When Nature Rages


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We awoke Tuesday morning to the terrible news of the tornado outbreak that struck Nashville, Mt. Juliet, and Putnam County. In the middle of the night, as a front passed through the mid-state, perhaps the most terrifying of all storms, nocturnal tornadoes left a wide swath of destruction. As the week has pasted, our screens have been plastered with images of destroyed homes, business, and school. But we’ve also seen the number 25, a number that represents the total dead, yet cannot capture the totality of their lives. We’ve seen their pictures, we’ve heard their names and we’ve read their stories. While contractors can rebuild broken buildings, but broken hearts can only be healed by God.

It’s not uncommon in times such as these that people ask such questions as: Where was God? Why didn’t He save these people? Why did He let this happen? The sadness and heartache can even test the strongest of faiths. These are tough questions no doubt and they require faithful answers. That’s what we’ll do as we consider the topic When Nature Rages: A Biblical Perspective on Natural Disasters and the Christian’s Response.

  1. Three Foundational Facts about God and His Creation:
    • God is good (Mark 10.18)
    • He is creator (Genesis 1.1)
    • Therefore, our good God is in control of His creation
      • In response to Job and his friends God demonstrates His power and authority by highlighting His control over creation (Job 38-41).
      • Jesus holds the creation together because as God He controls the creation (Colossians 1.16-17).
  1. Examples and Reasons of Natural Disasters in the Bible:
    • The Flood – For Judgement (Genesis 6.17)
    • Famine, Drought, Blight, Pestilence – For Repentance (Amos 4.6-13)
    • Hail Storm – For Deliverance (Joshua 10.11)
    • Earth Quake – Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 27.51; 28.2)
    • Windstorm – Used by Satan to Tempt Job (Job 1.18-22)
    • Any disaster – Time and Chance (Ecclesiastes 9.11-12)
    • There are many more examples we could cite but these will suffice to show that there are many different reasons God has used or allowed natural disasters to occur.
  1. Why did God allow THIS disaster?
    • There are no easy answers or simple platitudes that will suffice to answer the question why did God allow THIS disaster happen.
    • Unlike the examples we just cited, we don’t have divine revelation as to the reason for this disaster.
    • Why did Josh, Erin and Sawyer Kimberlin die? Then a few doors down, why was little four year old Hatti Collins ripped from her parent’s arms? Then not far away from these deaths, how come the Grooms family survived, despite the fact they’re home was completely blown away. How does one make sense of this?
    • Eric Grooms said it this way, “God just put His hand down and said nope you’re not taking these today. I mean literally you take the floor and the house and leave the people. Nobody can do that but God. Nobody.” So true.
    • Even without clear answers as to who lives and who dies and the why behind a disaster, we still trust our God and worship Him just as Job did when tragedy befall him (Job 1.20-21).
    • In the end, no matter the reason for the disaster, God will show His glory through any tragedy (cf. John 9.1-3). David Begnaud, a reporter for CBS, said this, “There was a resilience that seemed to bond them [the people of Cookeville] together which was inspiring to me… Every single person I talked to mentioned God.” God is showing His glory.
  1. How should Christians response to natural disasters?
    • WEEP WITH THOSE WHO WEEP. It’s easy to become detached from the world around us, but God calls us to empathize with those who hurt (Romans 12.15; Hebrews 13.3).
    • HELP THOSE IN NEED. It’s also a time for us to help those who have lost so much. We certainly help the brethren (Acts 11.27-30) but our hearts must extend to all persons who need assistance (Galatians 6.10).
    • DRAW NEAR TO GOD. James 4:8 reminds us to, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Disasters should lead us to draw closer to God.
      • Psalm 46.1-3 with hyperbolic language regarding natural disasters, the Psalmist calls for us to turn to God as our “refuge and strength.”
      • As with many disasters, some people live and some people die within close proximity to each other. No doubt God was with those who “miraculously” survived, but He was also with those who died in faith. He is the “refuge and strength” of the living and the dead.
      • Clint Pit said of his sister Erin and her family, “As terrible as it sounds they wouldn’t want to live without each other. They’re all together not and that’s all we can really ask for.” God was their refuge.
  1. CONSIDER OUR OWN SPIRITUAL STATE. Our lives our short. We appear for a while and then we vanish away (James 4.13-17).
    • In response to a political and structural disaster of His time, Jesus challenges us to look past the why a disaster happened to what our response should be (Luke 13.1-5).
    • Whether it’s a nocturnal tornado, or an earthquake, or a raging fire, or perhaps a car wreck, etc. our lives can, and are, upended in the blink of an eye. When tragedy strikes someone else, we must take stock of our own spiritual state because it could be us next.

Ever since sin entered the world, disasters have been a part of the human experience. We won’t always be able to make sense of why they happen but we can look to our good God for help to see us through. For He is “our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth give way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3).

