Sunday, February 21, 2016

When God is silent

Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

According to what the scriptures teach, God answers the petitionary prayer of the righteous believer that meets three conditions:
  • He must pray in the right direction (i.e., to God the Father not anyone else).
  • For the singular devotion of the disciple, who appeals “to [his] Father” in heaven, God will “reward” him.
Pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…. This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven…” (Matt 6:6, 9)
  • He must pray in the right condition (i.e., with persistent obedience not occasional compliance).
  • For the submissive lifestyle of the pious, who “does His will,” God will “listen” to him.
We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. (John 9:31)
  • He must pray with the right motivation (i.e., for divine satisfaction not personal gratification).
  • For the godly desire of the selfless, who wants only what accords with “His will,” God will grant his request.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)
These three conditions are what God requires from His people in order for Him to heed (not merely hear) their prayers. When God does not answer, it is because the individual praying has violated one or more of these conditions. Absent any violation, God will answer the prayer of His people. That was David’s confidence: “In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.” (Ps 86:7), and that is God’s commitment: “He will call upon me, and I will answer him.” (Ps 91:15)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sermon: "If it is from God..." (Acts 5:33-39)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Most people want to be helpful and, given the opportunity, will jump at the chance, especially if it does not require any special effort on their part.
A young officer was working late at the Pentagon one evening. As he came out of his office, he saw a General standing by the classified document shredder in the hallway, a piece of paper in his hand. “Do you know how to work this thing?” the General asked. “My secretary has gone home and I don’t know how to run it.” “Yes, sir,” said the young officer, who turned on the machine, took the paper from the General, and fed it in. “Now,” said the General… “I just need one copy.”
Most people want to be helpful, but some individuals have a particular idea about what being helpful constitutes. In today’s passage, for example, we see Gamaliel’s Counsel as he tries to help some members of the Sanhedrin who oppose Jesus and who normally look for help only from those who also oppose Jesus, as this rabbi tries to help them see the big picture of what God may be doing.

For Christians, Jesus was the most well-known rabbi in First Century Judaism, but he was not the only one at this time nor the most famous among Jews. The New Testament names another, who appears also in contemporary Jewish literature: Gamaliel.1 In this passage, he is the voice of reason at a time when the fledgling messianic movement faced considerable opposition from certain mainline adherents. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling counsel, was composed of members from the two main religious/political groups in the first century: Sadducees and Pharisees (which have some parallels to modern political parties: Democrats/Progressives and Republicans/Conservatives).2 At this time, the Sanhedrin was controlled by a Sadducean majority that was not always favorably disposed toward the other party. (Note: Jesus was probably a Pharisee) The Council issued an arrest warrant for the apostles and was ready to have them executed:3
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in [Jesus’] name…. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” (Acts 5:28)
Before the Council can act on this motion, at least one cooler head prevails.4
A Pharisee named Gamaliel,5 a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. (Acts 5:34-35)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Messages from Matthew: "Why this waste?" (Matt 26:6-13)

Ignore the Poor (Matt 26:6-13)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Sometimes the commitments we make require us to be proactive, to be decisive and take initiative in what we do.
“Darn!” the man said to his friend while weighing himself at the local drug store scale. “I started on a new diet, but the scale says I’m heavier than I was before.” Turning to his friend, he said, “Here, hold my jacket.” The scale still indicated that he had not lost any weight. “OK,” he said to his friend. “Here, hold my Twinkies.”
Sometimes the commitments we make require us to be proactive, to be decisive and take initiative in what we do. Mary felt that her commitment to discipleship required that she be proactive, which she is in our passage this morning.

