Wednesday, October 12, 2022

My Response to a Question About My Sermon On Habakkuk From October 9, 2022

Hello, and welcome back (for many, this may be your first time here) to Michael Dawson Online. It has been over 5 years since I have last posted. I am not sure that this is going to be a regular thing, but I did write something yesterday that I wanted a more public place to share it through, so, here it is. 

On Monday I received an email concerning the sermon I preached on Sunday. In the email was a questions about a comment I made about Moses being one of the few who was actually able to change the mind of God. The question went along the lines of ... "If our prayers can't change the mind of God, and if we can only pray in His will, then doesn't that make our prayers somewhat pointless." 

This was a terrific question ... and one I am sure several others may have had. The problem with what I shared Sunday was two fold. First, it was a sermon on prayer in a series on the Minor Prophets. In one sermon on prayer, we are unable to answer or discuss every aspect of prayer. Second, what I said about Moses, was my attempt to correct a problem I saw in my sermon during my rehearsal on Sunday morning. I recognized that one of my points that was printed in the bulletin, and would be on screen, left an area for questions to be asked. What I said about Moses was my attempt on the fly to flesh out a problem I myself saw. Obviously, I didn't have time between the rehearsal and the actual preaching of the sermon to flesh it out more fully. The response you read below is a much better attempt to explain what I was trying to correct on the fly. 

I think we are in agreement that prayer is a conversation between us and God. I also believe that the type of prayers you are specifically referencing are prayers of intercession, where we are asking God to move and work in a particular situation. And from what you asked, you believe that we are supposed to ask according to His will, but, if everything is already decided, then, are our prayers pointless?

It is true that we only get a few instances of God "changing" His mind due to the prayers of man. We see it in Exodus 31:14 when Moses pleads with God, and God relents from ending the Israelites and starting over with Moses. You might say that God changed his mind when he regretted making Saul king in 1 Samuel 15:11. My own question with that is this ... is that a change of mind or an expression of sorrow that the man He made king turned out the way he did? I personally am not sure. I do know this, either way, God does not appear to be content with Saul as king. But, there is a distinction that must be made with these two moments in Scripture ... these are both decisions God has made that He is changing His mind on. God had already decided and announced to Moses that He was going to start over with Moses, so, Moses was able to change His mind. God had already established Saul as king, and as He watched Him, He regretted that decision. I think that is an important distinction to make. Thus, this might be why it is rare that God changes His mind.

I would like to flesh out this following thought a little more ... is everything we do, something already predestined to happen, and if so, does that make prayer pointless? My short answer to that is I am convinced that God has not predestined nor has He preordained every detail of how the world works and functions, and that our prayers do matter. In some situations and in some specific moments, I do believe God does preordain how something is going to happen. I think we see that best in Jesus. The world He worked to establish at just the right time (Galatians 4:4) was perfect for the birth of Christ. He determined long before, that Christ would die upon a tree/cross, that He would be virgin born, that He would be born in Bethlehem. Matthew reminds us in his gospel on many occasions that Jesus' actions were fulfilling prophecy. We could argue, and find agreement in both arguments, that God preordained some of the events in the life of Christ, and that God knew, via foreknowledge, of what was going to happen. I would imagine, there was a little of both at work in the life of Christ and the predictive prophecies that came centuries before. However, while God had foreknowledge, I am convinced God did orchestrate the world to be primed for the coming of the Messiah and for the Gospel to spread easily.

However, I am of the opinion that the majority of the time God does not operate in complete control of this world and all that happens. What I mean is that God can and does have complete control ... and can intervene any time He wants or chooses to, but the majority of the time He chooses to allow the world to function by the natural laws He established for the world to work. I also believe that He allows us the free will to make good and bad decisions. If God were controlling everything, then that would mean the bad choices, the violence, the rapes, the thefts that we wake up to daily on our news sources, would be happening at the hand of God. While God can intervene anytime He chooses, I am convinced that God allows free will and the natural laws to guide the day to day workings of our world.

So, that brings me back to prayer. If God does not preordain and guide and direct everything that happens in our world, then I don't believe He has predestined everything to happen. Thus, His mind on a given situation may not be made up. If that is the case, and I believe it to be true (Although I am not convinced that the words and sentences I have chosen are adequate nor clear enough to express my understanding.), then we have the ability to go to God and earnestly ask Him to work and move in a particular situation, and that our prayers are not pointless. We are given examples in Acts of the church coming together seeking God's direction and involvement in various situations. We find one of these moments in Acts 12:5. Peter had been arrested, so the church came together and earnestly prayed to God for him. They believed that their prayer had power, and had the ability to influence God's involvement in Peter's situation. That night, God acted in favor of the church, sent an angel and miraculously brought Peter out of the jail.