 

The #1 Reason Not To Sin


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What motivates you to not give into temptation? I realize, depending on the situation several different reasons might be cited. For example, an unhappily-married couple facing the temptation of divorce might stay together for the sake of the kids. Or, an employee may not steal because he or she is afraid of getting caught. Or, a person might not give into sin because they want to sleep well at night.

These reasons are all well and good, however, there is one fatal flaw they all share… the motivation for not sinning is temporal consequences and relationships. The couple is staying together for the kid’s sake, what holds the marriage together when the kids move out? When the employee figures out how not to get caught, what will keep him or her from stealing? When a person learns how to cope with guilt and shame so they can sleep at night, what’ll stop them from sinning? In short, so long as our reasons for not sinning are solely based on our ever-changing consequences and/or relationships, we will yield to temptation and sin.

There has to be a better way in fighting the battle against sin. There is and it’s the #1 reason not to sin… God. To learn this lesson, let’s start with the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife from Genesis 39.1-20.

  1. JOSEPH’S REASONS FOR NOT SINNING WITH POTIPHAR’S WIFE
    • His Position of Trust (v. 8) – Joseph wasn’t going to betray the high position of trust Potiphar had given him.
    • His Master and Mistress (v. 9a) – While Joseph was a powerful member of the household he still respected his master’s and mistress’ authority in the house.
    • His God (v. 9b) – Most importantly, Joseph wouldn’t sin against his God.
  1. SIN AS A CIRCUMSTANTIAL OR PERSON-TO-PERSON PROBLEM
    • This is not to suggest we should ignore the importance of circumstances or personal relationships when facing temptations.
    • Joseph uses them both to resist temptation (Genesis 39.8-9a)
    • Jesus teaches us what to do when someone sins against us individually (Matthew 18.15-17)
    • But to solely see sin in circumstantial or person-to-person terms decreases our motivation to fight temptation.
    • Our problem with fighting sin is that we’re self-centered. We resist sin simply because we don’t like its consequences, or because we’re ashamed of the stigma attached to it. These are inadequate reasons. We’re called to be God-centered in everything, especially in how we view sin. Realizing that all sin is sin against God brings focus and purpose to our resisting temptation.
  1. ALL SIN IS A PERSON-TO-GOD PROBLEM
    • The Bible consistently presents sin as a person-to-God offence.
    • God kept Abimelech from sinning against Him (Genesis 20.6)
    • David says he sinned against God alone (Psalm 51.4)
    • He who oppress the poor sins against God (Proverbs 14.31)
    • Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5.3)
    • We’ve all sinned against God (Romans 8:23)
  1. A GOD-CENTERED VIEW OF SIN WILL…
    • REFUTE THE LIE: IT’S NOT A SIN IF NO ONE IS KNOWS OR GETS HURT. David’s sin is the classic example. It appears it was going to be “secret” affair but snowballed (2 Samuel 12.12). Sin is never secret God knows.
    • GIVE US THE PROPER MOTIVATION TO FIGHT TEMPTATION. As mentioned temporal circumstances and relationships maybe useful but aren’t the best defenses against temptation. The Hebrew writer (Hebrew 10.26-31) gives us a healthy reminder of who we’re really sinning against and the consequences.
    • DEMONSTRATES THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF THE GOSPEL. Why do we show grace, and mercy, and love and forgiveness to others? Because Jesus Christ has shown us grace, mercy, love and forgiveness, despite the fact we have sinned against Him (Colossians 3:12-17). Without a God-centered view of sin, there’s no God-centered gospel to truly transform the sinner.

So, if we want to overcome temptation, then we have to see our relationship with our God as the #1 reason not to sin. He has saved us and thus calls for us as His children to live lives of holiness before Him (1 Peter 1.15-16). It won’t always be easy. Joseph does the right thing (because he’s thinking the right thoughts), he maintains his moral high standard and resists temptation. Yet, as a result of his righteous behavior, he’s framed and thrown into prison (Genesis 39.20). Making a stand for what is right is going to be tough, but it’s a fight we must win through Christ Jesus because our souls are at stake. Therefore, may our prayer echo that of the Psalmist, “Lord may we store up Your words in our heart, that we might not sin against You” (ref. Psalm 119.11).

Check out my other sites:

Jackson Heights Church of Christ – www.thebibleway.org

My Other Website: www.simplesermonoutlines.com

 

Overcoming Serpents


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Many people are scared of snakes. Not me, I just hate them. I really, really hate snakes. In my book the only good snake is a dead snake. Therefore, Numbers 21.4-9 makes a real impression on the psyche. Just picturing thousands of poisonous snakes slithering around and biting with their venomous fangs sends chills up my spine. That’s the scene in our text this morning. On the heels of a great victory of the Canaanite king of Arab (Numbers 21.1-3), the children of Israel once again complain to Moses. They hate everything about their existence and they blamed Moses and God. Fed up with their insolence, the Lord sent poisonous snakes into the camp to kill the complainers. Yet, in His mercy God provided a way for them to be healed and to live. We should pay attention to this story because it mirrors our own attack from a fiery serpent the devil (cf. Revelation 12.9) and the healing and salvation God offers us.

