Saturday, December 22, 2012

Three Wise Women

Lesson 40 - December 23, 2012
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 1 Timothy 2:10

     It is Christmas and I was thinking of the three wise men that came to give gifts to the Son of God and I got to thinking that there were also three wise women that played a very important part around the birth of Jesus.  God has blessed women through out the Bible - in fact, Christianity is the only religion that gives honor to women. Women also played some very important roles in the furthering of God's kingdom.  Jesus had both male and female followers; and while eleven of the twelve men fled after Jesus' arrest, His faithful female disciples bravely remained steadfast.  One wise individual observed, “Women were the last at the cross and the first at the tomb.”
  While we don’t know much about the wise men, we do know that, according to Scripture, there were three wise women… three godly women who played pivotal roles in the unfolding of the Christmas story.  Someone wrote, “Three wise women would have…asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts and there would be Peace on Earth." 
     Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna were three very different women, in different ages and stages of life.  One was single, one was married, and one was widowed.  One was just beginning to experience life, one was coping with the challenges and changes of mid-life, and one was coming to the close of the end of life.  Too often we casually read over these familiar words of Scripture, barely noticing these women. Yet each one in her own way set a powerful example for us to follow today.” And I would agree.  So today as we celebrate Christmas at Simferopol Baptist Church, we are going to do an in study of the lives of these three wise ladies. Elizabeth is mentioned first, so let’s look at her.

Elizabeth: A Wise Mature Woman - Luke 1  Elizabeth’s name means “One whose oath is with God.”  She was the daughter of a priest and her husband was a priest.   She was a descendent of Aaron.
1.   Elizabeth was wise in the way she walked before God (Luke 1:6)  Zacharias and Elizabeth were joined together (1+1=1).   They were committed to each other, and they lived for God and for each other.  They were “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.”  Wow -- what a statement to be said about Elizabeth and her husband!  They controlled their thoughts, their minds, their tongues, and their behavior -- diligently seeking to please the Lord faithfully in all they did.  The verse also says that they were blameless.  This means they were not only faithful but they offended no one.  They lived honestly before God and men. 
2.  Elizabeth was wise in the way she responded to the unfairness of life.  God is always good but life is not always fair.  From a human perspective, Elizabeth was not given what she expected.  Growing up -- she had dreams of having a godly husband and many children.  But life had not totally turned out the way she had planned. -- she experienced a terrible unfairness.  In spite of the godly way she lived, her years of faithful obedience to God's laws, and her prayers and devotion to God, many years had passed and Elizabeth and Zechariah still remained without a child.  Infertility today is a tragedy.  However, back then it was thought to be the judgment of God. Jews looked upon children as a gift from God and a "heritage from the Lord" (Psalm 127:3).  Babies / children were valued as if they were gold.

  For decades Elizabeth had been barren in a culture in which a woman's worth was measured by the number of children she produced.  She alludes to this cultural mindset in Luke 1:25 as she responds to her pregnancy by saying, “The Lord has done this for me in these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
  Prior to this miraculous pregnancy that occurred late in her life, Elizabeth had every opportunity to be hurt, angry… even bitter.   BUT she was not.  Can you imagine how heartbroken she might have been but this is not a sin.  I am sure that year after year Satan tried his tactics with her to discourage her and make her depressed - and even blame God.  But Elizabeth wisely refused to listen to the ‘father of lies’. Instead, she disciplined herself to listen to the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth. When life was unfair, instead of running from God, she ran to Him. She believed God's Word.  She trusted His heart.  She embraced His timing.
  She was not the first woman in Scripture who reacted to heartbreak this way.  The important thing is how you react to trials and tribulations.  How did the women react below react?
· Sarah -- Genesis 18:12  - she laughed with doubt.
· Rachel -- Genesis 30:1 - she turned on her husband (Jacob) and screamed, "Give me children, or I'll die!”  
· Hannah -- 1 Samuel 1:7 - she responded to her barrenness by weeping inconsolably and refusing to eat.
· Remember how Job's wife responded to the unfairness of life?  What was her advice to Job?  Curse God and die." (Job 2:9)
3.  Elizabeth was wise in her counsel   Luke 1:41-45  When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, Mary was afraid of what people would think of her.  She was bone-tired from her travels.  She was looking for refuge. But yet Elizabeth was there to give her encouragement. There was a lot Elizabeth could have said but she was wise and immediately gave her blessing on Mary and the baby.  Elizabeth was humble and recognized Mary’s submissiveness to the Lord.  Wow -- us older women should pattern our life around Elizabeth.