Now, the question could be asked ... is this something God was already planning to do, or did He do so in response to the prayers of the church? I don't know, and the text doesn't tell us why God did what He did in respect to the prayers of the people. However, we do have a few occasions in Scripture where God reacted based on the prayers and cries of the people. In Exodus 3:7-10, God tells Moses that He has heard the cries of the Israelites in slavery, and is responding to their suffering, and sending Moses to set them free from Egypt. God heard their cries, and responded to their cries. In 1 Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed in deep anguish for a son, and then in 1:19-20, God remembered Hannah, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Hannah cried out to God in prayer, and God heard her prayers and granted her request. So clearly, we see in Scripture that people prayed to God with requests and God moved. In the case of Peter, we don't know if it was God's will to release Peter, or if was in reaction to the prayers of the church, but with the Israelites and Hannah, we see that God did more than just hear the prayers of His children, He reacted based on the prayers of His children.

It is important to note that God's action was within His will. All three examples I shared certainly had the larger picture of God's movement in the world at play ... In Exodus, God was rescuing the nation He had built from slavery, so they could come one step closer to their mission of Jesus. The same could be said of 1 Samuel, Samuel became a prophet and leader of the nation of Israel, leading them to follow God and establish themselves as a nation. Peter was an Apostle and a key figure in the early church. Now, just because these were "important" moments in God's major movements in the world, doesn't mean our prayers and requests are unimportant and His will doesn't matter. It still does.

I think the biggest part of praying in His will is our submission to Him. His will may not be our will, and the answer He gives us may not be what we want. That is when we must submit to His will and trust that it is right. I loved the loving father analogy you gave. Sometimes in love, I tell my children no. It's not because I am unloving, it's because I am, and I know things they don't, like running out into the street is not safe. Our willingness to pray in God's will, reveals the heart in which we pray. If we fail to pray in God's will, we begin demanding our wants. When we pray in His will, we are submitting to His authority and leadership in our lives and thus in our requests.

So, to sum this up, I do believe we can have influence over God. The moments that Scripture tells us that God changed His mind or had regret, seem to moments where God had already made a decision. I am convinced in many situations God is allowing the world to function by natural law and free will, thus, our prayers of intercession invite Him to work in our lives. Our decision to pray in His will reveals the heart and submission to Him in which we pray. Thus, I would conclude that our prayers are not pointless, but powerful to evoke God's involvement in our lives

You can watch the service and the sermon below.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

January 26, 2017 – Genesis 41-42 -God protecting His people

Below are my thoughts from the daily Bible reading of the West Side Church of Christ. Today’s reading comes from Genesis 41-42. Before reading I invite you to pray and asked God to speak to you as you read His Word. Also above in the tabs is a link to the Bible reading plan.

What Does This Passage Say?
  • Joseph has been in prison for a considerable amount of time. He has gone from being his father’s favorite son, to being sold by his brothers, sold by his cousins, and enslaved in Potiphar’s house. However, God has been with him. Both Potiphar and the prison warden have seen God’s hand upon Joseph and elevated his position and responsibilities. But, he remains in prison.
  • Until, Pharaoh himself started having dreams. Pharaoh had two dreams. The first was seven healthy cows being swallowed by seven sickly cows. The second dream was seven thick and luscious grains being devoured by seven scorched grains. These two dreams frightened Pharaoh, and no one could tell him what they meant. That is when the cupbearer remembered Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams.
  • So Joseph is called for and Joseph tells Pharaoh he cannot do it … but God can. Joseph tells Pharaoh that the two dreams he had are the same … and they mean there is going to be seven good years followed by seven bad years … seven years of famine. Joseph recommends that they prepare for the bad times during the good times. Pharaoh likes this idea so much that he chooses to put Joseph in charge of preparing for the bad years.
  • To prepare, Joseph charges a tax on all the people … he collects grain. It is during this time that Joseph marries and has two children of his own, Ephraim and Manasseh.
  • After the seven good years’ famine begins to spread across the land. This famine wasn’t just in Egypt, it extended all the way up to Joseph’s homeland and made an impact on his own family. Desperate and hungry, his brothers, 10 of them, make the trip down to Egypt to buy grain from the only nation that is prepared.
  • Unknown to them, the man who is in charge of this entire system is their brother they sold into slavery some twenty years before. He immediately recognizes them … and he has to know if they have changed. So, he accuses them of being spies. But they deny it and they even reveal who they are to him, indicating that Joseph’s whole brother Benjamin is still alive. After three days Joseph was ready to send them on their way.
  • Before he could do so, he wanted to make sure he would one day see his brother again … so he forced Simeon to stay behind and be held in prison. Then he had their sacks filled, their money put back in, and sent them on their way. On their return trip, they found the money in their sacks, and when they showed their father, they were all frightened … frightened because they didn’t know what their future held … they didn’t know if they would get Simeon back … and frightened that they may lose Benjamin in the process. With food on their tables, Jacob had a dilemma on his hands … go back and get Simeon and risk losing Benjamin, or wait it out.