Throughout his ministry Jesus shows concern for the less fortunate, whether they be afflicted by disease, subject to demonic attack, or financially disadvantaged. It is the third group, those financially disadvantaged, that Jesus addresses in this passage, as he seems to suggest his disciples Ignore the Poor.1

Matthew opens chapter 26 with Jesus’ prediction of his impending death and a description of the high priest’s plot against him. The author then relates a dinner with one of Jesus’ benefactors,2 a man he may have earlier raised from the dead.3 At some point during the gathering, a woman (whom John identifies as Mary, sister of Lazarus) brings oil to anoint Jesus:4
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper,5 a woman [Mary] came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. (Matt 26:6-7)
This causes quite a stir among the disciples:
When the disciples [Judas, in particular] saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” (Matt 26:8-9)
Jesus’ response puts the matter in perspective:

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sermon: Unmourned (2 Chr 21:4-20)

(2 Chr 21:4-20)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

It is a testimony to a person’s popularity when people want to spend time with him even when he is no longer available.
Jim decided that a haunted house would be a good fund-raising project for his local service organization, and a funeral home agreed to lend him a casket to enhance the desired effect. Not having a truck, Jim hauled the coffin in a boat on a trailer. When he stopped for gas, the station attendant was fascinated by the peculiar sight. Jim explained: “The old boy enjoyed fishing so much, I thought I’d take him one more time.”
It is a testimony to a person’s popularity when people want to spend time with him even when he is no longer available. It is a testimony to a person’s unpopularity when people want nothing to do with him when he is no longer available and are, in fact, glad to see him go. That was certainly the case with The Monarch No One Mourned.

God made the descendants of Abraham central to His plan and has retained His commitment to them despite a mixed record of their commitment to Him.
2 Chr 21:7 [B]ecause of the covenant the LORD had made with David, the LORD was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever.
With this statement, God expresses His reluctance to withdraw support for Israel, even when the ruler in office is unfaithful, like Jehoram, the subject of this chapter. Different cultures have different customs to mark the passing of someone from this life. Often these customs reflect religious beliefs about the disposition of the dead: where they go, what their needs may be, whether or not they have continued contact with the living. Those who remain behind in this life also mark death variously.1 We may place a notice in the newspaper giving certain details about that person—the dates of his birth and death, his education and his vocation, the members of his family—facts that give people who may not have known him a picture of his sojourn “on this terrestrial ball.”2 There is often a funeral or wake, providing survivors opportunity to remember him and to celebrate his life. If there is a cemetery marker, it may include some details from the obituary, as well as a term of endearment by those who knew him best (e.g., “loving husband and father”). What line would you like on your marker?

People in the Bible also had different customs to indicate the passing of someone from this life. There may have been a funeral procession to accompany the deceased to his final resting place, complete with mourners to lament his passing. The grave site may have been marked or unmarked, elaborate or plain, depending on the stature of the deceased.3 Royalty occupied a special place in society, and their tombs were often prominent landmarks.

After Solomon, the nation he had ruled divided into north and south, with each division having its own government, including a king. The kings of Israel, in the north, were all unrighteous, overseeing a people that had primarily abandoned the Lord.4 The kings of Judah, in the south, were mixed in their devotion to God, with some being righteous and others unrighteous, overseeing a people that was also mixed in its devotion.5 Jehoram was one of the unrighteous kings in the south:6

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sermon: Two trees

(Genesis 2:16-17; 3:22; 24; Revelation 22:2;14,19)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

When parents talk to their children, especially when giving them instructions, those parents may wonder if their children are actually paying attention.
A mother was helping her son review his math while her daughter was in the next room. “You have seven dollars and seven friends.” she said. “You give a dollar to two of them but none to the others. What do you have left?” From the next room her daughter called out… “Two friends.”
When parents talk to their children, especially when giving them instructions, those parents may wonder if their children are actually paying attention. When God first gave instructions to Adam and Eve, they were not paying attention, and they ignored some very important instructions.

