Precious Promises

precious promisesPersonal Worship Lesson 10

By Claudine Lehman

We all like to receive promises, especially if they come from someone we trust. Promises can give hope in the midst of despair. Promises are the light at the end of a tunnel. Promises bring optimism to even the most pessimistic situation. Promises sustain us.

As children of the Heavenly Father, we are truly blessed in this regard. We have been given promises by the faithful Creator Himself. Those promises enable us to keep going when we no longer can see the way. We know that someday . . . somehow . . . they will be fulfilled because GOD SAID SO!

I remember a chorus we sang when I was a teen:

Every promise in the book is mine,

Every chapter, every verse, every line,

All the blessings of His love divine,

Every promise in the book is mine.

In Romans chapter 8, Paul lists some special promises God offers when we are caught in times of crisis.

Promise #1—“All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

The “all things” that happen are not necessarily good in themselves, but all together they combine to make good. Jacob thought he had lost his son Joseph (Genesis 42), and he cried “all these things are against me . . . .” He felt life had turned against him, but in the hand of God, what he saw as tragedy worked together for his whole family’s benefit. Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers and his slavery in Egypt became the salvation for the entire family . . . and ultimately for the nation of Israel. God is sovereign, and He works all things for good in His time.

(You may notice this promise is only for those who love God and are part of His family. All things do not necessarily work together for good for those outside of Christ.)

Promise #2—God will finish what He has begun in our lives. Romans 8:29-30

He has begun a work of faith in our hearts and promises to grow it. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestine to be conformed to the image of His son . . . Moreover, whom he did predestine, them he also called; and whom is called, them he also justified, and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”

He knows, He predestines, He calls, He justifies, and He glorifies. It’s done. In God’s mind, you and I are already glorified. The plan God formulated is just as good as the plan accomplished. We can believe without a doubt that we will one day be glorified because God completes every work He begins.

Promise #3—He promises to give us victory in the midst of our crisis. Romans 8:31

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” In the midst of our crisis—physical and mental, real or imagined—we cling to any word of encouragement, especially from the Lord. We grasp for the concept of “conquering.” We want to be victors. And God has promised us “more than” in “all things.” What a promise!

Promise #4—God will keep us in His love. Romans 8:35-39

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  . . . I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are secure in His love because God has promised.

You may wonder why God doesn’t give us answers in the midst of trial instead of promises. I suspect it’s because He knows we wouldn’t know how to handle the answers. In John 16:12, Jesus told his disciples, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.” He alone knows when and where and how to give us answers, and until then, we have His promises.

Does God ever promise that Christians will be immune to crises? No. Christians and non-Christians are part of this world and its statistics. Until Christ returns, death and the consequences of sin will affect everyone. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Have God’s people EVER been removed from life’s crises? Yes.

  • The children of Israel were spared from the trials of sickness, disease, worn out clothes and sore swollen feet for 40 years. [Exodus 15:26; Nehemiah 9:21]
  • In Acts 28 Paul was protected from the effects of a snake bite.  He just shook the viper off into the fire and went on about his business.
  • Missionaries tell amazing stories of being removed from crises all around them. Even you and I have probably been spared from many accidents and mishaps without ever realizing it.

As we discussed last week, God meets unique situations in unique ways—creative ways tailored to each individual need. But “all these things”—the good, the bad—are a part of life. God has never protected everyone from everything forever. That’s saved for Heaven.

So, here’s the big question: What determines whether a Christian goes through a crisis or is delivered from a crisis? The sovereignty of God. Our part is to trust our sovereign God and rest in His promises.

We find two types of promises in the Word of God.

  1. Universal promises apply to all Christians all the time. [Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28] We can always claim these promises and expect God to fulfill them. But He reserves the right to fulfill even universal promises His way.
  2. Specific promises apply to some Christians some of the time. Psalm 91:7 states “A thousand shall fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” In a battle or natural disaster, some Christians are spared and others are not. Some may escape one time, but not another. God is sovereign in HIS APPLICATION of the promise. With specific promises, deliverance lies with God’s sovereignty. If it is in His plan to apply the promise, He will do so. But we must be careful of assuming He always will. You see, God reserves the right to choose the time and situation to apply His promises meaningfully. He is under no obligation to cater to our whims.

So I sing: “Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line, all the blessings of His love divine, every promise in the book is mine.”

In personal worship, God’s part is unconditional love, never-ending mercy and grace, precious promises, the constant presence and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and all of His wonderful attributes. Our part is a determination and yearning to go hard after knowing Him which in turn leads to our yielding, believing and resting in His sovereignty.