Mary: A Wise Young Lady  Luke 1:46-48  Why do you think God choose Mary?  Why pick her for this important task?  Why bestow on her the honor of serving as the mother of the Messiah?  Obviously, we don't know the mind of God. His thoughts are not ours so we can't know the complete reasoning behind His decision.  However, I do believe that there are some insights in what Scripture tells us about Mary that provide us with at least a partial answer to these questions.  There are at least three reasons Mary may have been selected.  In reality, they’re “Three Prerequisites” when it comes to God’s choosing to use anyone to do something great. They are a pattern that we’re all to follow.  So Why did God choose Mary?
1.  God chose Mary because she had the right attitude about herself.  Mary was not a proud young lady - she was humble.  She did not believe she deserved this honor that God had bestowed on her in any way.  Luke tells us that she was “troubled” by the fact that Gabriel said she had “found favor with God.” This just didn't seem right to her. It didn't make sense. She thought, "Why should I be highly favored. Surely, you have the wrong 'Mary'.  You must be at the wrong place."
  We continue to see Mary's humility expressed in her song of Christmas recorded for us in Luke 1:46-55.  In verse 48 she sings that God “has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.” In verse 52, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” As we read through her song, we see that Mary doesn’t think that she’s important.  She never brags about herself.  God is the only one that she magnifies - He is the subject of her praise and rejoicing.
2. God chose Mary because she had the right attitude about God’s Word.  Mary cherished Scripture. She treasured its wisdom. This is seen in the fact that the lyrics of her impromptu song of Christmas recorded in verses 46-55 contain at least fifteen direct quotes of the Old Testament.  
  Back then the printed Old Testament was a luxury.  Peasants like Mary would not have had actual written copies. That means she’d have had to memorize Old Testament Scriptures as her parents taught them to her through the years. Her song proves that that’s exactly what she had done. She had hidden God's Word in her heart.   Psalms 119:11 - Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
  Mary didn't just memorize scripture, she believed the promises of God's written Word, even when others around her did not.  A few watched and waited for the fulfillment of God's promises and Mary was one of them.
3. God chose Mary because she had the right attitude about God’s will.  Her attitude was such that she said “Yes” to God's will for her life.  She was completely receptive to His commands, even if that meant she’d endure difficulty or danger.  She didn’t say, “Lord, can I get back to you on that?”
  In Luke 1:31-38 Mary was submissive  Her response in verse 38 was immediate and brief, only one short sentence yet very important and meaningful. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”  Handmaid means a slave - a bond servant.  She was willing to give herself completely / willingly / available to God regardless of the price.  God’s Word was her will.  She surrendered totally to obey God.  She would serve as He willed - according to his Word.

Anna: A Wise Elderly Woman. This is the last of our three wise women.  Anna was a lady who had waited a very long time for the first Christmas.  She was not like most women of her time, for she chose a different path  Her name means “Gracious”.  She was a prophetess.  This was most unusual.  There had not been a prophet in Israel for over 300 years.  Also, women leaders in those days were very rare.  However, she was someone who was known for the way she listened to God's still small voice -- someone He used to proclaim His Word to others -- someone who, like Mary, believed God's promises.

