My Dog Never Catches Squirrels (and neither do I)

She tries every single morning without fail to get the squirrels chattering happily in the trees above the backyard. She’s out there each day but hasn’t even come close to catching one (and wouldn’t know what to do with it even if she did). It’s a worthless exercise, but one that she will urgently awaken me to pursue.

Unfortunately, I do the same thing.

Not with actual squirrels, obviously. Instead, I tend to always pursue things that are outside my reach.

Like most things, I think the problem started in Genesis.

In that book, we are told that God created a really good world full of good things and made two good human beings to live in it. He made the humans in His likeness, in His image, and established them as the stewards of the planet. He gave them everything to enjoy with only one, single prohibition: don’t eat the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.

Not content with being made in God’s image, Adam and Eve ate the fruit. They bought the lie that God was withholding something good from them, that they could become gods themselves. Ignoring the multitude of blessings, they sought after what they could not have. They thought that they were wiser than God.

But I’m in no position to judge. I do the same thing, and most of the time it’s not “big sins.” Just the little, nagging ones that are equally as damning.

For example, I know what the Bible teaches about rest. In Christ, we might no longer be required to observe a sabbath day, but the pattern is still a really good idea. God created us to function best when we rest one day and work six. That weekly rest helps us refocus and reenergize.

But I often opt for vacations instead. I refuse to take a true rest week after week, focusing on a getaway that will recharge my spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical batteries. Vacations never live up to the hype, never meet the expectations. I simply can’t go nonstop for 6 months to a year and expect my body to recover in one week. I wasn’t designed for that kind of living, but I often pursue it anyway.

Likewise, I know where God tells me to look for rest: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28)” But my eyes always look to Netflix or YouTube by default. He has never failed to give me rest when I come to Him for it, but I still chase after worldly things that never satisfy.

Sin is an empty promise, offering what it cannot give, causing us to dedicate our time and energy on things worthless pursuits. It is a vanity of vanities, a chasing after the wind.

Dinah & Shechem | Genesis 34

Week 10 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:30-31)

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

OPENING THOUGHT

After a life of wandering and conflict, Jacob has now settled down. Stealing the firstborn blessing and birthright from his brother created quite a tension within Jacob’s family, forcing him to flee for his life from Esau. But Jacob only ran into more conflict by marrying two sisters, blatantly loving one of them more, and having an incredibly selfish father-in-law. After twenty years, Jacob escaped back to his homeland, terrified of reuniting with Esau. But God was with Jacob. Esau’s anger at Jacob was gone, and since peace was made between the two of them, Jacob finally stopped wandering.

But given the events of this chapter, Jacob might have chosen a better town to settle within. While Jacob is camping beside the city of Shechem, his daughter, Dinah, begins to socialize with the women of the city. Soon we are told that Shechem, the prince of the land, rapes her and then goes to her father and brothers for her hand in marriage. Dinah’s brothers in particular are furious, but they agree to allow Shechem to marry Dinah if every man in the city is circumcised. Three days after the men circumcise themselves, Levi and Simeon raid the city, slaughtering all the men and plundering the city.

This chapter ranks with the Flood and Sodom narratives as being one of the most uncomfortable displays of sin within Genesis. There is no innocent party here. Shechem is a rapist. Hamor only wants to make a profit. Jacob refuses to defend his daughter. Dinah placed herself in a foolish situation. And Simeon and Levi go well beyond a justifying retaliation. However, even in the midst of the darkest sins, God is still gracious and in sovereign control.

Read verses 1-7 and discuss the following.

  1. Dinah goes out to see the women of the land of Shechem. This seems to have a negative connotation that her interaction with them was foolish. In what ways do you live foolishly? How are we to live in wisdom?
  2. In these verses, Shechem is guided purely by his own desires. First, he sees Dinah, forcing her to lie with him. Next, he is captivated by, loves, and speaks tenderly to her. What are the dangers of allowing our want of pleasures to guide our lives? What must guide us instead?

Read verses 8-31 and discuss the following. 