Discussion Question

What promise from God’s Word do you cling to the most? Would you share?

Homework

Here is another list of God’s attributes for you to work on:

God is TRUTHFUL! Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 Samuel 15:29; Psalm 25:10; 31:5; 86:15; Isaiah 65:16; John 4:24; 8:26; Titus 1:2

God is UNCHANGING! Numbers 23:19; Psalm 119:89-91; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Isaiah 40:28; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17

God is SELF-CONTROLLED! Genesis 28:15; Exodus 3:14; Lamentations 3:22-23; Psalm 90:1-4; John 6:38-40; Acts 17:24-25; James 1:17

God is UNRESTRICTED! 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; 1 Samuel 2:6-8; Proverbs 21:1; Isaiah 55:11; Daniel 4:35; Romans 9:20-21; 11:34

God is WISE! Psalm 37:1-6; 92:5-9; 119:97-100; Proverbs 3:19-26; Isaiah 55:6-9; Jeremiah 51:15-17; Romans 11:33-36

Divine Creativity

high thoughtsPersonal Worship Lesson 9

By Claudine Lehman

In order to have victory in our lives in the midst of trials and crisis—good times and bad—we must get our eyes off of others and onto the King of Kings.

When we look around at each other and our circumstances, we find ourselves comparing, asking questions, being judgmental and all this will cloud our thinking. We find ourselves asking: “Why is she receiving so many blessings and I’m not?” “How come God answered her prayer and not mine?” “Why was her child healed and mine is still sick and suffering?” “How come some families breeze through life and we struggle?”

This kind of thinking will always take our attention off the Main Thing.

Nobody goes through life without hurts and troubles. It may appear that way sometimes, but it’s not true. Everyone hurts somewhere—some time—either in a major way or in small annoying ways. (And even that is relative, isn’t it?)

God is absolutely creative in His dealings with these hurts and troubles—these crisis times in our lives. He never treats two people the same. We often say, “I know how you feel.” Well, yes and no. We are all different. How I feel and react in times of crisis will be different from the way you do.

We must remember His ways are not our ways; His thoughts are higher than ours. [Isaiah 55:8-9] His ways are never the same as our ways, because WE DON’T THINK LIKE GOD! His thoughts and motives are always higher than ours, and because his motives are pure and right, we may not always comprehend the meaning of His actions.

Nowhere in Scripture does He command us to understand Him. Instead, He commands us to trust Him. There is a tremendous difference between understanding and trusting. (I don’t understand how my car works, but I trust it to start when I turn the key.)

Let’s take some time to consider this Divine Creativity. In Numbers 12, when Miriam and Aaron began to grumble and complain about Moses—their God-appointed leader—God’s anger burned against them and when the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous like snow. Later, when the children of Israel were opposing Moses, the ground opened up and swallowed them. Same sin, two very different consequences.

In 2 Kings 20, King Hezekiah becomes sick, and the Lord sends Isaiah the prophet to tell him to put his affairs in order because he will not recover. Yet, when Hezekiah prays, God listens and grants him 15 more years of life. Isaiah tells the king to put a poultice of figs on his boil, and he is healed. But when Mary and Martha are facing a family crisis when their brother falls ill, their pleas for help to their friend Jesus are seemingly ignored. He allows Lazarus to die so He can reveal His power by raising Lazarus from the grave later.

In Acts 5, when Ananias and Sapphira lied to God and the other believers, God struck them dead. Does He always deal with lying that way? No, but He did here.

How many times was Paul put in prison only to be delivered in numerous ways? God shook the gates of one prison open and had an angel lead him out of another. Yet when John the Baptist was imprisoned, he stayed there until he was beheaded.

Same God . . . different actions. Infinite creativity.

His motives are high and lofty and most often above our understanding. We can go back into the Old Testament and see the way God shut the lions’ mouths for Daniel, but history also records thousands of Christian martyrs God did not save from the lions.

Look at how God protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fire, yet He allowed many Christians to be burned at the stake. He saved Jonah from the sea, but other believers have drowned.

Take a moment to read through Hebrews 11. As you read, be amazed at the creative ways God dealt with His own. In verse 5 we read that Enoch was translated. So was Elijah. God simply took them home. What a wonderful way to go, but realistically, most of us will die. And every death is different.

Consider the contrast in the following passages. Verses 33-35 are full of triumph. Through Christ, believers “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the arms of the aliens . . . received their dead to life again.” WOW—Delivered Believers!

But then in verses 36-37 we find “some were tortured . . . had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings . . . bonds and imprisonment . . . were stoned . . . sawn asunder . . . tempted . . . slain with the sword . . . wandered about in sheepskins and goat skins . . . being destitute, afflicted, tormented. . . .” Yes. Undelivered believers as well.