      Another point that needs to be mentioned is the fact that by the time the first Christmas arrived, Anna had already lived a very long time. Some Bible translators have carefully handled their description of Anna's age by translating verse 36 as, "she she was of a great age."   I believe that she was at least 84 years old.
     Anna was also a widow and had been one for a long time. Widowhood has always been difficult, but in that day, it was particularly difficult.  It virtually guaranteed a life of terrible poverty.  But for some reason, Anna never remarried; an unusual decision for someone in her situation to make back then. Some think her husband was the love of her life, so much so that she just couldn’t bring herself to share her life with another.
  Anna had led a very frugal, pure, and sober life. And this leads me to point out the place she’d chosen for her home.   Luke 2:37 says, "She never left the Temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying."  The Temple must have been a spectacular place to live because the Temple King Herod built in Jerusalem was the crown jewel of that city.
1.  Anna never gave up on life.  There have been times in my life and in most of your lives that you just wanted to just give up -- climb back in bed, pull the covers over you head and stay there.  Sometimes life can get hard.  Maybe like Anna, your husband is dead, your children have move away and have families of their own.  Finances are difficult.  Sometime you get lonely, sick and exhausted.  But like Anna, we need to remain faithful.  The victory that God has promised WAY outweighs the negatives.  Just think of Anna and how for at least 60 or more years she was able to share her faith with so many  people. God's timing is truly perfect. We must never give up.  Hebrews 12:1-3
2.  Anna had excellent spiritual vision  Thousands of priests were running around doing God's business that day, yet only Anna and Simeon, saw when the Messiah of God in the form of a tiny baby arrived.  Why?  Why did these two old people see what others missed?  It wasn't that other people in Israel weren't looking for a Messiah.  Some were -- and you would think that the tribe of Aaron, the priestly tribe would be.  But their spiritual eyesight wasn't as sharp as Anna's because they were looking for the wrong kind of deliverer. 
     The Pharisees were looking for a king which would descend from the lineage of David.  A King who would revive all the glories of the past and free them from Roman bondage.  But Anna knew the child instantly and gave thanks.  She was the Lord’s servant, so the Lord guided her life step by step. She saw what others missed due to their spiritual blindness.
3.  Anna never stopped worshipping God.  Scripture says that Anna never left the temple but served “God” with fastings and prayers night and day.  This either means that she had been given some kind of room at the temple or this meant that she was at the temple -- worshiping God every day  -- never missing a service.  Anna’s hope was in Him and in Him alone.
     God reveals Himself to those who do not depart from Him. This woman has served God for many years, and she is prepared to meet her Messiah.  For the elderly and lonely who wonder what they can do to serve God, Anna's is a wonderful example

Conclusion:  Just like the three women mentioned above, every lady in this class is unique. -- different women, in different ages and different stages of life and different levels of spiritual growth.   But yet we all have the same opportunities to choose whether we serve the Lord or ourselves.  At this Christmas time, let us decide to give our all to Him!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bread of Life

Bread of Life!
  About fifteen years ago we started a 'tradition' of having a Bread of Life Sunday every September.  There were a couple of reason to do it.  First, bread is a commodity here and around the world - a stability of life.  Back in the early days, there were many poor deaf people in our church and a loaf of bread would bring a smile to their faces!  Second, it was and still is a tremendous tool to show that Jesus Christ is The Bread of Life. (John 6:35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst)  Every first time visitor also receives a full copy of the Word of God.
Pastor Slava & Vitiya unloading the bread!

   A few years ago, the deaf department at Eastside Baptist Church in Memphis, TN felt the burden to donate the money each year to buy this bread. Each Sunday, the deaf in their church take a love offering for this purpose (praise the Lord)!  Since then, they have literally fed hundreds!
   Each year, the deaf from our church decorate the altar with an assortment of breads.  We order the bread the day before and early on Sunday morning, Pastor Slava goes to the bread factory and picks up hot, steamy bread.  The church smells wonderful - like a bakery!  Sometimes it’s hard to pay attention to preaching, thinking of all that delicious hot bread in the back!  This year we chose a favorite of most of the deaf, round bread. 

    At the end of the service, each person receives their loaf of bread and then the bread is covered up to stay fresh for the hearing church later that afternoon.  At the end of the day, all the left-over bread and the bread used to decorate the altar is taken to the orphanage to be distributed among the children! You should see their happy glowing faces! 

Some of the deaf with their bread!
Vera (with bow in her hair) and three girls from the orphanage
Nursing home residents with some bread off the altar.
Bro. Ivan (deaf)


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Simferopol Baptist Church Teen Camp
   My husband likes to use one word to explain the week at camp this year --  "WOW!".  There were 110 campers.  I think we broke a new record.  Campers came from all over Ukraine and Belarus.  There were also some a couple from Moldova and Russia and one from Cameroon.  And of course, there were a few Americans represented.   
     I think the pictures tell the story best.  But to summarize, there were four saved and many dedicated their lives to serving the Lord.  This is what our camp is all about - teaching and training Ukrainian young people to carry on the work of Christ.  
   Bro. Cecil Ballard from Marion, IA was the main speaker each evening.  Pastor Bob Van Sant, Missionary David Sloan, Pastor Tony Hess, Pastor Vladimir Kruchinin and Missionary Stanislav Yatskiv. 
    So below - is a brief tour of our camp "Safari" - Romans 8:31, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"   Enjoy!!
Some of the most beautiful voices were there - singing glory to God.  Choirs from all the cities represented sang.  

There was excitement in the air all the time!

 Game Time was "EXCELLENT
(one of the words the teens learned this week).

Some of the many faces of Bro. Ballard:

Decision Making Time:

AND of course with time working with teens, 
you need a COFFEE BREAK!

The MANY FACES of camp - some funny - some ????

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bubbles! Bubbles! Toils & Troubles

Lesson 22 - July 22
Bubbles! Bubbles! Toils and Troubles 

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Matthew 26:41 
    Recently in Germany, I was watching my grandsons blow soap bubbles out in the yard. They were having such a good time, running after them, trying to pop them, and just playing with them in general.  As I was watching, it struck me that we treat the things and pleasures of this world as we do those soap bubbles that we blew as children. We run after them and chase them, touch them, try to catch them, and see how far we can get involved with them without them popping.
So why do we chase worldly bubbles?

1.  Worldly Bubbles Entice Us. James 1:14  But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.    When those soap bubbles are blowing in the wind, they seem to just entice us and draw us to them. Worldly pleasures are like that too. We see an advertisement in a magazine, something on television, or something associated with the world that just lures us and pulls us in.  Temptations are all around us.
     In Luke 15 the prodigal son was drawn to the world and all it’s pleasures.  Let’s look at the two things that the prodigal son wanted in verse 12.
· Give ME my inheritance   He wanted money and the things and possession of the world which he was to inherit.  He wanted to get all the father would give him so he could enjoy it NOW.   He had not earned it; therefore, he did not deserve it.  He was selfish and self- centered, and disrespectful - but this didn’t matter to him.
· Give ME my independence  This is what he really wanted - the rights to his own life. He wanted freedom - to make his own decisions.  Sadly, he got all he wanted.  Don’t know why the father gave in, maybe he had hoped his son would come to his senses.
      Luke 15:13 says that the son wasted his substance and lived how? riotous living --  He lived extravagantly and he lived with harlots (vs. 30).   He had wrapped his life up in the pleasure and security of the world; but when his money was gone, everything was gone (just like the bubbles), there was nothing left to help him.  As a result:
A. He suffered destitution.   vs. 14
B.  He suffered natural disaster - a famine struckvs. 14
C.  He suffered enslavement and humiliation  vs. 15
D. He suffered the loss of all friends vs. 16
E.  He suffered hunger vs. 17
      Praise the Lord that the son did come to his senses (vs. 17).  He remembered how his father had been able to provide for him. He remembered the sense of belonging, of being part of a family and of the many times of fellowshipping together among all the friends and servants of his father.  He remembered the love, joy and peace that his father had and he hoped that the father had a little more to spare.
      We are surrounded with worldly bubbles and we must resist them and avoid being tempted by them.  What does Proverbs 1:10 tells us to do if sinners entice us? consent thou not.   None of us are immune to the influences of the world, and neither are our children.  We need to remain focused and strongly aware that each of us can be deceived.  If we are not careful, we will give in to enticing temptations.  We need to prayerfully guard ourselves and our children from going along with fleshly desires such as: dressing like the world, listening to the wrong type of music, smoking, drinking, hatefulness. 
Write I Corinthians 10:13: _____________________________________________

   2.  Worldly Bubbles Are PrettySoap bubbles are amazing to watch. Aren't they? All those reflections of light just make them so beautiful to look at.  The world can make sin look pretty too.  The devil is masterful at deceit.  It is his trademark and we are to be on guard for it. 
    'My Goodness' Satan and the world does their best to make sin so beautiful and appealing.  The billboards around town show women in enticing clothing telling you to come to their bar.  There are advertisements showing how cool it is to smoke and drink.  There are music videos on television that says sex is fun.  
      This reminds me of David when he was up on his roof in the cool of the evening and he so happens to look over to another roof top and sees a woman bathing. This is perhaps one of the most well-known stories in the Old Testament.  David sinned. He should have been at war but he wasn't.  He couldn't sleep so he got up and roamed his palace. He was bored. We have an old wives saying: "Idle hands are the devil's tools."  Notice the progression of sin: 2 Samuel 11:2-4
· David LOOKED.  He saw a woman bathing.
· David ADMIRED her.  He noticed her beauty - it was more than just a passing glance.
· David INQUIRED about her.  He took it to the next level, making it more personal. 
· David CONTACTED her. 
· David SINNED with her.
      Sin begins with a thought, with a gentle pulling on the flaws of our heart.  We don’t just fall head first into a full blown sin (the sleeping with Bathsheba part).  It is a progression that could have been stopped in its tracks at any time.  David could have: 
· Looked away. 
· Not sent the messengers. 
· Tore up the information. 
· Controlled the thoughts he was having about the woman. 
· Not invited her to his palace.    
     There is always an escape route.  You may say -- “Oh, that was just a man. Women are different!”  We as women are not immune to Satan’s attraction and appeals - we are just as guilty. It totally shocks me as the way women want to dress in the summertime.  If you go out to the village, you will see people working in their underwear.  You go to a restaurant near the beach and you will see people sitting in their underwear.  I admit, in this heat, I also would like to go to the beach and splash in the water.  But I must be careful to not only keep my body covered decently but that I am not being expose (or my family) to other people who have such little regard for morality.
1 John 2:16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
   Satan made sin beautiful - our flesh desires to have its beauty but the ends thereof are the destruction, failure, disappointment, guiltiness and death.