In the beginning, when God created the earth and man,1 He placed our first parents in an idyllic setting, the Garden of Eden, where there was an ample food supply, with a variety of options:
The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:9)
They could eat anything they wanted, any of the leaves, nuts, or fruit.2 He gave them only one restriction:3
The LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17)
This is The Tale of those Two Trees. Note that…

I. Initially, the two trees had the same accessibility.

Before the Fall of man…
A. The tree of life was unrestricted.
B. The tree of knowledge was unrestricted.
There was no fence blocking man from either tree. The only thing stopping him (or giving him pause) was God’s verbal prohibition:
You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die. (Gen 2:17)
Why would God impose this limitation? Why would God keep from man such important information as discerning the difference between right and wrong? Why would God put such information within reach of man only to deny it for him? Is not full disclosure up front the best policy? Surely man would need to make (other) moral choices in the new world order, and handicapping him would make those decisions unnecessarily difficult. But the author of Genesis does not say if God intended the restriction to be permanent or temporary.4 Perhaps He was just waiting to see if man would obey.5

Friday, February 5, 2016

Sermon: Winning the prize (1 Cor 9:24-27)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

As people get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay in good physical condition. Too little exercise and too many calories eventually affect even a once trim figure.
The army physical-training program requires soldiers to run two miles every other day in platoon formation. Jeff, being somewhat older than the others in his unit, had trouble running faster than a ten-minute mile. During a recent run, he was finding it difficult to complete the two miles without stopping, so he paused and raised his hands above his head, attempting to expand his diaphragm and gain a second wind. Suddenly, he heard a voice from behind say, “Forget it, Sarge…we don’t take prisoners.”
As people get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay in good physical condition, and they usually need to adopt some sort of fitness program. The same is often true of people’s spiritual condition. In our passage this morning, we have Paul’s Fitness Program, which he recommends to the Christians at Corinth.

The apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth addresses questions he received from the church (chapters 1-6) and concerns he has for the church (chapters 7-16).1 In the second section he likens the Christian experience to a physical training program, the kind one would undertake in preparation for a foot race or a boxing match.2 In Paul’s Fitness Program, he relates how one becomes an effective competitor in the Christian games of life:
1 Cor 9:24 Do you not know3 that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
In the first century, athletic events were a popular part of Greek society and a regular source of entertainment as participants competed for prizes and fame. Sports included foot and horse races, wrestling and boxing matches, discus and javelin throwing. Participants prepared on local tracks and in gymnasiums. Because these games were common in major cities throughout the empire, Paul alluded to them frequently in his letters to various churches.4 Two of his favorite sports to use were racing and boxing because they held parallels to the Christian life. This was especially evident in the passage he wrote to believers at Corinth. He begins by stating simply:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sermon: The unfairness of life (Psalm 73)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Good communication, the kind that makes for a smooth-running marriage, is not necessarily obvious to the average observer.
On his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, Steve remarked that his father and mother never seemed to fight. “Oh, we argued,” his father said, “but it never amounted to much. After a while one of us always realized…that I was wrong.”
Good communication is not necessarily obvious to the average observer. In other words, there may be a difference between Perception and Reality, between the way things appear and the way they actually are. That difference is what Asaph discusses in Psalm 73.

Theodicy is an aspect of theology that deals with the presence of evil in the world. The biblical book that addresses this subjest most directly is Job, which depicts a man’s suffering in a vain attempt by Satan to undermine that man’s faith. The biblical psalm that deals with theodicy most directly is our text this morning: Psalm 73.1

There is a facade, a veneer, that covers reality as we perceive it. We see other people in situations much like our own who seem to conduct their affairs without recourse to God with equal or greater success than we do who depend on God. It makes us wonder: Why is our life not noticeably better (v. 3)? Does our commitment to Him really matter all that much (v. 13)? Those are questions Asaph, the author of Psalm 73, asks:
I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. (Psalm 73:3,13)
As we also wrestle with these questions, we must recognize at least three things, observations that the author of this psalm makes.