What Does this passage Teach?

  • Our reading today reminds us that God has a plan and purpose. God had selected Abraham and his descendants to bring Jesus into our world. He allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery to be the one to save his family from drought. In this time of drought, they found relief in their own brother in Egypt. God’s plan is still working out, but so far, the mission of bringing Jesus into our world is still on. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 25, 2017 – Genesis 38-40 - God's At Work

Below are my thoughts from the daily Bible reading of the West Side Church of Christ. Today’s reading comes from Genesis 38-40. Before reading I invite you to pray and asked God to speak to you as you read His Word. Also above in the tabs is a link to the Bible reading plan.

What Does This Passage Say?
  • This is perhaps one of those passages of Scripture that remind us the people that God used to tell His story were flawed. One of Jacob’s sons, Judah, moves out from his family and marries a Canaanite woman. They had three sons. The oldest marries, but God saw him as wicked, so he dies without producing offspring. The second one, follows the customs of the day and marries his brothers widow. He knows that any children born to him will not be his own, but will be his brothers (odd structure for us today), so he does not produce children. This displeases God. The third son, Judah refuses to give to Tamar. So, Tamar dresses as a shrine prostitute, disguises herself and sleeps with her father-in-law. This affair ends up with her pregnant, producing two sons, Perez and Zerah. Because of the payment Judah gives her, she is protected from punishment. This story is a brief interlude from the story of Joseph.
  • Now we are back to the story of Joseph. He is now in the land of Egypt, where he has been sold in to slavery and purchased by one of Pharaoh’s officials. Potiphar likes Joseph and even sees that God has blessed him. So, Potiphar trusts Joseph with more and more responsibility, until he puts him over his entire household. Not only has Potiphar noticed Joseph, so has his wife. She noticed his physical attributes and desired him sexually. Joseph was an honest man and true to God. Every advance that she made he refused. One day, she trapped him, and because of his rejection, she cried foul, and this forced Joseph to be thrown into prison. I am convinced that Potiphar knew what kind of woman he was married to, and his anger was more directed to her than to Joseph. However, his only option was to send Joseph to prison.
  • Joseph has now found himself in prison. A very similar scene plays out in prison as it did in Potiphar’s house. God is with Joseph, and the guards give him responsibilities, until he is caring for the entire prison. It is during his rounds he encounters two more of Pharaoh’s officials … his cupbearer and his baker. They have both been thrown into prison and both have had bad dreams Joseph reveals that he can interrupt dreams so both share them with him. Joseph’s dream telling comes true, the baker is killed and the cupbearer is restored to his position. Sadly, for a time Joseph is forgotten.

How Can I Apply this Passage to my Life?

  • In the story of Judah and Tamar two sons are born to this odd couple. Perez and Zerah. Both of these boys are mentioned in Matthew 1:3. Matthew 1:3 happens to be a portion of the genealogy of Jesus. That means that one of these two boys (Perez) is a direct ancestor of Jesus. Jesus is a descendant from this sordid affair. Friends, it is a reminder … not only is God a God of forgiveness, He can also do some amazing things, like save the world, though sinful people like you and me. What sin do you hide in your past? Remember, it isn’t too much for God to not be able to work with. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 24, 2017 – Genesis 35-37 – Catching Up

Below are my thoughts from the daily Bible reading of the West Side Church of Christ. Today’s reading comes from Genesis 35-37 . Before reading I invite you to pray and asked God to speak to you as you read His Word. Also above in the tabs is a link to the Bible reading plan.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has shared condolences with my family after the recent passing of my uncle. During this time I was unable to write the daily Bible reading thoughts. I appreciate the understanding during my time away. Thank you.

