[Note to those who read this lesson in text form: I selected a man to be my reader from his seat. I asked everyone to follow the readings from a Bible. After each reading I walked among the audience with a microphone asking volunteers to share a lesson that "caught their attention" from the reading. I shared my comments from the pulpit area after volunteers in the audience shared their thoughts.]

I am genuinely happy for your presence. Thank you for choosing to be part of this assembly. I am delighted to have the opportunity and the privilege of sharing some thoughts with you tonight. Before this lesson, I want you to know beyond doubt that I am delighted that we are together.

  1. I want to ask you a serious question: why are we here this evening?
    1. Many different answers can be given to that question.
      1. Answer one: "we are supposed to be here."
        1. That perspective likely has three different roots.
          1. One root may be tradition.
            1. Whatever our spiritual origins, those origins strongly tied spiritual faithfulness to church attendance.
            2. If this is one of our reasons for church attendance, we are extremely distressed in our consciences if we do not attend.
          2. One root may be guilt.
            1. In our childhood and young adult life, we heard preachers demand church attendance by quoting Hebrews 10:25,
              not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
            2. We were told by sincere, well meaning people that Hebrews 10:25 was a command that mandated physical presence at all assemblies. Rarely was Hebrews 10:25 understood in its context.
            3. This passage often was used as a means of demanding and controlling attendance.
          3. One root may arise from common concepts of the role of elders in the church.
            1. The church is seen primarily as a religious institution.
            2. The elders are seen primarily as the executives of the institution who hold power and authority over those in the institution.
            3. A common emphasis: "if that is what the elders say we must do as a congregation, we must do whatever they say!"
      2. Answer two: "It provides the preacher the opportunity to do what he is supposed to do--preach."
        1. Do we assemble on Sunday evening just so I can say something?
        2. If the "proper order" is followed, is it mandatory that I present two sermons on Sundays?
        3. What is the purpose of my preaching?
          1. Does my preaching even need to serve a purpose?
          2. As long as you are present and I have something to say from the Bible, is that enough to fulfill this obligation we have?
      3. Answer three: "To worship."
        1. I am in total agreement.
        2. In our assembly God must be honored and praised for what He has done and does for us in Jesus Christ.
        3. How does that honor and praise occur? If there are three songs, a prayer, a song, a lesson, an invitation song, and a dismissal prayer, does that automatically mean God is honored and praised?
    2. From my perspective as the one often preaching, may I share a few thoughts?
      1. For years, in fact for longer than I have preached, the primary purpose of Sunday evenings is to take advantage of an opportunity to educate, to expand Bible knowledge.
        1. A few generations ago there were no Sunday evening assemblies.
        2. If your parents or grandparents lived as Christians in the late 1800s, it is likely they lived at a time when congregations did not assemble on a regular basis on Sunday evening (on special occasions, but not regularly).
        3. I have read (but do not have document) that many years ago church buildings were the first buildings to install gas lighting.
          1. Such lights were new and unusual; they attracted curious people.
          2. Congregations decided to use this lighting to attract crowds and teach.
      2. I suggest to you that a significant reason for our being here this evening is to learn and grow spiritually.
        1. We are not here for me to perform as a speaker or for me to fulfill some type of unspoken obligation.
        2. We are here to stimulate us to think, to understand, and to grow in faith.
        3. If that occurs, God is honored and praised.

  2. Since my understood objective of our assembly this evening is to increase our understanding and faith, I want to do something a little different to focus your thinking and understanding on scripture.
    1. I have asked Bill Walker to be my reader.
      1. He will stay where he is seated and read a scripture using a mike.
      2. I want you to read with him silently.
      3. After he reads a scripture, I will walk among you and let you state what stands out to you in that reading.
        1. First, I am not looking for specific answers; you can share anything from the passage you wish.
        2. Second, keep your answers brief.
        3. Third, I will share some thoughts at the end of the readings.
    2. The first reading is Genesis 11:27 through Genesis 12:7. Bill would you please read?
      Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran. Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.
      1. There are many, many excellent lessons in this reading.
      2. If you choose to, state just one thought that "jumps out at you" in these verses.
    3. The second reading is Joshua 24:1,2 and then verses 14,15.
      Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God. Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. ... Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
      1. Again, there are a number of lessons in this reading.
      2. What lesson "jumps out at you"?
    4. The third reading is Acts 7:2-4.
      And he said, "Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, 'Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.' Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living."
      1. Obviously, all these scriptures have to do with what happened in Genesis 12.
      2. What lesson "jumps out at you"?

  3. Allow me to call your attention to a fact and a lesson that jumps out at me in these three passages collectively.
    1. The fact: before God appeared to Abraham and gave him a command and promises, Abraham's father (and perhaps Abraham himself) worshipped idols.
      1. The "land beyond the river" is a reference to Ur of Chaldeans.
      2. "The River" was often a reference to the Euphrates River.
      3. Abraham grew up in a home that worshipped idols, a home whose concept of deity was idolatrous.
      4. Joshua's challenge to Israel offered them three options. Israel needed to make a conscious, deliberate choice.
        1. Option one: follow the God who delivered you from Egypt and has given you this land.
        2. Option two: follow the gods of your ancestors, the gods beyond the river which are the gods of the past.
        3. Option three: follow the gods of your present neighbors, the gods of the Amorites.
        4. Because God was the God of deliverance, Israel had reasons for choosing to follow God.
    2. The question: why did Abraham choose to follow God?
      1. His family followed idolatrous gods.
      2. He did not have children; he did not have a son to be his heir.
      3. Israel did not exist.
      4. He did not own any of Canaan.
      5. The slavery, the exodus, the conquest of Canaan had not occurred.
      6. So why did this man who knew nothing about the living God, this man whose whole life was surrounded by idolatrous worship, this man who lived in perhaps the most advanced civilization he knew, why did he choose to do what this "new," previously unknown God instructed him to do?
      7. Abraham listened! He was open to God's voice and direction!
        1. He trusted what no one else trusted.
        2. He saw what no one else saw.
        3. He understood realities that others likely refused to even consider.
        4. God could speak to Abraham because Abraham would hear Him.
        5. Because Abraham listened, he is also our spiritual forefather, our great example of what it means to trust God.
    3. Question: in spite of all the world around you, can you hear God? Do you listen to God when so many people around you do not even hear him?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 13 January 2002

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