Asaph’s first observation is that, despite the assertion of our US constitution…
I. All people are not created equal (Psalm 73:4-5).
Some people have more ability, talent, or natural fortitude than others.
They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. (vv. 4-5)
Hence, it is quite possible that you might not perform as well as others.
  • Some people are more physically endowed.2
The biblical writers identify several individuals with outstanding physical characteristics, perhaps the most impressive being a soldier in the Philistine army: Goliath.3
1 Sam 17:4b He was over nine feet tall. 5 He …wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels [125 lbs.]…. 7a His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels [15 lbs.]…. 24 When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear.
Despite his impressive appearance, however, he was no match for the Lord’s champion, a young boy (who found the king’s armor too cumbersome).
1 Sam 17:50a David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone…. 51c When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.
All people are not created equal. Some people are more physically imposing and assume they can do without God.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sermon: A true prophet? (Deut 18:9-22)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Some husbands who want try to keep a little mystery in their marriage will take extreme measures to keep a secret.
Sam worked at a snowmobile dealership. One day he approached a customer who said he wanted a certain kind of snowmobile and that it had to be yellow. Sam had the right make, but not in yellow. “It has to be yellow,” the customer insisted. Curious, Sam asked why. “Because,” the man replied, “I’ve been buying a new snowmobile every year—and my wife hasn’t noticed yet!”
Some husbands will take extreme measures to keep a secret. Yet, some secrets should not be kept, especially secrets about pagan deities. That is how Moses felt as Israel was poised to enter the Promised Land: Make sure people know what they will encounter there.

In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, the wizard is a mysterious figure behind a curtain who gives advice on various matters. When Dorothy meets him initially, she is in awe of his vast knowledge. When Dorothy meets him subsequently, she learns that he is an ordinary man who has deceived people with special effects. In the wilderness, the Lord is also a mysterious figure behind a curtain who gives advice on various matters. When the Israelites meet Him initially, they are in awe of his vast knowledge. More than that, they are in awe of His great power, especially after their exodus from Egypt, and they sing a song about Him: “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exod 15:11). Subsequent meetings do not change their initial impression.

The LORD worked primarily through a spokesman, often several, who would communicate His will to His people. Unfortunately, there were also charlatans, individuals who only pretended to represent God but who had their own agenda. Is Piercing the Veil possible, determining if those behind the curtain are Contemptible or Commendable? Moses answers that question in Deut 18, where he discusses true and false prophets. He begins with an exhortation:

I. Do not listen to a false prophet (vv. 9-13).
Deut 18:9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.
God expelled the Canaanites because of an assortment of pagan practices that defiled the land He considered holy1 and would eventually give to the descendants of Abraham.
In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. (Gen 15:16)2
The problem with many of the practices He lists here is that they seek information or confirmation about the future from sources God does not sanction. To make matters worse, all of these practices deny God.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sermon: The cost of salvation (Num 25:1-18)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Many people rack up more bills than they have money to pay, but sometimes it is unavoidable.
Jack and his wife Jill, both graduate students, recently celebrated the arrival of their first child. At Jill’s insistence, they paid their entire medical bill and were now worried about meeting other payments. They were discussing their sad financial situation one evening when their son demanded a diaper change. As Jill leaned over the baby's crib, Jack heard her mutter, “The only thing in the house that’s paid for…and it leaks.”
Many people encounter the common difficulty of having more bills than money to pay, but sometimes it is avoidable. Israel got involved with idolatry before realizing (or ignoring) what it would exact from them, especially given The High Cost of Sin and Salvation.

The people of Israel had left Egypt the previous year1 and had encountered few peoples on their trek through the wilderness. A year had also passed since they left Mount Sinai, where Moses received the prohibition in the Decalogue against idolatry.2 The Israelites disobeyed that command with the golden calf incident soon after they received it, and they suffered for it.3 Nevertheless…

I. The Problem of Paganism in Israel (Num 25:1-3)

…continued to haunt the nation.
Num 25:1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.4 And the LORD’S anger burned against them.5
This was the first group of people they encountered since leaving Egypt, people who seemed glad to meet them and who went out of their way to greet them.6 Unfortunately, this encounter led the Israelites away from God. He had previously warned them against fraternizing with the pagans they would meet.7
Exod 23:24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices.
In Num 25, the Lord is angry with the people because they have disobeyed a cardinal yet simple rule: “Do not worship any other god” (Exod 34:14a).8

But is idol worship all that bad? Should people not be tolerant of others, even accepting and inclusive of their beliefs? Surely God would prefer that everyone just “get along.” What is His objection? …Idolatry is bad because…