  1. The intermarriage agreement between Jacob’s camp and the city of Shechem goes completely against God’s command throughout the Old Testament for Israel to refrain from marrying wives from other tribes and nations. Why did God prohibit Israelites from marrying non-Israelites?
  2. Since they convinced the men of Shechem to circumcise themselves, Simeon and Levi take advantage of their vulnerability by slaughtering all the men of the city, which is far too great of a retaliation against Shechem. Why did God command an eye for an eye in the Old Testament? What is the New Testament thought on vengeance and retaliation?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Learning from Dinah and Shechem, consider areas of your life where you are foolish or are guided by your own pleasures and desires. How does the Bible teach you to live differently?
  • Pray. In their zeal for justice, Simeon and Levi committed a grievous sin themselves by slaughtering all the men in the city of Shechem. Pray then that the Lord would give us a biblical view of evil, justice, and retaliation.

Isaac Blesses Jacob | Genesis 27:1-28:9

Week 3 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you! (Genesis 27:27-29)

God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham! (Genesis 28:3-4)

OPENING THOUGHT

Looking into the third major section of Genesis, we have seen how the covenantal blessing of God passed down from Abraham to his son, Isaac. Abraham then died, and Isaac faced his own journey of walking in faith with God. In many ways, Isaac followed after Abraham, in both good and bad. God commanded Isaac to trust him by staying put during a famine, and like his father, he trusted God. Unfortunately, like Abraham, Isaac also tended to take matters into his own hands by lying about his wife to protect himself. Ultimately, though, Isaac walked in faith after God just like his father.

Isaac’s faithfulness, however, does not bleed over into our present text. Here we read the account of Jacob taking Isaac’s blessing from Esau. We see that Isaac intended to bless Esau, the firstborn, but Jacob and Rebekah, his mother, trick Isaac into thinking that Jacob is really Esau. Because Isaac is blind, he falls for the trick and gives Jacob the blessing. Esau comes back from hunting to discover his lost blessing. Though Esau begs to be blessed, Isaac gives him a curse instead. We are then told that Esau hated Jacob and sought a chance to kill him. Thus, Jacob fled, at his mother’s request, to find a wife in her homeland.

Many people have tried through various arguments to prove if Isaac, Esau, Jacob, or Rebekah were sinning or not. It is my belief that there is not innocent party within this text. Isaac knew that God promised the blessing to Jacob, but he still chose to try blessing Esau. If Esau were honorable, he would have surrendered his blessing to Jacob, facing the consequences of his foolish selling of the birthright for soup. Rebekah and Jacob both knew God promise, but they do not trust God to fulfill it, taking matters into their own hands. Through it all, we will see God’s faithfulness in spite of sin; however, the sins of everyone involved have far reaching consequences for this family.

Read verses 1-29 and discuss the following.

  1. Whether he forgot God’s promise to bless Jacob over Esau or whether he simply ignored it, Isaac chose to bless Esau over Jacob because he loved him more. In what ways can favoritism destroy a family?
  2. Isaac’s love for Esau entirely centered upon Esau’s barbeque skills. He loved what Esau could do for him, rather than actually loving his son. Can our love for others likewise come from a selfish heart? Why is that not truly love?
  3. Jacob and Rebekah resolved to snatch away Esau’s blessings by deceiving Isaac. Though they were acting based on God’s promise to bless Jacob, they used sinful means to do so. Have you ever used sinful means to accomplish an otherwise godly goal?

Read verses 27:30-28:9 and discuss the following.

  1. After learning that Jacob stole his blessing, Esau had such a hatred for his brother that he began to plan murder. His originally foolish behavior has now snowballed into grievous sin. Are foolishness and sin connected? How do they lead into one another?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider the sins and failures of each person discussed in these verses. Learn from Isaac by remembering and valuing the Word of God though he didn’t. Seek biblical wisdom to avoid the sin and foolishness of Esau. Avoid the self-reliance of Jacob and Rebekah, trusting God instead.
  • Give thanks to God for His mercy and grace toward us, knowing that we sin just like Isaac, Esau, Rebekah, and Jacob, but Christ has saved us from our sin.
COPYRIGHT© B.C. NEWTON 2016

Church Discipline | Titus 3:9-15

Week 11 | Study Guide & Sermon

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9)

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11)

When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. (Titus 3:12-15)           

OPENING THOUGHT

Titus is a letter by the apostle Paul written to his disciple, Titus, to help him organize the churches of the island of Crete. To begin the letter, Paul addressed leadership within the church. He established that each church would ideally have multiple pastors, and he then listed the qualifications for such leadership (as well as what false leaders would look like). Paul then covered the role of church members, encouraging them to share the gospel to all people (a.k.a. discipleship and evangelism). Finally, in the third chapter, the apostle discusses how the church should function as a whole and in general.

