< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: March 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review of the Book Between Heaven and Earth by Steve Berger

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House to review and I have to say it’s one of the best Christian books I’ve read in a long time. In fact I’m busy writing up a Sunday School lesson from it to teach a Women’s Bible Class.
When I started reading I thought the whole thing would be about what heaven is like and what we’ll be doing there. But that’s really a small part of it. Steve Berger’s focus is to get us to see what heaven will be like, yes, but so that it will change the way we view life here on earth. That knowing about heaven will get us to see our mission and the need for people to hear the gospel.
A phrase he uses over and over is “having our hearts in heaven, but our hands in the harvest.” He does share some of the beauty and glory of heaven and how focusing on it will lead us to a renewed faith, encouragement and a life that is full. He shows us why this heavenly mind-set matters today. That there are hundreds of opportunities to reach out to people in this broken world who are ready to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
He writes, “When your heart is in heaven, you begin to see as Jesus saw. You’ll see people who have deep hurts and unmet needs who are desperate for a Savior. And you’ll be torn. You’ll desire to be in heaven and be a part of all that God has for you there, but at the same time you’ll see people who need your help here.
And he does a wonderful job telling us how to meet the need.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Abraham Meets Melchizedek

Genesis 14:17-20 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

God caused those who lived near Abraham to recognize that God was with Abraham and that God blessed him and made him prosperous. The king of Sodom came forth to acknowledge Abraham publicly and thank him. The place where this took place was called the “King’s Dale” near present day Jerusalem. At that time Jerusalem was called Salem which means peace. The king of Salem was called Melchizedek which means “King of Righteousness”. This king was also a “priest of the Most High God.”

This passage is the first time the word priest is used in the Bible. This priest-king recognized Abraham’s nobility and worth and faith in God. He went out from Salem with supplies of bread and wine for the men. And he publicly praised God for the victory God had given Abraham and publicly blessed Abraham in God’s name.

Abraham recognized Melchizedek’s God-given authority as priest of the Most High God and therefore presented him, as unto God, the tithe of all he possessed. Then Melchizedek disappears from the pages of Scripture. He’s not mentioned in the Bible for another thousand years.

The next time is in Psalm 110:4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

This Psalm is a messianic psalm because of this specific prophecy concerning Messiah. Hebrews 7:3 points out that Melchizedek is used as an illustration or type to portray the timelessness of the work of Jesus as Priest between man and God because there is no record of his birth or death. Another thousand years pass before he’s mentioned again in Hebrews 5:2-6, 10; 6:20 and 7:1-3
He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” 6 And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek
20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

The great emphasis in this teaching of Hebrews is that Melchizedek in his relationship to Abraham prefigures the work of Jesus as the Great High Priest for believers. Jesus is our perfect Priest because He has the power of an endless life. Therefore by virtue of His resurrection and ascension, Jesus is forevermore our Priest “able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.’ (Hebrews 7:25)

So Melchizedek is like Christ because:

  1. His name means King of Righteousness
  2. Salem means peace and Christ is the Prince of Peace
  3. The place represents Jerusalem where Christ as king will one day reign
  4. Melchizedek had no end and Christ is from everlasting to everlasting.
  5. Melchizedek gave bread and wine to Abraham and Christ gives us spiritual bread (His word) and spiritual wine (His blood)
  6. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Christ blesses us with spiritual blessings
  7. Melchizedek received tithes. So does Christ.
Genesis 14:21-24 21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

The king of Sodom realized he owed Abraham a debt. The victor in battle had his legal right to keep the spoils of war. He was expected to restore the people who had been taken captive, but the goods were his to keep. Abraham would have earned it. But he refused it for himself. Abraham recognized that all his riches came from God. He knew his great victory was because God had delivered the enemies into his hands so that those unjustly taken captives could be rescued. Taking the goods from the King of Sodom would not have been honoring to God. He must have already thought of the offer too because he said, “I have raised my hand to the Lord…that I will accept nothing belonging to you.”

When we have spiritual victories we need to be careful to give the glory to God. Later we’ll see that God rewards Abraham by giving him the desire of his heart. A son.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Abraham Rescues Lot

Genesis 13:14-16 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.

Abraham was probably pretty sad about this whole thing. But God never promised us that in following Him we wouldn’t experience loss or suffering. Usually it’s a temporary loss with a purpose. Jesus states in Matthew 16:24-26 that those who lose for God’s sake gain far more than they ever give up. And that’s what happened with Abraham. God came to Abraham and told him to lift up his eyes to see what God had for him. This included all of Canaan, including Lot’s land! And all that land was not only for himself, but for his offspring forever.

Genesis 13:17-18 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” 18 So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.
Genesis 14:1-12 At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, 2 these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). 4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5 In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert.

Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.