What Does This Passage Say?
  • In my time away we have missed a lot of material. So, let’s do a quick recap. Abraham and Sarah end up having a child, and as God announced they named him Isaac. When Isaac was around fourteen years old God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Perhaps confused, Abraham is obedient and did just as God asks … and right before he finishes the task, God provides a ram to replace Isaac. It is on the heels of this that Sarah passes away.
  • Following these events, when Isaac is around forty years old Abraham sends ones of his servant back to his homeland to find a wife for Isaac. The servant is led by God right to Abraham’s own people where He selects a young girl named Rebekah for Isaac. The servant then takes Rebekah back to the promised land to marry Isaac. With this stage of life complete, Abraham passes away and is buried in the tomb next to his wife Sarah.
  • Isaac and Rebekah end up having two twin boys. These twins are at odds with each other, even in the womb. The youngest one, Jacob is loved by his mother and the oldest is loved by his father. Out of weakness, Esau, the oldest, gives up his birthright to the youngest. Out of trickery, Jacob, the youngest, and his mother trick Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau.
  • With this trickery, Jacob is fearful that Esau will kill him so he flees … where he ends up at his uncle Laban’s house. It is here he falls in love and commits to working seven years for his uncle Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel, hand in marriage. Again, trickery is at play. When the seven years are up, Laban’s oldest daughter Leah has not been married, so he tricks Jacob into marring her. Upset and still in love with Rachel, Jacob agrees to work another seven years for Laban for her hand in marriage. Now Jacob is married to two sisters, but to only one woman he actually loves.
  • While living in his father-in-law/uncle’s house, Jacob’s two wives compete with each other for children … but struggling with infertility at times, with both giving their maidservants to Jacob as surrogates/wives. Through these four women, Jacob fathers twelve sons and one daughter. These twelve sons will go on to be the foundations for the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • During this season of life, Jacob has bartered a deal with Laban that has made him wealthy, and he knows it is time to return to the promised land. There is just one problem … how will Esau greet him. God is obviously at work here, because not only has Esau forgiven Jacob, he welcomes him with open arms. The restoration of the family is complete.
  • Now, in the middle of this return, as Jacob is preparing to meet up with his brother, Jacob has an odd encounter with a stranger … and angel of the Lord. This stranger wrestles with Jacob throughout the night and Jacob holds his own. Because of his wrestling with God, Jacob earns a new name … Israel, because he had struggled with God and man and overcome (Genesis 32:28). 
  • For the most part that catches us up, all be it for a few small stories.
  • In our reading for today, God speaks to Jacob/Israel and gives him instructions for where to set up his home. This spot, Bethel, was the place where Jacob meet God and his flight away from Esau and where he wrestled with God on his return to the Promised Land. It was here at Bethel that God established His covenant through Israel like He had done with Jacob’s grandfather Abraham. Because of what happened, Jacob worshiped God here.
  • The rest of chapter thirty-five and all of thirty-six serve as a transition for us. They reveal to us the deaths of Rachel and Issacs as well as the family trees of Jacob and Esau. While this is a lot of names, there is a lot of valuable meat in these names. There may be times later in our reading that a group will pop up … such as the Edomite’s … and you can know they are the descendants of Esau. Let me challenge you to not just glaze over reading these names.
  • Now in chapter thirty-seven we are introduced to one of the youngest sons of Jacob, the oldest son of Rachel, and the son that Jacob really loved. The remainder of Genesis revolves around Joseph’s story. Joseph is well loved by his father and all his older brothers know it. They are jealous of the special treatment he gets … plus he doesn’t help family relations much. You see, he has dreams and these dreams depict his brothers bowing down to him and honoring him. This upsets his brothers. So, one day, while they are out tending to their father’s sheep, Joseph shows up with some food and they decide to take action against him. Instead of killing him, they sell him to some Ishmaelite’s (remember the genealogy listing we just spoke about, this name should strike a chord, these are cousins, they are the descendants of their great-grandfather Abraham, through his son Ishmael). These Ishmaelite’s in return sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. At the end of the day, Jacob believes Joseph is dead … something he mourns greatly over. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

January 18, 2017 – Genesis 19-21

Below are my thoughts from the daily Bible reading of the West Side Church of Christ. Today’s reading comes from Genesis 19-21. Before reading I invite you to pray and asked God to speak to you as you read His Word. Also above in the tabs is a link to the Bible reading plan.

