White Rock Baptist Church Blog

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Wednesday, December 19, 2018

19Dec

God’s Blessing

Read: Genesis 30.1-43

[Laban said] “I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you; name your wages, and I will give it.” [Jacob said] “Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages.”

Genesis 30.27,28, 32 (NRSV)

This lesson is about God’s blessings to Jacob—a family and wealth—and Jacob as a blessing to Laban.

Jacob left Bethel (the site of his dream, Genesis 28.12) and arrived in Paddan-aram. Immediately he met Rachel (the daughter of his mother’s brother, Laban). He was no doubt overcome with emotion. He had found his tribal people after a long journey. He moved a large stone, kissed his cousin and wept aloud (29.10-11). Laban also received Jacob warmly and put him to work. The cordiality of these opening scenes proved to be a pleasant covering for many deceptions to follow. Jacob agreed to work for his uncle for seven years in exchange for Rachel as his bride. After seven years, Laban tricked Jacob into marrying the older sister, Leah, and then contracted to give him Rachel for another seven years labor. It is hard to believe that both Leah and Rachel were not aware of this marriage custom (v. 26); it seems that Rebekah, Laban, Leah, and Rachel were as clever as Jacob!

Jacob favored Rachel so God favored Leah with the first children. The rivalry between the sisters resulted in 12 children. Jacob had been blessed with a family. For twenty years, Jacob’s talent with animal husbandry had made Laban rich. He did not want to let Jacob return home because he discerned that the Lord was blessing him through Jacob. Jacob and his family escaped through one final, masterful deception. Jacob let Laban choose the type of sheep and goats he would take for his wages, and then influenced their environment during their mating, so that Jacob received the strongest. Whichever Laban chose, Jacob manipulated the results. Soon Jacob, who came to Haran with nothing, had wives, children, servants and livestock. God’s blessings.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Saturday, December 15, 2018

15Dec

Jacob’s Dream

Lesson and Read: Genesis 28.10-22

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place-- and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Genesis 28.16-17 (NRSV)

Esau was in enraged because, once again, Jacob had taken something for him. He planned to kill Jacob after Isaac’s death. So now both Isaac and Rebekah had a reason to send Jacob away. His father did not want him to marry a Canaanite girl and his mother wanted him distant and safe from his brother. They decided to send Jacob to Haran, to live with his kinsman (Rebekah’s brother) Laban and to seek a wife. Isaac blessed his journey (Genesis 28.3-4) and Esau, moved to consider his mother’s displeasure with his former wives, married a granddaughter of Abraham (27.46; 28.6-9). What did Jacob expect on this trip to Haran, his ancestral home—a temporary escape from trouble or a whole new life?

Jacob made his first stop in Luz. He took a stone for a pillow and slept. As he slept, he dreamed of angels ascending and descending on a stairway. What he saw resembled a Babylonian pyramid call a ziggurat. Egyptian pyramids had a flat exterior; ziggurats were constructed with step and a throne on the top. It symbolized a mountain with a place for its god to be seated at the top. In his dream, The God of Jacob’s father and grandfather spoke the same words of the covenant made with Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 28.13-14); God renewed that covenant with Jacob. The prophecy given to Rebekah was coming true (25.23). When Jacob awoke, he realized he was in an extraordinary place, a stairway to heaven. He anointed his sleeping stone with oil and named the place Bethel, the House of God. But then, as was his character, Jacob made a wager with God, a vow. If God will be with me . . . so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God . . . and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you (Genesis 28.20-22).

Jacob is clever. Does Jacob believe he can set the terms for his covenant with God? Powerful lessons await him in Haran, in Laban’s house.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Tuesday, December 11, 2018

11Dec

Jacob’s Deception

Read: Genesis 27.1—28.5

[Rebekah said] “Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you. Go to the flock, and get me two choice kids, so that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he likes; and you shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”

Genesis 27.8-10 (NRSV)

The title of this lesson is a misstatement. It is not just Jacob’s deception; it is Rebekah and Jacob’s conspiracy. Together they devise and execute a plan to redirect Isaac’s blessing for Esau to Jacob.