8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

Fourteen years before Lot’s capture the five petty kings who ruled in the region called the Vale of Siddim were suddenly invaded by four powerful kings from the East. This took place on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea. The conquered kings of Lot’s area were forced to pay tribute to their conquerors for twelve years. Sodom and her four allies decided in the thirteenth year to refuse payment. The four conquerors viewed this as rebellion. They returned to quell the rebellion and to collect their tribute from the five kings. Verses five through seven give a blow by blow description of their victorious passage south and west.

The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah heard about all the people these kings were conquering on their way to battle them. They gathered together and determined to make a last ditch effort to stand against the eastern kings. In spite of the strength of their invaders, they felt they possessed a natural defense in the great slime pits of the Valley of Siddim where they planned to engulf their enemies. These pits were great holes from which liquid petroleum had previously been removed. Possible the holes were still partially filled with the bubbling liquid.

However instead of being their place of victory it became their place of defeat. They were forced backwards by the attacking kings and fell into the holes themselves. Others fled to the mountains. The enemy plundered and looted all of Sodom and Gomorrah and then began their return trip taking many captives, including Lot and his possessions, back to Shinar to become their slaves.

Genesis 14: 13-16 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

There are three things we should notice about this rescue. First Abraham didn’t hold a grudge against Lot and he was more then willing to help. He personally had nothing to gain from this and he risked his own life.  Second, the fact that Abraham could assemble 318 armed servants at a moment’s notice gives clear evidence of Abraham’s wealth. Abraham was a trader rich in silver, gold and cattle. His armed servants would be employed to protect his flocks and possessions. Also this is the first time in Scripture the word Hebrew is used to describe him. He also asked his three neighboring chieftains to help, indicating the good relationship he had with those who lived near him. Thirdly, in view of how many people the kings of the east defeated it seems unbelievable that Abraham would go after them. And win!

He marched 200 miles north to Dan on the northern boundary of Canaan and defeated the four great powers there. Then went another hundred miles as far as Hobah, northeast of Damascus, until he had recovered everything.

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Monday, March 03, 2014

Keeping the Peace

Genesis 13: 1-4 So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. 2 Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.
3 From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.

Abraham went back to where he was had gotten out of God’s will. He was willing to learn his lesson. To trust God again. To start over.

Micah 7:8-9 Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. 9 Because I have sinned against him,
I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause.
He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.

The Old and New Testaments describe Abraham as the father of all who believe, the pioneer of faith. In this sense his life is the Old Testament counterpart of the Christian’s pilgrimage through this world to heaven. So it’s good to compare Abraham’s life with our own walk with God, in Christ, today.

We’ve already seen that Abraham’s obedience to God’s call resembles the Christian’s first step in total commitment to Jesus. And later how crises give us a chance to decide to keep following Him. And to recommit. We’ll see that any true walk with God involves a continuous exercise of choice. It also involves a cost.

Jesus told His disciples to “sit down and count the cost” of becoming His disciples in Luke 14:26-33.

Lot and Abraham had started out together on this call. But Lot became one of those people who wanted the best the world had to offer…and God too. Jesus said you can’t do both. Luke 16:13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The pleasures of this life choked the word of God that may have taken root in him. This caused his life to be unfruitful.

Genesis 13:5-7 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

It was getting crowded! And people were arguing. At this juncture the different aspects of character in Abraham and in Lot began to be revealed.

Genesis 13:8-9 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

Abraham was the one who was bothered by the strife. It not only displeases God when families fight, but it’s a bad testimony to the non-believers who are around. He was going to keep the peace even though he could lose in the deal. By giving Lot first choice, he knew Lot would choose the portion of land that seemed to him most prosperous, leaving Abraham the less fertile land. Endeavoring to live in peace is the first step in the practical walk of faith.

Ephesians 4:2-3 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Love between Christians is more important then personal rights and superiority.

Also this act shows that Abraham believed in God’s promises. That He would bless him.

Genesis 13:10-13 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.

As the younger man and also because it seems like he got most of his wealth because he was with Abraham, Lot should have refused first choice. But he was selfish and afraid he’d lose out if Abraham took the best. Lot looked and what he saw was prosperity and comfort and cities. He didn’t see, or more likely chose to ignore, that the men of Sodom were wicked and sinning against the Lord.

We’re going to read scattered pieces of Lot’s life in future chapters, but just to give it to you in a quick summary here: Lot settles in Sodom and must have started to live enough like the people there that he eventually rose to be a judge there. God allowed him to be taken in battle, but Abraham rescues him. Later he’s in Sodom when God judges it. Much later he does take a stand for God against unrighteousness and God in his mercy delivered him from judgment.

We’ll see in Genesis 19:20 that he’s counted as one of God’s people. He’s one of those people the Bible talks about as being saved, but as through a fire. They slide in on their faith, but have nothing to show Jesus at the judgment seat. Lot’s life was virtually wasted. He lost his property and his wife. His last days were spent cowering in a cave.  And he and his family were cut off from the people God had chosen to bless the world. Lot’s descendants were Moabites who later vexed the Israelites.