The point of this is ALL believers—delivered or undelivered— have the same Sovereign God. He simply uses each life in entirely different ways.

Let’s read on.  Hebrews 12: 1-3 are key verses. We are told to “look unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” –not circumstances, not each other, but Jesus— “who for the joy that was set before Him endured (submitted to) the cross.” Jesus didn’t enjoy the cross—He endured it.

He despised (scorned) the shame of the cross. What was He focusing on? The future ultimate plan of God where Jesus is “set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We are told to “consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

If Jesus endured, we can endure. The object of our trust must be Christ Himself, not life. Situations in life often deteriorate; relationships fray; and sickness may lead to death.

Crisis may follow crisis, but God is constant. When He enters a crisis, He comes with changing power, but it is usually not the crisis that changes. It is us.

He wants to make us stable, like Him—firm in faith, unmovable in trial—regardless of the circumstances involved.

So I ask again . . . who is this God we are trying to serve? And my answer is the same as it was three weeks ago. He has to be the God of the Scriptures, not the God of our design and understanding.

He is infinite and great, the King of the Universe and the Lord of history who became accessible to the world through Jesus Christ. When I accepted Him as my Lord and Savior, He became personal to me. He took control of my life, entering every circumstance, treating me uniquely and lovingly.

I am special to Him. He fashioned me when I was still in my mother’s womb. He says He has every hair on my head numbered. He cares about my problems.

But I must always remember God does not exist to satisfy my whims. Any good that comes to me as a Christian is a by-product of my salvation, not its end. I exist for the Lord, in life’s ease and its trials. I am not my own; He owns me. I count it a privilege to serve the living Christ and rest in full assurance that His way for me is perfect whether I understand it or not.

My crises are in His hands and there they become opportunities.

Our part is to focus on Him . . . to go hard after pursuing Jesus.

Several years ago in our study of Colossians as a church, Bryan Clark challenged us with these words:

“Could you say this past week that your life was characterized by an all-out, passionate, diligent pursuit of Jesus like one pursues a lover? Would you say that it is evident that you believe Jesus is sufficient to meet your every need? If you believed that with all your heart of hearts, you would go after Him with every fiber of your being.”

And that is what this class is all about. It’s all about each one of you, personally, in your heart of hearts, passionately and intentionally, seeking to know Jesus and the character of God. This doesn’t happen by listening to more teachers, preachers or friends. It doesn’t come from great books or videos or messages on tape. It probably won’t even happen in support groups, or Bible classes or exciting retreats.

The amazing truth is He wants to meet you personally right where you are, and He wants to teach you in His own unique and creative way—even through your hurts, troubles and crises.

So put all other books, tapes and helps aside—take up His precious Word and ask Him to teach you what you need to know.

“Never let good books take the place of the Bible. Drink from the Well, not from the streams that flow from the Well.” –Amy Carmichael

Discussion Question

When we say God moves “creatively” in our lives, what do we mean? Is this a threat or a comfort to you?

Homework

Continue to work through some more attributes of God.

God is ALL-KNOWING! Job 34:21; Psalm 33:13-15; 94:9-11; Isaiah 40:13-14, 27-28; 46:9-10; Matthew 6:8

God is ALL-SUFFICIENT! Exodus 3:14; Job 35:5-7; Isaiah 40:18, 28-31; 44:6; Jeremiah 10:10; John 5:26; Acts 17:24-25

God is UNSEARCHABLE! Deuteronomy 29:29; Job 5:8-9; Psalm 92:5; 145:3; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11

God is UNIQUE! Exodus 15:11; 2 Samuel 7:20-22; 1 Kings 8:23; Isaiah 40:18-22; 43:11; 44:6-8; Mark 12:32

God is LOVE! John 3:16; 14:21-23; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Hebrews 12:6; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 3:16; 4:10

Absolute God

credits: David Sedlmayer/flickr.com

credits: David Sedlmayer/flickr.com

I’m not going to lie. The last two months have been rough. Seems as if each week has brought news of another tragedy affecting our community . . . our church family . . . our friends. I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to feel a little shell-shocked, wondering when and where the next bomb will drop.

That’s why I love these words from Claudine’s last lesson:

“You see, it really doesn’t matter who or what causes the tragedies of life. What matters is what God intends to do with those tragedies.When you and I belong to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, what happens in our lives matters less than how God uses what happens in our lives. Our responsibility as a child of His is to TRUST HIM—even when the way seems dark. God’s way is always perfect.

BUT we cannot trust what we do not know. That’s why our quest—to know the character and heart of God—is so very crucial.”

So how’s it going—this quest to know the character and heart of God? Have you been doing the homework? Working through the list of attributes?  Reading God’s Word with these questions in mind?—“What does this passage tell me about the heart of God? What pleases Him? What displeases Him?”

Before we continue with the last two lessons of this class, I’d like to spend our time today discussing the homework. I’ll take you through my thought process as I worked my way through an attribute of God, and then at the end, I hope some of you will share with us some of the things you have learned from your homework over the past few weeks.

When I looked at that first attribute of God—God is ABSOLUTE—I’ll admit my first question was “What does that even mean?” Of course, I know what the word absolute means. Absolutely! I use it all the time. I say things like “that’s the absolute truth” or “I absolutely, positively agree.”

But when it comes to writing a definition of the word, things become a bit more muddied. In my mind, absolute means the highest . . . the most . . . the final degree of something. I use it as a qualifier. So when I see the words “God is Absolute,” I immediately think, “Absolute what?” Absolute truth? Absolute God? Absolute . . . everything?

I decided to try to define the word through the context of the scriptures we were given before heading to Webster’s for an answer and here’s what I found. The word absolute was not even used in any of those passages.

Okay. No problem. As a former English teacher, these are the types of word puzzles I love. I decided to infer the meaning of absolute from what each passage told me about God.

[I like to use several translations when I look at scripture to catch the differing nuances in the words they use. For this study I used the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New Living Translation (NLT) and the Message (MSG). If you are doing your study online, Bible Gateway is a great tool because it allows you to place various translations side by side.]

Here are a few of the notes I jotted down about each of the passages:

  • Job 42: 1-3—God can do anything He wants; no one can thwart or upset or stop His plans.
  • Psalm 145: 11-13—God’s glory, power, majesty and authority are everlasting; He will never get voted out of office.
  • Isaiah 44:6—He is the only God there is; He’s the first, the last, the only.
  • Daniel 2:20-21—He has all the power, the wisdom and the authority. If anyone else has wisdom, power and authority, it comes from Him and Him alone.
  • Romans 14:11—He is the only God and there will come a day when everyone will acknowledge that.
  • 1 Timothy 6:15-16—He is the only God, the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords. He alone can overcome death; He has all power and dominion forever. No one can rule Him.

Then, I turned to Webster’s Dictionary for its definition of the word and this is what I found:

ab·so·lute

adjective \ˈab-sə-ˌlüt, ˌab-sə-ˈ\

: complete and total

: not limited in any way

: having unlimited power

Exactly. My original muddied definition only included the first part of the equation, but my study of the scriptures completed the picture. God is total and complete God, unlimited and all powerful. He is ABSOLUTE!

So what do I take away from all of this? First of all, it’s important not to narrow God to just one of His attributes. Knowing He has unlimited power would be terrifying if we didn’t also know He is GOOD. Knowing His plans cannot be thwarted is only comforting when we also know His plans for us are to give us a future and a hope.

Second, God wants to be known. I may go into my study of Him with muddied definitions and incomplete thoughts, but His Spirit can and will bring clarity. I hope each of you are taking the time, putting in the effort to know Him better. It’s worth it!

Discussion Question

What have you learned about God’s character that gives you a new perspective on Who God Is? Is there a word or definition you understand more clearly now that you’ve studied His Word?

Homework

Let’s continue working through some attributes of God

God is UNSELFISH! Psalm 34:10; 84:11; 103; Matthew 11:28; Romans 5:16-18; 6:23; 8:32.

God is JEALOUS! Exodus 20:5-7; 34:12-16; Deuteronomy 32:15-18; Joshua 24:19; Isaiah 31:1-3; Nahum 1:1-8.

God is PATIENT! Numbers 14:18; Isaiah 30:18; Joel 2:13; Romans 15:4-6; 1 Corinthians 13:4-5; Hebrews 10:36; 11 Peter 3:9; Habakkuk 2:3-4

God is PROVIDING! Genesis 49:24-25; Leviticus 25:20-22; 1 Samuel 2:7-8; 1 Chronicles 29:12-14; Psalm 23:1-7; Acts 14:16-17

God is AWE-INSPIRING! Exodus 15:11; Nehemiah 1:5; Psalm 33:8-12; 89:6-7; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Jeremiah 10:6-7; Hebrews 12:28-29

Tend the Fire

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Personal Worship Lesson 6 By Claudine Lehman How deeply did you drink this week? Did you find yourself still taking small sips or are you learning to drink deeply—drink it all? We’ve been trying to define and understand what it means … Continue reading