Isaac instructed his firstborn son, Esau, to hunt for and prepare the savory meat that he liked. He would eat the meal and then bestow on Esau the father’s blessing. Rebekah overheard her husband and called to Jacob, the second born son (her favorite). She informed Jacob that she planned to secure the father’s blessing for him. Together they would trick Isaac. Rebekah instructed Jacob to bring her two goats which she would prepare in a savory way. She also used the goat skin to fashion coverings for Jacob so that he would resemble his hairy brother. Wearing his “Esau costume,” Jacob took the food to his father. He explained his quick return from the hunt as a sign of the favor of his father’s God (Genesis 27.20). Isaac’s vision was dim. “You sound like Jacob,” he said, “but you smell like Esau” (v. 22). Then, when asked directly, “Are you really my son Esau?” Jacob replied, “I am” (v. 24). Jacob kissed his father and received the blessing intended for his brother. Rebekah’s role in this deception was played out at distance but Jacob had to carry out his part right in front of his father. Deceptive words sealed with a kiss. How sad.

It seems that Rebekah had not informed Isaac about the prophecy concerning the younger son (Genesis 25.23). This deception suggests a lack of trust in the family or perhaps reflects the difficulty in challenging the traditions of the eldest. In the ancient world, one survived either by being physically powerful or being mentally sharp. In the account of Jacob’s blessing, the clever one beat out the strong.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Sunday, December 09, 2018

09Dec

Siblings’ Rivalry

Lesson and Read: Genesis 25.19-34

The children struggled together within her; and [Rebekah] said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”

Genesis 25.22-23 (NRSV)

The story of Jacob and Esau is the very definition of “Sibling Rivalry.” Genesis 25.22 says they began their fighting in Rebekah’s womb! Esau won that tussle and emerged first, but Jacob was born grasping his brother’s heel, signaling that the battle was not over.

Esau and Jacob were fraternal, not identical, twins. Esau, the first born, was a skillful hunter and a man of the open country. Jacob preferred life around the tents—pastoral, i.e., cattle and sheep and agricultural, i.e., crops and vegetables. It seemed that Esau was wild and Jacob was quiet. Isaac favored Esau because he loved fresh game. Rebekah loved Jacob but the text does not give a reason (Genesis 25.28). It is reasonable to think that Rebekah believed what God said to her during her difficult pregnancy, two nations are in your womb . . . one shall be stronger that the other (v. 23). Esau was obviously physically strong but Jacob was no weakling (he will later lift a huge rock to water Rachel’s sheep, 29.2-10). However, Jacob’s strength was his mind; he was obviously more clever than Esau. He easily tricked his brother into selling his birthright for a bowl of lentils (25.29-34). Rebekah remembered that God also said the elder son shall serve the younger (v. 23). Rachel’s favorite son was the one that God favored (and it is not clear that Rebekah ever shared this prophesy with Isaac).

Believers must confess that we are confused, at first, about what to think about Jacob. We know he is God’s chosen successor to Abraham and Isaac but we also can see that he is a villain. Jacob is tricky, manipulative and merciless. Esau is unarmed in a match of wits with Jacob. We may even feel sorry for the elder brother. Yet, we cannot ignore that Esau does not understand the value of his birthright. He thought more of an immediate satisfaction than a future asset. And Jacob, though a “heel grabber,” knew the worth of both birthright and Isaac’s blessing and, eventually, ends up with both.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Monday, December 03, 2018

03Dec

The Marriage of Isaac

Read: Genesis 24.1-67

And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself.

Genesis 24.64-65 (NRSV)

Genesis Chapter 24 marks the transition from stories about Abraham to stories about Isaac. Abraham’s final task is to secure a wife for his son so that the covenant promises made by the Lord can continue to the next generation. Abraham does not want a Canaanite woman for his son; his trusted, senior servant (Eliezar, Genesis 15.2) must return to Haran and bring back a wife.