After discussing the gospel and our lifestyle as Christians in verses 1-8, Paul now closes the letter with two topics that are less than simple to hear: church discipline and sacrificial giving. In contrast the profitable nature of the gospel, the apostle lists things that worthless and unprofitable for us, like foolish controversies and quarrels about the law. Because we have been saved by the great grace of God, we should be united around the gospel in order to better take its message to the ends of the earth. These controversies and dissensions are unprofitable ultimately because they distract us from the eternally profitable good news.

The letter then closes with Paul giving more personal instructions to Titus. In the midst of his urging of Titus to visit him, he encourages Titus to prepare the churches of Crete for receiving Zenas and Apollos, making sure that they would send them away from Crete in need of nothing. Using this as an example, Paul encourages the churches of Crete to be ready for every good work, so they can help cases of urgent need. This is a great reminder of how the church should display the love of Christ, sacrificial meeting the needs of other brothers and sisters in the faith.

Read verse 9 and discuss the following.

  1. In contrast to the profitable nature of the gospel, Paul lists four items for us to avoid: foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law. What are some examples of each? Why are they unprofitable and worthless?

Read verses 10-11 and discuss the following.

  1. Here Paul warns that after warning a division-causing person twice have nothing more to do with them. What are some characteristics of someone who stirs up divisions?
  2. How do these verses relate to Matthew 18:15-17 in describing the procedures for church discipline?

Read verse 12-15 and discuss the following.

  1. Paul urges Titus to make certain that Zenas and Apollos lack nothing when they pass through Crete, which the apostle uses as an example for urging him to help urgent needs. In what ways is the love of Christ proclaimed through our helping others needs?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Reflecting upon the subject of church discipline, let it remind us to be quick to repent, to forgive, and to resolve conflict, and in considering Paul’s final call to good works, let us be prepared in all circumstances to help cases of urgent need.
  • Pray. Continuously pray that for the church to focus upon the profitable gospel rather than worthless diversions and conflicts, and pray for brothers and sisters around the world to continue spreading the good news.

A Foolish King | Dec 11

But he [Rehoboam] abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. (1 Kings 12:8 ESV)

After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam ascended to the throne of Israel.

The new king’s wisdom and leadership are immediately put to the test when the people of Israel come before Rehoboam to make a request. They claimed that Solomon worked with a heavy yoke and asked Rehoboam to be kinder to them.

Rehoboam told the assembly to return in three days, and he would answer them. During that time, Rehoboam sought counsel from Solomon’s advisor (who were old men) and from his friends (who were young like him). The old men told Rehoboam to serve the people now, and they would then serve him for life. The young men told him to exert his dominion by making their work harder.

Foolishly, Rehoboam went with the young men’s counsel.

This event broke Israel in two.

Ten of the twelve tribes rebelled against Rehoboam and made another man, Jeroboam, king over them. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained with Rehoboam for the sake of God’s love for Rehoboam’s grandfather, David.

Out of foolishness, King Rehoboam severed Israel.

Though David and Solomon both gave hope that they might be the promised offspring of woman, Rehoboam immediately assures us that he is not. He does the very opposite of uniting people under his rule, and for the next several hundred years, his descendants will do no better.

Fortunately, Jesus would come and be a wise and kind king to His people. While Rehoboam made their yoke heavier, Jesus gives to us a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light (Matt. 11:30).


Jesus is a far greater and wiser king than Rehoboam, who urges us to come to Him for rest. In what ways have you found Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 to be true? How have you found rest in Christ?