God want from Abraham? The faith to obey. What does God want from us? The faith to obey. And when we walk in obedience to God, we pass the test.

God provides at just the right time. Listen to me. Our timing is not always God’s timing. I love the scene from our text where the old man, Abraham, and his son, Isaac, hike up the mountain, and Isaac asks about the sacrifice. Abraham says, God will provide. I have to tell you, I love this story, but I have a major problem with it. I love the story because I know the outcome, but I have a problem because I don’t like God’s timing. I know. Who am I to question God’s timing? But admit it – you are just like me. When troubles come, you want God’s help when it starts, don’t you? You don’t want it somewhere in the middle, do you? Or after it’s over? So often we are anxious for God to act now. Have you ever prayed that famous prayer, “God, give me patience and give it to me now!” That’s me, but God’s timing is always perfect. Nobody likes to be tested, but if He removed the test at the beginning, we would learn nothing about ourselves. If He took us out of the fire too soon, we would never be purified and refined. Instead, He leaves us there and He makes us a promise. He tells us, “though you walk through the fires, you will not be burned.”

When the altar was built, the wood laid out and the son bound up, Abraham raised his knife in faith. I have a vivid picture of that scene in my mind. The man of faith so trusted God that he would have plunged the knife into his promised son’s heart. But look at vs. 11. At just the perfect time, “the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven.” God wasn’t early. He didn’t stop Abraham when they arrived at the top of the mountain. God wasn’t late. He didn’t call to Abraham as the boy lay dying. God was right on time.

Some People Are Afraid of Everything Pt. 1 #TraditionallySouthside

Would you have ever believed that we would have been in the situation we are in today? Our nation is in a mess – everybody seems to be protesting something. Pro-Trump. Anti-Trump. We love refugees. We hate refugees. Even among Southern Baptists, we can’t agree on which direction we should go which, of course, is the norm for Southern Baptists. Who would have ever thought we would be in the situation we are in today? Fear grips us. Uncertainty reigns. These statements ring true even in our churches, so I wanted to remind you of a few things. God is good. God is faithful. Jeremiah said in Lam. 3:22-23, “His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.” Hebrews 13:5 reads, “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And I especially love what the Lord said to King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chr. 20:17, “Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you.”

Do you know what this means? If God isn’t afraid, there is no need for us to be afraid. If God has promised us a plan to prosper and not harm us, there is no need for us to be afraid. And once again I am reminded that where God guides, He provides. Always and forever. So as we have been journeying through the great stories of the Bible as lead by Asaph in Psalm 78, understanding that we learn so very much by teaching our children and our children’s children, and our children’s children’s children, and their children about the failures of our spiritual ancestors, we may fall down, but in this great story of grace that we call the Christian life, we have the choice. We can get back up and get on the path again, or we can continue to wallow in the muck and mire of unforgiveness, bitterness, and strife. We can keep fighting and living in the misery of the past, or we can allow the Holy Spirit to wash us clean and set our feet on the solid rock of Jesus Christ as we walk in the Light of His Love, cleansed and holy. It’s our choice, and this week’s story tells us how we make that choice. First, Knowing God is the Key to our Future.

Look at the life of Abraham. You remember the story, I’m sure. God called Abraham at the age of 75 to leave everything: his home in Ur of the Chaldees, his family, his life. He told Abraham that He would send him to the Promised Land, but God didn’t tell Abraham where that would be. So what did Abraham do? He believed God’s promise that he would be the father of a great nation. And according to Heb. 11:12, when Abraham was “as good as dead” at the ripe old age of 100, Isaac was born.

When the long-awaited son of promise was a young boy, maybe a teenager, or as some Bible scholars claim, a young adult, God tested Abraham’s faith by saying in Genesis 22:2, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” How could God ask such a thing? And even worse, at least in our minds, how could Abraham follow through with it? Let me tell you how. When you know God, you trust God. God could ask this of Abraham because He knew what was going to happen, and Abraham could be obedient to God because He knew God. In Heb. 11:19, we find out something amazing about Abraham. He had come to the conclusion that if God asked him to kill his son as a sacrifice, that “God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.” So trusting in the provision of God, they “rose early in the morning” and set off for the distant mountain.

When they drew near, Abraham left the servants behind, put the wood for the sacrifice on Isaac’s back, and took a torch and a knife in his own hand and started up the mountain. Vv. 7-8 are pivotal in this story. Isaac asked his father a question, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham replied, “My son, God will provide for Himself a lamb.” Do you see it? When you know God, you trust Him to provide.

When Abraham built the altar, bound his son and prepared to offer him up as a sacrifice, he did it trusting God to provide. And at the last minute, God stayed Abraham’s hand. Look at what God says. “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” And suddenly, when Abraham looked, there was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns, so he offered the ram to God instead of his son Isaac, and he called the place “Yahweh Yireh,” “The Lord will provide.” We need to understand this: When you trust God to provide, He does.

Abraham could be obedient to God even when God’s commands didn’t seem to make sense because he believed God more than anything else in this life. He knew God, and that meant God would provide for Himself the Lamb. Abraham needed a sacrifice, and he had finally learned. (To Be Continued)

Tell the Story: Babblin’ Over! #TraditionallySouthside

I didn’t get to preach yesterday, but if I had, I might have told the story of the Tower of Babel. What a great story that was – another picture of one of man’s great failures! We fell down, but it was because we were going to be so very successful. Have you ever noticed what God said in the story? “…nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” In other words, because of their unity of spirit and purpose, there was nothing that they could not accomplish. But because of their arrogance, God intervened. Pride went before their downfall. First, and let me be clear about this, pride is not all bad. We need to have a healthy dose of pride. Pride in our appearance is a good thing as long as we don’t get carried away. It’s what keeps most of us from going to Wal-Mart in our pajamas with unwashed hair and unshaven faces. It’s a good thing to be proud of our families – want to see a picture of my grandkids? The problem is when we have too much pride in our own abilities. That is what happened at Babel. They were good, and they knew it. And together, they could accomplish anything – at least that is what God said, and I take His word to be true.

Look at what the people said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” This is an amazing statement. They had unity with which to build a community, but their pride led them to the dark side. It wasn’t enough that they build a city; they wanted it to have the top in the heavens. The fact that they could do all of this on their own was grand, but they wanted to be sure that they made a name for themselves lest they be scattered abroad. Hold the phone! Something about this verse has always bothered me. If we are talking about the entire population of the Earth working together here to build this tower, then for whom would they be making themselves a name? It isn’t as if they would be getting bragging rights if there is no one else to brag to. So if they aren’t making a name for other people in the world, then this has to be a declaration to Almighty God that we can stand against You any day of the week. This was a blatant shaking of the fist in the face of God saying, “We shall not be moved!” You might have destroyed our ancestors with a flood, but you aren’t going to get rid of us that easily.

Oh, the arrogance of man. It only took 10 generations for wickedness to spread and make God sigh over His decision to create mankind. Then there were only 4 generations until Babel. But that is the story of man: we fall down, but by the grace of God, we can get up. You see, the people at Babel wanted community, security, and posterity – the very things that God wants His people to have. The very things He promised to Abram on the very next pages of my Bible. The difference is that the people at Babel said, “Let us….” And God said to Abram, “I will bless you.” Do you see the difference? It’s quite simple really. God longs to bless His people. He wants to give us good gifts — the things that we need as well as the things that we want. We simply have to be willing to wait, to trust, and to obey. Of course, I don’t know of anything that is harder for a human being than those three activities, do you?

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