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Sunday, March 02, 2014

Compromise with faith never pays

Genesis 12:6-7 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

When Abraham first entered Canaan, he settled in the sparsely populated area around Shechem, among the hills that later became the land of Samaria. The Canaanites were in this land, yet God was promising to give it to Abraham and his descendents. (Which he didn’t have yet.) It seemed unlikely. But Isaiah 55: 10 -11 says that God’s word does not fail; it accomplishes His full purpose.

God appeared to Abraham. Abraham believed God’s promises and was rewarded with more of God. And then Abraham built an altar to Him. It was in response to God’s new revelation of Himself to him.

I read a little sign someone posted online while I was working on this lesson. It said        “Man says show me and I will trust you. God says, trust me and I will show you.”

Genesis 12:8-9 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. 9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

Abraham continued to move forward. He builds another altar. Bethel means house of God.

Genesis 12:10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

Abraham faced a test here. God allowed a famine in the land. Abraham could have decided that God didn’t care about him: wasn’t it enough he had moved his family away from home and now this? He could have gone back to his old life in Harran and given up on God’s promise. But he didn’t. He didn’t go back, he decided to wait it out elsewhere.

Christians have tests all the time. Often the very same ones non-Christians have. Hopefully the world sees a difference in how we handle these. Not with self-pity, but with a joyous trust that God is going to reveal Himself in a new way in this trial and that some great undreamed of blessing will result from it.

Genesis 12: 11-12 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live.

Here though we do see a failure in faith on Abraham’s part. There’s no record that Abraham prayed to God about this first. He may not even have prayed about going to Egypt when the going got tough. As a result his move led to complications and unhappiness. Out of God’s will he realized his insecurity. Sarah, his wife was beautiful. They would kill him to get her. Therefore he told her to lie. To say she was his sister. (Actually she WAS his half-sister. They had the same father, but not the same mother.) But they were hiding the fact that they were husband and wife. And they felt fear because they didn’t trust God to take care of them.

Genesis 12: 13-20 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

This shows God’s grace and mercy. Even when we fail Him, He is faithful. Sarah was to be the mother of God’s miraculous promised seed, Isaac, which ultimately would result in the birth of Christ. He got her out of there. But there were consequences. Abraham was rebuked by the Pharoah. And the riches given to Abraham and Lot in Egypt became one cause of Lot’s separation later from Abraham. AND Abraham and Sarah took with them a slave girl named Hagar – and we know what kind of trouble that causes later on!

Compromise with faith never pays.

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Saturday, March 01, 2014

Abraham's Call

Genesis 12:1-3 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Abraham and his entire family left Ur in Chapter 11. This included his father, Terah, his nephew, Lot and his wife Sarah. After journeying about 600 miles they reached Harran and Terah decided to settle there. But Harran was also filled with idolatry. The call in verses 1 – 3 is a second call to Abraham. He was now to leave his father’s household.

Notice Abraham had to give up something to go with God. But he was also called TO something. God wanted to give him something better! Abraham was one person starting out and God made him a great nation. Israel wasn’t great because of its size. It was great because of God’s revelation of Himself to her and in His choice of Israel to preserve that revelation for the world. When this promise was made, Abraham was 75 years old and didn’t have a son.

Where God said “I will bless you,” He blessed Abraham personally from the day Abraham believed God’s word and committed himself to a life of faith in obedience. God revealed Himself increasingly to Abraham in a person-to-person relationship as the One who loved Abraham and took responsibility for his welfare.

God blesses individual Christians in a person-to-person relationship in Christ.

Next God told Abraham He would make his name great. And He did! God told him he would be a blessing. And as I said earlier we are to be a blessing to others. We are saved to serve and blessed to bless!

Then God tells him that He will bless those who bless him. God promised that Abraham should be so identified with Him that for anyone to be kind or generous to Abraham would be considered as being kind or generous toward God. Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 25:40 Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

“And whoever curses you I will curse.” We see in history that whenever nations unjustly afflicted the Jews, they have invariable suffered. And certainly will in end times!

“All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  The world was blessed by the Old Testament scriptures. And of course Jesus, Abraham’s greatest son. And that’s the basic meaning of this promise. This is considered a “messianic prophecy”.

Abraham’s call is a transition from the universal history of mankind to the particular history of Israel. Yet, the scope of God’s blessing is to every nation.

Genesis 12:4-5 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

There are 3 ways Abraham’s first steps of faith are clearly seen.

  1. Obedience and immediate action. The Bible doesn’t say he hashed this over with the family. Researched where he might be going. Studied his finances to see if now was a good time. Didn’t say he was too old. It just says he went as the Lord had told him.
  2. He went out in faith. AFTER he obeyed the command, he began to see in experience. But he had to take that first step.
  3. He went out in total commitment. He burned his bridges behind him. Everything he had went with him. No taking a weekend camping trip to see if he liked living in the desert.

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