3.  Worldly Bubbles Are FunChildren have so much fun with soap bubbles.  At a wedding in Kharkov last month, we blew bubbles on the bride & groom as they exited the church. However, before the bride and groom came out, we were already blowing bubbles at one other - we were all acting like children!  Sin has a way of enticing us with fun too.  Sin promises pleasure without consequences, love without commitment, fulfillment without sacrifice. Sin pledges that things, circumstances, and/or people will satisfy you without God’s direction or blessing.
    Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10) come to my mind when thinking about chasing worldly bubbles.  Sapphira means “beautiful.”  Ananias means “Jehovah is gracious,” and God certainly had been gracious to him for He had given him a beautiful wife, blessed him with material possessions, forgiven his sins, and brought him into fellowship with people who truly cared for him. A man couldn’t ask for much more than that. Their names make them sound like they were a perfect couple! 
      But Ananias wanted more, and so did his wife.  In Acts, Christians were donating land to give to the poor and persecuted Christian.  The Christians who sold their possessions and gave the money to the church probably received enthusiastic praise from the entire congregation.  AND Ananias & Sapphira wanted this praise. They wanted to be more than just members of the church; they wanted to be ‘prominent’ members.  They wanted the recognition and praise -- and that brings us to their sin. 
      Ananias and Sapphira also owned some property and so they schemed together and came up with a plan to sell it while holding back some of the profit for themselves.  They would still look good at the church and make some extra cash on the side. They probably already had ideas what to spend it on.   Thus began their chasing after bubbles. 
      Let’s look at the impact of their punishment.  The Apostle Peter did not call down judgment from heaven.  He merely exposed Ananias’ hypocrisy by the insight God gave him. “And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last” (Acts 5:5). God popped his bubble quickly.  We do not know how they got Ananias buried without Sapphira knowing about it, but they did.  Maybe they could not find Sapphira at the moment. She may have been off on a shopping spree, spending some of that money they had deceitfully held back.  Three hours later she came in looking for her husband, oblivious to what had transpired.  You know the story -- her bubble quickly popped too.
     If we could just make better choices like Moses did.   We know that Hebrews chapter 11 lists the “Heroes of Faith”.   In verse 24 - 26 it says:  "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt:
     For 40 years Moses had everything that a person on earth could ever want: education, fame, wealth, possessions, power, responsibility, and a home!  But Moses gave it all up.  He sacrificed everything for God and His promises.  Look at all the things that Moses accomplished for God because of that choice of not chasing the worldly bubbles that were blowing right in the wind before him.  Think at how much we could have accomplish for Christ if we'd be a little more focused on Jesus and not on the bubbles world has to offer.  
      Every time Moses turned away from what was in the world and every time he chose to walk by faith in God, God never failed to show Himself mighty on behalf of his behalf. 
Conclusion: Kids learn quickly that bubbles are fragile. Sometimes you can put your hand out and catch them but without much force normally they'll pop and dissipate. When you start messing around with sin and worldly bubbles, you will find they too pop quickly. Worldly ways are not satisfying. There is no substance to them. They'll dissipate into the wind without warning.   AND there will always be consequences to deal with.  Just as we saw with the Prodigal Son and with King David -- they suffered the consequences of the folly of their sins.  A man once said “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.” 
       If we are living for Christ, fellowshipping with Him on a daily basis, engaging in a strong prayer life, then we'll be more able to resist those bubbles that come floating by to tempt us. Only toils and troubles will come in the end if we aren't living for Christ, as we should be.