Overview of Numbers 21.4-9

  • 4-5 | The people complained
  • 6 | God sent “fiery serpents”
  • 7 | The people repented
  • 8 | God provided the people a way to be healed
  • 9 | Those who followed God’s plan were healed and lived

This Old Testament provision for Israel’s healing was a foreshadowing of the salvation the Father provides to us in the cross of Jesus Christ. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus gives us a richer meaning to this story, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3.14-15).

Three Parallels Between Israel’s Situation and Our Own:

  1. THE SERPENT’S BITE KILLS:
    • 6 | Just as the serpent’s bite was deadly to Israel the great Serpent’s bite is deadly to us. Through different images, Paul, Peter and James describes Satan’s desire to kill us.
    • Ephesian 6.16 | Satan attacks us with flaming darts (arrows).
    • 1 Peter 5.8 | Satan is like a roaring lion seeking to maul and kill us.
    • Jams 1.14-15 | Satan is like hunter seeking to lure us in with temptation.
    • The serpent’s bite kills, it’s deadly but God has left us to die He’s provided a remedy.
  1. GOD PROVIDED A REMEDY:
    • 7-8 | God didn’t take away the serpents, but instead, He provided a remedy for the bites, the bronze serpent*.
    • Genesis 3.15 | It’s no different with us. From the “first bite” of sin, God has promised a remedy would one day come.
    • John 3:14; 12.32 | Jesus is that remedy. Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up, so to Jesus was lifted up on a cross to take our place and die for our sins.
    • Romans 3.22a-26 | We’ve all been bitten by sin. We can only be saved by God’s grace.
  1. THE REMEDY WAS UNMERITED BUT CONDITIONAL:
    • 9 | Moses fashioned the bronze serpent and lifted it up for all of Israel to see. The nation had sinned, yet God graciously gave them a remedy. But, to receive the healing they had to look by faith at the bronze serpent. The same is true for us.
    • Ephesians 2.1-10 | Our salvation follows the same order. It’s unmerited but conditional. We’ve all sinned, yet God graciously give us salvation, yet we must receive it by faith. How do we express that faith? Baptism.
    • Mark 16.15-16 | God’s grace is available to all, yet we must believe and unite ourselves to Jesus through baptism. Baptism is not a work (no more than looking on the bronze serpent would have been a work), rather it’s an act of faith just as looking at the serpent was an act of faith.

Just as God gave the Israelites the ability to overcome the fiery serpents of the desert, He has given us the ability to overcome Satan, the serpent of old. The question is, will we obey God or will you argue or complain about God’s ways? Do you want to be healed from the serpent’s bite and live? If yes, then here’s what you do… Look to Jesus! He is our remedy. He is our salvation. He is our hope. Look at Him lifted up on the cross dying for our sins. See Him overcoming death rising from the tomb. He’s calling for you to come and be healed and live for Him. But maybe you don’t want to be healed and live. Maybe you don’t think you’re sick but that doesn’t change the diagnosis. Maybe you don’t like the cure, it doesn’t matter. We’ve all been bitten by the serpent. I beg you, look to Jesus and live. If not, then you’ll die in your sins.

* According to 2 Kings 18:4, the bronze serpent became an idol, “[Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).”

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The Temptation of Jesus


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We all struggle with various temptations. Maybe you’re tempted to cheat, lie, or steal. Maybe your greatest temptation is indifference to those around you. Maybe the siren song of lust and sexual temptations are an allurement for you. Maybe your primary temptation is an angry outburst and an uncontrolled tongue. Maybe pride and a judgmental attitude are your temptation du jour. We could go on and on listing various temptations. Whatever sinful enticements you or I struggle with, the temptation of Jesus gives us an example, the ultimate example, of resisting the devil’s schemes to entrap our souls. Let’s begin by reading Matthew 4:1-11

(1) “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (2) And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (3) And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ (4) But he answered, ‘It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

(5) Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple (6) and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” (7) Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

(8) Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (9) And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (10) Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” (11) Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.”

1. His Temptations Were God-Ordained But Not God-Inflicted:

  • v. 1| The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, but it was Satan who did the tempting.
  • Job 1:6-12| It’s not unlike Job’s experience.
  • James 1:13-15| James reminds us that God does not tempt us.