The journey of Abraham’s servant is a journey without incident but full of revealing details. For example, we see the effect of Abraham’s faith on Eliezar. When he arrives in Haran, he has no idea how to fulfill his master’s command. At the well in the city of Nahor, he prays to the God of Abraham (Genesis 24.12) for a girl to come and give him a drink and water his camels. Rebekah appears and offers to do just that. And Rebekah is the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Abraham’s brother, Nahor (22.20-22), so she is of the Abraham’s kindred, as he requested. Rebekah’s family (Bethuel, his wife and Laban, his son, negotiate with Eliezar and when they hear how the Lord responded to Eliezar’s prayer, they agree there is nothing more to say; they believe this is the work of the Lord (24.50). Eliezer bows to the ground before the Lord (24.52), perhaps to give thanks. Rebekah was willing to forgo any waiting period and return immediately with Abraham’s servant. They depart and when they arrive at the camp in the Negeb, Isaac is walking in the field. When Rebecca asks who he is, Eliezar calls Isaac his “master,” a term he has used throughout this chapter (15 times!) to refer to Abraham. This signals that Abraham is near death (25.8) and Isaac is now the head of the family. And when Rebekah veils herself and Isaac takes her into Sarah’s tent, she becomes his wife and the new matriarch of the family. Though this marriage was certainly arranged,” the story ends with Isaac loving Rebekah and Rebekah comforting her husband, still grieving the loss of his mother. And throughout this story we see the God of Abraham present in the prayers and faith of Abraham’s servant and the acknowledgments of Abraham’s family

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Thursday, November 29, 2018

29Nov

The Call of Abram

Read: Genesis 9.1—12.20

Then the LORD told Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's house, and go to the land that I will show you.”

Genesis 12.1 (NRSV)

Genesis 12.1-3 has been called the fulcrum of Genesis, if not the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). From this point onward there is a change in content and style. We go from short, focused stories explaining why thing are the way they are (Why does everyone speak a different language?—11.1-11), to long narratives chronicling the story of one family, Abram and Sarai, and their descendants.

Genesis 11.31 says that when God called Abram, he was living on Haran with his wife, Sarai (who was barren), his brother, Nahor, and his family, and his nephew, Lot. However, Genesis 15.7 reveals that God was calling when Abram’s family was in the city of Ur. It was Abram’s father, Terah, who set out for Canaan. God was calling before Abram was aware. And consider: did Abram know who was calling him? It could have been any of the many gods of Mesopotamia. Consider further: this god’s request was unusual and unreasonable. Terah journeyed with his family. Abram was being asked to leave his country, relatives and his father’s house. They left Ur, a center of culture and high technology in its day, and now Abram was to separate himself from the best support and security of the ancient world—his family. The Lord spoke many promises to Abram: a land, a great name, many descendants, blessings for his family, and, to be a blessing for all nations (vv. 2-3). All Abram had to do was go.

There is no other way to explain Abram’s response except to recognize it as faith. It is not yet the faith that will enable him to consent to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (Genesis 22), but it is faith. In the years to come, Abraham and Sarah both will grow their faith walking with God, trying to be faithful, trying to hear and obey. Consider finally: How many of God’s promises did Abram and Sarah see? The greater part of God’s blessings were for their children. What an indictment it is for believers to tie faith to some immediate, material reward. Though he did not live to see it, the world benefited from Abram faith.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Tuesday, November 27, 2018

27Nov

The Righteousness of Noah

Read: Genesis 6.1-22; 8.19

So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created-- people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.

Genesis 6.7-8 (NRSV)

Genesis 6.6 tells us that God saw the wickedness of humankind and responded not with anger but with grief and regret. Instead of destroying everything, God chose to preserve a remnant and start again. The head of that last and first family was a blameless man named Noah.

We can see the evidence of Noah’s faithfulness because he dutifully carried out all God’s plans: he constructed the ark, filled it with the required animals and collected food for the animals and his family to eat (Genesis 6.15-22). Obviously nothing on the ark could be allowed to eat anything else on the ark! )Take note that Genesis 6.19-20 mentions the two pairs of each animal and Genesis 7.2-3 mentions seven pairs of clean animals. This is not a contradiction but a clarification; clean animals were taken for the purpose of sacrifice.) Noah was obedient and faithful but he was not perfect. His righteousness did not mean he was flawless. He was like other human beings (his drunken episode is evidence of that 9.20-23). Noah and his family were not without sin. God admitted that the inclination of the human heart is toward evil continually (6.5; 8.21). The flood punished evil but it did not remove it.