What Does This Passage Say?
  • The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a favorite of many Christians. It tells the tale of a righteous God bringing fast and swift judgement on a wicked people. Sodom and Gomorrah make up two cities out of five on a plain. They are wicked as evidence when the two visitors (angels) arrive at Lot’s house. They want to take these men and have sex with. This wasn’t women showing up but men.
  • Because of this sin, God is ready to destroy the city, but because of His conversation with Abraham, He first sends in these angels to get Lot out. Lot and his family escapes and all would have gone well if his wife hadn’t looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. How this was done or what it looked like we are not sure. The sin of the city did have its influence on Lot and his daughters. Instead of just turning the men away, he was willing to offer his daughters so they could rape them. His daughter’s minds were warped enough to sleep with the father to preserve their family lines.
  • On the heels of this event, Abraham picks up and moves his household and herds once again. This is the life of a nomadic shepherd. The region he moves into is governed by king Abimelech. Like before, he is worried for his own life because His eighty-nine-year-old wife is beautiful. So, he tells everyone she is his sister. Abimelech takes her and marries her as his own wife … think of this more as a political alliance than a physical marriage.
  • And remember this … she is supposed to be with child … Abraham’s child. To preserve the promise and the genealogy of Jesus, God comes in and saves the day and restores Sarah back to Abraham with no physical consummation taking place.
  • With the linage protected, Isaac is born. But his birth is going to disrupt the family. Ishmael was fourteen years old when Isaac was born, and possibly seventeen when Isaac was weened. His attitude and his mocking brought distress to Sarah … so she pleaded with her husband to send him away. Abraham did not want to do this, but God confirmed that Ishmael would be blessed and that God had a plan for him. And God did not forget Ishmael or Hagar, taking care of them as they left the safety of Abraham’s home.
  • Our reading concludes with a treaty of peace and good will being established between Abimelech and Abraham. This foreigner, was now fully accepted in the land.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January 17, 2017 – Genesis 16-18 – Contrasting Redemption and Sin.

Below are my thoughts from the daily Bible reading of the West Side Church of Christ. Today’s reading comes from Genesis 16-18. Before reading I invite you to pray and asked God to speak to you as you read His Word. Also above in the tabs is a link to the Bible reading plan.

What Does This Passage Say?
  • After Abram had been in the Land of Canaan for ten years with no offspring, his aging wife decided she was not going to be the woman to give birth to the promised son. So, Sarai gave her maidservant Hagar to Abram. Abram and Hagar conceived and this roused the jealousy in Sari. This jealousy caused Hagar to flee. It was while fleeing, no destination in mind, that God appeared to Hagar. This is the first physical manifestation of God we find in the Bible.
  • While this coming son, a revelation to Hagar in a day and time with no ultrasounds, would not be the promise, God would bless her and him. To this Hagar responds with obedience by returning and with praise towards God.
  • Thirteen years after Ishmael was born God once again approaches Abram. Perhaps the thirteen years of silence was God’s discipline for taking matters into his own hands. Perhaps it was just His timing playing out. Regardless, God comes before Abram and reconfirms the covenant He made with Abram when He first called him.
  • In renewing the covenant God reminded Abram that this was all conditional based upon his ability to walk with the Lord be blameless. In confirming the covenant God also gave Abram a name change … Abram means exalted father … Abraham means father of multitudes. Abraham was going to be the father of many nations. Not only did Abram receive a name change, so did his wife Sarai to Sarah.
  • That day, God also reminded Abraham that he would still bear another son … this son would be the child the promise went through, not thirteen-year-old Ishmael. To mark His covenant God gave Abraham and all the males in his household the sign of circumcision.
  • Bible Scholar and Professor James Smith writes in his commentary, The Pentateuch, page 140, about circumcision … 
That the identifying mark of the Hebrew male should be on his sex organ is most appropriate. Far from being disreputable, this was the most sacred part of his while body. Thus if this, the most private of body parts, was dedicated to God, so must be his whole person. With this organ man became, in a special sense, a co-worker with God in producing godly offspring. In circumcision the sexual act was dedicated to God’s glory. When the wife became one flesh with her husband she too became sexually dedicated to the glory of God.
  • This covenant, marked by circumcision was an everlasting covenant with the purpose of bringing redemption into the world though Jesus Christ.
  • Our reading takes a drastic turn. Sometime after God’s announcement to Abraham, He appears as three visitors before him. Even though the visitors arrive at an inopportune time, Abraham is willing to roll out the red carpet, sending Sarah to bake bread and a servant to butcher a calf. During this discussion the Angle of the Lord declared Sarah would have a baby … which she heard from inside the tent … and laughed.
  • So far, the conversation is good … but it is about to turn ugly. As the visitors were about to leave, the Lord declared His intent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. This scene creates a graphic contrast … in Abraham God is creating a new nation, a nation that would bring redemption and holiness into the world, a nation that was to model what walking with God was supposed to look like … in Sodom and Gomorrah, God was about to destroy a people who did not exalt God, who did not honor Him in the way they lived, people whose lives were marked by sin.
  • When Abraham hears God’s plan he pleads for God to change course. He successfully does so, the only problem is, there were not 10 righteous people living there. But God does allow Abraham to rescue his nephew lot from the destruction. This is a stark reminder that sin and righteous cannot co-exist.