2. He Was Tempted When He Was Most Susceptible:

  • vv. 1-3| Jesus had been fasting, miraculously, for 40 days. He was physically, emotionally, and spiritually susceptible to Satan’s temptations
  • Matthew 26:40-41| Our Lord reminds the disciples, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is so weak.” Despite our willingness to follow Jesus, Satan will attack us at our weakest point.
  • Matthew 6:13| This informs us on why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
  • 1 Peter 5:8-9| If we resist Satan he will flee from us. However, we must not let our guard down because he will look for a “more opportune time” (Luke 4:13) to attack us again.

3. His Experience Was Unique Yet Universal:

  • vv. 3-9| Jesus’ temptations were unique in nature. I doubt any of us have ever been tempted directly by Satan in the same way Jesus was, yet, our Savior’s temptations are universal.
  • 1 John 2:16| All temptations (whether Jesus’ or our own) can be boiled down to lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
  • Hebrews 2:18; 4:15| We can take strength from the fact that our Lord Jesus knows how we are tempted. We can go to Him for grace because His temptation experience was universal in nature.

4. He Resisted Temptations With The Word Of God:

  • vv. 4, 7, 10| Jesus thwarted each temptation by quoting scripture. There’s a model here for us to follow.
  • Ephesians 6:16, 17b| In the whole armor of God passage, we attack evil with “the sword of the spirit, the word of God” but we defend ourselves through the “shield of faith” because we believe God’s word.
  • Romans 10:17| The faith needed to confront Satan with God’s word comes from getting into God’s word.

5. His Temptations Were Tough But Temporary:

  • v. 11| Jesus’ temptations were no doubt tough. So tough, “angels came and were ministering to Him.”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:13| God promises we will not tempted beyond what we can bear. There is always a way of escape.
  • Jams 4:7| If we resist the Devil he will flee from us.
  • Hebrews 1:14| Angels are ministering spirits. Perhaps there a connection here. As angels ministered to Jesus following His temptation, then after we do battle with Satan God will send us heavenly help.

Jesus came in human form. He knows the weight of sin and the heaviness of temptation. He was not shadowboxing with the devil. Our Lord Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. We sinners must learn from our Lord and cling to Him, that we might by faith win the victory for His glory and our good.

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How to Give a Defense of Your Hope


In Acts 26:1-23, the apostle Paul is standing before King Agrippa and makes a compelling defense for the hope that was in him (Acts 26:1 ESV, 21:6; 1 Peter 3:15). As we read his defense (or sermon if you will,) we’ll learn some valuable tips that will help us all in presenting a defense for the hope that is within us:

“So Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.’ Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense…” (Acts 26:1)

Be Happy (v. 2) – Paul was happy when he talked about Jesus. When you speak about God, Christ and the church… be happy. You’ll never convert anybody by being down in the mouth about and Jesus. It’s called hope for a reason.

Be Considerate (v. 3) – Paul complimented Agrippa’s knowledge and asked the King to hear him out. Don’t talk down to people by insulting their intelligence or taking them for granted. Be considerate of their experiences and time.

Be Open (vv. 4-18) – Paul’s life was an open book. He talked about his days as a Pharisee, a persecutor, and his conversion. When you talk to people about your hope be open and honest about you were before Christ and how you came to know the truth. They’ll appreciate your honesty and the authenticity of your faith. You’ll win more people to Christ this way because people will see how Christ has transformed you life.

Be Obedient (vv. 19-21) – Paul told Agrippa that he had been obedient to the heavenly calling he received from Jesus by preaching to Jews and Gentiles alike. Though we will never have a “heavenly vision” from God we do have his revealed word and we too must be obedient. The old saying is so true, “I would rather see a sermon any day than hear one.” People would rather see your hope and obedience to hear about it any day so be obedient.

Be Humble (v. 22a) – Paul said it was by God’s help that he was able to witnesses to the small and great of the world. When someone ask about your hope, let them know it’s not by your strength that you are able resist temptation and follow Christ. Instead, be humble and acknowledge that it’s by the power of God that you are able to resist temptation be a follower of Christ.

Be Scriptural (vv. 22b-23) – Paul tells Agrippa that he has only preached those things, which Moses and the prophets had said regarding the Suffering Savior. When you give a defense for your hope lean solely on the teachings of scripture for the truth and reason for what you believe and why you believe it. Your hope is not to be based on what your preacher says, your church believes or you families religious heritage. It is to solely be based on the scriptures.

Be Persistent (vv. 24-29) – As Paul spoke, Festus made a contemptuous remark and Agrippa seemed noncommittal. Nevertheless, Paul was persistent and pleaded with them to obey God and possess the same hope he had. Many times the people who ask about your hope will mock you or put you off but you be persistent, because their souls are at stake.

Peter said, “be ready to give a defense” and Paul was ready. Are you? Are you ready to give a defense for the reason you have hope? You need to be, because one day, one day soon, some will ask you, “Why do you have hope in Jesus?”

If you need some assistance I’m here to help, just email me at clay@claygentry.com