Look closely at the account of the flood in Genesis 6.5—9.16. There is a brief summary (not a detailed description) of the carnage and death it brought (7.21.23). In contrast, there are many verses describing God’s gracious actions. The Lord intended to destroy but God also carefully planned an escape. The Lord was grieved that corruption had overtaken the world but the rain did not come until the ark was finished and fully boarded. It rained for 40 days and nights but for another 150 days God remembered every living creature on that boat. This story is not just about God’s judgment; it is also about his salvation.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Monday, November 26, 2018

26Nov

The Birth of the Promised Son

Lesson and Read: Genesis 18.9-15; 21.1-7

“Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son” . . . Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.

Genesis 18.14; 21.2-3 (NRSV)

The birth of Isaac is a high point in the Abraham narrative. Yet the verse that describes it is simple and straightforward-- Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son (Genesis 21.2). For a moment, let us think back and reflect on the twists and turns this covenant couple experienced before their day of joy.

Twenty-five years passed between Abram’s call (Genesis 12.1-3) and Isaac’s birth (Genesis 21.2). Sarai has been in jeopardy in Pharaoh’s harem (12.10-20); Abram’s life was at risk when he fought the five kings to rescue Lot (14.1-16); and the birth of Ishmael complicated the Lord’s promise of an heir. Throughout the ups and downs of their journey, God continually renewed the promise of a son. Both Abraham (17.17) and Sarah (18.12) laughed at that impossible prospect, first, because Sarah had been barren throughout their marriage (11.30) and later, simply because they were both too old (Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 at the birth of Isaac). Before Isaac’s birth, Abraham had not yet seen any of God’s promises come true. No Land, no fame and no descendants. Isaac birth was the culmination of a test of faith because Isaac’s birth was the result Abraham and Sarah’s ongoing, intimate relations and the Lord’s miraculous power. Sarah’s pregnancy is like Elizabeth’s, not like Mary’s (Luke 1.13, 35). God fulfilled his promise and all Abraham and Sarah had to do was keep loving each other.

The Lord’s covenant promises describe our future but require our present participation. We may stumble or even fail along the way but God’s power will always find a way through to God’s promise.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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Thoughts

Posted Tuesday, November 20, 2018

20Nov

The God of Creation is both above and beyond his works and below and among them.
The Gist of the Church School Lesson - Rev. Steven Lawrence
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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Monday, October 29, 2018

29Oct

God Creates People

Read: Genesis 1.26—2.7

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them . . . then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Genesis 1.27; 2.7 (NRSV)

There are two creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. In the first, we watch from a distance as God creates with the spoken word. In the second, we watch up-close as God shapes the creation by hand. The God of Creation is both above and beyond his works and below and among them.

In the first account (Genesis 1.1—2.3), the sixth day description is an announcement that reinforces the “Who” of creation: God is the sole creator who makes man, male and female, in the image of God (1.27). The word “man” in Genesis 1.26-27 is the Hebrew word “adam.” Here it is a generic term that is better translated as “mankind” or, to be more inclusive, “humankind.” Note that it takes both genders to reflect God’s image. Note also that it is people who look like God, not that God looks like people. We often describe God with human characteristics (God’s heart, eyes, hands) but those anthropomorphic approximations are for our benefit; God is more than human beings enlarged. In ancient times, the “image” referred to a stamp or seal that indicated ownership. Humans carry God’s image in the creation. They are commanded to “be fruitful and fill the earth” and to have dominion, i.e., to rule in God’s name. Humanity is not to waste or abuse the earth but to be stewards of it.

In the second Creation account (Genesis 2.4-25), we get a little “how” added to our ‘Who.” In this up-close, personal look at creation, God alone forms (or fashions or crafts) the man from the ground and then breathes God’s own breath (spirit) into him and Adam comes to life. Note that “adam” here is both the personal name for the man, “Adam,” and the word for the ground/clay/dirt out of which he is made (adamah, (2.7). Adam comes from adamah. Humans are not above the creation, we are an inexorable part of it. We were created to live in harmony, not discord, with everything that God made.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence